Looking back on the albums we’ve covered over the last six months to think about some of our favourite LPs of the year so far has been strangely difficult – there’s been a distinct lack of really ‘big’ releases that have caught the ear (compared to this point in 2010 and 2011, for instance) but still a wealth of really great albums that made it difficult to narrow things down to any coherent, ‘statement’ list. As a result, we’ve gone for records that might not be the big consensus choices, but which are representative of different aspects of the musical landscape from the first half of this year that our writers praised at the time, and stuck in these editorial ears. On top of these, we could also point you in the direction of albums by The Invisible, Scuba, Liars, Alt-J, Easter, 2:54, Grimes, Alex Tucker, Burial, Nicki Minaj (half of the time), The Twilight Sad and Ty Segall in his various guises.
“It’s easy to grasp that R.I.P. is a personal album for Cunningham as you listen – from the song titles to their detailed though imperfect production, this is clearly a labour of love, something in which he has absorbed himself. The appeal to the rest of us may well be the distinctive, mediative quality of these pieces of music, their fractured, worn beauty, and the way they convey, wordlessly, the themes of mortality, time and spirituality that Cunningham has obsessed over. Other electronic artists have addressed similar themes recently – Burial’s recent EP seemed half-preoccupied with the physical sounds of vinyl and their emotive qualities, Zomby took on death in his typically unfocused, inventive fashion, while Hype Williams’ last few releases have reflected on mortality through the prism of grime samples, ancient synths and meandering monologues – but none have crafted a captivating, enveloping, unique record quite like Actress.”
“…you don’t need to be balls deep into the electronic music scene to adore Blondes, and that’s because this record is – at heart – so resolutely and effortlessly human. These cuts were recorded live and largely improvised – and it shows. These tracks always feel like they’re unfurling in a completely organic way, at the behest of a fierce performance instinct. As the music teases and pleases at the whims of its creators, it’s impossible not to think of Blondes shaping their improvisations in response to the rapturous delight they’re creating in both their audience and themselves. This is sensitive and conversational music – a beautiful antidote to the coldness and fixity of electronic junk which feels pre-programmed and predetermined”.
“One of the core strengths of these songs is Caroline Polacheck’s vocal performance. Granted, she’s unmistakably a member of that currently prevalent wave of breathy songstresses responsible for making the word ‘ethereal’ as irritatingly omnipresent in today’s music journalism as ‘angular’ was ten years ago, but she’s firmly in command of the mode, and it suits these songs perfectly. Whether soaring into effortless falsetto, punctuating her enthusiasm with squeaks and screams, or simply delivering one of her many hooks roundly and squarely, Polacheck consistently moves these songs in exactly the directions they want to go for maximum impact. Moving from a gentle timbre in the opening bars of ‘Ghost Tonight’ to a brilliantly arresting chorus swinging its hips across the bed of spongy synths, before ultimately arriving at a faintly haunting coda, Polacheck proves herself not just to be versatile, but to have a strong instinct for knowing what mode of vocal delivery to effectively deploy at any given moment”.
“The record continues to challenge our preconceptions with ‘Wasted Days’, which, at nine minutes long, is the most ambitious thing Baldi has yet attempted – and to his credit it actually works. The track is a powerful, relentless and chaotic downward spiral, beginning with guitars that bristle with defiance before its extended instrumental section whips up a glorious dirge. Its key lyric is the repeated mantra of “I thought I would be more than this” – sung with snarled bitterness at first, but screamed with furious self-loathing by the song’s end. More than any other track on the album, there’s a genuine and palpable sense of anger in Baldi’s voice, and it makes ‘Wasted Days’ one of the most exhilarating moments on the record”.
“Although it’s arguably the most intense cut taken from an album of borderline-violent intensity, ‘Hacker’ still stands out as being perhaps the most beginner-friendly starting point to the post-apocalyptic hip-hop aneurysm that is Death Grips’ major label (I repeat: major label) debut LP The Money Store. Standing as the outfit’s closest approximation of a dance floor number, with its gut-slicing rhythms and just-about discernible chorus, the track also forcefully introduces you to their hyper-confrontational and anarchistic approach to sampling and arrangements – beats collapsing from under the song for split second periods, jangling guitars joining in for a bar, rhythm provided by heart-shattering bass, and rapper (in the loosest sense of the word) Stefan Burnett’s abrasive mixture of social commentary and unfathomable gibberish (“NOW WE’VE GOT ALL THE COCONUTS, BITCH!”). It’s noise pollution at its most exhilarating and, like the album at large, a complete fucking mess. And I’m still not a hundred percent sure if I mean that as an endorsement or a criticism”.
