by Bilge Nur Yilmaz (i), Craig Howieson (ii), Joseph Purcell (iii), Philip Moss (iv), Phil Scarisbrick (v) & Tobias Moore (vi).
Anaïs Mitchell – Anaïs Mitchell (v)
Anaïs Mitchell’s voice never falters on this triumphant return, as one of the great American songwriters of the 21st century presents a self-titled album that extols the beauty of experience, and appreciating the world around you.
Angel Olsen – Big Time (iv)
Angel Olsen rides the emotional spectrum on Big Time. And everything about this record feels right – the muted sepia of the album cover; the playfulness of the typography; the press shots that capture Olsen looking and feeling at one – and it comes through in her songwriting. On last album proper, All Mirrors, the North Carolinian stated that other people had their ‘hands in the pot,’ which separated her from the songs. So after what felt like an overt attempt to reach the ‘big time’, Angel Olsen has ironically found it – on a record with that very title – simply by being herself.
Beach House – Once Twice Melody (iv)
On their eighth album, Once Twice Melody, Beach House dismiss the immediacy of ‘everything now’ culture, and use the sprawl to their advantage – honing in even closer to what makes them so special.
Craig Finn – A Legacy of Rentals (ii)
It seems almost obscene to suggest that Finn’s lyrics have gotten even better on this record. For one of indie rock’s finest pen wielders, it is quite the claim, but one I believe to be true on an album that is as funny and relatable as it is heartbreaking. And what’s more, the musical backdrop to Finn’s short stories has also risen to match the level of his written word. His partnership with producer, Josh Kauffman, continues to bring out the very best in him, and Cassandra Jenkins and Annie Nero’s vocal accompaniments are now indispensable in propping up his tales of hard living. A new Craig Finn record is always something to look forward to, but A Legacy of Rentals surpasses even his own lofty standards, and the lives he writes about reveal more on each listen – drawing us closer each time. Finn once again helps us find our own truths in the darkest recesses of others.
Daniel Rossen – You Belong There (iv)
You Belong There truly is a mystical sonic adventure, as the Grizzly Bear man takes us on a journey via arrangements that never follow the obvious path, Beach Boys’ harmonies and an Arthur Russell-esque ear for counter melodies and layered baroque instrumentation. And that this collection of song-suites was constructed in his Santa Fe home studio makes this special debut even more astounding.
Deathcrash – Return (vi)
A conquest more than a listen, Return, the debut LP from Untitled Records’ Deathcrash is an album that is more than happy to exist without constraints. With its numerous winding and morbidly cinematic tracks, it’s an album that is definitely that must be fully embraced to be understood.
Maintaining the grit and anguish of a 90’s DIY classic, while utilising an almost cinematic level production (without once polishing up the said grit), Return exists in a world entirely of its own: one that captures both the highs and lows of life in the drowsing descent of slowcore. There’s the soothing melancholy of horses, the chaotic release of Sundown, or the endearing romanticism of American Metal. In a genre often hard to difficult to dissect, Deathcrash have delivered not only a record that is sure to capture the hearts of slowcore diehards, but also provides a spellbinding gateway for those outside of its reach. Diverse, bold and deceptively adventurous, in a scene dominated by their American counterparts, Return is an album of serious intent and a serious early AOTY contender.
Deer Scout – Woodpecker (ii)
Deer Scout’s Dana Miller describes her approach to songwriting as ‘a process of boxing things up, or putting away a time capsule.’ It makes sense then that the alternative folk songs found on her debut record, Woodpecker, are graced with the often warming – sometimes uncomfortable – nostalgia of a past that is not too far behind.
Good Looks – Bummer Year (v)
The real beauty of Bummer Year is in how personal Good Looks make the grand themes they cover feel. It’s very easy to make big statements about the state of the world as you see it, but it is another for those protestations to take root and really make the listener care. At the heart of this record is empathy – both in terms of how Jordan identifies with his community and how you, as the listener, feel a kinship with what he is singing. It is an incredibly mature record that, despite its serious themes, is a ton of fun to listen to.
