Albums of the year so far…

And so the summer solstice comes and goes and that time of the year arrives when we look back over some of the year’s best albums so far. Culled from the thousands of albums we’ve been sent over the last six months, here are the ones that have really stood out. This year can up to now be very much defined by the dominance of the 3 Ps. Psych and Post-Punk. In amongst some modern genre-defining albums of those styles, we pull out some garage gems, blistering full-on punk, some of the best indie albums, drop in a bit of exhilarating neo-jazz and a dose of electronica. There’s also some of the best social commentary that we’ve heard in a long while in amongst some of these lyrics. The underground has risen and we have also been able to celebrate a number one album by a true treasure of a band.

And so, in no particular order, here are our albums of the year so far…

AlbumsSquid
Bright Green Field
(Warp)

Their eccentric angular art-pop is the soundtrack to that now very alive, kicking over the statues (literally) city which has become an epicentre of much of the nu thinking, ideas and culture of the new generation – a Generation Y Not? who will have to rebuild the UK after the wreckage of the great plague and the ageing post-punk generation. This is the soundtrack to the new narrative and it flies the flag for an eccentric high IQ music that they have somehow turned into a perfect pop.
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Albums
Sleaford Mods
Spare Ribs
(Rough Trade)
Williamson and Fearns have hit back with an album that doesn’t change their sound yet does in the experimental sounds on this offering which excites like Divide & Exit did. Not a return to form as they’ve never lost it. A return to hard hitting lyrics which are backed with some comedy madness, grime, dupstep and old school punk bass that excites. On their own…
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Albums of the year so far…Cold Water Swimmers
Holiday At The Secret Lake
(DIY or Die)

None of these songs are new to the initiated, yet if you’ve followed the band from the early days you’ll notice a massive difference in sound, style and production. Everything has been scrutinised down to fine detail including the tracklisting and the excellent album cover by Paul Husband. Album of the year contender anyone? I’ve not heard one as good yet. As debuts go, this is perfection.
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AlbumsRats On Rafts
Excerpts From Chapter 3: The Mind Runs A Net Of Rabbit Paths
(Fire Records)
Excerpts From Chapter 3… is a stylised and stylish modern drama that reveals intricate characters and drama that hooks you and keeps you absorbed throughout. It makes a leftward lunge into a heady blend of post-punk and engrossing psych. A massive step forward for the band, both in terms of sound, songs and concept and the final result is a record that grabs you from start to finish, takes you through a journey and leaves you wanting to flip it over and start again.
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Albums of the year so far…Mogwai
As The Love Continues
(Rock Action)

Recent years have seen Mogwai employed in soundtrack work, an interesting twist on their dynamic and seeing them stretch their sound taut allowing so many sonic nuances to escape. These soundscapes describing celluloid demand more space and a calmer approach, which they have employed on As The Love Continues. The new album brings this into play with beautifully barren stretches that are like the astonishing images of Mars that hold the tension for the climactic build-ups. This is a sensual, subtle shape-shifting music that reconnects with the subtle oddness of their music that finds release with those dense plateaus of sound as they build and build.
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Albums of the year so far…Dry Cleaning
Long New Leg
(4AD)

Dry Cleaning has to be one of the best new bands to emerge in the twenty-first century, interweaving inventive, astute, and amusing lyrics with instrumentation that underlies the frantic anxieties and uncanny disconnects of modern life. There’s a deep loneliness to each track on New Long Leg, linked with a desire to revel in amusing cliches inherent in everyday life. Ultimately, the lyrics and sounds are enigmatic and ambiguous, asking the listener to play a role in making meaning from the music they’re hearing.
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Albums of the year so far…Kiwi Jr.
Cooler Returns
(Sub Pop)
US slacker/college pop meets UK post-punk and indie with a smattering of folky/Americana influences. Like Pavement or Sebadoh with a smidgeon of flourishes with a likening to Orange Juice and The Cribs. The strange tableaus and visions created by listening to the lyrics aren’t completely off the wall, for example, observations about the current political landscape in the US are scattered though-out but not in any sort of linear way. Kiwi Jr’s world is the perfect anecdote to the real world in 2020/21.
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AlbumsBlack Midi
Cavalcade
(Rough Trade)

