So… we’re back a little earlier with our latest AQ feature.
Given our first AQ dropped in March, we figured it doesn’t bode well having number four drop on New Year’s eve.
Not to mention that December will be chaotic around these parts; our Top 50 Albums of 2021 feature high on the priority list, which we’ve been slaving away on for most of November.
With these factors in mind, here’s the last run of albums which have piqued our interest since the beginning of October. Some of which may sneak into our end of year feature.
And speaking of, our Top 50 Albums of 2021 list will be running on Friday, December 17, so keep your eyes peeled. Suffice to say, we’re excited to share it with you.
Preceding this will be our run of favourite releases (albums and EPs) out of Merseyside. Fore those new to Sun 13, it’s no different from last year, so have catch up and read last year’s round-ups here and here.
In the meantime, enjoy these latest releases.
Charlie Butler: Darmok
With our S13 AQ features we’ve never selected a ‘feature’ album, as such. First time for everything…
Reading artist, Charlie Butler (who also releases music under the Chaos Emeralds moniker), unleashes fizzy slabs of bowel-twitching drone on the Star-Trek-inspired album, Darmok.
Deconstructing shoegaze and doom, with these four compositions, Butler releases something quite remarkable. Darmok is a surge of wall-to-wall monolithic noise. Whilst many others in the past have tried to commit these ideas to tape, none have done it better than Butler. Darmok is one of the great surprises at the back end of 2021. There, you’ve been warned.
Adam Casey & The Liminal Choir: Nether | Aether
East Cape Calling
Melbourne artist, Adam Casey (The Boy Who Spoke Clouds, Trappist Afterland, Seascapes of the Interior) brings us his latest project with The Liminal Choir, in the form of Nether | Aether – one of the finest releases on New Zealand label, East Cape Calling, which was born earlier this year.
Alongside Katie Walsh (aka katheros), Casey combines spatial jazz with modest moodscapes that seep with rich atmospheric drones (opening composition, Katabsis, is absolutely beautiful).
Nether | Aether is a slow burn, but alongside some of the finest composers releasing music this year (some of whom are featured below), this is a lovely addition to 2021’s experimental releases.
Matt Christensen: Swamp & City
Regulars around these parts will be no stranger to Matt Christensen. In one of the finest purple patches this year, the Zelienople singer has released an average of two albums per month. All of which are ridiculously good.
We could have handpicked two or three others for this feature, however Swamp & City wins the prize on this particular day.
With Swamp & City, Christensen drops the reverb, stripping back his sound to the bare bones with ghostly vocals and gentle acoustic guitar. It’s a milieu in which Christensen finds comfort, resulting in yet another beautiful dimension to his already impressive sound world.
A Country Practice: I Will Leave This Town While There’s Still Light
Named after the ’90s Australian soap opera (anyone remember Dr. Terence Elliott?), A Country Practice make music that evokes thoughts of the past.
Combining avant-garde with country and folk, the Brisbane trio have made one of the more original releases from Australian shores in 2021 with I Will Leave This Town While There’s Still Light.
Filled with pastoral soundscapes that escape the clutches of inner-city living, with these songs A Country Practice take us out of our heads for a good 40 minutes. For the most part, anyway – the song Indooroopilly (while the album’s highlight), triggers a past thought of receiving a speeding fine in the Brisbane suburb. There you go.
Dummy: Mandatory Equipment
Trouble In Mind
Like Mountain Movers (also on the great Trouble In Mind label) Dummy are a band for the true heads. The evidence? Their debut album, Mandatory Equipment.
There have been several bands in 2021 leaning into aesthetics mastered by Stereolab, but none have captured it better than the Los Angeles five-piece, and after releasing two EPs in 2020, Mandatory Equipment sees Dummy raising the bar even higher.
Mandatory Equipment is jam-packed with dynamic jams that provide an array of wild colours. It’s sun-drenched splendour aplenty, with Dummy dispensing something confident, assured, and just plain fucking good. Don’t sleep on this.
The Escalation: The Escalation
Consisting of Peter Wright and The Dead C’s Bruce Russell, The Escalation’s self-titled debut (check out that artwork!) is what you would come to expect from such luminaries in the experimental music world.
During these two compositions (not including the edits), The Escalation is a series of untethered blasts of noise and post-weirdness. The Christchurch duo explore different genres and completely twist them into something unrecognisable. Call it what you want, but this is punk music in every sense. A band kicking against everything, including themselves.
Think Sunn O))) with riffs instead of drones. Hold this thought and you will arrive at The Escalation.
Fotocrime: Heart of Crime
Following last year’s fantastic South of Heaven (which made our Top 50), Ryan Patterson (formerly of Coliseum), returns with the follow-up and third Fotocrime LP, Heart of Crime.
