After we put together our annual LEO Playlist, which revisited our favorite local songs from 2019, we started to wonder what Louisville releases might have slipped by us last year. So, we looked back and searched for great local albums that we hadn’t given any coverage to. Along the way, we found a few up-and-comers as well as some familiar names — people we’ve written about before but whose albums we missed this time around. And we’re glad that we did one final sweep, because these five records are worth celebrating.
Know that by entering into Ben Traughber’s Zonal Abyssal you will be transported to a land of austere beauty. You can easily imagine yourself on a windswept plain, the sun setting, the world blue with the dying light. Traughber plays with synths and acoustic instruments, blending the two into a seamless whole. There are shimmering soundscapes that balance bittersweet and beautiful — luscious no matter how you catch them. The use of guitars is sparse. Notes chime and flutter, creating a lo-fi whirl of sound and color. His work with the piano is often sobering, as on “Remembering Mesmer” or “The Other Shining.” Traughber’s work is elemental and features mystic qualities that add an otherworldly appeal that recalls Brian Eno or Cluster, music that has a timeless, ephemeral beauty.
Pain Over Pleasure
Pain Over Pleasure is 22 minutes of lean hip-hop that’s thick and stylistic, quickly moving through honest and introspective reflections that are soaked with creativity. On the album, Mike Bandanna rolls through so many ideas — lyrically and sonically — that you never feel stuck or bored, and he does it so fluidly that you never feel buried in an avalanche of gimmicks. He twists structure and values unpredictability, but he also builds catchy sensibilities. Pain Over Pleasure evocatively captures fast living in a way that doesn’t glorify it, but the album’s overarching themes aren’t exactly optimistic that there’s sanctuary from the wild times and tough takes. The album ends with a car crash, a devastating closing that you would expect from an indie movie that launched itself into awards-season conversations.
Kids Born Wrong
Every time a boomer complains about younger generations, the Kids Born Wrong get stronger. All punk rage and garage rock swagger, KBW have a rock-and-roll strut that probably doesn’t give a shit about what you think. Opener “Great Mutant” features the kind of jagged and jangly riffs that would have felt equally at home in a dimly lit rock club in the ‘50s or at CBGBs — all sneer and attitude. What the Kids Born Wrong get right is getting weird, singing songs about surgical disasters, horror movies and everything that goes bump in the night — or in a radioactive sewer. While that may come off as juvenile, it’s that kick-out-the-jams attitude that makes them stand out. The guitar playing absolutely shreds, with a chiming bite. The bass plods, and the drums drive you to the sweet, Danzig-esque croon of singer Niles Kane. This is ragged music, neon lit and developed specifically to bum out the squares. —Syd Bishop
Harpy — a solo project from Yoko Molotov — has been a prolific outlet over the last few years, producing a range of experimental releases that value tension and stretching noise-rock in different directions. second arrow feels like the score to a slow-moving thriller, a tense, avant-garde, slow march toward something ominous or uncertain. Molotov’s voice is distant and surreal sounding, drowning in haunting drones that feel suspiciously calm, like there’s a storm of anger or heartbreak just beneath the surface. While some of Harpy’s previous material has been louder and fiercer, second arrow is among the most intense — it pulsates with a sense of doom that hits just as hard as visceral chaos. Yet, despite making strange anti-pop, Molotov has a talent for making music that’s magnetic, and that’s what holds it all together. —Scott Recker
Space Soul: Volume 1
Through the sheer volume of his output, it was easy to miss this low-key fire that Yons put out last fall. With Space Soul: Volume 1, Yons both marks his brand — space soul — and promises more to come. A producer who seldom, if ever, uses samples, Yons layers a wealth of sonic easter eggs to hunt, as you are encouraged to unpack each sound to figure out how he did it. He can not only craft immaculate hip-hop and neo-soul compositions, but he does so without the aid of digital sampling. Tracks such as the elegant “Read the Psalms” or the mysterious “Space Cadet Grayson” stand out, underscoring his skills as a producer and engineer. —Syd Bishop