2020 in Review Part 7: RVA

Part 1: Duos
Part 2: Covers
Part 3: Survival Sounds
Part 4: Jazz
Part 5: Live
Part 6: Blasts from the Past
Part 7: RVA (You are here!)
Part 8: 31 Favorites

Think about a place that’s especially meaningful to you. It isn’t just a place, is it? It’s a feeling too, I bet. Maybe it’s a sound or a taste. A mode. A chapter in your life. You often don’t notice those associations until after the fact — until you’re away for a while, or until you’ve moved on. It’s hard to process meaning when you’re busy. I don’t know about you, but the life-on-hold stillness of 2020 has resulted in waves of meaning cresting and crashing constantly, and as the year comes to a close, I’m flooded with gratitude for Richmond music. It’s been a lifeline. A source of joy. A way to locate myself in the world. A way to remember that the world is still, in fact, out there. A reminder that community boils down to something more essential than physically being together. Charlottesville singer-songwriter Devon Sproule called that “The Gold String,” singing:

I’m imagining a golden string that is connecting
Everything but especially, beings where love has been.
I’ve imagined it again and again so often,
It isn’t even imagining, it is making it happen.

That’s exactly the pull I’ve felt when spending time with the albums below. I bet you’ll feel it too if you give them a listen. You’ll notice there are a few more in this list than the others I’ve posted before. Like I said — it’s been a flood. And my sincerest thanks go out to the artists mentioned below. 

addy — Eclipse

I am so happy Eclipse is in my life. There’s a specific sense of joy in putting it on the turntable and knowing that Adam Watkins’ voice is going to be drifting through the house, carving graceful and distinctive contours around their songs’ lyrics. I love this album, and while this may sound obvious, it seems uniquely worth saying that I love listening to it. It’s wonderfully layered and immersive, and Watkins’ singing is a big reason why. If you haven’t heard Eclipse yet, treat yourself to an enjoyably enveloping experience.

Saw Black — Horsin’ ‘Round

Looking back, it seems fitting that Saw Black was the first artist I posted about after the pandemic started getting truly scary. I’ve turned to his music during other difficult times and have found comfort and joy when both seemed hard to come by. In what’s either coincidence or fate, I spent a few sentences in that post playing up Bandcamp as a way to support artists — just before Bandcamp held its first fee-free Friday. The next such event isn’t until February, but there’s not a bad day to buy music at Bandcamp, and while this Horsin’ Around EP may be sold out, the WarHen Records page has plenty more Saw for sale.

Butcher Brown — #KingButch

In a year that was as eventful as any I can remember, this album shone like an event unto itself. The build-up, the singles, Mothership Mondays, finally getting to hear the whole thing… these were some of my fondest musical memories of 2020. That’s one reason why I put together a bulleted recap of those milestones on the week #KingButch was finally released. In a year that was deeply upsetting in so many ways, everything Butcher Brown did was a reason to celebrate. I feel lucky to be living in Richmond during the Butcher Brown era. If I have grandkids, I’m going to be bragging to them about that fact one day. I’m certain of it.

Deau Eyes — Let It Leave

I didn’t publish many interviews in 2020, but one artist I had the great honor of chatting with was Ali Thibodeau of Deau Eyes. Here’s a snippet from the intro I wrote for our Q&A, which was published by The Auricular:

Over the course of nine beautifully rendered songs, Thibodeau demonstrates vocal skills and versatility that were shaped by a past in musical theater, while giving listeners every reason to celebrate her decision to leave that world behind to pursue her songwriting. It’s an inspiring listen, whether you’re rocking out with the wry and retrospective lead single “Some Do,” or soaking in her soaring anthem to freedom, “Autonomy” — a live set staple that ends, simply, “Let’s begin.”

McKinley Dixon — The House That Got Knocked Down

Did y’all see this teaser clip announcing a 2021 McKinley Dixon/Spacebomb project? Mind blown. Details are scant, but whatever they’re working on, I can’t wait to hear it. In the meantime, I’ll keep spinning this excellent EP, which came out in early 2020. “Sun Back” is on one of the first mix CDs I made from my Bandcamp Friday purchases, and as a result, it’s been a constant — something I’ve come back to again and again to recharge and reset.

