Tea and Tunes: 2020 Indie Top 20!

Well 2020 was a weird year for sure, but that didn’t stop these awesome independent artists in the rock and punk genres from releasing tracks I loved! After a bit of a slow start to 2021, I’ve finally got around to selecting my top 20 tracks from the year that was. I thought I would tell you a bit about the top 10; check them and the rest out for yourself in the playlist and let me know if you agree!

Number 1. Sub Pacific, Do What Strangers Do

Many of these bands have come onto my radar due to being from one of my two far-flung hometowns, Southampton, UK and Adelaide, South Australia. Sub Pacific are from the Isle of Wight, which is a beautiful island that Southamptoners can reach by ferry (an activity I do encourage if you’re visiting the area once moving around is a bit safer again). I first encountered Sub Pacific at a showcase of local bands put on by The Joiners in Southampton, (you know, back when we could all go out to gigs) and immediately wrote about them as one of the earliest posts on this blog. They were super professional and charismatic on stage, perhaps owing to the number of gigs they had already played on the island, including the well-known Isle of Wight festival. Since seeing them play I have watched closely for recorded releases, and Do What Strangers Do, released in May 2020, does not disappoint, ending up as my number 1 this year. The catchy chorus riff and distinctive bass line make this song instantly recognisable, and it keeps you head-banging along the whole way with a structure that soars and drives. Sub Pacific’s lyrics never fail to address something that needs to be brought out into the open, and this song is no exception, examining the destructive power of words and rumours. Keep an eye on Sub Pacific if you enjoy rhythmic, heavy alternative rock with intense, melodic vocals and words with meaning. Save your cup of tea for after the song, or you’ll probably spill it rocking out.

Number 2. SASHA, Fuck the Routine

Obviously, if you’re sensitive to swearing, skip this track. Yes the swearing is in the chorus, and it’s enormously satisfying. SASHA are an Adelaide band that I only discovered upon asking for submissions in the Adelaide Musicians Facebook group; I’m sure glad I did, or I never would have heard this track! This is a fun, dance-it-out, rocking “stick it to the man” song that you can jump around the house to even when you’re supposed to be angry: It’s like bouncy catharsis. “Fuck the routine, and the man in the limousine” is a line I’m quite happy to sing along to, curses aside. SASHA’s music is a kind of jazzy pop-rock that ordinarily might not be quite my thing, but this song has THE catchiest riff you’ll have heard in a while, a melody that’s highly satisfying to belt out, and is 100% guaranteed to make you bop in your chair. I can also say from experience that it’s excellent to exercise to. Both of SASHA’s releases available on Spotify are from 2020, so I’m hopeful that there might be more like this coming in 2021. You can also catch them at gigs around Adelaide, where humans are beginning to emerge from hiding with COVID subdued (hopefully for good). Again, don’t start on your cuppa yet; you’ll definitely need to dance to this one.

Number 3. Toreador, Shiver & Shake

I was asked to review this new single from Southampton band Toreador when it was released in June, so you can read more of my thoughts on this one in an earlier post. Although it’s a much more bluesy, drifty, grungey, sexy sort of track than my upbeat-rhythm-loving ears would normally appreciate, it grew on me enormously over time until I added it to my ongoing favourites playlist. This song is just kind of groovy, and the more I listen to it the more I find myself getting into the sexy attitude it projects, dancing around the house where no one can see me pulling faces and doing little head tosses and smouldery eyes at the empty rooms. For me the lyrics and slow drive of this song capture that magical moment-out-of-time feeling that you can get when you connect quickly and easily with someone you meet and lose track of time in their company. Those who know me will know this is a pretty unusual thing for me to be describing, and I think it is a real testament to how well Toreador have captured that mood, and the fact that there’s a strong sense of “minds in common” as it were, that I can identify with it from the experiences I do have. You can watch the band’s moody music video for the song below. And you can drink your tea now, but be prepared for it to go cold when you forget about it and start daydreaming.

Number 4. Feathers, Wood ‘N’ String, Marionette

It’s happening again… I’ve ended up with a song from my own little duo in this list. This never would have happened a few years ago so I guess I’m pretty proud that for the second time we’ve produced a song I not only can bear to listen to but actually listen to on repeat. We had the goal of making something a bit more pop rock in style, whilst holding onto some of the heavy elements from our previous alt rock, and I think we succeeded in making something quite catchy. When I listen to Marionette I get these film reels in my mind of crowds shouting back the “hey you”s as I sing this song in public… something pretty unlikely to happen in the near future, but satisfying to think about all the same. This song is a commentary on the fact that certain prejudices are socialised into us; our “marionette veins” that tell us some things can be talked about, and others will be forever taboo. The big powers in the world try to steer everyone with fear, and a lot of the time, it works. We learn to accept differences, but some things are too different. If you’re drinking your tea, be careful not to take too large a sip, just in case you feel the need to shout out “hey you” at some point.

