Although many blogs and publications try, it's impossible to cover every worthy and good piece of music and media. So, like last year, instead of yet another "Best Of" list, Nixie is here with a list of things we wish we hadn't missed!
Giver Taker, Anjimile
Anjimile is one of my favorite acts that I started listening to this year, and their debut Giver Taker is a gorgeously fresh folk project. It's warm and lush, with influence spanning from 80s pop to Anjimile's childhood in Malawi. There's a variety of themes tackled too, including sobriety, identity, and spirituality, treating these ideas and experiences with a sense of reverence.
Speaking with Under the Radar, Anjimile said this of which song defines Giver Taker: "Yeah, I think on the song 'Your Tree.' The refrain 'Nothing dies' I think is an accurate statement for this record because even in these cycles of rebirth that I’ve experienced, I am still here. I feel like everything changes all the time and everything flips. Experiences develop and memories of past experiences gain new perspective and things you used to think were dope are eventually whack. The lens of the beholder changes but perhaps the eye of the beholder itself doesn’t really change. The vessel holding the experience remains. I think that is the through-line throughout these songs."
Released via Nashville label To-Go Records, Donors is the first release from post-punk act Donors in two years. (Side note: Donors' first EP is also self-titled).
This second EP is an aggressive, cathartic listen, defined by unfiltered expression from Gabby Herrera's vocals. Together with Naomi Bartlett on drums and Kathryn Edwards on bass, the group plays often with dynamics and structure, creating a recklessly fun landscape for the listener. Listen below.
Skullcrusher is the project of L.A. songwriter Helen Ballentine, under which she began releasing music just this year. Skullcrusher is the debut self-titled EP, a compact project of four songs. It's dark and moody, with soft, acoustic guitars and Ballentine's dreamy vocals. There's space in the intricate arrangements, lending a feeling of scarcity to the collection.
"Trace" is perhaps my favorite song from Skullcrusher, with repetitive refrains like: "Hoping I don't cave in" and "If I stay here, what is that worth?" that disappears into a haze of crescendoing pianos.
Speaking with Teeth Magazine, Ballentine said this of what informs the project of Skullcrusher: "I think a part of it is the world that [my best friend] Anna brought me into, the electronic, techno, 90s rave aesthetic. Another realm is definitely the folk interest I developed as a kid and my direct influences in terms of learning guitar, the Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell world. Obviously the fantasy, medieval, renaissance, fairytale stuff that captured me as a kid and what we evolved with Norwegian Shag. As well as everything I learned from Noah in terms of songwriting and the idea of being able to make something on your own, how to be a DIY musician. He was the first person I talked to about quitting my job and pursuing music; being courageous and open to making it work on your own."
Breakfast for Champions, Tired Lion
Breakfast for Champions is the second full-length from Australian rock act Tired Lion, and it comes after a period of change for the band. Frontperson Sophie Hopes moved from Perth to Brisbane, creating a significant distance between her and her bandmates, leading to Hopes to search for new collaborators.
The magic that I found on Tired Lion's debut Dumb Days is not lost on Breakfast for Champions; in fact, the magic has only multiplied. Hopes returns with her signature grungy guitar tone - it is Hopes who plays guitar, bass, and keys throughout, while Michael Richard from Violent Soho plays drums - as well as the intensity in her vocals and words. The change and growth is seen thematically: Whereas Dumb Days was very centered on moving from youth to adulthood, Breakfast for Champions explores a variety of life's experiences, including leaving a home behind, love, and love lost.
Safe Sins, Gladie
Gladie began in the late 2010s as a side project of the punk band Cateyana's former lead, Augusta Koch. Safe Sins is the Philadelphia band's first full-length record, recorded after the indefinite hiatus of Cateyana was announced in 2019.
The phrase "safe sins" is a phrase lifted from Koch's notebook of poetry, and the record as a whole details the process of healing. “It’s representative of the stages that you go through when you’re grieving, but also how most people don’t move from one stage straight to the next one,” Koch says. “We wanted to showcase the full range that someone could feel about a particular loss, and how these phases can go in circles and change. One day, you could experience all of those things and come up with some type of closure, but then the next day feel differently. There’s never really a clean conclusion.”
The writing feels physical, often centered on the body and how the body is moving and feeling. "Will you use my body as a furnace/ I need to be of service/ Nostalgia manifests within/ You said my grief is a safe sin," Koch sings in "A Pace Far Different. Listen below.
Silverdays, Future Crib
Future Crib is one of my favorite Nashville bands. This year, they released Silverdays, an album full of their bright and jangly rock. Future Crib comprises Johnny Hopson, Julia Anderson, Bryce DuBray, Noah Pope and George Rezek.
"These songs and sounds are about growing up, skating with friends, and telling someone you love them," says the band of Silverdays. These songs also feel like skating with friends and growing up: they're playful and full of sunshine, packed with a little punch of bittersweetness. "Silverdays," the title track, goes like this: "Silverdays calling your name again/ The golden age is gone and now you can't pretend."
rope swing, Julianna Zachariou
Julianna Zachariou, a singer-songwriter currently based in San Diego, released a new EP this year, rope swing. Zachariou previously released a full-length and an EP, and she is also one-half of the band Echo Baby.
rope swing is a gentle, indie-pop collection that I've found myself returning to again and again since it was released in February. Zachariou's voice is light and bright, and I love her writing. In particular, I'm in love with the song "church street," which tells the story of a woman who wasn't exactly living life to the fullest ("She's in an office sending correspondence/ To the Queens of Sheba in their LA apartments"). Bu then, the character in the song starts to realize: "What's this life if we're not brave enough to live it?"
Listen to rope swing below.
Gatlin, a singer songwriter from here in Nashville, released her first EP this year in August. Titled Sugarcoated, it's a six-song project that was written and recorded in the previous eight months leading up to the release. And the name has a special significance for Gatlin.
"My whole life I have been taught to not show how deep my feelings are because it scares people - especially as a woman. So most of the songs are about deep and very heavy topics, but I feel the need to only scratch the surface as not to scare or overwhelm other people. To sugarcoat them."
Even as she was writing and releasing singles from the EP, she hadn't yet come to this realization. "It wasn’t until I wrote the last track on the EP, “Grown”, that I realized I didn’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to sugarcoat my emotions or experiences because that just gives you a watered down version of myself. I learned through this EP that the messy is powerful. Emotions are powerful. My feelings are powerful."