Activity, the Brooklyn band which features members of Grooms, Russian Baths and Field Mouse, released their excellent debut album, Unmask Whoever, back in March. It’s certainly a title that took on different meaning than what they’d intended, but that goes with the creepy, “other” vibe of the whole record. You can listen to the whole thing below.
The standout track from Unmask Whoever is “Earth Angel,” which I wrote about in Indie Basement:
It shares a title with The Penguins’ early doo-wop classic (surely a Lynch favorite), is a good place to start (despite it being in the middle of the record), checking both the sensuous and sinister boxes. It simmers slowly with layers of droning guitars and an elliptical drum pattern, as Johnson whispers “I wanna fuck around” repeatedly — there’s more than a little devil in his delivery. The song rips open midway through with what is either a horn section or majorly warped guitars that sounds like a wall of floodlights suddenly being switched on, arena-ready in an alternate universe.
Activity have just shared a video for “Earth Angel” which was directed by drummer Steve Levine and features the band’s Travis Johnson and Jess Rees. “We wanted something simple, safe but visually interesting,” Steve tells us. “We figured out a way to mount a camera to a moving car so we went with that.” Something simple it is, but it’s also pretty creepy and fits right with the song. Watch the video below.
Meanwhile, we asked Travis for his favorite album of 2020 and his Top 10 list includes records by Stephen Malkmus, FACS, Protomartyr, Irreversible Entanglements and more. Check out his 2020 picks, complete with commentary, below.
ACTIVITY’S TRAVIS JOHNSON – TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2020
Deradoorian – Find the Sun
I’ve been pretty constantly inspired by Angel’s stuff for a long time and this is my favorite thing she’s done I think. Perfectly recorded dry kraut stuff and her best melodies yet.
Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown
“Fusion Swirl” was one of my favorite songs from this year. Gorgeous record.
Privacy Issues – S/T
I only found out about this tape recently and I guess it’s not an album cause it’s too short. It has that insular Odyshape or Colossal Youth thing to me. I really like what I can make out of the lyrics and the guitar is inventive. Pier and Liz are doing something cool. Hissy.
Leya – Flood Dream
Dreebs were my favorite New York band when they were around and this kinda picks up a thread from that. It’s beautiful and terrifying, but I guess mostly beautiful.
Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
Probably my favorite rock band of the last few years. I hope this isn’t their last album but “Worm in Heaven,” would be such a great career last song, the way it ends. Never never never never never over those chord changes.
Ana Roxanne – Because of a Flower
I guess “Camille” is the hit. It’s great. I’m also jealous of being able to pull off calling songs things like “A Study in Vastness.” Hit the spot this year for sure.
FACS – Void Moments
We were supposed to play some shows with FACS and I was so excited to see how they pulled some of this off live. Next year I suppose.
Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques
I think this was the last new album I got before everything shut down. I listened to it a lot for a week, then didn’t until a couple weeks ago. Weird feeling. I feel like SM is kinda on a roll these last three albums. Freer or something.
Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity?
To me this is much more where the strange and sad vibe of Women went than Preoccupations. I guess it’s stupid to compare.
Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You?
Truly awesome. Opens kinda like “Lonely Woman” and then goes astray from there. When the intense second section of the title track gives way to the floating third – it’s about as good as music gets for me.
Some really good non-2020 stuff that I got this year:
Tom of England – Sex Monk Blues
Charlie Megira – Tomorrow’s Gone comp
Yusef Lateef – Eastern Sounds
Sandii and the Sunsetz – Heat Scale
Joe Henderson w Alice Coltrane – Elements (really good reissue, recommended)
Archie Shepp – Things Have Got to Change