After an incendiary breakthrough, Mercury Music Prize nomination, and widespread critical acclaim, they quickly became one of the hottest tipped bands on the British gig circuit. Their religious dedication to music quickly created a mythology around the band as the dark horses of the British punk scene. Though, post-punk being loosely attributed, Black Midi defy genre classification. It is without a doubt one of the best guitar albums released in the last five years. The curation and musical precision of the band have resulted in a sumptuously brilliant album.
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AlbumsCHIHUAHUA
Violent Architecture
(Self-release)

Violent Architecture is one of the most interesting, most intense debut albums released this year. It arrives at a point where purveyors of taste are championing ‘difficult’ music again. The outsiders have a way into the mainstream. The sheer intensity of it. The oddness and precision. The fact that there are hints of ‘other music’ yet an innate originality…this really is a remarkable, fully-formed work of art-punk, politico-noise mischief that is hard to beat.
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Albums of the year so far…Night Beats
Outlaw R&B
(Fuzz Club)

The very name under which Danny Lee Blackwell works, Night Beats, is a direct reference to the Sam Cooke album, Night Beat and thus the soul and R&B influence is rarely too far away, just waiting to be drawn upon. However, his new album, Outlaw R&B, reasserts him as a potent psych force. the vocals are often drenched in a similar fuzz sound to his wild guitar work, adding to the mysteriousness of both Blackwell’s lyrics and character.
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Albums of the year so far…The Stan Laurels
There Is No Light Without Dark

(Big Stir)
The Stan Laurels have produced a work of abundant depth, cracking tunes allied to a very wise and above all human lyrical viewpoint. Just because there is only one person involved does not mean there is any less power to the music, as if you were not conversant with the fact that this is John Lathrop on his Jack Jones beforehand, you would never suspect it as anything other than a band recording and a high-quality one at that.
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DivideDivide And Dissolve
Gas Lit
(Invada)
Gas Lit may sit in the Doom or Alternative Rock sections of your record shops but don’t be fooled into allowing this to pass you by if those genres are not normally for you for this is the latest in a long list of protest music that is set to make a difference to anyone who hears it. To hear Gas Lit is to take your clothes off and walk into the sea, to dig your toes and hands into the Earth. It is history, it is future, it is necessary and to spend time with it is to address what it is to be human.
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Albums of the year so far…
Mush
Lines Redacted
(Memphis Industries)

On Lines Redacted, Mush have turned their sights on the darkness behind the curtain, where the world’s stagehands are turning the cogs at the behest of the catastrophe directors while we, as actors, spectators, seem unable to do little more than play our scripted parts or look on in horror. The fact that they do this while simultaneously writing songs as entertaining as those here, never once going in for the obvious kill and ramming an easy metaphor in your face simply for effect, is a credit to them.
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Albums of the year so far…Def Robot
We Go Up To Eleven
(Self-release)

Even though We Go Up To Eleven became the 11th release for Def Robot in two years, it seems that the band is still full of ideas. They make you feel it straight away – from the very first chords of Night Falls. Probably their endless enthusiasm. Or better said “punk-ethic” – following the words of Paul Taylor – co-founder of the band, who says it is because they “are constantly writing, current events are a great source material. As we write record and mix so quickly, those current events are still happening… [and] whatever the upsides and downsides of music streaming, we love the punk ethic of writing something that is released almost immediately.”
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AlbumsThe Mudd Club
Bottle Blonde
(Raving Pop Blast!)

