February saw some superb releases from all corners of the music box, from electro-pop to hip-hop. For our money these were 10 of the best – how many have you checked out?
White Lies – Five
In our recent feature celebrating the tenth anniversary of White Lies’ debut To Lose My Life… we chewed over whether Five could be a return to the form of those early days. Well Five has been incredibly well-received by fans and though it is unlikely to redefine the band at this point, Five is arguably as good as they’ve been across the four records since.
Five maintains the familiar big stadium sound but here the guys have added a cautious dose of adventurism, just to pique the interest of any White Lies fan caught napping five albums in.
Lewsberg – Lewsberg
A friend sat in my car recently while Lewsberg’s ‘The Smile’ grooved in the background, to which he asked, “Is this Lou Reed?” – a comparison found to be not uncommon. But of course not, for it was the debut from Dutch art-rocker students Lewsberg.
An absolute revelation in the world of samesies indie, the self-titled debut is higgledy, jagged indie interspersed with real-life Dutch conversational interludes; this is highbrow college indie and for a lesson in album composition alone, Lewsberg is one record that every art rock fan ought to be checking out.
N0V3L – NOVEL
At its core NOVEL, the debut 8-track EP from Vancouver’s unwieldy-named N0V3L, is at times a straightforward resemblance to indie slacker royalty like Parquet Courts. But look deeper and you’ll find far more nods to ska, dub, early punk and 00’s ska revivalist bands like The Dead 60s (listen to ‘Natural’, for example).
The drumming is roguish, the timings unruly, while the guitars stagger around and clang among one another. NOVEL is a rather different, hugely refreshing and sparsely found kind of 2019 indie.
Methyl Ethel – Triage
Australia’s Methyl Ethel, led by Jake Webb, released their third album Triage, a veritable indie-pop banquet with lashings of soul, a side of funk and double-helpings of glorious electro-pop.
Triage boasts a first half worthy of any album of the year chatter; the dazzlingly soulful opening track ‘Ruiner’, the funked-up ‘Scream Whole’ that can bring any person to an involuntary late-70s Top of the Pops studio audience bop, classic indie-dance in the vein of compatriots Empire of the Sun or Gypsy & the Cat on ‘All The Elements’, and not forgetting 80s inspired pop perfection in lead single ‘Trip The Mains’.
Czarface Meets Ghostface
Any album that starts with a ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage parody is worthy of anyone’s attention. A long way away from very real 90s turf wars, this follow up to 2018’s Czarface Meets Metal Face, is another comic book chapter of superhero hip-hop. It’s Marvel-ous (sorry).
On the surface a rap-battle LP, only with WWE-style storylines – like D-generation X versus the Nation of Domination. Witty, yes, but moreover the album displays some incredibly tight old school rap with amazing bass lines and hip-hop beats.
Chain Wallet – Ritual
Think early 80s new romanticism (Depeche Mode, Human League, Gary Numan) delicately interwoven with Californian surf indie (Day Wave, Castlebeat, Horsebeach) and we’re somewhere close to Norway’s Chain Wallet. Their incredible second album Ritual is essential listening for fans of surf, shoegaze and dreamy indie-pop.
Ritual is a synth-worshipper’s nirvana, with keys wizard Frode Boris Bakken creating vibrant, illusory soundscapes, time and again managing to somehow create entirely at the same time an airy feeling of freedom and brightness with yet an underlying apprehension and sombreness.
Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive
Sleaford Mods – the voice of the UK’s dissatisfied – can do no wrong it seems with another highly successful release chalked up on the old CV. In the most hostile political and sociological landscape in a generation, Eton Alive works now more than ever. Not because the Mods are stiff and politicised to anything like a Billy Bragg or Frank Turner irritation. But because, despite Sleaford Mods connotations as a highly political outfit, Eton Alive is largely humourous pisstakery and, in an age of little to laugh about, is a welcome light relief in response to some glum subjects.
Better Oblivion Community Center – ST
Though Phoebe Bridgers, one half of a Better Oblivion Community Center – the folksy collaboration with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst – had stated with regards the drop of the without-warning self-titled album, “I want it to feel like a thing that we’re not making a big deal out of”. Being as good as the record is, however, means that almost universally the album has been made a very big deal.
In particular, tracks such as album opener ‘Didn’t Know What I Was In For’ and ‘Dylan Thomas’ are fantastically earnest examples of a tight, seriously sparkling duo.
Drenge – Strange Creatures
The new album from the now four-piece Drenge sees them move into dialogical story-telling. Strange Creatures is like an advert for film scoring services; the result of a night spent overindulging in the Stranger Things boxset.
Things that go bump in the night is the evident theme on Strange Creatures: ‘Teenage Love’ is the 80s movie John Carpenter never made and the Nick Cave-esque ‘Prom Night’ has a deathly western twang, sounding exactly like a track you could expect to hear on the next season of Preacher. It’s a world away from where Drenge started, but it is highly accomplished in its intentions and ultimately rewarding.
Bayonne – Drastic Measures
Drastic Measures is Roger Sellers’ second album under brand Bayonne, following 2016’s Primitives, and it had the good decency to drop in the UK during the year’s first sign of sunlight on a warm and hazy February day, adding a dawning-spring sense of joy to that first listen.
At times rippling, ambient electronica akin to Baths or Mount Kimbie (‘QA’, ‘Same’), at times straight-up bubblegum Timberlake or Toro Y Moi (‘Uncertainly Deranged’, ‘I Know’) and even fold-in the most accessible sides of Animal Collective and Yeasayer (‘Drastic Measures’, ‘Gift’ ) and Drastic Measures shows itself to be a complex and enveloping experience.