The year moves on. And quickly.
While life is slowly starting to resemble something of what we once knew (touching wood and bracing for another lockdown per the grand advice from our ‘esteemed leader’), gigs here in the U.K. have been a welcomed return; if nothing more than to see those familiar faces that have been tucked away in the shadows over the past 18 months.
While some would have noticed that we have dipped our toe into the waters of live music, it’s something that we’re not (and probably won’t be) fully committed on. The focus is more on what we’ve been doing since Sun 13’s inception, so that will be the main thread which continues to run through these pages.
And on that note, keep your eyes peeled for some exciting things ahead as we round out 2021. Not least our Top 50 Albums of 2021 (will it be 50 or more?) We’re still chewing over that one…
In the meantime, enjoy our latest quarterly in the run up to the year’s best releases.
Certain records below were released in the first part of the year, but – as many will know – so much music escapes our clutches that there’s a panic attack in waiting just to try and keep up.
In any case, we very much hope you find something new in the below list of albums. Without further ado…
Polyvinyl Record Co.
From the first note of Alexalone’s brilliantly titled opener, Electric Sickness, you just know that you’ve stumbled across the good oil.
Meeting in the shadowy atmospheres of the bristling world of Sonic Youth and Autolux, Alexalone revel, and whilst doing so, shift the sonic boundaries of the band that stole our hearts in 2020: Activity.
On Alexaloneworld (the band’s second full-length and first in five years), the Austin, Texas four-piece create a beautiful storm that strikes with emotionally driven immediacy. Whilst fleetingly dancing with everything from shoegaze to doom, the end result is Alexalone sounding like no one else but themselves.
Body Meπa: The Work Is Slow
New York supergroup, Body Meπa (Greg Fox – drums; Sasha Frere-Jones – guitar; Melvin Gibbs – bass; and Grey McMurray – guitar) whip up an absolute beauty with their debut record, The Work is Slow.
Through the spatial realms of jazz, Body Meπa lean hard of the origins of ’90s post-hardcore and post-rock with echoes of Tortoise, Rodan and June of 44 peeking through the cracks on this surrealistic journey of musicianship (look no further than Money Tree).
While Sofa have just released a beautiful retrospective, showcasing the best sounds of one of the most important periods in musical history, on The Work is Slow, Body Meπa provide something similar for the now.
Fading Tapes: Golden Papaya
Polish duo, Fading Tapes (Krzysztof Siwkowski – guitars, effects, design; Marcin Lasek – percussion, radio effect) return with their follow up to Cartogropher with something as equally brilliant in Golden Papaya.
No rest for the wicked, the pair also released another record earlier this month, Eastern Red Coast via Katuktu Collective, and it was merely splitting hairs on which album to include in this feature.
For Golden Papaya, Fading Tapes make post-rock meditative. No words. Just listen and let all your worries recede because Fading Tapes have you covered, not only on Golden Papaya, but with the preceding two releases noted above, as well.
Reb Fountain: Iris
Flying Nun Records
After releasing two albums in the mid ’00s, it wasn’t until 2017 when Auckland, New Zealand’s Reb Fountain once again emerged with Little Arrows. Her self-titled debut and first release with the venerable Flying Nun followed last year, and continuing her run of form, we are greeted with Iris.
Fountain’s vocals contain a husky, soothing quality; a voice PJ Harvey aficionados would be more than partial to.
Instead of those West Country blues from the former, Iris is filled with spacious, rich arrangements that ooze soul and threaten to reach new ears around the globe. If it does, then Reb Fountain could well be a household name sooner rather than later.
Iris is out this Friday
Pre-order from Bandcamp
Mabe Fratti: Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos
Unheard of Hope
Mabe Fratti has featured throughout these pages earlier this year, and while this feature is, by and large, one for artists whom have not yet appeared on the site, sometimes exceptions need to be made.
Merging elements of pop with experimental composition, the Guatemalan cellist recorded her second album in as many years, Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos, in a abandoned factory on the outskirts of Mexico City. The result is a clash of tin-can noise and rich, elegant drones.
Fratti extrudes unearthly sounds from her cello and the results are both refined and captivating. There have been many great experimental releases so far in 2021 and Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos can be added to the list.
Steve Gunn: Other You
Steve Gunn has always produced consistently good records, but without breaking through the ceiling that leads to greatness. On Other You, the modest troubadour heads to L.A. and with Rob Schnapp (Elliott Smith), he may have reached that point.
