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Sweet Trip

Hi, I'm Hunter. I DJ Storm Surge of Reverb on Mondays from 4-6pm. But that show is entirely surf music. Every year I make a big deal rounding up my favorite surf releases, and that'll be its own thing over at stormsurgeofreverb.com. I also listen to pelnty of other stuff though. I even had a non-surf show for a few weeks over the summer!

Here are things that I liked from this year (that aren't surf). They're in no particular order, and with no particular criteria other than that I felt motivated enough to write a few sentences about them. I realize there's still a month left of 2021, but the worst is when I start reading other year-end lists and find out about all these other great records too late. I hope you find something you like in here.


Postcards - After the Fire, Before the End

Unfortunately I only heard Postcards' 2020 release The Good Soldier at the beginning of this year, otherwise it would have made my list last year. And then it turns out, there's already a new one. As somebody that doesn't focus on lyrics much, it was immediately clear to me that this album had purpose and meaning, that it felt not rushed but needed. It wasn't until my third listen that I noticed that this band is from Beirut, and though dire, wartorn themes were present in The Good Soldier, the recent trauma of the explosion, though not explicitly named, features heavily on this record. It's a record that's as powerful as it is beautiful and provides such a fascinating, nuanced, and heartbreaking perspective.


The Exbats - Now Where Were We?

Exbats started as a father-daughter duo before eventually adding their recording engineer as a bassist. They play garage pop with occasional lapses into country twang -- upbeat and punchy, with great, memorable melodies, harkening back to Flamin' Groovies and The Monkees. Neither vocals nor instrumentals are outstanding on a technical level, but what they really bring to the table is that intangible earnestness that reminds me of Dead Moon and maybe even This Bike is a Pipe Bomb. When they sing about kissin', it's hard not to feel that same excitement. A simple but very lovable record.

It was engineered by....


The Resonars - Disappear

This was released in December 2020, I had likely already released my year-end list for that year, and I didn't hear it until November 2021. I'm including it. The Resonars are a band I'd heard of but never listened to and they play exactly the sorta garage/power pop/freakbeat that I've been endlessly thirsty for more of ever since I heard The Embrooks' Our New Day. I get the impression that this album is pretty much the same as everything they've released since 1995. If so that's astounding because somebody doing this 25 years ago should have run out of good hooks long ago, but lo and behold this is just a delight from song to song.


Golden Brown - Gems and Minerals

As I'm writing this I realized I have heard Golden Brown before, from the 2020 release "Flora and Fauna of the Uncanny Valley". That album is full of meditative Fahey-esque ambient country string-instrument-instrumentals. This is the album that did it for me, wrapping that sound in chirping, reverberating echoes evoking the beauty of planets unknown. Sounds you can sink into. And maybe play some No Man's Sky.


Kieran Mahon - Eternal Return

But I guess if we're going to travel to other planets we'll need to make first contact first. These electronic instrumentals have the mysterious machine clockwork of Kraftwerk but also the overpowering magnificense of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


Most things from the Original Gravity label

This label caught my eye with their fun but also seriously good Peter Gunn and Night Train EPs, each taking instrumental classics and doing them four ways excellently in distinctly separate genres such as latin funk, rocksteady, ska, sitar psychedelic, mod rock & roll, and funk. They're a blast, every take stunningly good and with a pitch-perfect period feel. But nearly all of the subsequent, less thematic singles proved to be just as worthy. There's a key to the flawless pedigree of this talented stable of artists: there's not that many horses. Neil Anderson is credited with playing most instruments (drums, bass, guitars, keys, sometimes vocals) on just about all of these tracks. So by highlighting this label, I'm really just saying that that guy had an amazing streak this year, and I hope it keeps up.


Jane Weaver - Flock

Jane's past two records have been great, with her dreamy vocals supporting some knee-bouncing, swirling krautrock. I've seen some complaints of some disco and pop influence finding their way into this record, but I don't feel that they take over, nor do I feel like there's any lack of psychedelic color. I had a great time with this.