Jo Schornikow – Altar (v)
Jo Schornikow uses the weight of years of touring, juxtaposed with the potent intensity of motherhood and looking at the debris of those parallel lives to shape Altar. And although a sea change in terms of sound, it loses none of the potency that made us fall in love with her music on Secret Weapon.
Kelly Lee Owens – LP.8 (v)
Following on from 2020’s Inner Song, Kelly Lee Owens’ LP.8 was produced with Lasse Marhaug, and his penchant for noise music seeps into the record they’ve crafted. Owens’ third studio album is firmly rooted in the haunting electronic music that made us fall in love with her, but feels far more expansive in its scope. The unsettling introduction of Marhaug’s production blends with Owens’ spacious melodies to create something uniquely gripping. Standout tracks include the cyclical, Cymraeg chanting of Anadlu, the achingly beautiful instrumental, Nano Piano, and the majesty of One. You’ll struggle to hear a better ‘headphones’ album this year.
Kurt Vile – (watch my moves) (iv)
KV has never sounded more ‘cool, calm and collected’ than he does on his major label debut, (watch my moves). Whether he’s jamming in his music room in his pants (Flying (like a fast train)), chillin’ out watching movies with his family (Like Exploding Stones), or looking back in a dream like state at the fact he got to support his hero, Neil Young (Goin on a plane today), the rambling anecdotes keep on coming and coming. Highlight, Jesus on a Wire, also sees a co-production credit for Cate Le Bon – whose wonky vocal makes her the perfect accomplice for the freewheelin’ Philly band leader.
Mitski – Laurel Hell (i)
Laurel hell is what thickets of Rhododendron form in the deep ends of the southern Appalachians — impassable tangled groves, they are a topographical trap for those foolish enough to fall for its blooms. Mitski’s title to her latest album, Laurel Hell, following her four-year hiatus, is the perfect, bitter metaphor for all the stories she has in store for us: the mask, the knife, the pretense, the danger, the bliss and the horror.
Modern Nature – Island of Noise (iv)
As much a walk through the expansing nature that envelops us, as it is a stroll through Jack Cooper’s expanding mind – Island of Noise‘s track listing alone tells a version of a story. His lyrics – which could stand in their own right as poetry – tell another. This is his truth. But like the best art, the meaning that is woven deep into the rich soil of this record is open to interpretation. A presentation of the elements through a torrent of glorious, glorious noise.
Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This Wrong (ii)
On what is her sixth album, Sharon Van Etten sounds very much grounded in the present on We’ve Been Going About This Wrong, but tendrils stretch into the sun cracked paths that led her here, as well as into the mist obscured alleyways that lie ahead. Family, comradery, loneliness, loss, and a resolute belief in moving forward are all touched upon throughout the record’s ten tracks – and as is a signifier of some of her greatest work, it is the questions she poses and leaves unanswered that resonate the most.
Spiritualized – Everything is Beautiful (iii)
More explosive than 2018’s And Nothing Hurt, J. Spaceman returns in resplendent form on Everything is Beautiful – armed with an arsenal of enthralling vignettes that propel him back into the foreground.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples – Summer At Lands End (ii)
The latest release from The Reds, Pinks and Purples eases into your consciousness. Sugar sweet indie pop with bleach washed shoegaze leanings, it is, for want of a better word, a ‘comforting’ record. Glenn Donaldson’s voice is immediate and reassuring, and despite the lyrical themes not always matching the sunny disposition of the tracks, with Summer At Lands End on your headphones, you never feel alone. It has quickly become my most listened to album of the year – a comfort in uncomfortable times.
Walter Martin – The Bear (ii)
Walter Martin is of an age now that bigger questions about life and meaning perhaps hang heavier than they once did. The Bear represents this contemplative state of mind and is as focused on goodbyes as it hellos. But it also relishes in the beauty of the memories we can cling to, and the way in which they can shape our present; the fact that each day is a new opportunity, and hope and wonder are never out of reach.
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