Teenage Delinquent Garage Punks from Wales via Kansas. Brother and sister, 13 and 19 effortlessly reinvigorate basic Rock’n’Roll comic-book style. One of Ged Babey’s ‘Greatest Bands In The History of the World Ever!’ or beginners luck? They are so instantly likeable: so simple, raw, dumb, trashy, funny, obvious, natural, talented, effortless….so basic! Fun, Attitude and Volume. 3 chords and some dumb rhymes. The magic, winning formula. All their songs sound the same: sorta – BUT they all sound like the greatest song ever written.
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Albums of the year so far…FilthyDirty
The Rise And Fall Of Blasphemouth
(Cracked Ankles Records)

A dirty bastard that sounds like Mark E Smith on acid… a deep down horror soundtrack that conjures up the image of something not very nice down in the cellar. A doom prog psych piece that makes you want to reach for the light switch. Uneasy listening not for the nervous. If you’re looking for Abba then look away. If you’re missing Evil Blizzard then this is like a glimpse into the future of the next chapter. An evil experiment to keep us going until they unleash the misery in a town, city or dungeon near you…
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Albums of the year so far…TV Priest
Uppers
(Sub Pop)

Signed to the legendary Sub Pop, TV Priest unleash their debut album of furious guitar-driven angry post-punk on the world. Scratch the surface, peel away the layers and you’ll find something here to make you think there might be something more to come. There are hints of The Fall, The Pop Group, post/art-punk angular guitars. They are recreating a formula that has worked over the years and will no doubt garner a dedicated following.
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Albums of the year so far…St. Vincent
Daddy’s Home
(Loma Vista)

Like a brilliant shape-shifting chameleon, Annie Clark, who has already morphed into space-age superstar St. Vincent, is always restlessly on the move. Daddy’s Home is brilliant space-age glam pop with a deep emotional undercurrent. Like the great David Bowie in the seventies, she is always changing like a glam chameleon. Her music and image slipping and sliding through a series of images to paint the full 360 picture around her music – revealing her emotional core whilst dancing through the wardrobes off pop!
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Albums of the year so far…Gary Numan
Intruder
(BMG)

This is an album as told by a storyteller, with nods and winks to his musical style from the 1980s, for those that know his work from that time. If you don’t much care for Numan’s dark, heavy sounds and pulsating beats, then this album isn’t for you. But for those that love this current version of Gary Numan, this is an album for headphones and closed eyes, a grand arena for the mind and imagination.
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Albums of the year so far…Primitive Knot
Fight The Future
(Phage Tapes)

Alongside the bone-rattling riffs, Primitive Knot presents listeners with a vivid and detailed aesthetic. This is music that seems to exist between the pages of Orwell’s iconic 1984, the intergalactic nightmares of HR Giger and the disturbing fever dreams of David Cronenberg. Much like James Woods subsumed the dreaded Videodrome into his very being, Knot fully absorbs his influences. The album uses sci-fi and horror to deliver an extremely pertinent message of dissent, anger and protest. The dystopian imagery perhaps once reserved for novels and film now interwoven with the daily news. As the title suggests, Fight The Future isn’t about to lie down and give up.
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Albums of the year so far…King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
LW
(KGLW Records)

I love the simplicity of a good punk hook, the catchy indie anthems, the post-punk sounds of a lot of original bands cementing their unique stuff on the scene, yet this is compelling musicianship at its best. 17 (now 18!) albums in, this is possibly their best work and they have finally honed their sound into their own. One of the best bands around in these dark times. It’s an absolute stunner that’s going to be up there in the best albums of 2021 as they solidify their mantle as one of the original great bands of our time.
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Albums of the year so far…Reigning Sound
A Little More Time With…
(Merge)

A Little More Time With… is a crystal clear and crisp record that glides effortlessly. Those hoping for the garage sound of Cartwright’s past may ultimately be left wanting, but, as we slip into the hazy summer days and warm nights, this album is the near-perfect soundtrack to a brighter future. It’s great to finally have some more time with Reigning Sound and, as they sing, let’s do it again real soon.
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Albums of the year so far…Gojira
Fortitude
(Roadrunner)