Mixing cinematic noir-ish James Ellroy-inspired soundscapes with ’80s-inspired dark wave and post-punk, Fotocrime’s journey continues with a series of songs that sound like a more consistent version of Sisters of Mercy.
On Heart of Crime there are disasters at every turn, not limited to mental health, loss and hapless love. In summary, there’s no better person than Patterson to illuminate these themes. It’s is yet another beautiful encounter, continuing his brilliant run of form.
Kristof Hahn: Six Pieces
Kristof Hahn escapes the aural bludgeoning of Swans to find solace in Six Pieces – the multi-instrumentalist’s new solo endeavour.
Created from the ashes of the final Swans reformation line-up tour, Hahn creates a series of drone-inspired desertscapes through a swathe of instruments, including lapsteel guitar, electric guitar, eBow, and an array of delay and loop pedals.
Like his Room40 label mate, Lawrence English (who also produced this record), Hahn captures the perfect shade of darkness on Six Pieces. Alongside English’s collaboration with Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart as Hexa, Hahn’s Six Pieces LP provides a nice foil to that record. All told, Hahn has found a worthy home within the Room40 stable.
Ill Considered: Liminal Space
Forming in 2017, London’s Ill Considered (featuring Emre Ramazanoglu and Idris Rahman) have released a slew of records, but none better than their latest, Liminal Space.
Fraught with tension, this is dynamic futuristic jazz with blasting rhythms and truck loads of skronk. Hyper and hypnotic, Liminal Space demands your undivided attention and, so good, well… if it doesn’t, then you’re probably dead on the inside.
While the London jazz scene has been a fertile one for some time now, Ill Considered are one of the top dogs in it. Liminal Space is a celebration of that and so much more.
Hiro Kone: Silvercoat the Throng
Not many producers in electronic music have their own true voice, but New York producer, Nicky Mao (Hiro Kone) defies these notions.
With her third album in four years, Silvercoat the Throng, Mao dismantles the concept of sound design, producing a series of ghostly drones, snapping breakbeats and flickering ambient flourishes that provide sharp, blinding reflections like sun off glass.
Whilst not as majestic as Mao’s high-watermark, Pure Expenditure (2018), Silvercoat the Throng still feels like a vital component to the Hiro Kone machine. It’s an album that will only get stronger with each listen.
Jon Hopkins: Music for Psychedelic Therapy
Domino Recording Co.
Jon Hopkins’ 2018 LP, Singularity, the follow-up to the genre-defining Immunity (2013), was like an older sibling trying to recapture past glories but falling considerably short. A bloated and receding older sibling at that.
Music for Psychedelic Therapy is the album that should have followed Immunity. Inspired by a visit to Ecuador, Hopkins pushes aside the sophisticated glitch-ey tech house bangers in favour of tender drones, luscious field recordings and ambient softscapes.
Music for Psychedelic Therapy see Hopkins showcasing a new found finesse. It’s meditation music and perhaps the most beautiful thing the London producer has ever accomplished.
Cedie Janson: Thoughts on the Top Floor
Australian artist, Cedie Janson, takes a left turn on his debut album, Thoughts on the Top Floor.
Now based in Los Angeles, Janson drifts away from the tech-house leanings of his 2018 EP, Stillness, and instead attempts to intersect the ideas of dark wave pop and post-punk. Self-produced with mastering undertaken by Room40’s Lawrence English, Janson blurs the lines with fractured soundscapes that aren’t a world away from likes of Andy Stott.
With the assistant of Dillon Howl’s spoken-word, there’s an important crossover of male/female vocals, adding new elements to Janson’s range of sound and overall body of work. In all, Thoughts on the Top Floor is a solid debut offering.
Mary Lattimore: Collected Pieces II
Following her serene 2020 release, Silver Ladders, Los Angeles-based harpists/composer, Mary Lattimore, returns in 2021 with Collected Pieces II.
Featuring new and previously unreleased material, Lattimore takes us on a journey full of juxtapositions and nuance. Flickering with darkness, light, sadness and beauty, Lattimore shares an all-encompassing series of compositions that are a perfect entry point for those yet to delve into her beautiful sound world.
It’s sounds for all four seasons, highlighting the kind of emotional intensity that we would associate with, say, Julianna Barwick. Collected Pieces II confirms that Lattimore is among the leading composers in modern day music.
Jessica Moss: Phosphenes
Montreal, Québec composer, Jessica Moss (also of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band), returns with her fourth album, Phosphenes, which follows 2018’s Entanglement.
With Phosphenes, Moss focuses sharply on the world of sound design, entwining neo-classical composition with juddering drones and ambient dreamscapes. With these explorations, Moss produces the kind of sounds tailor-made for heaven.
