The ears of local music fans were filled with amazing music in 2019, whether it was catching an appearance by a transcendent indie band, discovering local a musician on the rise, or catching some legends play an intimate show. Our writers picked some of their favorite sounds from this year, so end your decade right and check out these songs, albums, and memories from the last 12 months.
Fairy Bones“bullshit, ur a nice guy”
One dick pic is one too many, so Fairy Bones decided that enough was enough. In June, the band released the catchy NSFW single “bullshit, ur a nice guy,” which confronts the serious topic with a catchy melody and humor. The empowering track gets taken to the next level with the music video. The band’s lead singer, Chelsey Louise, and other local female artists take turns letting out their aggressions on various objects with a sledgehammer as the song’s lyrics are typed out on a messaging app. It’s doubtful that the song will end the dick pic epidemic any time soon (though it would be cool if it did), but the anthem has the power to change minds on how people can feel when a phallus from a so-called “nice guy” suddenly shows up on their phone. No song from a local band this year has managed to be this empowering. Jason Keil
Everyone’s encountered those albums that grow on you. But what about the records that grow in you? That’s the only way to explain Worser, the latest album from Valley punk band Heavy Breather. Despite the album being out only six months, these 11 tracks echo over and over in whatever parts of our brain are connected with social deviance and a ceaseless urge to slam dance. Their music is meant to stir up something elemental, that primordial spark of fury only righteous punk music could ever fully engage. All that’s likely because this is a deeply Arizona album: It’s weird and filthy, perfect for cultish bonfires in the desert or skating stoned in an empty pool. The album knows itself and readily accepts those cracks and flaws — a self-acceptance ritual most residents at one point perform. Given just how personal this LP is for Heavy Breather, it’s like they’re snarling at the world with crunchy hooks and endless nihilism. Chris Coplan
No VolcanoRubber Dagger
The title of No Volcano’s fourth album is a little misleading. The name Rubber Dagger gives the listener the impression that despite its edgy appearance, the band have decided to play it safe. However, if you give any of the 13 tracks a spin, you quickly realize that the quartet did nothing of the sort. The addition of local legend Bill Goethe allowed the band to push themselves forward. Their album release show had a similar vibe. If you’ve seen No Volcano perform live, everything looked familiar at Valley Bar in November, right down to the mirrorball mannequin head spinning wildly onstage. But there was a sense of immediacy when they performed the songs live. When it could have been easy to do more of the same, it was electrifying to watch the excitement in the eyes of these pros (we assume as they wear sunglasses onstage) as they stayed sharp and pushed themselves to the limit. JK
In March, downtown dive Gracie’s Tax Bar hosted Nanami Ozone’s album release party for their second full-length album, NO, in their parking lot. It was an unusual move for both the band and the bar (Gracie’s is better known for its curated jukebox, not for hosting live music). Then again, Nanami Ozone are not a typical band. For their first release on the Carolina-based indie label Tiny Engines, the quartet looked to their labelmates The Spirit of the Beehive for inspiration. In turn, they managed to brighten up the dark genre of shoegaze by adding catchy melodies to singles about loneliness and despair, which they do to great effect on the single “Alone Too.” The record caught the attention of many an indie music blog outside of Arizona, but the Valley would be wise to give the band the praise they deserve. If your New Year’s resolution is to listen to better music, do yourself a favor and shop local. JK
Jimmy Eat WorldSurviving
For 25 years, Jimmy Eat World have represented Phoenix on a national stage by delivering a steady stream of impeccably written pop-rock songs. One of the most intriguing developments of the past five years is their marriage with longtime M83 producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen. He’s refined their charm and freshened their sound, and Pitchfork now deems them worthy of a review. This October, their second collaboration arrived, Surviving. The album is a tight, 36 minutes of self-aware singalong songs. The lead single is “555,” a synthed-out power ballad named for the fictional area code all cinematic phone numbers share. Through addictive melodies, Jim Adkins laments his lifelong misfortune and complains that when he calls out for help, it falls on deaf ears, like calling a “dead line.” In the music video, the song’s narrator becomes a melancholic sci-fi dictator pouring his heart out to his hordes of identical minions. It’s like a depressed Darth Vader singing an emo song to an audience of concerned stormtroopers — awesome, infectious, and hilarious. Anthony Wallace
