Best Things We Heard in May…

James Spearing: Silent Alarm – Bloc Party I usually try to pick something new, but May was another month dominated by my #LockdownChallenge which meant loads of old stuff. One album stood out from the rest and even got repeat listens. That album was Silent Alarm by Bloc Party. 15 years after release it’s still as fresh and thrilling as it ever was. 00s music peaked at exactly 3:21 into ‘Positive Tension’. Deserved to go much further in our debut tournament.

Fran Slater: Run Come Save Me – Roots Manuva – Like James above, I will have to go for a rediscovery rather than a brand new listen this month. I’m currently at the start of a #LockdownChallenge that will see me dig into as many discographies as I can from a list of artists/bands that I put together based on the fact that I feel, in some way or another, I have not given enough time to their music over the years.

The first one out the bag was Roots Manuva, who I added to the list because I had loved Run Come Save Me but barely dedicated any time to the rest of his output. It’s been a joy getting to know the albums. I would say that each of them is at least good, and a few are full on outstanding. Most recent cut Bleeds nearly got selected here, but honestly I just don’t see how anything can match up to his absolutely joyful second and album and, in particular, the one/two punch of ‘Witness (One Hope)’ and ‘Join the Dots). Exceptional.

Matt Paul: ‘Mr Motivator’ – IDLES – It’s probably no surprise that a new IDLES release has been constantly in my ears. I’m not going to argue that this is IDLES at their best. But it is what I need now. The aptly named Mr. Motivator has kickstarted my day each day since it was released. Helping me find some energy and drive. I feel like “Joe Cal-fucking-zaghe”.

Will Collins: This month, I’ve loved the latest single from Idles and the new Little Simz EP. Referencing my favourite 90s morning TV personality, ‘Mr Motivator’ is a beast of a tune. Like many Idles songs, it dances the fine line between absurd and pointed, Joe Talbot utilising his usual arsenal of cartoon imagery and humour to express his righteous ire. All of this is done over the pounding drums and driving punk guitars that fans will be familiar with. The targets are the same as ever, and the music is so unmistakably the work of the band as to almost be parodic, but when they do it this well, it seems churlish to criticise them for not pursuing new musical directions.

Where ‘Mr Motivator’ is the work of a highly coordinated unit, Drop 6, the new Little Simz EP, is the singular work of one person. Opener ‘might bang, might not’ treads a similar path to ‘Mr Motivator’ in its statement of personal strength and identity. She sets out her stall in a series of pithy one-liners, of which the line “I’m fuckboy resistant / Looking like a bulletproof vest” is one of my favourite of the year so far. With lyrics this precise and inventive, the self-comparison to “Lauryn Hill in the ‘90s” doesn’t seem unjustified. The music across the EP is minimal – sparse drum tracks and simple melody lines. It’s a result of this EP being made in lockdown, but it lends power and focus to the lyrics. This release is further evidence that she is one of the most exciting artists currently working in England.

Read Fran’s review of Drop 6.

Tom Burrows: Fetch The Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple – It was near-unanimous critical acclaim that led me to Fiona Apple’s fifth album rather than any great anticipation for the record, but my oh my am I glad that I gave it a listen. Fetch The Bolt Cutters is a juggernaut of an album that drags the most casual listener along through pounding percussion, discordant rhythms and the absolute force that is Apple herself. It’s such a thrill to hear an artist just GO IN on a record – some of the best hip hop songs ever do this – and Apple is in this mode all over FTBC. It’s how her voice quivers when she says “I will, I will, I will” on the title track, or how she spits the words out about an abusive former partner on ‘Newspaper’, or the serene assessment of how society pits women against each other on ‘Ladies’. While not as perfect as some outlets have suggested, it’s a great record. 

Read Constantine’s review of Fetch The Bolt Cutters.

Constantine Courtis: Alambari – DakhaBrakha – I had previously heard DakhaBrakha’s ‘Baby’. The Ukrainian’s quirky, beautifully constructed 7 minute epic, with its quirky vocals and traditional Eastern European folk aesthetic.

With kudos to my friend Yorgos for recommending it to me, DakhaBrakha’s new album is out, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Alambari is great, if you are that way inclined. Mostly sang in Ukrainian (with a bit of English and a weirdly effective spoken German passage), it is folky, bluesy, funny, drenched in melancholy and purely Balkan.

It’s got harmonicas, accordions, cellos, pianos and fantastic Balkan-influenced harmonies. What else might one ask for? Yes it is not for everyone; but it might very well be for you.

Nick Parker: ‘Upstream’ – Fusilier – Disclaimer – I once met this artist, a decade ago, when he played bass in Boston rock band RIBS. Since then, he seems to have radically re-invented himself into Fusilier, and this new single is both intimate and moving. It really demonstrates that simple elements can make a big statement. Undeniably, it also makes a very beautiful one, a little like early Perfume Genius.

Sam Atkins: Strangers / Lovers EP – Dagny – Some of my all time favourite artists returned with albums this month, The 1975 and Lady Gaga in particular, but none of these were as consistently brilliant and enjoyable as this EP from Dagny. Norway delivers yet another potentially huge star in Dagny, all 6 tracks here being top tier Pop. ‘Shoulda Woulda Coulda’ is fast becoming one of my most played songs of the year too.

Fat Roland: Scacco Matto – Lorenzo Senni – Anyone who likes chess is a fool: those aren’t real horses, that isn’t a real bishop, and you really should stop fingering that king. Which is annoying because Scacco Matto is Italian for ‘checkmate’, and was the best album I heard in May. One of the tracks is called ‘Move in Silence (Only Speak When It’s Time to Say Checkmate)’: this guy really loves chess. Senni eats rave music and, using the most minimal of synthesiser set-ups, spits it out as broken electronic instrumentals that will either enthral or upset you. There are no drums, with all the percussion coming from his keyboard jabs, illustrated best on the sharp attacks of ‘The Power of Failing’. It’s like being cheekily poked in the eye, and I love it. The closest he gets to a ballad is the squeaking and spiralling ‘Canone Infinito’, but even that could be mistaken for an orchestra of deflating balloon farts. At its heart is a tribute to rave music – or rather, echoes of past raves. Game, set, checkmate, hole in one, queen to rook seven, bingo! I’m not quite sure how chess works, sorry.

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