Number 5. Glass Waves, Do It Again

I came across this band from North Wales / Liverpool, UK when trawling my way through tracks on Punktastic’s The Pickup, and ended up adding two of their songs to this list. Glass Waves simply play the exact kind of modern rock that I most enjoy. This song has a catchy, rhythmic guitar riff, nice clear melodic vocals with a fun melody, a good structure with light and shade, and words with something to say. The minimalist bridge that builds gradually all the way back up into a soaring chorus is one of my favourite aspects of this track. The song makes the point that just because something is all in your head, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to set aside; in fact these are the things that stay with us wherever we go. Fun backing vocals and a bass line that will have you dancing belie the dark lyrics of this song. You might want to put that cup of tea back on the table.

Number 6. Dead Romantic, All Talk

Also discovered on The Pickup, All Talk is UK band Dead Romantic’s first release. You can also find an acoustic version of the track on their Spotify profile. This is a fun pop rock track that reminds me a little bit of Midnight Oil or Genesis if they were slightly more modern with a little bit of a funk twist, and a little bit of everything, really, in the way that of a lot of modern rock bands have of fusing dance and pop with heavier sounds. The song is a simple, confident song of the sort that you should play to yourself when you need to go and make a good speech, or genuinely convince someone that you’re not “all talk” as the song aims to do. I especially love the part of this song where everything but the drums and soaring vocals drop out, emphasising the rhythm and melody above all else, but it also has a funky riff to catch your attention. You can drink something upbeat and energising like a fresh peppermint while you nod along to this one.

Number 7. Rogue Half, Play Pretend

Adelaide band Rogue Half lean towards the kind of ambient alternative metal with both melodic and screamed sections that Lloyd loves. I enjoyed the structure of 2020 track Play Pretend, which was Marionette’s release day twin on July 30th. It has real light and shade, with moments of tranquility as well as all-out epic screamed parts. Somehow even the soft parts hold a kind of tension that keeps you expecting the next drop. Play Pretend laments the fact that once someone occupies a part of your mind, they can become the focus of everything long after they have stopped being part of your life. You can try to get tranquil with a cup of matcha, but know this song will get you thinking, and leave you feeling like there is something not quite right.

Number 8. Drawing on Scars, Clarity

Drawing on Scars is a collaborative recording project run by multi-instrumentalist artist and producer Will Thacker. In Clarity, vocals by Ivy Marie soar in a 6/8 ballad that somehow manages to be enormously epic and strong despite a slower pace and a gentle finger-picked opening and closing. Clarity describes a feeling that many of us have encountered in this strange year, a sense of kind of mindless competition for satisfaction in life, all the time being sure that the picture could be clearer. That maybe what we really need is thinly veiled behind what we are expected to strive for. Ivy Marie sings with power, and Will makes the sounds of a full band to accompany her.

Number 9. FOXHAUNT, Open Water

Another discovery from The Pickup, FOXHAUNT are a band from York, UK. Open Water sports a catchy riff and driving rhythm, as well as an epic soaring kind of chorus; an easy addition to the list. The lyrics speak of the emptiness we sometimes encounter when we decide to move on; a lack of direction, like being out on open water, not sure where we should be headed next. Once again this song has a sense of fun to the riff melody that has you dancing before you hear the message, and sees me inclined to keep dancing anyway while I think about it. Perhaps this is my theme this year; I’d rather get to dance, even when listening to the most serious and emotional messages.

Number 10. Reawaken, Give ‘Em Hell

Southampton alt rock band Reawaken’s 2020 single Give ‘Em Hell was their first release featuring new vocalist Miranda Bland, and an absolutely rocking start to her work with the group. Give ‘Em Hell has a bit of an older style rock vibe, but it drives along with Miranda’s voice belting with conviction, and I can really imagine it really getting a crowd dancing at a gig. The band squeezed in loads of gigging before lockdown began, so I’m sure this really happened, and will be happening more in the future!

A special mention goes to my number 11: Hunting Hearts, It Happens. Front person Beck Lombardi produced, mixed and mastered this track themselves and did an amazing job, the band produced a fun lockdown video of the track which was part of the Southampton Pride digital stream in August, and it’s just a very lovely, honest hopeful love song. Listen to the end for a bit of real world recording hilarity, and watch the video to say hi to an assortment of band pets.

Also making the playlist were Throwaway (Adelaide), Downfall; alt. (Adelaide), Chasing Safety; Glass Waves (again), Hold Me Down; The Union (Adelaide), Machine Men; The Wildfires Projekt, Wasting Time; Fusion (Adelaide) Sabotage; Slackrr (Southampton), Reflections; The Lonely Surf, Been There; and Eric Walker (ex Southamptoner) & Abigail Stoneman‘s (Southampton) country-pop-rock duet Out of My Head. Thank you to all these bands and artists for giving 2020 the fun, hope and rocking out it needed to stay creative and fun in difficult times.

The year undoubtedly held many more amazing releases from independent bands that never reached my ears, and so why not do your own search, and find out who is making tunes in your local area? You might just find your new favourite thing, and get the chance to jump around and rock out, even if it is in your living room with your pet cactus.

Wishing you all a healthier, extra creative 2021. Happy New Year!

Yours in Tea, Love and Creativity,

Sarah

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