2020: Silver Linings to a Tragic Year

It’s safe to say 2020 was the worst year on record for many in the United States. With hundreds of thousands dead from COVID-19, it’s hard to think of much else sometimes. While I’m not confident that the pandemic will be resolved quickly, efficiently, or without significantly more loss of life, there have been some silver linings to 2020. Quarantine has taken me out of the usual routine and given me some fresh perspectives. In addition to enabling me to get outside backpacking A LOT more than usual, I have also picked up practicing the guitar, learning half a dozen songs, and writing a few of my own. Operations at Soundscape City have been limited to a handful of socially distanced recording sessions and mixing due to the coronavirus.

Below is a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite releases this year. Thank you very much to all those musicians who released albums in 2020 despite losing income on touring and gigging. I hope you find some new gems on this list!

Pacific Northwest Releases

Greet the Sea – Whatever Intended


It’s been 5 years since Greet the Sea’s last release, and it was well worth the wait for Whatever Intended. Focusing more on catchy songwriting, the band still remains true to their roots utilizing atmospheric post-rock textures and math-rock inspired guitar work. They even venture into some heavier moments like on the track Heavy Breathing. This band is so Seattle it makes me smile.

Coastlands – Death


Coastlands continues to darken their sound trudging deeper and deeper into the realm of metal. Death sees the band fully embracing the genre. They even add screaming vocals with a guest appearance by Dustin Coffman to one of my favorite tracks on the album, Dead Friends.

Eastern Sunz – Fuel for a Fool’s Errand

Hip hop.

I might be a bit late to the Eastern Sunz party. They seem to have been around for a while and I just started listening to them. Regardless, Fuel for a Fool’s Errand was one of my favorite hip hop albums of the year, and their scathing political commentary is backlit by some stellar production.

Ghost Frog – Astral Arcade


I first met Ghost Frog assisting Eric Broestl at Big Red Studio when they were working on their last album Cosmic Bowling. The new Astral Arcade was years in the making, and Ghost Frog’s finest release to date. I love the combination of psychedelic rock with pacific northwest grunge, and Eric’s phenomenal mixing job really puts the finishing touches on these sludgy earworms.

Korgy & Bass – Agrocrag

Drum & bass.

Korgy & Bass keep distilling their sound into groovier and harder hitting productions while maintaining their focus on spontaneity, creativity, and improvisation. Agrocrag is my favorite K&B album so far, and it combines a gritty 90s hip hop aesthetic with more modern EDM tricks and even some references to dubstep. I guarantee you haven’t heard this music before. If only I could’ve seen Barra and Alex perform Agrocrag live this year…

Soft Kill – Dead Kids R.I.P. City


I’ve been venturing into more 80s territory in my listening tastes lately, and it’s not a secret that many bands have been mimicking that 80s sound as well. Soft Kill’s Dead Kids R.I.P. City combines 80s synths and drums with a good dose of shoegaze guitars. It’s certainly not a new sound, but to be able to pull this sound off so well is impressive (and the songs are catchy to boot).

Laura Viers – My Echo

Indie folk.

The duo of Laura Viers and Tucker Martine felt like the famous power couple of Portland if there ever was one. Well, turns out they’re humans, too, and they are getting (got?) a divorce. My Echo is Viers’ coming to terms with her divorce from Martine, and if anything it’s a testament that personal pain is a great motivator for amazing art.

Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Chamber pop.

While more straightforward and less experimental than the breakout album No Shape, Mike Hadreas has put a premium on catchy songwriting for his latest release. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately takes what made No Shape popular and doubles-down on that sound. If you liked his last album, you’ll probably like this one. If you didn’t, you probably won’t.

Floating Room – Tired and True

Art rock.

One of the shining examples of the weird and quirky art rock that Portland is known for, Floating Room has been steadily pivoting away from the shoegaze that characterized Maya Stoner’s early releases and moving toward a more poppy sound with less reverb and punchier production.

Sunbathe – Somewhere in Between

Garage pop.

After the Portland staple of indie-rock, Genders, broke up, Maggie Morris started her new project, Sunbathe. Her first album as Sunbathe felt like a clear departure from Genders. Maybe it was an attempt to demarcate what was Genders and what is Sunbathe. On her latest album, Somewhere in Between, I hear more of the textures and melodies that made Genders so great, and it’s a welcome return to form for Morris’ fantastic songwriting with a strong dose of garage pop, psychedelic rock, and shoegaze.

