The chaos of 2020 doesn’t need explanation. Amidst the haze, music — like the people pushing through the fog — continued.
Below, check out seven standout but perhaps underappreciated noise rock releases from throughout 2020. The list runs the gamut from punked up noise rock to expansive post-rock instrumentation and beyond — well beyond. This article includes the projects Beat Combo, Cosse, Mochitsuki, Poster Boy, Staff Party, States of Nature, and We Live In Trenches. Read on to find out more about all of these artistic creations. Every entry includes a Bandcamp embed — if there’s an issue with displaying the music, please refresh the page and/ or wait a moment. Clicking through every one of the Bandcamp embeds will lead to pages with more info about the respective projects.
Beat Combo – Kind Regards
On “Pyre,” the blistering opening track of their new EP Kind Regards, the Nottingham, U.K.-based Beat Combo blend a galloping punk rock spirit with noise rock abrasion, and the whole mix feels rather anthemic, with a consistently in-your-face energy defining the music. Their opening song in particular feels like a musical jolt to the chest — the riffs feel like they’re baring their teeth and setting off down some shadowy back alley at an absolutely breakneck pace, running on the smoky fumes of cathartically intense blasts of energy. A kick in the rhythms gives the music an angular, limb-flailing feel, since while rushing through their tunes, Beat Combo feel like they meld caustic abrasion into the structure of the music itself. The rhythms don’t only feel confrontational; they sound ferociously vicious.
The sweltering second track introduces a smoother, slower tempo, although the abrasive, beefy hardcore vibe continues to occupy the spotlight. As the music builds, the disfiguring, caustic grime underpinning the music shines only more brightly, with jarring, deep basslines repeatedly popping up across the EP. The riffs feel glued together with a kind of seeping tension, which washes over the whole experience, like a simultaneous physical and emotional exhaustion following a particularly thrilling rush through a volley of cacophonous chaos. “Ticking Clock,” the EP’s third track, revs back up like an engine come to life — the chest-thumping energy feels electric, and in the poignantly restrained concluding track, “It Gets Worse,” a heavily weighted emotional cloud remains firmly in place, as if trapped in fog while that fog suddenly takes on an ominously suffocating physical weight. The ample distortion as the morbidly meditative song draws to a close solidifies this feeling.
The EP — which is available via Serial Bowl Records — feels like a musical roller-coaster, capturing a rush between panic-inducing chaos and breath-stealing thrills. Beat Combo sound frantically energetic and refreshingly bold.
Cosse – Nothing Belongs to Anything
“Welcome Newcomers” — the opening track from the EP Nothing Belongs to Anything by the Paris group Cosse — begins with shimmering post-rock rhythms before gradually moving into punkier territory, and ultimately, this punk element bobs along the surface of much of the music. The group’s heavier splashes of riffing have a tough edge and carry a rather fierce undercurrent, while the music overall maintains a straightforward flow as if the songs wash over the listener like persistent ocean waves. Combining the rich and intensely immersive feel of Cosse’s music with the emotional unease contained in the persistently slightly off-kilter rhythms makes listening to the record feel a bit like laying down at the edge of a seashore and letting waves wash over.
“Pin Skin,” with a rather meaty bassline, opens with a kind of sweltering although not overpowering rock ‘n roll vibe. Even within this particularly rocky texture, Cosse’s rhythms keep their prominent, gripping undercurrent — as this particular song proceeds, the feel gets gradually more twisted, as if embodying the lackadaisical convulsions of the song in a physical form. The anxiety in the ominously looming rhythms feels real, like a steadily rising level of water, but the songs feel smooth and not too oppressive, like peacefully floating on the surface.
Holding back the overt physical oppression of the anxiety lets richer emotional nuance shine through. Here, in breathing space that Cosse have left with their minimalism-leaning approach to anxious rock, there’s a chance to find a sort of strangely permeating, soulfully rejuvenating peace in the breadth of the emotional experience that their songs poignantly reflect. There’s also a pungent nausea that seems to lurk in the background of this sort of emotional experience, and Cosse reflect this element as well with their occasionally exhaustedly desperate vibe. “Seppuku,” with a rather heavy conclusion, rather powerfully blends the band’s lush blanket of atmospherics with their formidably heavy riffing. The band zeroes in on some real emotional power.
Nothing Belongs to Anything is available via A Tant Rêver Du Roi Records, Grabuge Records, and Last Disorder.
