Sweet Trip – Chapters
Picture a couple of sensitive troubadours wistfully beating a piñata with their acoustic guitars. Now picture said piñata bursting apart in a technicolour explosion of serotonin goodness that engulfs your entire being. Now, finally, stop reading my clumsy metaphors and listen to this piece of actual music. These Bay Area dream poppers took to SoundCloud in 2013 and posted “probably the last Sweet Trip song ever.” That was later updated to “*not* the last Sweet Trip song ever.” Thank feck. ‘Chapters’ is taken from comeback album A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals and has the best drop of the year. It sounds a *bit* like this enchanted piña…
Sinead O’Brien – Kid Stuff
Sprechgesang, yes, but not the kind to soundtrack ceramic shoemaking or chaise longue reclining. Having caught my ear with 2020’s Drowning In Blessings EP, sing-speaker Sinead O’Brien continues to sound like she knows something I don’t. Which is all I really want in an artist. Dublin born, Limerick bred, London based and… Operating on her own plane, really, with a kaleidoscopic yet precise pen, plus swagger and poise in delivery. Great band, too. Like one of the more robust Fall line-ups oscillating wildly between Hell and Studio 54.
SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE – RAPID & COMPLETE RECOVERY
I definitely upped my glitch quota this year. Just gives those pandemic strolls a jolt, I guess, and this elliptical Philly trio are my choice companions. ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH will pinch your cheeks, tousle your hair, soothe your brow. Throw a toaster in your bathtub. Experimental without sacrificing emotion. Or indeed, tunes, of which this is simply the most swoonsome. You’d be forgiven for not trusting the title, but it is actually that most Ronseal of things. Good for what ails ya, as our edges fray/distort/snap/crackle/pop.
Sad Night Dynamite – Psychedelic Views
The dubby, dystopian magic of ‘Psychedelic Views’ hinges on how these Specials fans twist “saw her naked in the lake, now she’s coming up to my room” from hip-hop bluster into horror-film foreboding. Two West Country boys check in, inhale an intoxicating fog (and other stuff) with their mate IDK, and live out a bleak ‘Hotel California’ loop. All the while, a spectral mariachi band plays ‘Far From Any Road’ in the lobby. You check out bleary-eyed, haunted… and ready to head right back inside for a late-bar bop?
Armand Hammer, The Alchemist – Stonefruit
Elucid and billy woods are two veteran New York rappers worth delving into – cryptic but rewarding albums like Paraffin and Shrines have deservedly won them a cult audience. Haram is a great starting point, helmed as it is by producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. His sunken soul and descending piano lines are present, correct and used by the duo to devastating effect. Closer ‘Stonefruit’ is the true choker, a park bench lullaby with a hard-fought lyrical optimism elevated by Uncle Al’s warm, rich sound.
Lucy Dacus – First Time
Her Home Video album has some absolute gems, particularly the devastating ’Thumbs’. But that’s one to listen to sparingly. My usual go-to is the propulsive one with throwaway lines like “I’m just the fool you took me for.” Trying to compare the talent levels of boygenius members is both preposterous and pointless, of course. But I will say this much: she’s the most talented member of boygenius.
Japanese Breakfast – Be Sweet
Jubilee’s lead single arrived in March and was an instant delight. But just how delightful?
A) Delightful enough to deserve Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky Town’ bass line?
B) Delightful enough to warrant a video homage to Mulder & Scully?
C) Delightful enough to compel me to mime along into a mirror, hands on hips, when Michelle Zauner does that spoken ‘be sweet!’ command in the chorus?
Yes, all of the above. Also, Zauner and myself both obsessed over The X Files this year, so we’re clearly leading the zeitgeist. Now, to go write an album as good as Jubilee over Christmas…
Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – Like I Used To
A glistening anthem worthy of its ‘big indie event’ billing. Van Etten had the bones of it when it dawned on her that she was channelling Olsen. As the former soars, the latter brings a honeyed weariness to proceedings. It’s all very E Street Band at their most Wall Of Sound. But also Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde if they’d holed up together for lockdown. Born To Run Another Bath. Born To Get Freaked Out At Large Gatherings. Born To Ruminate And Take Stock. A defiant 2021 ode to victories yet to come, snatched from a defeating couple of years.
Kanye West – Jesus Lord pt 2
Places Jay Electronica shaking “the tectonic plates of the game” alongside Buzz Lightyear and Barney the bloody Purple Dinosaur name-checks, and still leaves me teary-eyed every damn time. While the world focused on stadium shenanigans, in a lonely locker room, Kanye West was conjuring a cathedral (yes, gargoyles and all). ‘Jesus Lord’ sits at the heart of Donda, an altar upon which to spotlight sacrifice and foster empathy. If ‘Runaway’ was an ego-centric toast with a specific douchebag in mind, this album’s epic looks outward. It’s cracked-voice Kanye, head bowed, but eager to make eye contact. A mesmeric, rejuvenating 12-odd minutes (gotta include The Lox!).
William Doyle – Nothing At All
Doyle was already an unsung art-pop hero but Great Spans Of Muddy Time properly knocked me for six. After his hard drive failed, the Bournemouth artist salvaged music via TASCAM 414 cassette recordings. He’d been feeding ideas into the machine to transport them “into a different realm”. Now the entire work lives there, melancholic dispatches beamed in from some serene, alien frequency. ’Nothing At All’ is one of his perfect pop songs. A synth theme for a lost Nintendo RPG. A distant, watercolour cousin of Pet Shop Boys’ ’Se A Vida E’. Quiet desperation rarely sounds so transcendent.