April Music Roundup

We are, shockingly, now into the middle third of the year 2017. That means that one in three of your favourite albums of 2017 has already come and gone. Scary, huh. If you’re anything like me, you’re at something like 65 albums so far for the year. What’s that? Oh, that’s too many and I’m nuts? Yeah, I guess you’re right.

 

My favourite album of the month of April and sure to be one of my top debuts of 2017 is by London quartet The Big Moon. They’ve been kicking around for a couple of years now, making waves as one of the most sought-after support bands in the country, but this is their moment. Love in the 4th Dimension is the album, a star-spangled medley of deceptively sweet melodies, punk attitude and carpe diem zest. It’s up there with the best statements of intent by a new British band in years: Wolf Alice, Fat White Family, Sleaford Mods, Menace Beach, Sauna Youth and now The Big Moon.

 

Elsewhere, the new record from Kendrick Lamar was unavoidable. Where To Pimp a Butterfly was a historical landmark in popular music, a brave new world where jazz and vintage funk mingled with the vanguard of contemporary hip-hop production. It is, then, at least somewhat disappointing that new album DAMN. is considerably less interest in bursting down conventions than its predecessor. That said, it is still a major statement, a heavyweight entry in the ongoing story of mainstream art and a more incisive snapshot of social and racial tension in the US right now than Joey Bada$$ managed with his more straightforward and predictable record, also released this month.

 

The other album that screamed IMPORTANT this month was Father John Misty‘s Pure Comedy. It is an old-fashioned epic, an indulgent passion project, full of extravagant and frequently hilarious teardowns of social media, art and everything else that’s wrong. It is preachy but if you get the joke, you’ll love it. Feist returned with an altogether more understated, mature record, a quiet statement that makes you to lean in to feast on its riches.

 

For the changing season, Columbia’s Ondatropica are here with Baile Bucanero, a latin smorgasbord of dance and energy. Speaking of smorgasbords, Gorillaz‘ new one Humanz is somewhat hit and miss, but the first half is more or less great. The Moonlandingz‘ debut finally arrived and delivered on the promise: a debauched, disgraceful, decadent mess. Two of the 00’s most enjoyable indie bands, The New Pornographers and British Sea Power, both updated themselves with strong new records.

 

On the slightly weirder end of things, jazz saxophone master Colin Stetson took time out from helping the crème de la crème of indie bands with their arrangements to make an explorative, diverse new collection. Meanwhile, Chicago experimental hip-hop musician Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is back with a beguiling, in-categorisable album by the name of Drool.

 

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF APRIL

  1. The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension
  2. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
  4. Feist – Pleasure
  5. Ondatropica – Baile Bucanero
  6. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
  7. The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
  8. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya – Drool
  9. Gorillaz – Humanz
  10. The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
Advertisements

March Music Roundup

My goodness, who keeps changing the month. We are nearly halfway through April already, but it’s not too late to reflect on March. We’re still firmly in the period of the year when multiple major releases appear at the end of every week. Here are my standouts.

 

First off, it’s Laura Marling. I have been a huge fan of hers pretty much since day one, with each one of her now six albums sending me slightly insane for a few weeks. It’s no different this time, with Semper Femina detailing some of the most complex relationships that you will hear about anywhere in contemporary music. It sees her back on more familiar territory too, after the slight electric diversion of Short Movie (which I also loved). If you haven’t yet, go listen right now.

 

Elsewhere, the album that obsessed me the most in March was Idles‘ debut album, Brutalism. As I talked about in my songs of the year rundown a few months ago, I expected this album to pummel and bruise the UK scene into submission and right enough it did. Subject matter spread wildly across modern art, the Tory government, TV chefs and all sorts, but the tone remains fairly constant: furious. Short, fevered, rousing stabs of fury, all hilarious and all energising.

 

There were tons of other really engaging albums: Mount Eerie made a heartbreaking tribute to his late wife; Jay Som went back to beautiful, closely arranged basics with her second album; Real Estate continued their pearlescent run as masters of understated melody and harmony; Spoon reminded us that they can cut raw, minimal alt-rock as well as anyone; perhaps most surprisingly, Grandaddy‘s first album in eleven years caught them in the same form that they departed in.

