New Monday

Good new releases seemed a bit thin on the ground for the first few weeks of 2021, but now a bunch of them have come along all at once so I thought I’d throw them all into one post. It never rains but it pours.

Private Life – Virginia Wing. Post-punky, avant-garde pop. Like something John Peel would’ve played in 1980 but shiny enough you don’t need to be an angsty teenager to enjoy it.

An Overview on Phenomenal Nature – Cassandra Jenkins. Quiet, intimate, and impressionistic dream folk. “Hard Drive” might be the best track I’ve heard so far this year.

Magic Mirror – Pearl Charles. The Carpenters meet ABBA in a Country bar.

Collapsed in Sunbeams – Arlo Parks. Warm and soulful singer-songwriter from London with chill grooves and Robert Smith references in the lyrics.


That Was The Damn Year That Was

So…. 2020, that was something wasn’t it? Everything was coloured by the pandemic and lockdown, so even if the records below had nothing directly to do with it our responses to them were shaped by it. On the plus side, being a prisoner in your own home did give you a chance to listen to a lot of music.

Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa

What’s Your Pleasure? – Jessie Ware

Róisín Machine – Róisín Murphy

Seeking Thrills – Georgia
In a year when none of us could go out clubbing it was a cruel irony that the best albums were dance records which, as a result, came across like hymns to a lost world. But being denied the communal joy of a nightclub didn’t make them any less great, even if dancing around your living room didn’t have quite the same thrill. Whether you like swishy disco beats or ravey techno these albums had something for everybody who loves club music, and it was a pleasure to hear some proper fat basslines. Though there was barely a cigarette paper’s width of quality between them I’d give the slight edge to Dua Lipa for the way she channeled 80s dancepop and imperial-phase Madonna with an album that was wall-to-wall catchy bangers.

Fetch The Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Though recorded before the plague arrived this seemed to hit the zeitgeist right between the eyes. Its primitive, percussive sound captured the claustrophobic stress of the year and its title track — “Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long” — became a meme about breaking out of the shitty situation we were in. A fierce record that grabbed you by the shoulders and gave you a good shake, it sounded like it was a cathartic experience to make as much as it was to listen to.

Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise) – Sault
The other big story of the year was the growth of Black Lives Matter into a global movement following the death murder of George Floyd. In that context, the speed with which Sault put out two double albums seemed like they were directly responding to it, and the mystery surrounding who Sault actually are gave them the feel of urgent messages from the underground. With a clenched fist on its cover, Black Is was the more angry and defiant-sounding, while the praying hands of Rise were on a more uplifting record, and both were also proud celebrations of black culture in the way they painted with the full palette of black music from Afropop to soul, disco, spoken word, and Hip-Hop. A pair of astonishingly rich albums.

How I’m Feeling Now – Charli XCX
Folklore/Evermore – Taylor Swift
Three albums conceived and recorded during lockdown — one very publicly on social media and the others in strict secrecy – that were different sides of how we reacted to being stuck at home: Charli’s was all anxious and jittery nervous energy that bounced off the walls, and Taylor’s felt like curling up under a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. Charli showed what a risk-taking ball of creative energy she is even under hothouse conditions, while Taylor stepped away from the big pop machine of her career for some gentle and beautifully-crafted story songs. Of the two I probably spent more time relaxing in Taylor’s cozy world, but remain thrilled by Charli’s adventures in 21st century pop.

Women In Music Pt. III – Haim
I’ve mostly been a bit meh on Haim in the past, finding their breezy, summery rock to be OK but not all that engaging. But they really upped their game and found several new gears on their excellent third album. The trio have all being dealing with various types of shit recently and it shows in the more personal depth of the songs and there’s a willingness to mess up their sound with new and rougher elements that gives it an edge they’ve not had before (at least to my ears). They still write fantastic pop hooks and sound effortlessly Californian but now the weather forecast is a bit more mixed.

Other records I loved in 2020 but was too busy moving house to write about:
Song For Our Daughter — Laura Marling
The Slow Rush — Tame Impala
Far From Home — Aubrie Sellers
Grae — Moses Sumney
Heavy Light — U.S. Girls
Girlhood — Girlhood

New Monday

It’s important in these dismal times to have something to look forward to and hearing good new music can make it worth getting out of bed in the morning. So I thought I’d do one of these posts because I’ve not done one in a while. Here’s a few albums that have recently floated my boat.

Marie Davidson is a Canadian artist known for electronic club music but her new album Renegade Breakdown takes a swerve into an eclectic mix of deadpan 80s synth-funk and French chanson. Tres bon!

Sad13 is the name Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz uses for her solo work. Her second release Haunted Painting is a terrific indie pop record chock full of sounds, ideas, and fun in a freewheeling way that reminds me of Caroline Rose’s Loser.

It’s ironic that in a year when none of us can go to nightclubs some of the best albums have been aimed at dancefloors. Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware have both put out album of the year contenders packed with throbbing and swishy beats, while Róisín Murphy has raised the bar with her magnificent new long player Róisín Machine. Just a pity that we can only dance in our living rooms at the moment.

New Monday

Yes, I know it’s Wednesday but who cares what day it is anymore?

