It’s the last Bandcamp Friday before Christmas–and for all we know the last Bandcamp Friday ever—and one plan that got thrown out the window quite quickly was to do a look back at some of our favourite releases from 2021. Sadly, for all you end-of-year-list-merchants out there in readerland, muscle memory kicked in and we did what we always do, which is bring you the very best of the bleeding edge of now, plus a couple of things that only just came to our attention. Imagine thinking that there’s no good new music anymore? Well, I can’t promise there’s any good music here, but me (CB), Max Mazonowicz (MM) and Kate Haresnape (KH), well, we like what we like and we hope you’ll like it too.
And so, as Jim Morrison once said, this is the end, my only friend, the end. But I’d like to think that if the lizard king was alive today, then he’d be asking his mother, not to act out some cringe-worthy Oedipal psychodrama, but for the Freaks of Nosmo 9‘s indespensible new album, or if they’ve all gone, a preorder of the new Keeley Forsyth. Mother? Can you here me mother?
It’s Bandcamp Friday. One last time. Fly my pretties! Fly!
Powerplant – People in the Sun
There’s something about this London based synth-post-punk band that’s different and whilst there’s approximately 12,0000,0000,00 UK and European post-punk outfits at the moment, something about Powerplant stands out. It’s the off-kilter anarchy, the combination of frenzied buzzsaw guitars and constant pulsating synth background that takes it into the realms of psychedelia, without losing grasp of the melody. It’s not neat and tidy, it’s not primed for 6music, who knows if they even look the part. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as those graduates of BBC Introducing and thank goodness for that. (KH)
Margo Cilker – Pohorylle
Margo Cilker’s debut feels like it’s been a long time coming. Now it’s here there’s a huge amount to love. A sprinkling of swearing on the beautiful ‘That River’ is just a teaser for the playful nature of the nine songs on Pohorylle. ‘Kevin Johnson’ has a jolly sound to it and ‘Tehachapi’, whilst being hard to spell, is a terrific bound-along melody that spreads a smile across your face that gets even wider when the horns kick in. Another song to try out is ‘Brother, Taxman, Preacher’. It’s a lovely little record, with plenty of pep, and cleverer than you might think. (MM)
Grove – SPICE
Audaciously rhyming the words ‘self-service’, ‘circus’ and ‘cervix’, we find Bristol’s Grove celebrating the exciting adventure of a new relationship. Mutant dancefloor meets sensuous hip-hop in ‘Skin2Skin’, but it’s more than just a booty call—the fierce evasions of ‘Bloodsucka’ give way to the emotionally open pillow talk of the second half of the EP.
Typically, the extended vinyl LP version of last February’s Queer and Black doesn’t ship for another few months yet (pre-orders for which are unaccountably still available). So for this new release, Grove sidesteps the sustained implosion of all physical formats by releasing SPICE in the form of a limited-edition fragrance. ‘Think of a warm, spiced chai scent for bad bitches’, runs the strap-line. Hey Grove, have you been reading my Christmas list? (CB)
Momma – Medicine
The latest single from LA-based grunge-punk band, Momma, is the quintessential nineties throwback. Evoking bands like Veruca Salt, Imperial Teen and maybe even a little bit of Guided by Voices, Momma have got that slick, harmonic, grunge (but kind of poppy) sound down to a fine art. They sound like a band who should be playing the high school prom in nineties teen films like Jawbreaker and Ten Things I Hate About You and ‘Medicine’ is the perfect track for prom kings and queens to first dance to. (KH)
Princess Diana of Wales – Princess Diana of Wales
Enigmatic remnants claxon. Princess Diana of Wales’ eponymous debut is the aural equivalent of finding a tranche of torn-up letters and diaries under the floorboards—acid bleached confessions, brittle reproaches and semi-legible yearnings. Best experienced with as little contextual information as possible, it’s filled with crude strummings and stumbling hints of techno, all shrouded in mysterious vocals. Songs seem to crumble apart and dissolve in the miasma–what am I feeling, what have I felt and was any of it really anything?
‘Sleet’ opens with ticking percussion and a spectral voice announcing that it’s home. ‘Fragments of Blue’, which seems to be the clearest sighting we get of the author, moons over ‘Fragments of you / fragments of you’, utterly seduced by loss. But it seems to be the loss of something that could only ever be partially experienced in the first place, a spectral dream of the blues. (CB)
John R Miller – Depreciated
It takes something to stand out from the crowd of country troubadours but John R Miller really has something. From the steel guitar and laidback drawl of opener ‘Looking Over My Shoulder’ you’re drawn into the world he’s created on Depreciated. And that just carries on all the way through. The craftsmanship is everywhere, on the tuneful picking of ‘Faustina’ and the descriptive lyrics of ‘Half Ton Van’. This is country music at its most modern and traditional. Pick on that. (MM)
BlackFace Family – Nthena
Nthena—taking its name from a Malawian phrase meaning ‘the way it is’—is a pulsing, polemical fusion of reggaeton and dancehall with fragmentary repurposings of Congolese, Tanzanian, Nigerian and Haitian songs. Rappers Venom and Jah Face trade intertwining verses that pick apart post-colonial social disintegration and the upheavals and displacements of the pandemic and the ongoing war in the DRC. It should be noted that there’s some gorgeous Auto-Tune work on tracks like ‘Lyf’ and ‘Fxxk it’, their voices bent into dramatic, ear-defying shapes.