One of the biggest bands in the world French outfit Gojira are further proof of the powerful and lasting legacy of metal as it impinges on the mainstream. More than any other form of music metal somehow sneaks ideas, idealism and forward-thinking into the cheesy mainstream without diluting its power and creativity and Gojira are a prime example of this truly independent process. The band are breaking boundaries, breaking records and breaking the anglo-American music culture consensus.
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albumsRutger Hoedemaekers
The Age Of Oddities
(130701)

The Age Of Oddities is an extraordinary album for the listener, one that takes you from the murky cavern of distorted, processed vocal at the beginning to Hoedemaekers’s sublime and poignant piano at the close. You feel like you have been transported, out of the darkness and into the light. Unsurprisingly, given Hoedemaekers’s background, The Age Of Oddities feels incredibly cinematic, particularly in terms of its ability to convey emotional complexity. Lord Byron wrote that “this is the age of oddities let loose”. God knows what he would make of these times.
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On RotationNick Cave & Warren Ellis
Carnage
(Goliath Records)

Religion has always been deep in the soul of Nick Cave. Old-time religion, Old Testament religion. It’s there in the biblical narrative of his life, it’s there in the shiny threads of his preacher man persona, it’s there in his Southern Gothic prose. Most of all it’s there, deep down in the grooves of his latest album, Carnage. Like all the best music since the blues begat rock’n’roll, his songs are rooted in the elemental stuff of life and death, love and loss, that sacred space where suffering and salvation lie side by side. Brutal, beautiful and occasionally very funny
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Albums of the year so far…Arab Strap
As Days Get Dark
(Rock Action)

They’ve come back completely on their own terms and delivered an album bursting with renewed purpose and creativity. Back from the grave and ready to rave. It’s a deeply immersive album from beginning to end; like a good book, it’s almost impossible to put As Days Get Dark down once you’ve started. That poetic mix of darkness, melancholy, romance, and unflinching honesty that has always been an Arab Strap speciality. Reaching out through the bleakness to offer a hand to hold as days get dark.
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albumsJane Weaver
Flock
(Fire Records)

With lyrics questioning someone’s narcissistic and self-aware nature, there’s still the realism that permeates Weaver’s work, especially when she has something crucial to say. Weaver is unafraid of the industry, patriarchy and takes the world to task in a way that should make anyone sit up and take notice, and well as dealing with those universal themes of nature and our collective consciousness. The fact that she can do so with a bright, unpretentious pop sensibility, a neon glitterball hanging in a woodland, is what really marks out Flock.
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Albums of the year so far…Godspeed You! Black Emperor
G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
(Constellation)

In the midst of growing civil unrest and an increasingly dystopian landscape, post-rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor return with an appropriately dramatic soundtrack. The album remains a pure, powerful and moving expression of the here and now. Providing hope amongst all the chaos and uncertainty, Godspeed You! Black Emperor return in the nick of time with their skinny fists raised in defiance.
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Albums of the year so far…Gruff Rhys
Seeking New Gods
(Rough Trade)

Turning up the volume, Cardiff-based songwriter Gruff Rhys continues his string of harmonious solo albums with a bold and fuller sounding new LP. An unpredictable musician and songwriter, Gruff Rhys never seems to want to settle into anything close to a style, at least not for more time than is required to make a coherent album. An artistic sensibility and creative impulse seem to push Rhys’s music in different directions. This is probably the fullest-sounding of Rhys’s solo albums, and it is also the most live-sounding.
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Albums of the year so far…Blowers
S/T
(Spooky Records/Chaputa! Records)

An album that recoils at the sight of itself. From an unstoppable succession of unholy, smoking openers which scream until the skin encasing our feeble skeleton ruptures; be it Ripped, Cut Throat, or Too Old For This Shit; there is an indubitable rawness, a rough-around-the-edges-ness; a twitchy, adolescent rage; so fast, it might catch fire at any moment. A literal ripping to pieces, a literal cutting of the throat, literally too old for any of this shit until, arrestingly distressed, compelling bleeding along the edge, exhaustion turns to existential rage.
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Albums of the year so far…Mad Daddy
S/T
(Self-release)

High-octane Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues from the Isle of Man. A ten-song powerhouse of a debut album. The wheel isn’t re-invented, but do you know why? Because it’s going too god-damn fast. What they lack in originality they make up for ten times over – and this is a perfect, dumb, authentically ass-kickin’ punk rock’n’blues explosion, coming straight out of the past, blasting into the future.
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Albums of the year so far…Amigo The Devil
Born Against
(Liars Club)

Born Against is another magnificent journey through the dark and mysterious world of Amigo The Devil, combining his poetic and macabre sense of storytelling with haunting and epic soundscapes. It explores such a wide range of emotions from heartbreak to humour and beyond with such thought-provoking narratives, all backed by such expansive musical arrangements and unconventional sounds. Rarely does an album contain so much soul, emotion and mastery of the art of storytelling, conveyed through such warmth, passion and sincerity, but this one has it in spades.
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Albums of the year so far…The Coral
Coral Island
(Run On Records/Modern Sky)
The Coral return with a double concept album that pulls you into their rose-tinted world of wonder. On Coral Island, the band have created what could well be their opus. It sprawls across 24 tracks, of which the 15 songs are amongst some of their best work. It’s a whole world within a world, an escape from reality that resonates deeply, fantastical yet altogether real. This could be their best album to date.
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Albums of the year so far…Du Blonde
Homecoming
(Daemon T.V.)

Although glam-punk aesthetics still echo on the new LP, this record is again an unintentional step aside from the marked course. These songs, of experience if not innocence, draw on influences during Houghton’s formative years at the beginning of her creative career. Homecoming communicates the necessity to embrace one’s younger self and recall things that have shaped his or her personality. Still, with the poppier vibes, Houghton stays true to her garage and glam-punk oeuvre.
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Albums of the year so far…Radio Silence
Isolation EP
(Self-released)

Newcastle garage-psych berserkers unleash their red-hot debut EP, Isolation with echoes of The Cramps, The Gun Club and The Birthday Party. The best no-holds-barred rock & roll group to come out of Newcastle since The Animals. There’s never been a better time for Radio Silence to emerge. This is the start of something special.
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Albums of the year so far…Pink Suits
Political Child
(Self-released)

This is entertainment, this is fun, this is angry shouty sweary (divisive) basic guitar and drums punk rock made by two people who seem to know how to entertain and shout about the stuff that needs shouting about. These are the good guys and there’s always room in this world for nonsense such as this. Have a listen and Object, refuse, reject or abuse it at your will.
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Why Pink Suits are the most vital new punk band in the UK

 

Albums of the year so far…Alan Vega
Mutator
(Sacred Bones)

An album recorded by Suicide’s Alan Vega at his mid-Nineties creative peak finally sees the light of day. Whenever a legendary artist dies and a posthumous album arrives a few years later, you can usually hear the sound of barrels being scraped in a bid to squeeze every last cent out of their legacy. Happily, nothing could be further from that with Mutator, a genuine “lost” album by Suicide’s late great Alan Vega, recorded in the mid-1990s and shelved only because he was producing such prolific art and music at that time.
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on rotationThe Chills
Scatterbrain
(Fire)

Well, if Scatterbrain is anything to go by, they go big. And no, I don’t mean they turn into volume-cranking stadium rockers. I mean they take themes which are both suitably huge but similarly, like the band themselves, tied to thoughtfulness and at times cultish thought patterns. Magick and mysticism ooze from Scatterbrain’s every pore from the opening note. The Chills are very much still creating their finest works.
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Albums of the year so far…Delilah Bon
S/T
(Trash Queen Records)