Ixtahuele - Dharmaland

Eden Ahbez is a mysterious figure in the world of exotica and 50's/60's music in general. His single LP Eden's Island is one of the truly unique recordings of the era, with a touch of typical exotica but saddled with dreamy hippie spoken-word. Now there's another. Modern exotica scholars Ixtahuele have brought Ahbez's sheet music and notes to life, and the result feels as dramatic as a lost work deserves to be, and as elusive and earnest as an Eden's Island's follow-up ought to be.



Miho Hattori - Between Isekai and Slice of Life

Y'all, I'm a guitar guy. There's stuff on this list that isn't guitar oriented, sure, but at this point I've mostly departed from the zeitgeist and a lot of what's new just bounces right off me. So I listen to this album and I think "This sounds like cool kid music! And yet I like it! It sounds like it would be called "Hyper-something" or "something-wave" or at the very least it's pop. I feel so proud of myself. Of course, in order to get there I had to listen to an artist known for a group I liked 20 years ago... so... sure enough most reviews I can find of this dismiss it as weird noise. I was wrong, this is not the cool stuff the kids go see at their coachellas or whatever. It's weirdo electronic stuff taking some cues from modern pop. Like I said, this is not my wheelhouse, I think it's a lot of fun though.


Kit Sebastian - Melodi

I don't know why Turkish groups have been so prominent lately, but if I had to choose one of them (unfairly, since they're all pretty different), Kit Sebastian strikes me as the most special. I think I initially came across them looking for dream pop, but I hear a lot more of the detached coolness of ye-ye and the psychdelic freedom of Os Mutantes. And man, those little piano bits on here are just beautiful -- I would never want to take the vocals out, but this could stand alone with its instrumentals.



SUPERDUNE - Superstition Mountain

This is one of those ones where if you know much about me you might think "of course you like this." Instrumental desert rock with pinches of surf and space. Riffs riffs riffs.



Volcano Kings - Roadkiller

This isn't my favorite Volcano Kings record this year, but their other one is close enough to surf that it will probably show up in my awards for that. Roadkiller is probably the grittiest thing these guys have released, with plenty of sludgy guitar but also plenty of post-rock dramatics and guitar-whelpings. And this may give you the wrong idea, but I get a Bone Machine vibe to parts of this, with the sort of mechanical gears turning and springs popping. After interviewing them and learning more about who they are (and learning that all of the brass and strings are overdubs from their two principal members with no formal training!) I learned how important cinema is to them, and hearing these as scores to unmade movies really brings it together. I would see this movie.


Room Thirteen - Crooked Palm

I've been a cheerleader for this group since their first LP shot a ray of sunshine on my 2017 (it's wild to think that THAT year was grim from today's perspective!). But the vacation is over: their paradisal sound has been poisoned, and the album art let's you know that right from the start. It's a shift, but it's recognizably still them; it's surprising how their breezy vocals and harmonies can also seem ghastly and ethereal without much change, as if merely cast in a different light. Organs and synth that once painted lush soundscapes are now misty, dizzying and strange. Despite their lush bouquet of influences wilting into a new, unrecognizable shape, it's intricate arrangements, strong melodic sensibilities, and great harmonies that have pushed them past novelty and into excellence, and there's plenty of that.



Les Grys-Grys - To Fall Down

Another returning member to my year-end list! Great garage rock that's upbeat but with some good crunch to it. The anthemic "Watching My Idols Die" is a sad reminder for any of us regularly mining the 1960's, but thankfully it doesn't stay in the dumps, with a lot of fun and memorable melodies.



Camera - Prosthuman

One of the most solid krautrock groups today, Prosthuman is probably the most aggressively attention-grabbing of their discography, starting with a wailing, noisy guitar track, then a very fresh take on psychedelic dub. It's not all monster jams, in fact sometimes it feels like a particularly screwy and risk-taking record, but there are some really shining moments in here.