DJ Mentos — The Maxell Tapes Volume 2

It was so rewarding seeing this on Bandcamp Daily’s list of the best beat tapes of November. DJ Mentos’ work has an off-the-charts consistency when it comes to quality and impact. His beats hit hard, and the Bandcamp write-up confirmed as much:

The Maxell Tapes bumps from the middle of a boom-bap and trip-hop Venn diagram. These were beats for fans of Da Beatminerz and DJ Shadow, DJ Premier and Portishead. The Maxell Tapes Vol. 2 picks up where Vol. 1 left off, further mining and moving around that middle ground for more skull-cracking downtempo beats.

FM Skyline — liteware

Love this album. A few words from the very first Bandcamp Friday post, which, by my calculations, went up approximately 175 years ago:

With the backing of the 100% Electronica label, Pete Curry’s vaporwave project represents one of Richmond’s most ascendant acts at present.

Angelica Garcia — Cha Cha Palace

2020’s concert calendar was short but illustrious; I made it out to only a handful of performances before things shut down due to COVID, but the ones I did see were phenomenal. The release show for Angelica Garcia’s Cha Cha Palace was one of them. It was as magical and dynamic as the album itself, with decorations around Gallery5 that turned the venue into a living representation of the album’s visual identity. Take a look at that cover art, and imagine being immersed in that beautiful assemblage of personal history. It was so generous of Garcia to invite us in like that, and the energy she brought onstage was utterly unforgettable.

Gold Connections — Ammunition

Another artist I feel very fortunate to have spoken to for The Auricular this year (read the interview here) was Will Marsh of Gold Connections, who is as gracious in conversation as he is adept at writing songs that stay with you — both because they’re endlessly relistenable and because they pull zero punches lyrically. The material on Ammunition was written before the lockdown, but the EP feels as pointed and vital as anything I heard this year.

Hotspit — Hotspit Live Session

From October’s Bandcamp Friday post:

If you’ve been following this Bandcamp bonanza from the very beginning, you might remember that my very first Bandcamp Friday post included music by Avery Fogarty, who fronts the Richmond band Hotspit. That group just released a three-track live session, which is very exciting. I’m especially fond of the first track, which illustrates the range the group has, and how great they sound in exploratory mode. Well worth a download.

The Hustle Season — Volume 1

A quick snippet from my November Bandcamp Friday post:

I’m a relatively new listener [the The Hustle Season podcast], so I’m in that honeymoon phase of familiarizing myself with all the regular segments and recurring jokes, but no additional research is needed to know that the show’s hosts (Reggie Pace, Gabriel Santamaria, James Seretis, and Kelli Strawbridge) bring a super-deep pool of musical talent to the table, and their Volume 1 LP provides a kaleidoscopic glimpse of those varied interests and abilities.

Kids Techno — The Harmony of Spheres

While the creator of The Harmony of Spheres remains mysterious, the album’s impact has become familiar over the course of 2020, given its release right around New Year’s. With apologies to Radiohead, another fine purveyor of mystery, I put this on when I want to disappear completely. It’s such a great way to zone out or zone in — whatever you’re looking for. 

Lefthnd — ad mausoleum

From my review for the Auricular:

The album packs an abundance of ideas into 28 minutes, grabbing your attention from the outset and keeping it over the course of eight songs that form an exceedingly rewarding encapsulation of Lane’s talents as a player, songwriter, and producer.

Lonely Rooms — Until We Have To

From September’s Bandcamp Friday post:

I love this album. It’s remarkably poised, capturing moments of quiet turmoil and questioning made crystalline by melodies and structures that make you want to sing along and stay in the moment, however difficult it may be. And while there’s tremendous weight to the lyrics, closing track “Comeback” leaves you with a hopeful mantra I plan to return to repeatedly:

No alarms. No attacks.
Today wasn’t that bad.
I can take some comfort in that.
Try and figure out where my head is at.
I need strength and I find that I can
Feel it coming back.