The group’s beatmaster, Twiggy, grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go. The album’s bewilderingly open-minded attitude to genre could, in less adept hands, be confusing or contrived but there’s a laser-like focus to the sound that ought to propel this lot to international attention. An outfit with the moves to go serious places. (CB)
Tape Waves – Bright
Tape Waves are a deliciously, dreamy, surf pop band from South Carolina. Whilst their latest album is perhaps less surfy than past releases, they’ve definitely maintained if not amped up the sense of airy, dreaminess. Bright is an expansive album that sounds exactly what you’d imagine floating on a cloud to sound like. Kim Weldin’s vocals are akin to Rose Melberg with added delay and a teensy bit of distortion. Tape Waves are a little bit like if Alvvays and The Drums had a baby and a member of DIIV was the surrogate. (KH)
Dori Freeman – Ten Thousand Roses
There’s been a fascinating progression across Dori Freeman’s five albums, from a more traditional-leaning sound on her debut, gradually becoming more progressively more commercial. Ten Thousand Roses is the culmination of that progression and is terrific. Commercial is a word often linked with lesser quality, but in Freeman’s case, that is most definitely not true. There’s songwriting and musicianship of the highest order here, ‘Almost Home’ and the excellent, ’60s sounding ‘Appalachian’ being two obvious examples. If you want something classic and accessible then start here. (MM)
Pigeon – Yagana EP
At last, the Afro-disco/grunge crossover you didn’t know you were waiting for. The EP finds Falle Nioke, currently making headway into 6music territory as a solo artist, hooking up with Steve Pringle and Graham Godfrey (members of Michael Kiwanuka’s band) and Soma World’s Josh Ludlow and Tom Dream.
There’s a thinly-veiled yearning for home behind the funky grooves of title track ‘Yagana’, while ‘It’s You’ positions some urgent, Serge Gainsbourg-esque sentiments atop a brisk, no-wave stomp. The improvised ‘War (Jam)’ sings us out, a plea for peace and unity underpinned by kosmiche electronic beats and some slick, unobtrusive riffing between the synth and guitars. It will be interesting to see where Nioke goes from here. His recent Badiere EP with Ghost Culture is also bloody excellent, but there’s a gently playful disregard for cultural straight-jackets on this release that marks him as a vocalist to keep an eye on. (CB)
Ricky Eat Acid – When they align just so, memories of another life bleed into my own
Featuring Sam Ray of cult DIY fuzz-grunge band Teen Suicide, Ricky Eat Acid is a solo project in which Sam explores more ambient and electronic landscapes. When they align just so… is a selection of songs that Sam created in 2015 for an indie game that got cancelled. He continued working on the songs and fortunately was able to keep them as long as all mention of the game was removed. The tracks are influenced by music from games like Final Fantasy 6, Earthbound and Paper Mario and are an adventurous array of nostalgic sounding video game memorabilia. (KH)
Natalie Hemby – Pins and Needles
Natalie Hemby’s debut album was hands down one of the best country albums of the last ten years, so the fact her follow-up, Pins and Needles, moves on a little from that country sound is interesting and a slight surprise. The eleven tracks here lean heavily on Hemby’s Grammy-winning songwriting skills with songs like ‘New Madrid’ moving along at a lick, acoustic and steel guitars driving it along with Hemby’s vocal front and centre. The best song here though is ‘Banshee’, opening with melodic whistling – better than that sounds – and pushing on with a determined beat laced with shimmering synth, it’s a cracking pop song with echoes of the very best of the 80s sounds. Flipping back to the country rock vibes ‘Pinwheel’ has the DNA of the early ’00s and perfectly illustrates the diversity on show. (MM)
Netta Goldhirsch and Pete Murphy – You Cannot Not Know What You Know
‘It’s not an inspirational message’, proclaims Netta Goldhirsch on her new LP’s opening takedown of the wellness industrial complex, in which she concludes that you’re nothing special for following your dreams–you’re marvellous without them. Fans of last year’s startling debut, Love Doesn’t Exist, might find this a little downbeat—it’s all spoken word this time, eschewing the Brechtian cabaret antics that made the first album such a unique experience. Stick with it though, because there are some rewardingly odd moments of wisdom to discover here. ‘I’m Glued to the Chair’ advocates surgery to get the damn thing off and ‘Destabilising Your Automatic Assumptions’ takes issue with a judgy-faced social worker.
There’s a sense of glorious, joyous, self-absorbed obstreperousness to Goldhirsch’s attitude, and you can’t help but take her side against the world. Pete Murphy’s layered arrangements sit hand in hand with her aphoristic delivery. Remember Tom Waits’ philistine neighbour wondering what he was building in there? Probably this. (CB)