James Spearing: As usual I struggled to narrow this down to just one thing so here’s a bit of a January shortlist for you.
Nu Rave meets Yacht Rock in 2021’s most unlikely cover? Steady on it’s only January. Lou Hayter is back with the self-consciously ridiculous but ridiculously fun Steely Dan song, ‘Time Out Of Mind’. The happiest song about heroin, ever.
I finally got hold of Moses Boyd‘s Dark Matter on vinyl and really noticed the vocals in ‘Nommos Descent’ for the first time. They’re ably lent to this track by Nonku Phiri who has a smattering of solo singles and EPs to her name. Check out ‘Things We Do On The Weekend’, for a reminder of things we used to do on the weekend other than baking, DIY and walking round the park, again.
Charlotte De Witte has released more savage beats. Do not listen to ‘There’s No One Left To Trust’ when driving near speed cameras.
My final pick is MadLib with ‘Road Of The Lonely Ones’ which manages to be simultaneously new and exciting and familiar and comforting. Very up for the new album.
Tom Burrows: R.I.P. MF DOOM. I read the news at precisely 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve: one final blow inflicted by a terrible year. If you’re unfamiliar with his work or you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, that may be because it’s not immediately obvious. Daniel Dumile didn’t court popular approval for his rhymes, he was simply a master of the art – manipulating language to dazzling effect over obscure, weird and mesmerising beats. Madvillainy, his collaborative album with Madlib, and the high-water mark of alternative hip-hop in the last 20 years, is the best reminder of this. Benji B’s lovely two-hour BBC tribute show was a real January highlight for me.
And last week I had that wonderful moment where an artist reminds you why you became a fan of theirs in the first place. I’d begun to doubt my King Krule fandom after his underwhelming third album, but his bare-bones Bandcamp rendition of ‘Imagine’ is sublime, and took me right back to that arresting bare-bones first single all those years ago.
Sam Atkins -The Songs I loved When I Was 13: January is always a funny month to see what music I actually enjoyed. After binging on best of 2020, there’s a need for some genuinely new and exciting music, but none of that arrived until the end of the month.
Instead I did what anyone else bored during Lockdown has done, delve into the deepest parts of my record collection, not just my Vinyl, but CDs that somehow feel even more retro. Going back and rediscovering my love for Fame Acadamy star Lemar – a Pop/Soul crossover act I was weirdly obsessed with as a 13 year old (‘If There’s Any Justice’ remains a 10/10 Pop Smash). Or maybe a different reality show alumni Popstars ‘rejects’ Liberty X or even girl band Misteeq at that point where everyone in pop also sang Garage songs.
Then we have KT Tunstall who long before Ed Sheeran literally stole her whole performance style from her incredible Jools Holland debut was one of my all time favourite artists at the time. Revisiting debut Eye To The Telescope and equally brilliant follow up Drastic Fantastic has made my January.
Matt Paul – Kota the Friend – Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2: One of the smoothest hip hop voices is back! Kota the Friend’s new release is worth a listen. The laid back delivery and signature Lo-Fi beats are a perfect partner to chilling at home. For me it has been a perfect soundtrack to ease me into the day early in the morning, or winding down late in the evening. I’m just swept along by the easy-going flow.
But that doesn’t mean it does not have much substance. As this is volume 2 of his Lyrics to GO collection of songs, there is an emphasis on lyrics. They are full of relatable short stories. I say short stories as no track tops 2 minutes. The 10 tracks in the release are done in 15 mins. Though I’m left wanting more, it doesn’t feel incomplete. It’s a satisfying morsel. Hopefully we’ll get a Volume 3 soon enough.
Will Collins: January has seen some great albums – I’ve particularly enjoyed releases from Here Lies Man, Sleaford Mods and Still Corners – but the music that has most affected me this month is new singles from old favourites. Burial dropped ‘Chemz’ just before Christmas, whilst William Doyle’s ‘And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)’ came out more recently. Neither track will come as a surprise to fans of the two musicians, but they are both documents of artists at the height of their powers. ‘Chemz’ is an up-tempo banger that navigates a path between garage and 90s rave, shot through with Burial’s trademark hisses and crackles and vocal samples. Doyle’s track, meanwhile, is a beautiful slab of richly instrumented pop. Both, in their own way, are euphoric and moving, and exactly the remedy needed to get me through a month that has been, even by January’s usual standards, pretty glum.
Pete Wild: Having been sort of out of the loop on 21st century hip hop (I know, I’m sorry, I’m old, there are only so many hours in the day) my son has started briefing me on the greatest hip hop albums of his life – which had meant listening to a lot of Kendrick and a lot of Kanye and a lot of MF Doom and a lot of Run the Jewels. I’m enjoying my education but can’t help feeling like Morty’s dad. Apparently I’m becoming a meme.
Fran Slater: While last Friday saw two releases I’ve instantly fallen for from Arlo Parks and Goat Girl, and I’ve been loving the latest release from UK post-punkers Shame, I’m going to go with something I’m not reviewing as my standout from the first month of 2021.
It seems like the perfect time for FKA Twigs to release such a powerful statement of a song, given the strength she showed when discussing her experiences of domestic abuse in recent weeks. ‘Don’t Judge Me’ seems to touch on the reaction of the media to this issue while also looking more broadly at prejudice and racism. But, more than anything for me, it is the closeness of her vocal performance and the searing bassline that really make this one pop for me.
There are a lot of massive FKA Twigs fans here at Picky Bastards, and I have always considered myself pretty low down the list of her admirers in our team. But this is the best she has sounded to me. I hope it heralds an FKA Twigs album that I can fall totally head over heels for.