Mochitsuki – Net New Resources
Mochitsuki’s music feels quite unique. The Jersey City project’s new release Net New Resources blends jarring breakcore electronica rhythms with more traditionally-inclined rock jamming that carries a similarly exuberant vibe, sitting somewhere between sarcastic nihilism and free-wheeling exploration. The tension between those two themes feels rather true-to-life, as if reflecting a battle for sincerity in a tech-driven world that sits in a constant state of collapse, to take a cue from the electrified vibe on the record.
Track one, called “Are You Mad,” ends with a lengthy segment of some of those tart riffs. The song bops along with a confrontational but not obsessive energy, as if capturing the mood of flippantly trotting through some field on the side of some road. The glistening electronica pops into sharp focus around the midpoint of the song, and a similarly limb-flailing mood runs through all of the music’s elements. Track two, called “Knuckle Zester,” blends some overt breakcore energy with a siren-like, piercing tone and a brisk guitar rhythm. The only lyric is a single word, which repeats throughout the entire song: “Material.” “Cobalt Cabana” introduces some sweltering swagger into Mochitsuki’s rhythmic concoctions, which continue to hinge on a bright blend of electronica and more traditional instrumentation.
Mochitsuki truly feels bright, as established in the free-wheeling energy on Net New Resources. The music packs a lot of sprawl, and the songs frequently feel somewhat jarring — but the persistent, bellicose danceability really doesn’t let up. Sure, the metaphorical dance party that the music seems to reflect might be unfolding on the side of some dimly lit, dusty street — but the exuberance remains grippingly strong. Much of the music, save for moments like the brisk track “Slanted Beach Reprise” and the blast beat-packed opening of “Maiden Name,” sits on the mellower side, which helps make the record feel decisively inviting. The subtly abrasive breadth of the music makes the experience feel grounded, and it’s a fun listen, placing a noise rock sense of nearly unwieldy sonic expansiveness within an electronica-drenched palette.
Poster Boy – s/t
Hell yeah all the way on this one. On their new self-titled EP, which is available via The Ghost Is Clear Records, Kansas City’s Poster Boy perform exuberantly ferocious noise rock that pulsates with bellicose, chest-thumping energy. The music sounds somewhat punked up, since the group performs their richly abrasive, confrontational riffs at a sometimes rather brisk tempo, and taking in the whole breadth of the music feels a bit like standing in front of a collapsing dam. Most of the music feels rather heavy.
After the blistering energy of opening track “Okay,” follow-up track “Label Scar” kicks off on a more restrained note, with the band flinging a meaty, fist-shaking bassline at listeners as the group’s previously established swagger continues to stand prominently. The music carries a somewhat dirty, dust-coated vibe, as if placing the experience of the songs on some overcast frontier. “Black Curtain,” which comes later, opens on a similarly restrained but no less soul-gripping note. During these more restrained moments, there’s a frayed but contemplative vibe, like sitting around a campfire out on some wasteland.
Most of Poster Boy’s music hinges on that rawer, punky energy. The lurching, grating feeling that drives much of the music seems to reflect jubilant revelry out on that metaphorical dusty frontier. The music captures a feeling of shaking fists at the sky while staggering through an increasingly desolate environment and adamantly refusing to let go of a core drive for self-determination. As such, the music of Poster Boy feels invigorating, and they seem to have transformed raw, hoarse energy into a grandiosely enlivening experience. The music packs a feeling of some real desperation, but the overall picture definitely doesn’t feel suffocatingly pessimistic — Poster Boy surely don’t sound overtly optimistic, but their music carries a kind of communally cathartic vibe. Poster Boy sound like the musical equivalent of rearing back and letting out a roar.
Staff Party – “The End Is Nigh”
“The End Is Nigh” is a single song from the U.K. noise rock project Staff Party — and wow, it’s a ripper. The sarcastically confrontational spirit in the lyrics melds perfectly with the tart abrasion of the riffs, which feel poignantly melody-tied yet deliver a jarring metaphorical jolt of electricity. It’s melodic, yet totally in-your-face. A core rhythm that appears at various junctures across the song, including the chorus and the closing segment, feels briskly powerful, like a dance party in the pouring rain while jumping around a dust-coated train station. The song doesn’t erase the tension of the end times feeling that gives the track its lyrical foundation, but the track definitely captures a feeling of strangely blissful exuberance, like shaking one’s fist at a flaming sky and telling the heavenly fire to bring it on.
