While 2020 may have been chaos, it birthed a new wave of creativity in the music scene. Some of our writers chat about their highlights from the past few months.
Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
To release a record on the Warp label is a privilege and a stamp of quality. Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus, Autechre, Boards of Canada – you are in exalted company. The most exciting thing about this release from Yves on this most famous of ambient music labels is that it is not ambient at all. There are still hints of their former work here, but they vault over them, flawlessly drawing together shoegaze, alt-rock, funk, and jazz fusion into an album that is like no other listening experience this year.
The shimmering knife-edge shoegaze of ‘Medicine Burn’ and ‘Kerosene’ gives way to the beautiful, layered funk of ‘Romanticist/Dream Palette’, which I would consider my song of the year. The enthralling, longing vocals of ‘Romanticist’ bleed into the incredibly busy and technical ‘Dream Palette’, which builds with a tremendous ascending riff and leads to the most satisfying outro climax as it somehow manages to do the previous 6 minutes justice. Heaven To A Tortured Mind pushes further than almost any other album this year and does so with an assured confidence that is infectious. And, owing to its origins in ambient, and despite all this experimentation, it remains a very easy listen for the casual or passingly interested. A must-listen.
Bladee – 333
“Sign on the door, it says ‘Drain members only’” Bladee croons on ‘Keys to the City’. Accessibility has long been a problem for people trying to understand the Swedish rappers associated with the group (Yung Lean and Ecco2k being the most famous examples besides Bladee) but this album serves as the easiest intro. This postmodern cloud rap beats any effort so far and eclipses his Exeter mixtape released earlier in the year.
The twisted percussive ambience of his beats contrasts his heavily pitch-shifted, drugged-out voice and lyrics that frequently confront his depressive worldview with simplistic absurdity. There is no substitute for the kind of musical trance their tracks can put you in, and this is probably the best place to start trying to make it click. Particular highlights besides ‘Keys to the City’ are ‘100s’ with its Microsoft error noise style bass and his haunting delivery, “I’m paranoid feel like I’m being followed”; ‘Innocent of All Things’ with its catchy chorus; the druggy meditations of ‘Reality Surf’, “Put a concept on a feeling, take a word and change its meaning” and the percussive hits contrasting the emotional resignation of ‘Oh Well’. Try it out and see if drain is for you.
It is a record that should be pressed into the hands of anyone who still believes that rock music died along with Kurt Cobain
Boston Manor – GLUE
Boston Manor are proving themselves to be one of the most exciting and innovative rock bands to emerge from the UK in the last few years. They’ve continued their ascent with GLUE, a highly astute and ambitious third record that is captivating from start to finish. At some moments, they’re heavy and noisy, at others, subtle and subdued, sometimes driven by guitars, others by eerie electronics. Lyrically, it is sharply relevant, exploring fame, social justice movements, class and toxic masculinity alongside matters more personal to frontman Henry Cox.
GLUE is a record with masses of crossover appeal, with the capacity to prick up the ears of the ordinary music listener as well as the diehard rock fan. With that, it represents a bold attempt to push the genre forward into exciting new ground. It is a record that should be pressed into the hands of anyone who still believes that rock music died along with Kurt Cobain. The genre is alive and kicking and Boston Manor are one of the names who are carrying the torch.
Georgia – Seeking Thrills
This album was released at the start of what was supposed to be a great year, and although 2020 didn’t deliver, Seeking Thrills certainly did. The brainchild of English singer and song-writer Georgia Barnes, her second studio album combines the best synth stylings of pop’s past: electronic echoes of Robyn, Chicago House, and the hedonistic yearning of disco.
And this album, like recent offerings from female counterparts Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga, was a record destined for the dancefloor. In an alternate universe, trendy Soho clubs would be blaring the heady rhythms of ‘Feel It’ and energetic ‘Never Let You Go’, until 3am stragglers sing ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ to the last-call: “stay a while, stay a while/ To be in a moment with you”. Although listening to this record may leave you hungering for what could have been, sobering rays of hope can be found in-between the city electricity, fast-living and sensual synth. ’24 Hours’ is a highlight, with Barnes’ soft vocals cooing over pacing bass as she reminds us of what a difference a day makes – a synth-driven and pop-powered testament to a year that never was.