Despite the continual upheaval around the globe, it doesn’t change the fact that, once again, the year is flying by. It only feels like yesterday when we were agonising over 2020’s end of the year lists.
A lot of things have transpired since then, and while the days flying by are an inevitable constant, so is the U.K. music press’ ability to bat their eyes in the direction of mediocrity.
It’s all opinion, of course. Perhaps our cynicism should be directed towards our inept government, but that’s definitely something for another day, for we try to remain upbeat on these pages. At times, however, portraying positivity is difficult when you see so many bands receive plaudits they truly don’t deserve (again, in our opinion).
Speaking of publications, by this stage of the year many will be publishing their ‘Best of 2021 So Far’ lists. Fair enough, but that’s something we won’t be participating in for various reasons that aren’t worth wasting your time over.
We’re not shying away from the initial mantra for our Albums Quarterly feature; introducing bands that haven’t yet been on the site throughout the year. There are many, too, of course, which is why it’s important to recognise new music rather than retread over old ground or perhaps even cover something that’s already been gushed about in yesterday’s chip paper.
So with that, we arrive at our second quarterly.
Featuring far more new music than our inaugural article, it’s basically a no-holds-barred offering from what has taken our fancy over the past three months. The limits are that there are no limits.
Amenra: De Doorn
The Belgian post-metal collective have always been one of those bands that fall in the category of ‘should like, but can’t really take them’ category. Let’s be honest, we’ve all got those bands.
That was until De Doorn. Amenra‘s first album to break away from the Mass theme and first to feature new recruit, Oathbreaker‘s Caro Tanghe. It’s also the band’s first release for renown metal label, Relapse Records.
Tanghe‘s performance may just steal the show here, with her vocals cutting through with a new vigour not seen in Amenra‘s previous works. De Doorn is a bruising encounter and those who manage to come out the other side relatively unscathed will agree, I’m sure.
Chris Brokaw: Puritan
Quick overview. Chris Brokaw was the drummer in ’90s bands Codeine, Come and later with The New Year.
More recently, he’s collaborated with Elisha Wiesner and Bob Weston as The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries and while he has also written a bunch of solo albums (his recent work mainly for soundtracks), on Puritan, Brokaw takes centre stage in what is one of his finest releases in years. In short, if you’re looking for a quick no-nonsense dose of rock music then look no further.
This is music made by someone who doesn’t give a fuck about anything other than just writing for themselves and the results are brilliant. Who can argue with a line like, “The night has no eyes and I can be whatever you need”? Some of the finest lyrics penned this year.
CLAMM: Beseech Me
Admittedly, CLAMM have featured on our pages earlier this year, but it was one of those nondescript news pieces, so we’re saying that it doesn’t count.
In any case, not much love was shown then and following the release of their debut album, Beseech Me, the love still seems to be evading the Melbourne three-piece.
Don’t get me wrong, just because CLAMM are fellow antipodeans doesn’t mean that bias is on show here. It’s just… when something’s good, it would be onerous of us not to shout shit from the rooftops.
So, yes, Beeseech Me is pretty good in an unadulterated Aussie post-punk sort of way. Reinventing the wheel it ain’t, but what CLAMM do here, they do it fucking well. So with that, show them some love and stop being a bunch of soft arses, okay?
David Colohan: Darling Point
Cruel Nature Records
Inspired by events in 2001 where he lived under the stars in New South Wales along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, David Colohan carves out one of the year’s most beautiful pieces of ambient music with Darling Point.
The Dublin producer’s output is quite simply prolific (not even including his other project, United Bible Studies). His Bandcamp oeuvre is one rabbit hole many need to go down at some point.
With Darling Point, it’s arguably his finest yet, with rich textures that float and illuminate the night sky. While these compositions seem designed for open spaces, they are just as much something that feel tailor-made for cathedrals. Darling Point. It’s just beautiful, really.
