Throw a brick at the wall

In honor of Groundhog Day 2021, a milestone of the 12 months when every day felt the same (only usually worse), when it’s a toss-up whether what we’re discussing is how we’re still filled with rage or how we’ve hit the Pandemic Wall and just don’t care about our sourdough any more, I bring you Hitting the Wall, a pandemic playlist that makes no effort at all to cheer you up. It’s 12 songs of affirming that no matter how lost, cynical, and generally frazzled you feel, someone is there, feeling it with you. You got the misery–we got the company.

The full Spotify playlist is below the capsule reviews. Some of these songs are from earlier in 2020 because the idea that if a song isn’t a hit in two weeks from release, we never speak of it again except at live shows (remember those?) is silly in the world of indie music.

Comatose – Planet Mercury

Ramones-like energy from Worcester rockers captures the hamster-wheel feel of our times with reassuring alt-rock licks. Meme-able line: “All of this time alone has really got me wondering if I’m dead inside or comatose.”

A Second Chance – The Midnight Strangers

In an alternate universe, the Beatles wrote a rock opera score for Phantom of the Opera and this is the important song that closes the first act. This Westville pop-rock group makes angst into an anthemic singalong with enough twists that describing the song risks spoilers. Meme-able line: “They say we’re an artist, but not the right kind.”

Ghost Stories – Jillian Caillouette

This haunting cinematic pop song is technically a failed-love song, but the sense of being unseen and unheard is an eerie fit with our times. It hovers beats away from becoming a dance song on the chorus, as even the drums can’t quite break through to reality. Meme-able line: “I only talk about the ghosts in the daylight, when I feel their presence less.”

Make Me Laugh – Bond Villain

A surprise stripped-down organic approach, as even Bond villains are gazing out at the snow, meditating on what it all means, these days. This New Haven project’s usual lush orchestral approach fights to break in, like a sign of hope. Meme-able line: “I can remember when I was living / I want to fight it together, but I ain’t forgiving.”

No Going Back – Calendula

Folk-rock with a strong flavor of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” At this point, it’s an echo from the relative innocence of summer 2020, when marching on the Capitol was a peaceful BLM protest, not… you know. A reminder of why so many of us are angry all the time. Meme-able line: “Even if suddenly the world got much braver, could we fix things in time to do the world any favors?”

At Different Ends – Seth Adam

Gentle guitar-driven rock takes on the question of how to cope in an era of conflict, rage, and loss. This one’s almost a year old and takes on new dimensions in light of all that’s passed. The guitar bridge is a chilling expression of being lost in the dark, yet the overall feel reaches for hope. Meme-able line: “When hope’s a fragile memory, happiness a reverie, I’m heavy like a stone.”

tiny talks – Quinn

A plaintive pop wail about the dreadfulness of basically everything, with the rage of Paramore and the irresistible brightness of Young the Giant. From the album with the wonderful title Depression Nap. Meme-able line: “I can’t convince myself of luck.”

Jaded – Jeff Burnham and The Insiders

Frustration and exhaustion meets Tom Petty’s indomitable cheerfulness and some pedal steel. This is the musical equivalent of trading troubles with the guy at the next barstool at Café Nine: you may not feel good, but you end up feeling better. Meme-able line: “I don’t know why I got so jaded; I don’t know why I came to this.”

Another Mundane Tuesday – Semaphora

Jittery jazz-pop with sweet voices delivering a film noir lyrics with snappy rhymes and bitter insight, as if Kate Bush found herself lost in Brooklyn with Steely Dan. The “mundane” Tuesday described is surreal and so is the sound. Meme-able line: “The etiquette is set in plastic.”

Lost & Lonely – Similar Kind

Surreal synth-pop forms an aural maze through pandemic depression. Sometimes it’s sweet; sometimes it’s discordant; mostly it’s the feel of being trapped in one’s own head. Meme-able line: “Just enough focus to barely function, but not enough to accomplish anything meaningful.”

Cracks – The Cryptids Are Alright

I’m declaring this genre Cthulu Blues, though it’s closer to folk-meets-art-rock, for its deliberately haunting tone. You’re not alone: even the eldritch horror in the cellar is questioning its purpose and how to get along. Meme-able line: “I don’t wish anyone ill, it’s just a bad time.”

Winter Trees – Greta Stroebel

Minimalist as a bare branch, this acoustic folk-pop song digs deep into feelings of being stuck and lost, while finding the hope in winter. Meme-able line: “But I can speak and will again, to break the silence in my hands.”

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