Best things we heard in April…

 

Kim Fernley: The Rapture – Echoes – This month I’ve been re-living the early noughties, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to return to a different time… Echoes combines dance-rock, synth, and wailing vocals. The album tracks stand strongly between the brilliant singles. The Rapture are so much more than ‘House of Jealous Lovers’. ‘Olio’ is the perfect introduction. And I’ve got a renewed love for ‘Infatuation’, which ends the album on a mournful note, seamlessly bringing the listener back into 2020.

James Spearing: I’ve listened to an awful lot of music this month (close to 200 CDs at the time of writing) but as nearly all of us hoped, the new Laura Marling album is a wonder. So I was already in awe but then her live acoustic performance online with KEXP passed two important tests to take it to the next level. ‘Held Down’ gave me goosebumps AND made me pick up my guitar almost immediately so I could try and work out the tuning and have a go at playing it myself. Stunning.

I’ll also give a quick mention to ‘Ooh La La’ by Jessie Ware. Sometimes it’s great to just enjoy some pop goodness.

Will Collins: Two picks from me this month. The first is Yves Tumor’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind, a genre-bending record that manages to be irresistibly funky and abrasive at the same time.  Slinky basslines are the common denominator. On some tracks these support smooth, lo-fi R&B jams, on others they rub up against discordant, squalling saxophones and guitars. Sometimes the sound shifts within a song. I suspect you will either love it or hate it. I found it appealingly otherworldly – the perfect escapist listening for the current times.

My second pick is from Shards, a vocal ensemble. ‘Inside I’ll Sing’ was sketched out in demo form, then given to a range of guest musicians (the Isolation Choir) to add their voices to. Uplifting and metaphorical, it’s not the kind of thing I usually go for. But it’s a beautiful piece and the first example of a creative response to the lockdown that has really resonated with me.

 

Fran Slater: Ibeyi – Ash – Like my colleagues above, I have spent much of the last few weeks immersed in music. I’m making my way through my record collection. I listened to all 64 of the albums nominated in our #BestDebutAlbum tournament. And I have listened to the new Laura Marling album so many times that it already feels like an old friend. For more of my thoughts on the Laura Marling, read my review from last week. 

And yet my favourite thing from this month came about through reading a bloody book of all things. Inspired by one of the best chapters in Amy Raphael’s A Seat At The Table, I finally went and spent a valuable chunk of time with Ash by Ibeyi. And boy am I glad that I did. Blending elements of trip-hop, hip-hop, soul, and world music they meld together a work of politically and racially charged tunes that will make you think almost as often as they make you move.

Quincey May Brown: Yorkston / Thorne / Khan – Navarasa : Nine Emotions – When describing music, there is no word in the English language I find more repellent than ‘fusion’. Perhaps I have just seen one too many funk-blues-jazz ‘fusion’ bands in the local pub. Yuck. That said, a crossover between western and world music influences, a la Graceland, really does float my boat. The combination of Scottish folkie James Yorkston, Indian Sarangi playing Suhail Yusuf Khan and the crisp double bass of Jon Thorne, is unlike anything I have heard before, and oh so handsomely produced. Just beautiful.

Mike Hull: Ian William Craig – Red Sun Through SmokeIan William Craig’s newest record is made from only vocals, piano, and his usual tape decks and loops, used to manipulate the sounds that he records. It’s a phenomenal piece of work, which was carved out of personal tragedy and loss resulting in intense melancholy.

Influences such as Sufjan Stevens, Anohni, and Radiohead are evident. Sometimes too evident, particularly in Craig’s vocal delivery and the way in which his vocals interact with the musical landscape around it. But the album remains luscious in its own right, thanks to its admirable experimentation, emotive atmospheres, and at times breath-taking beauty. Musically, there is little here that’s unoriginal.

The arrangements are wonderful. There is often a lot going on, with layers of soaring vocals over piano and warped experimental noises, but everything is given heaps of space and time. This is perhaps most evident on ‘Open Like a Loss’; an extraordinarily powerful, reverb-drenched number, that builds and attaches itself to you like vines.

Craig is a classically trained singer, and his range is piss-takingly good. His vocal harmonies interact with the strange twisting electronics and strike an almost perfect, seamless balance between exquisite beauty and abstract experimentalism.

 

Sam Atkins: The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)I’ve been singing this saxophone filled pop anthem constantly every single day since hearing The 1975 play it on their tour in February. I’ve never witnessed an arena full of people react like that and sing along to every lyric of an unreleased song before. Now it’s finally out and I’m obsessed. So obnoxiously catchy, it’s exactly the sort of thing that the rest of the Picky Bastards find unlistenable. I fucking love it.

Tom Burrows: Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind – Easiest one to write all year this; experimental artist Yves Tumor’s second record for Warp is a catchy-as-hell glam rock thrill ride and my favourite record of 2020 so far. From the irresistible groove of lead single ‘Gospel For A New Century’, to the massive guitar solo on ‘Kerosene!’, to chillwave closer ‘A Greater Love’, it’s absolutely electric and shows Tumor’s amazing ability to expand into yet another musical genre following the ambient and dream-pop soundscapes of their previous work. Quarantine never sounded so good.

Nick Parker: Everything Everything – ‘In Birdsong’ – This is a song that assembles itself delicately from broken parts, lifted to something euphoric by singer Jonathan Higgs’ best vocal performance to date. Sparkling from start to finish, with an equally sparkling, but at the same moment somehow grotesque, video to accompany it, the new album could really be something special.

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