 

Two albums from far outside the familiar confines of the internet music community also blew me away. Firstly, Ronald Bruner, Jr.‘s debut is a sprawling jazz opus that proves that the Bruner family (which also takes in a member of The Internet as well as the author of my favourite album of February, Thundercat) has no artistic ceiling. Naming your debut Triumph is risky, but we’ll let him off. And the avant-garde performer Diamanda Galas made her first album in over 20 years, reminding us that nobody uses their voice to generate as much terror and fear as she. Her record is comprised of a number of American Songbook classics, each one tortured and murdered beyond comprehension. It’s like listening to an opera singer going through a degenerative metamorphosis. Not for the weak of heart, but an extraordinary 45 minutes of your time if you dare.

 

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF MARCH

  1. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
  2. Idles – Brutalism
  3. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
  4. Diamanda Galas – All The Way
  5. Ronald Bruner, Jr. – Triumph
  6. Grandaddy – Last Place
  7. Real Estate – In Mind
  8. Jay Som – Everybody Works
  9. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
  10. Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

February Music Roundup

The first few months of the year are always crazy busy for new music releases. Each Friday, music sites have at least half a dozen new reviews up on their sites, most of which you know nothing about. How are you supposed to know what to listen to?!? Well, relax. I’ve done the hard work and rounded up my picks for Feb 2017.

My favourite album of the month comes from Thundercat. He’s a wizard who you might know from his work on all of Flying Lotus’ albums, as well as on Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. His third solo album Drunk is a smorgasbord of jazz, funk, rock, pop, everything really. Like FlyLo’s records, it’s a montage of short tracks, and hell it features Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, so what are you waiting for.

The brilliant Ibibio Sound Machine returned with second album Uyai, which continues the half-London electro/half-Nigerian funk party from their debut. And Mali’s desert savants Tinariwen returned with another doozy, albeit more politically angry than their previous work. Their album Elwan features Kurt Vile and Mark Lanegan, proving that desert dwellers from across the globe share a certain understanding.

Two of Manchester’s best 21st century bands returned this month: Dutch UnclesBig Balloon sees them returning to the “dad prog” (their term) that brought them fans in the first place; Elbow, meanwhile, got more personal and less arena-driven with their seventh album Little Fictions.

A few relics from the 00s hipster Pitchfork scene also made a return: Jens Lekman is as great as ever; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah maybe not so much; Dirty Projectors‘ new one is sprawling and unfocused, but still compelling; Ryan Adams‘ 16th album is not a standout.

Meanwhile, Stormzy finally released his pretty stunning debut album, as did Sampha, after making his name working with the biggest names in R&B. And finally, Portland producer Visible Cloaks made an eerie, ambient album lying somewhere between minimal electro and modern classical.

 

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF FEBRUARY

  1. Thundercat – Drunk
  2. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
  3. Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai
  4. Tinariwen – Elwan
  5. Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
  6. Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon
  7. Sampha – Process
  8. Elbow – Little Fictions
  9. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
  10. Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage

 

 

 

January Music Roundup

I know, you’re busy. You haven’t got the bloody time to catch up with that new album by that band you’d forgotten you liked four years ago. The last thing you’re gonna squeeze into your brimming day is the time to read that Pitchfork review of the new breakout band from the DC punk scene. I get it. So, here is a quick rundown of the records that came out in January that were floating my boat.

 

The first great record of 2017 really came out on Christmas Day 2016, thanks to El-P’s inability to contain his excitement any longer. Run the Jewels‘ third album somehow maintains their golden run, this time upping the political stakes. It will be in the album of the year mix for me. On this side of the pond, Loyle Carner made a strong debut of his own with Yesterday’s Gone, a wide-eyed, no-BS rap record that cashes in on the hype.

 

Remember The Pipettes? Rose Elinor Dougall learned the ropes as a member of that glam-pop experiment, and her long-awaited second solo album is the most fun to be had in January’s music. Pop music without the patronising bits. Comes with a high addiction warning.

 

It was a great month for scuzzy guitar music. DC punk band Priests rightly caught the headlines with their debut Nothing Feels Natural, a great chance to vent your anger if you’ve been reading the news. Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings finally returned after three years away, and although Life Without Sound might be more outward-looking and positive, the same fury is there. Foxygen‘s third album, Hang, continued their fascinating journey through American music history, and Ty Segall‘s new self-titled record saw him embracing more poppy songwriting.