Editrix: Tell Me I’m Bad
Exploding In Sound
So, here’s the deal. Easthampton, Massachusetts’ Editrix (Wendy Eisenberg – vocals/guitars, Josh Daniel – drums, Steve Cameron – bass) have probably produced the best debut album this year in Tell Me I’m Bad.
A melting pot of punk and noise-rock, Editrix mix the playful elements of Deerhoof (Instant, The History of Dance) with pummelling aesthetics of Rodan (Tell Me I’m Bad, Chillwave, Taste). The resulting clamour is something so well produced, that one would think this is a band that is four or five albums in.
Tell Me I’m Bad hits every target it aims at. Here, Editrix harness an artistic proficiency that not many bands could neither match nor replicate. It’s essential listening.
Giancarlo Erra: Departure Tapes
Written while travelling between his native Italy and home in the U.K., Giancarlo Erra has crafted something rather gorgeous with Departure Tapes.
Following 2019’s Ends I-VII, Departure Tapes shifts the needle somewhat. Containing sombre, contemplative undercurrents of sound, much of the album inspired by Erra‘s father who recently passed away after his battle with cancer.
Underpinned by the beguiling epic title track, which checks in at just under the 17 minute mark, it contains the kind of rich, swelling soundscapes that have made Max Richter and Nils Frahm household names, respectively.
Does hope have a sound? If it did then maybe Giancarlo Erra is onto something.
Departure Tapes is out on Friday. Pre-order from Bandcamp.
Fake Fruit: Fake Fruit
Rock In Your Head
At the beginning of April, Oakland’s Fake Fruit released their self-titled debut album and how glorious it is.
At the first time of listening, Fake Fruit portrayed all the hallmarks of what we deem good with music. Singer/guitarist, Hannah D’Amato, steals the show with her dry sense of humour (Stroke My Ego, Milkman) that most would associate with the world of Courtney Barnett.
From start to finish, Fake Fruit is a nerve-jangling post-punk stomp that gets right down into the nuts and bolts of things. Parquet Courts fans could well have stumbled upon their new favourite band right here.
Floatie: Voyage Out
Exploding In Sound
Chicago’s Floatie dropped their debut album, Voyage Out in the first quarter of this year, narrowly missing the cut of our first quarterly.
We’re always partial to a bit of back-fill and with an album like Voyage Out, it would be rather flagrant not to talk about here.
So Floatie (Sam Bern – singer/guitarist, Joe Olson – singer/bassist, Will Wisniewski – guitarist/synths, and Luc Schut – drummer) seem like pretty worthy exponents of splicing math-rock with a slacker-pop sensibility.
It’s quite astute and it’s no surprise to learn that the four members have been pals for over a decade now. There’s a synergy which is obvious through the music, and for anyone adverse to ’90s post-hardcore and the plethora of sub-genres conceived off the back of that, Floatie‘s Voyage Out really is a go-to.
Cory Hanson: Pale Horse Rider
Gruff Rhys may have the U.K. covered in terms of intelligent pop music this year, but that’s not to say our transatlantic cousins haven’t returned serve with something glorious of their own.
Step forward one Cory Hanson, who has probably encapsulated the sound of West Coast pop within 38 minutes with Pale Horse Rider.
The Wand singer/guitarist has unearthed a shiny pop jewel right here. While he’s always been pervasively good when it comes to pop hooks and melodies, this is illuminated even more in his capacity as a solo artist.
While we’re not too sure about Hanson‘s choice of promotional material (yeah, the pictures are pretty fucking weird), fear not, there’s not a weak track amongst Pale Horse Rider in what could well be the sunshine pop record of the 2021.
Helvetia: Essential Aliens
Following last year’s The Devastating Map and Fantastic Life, Portland’s Helvetia have been on some run of form. Or more specifically, their spiritual leader, Jason Albertini.
The former Built To Spill member, who in 2019 also got slowcore titans Duster back together, continues the solid run of output with Essential Aliens.
Helvetia have never been for the fleeting ear and it doesn’t change with Essential Aliens; an album filled with a crackling campfire glow pioneered by ’90s indie-rock alumni. Off-kilter on first impressions, no doubt, but that’s kind of the point, separating Helvetia from most others. Stick with this and you’ll be rewarded in droves.