Delilah Bon is the explosive new project from the mind of multi-instrumentalist, producer and prolific punk rock queen Lauren Tate, unleashing a whole new level of clever, sarcastic, empathetic and righteously angry lyrics. Offering help to those that need it and a firm middle finger to the rest. Tate has handcrafted everything for the project too, including all the videos. The living embodiment of the DIY attitude.
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AlbumsSons Of Kemet
Black To The Future
(Impulse)

Ferocious and exhilarating, the new album from Sons Of Kemet is beyond jazz. The message is compelling, the music hypnotic and unforgettable. Black To The Future feels somehow bigger than any of Hutchings’ previous projects, whether with Sons Of Kemet, The Ancestors or The Comet Is Coming. It projects a sound from the speakers that engulfs the whole world and swallows it whole. Driven by that overarching narrative of anger and frustration, the words and music fuse potently, creating a portentous landscape. And yet, there is an incredible contradiction.
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AlbumsMatt Berry
The Blue Elephant
(Acid Jazz)

Possibly his best album to date, a big departure from the well-received Phantom Birds and a great journey into the psychedelic sixties recreated by a genuine polymath. This needs to be listened to as a whole. It’s a psych concept album full of ideas. A psychedelic masterpiece that takes you on a trip back to the sixties, clocking in his playing of 19 different instruments, accompanied by Craig Blundell’s amazing drumming.
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AlbumsBlue Orchids
Speed The Day
(Tiny Global)

Mad songs about what it’ll be like a hundred years from now. Songs about speeding your tits off. Surrealist tales and psychedelic philosophising with tunes that memorable and uplifting. From a celestial garage band who’ve been around for years…The Blue Orchids really do get better and better.
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On rotationBand Of Holy Joy
Dreams Take Flight
(Tiny Global)

Dreams Take Flight finds Brown exploring the strange, dream-like mind-state of the pandemic lockdown of the last year, perfectly articulating the existential dilemmas and frustrations that united us all during the strangest year many of us have experienced in our lifetimes. This album may have been forged in the disorienting strangeness of pandemic lockdown, but Band of Holy Joy have created a strikingly beautiful and uplifting album, timeless in nature, and marbled with perceptive insights into the human condition.
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AlbumsCatenary Wires
Birling Gap
(Skep Wax/Shelflife)

It’s C86 Indiepop reaching adulthood with quality Dreampop production. Musically, the experience and influences of Hallam, Lewis and Button enhance the Fletcher/Pursey songs and performances and give the intelligent songs about Englishness an analogue pop sheen and professionalism…. it’s just such a great album. Birling Gap, is a shimmering thing of beauty. Pop with depth and the wisdom of that comes with age and musicianship to match.
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AlbumsJohn Grant
Boy From Michigan
(Bella Union)

The boy from Michigan is back and all is well in the world. Oh, to be reacquainted with that rich, resonant voice again; it’s like a warm wave of reassurance washing over us, like the moment lockdown eased and we were able to step back into our local pub. Familiar and comforting; still conveying those wondrous tones, all wrapped up in a bunch of remarkable songs. But, wait. With John Grant, there is always more to it than meets the eye. Let us scratch away this veneer and take a glimpse underneath. There it is. Pure trauma.
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AlbumsGreentea Peng
Man Made
(AMF)

It was love at first beat. I love the way Wells takes well-worn styles such as soul, blues, jazz, reggae and trip-hop and weaves them into a hazy, trippy, smoky sound that, despite the familiarity of its component parts, she makes all her own. She’s the antidote to that stereotype of post-Brexit Britain that much of the world sees – hopeful messages for our troubled times presented in a mellow vibe that can be best enjoyed in the sunshine.
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For reviews of all the albums we’ve covered, head over here.

Words by Amy Britton, Andy Brown, Audrey Golden, Callum Gray, Dan Volohov, David Beer, Ged Babey, Gordon Rutherford, Gus Ironside, Ian Canty, Ian Corbridge, Irina Shtreis, John Robb, Keith Goldhanger, Nathan Whittle, Neil Hodge, Ryan Walker, Simon Buckley, Simon Tucker, Tim Cooper, and Wayne Carey.

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