 

Back home, Leeds band Menace Beach returned with second album Lemon Memory, trading in the distortion and feedback for clearer visions and more prominence for Liza Violet’s writing. For the most intense listen of the month, look for Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs‘ debut record Feed The Rats, a three-track, 40 minute outburst of enormous riffs and apocalyptic drumming. Listen to that one at your peril.

 

Elsewhere, I wasn’t hooked by The Flaming Lips‘ new one, The xx made a seemingly fan-satisfying comeback, Bonobo made a stately, beautiful electronic record AGAIN and Brian Eno proved that his attention span continues to put everyone else’s to shame.

 

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF JANUARY

  1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
  2. Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
  3. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
  4. Menace Beach – Lemon Memory
  5. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
  6. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Feed the Rats
  7. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
  8. Foxygen – Hang
  9. Bonobo – Migration
  10. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone

 

#1: Kate Tempest – Europe Is Lost

 

If you haven’t heard Kate’s 2016 album ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ yet, then please put that right soon. I spent a lot of the year lamenting the fact that too few young artists had anything to say about the alarming chain of events that unfolded throughout the year, and I stand by that criticism. But, in October came this record. The album tells the story of one moment in the middle of one night in the lives of the inhabitants of a residential street in London in 2016. Telling their stories one by one, it is a blistering attack on everything that is wrong. A lot of the venom comes to a head on this track – the 3 minute tirade after the breakdown half way through is a Gil Scott-Heron-worthy tour de force of political fury. Thank god somebody is here to say it.

#2: David Bowie – Dollar Days

 

I’ve written extensively about this album, and indeed this track, elsewhere on this blog. Suffice to say, it’s my runaway album of the year, and at this point I believe a true contender for the best album that Bowie ever made. It feels arbitrary to single out one track over the others, but as I have said, this is the one that most poignantly and maturely expresses the central theme of the record, which is of course his imminent departure from this world. The sly references to his past work and the layers of meaning in several of the lines are just head scrambling. A real-life genius at work.

#3: Esperanza Spalding – Rest In Pleasure

 

This is the surprise of the year for me. Esperanza Spalding is probably best known for beating Justin Bieber to the Grammy for Best New Act a few years back, and she’s released a string of highly respected modern jazz albums. This year, however, she took a diversion through the worlds of Joni Mitchell, Janelle Monae and Stevie Wonder with her album ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’. By writing through the character of Emily, she has unleashed her inner funk, folk and R&B queens, and in concert with her jazz background and boundless talent, the results are spectacular. The album careers from one genre to the next, regularly blending them together at once, as on this thrilling single.

#4: Sunflower Bean – Easier Said

 

Some of the songs near the top of this list deal with serious issues in the world, some are musical progressions to be excited about. This is a very straightforward injection of blissful fun. As I’ve written elsewhere, New York trio Sunflower Bean are not reinventing the wheel with ‘Easier Said’, they’re just bringing out a shiny new model. It is three minutes of indie rock crack cocaine. I listened to it more than any other single in 2016, and for me it belongs in the annals of great indie singles alongside Camera Obscura, Teenage Fanclub, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and so on.

#5: Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

 

Virginia songwriter Will Toledo had his breakthrough year in 2016, after toiling in the quagmire of Bandcamp self-releases for several years and some twelve album-length releases. After signing to Matador in 2015, his first full set of new material for the label was ‘Teens of Denial’, and is a landmark release for alternative rock music. Not in years has a new voice arrived with an outlook and philosophy so fully developed and rounded. His writing is at times disarmingly confessional, at others an incisive commentary on the reasons for his generation’s apathy, at others a primal cry of despair. It may call to mind Pavement, Modest Mouse, Parquet Courts, Minutemen and others, but this is a singular, thrillingly fresh perspective, and easily one of my favourite albums of the year.

#6: Anderson .Paak – Heart Don’t Stand A Chance

 

Anderson .Paak’s ‘Malibu’ feels like an old release now, but it lit up the first quarter of 2016, and announced him as a major player in the R&B world for the next generation. When so many others were ploughing the alt-R&B, minimal electro soul that Frank Ocean, Solange, Blood Orange, James Blake and countless others are trending with at the moment, Paak went for a more organic, instrumental, in-the-room production. Some will label it as retro, and you can see why, but with this delivery it feels as vital and fresh as any other 2016 release.