Hieroglyphic Being: Dirty Head Vol. 1
In Hieroglyphic Being‘s own words, “just more sonic fuckery” and who are we to argue?
He’s right, of course, with Dirty Head Vol. 1 the latest mash-up of dark twisted house music and Detroit techno from Chicago producer, Jamal R Moss.
In summary, Hieroglyphic Being doesn’t mess about, for this is a collection of beats that hit harder than a freight-train. At times, there are some come down moments for us to catch our breath, but for the most part this is intense, high-octane house music (often the best kind).
Hieroglyphic Being has since released Dirty Head Vol. 2. To be honest, we’re still getting our heads around this one, so for those who are game, jump in.
Mind Maintenance: Mind Maintenance
Chicago bassist, Joshua Abrams, and drummer, Chad Taylor, combine as Mind Maintenance, guiding us through some zen-like meditation zone with their self-titled debut.
To our ears it’s not a world away from a familiar band across the park here in Liverpool, Ex-Easter Island Head. However, Mind Maintenance reach a similar point in this sound world differently, employing a range of African instruments such as the guimbri and the mbira.
The result is a minimalistic jazz journey on route to some new world cabin retreat. If the woods aren’t your thing then Mind Maintenance is also good company for late nights. It takes a few listens, but stick with it and the rewards will follow.
Allen Moore: Lived A Devil
Chicago’s Allen Moore returns with his follow-up to 2019’s Solar Church, in Lived A Devil.
Inspired by African-American culture and soul records, Lived A Devil contains the kind of mind-bending hypnotic textures that a brain surgeon would probably indulge before donning the apron and getting to work.
With oscillating loops and samples put through a meat grinder, the results are a swathe of fever-dream ambient soundscapes. The influences Moore employs don’t feel as though they attributed to any particular musical touchstone but to life in itself, making Lived A Devil a kind of dehumanising experience.
It could be portrayed as cinematic as much as it could meditative. It’s a snapshot from the confusion we call life, with Allen Moore producing some of the most interesting sounds and ideas so far in 2021.
The Mountain Goats: Dark in Here
It doesn’t feel like five minutes when we were indulging in The Mountain Goats‘ excellent Getting Into Knives. As they say, though – as one gets older time moves faster, and it seems that John Darnielle agrees. Or perhaps not. It’s just a guy who’s spent his existence writing and Dark in Here is the latest to arrive off the conveyor belt.
Written at the same time as the above mentioned ‘Knives last March, Dark in Here is pretty much a companion piece. It’s like splitting hairs choosing your favourite Mountain Goats record and between these two, it’s the same.
Dark in Here doesn’t seem that dark, however. If anything, it’s the kind of record to slow-dance with your partner to. Move over, Bill Callahan. The Mountain Goats have just invaded your turf. For a bit, anyway.
The Mountain Movers: World What World
Trouble In Mind
Every so often you get one of those bands that effortlessly just rock the fuck out. Not in an intense sort of way, but in a natural one.
Last year, it was the great Astute Palate. Eleventh Dream Day have been doing the same thing for years now. This year it’s The Mountain Movers who release their eighth album, World What World.
Per their bio, The Mountain Movers (Dan Greene – vocals/guitars, Rick Omonte – bass, Kryssi Battalene – guitar, Ross Menze – drummer) are said to be, “the perfect band for all the true ‘heads”. To be honest, there’s no better way to describe it.
On World What World we hear a band that is tight as fuck. Friends first, bandmates second, truly comfortable in each other’s presence and you can hear it in the songs. This, folks, is natural songwriting, gleaning the greatest results with psych, classic, and ’90s indie reverence colliding in what something Neil Young would still get wet dreams over.
New Madrid: New Madrid
After a five year absence, Athens Georgia’s New Madrid return with their fourth LP.
The self-titled affair sees the band going back to basics and reining in the experimental leanings, particular from their landmark album, 2014’s Sunswimmer.