Non-local Releases

Hailaker – Holding (UK)


IDLES – Ultramono (Bristol, UK)

Post punk.

Soccer Mommy – color theory (Nashville, TN)

Bedroom pop.

Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud (Philadelphia, PA)


Tricot – 10 (Japan)


Nation of Language – Introduction, Presence (New York, NY)

New wave.

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (Los Angeles, CA)

Indie folk.

Gleemer – Down Through (Fort Collins, CO)


The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers (Auckland, NZ)

Pop punk.

Son Lux – Tomorrows Vol. I (New York, NY)

Experimental indie.

2018: Finally, women all over year-end lists

This year I was glad to see female artists well-represented across many year end lists. It’s stating the obvious (at least for those who view female musicians as equals), but female talent has always been present in the music industry. The only difference with 2018 is that females are getting more of the respect and recognition they deserve, and I would argue this is primarily because a large number of amazing women have stood up against a music industry that has historically been anti-female, sexist, and full of toxic masculinity.

Take a listen to some of the fantastic releases I came to love throughout this year, many of which feature female artists. It has been a busy year at Soundscape City with releases from Luna Vista and Cloud Six, and a laundry list of projects that are soon to be released in 2019 (but I’ll keep them secret for now).

Enjoy! Below is a Spotify playlist and links to each release.

Pacific Northwest Releases

No Kind of Rider – Savage Coast


It took 12 years as a band for No Kind of Rider to release their first full-length album, and Savage Coast was actually worth the wait. It’s dark, moody, and has just the right balance of catchy grooves mixed with intricate melodies and technical rhythms. I just hope their next release doesn’t take 12 years to make…

Jenn Champion – Single Rider

80s pop.

It’s easy to overdo 80s style productions. Jenn finds a place where her throwback production only adds power to her emotional content and musical aesthetic rather than detract.

Sloucher – Be True

90s alt-rock.

Further embracing their 90s sound, Sloucher’s first full length, Be True, is strong all the way through. The occasional twang adds to the nostalgia of this release, but it’s also clear that Sloucher has their eyes set on the future as their popularity grows.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

Lo-fi psych and soul.

This is my favorite Unknown Mortal Orchestra release to date. Their blend of lo-fi and danceable soul pairs perfectly with Nielson’s lofty lyrics about the complicated state of our modern society. UMO have refined their songwriting while managing to retain the raw aesthetic of earlier releases.

Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of My Children

Indie psych-rock.

Rooted in Paul’s indigenous, queer, and feminist identity, this heartfelt release is at times shockingly simple and gorgeous, as well as abrasively gritty. Black Belt Eagle Scout is Portland indie rock at it’s finest. Not bad for a first release.

Sama Dams – Say It

Experimental rock.

While Sama Dams lean more toward catchy vocals and brighter synths on this release, they still retain the dark and dreary quality achieved on earlier albums. The combination of creative and skittering drum parts with tightly executed vocals, emotive synths, and brutally honest lyrics gives Say It a depth not commonly found in music today.

Laura Viers – The Lookout

Indie folk.

Waiting five years since her last release, Viers keeps pushing her quirky brand of folk into the future. Her songs feel fresh, nostalgic and comforting all at the same time. Recent collaborations with Neko Case and k.d. lang also bring new perspective to Viers’ songwriting and production.

Coastlands – The Further Still


Coastlands have been hard at work touring all over the US, and you can hear it in how well-executed The Further Still sounds. Taking cues from bands like Russian Circles and Pelican, Coastlands displays more raw energy on this release, balanced by melodic flourishes and intricate rhythms. Sissoyev continues to record and produce the band, refining Coastlands’ atmospheric and epic tones (dare I say) further still.

Moorea Masa and the Mood – Shine A Light


It’s hard to listen to Shine A Light and not smile. Masa’s voice is the standout feature of this release, but the production has just the right amount of Motown funk and modern polish. Give it a spin, and try not to smile. I dare you.

