- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Some Of Us
Following on from the groove-heavy and eclectic “Fishing For Fishies” and the ode to thrash metal “Infest The Rat’s Nest” of last year, one of modern rock’s most productive bands have announced another album. Their new record “K.G.” once again delves into the microtonal music created by instruments like the Turkish baglama they explored on one of their 2017 albums “Flying Microtonal Banana”. “Some Of Us” stands as the highlight of the singles released so far; its hazy atmosphere alongside the typically catchy guitar licks and somewhat discordant piano creates a song both calling back to the previous album and taking the sound in a slightly more ethereal direction. It also ramps up the fuzz following its refrain, blooming into a fuzzy wall of guitars. It is another excellent track from the band, seeing them continue to deliver impressive music.
- Matt Elliot – The Day After That
Matt Elliot was one of a small group of experimental folk musicians who gained prominence in the 2000s alongside Joanna Newsome and David Taylor Broughton among others. His latest album “Farewell to All we Know” is among his most stripped back; but it’s no less emotionally affecting than his most famous albums like 2005’s “Drinking Songs”. “The Day After That” sums up the album, caked in reverb as Elliot’s guitar skitters through Latin-inspired guitar melodies. As the song slowly builds, the backing vocalists grow in volume and droning piano appears behind the guitar. The star of the show however is Elliot’s utterly defeated vocals, dense with dejection. The album nails it’s lonely, eerie sound excellently, and “The Day After That” is just one part of a short, but wonderfully evocative record.
- Sufjan Stevens – My Rajneesh
Sufjan Stevens is someone who has always managed to meld personal and large-scale concepts. His music is both grand and diminutively human, and has been now for nearly 2 decades. A B-Side for the single “America” off his latest album “Ascension”, “My Rajneesh” is a perfect example of this. In a somewhat typically leftfield subject, “My Rajneesh” references the Oregon-based cult and terrorist group Rajneeshpuram on the surface, whilst also linking to Steven’s own understanding of faith. Its vast, dense instrumentation and choir backing is hardly subtle but works to brilliant effect, melding electronica with a kind of folky humanity. The way in which the song becomes more overtly synthetic and ethereal in the song’s mid-section is dramatic but strangely suitable, creating a heavenly and somewhat unearthly quality. It is one of the most lush and beautiful pieces of music of the year, more than justifying its 10 minute-plus length.
- Mush – Existential Dread
Among the more exciting upcoming bands of the year is Leeds post-punk band Mush. Releasing their debut album “3D Routine” this year, featuring many excellent singles from the last couple of years, “Existential Dread” is the most impressive of the singles released from this year. Shifting between chiming, brittle guitar licks and sudden explosions of noisy fuzz, there is a sense of volatility to the song. This is only aided by the lyrics and manic vocals of the song, all performed in a kind of strained yelp. It has a kind of peculiar charm that is fairly unique within both the original post-punk movements of the 70s and 80s and modern revisions of the style. The band certainly are still a work in progress, but songs like “Existential Dread” show very promising signs.
- Deftones – Genesis
After originally breaking through in the late 90s and early 2000s as part of the “nu-metal” scene, Deftones are arguably the most resilient of the bands from what scene, continually releasing excellent albums now for over 2 decades. From the cold, ominous synthesiser and guitar melody that opens “Genesis” and new album “Ohms”, it is clear this excellence isn’t going to end here. Immediately breaking into a typically guttural riff from Stephen Carpenter and Chino Moreno’s impassioned scream, the song repeatedly reverts from moments of strange beauty to brutal fury. The moments in which Moreno’s vocals get cleaner are typically eerie, and Carpenter’s guitar fills every space with a wall of thick distortion. It is typically atmospheric from the band, and feels less like a genesis of anything than an apocalypse.
- Lewsberg – From Never to Once
Dutch garage rock band Lewsberg have always been clear in their love for one particular band; The Velvet Underground. Both of their albums thus far have modernised the rough-edged cool of the 1960s icons, fitting their noise experimentations and lethargic pop hooks into an indie rock package; “From Never to Once” could hint at a new direction for the band. Whilst there are still the rough-edged guitar solos and the droning minimalism, a key aspect of the Underground’s material, there is a quirky energy to this song that is quite unique. There is also an oddly bright quality to the music, with the almost spoken vocal style and the insistent, melodic guitar line that drives the track on. Whilst their material has largely been very promising throughout, the lead single from “In This House” could prove to be an excellent new direction for the band.
- Nick Cave – Cosmic Dancer
Released to promote “Angelheaded Hipster”, a tribute album to Marc Bolan and T-Rex, Nick Cave proves to be the perfect man to perform one of Bolan’s most endearing ballads “Cosmic Dancer”. The gruff charm of Cave’s best material shines through here in a fairly faithful rendition. As the yearning strings carry on behind the piano and acoustic guitar, the song holds onto its eccentric but touchingly retrospective mood. Given the ambient flourishes of his more recent albums, with The Bad Seeds and his recent solo performance “Idiot Prayer” performed during lockdown; the fact that Cave is heard in such a vulnerable, lonely context feels fairly suitable. And in “Cosmic Dancer”, it is a song which saw Bolan and T-Rex shed the smoky guitar and glam rock dramatics for something lighter and more calm. Cave, once immersed in the fury of “Murder Ballads” and “Henry’s Dream”, now feels like the perfect person to pay homage to this.
- Anna von Hausswolff – All Thoughts Fly
After a decade reviving the most atmospheric and alien side of gothic rock, Anna von Hausswolff created an ode to the pipe organ on her latest album “All Thoughts Fly”. With every single part on the album played on the organ, von Hausswolff creates a surprisingly diverse range of textures and moods; none as impressive, however, as the title track. Having the same pulsing rhythms and sense of travel that characterised minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Julius Eastman, “All Thoughts Fly” is a whirling, lush atmosphere. As it slowly melds from one stage to another, with different parts clashing with existing ones and creating new pulses as they appear, the album suddenly cuts away from the gloom that characterises much of the rest of the record.
- Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – Theme for Cecil
An ode to free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor, Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids once again pay homage to the avant-garde explosion of the 1960s that birthed their original records like “King of Kings”. Opening with a deep, almost dub bassline, hazy guitar and a beautiful sax and flute melody, it at first seems to have little to do with the often sharply dissonant and odd piano technique of Taylor. The track then breaks down into a sax solo that is typically off-kilter before the groove breaks down entirely. The rest of the track is an afrobeat inspired groove, with flute and sax improvising above, but the sudden shift that occurs early in the track highlights exactly the sort of odd volatility that characterised Taylor records like “Conquistador!”. The song manages to mix incessant grooves with moments of free-form mania, serving as an impressive modernisation of a sound heavily present in the jazz experimentations of the late 60s and early 70s.
- Grimes – My Name Is Dark (Art Mix)
Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has consistently served up some of the most bizarre pop music of the last decade, likely inspiring much of the new brand of arty, confrontational pop that has exploded over the last few years. One of the key singles off “Miss Anthropocene”, “My Name Is Dark” mixes the cartoonishly sweet sound heavily present on previous album “Art Angels” with the electro-industrial hedonism of early Nine Inch Nails or Ministry. The rumbling bassline, cavernous synths and sharp guitar lines recall these bands in their early stages, but this is alongside the high-pitched, heavily synthesised vocals of Grimes. It is a strange juxtaposition, but one that Grimes has become particularly impressive at pulling off. It serves as the album’s most impressive moment and one of the peaks of Grimes’ career.