Kathy Halliday: Taylor Swift – Folklore – I’ve had a soft spot for Swifty since the MySpace days. And yes, she is pretty mainstream and a little generic at times. But you have to hand it to her, she’s a damn good artist when it counts. Folklore is not a complete departure from her poppiness, but there’s some depth here with intricacies which make for really peaceful, easy listening. Of course, part of the appeal here is the influence of The National’s Aaron Dessner & the ft. Bon Iver track (both very clever choices on Swift’s part..) And whilst I do love ‘exile’, I think the best tracks on this one are ‘this is me trying’ and ‘invisible string’. A very unexpected and beautiful little album.
Tom Burrows: HAIM – Women in Music Pt.III – It was made very clear in the superb singles, title, and artwork of Women in Music Pt.III that HAIM’s third album was going to be a step up for the band. And so it proved. Eschewing the more-of-the-same Fleetwood Mac-esque pop tunes of their previous record, WIMPIII is far more musically diverse. It opens with a sax solo and runs from there, infusing their trademark pop rock with jazz, country, R&B and funk among other genres, and it’s all the richer for it. As Sam said in his review for the record, it’s also lyrically bolder – whether on the wonderfully raw sexism-critique ‘Man From The Magazine’ or on ‘I’ve Been Down’ which straightforwardly discusses depression. It’s always a joy to hear a band that you’re fond of deliver on their potential.
Constantie Courtis: Controversial? Say what you may, but the new Kanye track ‘Wash Us In the Blood’ is a fine, fine, fiiiiine Yeezus-era banger. Forget West’s constant antics. Forget his political endeavours. Try to disregard his wife (generally) and her recent comments regarding her husband’s mental illness. This is the best solo Kanye track since The Life of Pablo and it’s been on repeat in the Courtis household all month.
In the meantime, whilst writing a review for the new Neil Young album I went back and revisited his 1975 epic Tonight’s the Night. Boy was it nice to hear an oldie but goodie! I reckon if my fellow Picky Bastards had done a deep-dive in this album instead of Harvest during our recent podcast, their reviews would have been a whole lot more positive.
Finally, one of the few albums I keep going back to from earlier this year is RTJ4 by Run The Jewels. Very few releases have ever been more timely than Killer Mike and EL-Ps fourth outing and as always, they don’t disappoint. Poignant lyrics, immense production, and fantastic features make this one of my favourite albums of the year.
Fran Slater: We all love a surprise release, right? I want to mention two recent drops as the best things I heard in July. One of them was from Oddisee, one of my favourite rappers at work in the music industry today. Oddisee dropped Odd Cure a couple of weeks ago and it is among his best works so far. ‘I Thought You Were Fate’ and ‘Still Strange’ are probably the standout tracks, but you really need to listen to this as a whole. It is music created completely in lockdown, and a couple of the songs focus on themes that are so relatable in our current situation. Skits are often the worst part of hip-hop albums, but Oddisee uses them here to increase the connection to us all as he speaks to his family and friends about how they are coping in the age of COVID. It is warm, funny, emotional stuff that deserves some of your time.
And in a sentence I thought I would never type, the other best thing I heard in July was from Taylor Swift. I am not a Swiftie. But when I heard the latest album was written with Aaron Dessner and featured Bon Iver, I had to have a listen. I was going to review it, but alas, I still find too many barriers for me to enjoy the whole piece and spend enough time listening to justify a fair review. But ‘exile’, the song with Bon Iver, is superb. There are a few other tracks I like on there, but I will leave the review to someone who can truly appreciate what will be many people’s album of the year.
Sam Atkins: There were so many great albums released in July. Lianne La Havas, Ellie Goulding, The Chicks and Taylor Swift all returned with fantastic records but I’ve gone for one I didn’t expect at all.
That’s How Rumours Get Started sounds like a classic country album that’s been rediscovered in 2020. Margo Price is a star on this record, her lyrics and performance making me question why she isn’t a proper household name yet. Her timeless production style alongside Sturgill Simpson only makes this more of an essential record.