The opening lyrics of the track set the song’s mood nicely. Vocalist Ed Lamb sings: “The flaming brimstone falls from a fire-laden sky. A panel of experts will smartly decree in their infinite wisdom that this is a sign!!!” By the end, Lamb is roaring with a chest-thumping intensity, and the spiritual jolt of the track feels inescapable. The track’s melodic bent, rather than mellowing out the experience, provides that platform for the song to feel rather staggeringly confrontational. The song shakes triumphantly.
States Of Nature – Light and Seed
The San Francisco-area group States Of Nature perform marvelously twisty, noisy rock on their new EP, Light and Seed. The music feels persistently and soulfully free-wheeling, like the group has dived right into the depths of an oncoming metaphorical tidal wave with a determined abandon. Seriously — the music feels refreshingly confident, like a whirlwind of flashing neon strobe lights with anthemic rock riffs bouncing off the walls. The energy doesn’t erase the soulful foundation of the music, which lends a psychologically grounded vibe to the experience. The grounded bursts of energy feel poised to release built-up psychological tension, with the melodic core of the music of States Of Nature providing a sort of respite — or at least a metaphorical foothold — amidst this particular swirl of musical chaos.
Track one, the four-track EP’s title track, alternates between a droning, psychedelically persistent, tart rhythm and more direct rock ‘n roll riffing. Those segments of more direct riffing run on a rather brisk tempo, and the music feels rather tense even in these more direct segments, like the rhythms weave into and out of one another like an inextricable knot. Follow-up track, “Starved,” leans into a kind of soulful but still energetically confrontational rock vibe. The music mellows out a bit as the EP proceeds, but the feeling stays brisk. The songs feel subtly triumphant, like morphing moments of simmering tension into times of triumph.
The music feels like a soundtrack for emotional mountain climbing — sure, there’s a lot of treacherous possibilities for the path ahead, the reflections of which appear in the more caustic components of the music, but the wind on your face while at such a potentially dangerous, high point provides a sense of exhilaration all the same. Trepidation leading into exhilaration leading into a feeling of reaching the peak — this whole process feels played out in the music of States of Nature, and it’s great.
We Live In Trenches – Dead Class
Sweden’s We Live In Trenches — who sardonically refer to themselves as “idiot rock” on Bandcamp — sound pretty thrilling on their new EP Dead Class, available via Welfare Sounds & Records.
The repeated blasts of chest-thumping sonic vitriol that close out the first track — which is called, fittingly enough, “Tumult” — feel quite marvelous. As a whole, the music feels like a blend of nihilistic abandon and cathartic energy. There’s a freeing swing in the harsh yet cohesively pummeling rhythms, and the music feels like a soundtrack for some kind of energetic (and perhaps slightly tipsy) dance. The breathability across much of the music helps amplify this feeling — there’s plenty of space in the rhythms to move around, and the music doesn’t feel too suffocating. Instead, it’s more like a sweltering jog, as if the music leans into capturing the sonic equivalent of a runner’s high of sorts.
The music consistently feels quite physically formidable, leaning into a kind of noisy post-hardcore vibe, and there’s a triumphantly beefy bassline running throughout the mix — but among the music’s other flourishes, track two feels (comparatively) restrained. The track’s initial presentation doesn’t swirl into a speedy whirlwind; instead, the music saunters along. Track two does end in a particularly energetically harried conclusion, but the chaos doesn’t swamp the underlying feeling of swagger.
The record’s closing track clocks in at over 8 minutes and begins in a kind of tension-wracked krautrock vibe, before gradually growing into a tenser swirl of increasingly confrontational riffing that feels like clutching one’s chest in the middle of a club’s dance floor after most of an evening crowd has cleared out. The open space in the thick-toned but staggering rock rhythms clears some room to really feel the tension of the music seemingly slinging into itself. There’s a steady confrontation with looming emotional grime that courses through the music, and the rhythms feel like they’re hurling some of this grime outward like a spinning gear that won’t shut off. The beating malaise in the middle of the music provides a jarring look at wreckage. Exhilaration shines through in the tunes, and even if the rhythms move between tension and malaise rather than a kind of true and conclusive relief, We Live In Trenches sound relentlessly refreshing.