Erin Lunsford — The Damsel

The chat with Erin Lunsford that I mentioned ahead of my covers list followed an earlier interview we did for an issue of James Magazine that came out in March. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a hard copy, but you can read the piece here. In it, she previews a solo record that would embrace her musical roots, and The Damsel is the extraordinary result of that sonic rediscovery. Lunsford has a rare vocal gift, and she pairs that power with generous, intimate storytelling for a totally distinctive set of songs — an album only she could produce. No matter where her path leads — and hers is clearly among the most promising of anyone’s in Richmond — this is an album future fans can return to when seeking a more complete understanding of her artistry.

Philip James Murphy Jr — bummer is icumen in

From the last Bandcamp Friday post of the year:

Philip James Murphy Jr has been a Bandcamp Friday MVP throughout this year… His music has a sense of melodic detail I enjoy, as well as a lived-in feeling that I’ve found to be comforting. Great winter listening.

Given that last bit, the song below may seem like an odd choice (the middle-English song it’s derived from references summer), but give credit where credit’s due: You can’t get much more right than releasing a song called “bummer is icumen in” in January of 2020. Come to think of it, WHAT DID MURPHY KNOW AND WHEN?!? We need answers.

Noah-O — DEADSTOCK VOL​.​1-8

Tremendous respect is due to Noah-O, who released an album a week from late April to mid June. Eight straight Fridays putting music out into the world, with sorely needed stories of perseverance and growth. Just incredible. A true inspiration.

Oneness of Juju — African Rhythms 1970​-​1982

Plunky Branch is another 2020 MVP. His front porch concerts were a staple of Byrd Park life for months. What a beautiful scene that was — lawn chairs, dancing, strollers, actual live music… I only made it out a couple of times, and didn’t get to stay long either time. When I did, I wished I could bottle those moments and carry them with me.

On that same day I got to see my first Plunky porch concert, I picked up a copy of this new comp from Deep Groove. The timing was impeccable; I’d just started to get into his music, and I wanted to snag something to spin at home, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Strut Records to the rescue with this excellent sampling of Oneness’ output.

Ophelia — Ophelia

From October’s Bandcamp Friday post:

A big part of past Bandcamp Fridays has been music that’s resurfaced — extra copies of pressings that had sold out, or albums that are seeing the light of day after spending some time on the shelf. This Ophelia album is such a glorious example of the latter, as it hit Bandcamp a couple of weeks ago after having been recorded back in 2010. After hearing it and enjoying it tremendously — including a magnificent listen all the way through on a long run at dusk — it’s hard to imagine this not being out in the world. 

Opin — Media & Memory

From October’s Bandcamp Friday post:

There’s a specific anticipatory joy that floods in just before you hear a new Opin song for the first time. Their track record of adventurousness means you’re never sure where they’re about to take you. It’s exhilarating — especially when, time and time again, you end up thrilled with where they’ve decided to go with their sound…

PANGEYA — PANGEYA

While exceedingly deserving of a place on this list on its own, the self-titled PANGEYA tape also stands in for the many other amazing 2020 releases from Ohbliv’s various pseudonyms. Here’s a list of the ones that were on my radar:

Bradford Thomas — Bradventure III
DarkTwaine_ — Shadow Work
DarkTwaine_ — The Hainted
DarkTwaine_ — BLACKRADIANCE
DarkTwaine_ — L’enfants Savage
Ohbliv — Foreverpayingdues
Ohbliv — LewseJoints Number 8 (a)
Ohbliv — LewseJoints Number 8 (b)
Ohbliv — Spirit Medicine
Ohbliv — Spirit Medicine B Sides

Only a legend like Ohbliv would warrant his own list within a list like this. And we’re not even factoring in the beats of his included on other amazing albums. Speaking of which…

Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin — FlySiifu’s

From December’s Bandcamp Friday post:

I already have my copy of FlySiifu’s, but I thought I’d include the album here for two reasons: 1. It’s excellent and well worth your Bandcamp bucks, and 2. The merch associated with it is A+. Can’t-miss holiday shopping right here. The work shirts are mostly sold out, sadly, but there are still long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts, among other items. Consider it a rule going forward that if your album invents/takes place in a fictional record store, and you then start selling merch for said fictional record store, you have my undivided attention. (Especially when said album happens to be one of the best released all year.)