There’s no question about it. Other You is Gunn’s quintessential, breezy L.A. record. Sliding in between the atmospheric spaces of sound, Gunn creates a swirling world of beauty (Protection).
It’s Gunn’s finest record yet and had it arrived a couple of months earlier, it would have been the sound of the summer. Etched in richness and warmth, it may just be the security blanket we need for the impending winter months.
Catherine Crister Hennix: Blues Alif Lam Mim
Blank Forms Editions
Okay, so we may be breaking the rules here a bit, but bare with us.
Visionary Swedish composer, Catherine Crister Hennix, has over 100 releases in her long and decorated career. This is her latest works, Blues Alif Lam Mim, which was first unearthed in 2016, but has arrived for the first time on wax in 2021.
A single composition that lasts just under 80 minutes, Hennix unearths are tidal wave of Middle Eastern-inspired drones that merge the best parts of Turkish psychadelia.
It’s probably one of the meditative pieces of 2021, with rich drones that weave in and out of this experimental tour-de-force. Once again, Hennix finds the spaces that her contemporaries have neither explored nor captured.
King Woman: Celestial Blues
Following the excellent and supremely monolithic Created in the Imagine of Suffering, Kristina Esfandiari returns as King Woman with Celestial Blues.
While Created in the Imagine of Suffering was a doom metal explosion containing the most thrilling aspects in this particular artistic space, Celestial Blues takes a little longer to sink its fangs in.
The hypnotic riff-a-rolla of King Woman’s preceding oeuvre isn’t as instant here, however the subtle tonal shifts slowly unravel and the more time spent in its company, the more it envelopes the listener. It’s the slow burning quality of Celestial Blues which is its greatest strength, reaffirming Kristina Esfandiari’s position as the ever-shining beacon in the pantheon of doom.
Liars: The Apple Drop
Liars mastermind, Angus Andrew, has probably made his best record since 2011’s landmark, WIXIW with The Apple Drop. It’s arguably his most accessible, too.
Having re-located back to Australia over the past couple of years, which has coincided with Andrews experimenting in the world microdosing, on The Apple Drop we have Andrews releasing the pressure valve on his own stresses and creative anxieties. This approach has garnered fine results indeed.
Liars have made many a great album and while The Apple Drop may not reach the heights of Drum’s Not Dead, Sister World and the aforementioned WIXIW, it’s an album that’s not to be overlooked.
Lightning Bug: A Colour of the Sky
Fat Possum Records
If anyone was seeking a crash course in any ’90s music that doesn’t involve Britpop, then listening to Lightning Bug may just be as good a start as any.
A Colour of the Sky, the New York outfit’s third album, is a luscious journey through the sun-dappled fields where the tall grass gently sways. A record with wide-ranging pastiche, it’s the cinematic echoes of Slowdive and Talk Talk that make their mark the most. The arrangements are caked in absolute splendour.
Derivative sounds aren’t so bad, so long as they are done well, and with A Colour of the Sky, no other band has done it better in 2021 than Lightning Bug. To put it simply, this is beautiful.
Lip Critic/Omnibael: Lip Critic/Omnibael Split LP
Cruel Nature Records
Lip Critic and Omnibael make Sun 13 history as first words of a split LP to see some column inches!
New York’s Lip Critic combine noise rock with off-the-wall electronics, drum and bass and inflections of hip-hop. If the Beastie Boys ever collaborated with Throbbing Gristle then it may have sounded something like this.
Then there’s Stoke on Trent’s Omnibael. A bristling ball of angst that lends itself to the worlds of Godflesh and, more recently, Uniform.
Together, it’s a violent marriage of esoteric sound worlds; the high-priest of this sordid matrimony, none other than Newcastle label, Cruel Nature Records. The end result is a nuclear explosion and the soundtrack to the post-apocalypse.
Mac McCaughan: The Sound of Yourself
Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan goes down the experimental rabbit hole with his latest solo release, The Sound of Yourself.
While there are remnants of Superchunk staples throughout The Sound of Yourself (Circling Around), for the most part McCaughan dabbles in wide open spaces with his distinctive, nasally drawls nestled amongst carefully plotted arrangements, courtesy of guest appearances from Yo La Tengo, Mary Lattimore, TORRES’ Mackenzie Scott, The Mountain Goats’ Matt Douglas, and Superchunk band mate, Jon Wurster.
