Best things we heard in June…

Fran Slater: I went to gigs in the last month, people. Actual. Real. Life. Gigs. With actual real life people on the stage and in the audience (socially distanced, of course).

And you know what, not only did I go to gigs – they were both superb.

First was a raucous, cathartic release of a show from Shame at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge. It was a little weird being seated for such a shouty post-punk show but that front man knows how to work a crowd. A superb set of songs from their first two albums.

That was followed by a much calmer affair at The Carlton Club in Manchester. I was lucky enough to be invited to Chloe Foy’s impromptu album launch and she did not disappoint. She’s made a seemingly effortless evolution of her sound over lockdown, and the new textures and layers sounded gorgeous on stage. Plus, you know, THAT FUCKING VOICE.

Her support, Hannah Mckluckie, was also mind-blowingly good.

Gigs, mate. They’re back. 

Sam Atkins: I was part of the crowd who were utterly baffled when Wolf Alice won the Mercury Prize in 2018. I’d say I didn’t mind Visions of a Life as an album, but the difference between ‘it was fine’ and ‘it was the best album of the year’ is very big. Seeing ridiculously positive reviews for Blue Weekend before release I thought maybe it might be a similar situation, where I just don’t the fuss.

I can’t believe how wrong I was, Blue Weekend is not only comfortably the best music of Wolf Alice’s career but the best album of 2021 so far. I’m usually not a ‘indie’/’alternative’ kind of listener but I can’t remember hearing a guitar band’s album as complete, consistent and engaging as this in years. Songs are expansive in scale, but personal and delicate too. The band sound absolutely brilliant together, like years of not quite believing they were good enough have disappeared leaving a band brimming with confidence. ‘How Can I Make it OK?’ might just be one of the songs of the year too, I’m genuinely as baffled as everyone else that Wolf Alice have made the best music of 2021 so far.

Rihaab Reyaz: The best thing I heard in June has to be Black Country, New Road’s debut album For The First Time. Mostly a spoken word album, with some beautiful and sharp lyricism, it’s the instrumentation on the album that blew me away. Those drums, that violin and that Saxophone! Isaac Wood has a great voice. And he sings about a myriad of things with the perfect amount of passion, pain and pleasure. But the instrumentation was the best part of the album for me. I’m still catching up on new music, but this album is one of my favourites from this year so far.

Tom Burrows: June was another month of casual listening to that neverending list of saved albums. In terms of new stuff, the main one that stuck out for me was Black Metal 2, the new one from enigmatic experimentalist Dean Blunt. Trying to describe Blunt’s music is an impossible job, but this one leans mostly in the direction of 70s baroque pop and is a surprisingly pretty sounding record. It’s also 23 minutes long so if you don’t like it, at least it has been respectful with your time. The artwork for Black Metal 2 is a very direct homage to Dr. Dre‘s massive 2001 record. When looking at it, I realised I’d never actually listened to that album, despite it being absolutely huge when I was a kid; everyone knows ‘Forgot About Dre’, ‘The Next Episode’ and ‘Still D.R.E.’ (which was apparently written in full by Jay-Z!). So I gave it a belated first play, 21 years after its release. And man, it still bangs. Yes, the lyrics are frequently horrible. But in terms of beatmaking and technical skill? Damn.

Will Collins: I’ve enjoyed lots of records this month. the newest Wolf Alice record contains their best song-writing yet, Easy Life’s debut Life’s A Beach is a perfect summer record, and Dead Heat’s World At War is full of old-school thrash charms. But the one that has got inside my head the most has been the soundtrack from Bo Burnham’s recent Netflix special, Inside. He wrote, shot and edited the whole thing while in lockdown, and it’s an astonishing achievement. Essentially a series of songs chronicling both life on the internet and his experience of lockdown, it ends up being much more than that. Not wanting to give too much away, I won’t say any more than that. If you haven’t seen it, go and check it out for yourself. It’s testament to the quality of his songwriting that the songs work as standalone music, divorced from the context of the film itself.

Musical comedy normally fails because either the songs just aren’t that funny, or the songwriting isn’t up to much. Burnham scores on both counts. He shows an unerring ability to write in a variety of contemporary pop styles, crafting earworms that lodge themselves in your head. At the same time, many of these songs are laugh out loud funny. Whether he’s in arch satirist mode spoofing the messiah complex of some entertainers on ‘Comedy’ or recognising (on ‘Bezos I’ and ‘Bezos II’) that calling Jeff Bezos “Jeffrey” is for some reason inherently amusing, he has a keen sense for the absurdity in life. As the film/album progresses, it develops into something even more extraordinary, but as I said before: no spoilers! Go and watch or listen to find for yourself.

Kathryn Halliday: I had a strange moment this month where something a friend said triggered the memory of the Just Jack album Overtones. An album I haven’t listened to since the year it came out, when I was 15, 15 years ago. Absolute madness. I have quite an eclectic taste, but this is still far from my usual listening material. Yet I’ve played it quite a lot this month, probably making up for lost time. I’m surprised by how well this album seems to have aged – depending how you look at it, that’s either brilliant or incredibly depressing. Either way, it’s made me feel quite upbeat. Perfect listening for a sunny garden day.

James Spearing: I struggled to whittle down the shortlist this month…again. So here’s a round up of my June in music. ‘Lipstick on the Glass’ and ‘How Can I Make It Ok’ are two absolute worldies on an otherwise average new album from Wolf Alice. I’ve picked the Haider remix of Kelly Lee Owens’ ‘Jeanette’ before, the difference now is you can actually listen to it and buy it. Go and do both. I only recently learned that Joan Armatrading is from Birmingham and not the USA. ‘Love and Affection’ is an all-time classic either way. And a quick mention of Chloe Foy’s ‘Asylum’ before my final pick of “ones to watch”, Folly Group. Check out ‘Sandfight’, ‘Four Wheel Drive’ and ‘Fashionista’. Expect lots of PB arguments about them whenever they release an album.

Matt Paul: I’ve been spending most of the month trying to figure out the new Wolf Alice album, Blue Weekend. Is it a hot mess? Is it fantastic? Maybe both? Either way there are some fantastic tracks in the mix, so it’s definitely worth a go.

Something else that I have been listening to that I am confident about is Ice Melt by Crumb. Wonderfully lethargic and sprawling psych-rock. It feels like taking a nice warm bath with a glass of red wine. Not the euphoric indie rock I normally use to soundtrack my summer, but times are strange!

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