Whilst there is an undoubted cinematic quality to Moss’ meticulously arrangements, like A Winged Victory for the Sullen, the Canadian veteran showcases something boundless and ethereal with Phosphenes. Quite simply, it’s a lovely journey.
Marissa Nadler: The Path of the Clouds
Marissa Nadler has always been the master of the slow burn and with her recent release, The Path of the Clouds, things don’t change.
Relocating from Boston to Nashville, her new surroundings are a clear influence. Like Nadler’s previous album, 2018’s For My Crimes, Nadler continues to strip back her sound. Unlike ’Crimes, however, The Path of the Clouds is dotted with subtle embellishments of rich keys and hazy reverb that wrap around Nadler’s ghost-like voice.
While it may not reach the heights of Nadler’s seminal LP, July, The Path of the Clouds is yet another solid addition to the songwriter’s beautiful body of work.
Nation of Language: A Way Forward
New York’s Nation of Language know how to write a melody and on their second album, A Way Forward, they produced them spates.
Following the three-piece’s acclaimed debut, last year’s Introduction, Presence; Nation of Language continue to build on the momentum with A Way Forward. An album filled with songs that are destined to stay etched to the brain for the months ahead.
With their brand of ’80s synth-based sounds, Nation of Language drag us through the undercurrents of post-punk and cold wave. A Way Forward is destined to end up in a slew of end of year lists and rightly so. It’s their finest offering yet.
Kill Rock Stars
Deriving from the ’70s/80s Swiss punk scene, newly formed trio, ONETWOTHREE, Klaudia Schifferel (Kleenex / LiLiPUT), Madlaina Peer (Noknows), and Sara Schar (all of whom are bassists) inject some fun into 2021 with their dub-infused punk debut.
ONETWOTHREE produce the kind of sounds that make us miss The Fall a little bit less. Those enamoured with the late ’80s era of the band may have just stumbled upon their new favourite band right here.
While sonically playful, ONETWOTHREE aren’t afraid to tackle the big issues with a sharp tongue (Adventure, Fake, Bubble, Things). By doing so, ONETWOTHREE confirm that it’s just not the kids these days with fire in their belly.
Exploding In Sound
It’s always a good year when Ovlov release new music. Following their finest record yet in TRU (2018), the Newtown, Connecticut four-piece return with Buds.
Aesthetically, Ovlov shift the goal posts on Buds, with the guest vocalists, Ering McGrath, Alex Gehring, and Jordyn Blakey. The singers’ inclusion throughout Buds is an important step, taking Ovlov’s sound into new places and, overall, the songs are better for it.
In and out in just under 25 minutes, Ovlov don’t mess around on Buds. However, despite the brevity, it’s evident that Ovlov still know how to shred and produce the kind of sound waves that send shivers down the spine. With sharp new weapons intact, the shredding is as fierce as ever.
Sei Still: El Refugio
Following on from their self-titled debut from 2020, Sei Still continue their merry charge with El Regufio.
Through the smudged lens of dark wave, the Berlin-based Mexican five-piece weld together the finest elements of psych and post-punk, and the results are very fine indeed.
If you’re tired of all the tardy sound bites and empty slogans that continue to strangle post-punk, not to mention the swathe of dull re-treads in the world of psych, this is not the point to give up the ghost, people. With El Regufio, Sei Still confirm that we are in safe hands.
Simm: Too Late to Dream
After a seven year absence, Eraldo Bernocchi reboots his Simm project with Too Late to Dream.
Having worked with the likes of with Robin Guthrie, Harold Budd, Bill Laswell and Mick Harris, the London-based Italian artist enlists grime-legend, Flowdan to cut through his post-industrial soundscapes that feel like they rumble through the icy streets of Britain’s capital.
Bernocchi and Flowdan form a formidable partnership on Too Late to Dream. Granted, it’s not a world away from the cold fractured sounds that The Bug produced earlier this year with Fire. But for those hungry for more Flowdan, alongside the return of Simm we can most certainly consider this an early festive gift.
Snowy Band: Alternate Endings
Emerging from the other side of Australia’s ‘slacker’ scene, and Snowy Band lead the cause. Following their fantastic 2020 LP, Audio Commentary, the Melbourne four-piece make it a quick turnaround with their follow-up, Alternate Endings.
Led by chief songwriter, Liam Halliwell (formerly of The Ocean Party), Alternate Endings drifts with sleepy melodies designed for quiet beers and gazing at the sunset. The songwriting, modest yet majestic in what is one of the finest albums to come out of Melbourne this year.
Where melodies are concerned, alongside Lightning Bug and Nation Of Language, there aren’t many bands this year that have done it better than Snowy Band. From beginning to end, this is a delightful journey.
Previous Sun 13 Albums Quarterly features: