Late in 2020, after Taylor Swift released evermore, the reigning Queen of Pop’s second full-length of the year, a viral tweet proclaimed “2020 gave us more Taylor Swift studio albums than government stimulus checks.”
Something for fans of Swift’s brand of contemporary pop to celebrate, sure. A hilarious silver lining, too, after a truly strange and inarguably terrible year.
Ditto for music from Northeast Florida. As venues shuttered and tours ground to a halt, the creative itches of the most prolific artists in Duval didn’t just vanish like toilet paper from the shelves of your neighborhood Publix, circa April ’20. Indeed, Jax artists continued scratching (and clawing), releasing music at a record clip, especially during the second half of 2020. While the rest of us binged Netflix’s entire library, Jax’s bedroom pop’ers, indie-experimentialists, and standouts from Duval’s robust Hip-hop scene gave us an uninterrupted drip of new sonic content–much of it playlist-worthy material!
Many of those releases, though the products of strange times, will resonate well beyond the very weird year they collectively soundtracked. Without further ado: Here’s our fave songs released by Jax artists in 2020.
In early September Duval artist collective LO.V.E. Culture released the very good Hip hop collection, Vol. 2, a clear evolution of the group’s sound but a continuation of its consistently progressive message. Just as they do on each collaborative track, the group finds a way to make space for one another in the entertainingly retro video for “Slap 5ive”, an exceptional track from the new EP. Sonically, “Slap 5ive” is red-meat for hip-hop-heads, with a chill-AF mix of jazzy, early-2000s-era underground-hip-hop-centric samples and heady, yet fun lyrics (“Liu Kang, I kick flames!”). The video is even more of a throwback, as Spirit, Easyin2d, Flash the Samurai, Rob Mari, and Che Forreign fill up disparate boxes dancing, vamping on instruments and video game controllers, and ripping blunts, the overarching visual presentation hearkening to the family friendly programming of the mid- to late-60s, à la Hollywood Squares or The Brady Bunch. Filmed and edited by Garrey Agustin, “Slap 5ive” checks all the boxes, a super fun video for a standout track from a very good album. What’s not to love?
Jax’s mighty Afro-Cuban Salsa band LPT is now Jax’s award-winning mighty Afro-Cuban Salsa band, after bagging two Independent Music Awards for both Best Latin Album and Best Latin Song for the 10-piece’s 2020 debut Sin Parar and the record’s title track, respectively. In July, this group of badass musicians dropped the video for “Los Bravos”, a brass-heavy, chest-thumping anthem, the chorus of which pronounces, “No hay nada para ti” or “Around here, there ain’t nothing for you.” It’s a clear message to those who might stand in the way of a multiracial grouping of Jacksonvillians promoting a uniquely American style of music: if you aren’t here to salsa, step aside. Directed by Jonathan Shepard and filmed in, around, and atop Jax-mainspring Intuition Ale Works, the vid for “Los Bravos” shows LPT in full-flight, boasting through their performance, and also cruising the streets of DT Jax in some cherry-looking antique whips.
Under the moniker LANNDS, musician-producers Rania Woodard and Brian Squillace (Sea Cycles, Odd Relics) have been putting out dynamic and intriguing electronic and experimental pop for years now. And the duo’s newest track “o.o.w.”, the first single from the recently released lotus EP is perhaps its most dynamic and confident production yet. Opening with moody atmospherics over some truly distinctive percussion samples, “o.o.w.”–for longtime listeners of the pair’s music, seemingly standard fare from the jump. But as just as Woodard dives into an approachable vocal melody with her usual ease, the instruments drop out. “I’m all out of ways to make this work,” Woodard sings as the samples kick back in and a dynamic, intricately woven, and hooky-as-all-hell pop song unspools behind her.
Bebe Deluxe’s video for “Cracking Up” is an effective mix of indie budget and champagne taste. BeBe is seen at turns toiling away at domestic chores; then cutting to disparate scenes of her being enshrouded within a blue drapery, sitting in a bathtub, delirious in a one-gal birthday party; even lowered into a garbage can. While Sirk is an acknowledged influence for “Cracking Up,” the choice of distinct lighting colors for each scene harkens back to pioneering LGBTQ-and-occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who was no stranger at blending deliberate camp with emotional resonance.The song, delivered with BeBe’s mix of electro-pop and soul singing is about, well, cracking up and mentally unraveling. Taken from her recent debut EP, The Deluxe Enterprise, “Cracking Up” is a worthy song/video release, chronicling BeBe’s vulnerability, multimedia skills as musician and video auteur, and latest accomplishment in her hopeful superstar ascendance.
For those who’ve followed Hensley since the group’s inception in 2018, the lead track from their newest EP, “So Soon”, will sound like standard-Hensley fare–a rattly guitar salvo, some introspective lyrics over jazzy verse chords delivered by lead vocalist Kendall Mason, and a charming, infectious chorus. If you’re looking for some jangly jams performed by a well-adjusted and decidedly unproblematic collection of musicians (we see you Burger Records!), Hensley should find your earholes immediately.
Under the nom de plume Lost Club, multi-instrumentalist Nick Garcia (Weekend Atlas, Dog Apollo) dropped the 80s-tinged and highly listenable EP Phantasmagora in October. The collection’s first single, “Easy Love,” features layers of electronic drums and lo-fi atmospherics, as well as a watery rhythm guitar, which together strike the right balance between modern pop aesthetics and timeless production. Garcia’s electronics-effected vocals float within the mix, a vaporous plume of indie-pop that hits hard enough, but won’t make you cough. Lay back, crank “Easy Love” and exhale slowly.
Three years after their laudable debut, Gee Things, singer-rapper-Dj-impresario-activist Geexella’s first new track in three years is bound to surprise. Produced in collaboration with guitarist and drummer Myles Joyner, as well as producer Brok Mende, “We Don’t” is a candy-coated, lo-fi endeavor into the analog-esque sonics and lovestruck lyrics of Indie-pop, in contrast to the more electronics-and-samples-heavy tracks on the hip-hop-forward, Willie Evans Jr-produced Gee Things. Lyrically, the tune chronicles the procession of a relationship past physical infatuation toward a more multifaceted connection, while still providing enough sonic sugar to make “We Don’t” a breezy listen.
“Off the Ground”
The local faves’ latest cut, “Off the Ground,” (as featured on Void On Vinyl (Vol. 3)), finds Tomboi upping their game. Vocals are processed through Autotune and various echo’d effects, with thumping syncopated beats, and an ascending bass riff offset with filigrees of funky guitar licks. All in all, the effect of “Off the Ground” is to wander into some languid dream-world, where genres and preconceptions are washed away by a tide of nebulous 21st-century music, while cutting-edge electronics and universal emotions of unrequited love walk hand in hand.
Though a half decade has passed since 2015’s Ground & Air, Sea Cycles did pop up in 2019, dropping the very good single, “Quota”, and sitting for an Audiotree live session. More teasers came in 2020, with a duo of singles; “Wash” was followed by the melancholy “Bet”. And then in December, just before this weird and terrible year mercifully comes to a close… Surprise! A Sea Cycles full-length: A dynamic and meditative 11-song collection called Leave Me In My Place. In addition to the previously released tracks “Quota”, “Wash”, and “Bet”, Leave Me twists and turns around eight other tracks, each its own distinctive soundscape. Frontman Colin Adkins deft delivery adds ethereal layers to each deliberatively produced song. As a collection, its a transcendental trip, a kind of cloud-centered, digitally enhanced vision quest through Walden.
The mega-chill artist’s visuals for his “Ephemeral Thoughts” took top honors for Best Music Video in our 2020 #1 in the 904 poll. Over the course of the song and accompanying video (directed by Jay), he addresses the racial injustices that came to the forefront of the protest movement in mid-2020, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and the bizarreness of what is occurring in America; made a little less bizarre through Blk Jay’s rhymes and worldview.
More than a collection of hot-though-disparate tracks, Eddy Braveaux’s full-length Prototype is ambitiously homogeneous. A concept album at heart, the album and the standout tune “Souleater” finds the young artist unpacking universal emotions like loss and disappointment (“L’s” as Braveaux calls them), as well as the trepidation and miscommunication many young folks feel in the face of emerging technology. In adopting a Sci-fi-esque origin story, of emerging from strife as a kind of technologically advanced sub-human, Braveaux deals with the contemporary world in a truly distinctive way–one that remains highly listenable beyond the metaphorical depth.With samples from the renowned producer ghost/\/ghoul, Braveaux’s Prototype stands as one of the most ambitious local albums of 2020 thus far. And with more releases on the way, the future is bright for Braveaux and, in turn, Jax’s music scene. For now, you should be bumping this one.
Mid-pandemic, Indie-Emo quintet Modern Violence took to the slow drip-drip of single drops, offering listeners hors d’oeuvres in the form of the tender, yet intense “St. Gregory” and the crunchy, melodious rocker “Past Life.” The full the meal came in the form of a dexterous, emotionally raw, and decidedly heavy scream fest called About Bravery. Though the album was recorded seemingly a lifetime ago (January), the songs, in some ways, foreshadow the new-normal, the band steeling itself for our present moment, when more questions exist than answers. As the title suggests, About Bravery‘s five songs grapple with preconceived notions of human behavior. Lyrically, the songs explore courage, masculinity, and other character-linked expressions vaguely defined in our shifting and ethically obtuse modern world, trying to square those notions with a kind of moral compass born of actual experience. Appropriate questions to ponder. And ponder Modern Violence does, literally screaming existential questions above the fog of the group’s multi-layered atmospherics.