These New Puritans – Inside the Rose
With ambition and intent that should shame many of their peers, These New Puritans have crafted another suite of post-punk symphonies. As ever, the sound design is exquisite, bass thrumming in clouds under choirs, pianos and their trademark instant-decay drums, but the big earnest melodies give it heart. Jack Barnett’s vocals, conversational yet epic, add their own particular drama. BBT Read the full review.
The Japanese House – Good at Falling
Like Caroline Polachek, Hannah Diamond and so many others this year, Amber Bain uses super-synthetic electropop and soft rock to say much rougher, grittier truths. The production, aided by George Daniel of the 1975, is like dense layers of fluttering gauze, annotated with fine detailing; floating through it all is Bain’s breakup pain. BBT Read the full review.
Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy!
Like Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen Is a Reptile, each track on poet/activist/songwriter Jamila Woods’s second album is named for a pivotal artist of colour, whose legacies she explores as models of how to live life to the fullest. The Chicago musician flips between them – from Zora Neale Hurston to James Baldwin – with warmth and close attention, her sandy voice full of tenderness and the jazz-influenced backing sun-baked and dazzling. It makes Legacy! Legacy! feel less like a history lesson and more like a glimpse into a beloved photo album. LS Read the full review.
(Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
By blending the trudging splendour of slowcore with country melodies and the kind of genuinely oddball artistry that doesn’t second guess or try to make things fit, (Sandy) Alex G remains one of America’s most underrated songwriters. Southern Sky, Bad Man, SugarHouse and plenty more make this a future cult classic. BBT
Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
As with Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, David Berman’s long-awaited return to music will forever be overshadowed by his death, as he died by suicide less than a month after its release. Elegiac and rickety, it’s a lasting testament to his mordant and philosophical poetry, but also to his pain: “The end of all wanting is all I’ve been wanting,” he sings on That’s Just the Way That I Feel. LS Read the full review.
Durand Jones and the Indications – American Love Call
These one-time music students create a perfect simulacrum of 60s and 70s soul, but lit with the lamps of a jazz club rather than the sterile striplighting of a lab. American Love Call is full of modern classics, from the falsetto raptures of How Can I Be Sure to the perfect country soul of Long Way Home. BBT Read the full review.
Flying Lotus – Flamagra
Twenty-seven tracks long, and with guests ranging from Solange to David Lynch, Flamagra is the most ambitious vision yet from the LA beatmaker. He gives more space than ever before to his vocalists, but he could never become a producer of straightforward backing tracks – his tumbling, symphonic funk is as impetuous and psychedelic as ever. BBT Read the full review.
King Princess – Cheap Queen
While artists like Billie Eilish and Polachek have pushed pop into the future this year, King Princess joins Lana Del Rey in showing that there’s potential in classicism yet. The 20-year-old – born Mikaela Straus – released a debut album filled with louche balladry that, despite her New York pedigree, is plump with west coast studio richness. Also: echoes of All Saints’ sultry best. LS Read the full review.
Fat White Family – Serfs Up!
The chief grotbags of the British indie scene return, retaining a genuinely reptilian edge to their lounge lizard music. They dip into the strangest, sexiest bits of the 70s, with prowling disco on Feet, rollicking glam on Tastes Good With the Money, and electronically, chemically enhanced psychedelic skronk throughout. BBT Read the full review.
Kano – Hoodies All Summer
With his sixth album, the east Londoner cements his status as one of the UK’s greatest ever MCs. There’s a musicality to his delivery that suggests a man considering one side of the argument, then the other – but ultimately there is little equivocation as he condemns institutional racism, needless violence, and the difficulty of social mobility: “We’re Kunta Kintes in some Cuban links / The Balenciagas didn’t blend us in.” BBT Read the full review.