Best things we heard in January…



Tom Burrows: Black Country, New Road – ‘Sunglasses’ – ‘Dry January’ doesn’t just describe the period of post-festive abstinence for many – it also tends to apply to the barren first 31 days of the annual music release schedule. So, as I said in my Bieber piece, I’ve been obsessed with a song I totally missed on release last July.

“Sunglasses” is only the second single from Black Country, New Road, but it’s enough to have me very excited about what this band have up their sleeves for this year. Standing at nearly nine minutes, the song drifts into the realms of post-rock as frontman Isaac Wood brings mundane, domestic scenes to life with a frantic, end-of-his-tether style of delivery. (A perfect comment on the song’s YouTube video sums it up perfectly: “I like my vocalists to sound like they’re standing on a windowsill yelling at a police negotiator”). The six other instrumentalists in the band combine to create a fantastically unhinged atmosphere that makes lines like “the absolute pinnacle of British engineering” and “buy me dinner, meet my parents” say so much more than the words alone suggest. It’s a total gem – the future is bright for this band.

James Spearing: Piccadilly Gardens busker outside Boots doing karaoke to ‘Never Too Much’ by Luther Vandross – Pure and simple, this man was just bringing joy to the shoppers and passers by. After a depressing afternoon at work spent fruitlessly writing a press release about a man who died, he instantly put a smile on my face. When I came out of Boots there were people dancing in the street. Just ace.

Fran Slater: Common Holly – Live at The Eagle Inn, Salford – Without us realising it, Brigette Naggar (also known as Common Holly) has become a bit of a staple here at Picky Bastards. Fliss Clarke reviewed her. I am currently working on an interview with her. And, we had added When I Say To You Black Lightning to one of our podcast playlists but have since had to remove it due to us breaking our own rules.

The rule we broke was that, when discussing a recent release on the podcast, we must not have shared our feelings on it with the rest of the podcast team. That became impossible after a group of us went to see her Jan 18 show at The Eagle Inn in Salford. In a tiny room that looks more setup for a Sunday afternoon open mic session, Brigette and her band put on an absolute masterclass. Soaring and intense vocals, unusual soundscapes, and a tightness between the band members which suggests they’ve been playing together for longer than their youthful faces would allow. This was a top notch performance.

Strong all the way through, they saved the highlights for the encore with a breathtaking vocal show for ‘It’s Not Real’ followed by the captivating ‘Crazy OK’ which moved effortlessly from quiet to cacophonous.

Sam Atkins: Ashley McBryde – Girl Goin’ Nowhere – In the run up to the Grammy Awards I usually end up making my way through all of the nominated records and albums. 2020 was no different, but rediscovering this incredible album from Ashley McBryde has made me very excited for the follow up in a few months. The title track especially has been something I kept going back to, such a wonderfully simple, but genius lyric.

Matt Paul: Sundara Karma – Ulfila’s Alphabet – This band is lost in time. They’ve distilled a huge range of influences into their own unique sound. Ideas from everywhere. Sundara Karma’s 2019 album is experimental indie rock that is ridiculously catchy and refreshing.

Nick Parker: Joe Gideon – ‘Liquid Sky’ – This month I’ve been lucky enough to have been interviewing Joe Gideon for PBs, so I’m going to be a pain and say that the best thing I’ve heard is something unreleased as yet. Joe’s song ‘Liquid Sky’ is a much more mellow and even sombre track than a lot of what he’s been know for up to now I think, and it’s really more musical too. The spoken storytelling is still there, but it’s also delicate, lilting, and very beautiful. The outro in particular drifts through his repeated, multi-harmonised, “patterns of light” lyric, and I drift with it.

Lisa Whiteman – Apart from spending way too much time listening to Harry Styles and Courteeners (all ten minutes of it), I’ve spent a decent chunk of January listening to Frightened Rabbit’s EPs and single releases. They were bloody masters at ‘alt’ versions of everything; it’s been a while since I spent this long listening to them and fuck sake they were special. His lyrics are painfully real. Someone who I care a lot about needed to hear – “find hope, there is life beyond the one you already know’ and I didn’t have the words – Scott did.

Fat Roland: Squarepusher – Be Up A Hello – The best thing I heard in January was me poking my head around the door and mocking you in a sarcastic playground voice. “Oh look, I’m reading Picky Bastards, I’m so clever because I read things on the Internet, blah blah blah.” Yeah, that’s my impression of you, deal with it.

You think you’re clever, you and your “reading” and your “literacy”. I bet you know all the fancy words like discombobulation, photosynthesis, and flange. Honestly, you make me sick.

After that excellently-written evisceration, I hope you’re still reading. Did the above waffle give you a feeling of slight irritation and growing fragility? Excellent. Because this is exactly how you’re meant to feel when listening to the actual best thing I heard in January: Squarepusher’s new album Be Up A Hello.

Irritation because the percussion is as fierce as ever: just let those deranged drums bounce off your head. Fragility because he’s let melancholia come to the fore: those waning chords make this the best Squarepusher album for a long time.

“Oh, look at me, I’m listening to Squarepusher’s new album because Fat Roland told me to.” That’s my new impression of you. Well done.


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