Ruth Good — Haunt

I got more into cassettes this year, and was thrilled when I saw the Citrus City notification about this Ruth Good EP getting a release on tape. It’s a quick but super-substantive 4-song listen, with contributions from A-plus instrumentalists like Alan Parker and Eric Slick. (Not the last time you’ll see that name on one of these lists!) I’m especially fond of “All My Life,” which has a monster chorus that hits like something that would have been on a Traveling Wilburys album — big and memorable, the kind that makes for a killer live singalong. Hopefully one day.

Sons Of The James — Everlasting

I’ve spent a ton of time with “Things I Should Have Said” — to the point that the song’s distinctive fade-in has become a piece of music I look forward to in and of itself. No surprise there, given the mastery of sonic texture and detail that DJ Harrison brings to everything he produces. 

Spacebomb House Band — IX: The Best Played Lands

I’ve been a fan of these Spacebomb House Band tapes since they were released under the “Library Music” banner. They’re uniformly excellent and consistently surprising, and 2020 saw three new volumes added to the series. Picking a favorite out of those three is tough, since they collect so many unique moments and vibes, but I have to single out “The Bigs” from the ninth installment — a super-fierce beat that would have been right at home on Liquid Swords. So good.

Various — A Little Bit at a Time: Spacebomb Family Rarities

Speaking of Spacebomb, this comp is an absolute gold mine, showing how multifaceted the outfit’s impact is, from management and publishing to production. There are gems here from local and non-local artists alike, but I was especially thrilled to see an unreleased Sleepwalkers song on here. As someone who spent the years between Greenwood Shade and Ages eagerly awaiting more of their music, I value new Sleepwalkers tunes very highly, and the sudden appearance of “Why Am I So Sad” was a real treat.   

Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

How’s everyone’s week going? Anything eventful happening? In all seriousness, if you’re like me, you could use a reason to stare at something other than election results. Bandcamp Friday to the rescue once again. In truth, Bandcamp waiving its fees for a day is more than an excuse to stop doomscrolling. We seem to be entering a new phrase of the pandemic-prompted pause on live music, given that case numbers are climbing to record highs, and I’m more motivated than ever to send love and support to the artists who are releasing new music out into a world that’s desperately in need of the kind of fulfillment only art can provide.

This time around, I thought I’d zoom in on folks with Richmond connections. I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen with the election, but I know that looking out for one another listening more deeply are going to be crucial along the road ahead. As I said in my post on election day, I love you all, and I think you’ll find some new music you love below:

Gold Connections — Ammunition

I posted back in June about Gold Connections’ previous release, a searching standalone tune entitled “Iowa City” that was recorded in isolation during The Year of Our Lord 2020™. These tunes, on the other hand, came from sessions that predated COVID, and while these have a full band feel that distinguishes them from “Iowa City,” it feels like it’s all part of one big winning streak in which Gold Connections is releasing one crisp, memorable tune after another. If tapes are your thing, be sure to grab one of these before they’re gone. I certainly will be.

Sons Of The James — “Everlasting

The full-length debut from this dynamic duo of Rob Milton and DJ Harrison is due 11/19, and I can’t wait to hear the whole thing. All the singles (including “Things I Should Have Said,” which was featured on HBO show Insecure) have been excellent, and this last one, “Everlasting,” is no exception.

Bradford Thomas — Bradventure III

When I started making mix CDs that compiled select Bandcamp Friday downloads, I decided on a no-repeat artists rule — as a way to keep things fresh, and as an extra incentive for being adventurous when the next Bandcamp Friday rolled around. Beat craftsman Ohbliv has sidestepped that rule repeatedly thanks to his many pseudonyms — I’m pretty sure only one or two mixes HAVEN’T included sounds he made. This is my first purchase on his Bradford Thomas page, but I bet it won’t be my last.

