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.   

2020 in Review Part 6: Blasts from the Past

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

So many excellent compilations, reissues, and lost albums came out this year. And they were right on time; who didn’t want to escape the present in 2020? Then again, the more the archival release market heats up — and it shows no sign of cooling off — the more essential this category feels each year. There’s so much to learn from albums like these, whether they’re filling in a musical blind spot (as is the case with Light in the Attic’s endlessly awesome exploration of 20th century Japanese music) or helping you delve deeper into an album or artist you already loved. I’ve chosen five to highlight, but be sure to comb through the bonus list below them. So much retrospective fun in there.

Brother Theotis Taylor — Brother Theotis Taylor

I would recommend this to absolutely everyone. The joy it brings — the way it changes the air in your house when it starts spinning — is in a class all its own.

Various — How the River Ganges Flows: Sublime Masterpieces of Indian Violin, 1933​-​1952

I look at compilations curated by Chris King much the same way I look at John Coltrane’s work — I may not hear all of what more trained ears are able to hear, but the mere fact that I’m engaging with the texts and working toward a deeper understanding of them makes me feel like I’m growing. Like I’m inching taller by continuously grasping at something just out of my reach. I may jokingly call King’s earlier Third Man comps “stressful Greek music” to get a laugh out of Mrs. YHT, but I spin them often and am constantly amazed at the depth of feeling in the recordings. How the River Ganges Flows inspires and amazes in the same way.

Various — Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972​-​1986

Dancing in the kitchen. Dinner on the stove. This is the stuff that comes to mind when I see the (totally gorgeous) cover art for this second installment in Light in the Attic’s excellent Pacific Breeze series. It’s so fun. This has been my go-to album for celebrating something, whether it’s actual good news or just the elusive event that four cooped up family members are in a good mood at the same time. LITA’s ongoing reexamination of 20th-century Japanese music is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Various — The World Is a Cafeteria: American Soul Music (and one song from Ghana) 1955-1998

Time and time again, Cairo Records manages to put together soul collections that are otherworldly in terms of their impact. These compilations hit hard, in a way that reminds me of the supernatural quality folks often cite when describing Harry Smith’s work on the American Anthology of Folk Music. It’s like the tracks gain power by being next to one another. This is the fifth comp from Cairo, and while each one is utterly brilliant, the last side of this set is a cut above — the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” gone Ghanaian, Nina Simone’s version of “Suzanne,” and a downtempo version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that may actually eclipse the original version Prince’s estate finally released a couple years back. Don’t believe me? Listen below:

Gillian Welch — Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs

This would be a stunning set of songs regardless of how they came to be. But once you know the backstory for Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs — how these compositions were whipped up quickly to satisfy an unwanted publishing contract (Hanif Abdurraqib’s New York Times piece is a great place to read more) — listening to them is like looking directly at the sun, or trying to imagine how many times you’ve blinked in your life. The scope of her talent is just incomprehensible.

Case in point: I picked “Here Come the News” as the opening track for one of my Bandcamp Friday mixes simply because it has the word “here” in the title and therefore fits a dumb naming scheme I’ve been trying to keep going each month. I’ve since gotten to know “Here Come the News” inside and out and am convinced of two things: 1. It could be the best song on just about anyone else’s album from the last 50 or 60 years, and 2. I would reach that same conclusion if I were to arbitrarily obsess over any of the other 47 songs on Boots No. 2.

While I eagerly made my way through Vol. 1, I’m taking my time with the second and third. The sun lets you look a little at a time, right?

Other reissues/archival releases I enjoyed this year:

Robbie Basho — Songs of the Great Mystery
Bon Iver — Blood Bank (Having the whole thing on one side at 33 1/3 RPM with live versions on the other side is A+.)
John Coltrane — Giant Steps 60th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition
Bill Evans — Live At Ronnie Scott’s
Joni Mitchell — Live At Canterbury House – 1967
Oneness Of Juju ‎– African Rhythms 1970-1982 (more to come on this one)
Tom Petty — Wildlflowers & All the Rest
The Replacements ‎– The Complete Inconcerated Live
Various — A Little Bit at a Time: Spacebomb Family Rarities
(more on this to come on this one as well)
Wilco — Summerteeth
Neil Young — Homegrown

Butcher Brown

So much is happening in the Butcher Brown universe, y’all. Every time I try to start a post, more stuff happens, so I’ve put together a bulleted list to keep track of it all, starting back in January, when the conversation around an upcoming album started getting louder…

  • Butcher Brown has long represented a creative North Star amid the beautiful universe that is Richmond music, and in early 2020, they started shining brighter than ever. A new partnership with the prestigious Concord Jazz label. Intriguing tweets like this one. Confirmation of an upcoming album, and a lead single that hit in early March. (I stayed up until midnight that night to hear it, and “Tidal Wave” did not disappoint.)
  • Unfortunately, we all know what else hit in March. Nevertheless, this impossibly versatile and endlessly proficient group kept the momentum going with their “Mothership Monday” video series — covers ranging from Bob James’ oft-sampled “Nautilus” to “African Rhythms” by Oneness of Juju. (Here’s a news story on the series.) They played a surprise show at the reclaimed Marcus-David Peters Circle. They announced their upcoming album was called #KingButch, and when preorders were made available, I ordered my copy just about as fast as is humanly possible.
  • Over the course of the six months that followed, they released three more songs from #KingButch — “Cabbage (DFC),” the title track, and most recently, “Gum in My Mouth” — and yet, with the album’s release day in sight, they blew everyone’s mind in a whole other way when it was announced that they’d lent instrumentation to the song that would replace Hank Williams Jr.’s Monday Night Football intro music — a new version of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up.” It debuted just a few hours before I typed this sentence, and the world was a better place for it.
  • Micro-Chop just published an excellent piece entitled “Visualizing the Process of DJ Harrison.” Not directly related to Butcher Brown, but still very much worth a read.
  • That brings us to present day. Whew. It’s a lot to look back on, and I’m sure I’ve left plenty out, but it’ll all come full circle this Friday with the release of the album we’ve been looking forward to since January. Click here to snag a copy. Or a hat. Or a slipmat. As I mentioned, my preorder is in (still gold vinyl variants left!), but there’s not a single thing in that merch store I don’t want.

A quick personal note: I had the honor of interviewing Butcher Brown guitarist Morgan Burrs in January for a magazine article. The idea for that piece was that I’d speak to a few of Richmond’s leading musical voices and get a sense for the scene at that point in time, and one thing that struck me was how often Butcher Brown came up — not just in my conversation with Morgan, as you’d expect, but outside of it. They are a true source of inspiration and collaboration for so many other musicians in town, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see their innovative influence spreading so broadly. In that sense, their new album has one of the most fitting titles I’ve ever seen.

Long live #KingButch.