Is it possible to tell how a year will unfold based on something arbitrary like its span of album releases? No, because, sadly, the world is far more complicated than just such a wondrous prospect might promise. But if you could, then 2023 would be one for the books even just a mere month into the calendar. That’s because January not only saw releases from big local names but also some rather exciting new talents. It’s just more proof that even after the last few years, local artists still have heaps to say. Okay, the remainder of 2023, let’s see if you can somehow outdo this month.
AJJ, 'Disposable Everything'
AJJ have remained plenty busy with various shows and sporadic releases since 2020's excellent Good Luck Everybody. But we're more than grateful for the long-awaited release of their eighth studio record, Disposable Everything, due out May 26. The band's already released a few select cuts from the 14-track effort, including the more recent title track. Long-time fans will certainly find something familiar in this earnest, politically-charged ballad about the dismal state of modern life. However, there are far greater currents of both despair and righteous fury — a dynamic that demonstrates that AJJ are sharper than ever.
Lana Del Rabies, 'A Plague'
Back in October 2022, after some time away, local musician Sam An dug up the Lana Del Rabies project with a three-song covers EP. As it turns out, the "reunion" isn't quite over, as Del Rabies is set to release a brand-new album, STREGA BEATA, on March 17. The project's third full-length, the LP is "told through the evolving perspective of a cryptic and obscure 'Mother' creator figure, specifically echoing the mother and crone goddess archetypes." What that translates to, then, is tracks like "A Plague," with discharges of harrowing darkwave that'll have you seeking comfort (and we mean that in the best way possible).
When we introduced you to Wvelyn back in August 2022, you may have instantly picked up on the scary vibes permeating Witch Paint. This time around, though, the cover to Gunk Box looks more akin to the face of a Trapper Keeper belonging to a deeply devoted anime fan. Just don't let that charming face fool you too much, though, as the four-track effort remains equally unsettling and mesmerizing. Case in point: "Ghostgunk" (not to be confused with "Gourdgunk," "Gonegunk," and "Greasegunk"), with an ethereal beauty that will both lull listeners and have them waiting for the other shoe to drop. Enjoy.
The Lightsenders, 'The Atomic Vibration of Messier 87'
When The Lightsenders dropped Derek Is an Astronaut in September 2022, they unleashed a genuine epic of sweeping ambient rock. And after just such a feat, you'd perhaps maybe expect a band to take some time off, but The Lightsenders are no such outfit as the band's follow-up, ... And When the Sky Was Opened, arrives in full on February 3. They previewed the eight-track effort in January with "The Atomic Vibration of Messier 87." If the title alone didn't merit applause, the track itself is hugely powerful — even as it's nearing some 17 minutes. Here's the TL;DR for those not brave enough: multi-layered rock that ebbs and flows with robust intensity and emotionality.
Gnarwhal Jrz, 'Ice Cream Dream'
With last April's "Champagne Rain," local sonic chameleons Gnarwhal Jrz proved the multifacetedness of their core sound. But if you think the band are done pushing sonic boundaries, prepare to be shocked when you spin the brand-new The Speed of Gnar. The 16-track effort has all sorts of tinges and tweaks on surf and garage rock, from a robust '60s influence ("Take Me Home") to a '70s rock vibe ("Nobody Knows"). Yet the real piece de resistance of the LP has to be "Ice Cream Dream." At nearly seven minutes long, it's a slow-melting slice of psychedelia that'll have you swaying under the vast nighttime skies.
Mega Ran, 'Upgrade (Chainsaw Man)'
You don't exactly have to be Garfield to know that Mondays are utterly terrible. But what if there were a way to somehow improve that day where relaxation dies and reality sets in? Luckily, all you need to do is spin Mega Ran Mondays, a brand-new four-track EP that collects the YouTube offerings from the local MC for the month of January 2023. That includes "Upgrade (Chainsaw Man)" featuring Shwbadi (and produced by Yon L.I.) The track is quintessentially Mega Ran — which is to say, slightly nerdy, doubly energetic, and the sort of jam that'll make any Monday seem like a proper Friday night.
Pleasure Cult, 'Maneater'
This young-ish Phoenix band has been making minor waves over the last year or so by releasing "sad indie songs to dance and fall in love to." As such, an album title like The Best Secret You'll Never Keep may be more apt than ever before. Especially when you consider gems like the four-track effort's undeniable standout, "Maneater." A little rollicking but never any less sensuous, the track feels like the perfect encapsulation of how Pleasure Cult effortlessly marries lush dream pop emotions with pure indie rock sensibilities. This is surely one cult you won't ever mind joining.
Dad Weed, 'Make a Place for My Love'
Dad Weed is the main project of local musician Zach Toporek, who you may recognize as a collaborator of JPW/Jason P. Woodbury. Toporek is a skilled writer and musician in his own right, and he uses the 11 tracks that comprise High Time (pun!) to demonstrate that in spades. (So much so that we can ignore it actually dropped in mid-December 2022, right?) Here, he spins in everything from shimmery power-pop to more sturdy country-rock, forging an album that feels purposeful without being overly deliberate. For a perfectly scrumptious sampler, just spin "Make a Place for My Love," which blends Toporek's big ideas and bigger influences into a poignant romance ballad for our wacky age.
Sweetbleeders have been a regular attraction in the Phoenix music scene since the late '90s. They were part of a sudden uptick in earnest indie/alt rock (albeit with a more robust streak of baroque pop), and count among their inspirations the likes of Radiohead and Rufus Wainwright. In January, the band unveiled its first album in some eight years with the 10-track Decisions. It's another apt album title given that you may be hard-pressed to find your favorite among the tracklist. However, may we humbly suggest "Ketchup," which expertly toes the line between oversized alt-rock jam and contemplative ballad. It's a proper slice of why Sweetbleeders are genuine local pros.
Teek Hall, 'Carpe Noctem'
With last November's ChinaTown, local rapper Teek Hall gave listeners "a tour [through] the crime-infested alleys" that comprise most modern American cities. With January's We Own The Night, despite its somewhat menacing title, Hall is in a celebratory mood, breaking off an eight-track effort for "fans and supporters." (It's also something of a celebration of the titular 2007 film starring Joaquin Phoenix.) For a track that reflects all of those multifaceted ideas and energies, spend a few extra minutes with "Carpe Noctem." It's another simple but powerful banger where all the focus remains on Hall as he tears through our twisted world with nearly immaculate bars.
The Roof Rats, 'Podcast'
The Roof Rats are a self-described "art punk band" from the Valley. Now, that little genre qualifier means different things to different folks, but we can mostly agree it's good old-fashioned punk with a little twist. And said twists are clearly on display amid Live at Yucca Tap Room, a 10-track collection recorded on January 20 from the Tempe institution. If you listen to nothing else, spin "Podcast," where you can hear the band's reliance on kooky synth parts and practically feel their DIY fury. Does the rather, let's say, low-quality production hurt the band and the record at large? No way; it just makes everything feel all the more zany, intense, and pleasantly ramshackle.
Hot Probs, 'The Wrong Way to Mount a Horse'
Sure, demos aren't exactly the best way to judge a new band. Even the best-recorded tapes can sound like they're coming from a broken car stereo submerged in Tempe Town Lake. But there's already a lot to like about Hot Probs. It's the name; the sick hot dog album art; and song titles like "Arm Wrestle Arm Wrestle Hug." But mostly, it's the music, including the third and final track, "The Wrong Way to Mount a Horse." Sure, it's a lot of amateurish tones from a group that's clearly still finding their feet musically. But it's nonetheless charming, and you can hear the white-hot potential under all that janky dissonance.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.