Big Kahuna OG — HOW TO MOB, Vol. 1

More brilliance from the Mutant Academy contingent — this time a beat tape from Big Kahuna OG, who is half of the combo that brought you standout 2019 LP Holly Water. I’ve been enjoying all of HOW TO MOB, Vol. 1, but “SCHEME THRU THE VONAGE” is an early favorite, with layer upon layer of sound inviting you to lose yourself along the way. So good.

The Hustle Season — Volume 1

The Hustle Season podcast has been my go-to auditory coping mechanism during this unfathomably tense week. Speaking of losing yourself — it’s been such a relief disappearing into discussions of Phil Collins’ relationship troubles, magician-shaming, and the surprising awesomeness of the AC/DC comeback. I’m a relatively new listener, so I’m in that honeymoon phase of familiarizing myself with all the regular segments and recurring jokes, but no additional research is needed to know that the show’s hosts (Reggie Pace, Gabriel Santamaria, James Seretis, and Kelli Strawbridge) bring a super-deep pool of musical talent to the table, and their Volume 1 LP provides a kaleidoscopic glimpse of those varied interests and abilities. I definitely recommend giving “The Day The Nationalists Came” a listen as a way to process the week’s political news. In that sense, the Hustle Season has helped me both escape from and engage with this challenging and historic time. I’m deeply grateful.

tangent — “gone in your eyes

More Kelli Strawbridge! The versatile member of some of my favorite Richmond groups (including Mekong Xpress & the Get Fresh Horns) has shared a new song under the stage name tangent. Love the feel and flow of this one. Looking forward to hearing more tangent tunes.

Mitchel Evan — “Leeches

Richmond singer-songwriter Mitchel Evan has kept a steady stream of new music coming throughout the quarantine, including a seven-song EP entitled Don’t Tell Me It’s Gonna Be Alright that was released in April. (Also available on Bandcamp!) His latest is called “Leeches” — alongside previous single “Band-Aid,” it heralds an LP that promises to be one of the city’s 2020 Americana highlights.

Other releases on my radar for today:

Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol. 7
Jaimie Branch — SOS sessions 3
ragenap & the Baked Growhouse Orchestra — “the national anthem
DJ Mentos — The Maxell Tapes Volume 2
Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell — Live at the Shoals Theatre
Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood — LIVE

Gold Connections

Each night, I read to my daughter from a series of books entitled Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I’d recommend it highly to anyone looking for a new bedtime reading routine. The stories are consistently inspiring, and there’s one I keep thinking about when listening (and repeatedly re-listening) to Gold Connections’ new song “Iowa City.”

We owe our understanding of plate tectonics and continental drift in large part to an American geologist named Marie Tharp, who painstakingly compiled sonar measurements and seismographic data to chart the topography of the Atlantic Ocean floor. To that point in history, people thought it was a flat slab of mud. No rift valleys or trenches of terrifying depth. Just… mud. It’s amazing how spectacularly wrong we can be before someone like Tharp comes along and puts the pieces together for us.

Every time a place is named in “Iowa City,” from the title city to New Mexico, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, I hear the “ping” of a sonar reading. All the places we visit, all the people we get to know, all the conversations with those people… they’re all readings that end up forming the topography of our selfhood. We bounce off the world, and in turn, we’re shaped by it. And the more we listen, the more our capacity for understanding expands.

“Iowa City” is a breakup song with layers; Gold Connections frontman Will Marsh has said it concerns both an actual breakup and the sudden stop to touring that came with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. A feeling of loss is present throughout, with lyrics like “It’s just the way it goes” and “What else can I do,” and harmonica that sounds distant, as if it’s coming from a past that’s receding from view. Meanwhile, the references to driving offer bitter reminders of how the vans that should be hauling amps and snare drums across the country are parked in driveways and rental car parking lots.

The road may go on forever, as Robert Earle Keen famously put it, but we’re not always on it. It strikes me that the current shutdown means our sonar readings are internal. Cut off from new places, people, and experiences, we’re left to map the trenches of our present and past. I have to think that’s a factor in this moment of collective reckoning we’re experiencing around racism, Confederate monuments, and police brutality. In ways that are both personal and political, so many people are putting the pieces together to draw a new map of what America really looks like. I think Marie Tharp would approve.