Big Phoenix Bands Playing Small Venues
The Maine and Jimmy Eat World played two small Phoenix venues: The Rebel Lounge and Crescent Ballroom, respectively. Seeing national artists where it all began for them spurred a feeling of hometown pride and felt like a reunion for the fans who were there from the beginning. Both sold-out shows also gave audiences a sneak peek into their upcoming projects: The Maine’s Sad Summer Festival setlist, and Jimmy Eat World’s Surviving. It was so easy to feel like an imposter surrounded by longtime fans who sang every word and got the inside jokes from early albums. But if you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution, just go see a local band no matter how big they’ve gotten. They’ll be more than happy to welcome you home. Taylor Gilliam
Low at Valley Bar
Slowcore legends Low performed in front of glowing towers of cherry-red light that looked like they were wrenched out of the walls from inside TRON’s computer world. On tour to support their album Double Negative, the band sounded both ancient and futuristic. You could hear the infinite in the way they transformed their sound into something that sounded entirely of vinyl pops and crackling hisses that looped and whirled outward like black holes trying to suck everything into them. You could hear the past in the interplay between Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker on songs like “What Part of Me” and “Always Trying to Work It Out.” Their voices would soar toward melodic heaven while touching on the deep sadness in blues and folk music. Watching them play was witnessing the birth of something new. Ashley Naftule
Over a slightly off-kilter bedroom pop-synth arpeggio, Danielle Durack repeatedly asks, “How do I start from the bottom?” “Start” is the first song on Bashful. She has always written music, but it wasn’t until she graduated from ASU last year that she decided to work on her dream of becoming a musician. When she started writing “Start,” she says she saw an image of a massive mountain with its peak obscured, and no clear idea of how to get to the top.
“Sunshine,” Bashful’s other standout track, appeared on millions of phones when it landed on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist. Durack capitalized on the momentum by playing dozens of local and regional shows in 2019. She just returned from Seattle, where she recorded a followup album, which is set for release next year. As she continues to work toward the top, “Start” is an endearing document of her humble origins. AW
Holy FawnDeath Spells
Stare at the album art for Death Spells and you’ll get a sense of what’s in store for you. A forest, beautiful yet foreboding, looms over a black pool of water with white flakes of what could be snow or shimmers of light. It almost looks like the night sky, with the stars snared in its inky black depths like a tar pit. Such is the nature of the music that local post-rock/metal heroes Holy Fawn play: a beautifully dark, heavy pool of sound you can fall into.
Released toward the end of 2018 (in time to land itself on year-end best lists at publications like Stereogum), Holy Fawn re-released the album on Holy Roar Records this year. It’s been on constant rotation ever since. Holy Fawn have embraced the pastoral qualities of bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, and Deafheaven, and infused them with heavy dollops of shoegaze and psychedelia. It’s often a placid record, lulling you into an uneasy comfort before it disrupts it with a heavy blast of aggressive sound. Listen to it a few times, and you’ll know what the dinosaurs in the LaBrea Tar Pits felt like. No matter how hard you try to pull away, Death Spells just pulls you deeper inside its world. AN
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Teek HallBlack Phillip
Local hip-hop fans received a treat over Halloween. Teek Hall, the rapper, podcast host, and new father, dropped Black Phillip on Phoenix. Inspired by the film The Witch, Hall spits out rhymes about the real-life horrors that are on the news over the haunting beats produced by Sumo Corleone. The Detroit native sounds reinvigorated on these tracks. Should Phoenix New Times take some credit for this inspired EP, as the artist has won the title of Best Rapper in our Best of Phoenix issue two years in a row? We’d like to, but let’s face it, he knew what he was doing before we did. JK