Los Pirañas - Infame Golpazo En Keroxen

Perhaps the best thing about the recent influx of cumbia groups is that many of them seem intent on disemboweling the music. Los Piranas were already strange enough with their poisonously warped surf guitar, but they completely flipped their own script with this one, ditching guitar for a brass accompaniment that gives them a Dr Seuss Carnaval band vibe.


Sweet Trip - A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals

This one took some time to sink in. Sweet Trip's special breed of glitch gaze -- like Cornelius meets Beach House  -- is hard to deny, but the vibe grabbed me a lot more than the melodies. That said, it's really hard to deny that sound, and upon further listens the songs made themselves comfortable in my brain.



Yoo Doo Right - Don't Think You Can Escape Your Purpose

One of the goofiest band names I've seen lately, this largely instrumental group grabs from psych, noise, space, shoegaze, kraut and just seems to delight in the results. Noisy, fun, and propulsive and generally a joy to listen to.


Indy Tumbita & The Voodoo Bandits - Cocodrilia

This is another one that nearly found its way onto my surf list, but I decided it was over the line and solidly a cumbia record, not to mention a few too many vocal tracks. Plenty of cumbia bands have shown that there's more than enough space for guitar in the music, but Indy's surf music lineage also brings some of that propulsiveness to the table, and there's perhaps a slight punk edge to it. It's a blast.


Ill Considered - Liminal Space

Ill Considered play spacey saxophone-lead instrumental jazz with progressive/psychedelic undertones. They're generally pretty bombastic and aggressive, with a bit of a dark, criminal element, but also full of surprising sounds and textures. All of their previous releases have been live recordings and improvisational, but this is their first "fully produced" studio album and I reckon it was worth the work.


Crystal Canyon - Yours With Affection and Sorrow

I mean sure, there are legions of shoegaze groups that are doing their best to recreate the secret formula of the classics, but I don't think I've ever heard a group in this millennium sound so much like a classic 4ad group. They shine like Slowdive, crunch like MBV, sing like Medicine, radiate like Swervedriver, and get all sorts of little touches just right. And the first time I listened to it it was only that: the sound. But I have to admit that the songwriting has grown on me as well, slow and subtle as it may be.


Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime

Tinariwen, Group Inerane, Tamikrest, Bombino... there have been records from all of these bands that I've really enjoyed -- even got to see a few at Festival International, but admittedly when I saw Mdou Moctar blow up after his Purple Rain record (which I now understand is not a Prince cover record) I thought "Ok, that's that guy's gimmick. I think I might have hit my saturation point for Tuareg guitarists. I don't need it." But when I heard the opening track of this record, I realized I've gotta stay onboard for the rest of the record. It's not necessarily that this is worlds apart from Bombino -- in fact I worry that I might have been swayed by a bit of Loudness War production simply making this feel bolder, wilder and angrier than others, but this record deserves to be enjoyed on its own, and I guess there was room for one more.



The Weather Station - Ignorance

I've struggled to describe this one, but I've already seen it grab top honors on an early year-end list so my take might not be that important. Makes me think Beth Gibbons singing to slightly jazzier Kate Bush compositions. The first half of the album is especially stellar, with each track warranting an "oh this one!"



Submotile - Sonic Day Codas

Shoegaze is typically known for its melancholy and shimmering beauty, but Submotile run with the howling, moaning, mechanical rancor that was a part of Loveless and the whip-crack drive of Swervedriver. The effect-heavy vocals, though not exactly rare in shoegaze, arguable contribute more to the wall of sound than the guitars and keep that energy churning.



 King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - LW & Butterfly 3000

Of course King Gizzard had two new LPs this year, why wouldn't they? I'm under the impression that a number of people think they've gone downhill, but I never really felt compelled to buy an album until last year's K.G. I don't really have anything to say, you probably already know this band and have your own opinions.



Pony Hunt - Var!

Dreamy lo-fi folk from New Orleans with with subtle atmospherics that really draw me in. While just about everything is understated, there are moments of muscular guitar that are pretty surprising and engaging. "Who Are You" and "Last of My Kind" (a cover) are especially infectious.



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