“From the moment the drums and riff of opening track ‘Stranger’ kicked in I was hooked by the sense of urgency, potency and attitude pouring into my ears before stopping dead into an ambient interlude before it had really sunk in. The six songs that follow gave me the same feeling, they’re so short that by the time you’ve got into their groove they’ve begun to disintegrate slowly into an ethereal psychedelic landscape only to emerge a minute later as the next track, an interesting technique that really works on this record and gives it a feeling of completeness it otherwise wouldn’t possess. The way that ‘Can’t See’ crumbles bit by bit into noise then re-emerges as ‘Bye’ is just brilliant as is the following track ,the heavily My Bloody Valentine inspired ‘Making Up’”.
“…Jam City, real name Jack Latham, skilfully takes on control as a way of constructing space in his tracks – beats echo in a vast, gleaming emptiness of conference centre lobbies or shopping malls, and it’s the kind of space that’ll have you standing in the middle of these tracks, slack-jawed with a mixture of disgust and awe. ‘The Courts’ batters you into submission with the sounds of basketball smacking against the ground and trainers squeaking on waxed floors – it’s a bit like how a Nike advert might reverberate in the head of a ‘roid-raged wannabe athlete. Meanwhile, ‘Club Thanz’ relies on synths and metallic hi-hats to gesture to the superficial, fluorescent details of a nightclub – it’s like a 21st century hiphop instrumental without the beats, and you can almost imagine Drake slumped in the VIP corner, staring at his phone.”
“In an interview (with GQ of all publications), Mike Hadreas spoke about the purpose behind his music, which sums up incredibly succinctly what I’ve been trying to convey over the last five paragraphs: “my purpose would be to take something that was originally shameful, secret and made you feel gross about yourself and to inject some kind of tenderness and healing into it”.Put Your Back N 2 It feels like a triumph of emotional honesty conveyed in a collection of simple though melodically rich songs – a recorded testament to ways in which the past can always be faced not as something to torment or to pull you back, but as something to build on and renew, towards some kind of future”.
“Richard promised to build on the R&B template with Armor On and she’s more than delivered – working alongside producer Druski on all but one of these tracks, Richard has created an album that selects bits and pieces from other genres carefully, rather than grafting dance elements on to the tracks so that they become ugly, charmless things (take note Alexandra Burke and Nicki Minaj in ‘pop mode’). Early highlight ‘Black Lipstick’ works in drum and bass rhythms and off-kilter synths, providing a skittering, unnerving backdrop to Richard’s powerful vocals, which are themselves allowed to bleed into each other beautifully. This could well be R&B re-pilfering from up-and-coming house music producers like Jacques Greene. Meanwhile, lead single ‘Bombs’ hurtles out of the blocks as one of the finest singles of the year so far – Richard sounds at her most confident delivering lines like “Just feed me beats and watch me eat up all y’all” before letting the harmonies take over in the bridge”.
“Almost all of the material on Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp has been previously released elsewhere, and what really sets it apart on the album is the huge step up in quality of production. SGP is now on 4AD alongside distinguished label mates The National, Grimes and Bon Iver and it comes as no surprise that the quality of sound is hugely improved. What this means for the listener is that we get to hear the intricacies of Purpp’s sinister and claustrophobic beats better than ever before. The album’s production is really where its strength lies; as a whole it is deeply cohesive and the further you delve into it, the more you find yourself hypnotized, a feeling that only increases with repeated listening”.
“‘Debak Ine’, the opening track on John Talabot’s debut album Fin, builds slowly. It opens with samples of a jungle – birds and other creatures squawk as crickets hum and chirp, transporting you to the oppressive heat and dank greenery of a rainforest while also creating the vaguely unsettling ambience upon which the rest of the track is built. It’s a seven and a half minute opener, and it’s not until after the 4.30 mark that ‘Debak Ine’ really settles into a groove – before then, beats and melodies have come and gone and it’s only with the arrival of a (muted) 4/4 house beat that things really start to get going. Still, it’s a phenomenal opener and sets out what Talabot’s music is all about – euphoric elements from house, techno and disco are set down alongside a more introspective, and occasionally dark atmosphere across the whole of Fin. And there’s patience too – Talabot never goes for the quick, easy pay-off and the tracks on Fin follow the template on ‘Debak Ine’, building slowly, thrillingly and exquisitely as you listen”.
“‘Serpents’ rides on lazy indie Americana, trotting drums, and laid back, soft top down guitar meld together as Van Etten appears defiant, swinging a sword at her inner demons. The Country fried ‘Leonard’ swirls wistfully, a tumbleweed along a dirt track. ‘In Line’ hums nostalgically to a time when there were no worries, when emotions didn’t register so explicitly. ‘Magic Chords’ with its erratic drumbeat, which reminds me of a drunk tap dancer who returns to the stage to reclaim his lost hat, contains some of Van Etten’s best vocal work – it simmers with sophistication”.