Nick Parker: Buck Meek – ‘Roll Back your Clocks’ – I must be in a delicate mood this month, as I’ve been enchanted by this new single from Buck Meek (who is also the guitarist in the fabulous Big Thief). Meek tells small stories that slow down the pace of life to something so tender and graceful, I find myself sighing over and over as the tension leaves my usually wracked body. His guitar work is incredibly nuanced too, laying down hooks seemingly without effort, so the velocity of every strike carries the same tone as his words. A simply lovely, summery song.
James Spearing: Call me indecisive if you like, but there was too much good new stuff to choose from in July, and, as always, plenty of old stuff to love too. So here’s a load of tunes for you.
HAIM’s long awaited new album WIMPIII arrived at the end of July and ‘The Steps’ has been in my Spotify queue almost daily since.
We’ve had a PJ Harvey album in the last two tournaments we’ve run on Twitter and it’s been the perfect opportunity to get into an artist I’ve neglected for too long. ‘Big Exit’ is my new favourite of hers.
‘The Devil Walks’ in the Sand’ from The Cooper Temple Clause was an excellent rediscovery amongst my old CDs at the start of lockdown.
Finally, three new treats off the radio this last month. ‘Jam Fam’ from Planningtorock is the sound of New Order and Todd Terje having too much fun in a Berlin gay bar. 150 by Porij is worth a listen for the guitar sound alone. Last but not least is SAULT’s ‘Wildfires’ featuring Little Simz collaborator Cleo Sol. The relaxed, classic sounding groove belies some real pain in the lyrics which, one might assume, reflect on the death of George Floyd. Stirring stuff.
Matt Paul: Most of this month I have been captivated with the madness that was Erykah Badu showing up to collab with Marc Rebillet. I feel like that it might be a personal obsession and not necessarily a shared one. So instead I’m going to focus on Greentea Peng. She was the best part of the new Streets album. When Greentea Peng shows up in ‘I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Loved Him’, she elevates the song adding a richness and depth not found on most of the album. The resulting dive into her small back catalogue has been wonderful. Her voice glides over dreamy neo-soul vibes. It’s perfect chill-out summer music.
Fat Roland: Ellen Allien – Auraa – For this month’s highlight, I was split between the scratchy hi-hats of Shinichi Atobe’s masterpiece Yes and the saturated breakbeats of Nathan Fake’s Blizzard. Both are contenders for album of the year, and I vacillated between the two like Nick Clegg choosing between a Facebook job and his integrity. And then along came Ellen Allien’s Auraa. On one level, this is a straightforward album of gritty warehouse techno: imagine someone doing a cover of Aphex Twin’s ‘Didgeridoo’ using only a pneumatic drill and your screaming head. But feel those ever-rising tides of dark melody, the alien vocalisations, the way she sneaks in euphoric trance without you noticing: ‘Auraa’ is a furious, glorious celebration of a currently lost club culture. I mean, he could have worked for a landmine charity or funded a cure for leprosy, but no he took the Zuckerberg dollar, I mean, come ON, Nick. Where was I? Dunno. Er… Um…
Will Collins: Having forgotten to cancel my BFI subscription before the free trial ran out, I have been desperately watching films in an attempt to justify the expenditure. There were only so many overly worthy, black and white films my lockdown-softened brain was capable of ingesting though, so I ended up watching Stop Making Sense¸ Jonathan Demme’s concert film of the Talking Heads. The concert is brilliant – a greatest hits package that illustrates just how innovative their blend of new wave, post-punk, and afrobeat was. It also highlights what an incredible live proposition they were.
It begins with David Byrne alone on stage, performing a solo version of ‘Psycho Killer’ accompanied by a boombox. As the concert progresses, more and more musicians take to the stage as the band take a joyful, maximalist run through their back catalogue. It’s almost unfair for a band to have this many good songs in their repertoire. The film is also that rare thing – a concert recording that works as a film in its own right and not just as a document of the concert. The whole thing is as tightly choreographed as a play or ballet, with particularly effective use being made of lighting and spacing. My favourite moment is the bizarre sight of David Byrne dancing with a lampshade. Since watching the film, I’ve had the soundtrack album on near constant repeat. No day that begins with this record is a bad one!