Tucson sounds: The best local music of 2019
This year, as almost every year, your friendly neighborhood music columnist sat down to make a list of her favorite new albums of 2019 and, once again it was a list that turned out to be completely local to the Tucson music-scape. Go figure.
Whilst taxing the ever-wearing patience of the Tucson Sentinel's editorial team mildly insane by dragging out her deadline well past any reasonable definition of "the weekend," your humble scribe meditated, wrestled with her inner music critic and deliberated for days, finally expanding a "top five albums" list to a list of seven.
Without further ado, behold JJP's best local albums of 2019.
Anchorbaby - "Anchorbaby"
It's always the quiet ones you ought to look out for.
Case in point, Ricky Shimo, the soft-spoken, generally easygoing second guitarist in Lenguas Largas who finally got some spotlight of his own this year with the release of the eponymous album by new project Anchorbaby.
Blending psychedelica, Tropicalia, border rock, garage, punk and more into a profoundly groovy, delightfully trippy, masterful tapestry of sonic candy, Shimo is joined by an insanely talented cast of friends and coconspirators, including his Lenguas bandmates and members of the Resonars and Whispering Wires. But it is clearly Ricky himself who is running the show. And what a show it is.
Recorded at Midtown Island Studio by Matt Rendon.
Feverfew - "Fake Happy"
Anchorbaby leads this year's pack of favorites, based on its sheer musicianship, intricate composition and careful construction. But a close second, and this reporter's most listened to record of 2019 was Feverfew's "Fake Happy," the debut album by Sissy Flowers and her amazing, technicolor pastel guitar rig.
A cathartic cry into the wilderness through fuzz and distortion and otherworldly echoes. Raw, honest and unapologetic emotion and grief and soul searching discontent. Cranked to eleven from Flowers' lips and amps to God's ears.
Recorded at Midtown Island Studio by Matt Rendon.
The Resonars - "No Exit"
If the Resonars release a new album and you're doing a yearly best-of list, it's not rocket science to realize they're going to be near the top of the list. Matt Rendon and assorted co-conspirators have been at this racket for decades now and arguably have done more to introduce Tucson music to independent radio stations, record stores and touring musician circles than any of the semi-famous "desert rock" crew our town was once known best for.
There's no denying that this is a Resonars record through and through, with impeccable pop hooks, whip smart (and sometimes subtly biting) lyrics, a pitch perfect chorus of manic Beatle Muppet harmonies and an instrumental soundscape that seems as if all the best albums of 1966-67 had been distilled in an oak cask for 60 years and decanted into whisky glasses.
What's best about "No Exit" compared to the rest of the Resonars catalog, however, is the company Rendon keeps on this record. While earlier Resonars releases have been a largely solo effort, this album is much more of a friends and family affair, with the MVP of supporting players being Johnnie Rinehart on drums and bass on several tracks of this release. Rinehart, who was kind of a one-man Wrecking Crew at Midtown Island Studios this year, can in fact be heard playing drums on all of my top three picks this year. Somebody should buy that guy a beer.
Recorded and composed by Matt Rendon of Midtown Island Studios and a number of Midtown Islanders.
Stripes - "520"
Arguably, the story of the year in Tucson's live music community has been the emergence of a crop of talented, fearless and vibrant young musicians from high school halls and DIY house parties throughout town. While many of these teen DIY bands self-released debuts this year, a few went into the studio to cut their tracks.
Stripes' debut "520" is, in my humble opinion, the best of the batch.
While many local youth bands cut their teeth on 2000s-era emo and pop-punk, Izzy Kunkel and crew channel an older, purer "pop" punk vibe. Think early X, CBGBs era Blondie, or the first Violent Femmes album with a teenage Gordon Gano at the helm. Kunkel and her bandmates churn out raw and honest, heart-on-a-ripped-thrift-store-sleeve songs of youthful angst and insecurity with catchy as hell pop guitar hooks. Drummer Bella Crump exudes protpunk raw power and James Noriega (Rough Draft) provides melodic basslines and pitch-perfect harmonies. Not bad, kids, not bad.
Hank Topless - "Songs I Hate To Sing"
Newly formed bands and younger musicians often start out playing cover tunes, like a kind of apprenticeship. For a long established master of the craft, however, a collection of cover tunes means something else entirely. A musical family tree of sorts. An airing of the skeletons in ones' melodic closet.
On "Songs I Hate To Sing," Hank Topless introduces us to the likes of grandpa Porter, good old cousin Whitey and crazy Uncle Eddie while slipping some originals in the mix and making them sound like something you'd have heard coming out of a Delco radio in some tiny Western town circa 1957.
Recorded with Jim Waters at Waterworks Studio in Tucson.