Speaking of the ongoing demonstrations around race and policing, there’s another great reason to download “Iowa City” today: Sales through the end of June are being donated to the National Bail Fund Network in “solidarity with everyone fighting on the front lines for racial and economic justice in America.”

I’d also recommend checking out this gorgeous lyric video for “Turn,” one of the tunes from last year’s excellent Like a Shadow EP.

Gold Connections

I’ve lived my whole life along the I-64 corridor in Virginia — Norfolk until I graduated high school and then Richmond for college and beyond. It’s a stretch Gold Connections frontman and leading creative force Will Marsh knows just as well, given his Charlottesville roots and his time spent at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. His drive between home and school probably wasn’t too different from mine — between an hour and a half and two hours if the traffic was kind. Worse on summer weekends when the Outer Banks were in business.

We had the opportunity to speak over the phone early in June. The first full-length Gold Connections album, Popular Fiction, had come out a few weeks before, giving me more than enough time to fall hard for Marsh’s writing and knack for studio decision-making. I’d also gotten a kick out of tracing the way standout tracks like “Salt” and “Isabel” evolved from versions he recorded in 2014 with W&M contemporary Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest for the self-titled Gold Connections EP, which didn’t end up being released until 2017. Hearing more about how those two projects took shape and the tremendous care Marsh puts into how his music is presented was really interesting, and it got me thinking about I-64. Whether long or short, there’s something sacred about the time between recording and releasing music. How many times did those songs provide a uniquely private soundtrack to a drive along that stretch of road? What else might the people next to us on the highway be carrying with them? What hopes, problems, and creations?

All that said, Marsh is looking and driving squarely forward, with an outstanding debut LP and the backing of Richmond’s EggHunt Records. Click here to read the River City Magazine article I wrote about our conversation. It’s in the inaugural issue of River City as a standalone publication, and I’d love it if you grabbed a copy around town or checked it out online. You can hear yet another version of “Isabel” below, from a Bridge Room Session I’d recommend highly.

Friday Cheers

fridaycheers2017-logo-color-highrez

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
-Christmas song written by someone who hasn’t witnessed a Friday Cheers schedule rollout

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Friday Cheers is my favorite part of the year. It’s warm but not sweaty, the weekends feel longer, since the early Cheers start times mean you’re outside and enjoying yourself ASAP… it makes me so happy. Here’s the full schedule. Things are going to be a little nutty this year, given that Mrs. YHT is set to deploy Baby YHT #2 in early May, but here are three of the shows I’m hopeful that we/I/y’all will be able to make:

Lee Fields & the Expressions with Kings — May 5

This show being announced was my Lee Fields wake-up call. I see his records nearly every time I go to Steady Sounds, and I keep meaning to learn more about him — now’s the time. I’m doing it. You can’t stop me. Friday Cheers has hosted two of the best soul shows I’ve ever seen — Charles Bradley and the late great Sharon Jones — so this one shouldn’t be missed.

 


Conor Oberst with Big Thief — June 2

Already snagged a ticket for this one. I wrote a short time ago about how psyched I am for his special-guest-heavy upcoming album Salutations, and since it’ll be out by the time this show rolls around, I’ll almost certainly be spending some quality time at the merch tent on June 2.

 

Car Seat Headrest with Gold Connections — June 30

OK, so I saw them twice last year. I don’t care — as Toddler YHT’s hero Ariel once said so poignantly “I want more…” Speaking of wanting more, I managed to find a used copy of Teens of Style, the album prior to Teens of Denial, and I was surprised by how many of the older (relatively speaking — he’s released ocean of material already) songs I knew. I recommend prepping for this show by diving into Will Toledo’s earlier stuff, which can be found on Bandcamp.

Hope y’all are getting excited as well. Here’s another link to the full schedule and here’s a link to an article I wrote last year about Friday Cheers that includes an interview with Venture Richmond Festival Manager Stephen Lecky.