As James Brown once said “The one thing that can solve all our problems is dancing” which sounds a bit trite when thousands of people are dying, but it’s generally good advice when you feel down and anxious. To lift the blues you could do a lot worse than the terrific new Dua Lipa album Future Nostalgia which will fulfill all your needs for sleek dance music.

My other stay-at-home jam is the latest album by U.S. Girls Heavy Light which fuses disco, plastic soul, and Phil Spector through a modern filter. Big contender for album of the year for me.

That Was The Year That Was

One reason I haven’t written many new posts this year (besides being a lazy fucker) is that I’ve become quite anti-nostalgia lately which makes it a little hard to do what I usually do here. It was The Beatles’ 50th Anniversary boxsets that broke me. My Twitter feed was full of people going over and over them with the sort of worshipful reverence given to stone tablets handed down by ancient Gods. I just wanted to scream “MOVE THE FUCK ON!” at them. Add to that all the chatter about Joy Division books and Dr. Who blu-rays and it drove me a little nuts.

I understand the impulse, we’re all getting old and there’s a warm attachment to the culture that impacted your life when you were young and irresponsible and I’ve been writing a blog about it for over a decade. But now it’s grown into some vast Nostalgia Industrial Complex that is endlessly repackaging and reissuing basically the same 20-odd years of popular culture to separate (mostly) middle-aged men from their money. But if you want to spend $70 on a CD (a CD!) of London Calling just because it comes with a book of photos, don’t let me stop you. I’m old too, but I’m not dead.

So, being a contrarian bastard, my instinct has been to run screaming in the other direction into the now and, as a result, I’ve spent most of 2019 listening almost exclusively to new music. Luckily it was a very, very good year for that, one of the recent best I can remember. Such were the riches on offer I had a hard time ranking these and the order kept changing while I was writing, almost every one could be my album of the year.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey
Because Lana is so dedicated to her own unique aesthetic it’s easy to overlook how much she’s grown as an artist. If you’d said back in 2012 that she would become one of the best songwriters in America you’d have been laughed out of the room, but her we are in 2019 and she clearly is now. The narcotic Flower Child vibe of this album was the most vivid soundscape she’s played in since the dusty, reverb-drenched Ultraviolence and her vocals have never sounded better. Years after her “act” could have become tiresome, she remains vital and fascinating.

All Mirrors – Angel Olsen
Angel has spent her career slowly shedding the skin of the ghostly folk singer she started out as, and All Mirrors was the album where she emerged from her chrysalis as a magnificent Goth Queen butterfly. Whether howling into a raging hurricane of strings and synths or gently sighing on neon-lit ballads, she spread her gossamer wings and soared to the heavens.

Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen
I haven’t really loved a Springsteen album since Tunnel Of Love 32 long years ago, but he won my heart back with this beauty which is basically an album full of Wichita Linemans. Soaring strings, twangy guitars, crooning vocals, and beautiful, widescreen songs about open roads, county lines, and wild horses. Melancholy, reflective Bruce has always been my favourite kind of Bruce and now he’s a pensioner the mood fits him like a favourite old denim jacket.

Ventura – Anderson Paak
This had the bright, funky vibe of a 70s Stevie Wonder album cross-pollinated with modern hip-hop beats and hit a massive sweet spot for me. Anderson sang and rapped like he had a big smile on his face and, as befits the album’s title, it sounded as warm and inviting as a California beach. Proof you can have an old school heart without sounding old fashioned.

Lover – Taylor Swift
For the past few years Taylor has been suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: feuding with other celebs, attacked for being too apolitical, and loved by actual neo-Nazis. But, as they say, success is the best revenge and Lover was a massive flex on her part. Overflowing with cracking songs in a smorgasbord of styles, she regained the mojo she seemed to be losing and left the haters in the dust. Candy-coloured pop record of the year.

Late Night Feelings – Mark Ronson
Ronson gave his Rolodex a real work out to assemble the all-female cast of singers — Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, Angel Olsen, Camila Cabello — on this brilliant collection of what he called “sad bangers” that were designed for dancing and crying. Every track was a winner, and while I wouldn’t call most of them “bangers” in the modern sense, they had the kind of swishy beats and proper choons that would go down a storm at the local high street disco. It warmed the cockles of this old clubber’s feet.

On The Line – Jenny Lewis
Jenny has been an Indie It Girl for a long time now and, like a good California Cabernet, she gets better as she gets older. Her fourth solo album was probably her strongest collection of songs yet, full of hooks and wit and hard-earned wisdom. Like the lady herself, her brand of rhinestone-studded Laurel Canyon rock is both earthy and glam, and just as appealing.

Father Of The Bride – Vampire Weekend
Moving from the East Coast to California seems to have loosened up VM a little as this was the most baggy and free-wheeling record they’ve made. But these preppies hadn’t turned into hippies, the album might have a jumbled quality but the songs were still short, sharp, and crisply tuneful. While sounding at times like solo Paul Simon at his most jaunty and sing-a-long, under its sweet surface there was a lot of anxiety and restlessness. You can take a boy out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of a boy.

Two thumbs up to all these too:
Cheap Queen – King Princess
Immunity – Clairo
Atlanta Millionaires Club – Faye Webster
What We Say In Private – Ada Lea
Forevher – Shura
Miss Universe – Nilüfer Yanya
Stuffed & Ready – Cherry Glazerr
Lux Prima – Karen O & Danger Mouse