Yet another six months without a gig but the quality of releases seems to have been particularly high over the last six months, to the extent that I’m doing a half-year review for the first time in a couple of years. These are the albums that have particularly hit me since the turn of 2021. There’s a couple that were released in the back end of last year, but most are reflective of a period of time where I have been looking to new albums to compensate to some degree from the lack of live performances… which I must confess I am really really missing.

Let’s hope that the second half of 2021 sees a return to the stage/ scabby basement… until the enjoy exploring this list and I hope you might find a lifelong friend here, I’ve a feeling that there are a few of those here for me.

Can Live in Stuttgart 1975 (Mute)

Stunning release which has totally changed the way that I view the band. The sound has been brilliantly restored from a private recording at the gig. Probably my album of the year so far.

Innanför Boxen by Kungens Män (Adansonia/ Cardinal Fuzz/ Kungens Ljud & Bild)

I think that this box set taps into something that is extraordinarily Swedish which is in many ways unfathomable. I have written a number of times before about my fascination for a certain brand Swedish leftfield music, which can be exemplified with the Pårson Sound/ International Harvester/ Träd Gräs och Stenar/ Träden lineage. There is something that is very earthy about this music, it has its roots buried very deeply into the ground and flourishes because of that… it fosters an intensity which is evident throughout these five albums… but also permits a freedom and looseness which offsets and enhances that intensity somehow.

To read the full review click here

Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the LSO (Luaka Bop)

In a world that seems so divided this, for me, feels like a call for unity: unity of body and spirit, unity of mind and being, unity of inner and outer experiences, unity of musical genres, but also unity for humanity… unity according to age, race, creed and culture… it is a composition that takes diversity in many iterations and rolls it together in an organic and seemingly effortless manner… it is a composition which is truly collaborative, and as beautiful and thought-provoking as anything you will hear…

To read the full review click here.

Dataland by Adam Stone, Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest (Cardinal Fuzz/ Feeding Tube)

This is an absolutely terrific album that sets the mind thinking, and does have the ability to push you over into a slough of despondency if you’re not careful. While I have broadly concentrated on Stone’s lyrics and vocals here, this is a truly collaborative effort with the Dead Sea Apes once again providing a strikingly symbiotic framework for them. This data-driven, and lockdown data-sharing, album is further enhanced however by the the electronics of Black Tempest, who adds a layer of synthesised sound to the set giving it it’s ‘sheen of data’ which deepens the relationship between the words, music and subject matter.

To read the full review, click here.

Transmission by DJINN (Rocket Recordings)

As with most music worth its salt this album needs time… time to percolate its way through your psyche… time for you to attune yourself with its spirit… time for you to create your own aural edifices around it. But when you do it pays you back many times over as you find yourself becoming more acquainted with its wiles. It is an album that, for me, has come just at the right time when I seek to travel at home, to experience something new in my own listening space… it takes me somewhere else and I am happy to let this transmission transcend my isolation.

To read the full review, click here.

The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Great Thunderstorm Warnings (Full Time Hobby)

This then, and I’m going to say it again, is an absolutely stunning album by The Besnard Lakes… a career high in my humble opinion, and one in which you can absolutely lose yourself. However this is not some directionless loss but one that is both focussed and accessible for those who want to contemplate the profound themes being considered here. It is an album that I am sure I will be playing frequently, and will become part of the cannon of albums that mean an awful lot to me.

To read the full review, click here.

Upupayāma by Upupayāma (Cardinal Fuzz/ Centripetal Force)

I do not think that I have ever felt a piece of music reach into my mind… into my fictional headspace… as much as ‘Upupayāma’ has… and, as a result, I feel an incredible affinity with it. Perhaps this comes from a shared love of Kikagaku Moyo and Träd Gräs och Stenar, and the sort of effect that such music can have on one… either way I feel a very personal sense of connection with these four tracks and feel they have found my every bit as much as I have found them. But I’m not ready to leave my little cabin quite yet, so I’m putting the album on again and will invite you in again soon…

To read the full review, click here.

Bliss Land by Hattie Cooke (Castles in Space)

I fell for this album on the first listen. I read an interview with Hattie Cooke in which she says that she feels that the set is about liminal spaces, an area in which I have always had an interest. This perhaps explains why it seems to resonate with me. It was the atmosphere of the record that hit me first, and I think that this is because of that liminality… the intersection between pop, electronica and experimentalism which raises this release above the sum of its parts. As a result it has an immediate beauty that floored me. Excellent!

Dust Breathing by Møster (Hubro)

This, then, is a terrific album that is exciting and subtle in equal measure. It is the sound of four very good musicians getting together and producing something that is unique to them, it feels like it more that the sum of its not insignificant parts in this sense. It is an album that surprises you at every turn and brings something that is genuinely new to the table.

To read the full review, click here.

Pick A Day To Die by Sunburned Hand of Man (Three Lobed Recordings)

This set, then, tells the story of a band who are not only great musicians, but also not afraid to experiment and, well, just let themselves loose at any point in time. If I were forced to use one descriptor for what is available here it would probably be ‘fluid’ since I feel you get a real sense of freedom and easiness here amongst the constant changes in influences and genre. This is within a sort of ‘fuck you’ context which married together provides a wonderful listening experience which kind of hits you on all sides through blues, rock, jazz, pop, funk and dub perspectives as one style is easily folded into another.