While 2016’s magnetkingmagnetqueen felt, at times, superfluous, here New Madrid bathe in traditional methods, honing in on their atmospheric indie-folk tendencies, and the songs are all the better for it (Are You the Wind is up there with the band’s finest songs yet).
New Madrid are a band that should have experienced more exposure than they have. With New Madrid, they’ve given themselves every chance of reaching new ears.
Carlos Niño & Friends: More Energy Fields, Current
Any time Chicago label, International Anthem, release something it’s a case of drop everything and just listen. It’s no different with Los Angeles’ Carlos Niño, who teams up with his mates as – you guessed it – Carlos Niños & Friends‘ on More Energy Fields, Current.
Niño has been making solo and collaboration records for a good few years now. With More Energy Fields, Current, Niño and his merry bunch of cohorts give us that kind of jazz that feels like the summer breeze drifting through the back doorway (or for us here in Britain, through the opened windows.
More Energy Fields, Current is the jazz record for candlelight dinners. It’s inventive, but it’s also nice, and not in that cheap sort of way. It’s nice nice.
Pardoner: Came Down Different
Bar None Records
It’s all about the letter ‘P’. Inspired by Polvo, Pavement, shit, maybe even Parquet Courts (although we are very aware the latter’s scent is far too prevalent within this feature), San Francisco’s Pardoner once again deliver with Came Down Different – the four piece’s third album.
Pardoner leave nothing in the studio here, gracing us with ear-shredding fuzz, pulverising chords and riffs that slowly seep into the bones. There’s no fucking about, just a band wearing their heart on their sleeve, and the results are great. After all, any band that name checks Ash Bowie (Fuck You!) is always welcome around these parts.
If you want a straight up dose of indie-rock (yes, actual indie-rock and not the algorithm landfill dross the U.K. seems to deal in quite frequently), then Came Down Different is just the poison you require.
Renée Reed: Renée Reed
While Indigo Sparke‘s Echo was probably the finest folk album we came across in the first quarter of 2021, Renée Reed takes the baton and runs with it in the second.
With Reed‘s self-titled debut album, the Lafayette, Louisiana songstress produces the kind folk laments that are a frightening foil for those lonely nights sat at the bar alone drinking whiskey and wondering where it all went fucking wrong.
Reed‘s songs stir like angry ghosts and while we thought Fool to the Fire was the best titled track of 2021, Reed only goes and trumps it with the closing number, Drunken Widow’s Waltz. Who thinks of such things? Renée Reed, obviously.
Gruff Rhys: Seeking New Gods
After being transported back from Gruff Rhys‘ fictitious town of Babelsberg (the town which is inspired the 2018 album of the same name), this time the Super Furries singer is back with Seeking New Gods – songs about volcanoes and the like.
Sonically, it’s a rather seamless transition from Babelsberg, which for us is a good thing because the latter was one of Rhys‘ finest solo albums and so far Seeking New Gods seems every bit its match.
Marrying a traditional ’70s bedding of sound with crisps melodies and that zany SFA swirl, Rhys has gone and created another stunner it seems. Are we surprised? Not really.
Claire Rousay: a softer focus
American Dream Records
Listening to Claire Rousay‘s creations is like slow-motion devastation.
Inspired by field recordings, voicemails and captured indistinct chatter, on Rousay‘s latest record, a softer focus, the San Antonio, Texas experimentalist creates a sonic vacuum that leaks with soundscapes containing a nostalgic edge. From front to back, it’s like trying to piece together childhood memories and half-forgotten dreams.
Rousay reaches for a wider universe in her quest to create something unique and with a softer focus, she nearly achieves it. While it may take a few listens to really sink into the pores, make no mistake – this is Rousay‘s finest collection of compositions yet.
Score: Post Everything
Cruel Nature Records
Score is the project from Newcastle’s Chris Tate, (A.K.A. d_rradio). Post Everything follows last year’s Modern Wreck along with two other LPs, Vent‘ (2018) and Slump (2016).