The Sound of Yourself marks a nice change-up for McCaughan who has most certainly expanded his creative boundaries in one of the fine surprises in 2021.
Walt McClements: A Hole in the Fence
American Dream Records
Walt McClements is the purveyor of beautiful, ambient soundcapes. It really is that simple. The Los Angles-based accordionist has plied his trade as Lonesome Leash, as well as playing in Weyes Blood and Hurray For The Riff Raff. However, it’s in a solo capacity where he flourishes.
Condensing the best parts of experimental touchstones of the last three decades (Tim Hecker, Stars Of The Lid, and Fennesz), the end result is McClements’ debut, A Hole in the Fence.
With sound sculptures of a new digitised sound world, McClements adds brooding layers of accordion, which provides the thread throughout this 36 minutes journey. Where experimental music and composition in 2021 is concerned, A Hole in the Fence is the sleeper record of 2021.
Mere Women: Romantic Notions
Poison City Records
Sydney’s Mere Women have been circling the traps for a good decade now. Their fourth record, Romantic Notions, is, to put it bluntly, a big time winner.
Released in the first quarter of 2021 (okay, we’re a bit slow, but better late than never), the sinister surges of noise that are dispensed by this glorious four-piece echo Siouxsie and the Banshees circa-Tinderbox; one the band’s most underrated periods.
However, Mere Women pick up the slack in what is their strongest release yet. A gnarly, blistering representation of gothic post-punk that simmers with nervous energy and bristles with pent-up rage.
After last year’s breakthrough album, Forever, Madeline Johnston returns with her Midwife project in 2021, releasing the follow-up, Luminol. Forever stole a lot of hearts at the time of its release, however with Luminol, it very much feels as though Johnston has risen above the waves of yesteryear.
The New Mexico-based artist creates the kind of pastoral dream metal that possesses an atmosphere so dark that it feels like you’re been summoned by a ghost.
From the album’s artwork, right down it every inch of sound, brooding gothic vibes transform into some form of dirge-y, slowcore séance. Luminol confirms that Midwife is quickly carving out her own niche within the metal community.
Prison Behaviour: Secret Circus
Having released the brilliant Snake Fever EP earlier this year, Liverpool’s Prison Behaviour returns once again in 2021 with Secret Circus.
Previously revelling in a good old dose of noise terrorism, Prison Behaviour mastermind, Mark Greenwood explores’80s synth-based touchstones such as The Human League and Cabaret Voltaire (R.I.P. Richard Kirk), giving it the sordid sonic treatment only he knows how.
Make no mistake, though; Greenwood has made a fucking pop record here, and if Kraftwerk explored the realms of pop music a little deeper, then the end result may have sounded something like Secret Circus. No bad thing.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples: Uncommon Weather
With The Reds, Pinks and Purples, Glenn Donaldson unashamedly pays homage to the great Sarah Records with a bit of Flying Nun reverence thrown in for good measure.
One half of the equally beautiful Sky Green Leopards, The Reds, Pink and Purples’ latest album, Uncommon Weather, is a seamless, blissful dose of jangle-pop.
Despite the dark themes that underpin Uncommon Weather, like Belle and Sebastian in their heyday, Donaldson pits these anxious-riddled subjects against soundscapes that make you smile all day long. In these current times, I couldn’t think of a better time to release something like Uncommon Weather. An album that is, quite frankly, just bloody lovely.
Jason Sharp: The Turning Centre of a Still World
Montreal-based composer, Jason Sharp has been vaporising minds with his outer world post-jazz compositions for some time now.
Sharp’s experimental voyages have always seemed, to these ears at least, impenetrable, but on The Turning Centre of a Still World, alongside producer Radwan Moumneh (Jerusalem In My Heart, Suuns, Ought), he opens up his sound which drifts beautifully across new terrains.
The humid drones are what make this record, with soundscapes that swell and brim with a new vitality, exposing glistening new horizons. The Turning Centre of a Still World encompasses all the finest aspects of Sharp’s compositions, with all his ideas being stitched together perfectly.
Speed Stick: Volume One
Don Giovanni Records
If there is a band in 2021 that’s racked up more frequent flyers points in the pursuit of sonic fairy dust then we’re yet to hear it.