The Gem Show - "Meet Yourself"
Fronted by Whispering Wires' John Polle aka Dirk Wednesday and backed by the tight rhythm section of drummer Johnny Schier and Exbats/Wanda Junes alum Bobby Carlson on bass, the Gem Show's debut delivers catchy, infectious Tucson centric garage rock with gleeful weirdness and a fondness for local in jokes as evidenced by songs like "Meet Me on the Stravenue."
Recorded with Jim Waters at Waterworks Studio.
Sad Reptilian - "Sad But Honest"
From Bob Log III and Al Foul to "Satan's Cheerleaders" in B4Skin, Tucson is a definitely a breeding ground for bizarre costume rock with musical chops. The latest specimen of this fine tradition is Sad Reptilian, purportedly the nom de guitar of a cold-blooded alien lizard person with a warm heart, a lot of reverb and a fondness for Big Star.
A loving tribute and winking satire of a host of early bearded indie folk rock types, with a heartbreaking cover of Big Star's "Thirteen" as its coda, "Sad But Honest" is proof that our reptilian overloads might just win us over yet. Not by force or political subterfuge, but by way of dreamy, pedal steel soaked indie Americana folk rock backed by a drum machine.
Mastered by Frank Bair, otherwise known as the sound guy extraordinaire at late, lamented local venues the Flycatcher and Cans Deli.
Check your local listings...
Friday, December 27
- Belinda Esquer Duo - 5 p.m. Westbound
- Brian Lopez w/ the Senators - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Bang in the New Year - 7 p.m. Rialto
- Naim's A Jazz Trio - 8 p.m. Exo
- Sharkk Heartt - 8 p.m. Saint Charles Taver
- Testify: Rage Against the Machine Tribute - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- What Really Happened - 9:30 p.m. Sky Bar
Saturday, December 28
- Gipsy Pirate Octopi's Russian Christmas - 8 p.m. Red Light Lounge at Downtown Clifton
- Dbfos,rage And Peace,total Failure And Gutter Town 2 Lazy Boys - 7 p.m. Venue?
- Rumba Catalana: Orkesta Mendoza w/ Bye Bye Lullaby - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- After Christmas Party with The Jack, Mr. Skynyrd, DropD - 7 p.m. House of Bards
- Hotel California "A Salute to The Eagles" - 7 p.m. Rialto
- The Rialto Theatre/Tucson, Arizona
- End of the decade - 7:30 p.m. 191 Toole
- Howe Gelb & Co - 8 p.m. Exo
- J-Calvin w/ Jillian Besset and Tongs - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
- BreakingGlass - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
Sunday, December 29
- Last Sunday Revival - 5 p.m. Tap & Bottle (Downtown)
- Eugene Boronow - 5 p.m. Public Brewhouse
- Mambo Clásico: Orkesta Mendoza 10 Year Anniversary Party - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Miss Lana Rebel and Mister Kevin - 6 p.m. Che's Patio
Monday, December 30
- Comedy Night at the Wench - 7 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
Tuesday, December 31
- Natty and the Sunset - 9 p.m. Red Light Lounge at Downtown Clifton
- Mute Swan w/ Scale - 8 p.m. R Bar
- New Years Eve - 5 p.m. Tap & Bottle
- New Years Eve Bash with Backroads - 6 p.m. Bianchis NW
- 10th Annual New Years Party · 6 p.m. Brodie's TavernNew Year's Eve: Tucson's Times Square · 8 p.m. Hotel Congress
- Paul Opocensky Project - 8 p.m. Hotel McCoy
- Rockin' New Year's Eve 80's Dance Party- 9 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
- Reveal Your Kink 2020: New Years Eve Queer Dance Party - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
- New Year's Eve with The Bennu - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
- New Years Extravaganza with Endless Pursuit, ZeeCeeKeely and Sucker For The Sour· 9 p.m. Irene’s Holy Donuts
- Party Like It's 1999 Revisited - NYE Celebration featuring Purple Madness - 9 p.m.Rialto
- New Year's Eve with Wooden Tooth and Che's - 9 p.m. Che's Lounge
Wednesday, January 1
- Mike Kanne - 6 p.m. Crooked Tooth
Thursday, January 2
- Grip Jensen & the Bar Band, Kaia Chesney - 8:30 p.m. Tap & Bottle
Friday, January 3
- Sonoran Violence Day 1: Infest, Iron Lung, Sex Prisoner - 6 p.m. Club Congress
- Cra$h Magic - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth
- For Shits and Giggles Comedy Show - 7:30 p.m. The Rock
- Elis Paprika, Santa Pachita - 8 p.m. Boxyard
- Funk Yo House - 9 p.m. Irene’s Holy Donuts
- SV Day 1 After Party - 10:30 p.m. Owl's Club