Basically, what we have here, folks, is the soundtrack to the summer. Score is just that, bursting with sunny soundscapes to bask in open spaces and perhaps sink a sherbet or three. Tate also dabbles in film making and on Post Everything, the two worlds collide beautifully.
Fans of Tycho might want to jump on this sooner rather than later. The longest day may have just passed but there’s plenty of sun to come yet, and Post Everything needs to be involved in this part of your life.
Skee Mask: Pool
Skee Mask‘s soundscapes glisten like a morning sun that sparkles crisply on the surface of the ocean.
After the release of 2018’s Compro, one of the finest electronic albums produced in the last 20 years, Skee Mask emerges from lockdown with a double album, the ambitious Pool.
It was always going to be a tough task bettering the genre-defining Compro, but the German producer does his best.
Sure, at 18 tracks (particularly in 2021), some will see Pool as a little long in the tooth. Taking this into consideration, we’d recommend listening to it as a nine/nine. Pool certainly has a feel of two records, with the first half teetering towards the dance floor while the second being more of a comedown.
Either way, it’s another important slab of work from one of the finest electronic producers on the planet.
Feel It Records
Los Angeles’ Smirk, the solo project of Nick Vicario (Public Eye, Crisis Man) is yet another slight head nod to that band we seem to have referenced far too many times in this feature, Parquet Courts.
Whether you agree with that or not, one thing’s for sure – Virginia-based label, Feel It Records, have really brought their A game in the first half of 2021.
With a focus of crackled blues, analogue recording and a bit of Rolling Stones open chord treatment (see Violent Game), the plainly titled LP is one of those albums to bask in the sun to with beer in hand (right after Score‘s Post-Everything ).
With summer here, it’s pretty much the perfect marriage without waltzing down the aisle. Don’t waste any time. Grab the cans, catch the sun and don’t forgot to take Smirk‘s LP with you.
Spread Joy: Spread Joy
Feel It Records
Feel It Records have been bringing a load of goodness in 2021 and it doesn’t stop with Chicago’s Spread Joy.
Comprising of members from Negative Scanner and Human Beat, Spread Joy released their self-titled debut earlier this year, creating the kind of sounds that are worthy of their name sake. It’s a no-nonsense spiky set of ditties that deals heavy in brevity (clocking in at a tick under 14 minutes).
The songs hold up very well indeed, and if Bikini Kill ever decided to dip their toe in the waters of post-punk then they probably would have sounded like this.
Sunburned Hand Of The Man: Pick a Day to Die
Three Lobed Recordings
Those well-versed with the story of Sunburned Hand Of The Man will know that trying to select a favourite album is like trying to choose your preferred flavour of crisps. Musically, it’s as gruelling as finding the best Matt Christensen record of 2021.
In this case, we went with the best title (Pick a Day to Die is pretty fucking good, right?) Black comedy or not, Sunburned Hand Of The Man continue on their escapades through those warped and well-travelled sound worlds.
The Massachusetts freak train is careering at full speed on Pick a Day to Die where we get the full Sunburned Hand Of The Man experience. From drone-y folk, Floyd-esque psychedelia, to the downright strange (Zappa anybody?) Stick with this folks, it comes on real strong.
Unstoppable Sweeties Show: Analogy to an Allergy
3094869 Records DK
Liverpool’s Unstoppable Sweeties Show are probably the most unique band the city has to offer. Quite a feat considering L Town boasts the warped carnival of lunacy that is a.P.A.t.T. Fitting, as the latter’s driving force, Ste’ Cole, is behind the studio glass on Analogy to an Allergy – the ‘Sweeties latest offering of delta-blues avant-rock absurdity.
Beefheart-inspired, no doubt, however the Unstoppable Sweeties Show make the kind of racket that would have made Don Van Vliet and Frank Zappa very proud indeed.
Vocalist, Yashashwi Sharma, steals the show with a manic stream of consciousness sprawl that basically envelopes like an acid trip during a night out at the cabaret. Analogy to an Allergy. Gloriously mental.