To read the full review, click here

House Music by Bell Orchestre (Erased Tapes)

Like the Floating Points/ Pharaoh Sanders album that I wrote about recently, this is a remarkable and unique piece of music that is also to be listened to in one sitting. In a world where attention spans are expected to be much shorter, it is reassuring that such aural art continues to be recorded and released because it provides an opportunity to withdraw from, and reflect upon, the world in which we live… a place which seems every less peaceful with ever more stimulus. Indeed, it seems to be no accident that some of the best music I listen to these days comes from musicians who take themselves away from such milieux and just play… and in doing just that Bell Orchestre have produced an absolute gem!

To read the full review, click here.

Earth Trip by Rose City Band (Thrill Jockey)

The third album from what I think started as a bit of a side project from Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo). The last two, and especially ‘Summerlong’, was one that helped me through the first lockdown with its upbeat and sunny vibe. ‘Earth Trip’ is a slightly different proposition with its slower feel to it. The word that comes to mind each time I listen to it is ‘mellow’… like the other two it has that wonderfully rounded feel to it… but this one takes Johnson even further into the country and away from his other bands. A wonderful release that again, I’m sure, is going to help me through the coming months.

G_d’s Pee At State’s End by Godspeed You! Black Emperor* (Constellation)

It seems a long time since I first heard ‘Dead Flag Blues’, a track which for me typified that end of millennium vibe… a lot of water has slurried under the bridge since then and, if anything, the world seems to have moved closer to the Canadian ‘post-rockers’ worldview. Even in that context this feels like a really significant release in the collective’s oeuvre…. One that reflects the dystopian aspects of our age, without wallowing in it. But even putting that aspect aside this, musically, is a brilliant album which seems to hit me right in the soul. Just fantastic!

Origin Myths by Bobby Lee (Tompkins Square/ Natural Histories)

As a fellow resident of Sheffield I have followed Bobby Lee’s emergence with interest. What I noticed when I moved to the city a decade or so ago is how much bigger the sky seems here. It’s something about the topography of the place which just gives it a different feel… And it is this panoramic element which I find irresistible about Lee’s work, but when you get down to it, it is more than that. While you are immediately hit with the breadth of the music, it is actually the detail which seals the deal. There is a real earthiness here, a sort of naturalistic element which gives you the feeling that Bobby could just be picking his guitar in your front room.

Arrival of the New Elders by Elephant9 (Rune Grammofon)

I was late to the party with Elephant9’s previous two releases (Psychedelic Backfire I & II), so was keen to get in on the ground floor with this one. Listening in conjunction with new releases from Møster and Motorpsycho (members of whom also appear here) gives me a real sense of musicians exploring their range, and has sent me off into a glorious and extensive musical rabbit hole. What I really like about this release is its free flowing nature, both in terms of the music itself and the way it glides through the genres.

Fir Wave by Hannah Peel (My Own Pleasure)

An absolutely stunning record in which Hannah Peel takes the work of such as Delia Derbyshire and sets it in a contemporary ecological context. Despite there being no words, each piece paints a deep and descriptive picture in a sense that is both intimate and panoramic. I only came across this album through the re-release of ‘Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North’, but I am glad that I did because it is a similarly ethereal work of real heft… one that I feel that I am yet to full appreciate.

Live at Levitation by Kikagaku Moyo (The Reverberation Appreciation Society)

This album is taken from two live sets: the Austin Psych Fest in 2014, and the Levitation Festival in 2019. Both take you pretty far into the Kikagaku Moyo live experience. In fact when I first listened to this album this week it’s the closest I’ve felt to live music since I last went to a gig just under a year ago…. having not looked at the ‘set list’ in advance I genuinely whooped when some of the tracks started and really felt present at certain times during the set. A genuinely thrilling experience from a superb band.

To read the full review, click here.

Former Things by LoneLady (Warp)

It seems quite a while since LoneLady’s (aka Julie Campbell) previous release ‘Hinterland’ came out six years ago. It has been an album that has regularly found it’s way back onto my turntable. The wait has certainly been worth it. Despite relocating to London, the album still has the DNA of Manchester running through it… with mid-era New Order being particularly evident. Having said that there seems to be more depth to this than on previous releases… a definite progress in Campbell’s music as she spreads her wings even more. I notice this particularly on repeat listens which seem to reveal more and more about the work. I am looking forward to uncovering even more here.

New Long Leg by Dry Cleaning (4AD)

A full-length debut from a band who I discovered quite by chance, but who have become a listening staple over the last few months. I like them for the same reason that I like Cavalier Song… the way that the spoken word fits perfectly with the music. There’s a real sense of perfection in the way that Florence Shaw’s narration links with the band’s noise/ art rock… one would be diminished without the other. However, it’s natural to focus on the lyrics on such a record… this is something which I find very meditative as I let the words drift over me… there’s meaning here, but also a certain abstruseness too… certainly a sense of spontaneity which is a mixture of rye comment, humour and profundity which just fit so well together here… a stream of consciousness which just somehow works.

Eight Fragments of an Illusion by Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk (Azure Vista)

What I particularly like about this album is the way that it blends the best moments of Schnauss and Monk’s work in a way that is so integrated… you really cannot hear the join between the two, something which has a gestalt effect within this zoned out and ultimately rather indulgent (in a good way) album. Sure you could play ‘spot the genre’ here and come up with a host of styles… but I suspect that, ultimately, you are going to want to play this album to revel in the musicianship while enjoying its laidback vibe.

To read the full review, click here

Fengselsfugl by Trond Kallevåg (Hubro)

The music here, for the most part deep and tender, is an absolute revelation (especially when you know the back story) in a manner that makes you want to listen to it again and again. Hope and sadness are mixed together to form a sort of fragile melancholia which is beautiful and brittle in equal measure. Like most in the Hubro catalogue it is an album like no other… both heartbreaking and engaging.

To read the full review, click here

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