In the world of experimental music, Speed Stick, the Carrboro, NC supergroup featuring none other than Polvo’s Ash Bowie, alongside Charles Chace (The Paul Swest), Laura King (Bat Fangs), and Thomas Simpson (The Love Language), throw pop, alt-rock, post-hardcore and hip-hop (Lurk on Me) into the melting pot. The result is Volume One – a boiling broth of ideas.
Also featuring Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, and the Breeders’ Kelley Deal, the only thing that makes sense on Volume On is that Bowie is involved. Perhaps the only person on the planet that could conjure up something so twisted and beautiful. We could talk more about this, but who’s for talking when you have Volume One to listen to?
Laura Stevenson: Laura Stevenson
Don Giovanni Records
Big time sleeper record here, folks. While the world is currently in Phoebe Bridgers obsession mode, we’d like to point out that some of that love should be spared and directed in the way of Laura Stevenson.
The New York-based songstress’ latest self-titled record is every bit as good as anything we’ve heard in this particular sphere, with rich tones that ring off Stevenson’s guitar alongside her pervasive, witty lyricism.
Having played Liverpool with Craig Finn in 2019, supporting her record from the same year (The Big Freeze), we can attest that this follow-up is every bit as good. Do we need to say more? Get on it!
Suuns: The Witness
After releasing their best album, 2018’s Felt, Montreal’s Suuns continue to march defiantly with their follow-up, The Witness.
Still as vague and positively weird as ever, Sunns mix hypnotic electro post-punk with the offcuts of goth and krautrock, completing this unique patchwork. The result? A minimalistic delight that the Talking Heads probably never got to write.
Continuing the ambient explorations which they executed so well on Felt, The Witness is a perfect answer to anyone who’s ever questioned Sunns (including those staunch Clinic fans – just adore both!). A slow burner, no doubt, but they often turn out to be the best and there’s still plenty more to peel back with The Witness.
Carter Tanton: Carter Tanton
Baltimore troubadour, Carter Tanton makes haunting ballads that send chills down your spine. Whether it’s intentional or not remains to be the great unknown, however with his self-titled third album, Tanton doesn’t just release his darkest record yet. It’s also his best.
Springsteen vibes run all the way through this album, but fear not; there are no guns for hire, nor is anyone dancing through the bloody dark here. It’s more driving a stolen car or, indeed, choosing your adventure via the ruddy terrains of Nebraska.
There’s a beautiful sadness here and with it, Tanton has found new depths in his songwriting.
Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States
The devilish miscreants known as Tropical Fuck Storm are back with their third album, Deep States.
In true fashion, trying to pierce a Tropical Fuck Storm record is like trying to breach Fort Knox. The proto-rock behemoth don’t flinch on Deep States, upholding their unique creative principles. There’s a lot going on, with Gareth Liddiard and Co. once again resetting within a reset (take that Low!)
So while there isn’t a great deal to report and we’re sounding about as vague as a politician, just celebrate the fact that there’s a new release from Australia’s most innovative purveyors of rock music. Like always, it’ll sink into the bones eventually, so, in essence, it’s business as usual in the TFS camp.
White Flowers: Day By Day
White Flowers are Katie Drew and Joey Cobb, and having decamped from London back up north to their native Preston, judging by their debut album, Day By Day, it’s the best thing they ever did.
If you like your dark-wave, shoegaze and dream-pop, then don’t spend time pissing about with Spotify algorithms, because White Flowers have you covered on all fronts. With Day By Day, the band unleash a plethora of dark, northern-inspired soundscapes that slowly unfurl from the misty haze across the M6.
The band is touring the country next month and, sadly, it looks like Liverpool dropped the ball here. Manchester or Newcastle it is, folks.
Wolves In The Throne Room: Primordial Arcana
On Wolves In The Throne Room’s latest record, Primordial Arcana, the Olympia, Washington black metal maelstrom of noise pick up where they left off from 2017’s Thrice Woven.
Bursting with a searing cadence that harks back to the band’s earlier recordings, Black Cascade (2009) and Two Hunter (2007), this is a record tailor-made to test the resolve of cathedrals.
Playing to their DIY ethos, the band self-produced Primordial Arcana, and while we’re all fans of the long-time collaborator with the band, Randall Dunn, I’m not sure even the master himself would have done a better job here. Make no mistake, this is Wolves In The Throne Room back to their snarling best.