Typhoon – Offerings


Kyle Morton and Typhoon have taken their charming brand of orchestral pop and infused a more straight-ahead indie rock sound into the mix. More strings, more distortion, and less horns give Offerings a darker mood, matching more closely to Morton’s downtrodden lyrics.

Non-local Releases

Rhye – Blood (Toronto, CA)


Boygenius – S/T (Los Angeles, CA)


Bad Bad Hats – Lightning Round (Minneapolis, MN)

Indie pop.

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Philadelphia, PA)


Lucy Dacus – Historian (Philadelphia, PA)


St. Vincent – Masseduction (New York City, NY)

Art pop.

Foxing – Nearer My God (St. Louis, MO)


Lo Moon – S/T (Los Angeles, CA)


Covet – effloresce (San Jose, CA)

Math rock.

Petal – Magic Gone (Scranton, PA)

Indie punk.

A Good Year for Pacific Northwest Music

This year has seen a boom of solid releases in the local Northwest music community. I was blown away to have engineered and mixed a release by The Sextet that was chosen by KMHD as one of the top ten jazz albums of 2016. While the goal of producing music isn’t necessarily getting on a radio station’s top ten list, it does feel good to get some recognition.

After getting a little love from KMHD, I thought it might be nice to spread that love around. Below, I highlight my ten favorite Pacific Northwest releases of the year, as well as my favorite releases across the globe. Compiling this list was a great excuse for me to catch up on some releases I missed out on this year. Of course, there are many more artists I could’ve highlighted, but (in my mind) music shouldn’t be a competition. At its best, music should bring people together, not push them away. If a particular release didn’t make the cut, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. These releases spoke to my personal tastes, and I kept coming back to them throughout the year for repeat listens. Hopefully, you’ll find something on this list that speaks to you, too.

Everything is in alphabetical order. I find it hard to rate these albums in any fair sort of way, especially when they span genres from hip-hop to post-rock.

Pacific Northwest Releases

Amos Val – Yūgen


I’m sad that these guys won’t be playing these songs live anymore, but they left a great record of all their hard work with this awesome release.

Blowout – No Beer, No Dad

Pop punk.

One of the best live punk bands in Portland. Go see them.

Coastlands – To be found


This album makes whatever you’re doing more epic and moody in the best possible way…adding in the fact that these guys are really nice people doesn’t hurt, either.

David Bazan – Blanco

Indie rock.

David Bazan made a synth album, and goddammit he hooked me again.


Instrumental math rock.

Ex-members of Rooftops. The album is definitely more restrained than Rooftops’ releases, but that only helps Detlef bloom in a lyrical fashion uncommon to instrumental bands.

Dust Moth – Scale


Such a bad-ass band. Before I knew who they were, I walked into their set just in time to catch their last song, and I’ve been sad I missed the beginning of that set ever since.

Ellis Pink – Fist Day Around The Globe

Indie pop.

Stellar pop songwriting shines throughout this release. Connor’s intricate yet danceable beats provide a springboard for Simon’s catchy melodies.

Holy Tentacles – Won’t Be Saved

Math rock.

Tapping? Mathy rhythms? Intricate guitar interplay? I’m sold. It’s hard to pull off music this technical while keeping the songwriting catchy, but that’s exactly what Holy Tentacles does on Won’t Be Saved.

Sloucher – Certainty

Indie rock.

I was blown away by the production, writing, and simplicity of this release. I haven’t heard straight-ahead rock music recorded this well in a long time.

Two Planets – Procession


Dusty Fox and crew transcend hip-hop and jazz norms in a combination that elevates mind, body, and soul.

Non-local Releases

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (New York, NY)


Camp Cope – S/T (Melbourne, Australia)


Enemies – Valuables (Kilcoole, Ireland)

Tropical post/math-rock.

Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math (New York, NY)


Pingrove – Cardinal (Montclair, NJ)

Alt rock.

About a year after making this post the lead singer of Pinegrove was accused of sexual coercion. I do not believe in supporting art made by sexual predators, and have removed their album from my 2016 favorites and all of my other collections.

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (Oxfordshire, England)

Art rock.

Russian Circles – Guidance (Chicago, IL)


Still Parade – Concrete Vision (Berlin, Germany)

Psychedelic indie.

Totorro – Come to Mexico (Rennes, France)

Math rock.

TTNG – Disappointment Island (Oxford, England)

Math rock.