Finding myself furloughed from work these last couple of months I have been using the extra time at my disposal to immerse myself in reading, writing and music. As well as rediscovering the joys of playing cup-and-ball (hours of fun) it was the following records which kept me sane while confined to my petite living space. By JOHN BITTLES
We have deep ambient techno from Night Sea, the louche rock swagger of The Strokes, the post-punk fury of Sleaford Mods, Moodymann’s soulful funk strut, and more.
So, go outside, take a deep breath, and let us begin…
Night Sea – Still
Dub and ambient specialists Silent Season are one of those record labels who inspire a sense of devotion in their followers. Experts in the contemplative and the unhurried, records by the likes of ASC, Wanderwelle, Beat Pharmacy and Mystica Tribe seem tailor-made for drifting inside one’s own headspace for a few hours. This May saw the release of Still by Night Sea, an album which seems to reach right out of the speakers and grab you by your soul. The introspective ambiance of This Will Take Time makes for a beautiful introduction. Contemplative and absorbing, this gorgeous marriage of space and silence is the work of impeccable sound design. Next up, HDSB merges a crisp beat with soaring synths to create an all-enveloping aural world. The star of the show though is Small Bird which opens in a gorgeous ambient haze before some deep dub thumps slowly but steadily enter the fray. The result is a track so bewitching that the urge to spend the rest of your days listening to it on repeat is all but impossible to resist. Containing almost 50 minutes of next level electronica, Still already sounds like a timeless classic, a record I will be happily immersing myself within for years. 9.5/10.
Key Track: Small Bird
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Like most people I had given up hope with The Strokes. After the cool rock swagger of Is This It back in 2001, Julian Casablancas and co mastered the art of going through the motions, their releases becoming somewhat joyless affairs. When news reached me of a new album, I greeted it with a shrug. Yet, early reports were positive, talking of a band reinvigorated, sounding just as essential as they did in their early days. With their debut still a firm favourite, I tentatively gave The New Abnormal a go. I am happy to report that from the first blast of opener The Adults Are Talking it is an unmitigated success. Laidback, spikey and confident, the songs on The New Abnormal find the New Yorkers truly hitting their stride. Every bit as vital as Is This It, the new LP blends crisp guitars, 80s synths, squeaky falsetto and more to create a delirious aural stew. The pensive, romantic leaning Selfless, the stadium rock oomph of Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus, and the psychedelic dirge of Why Are Sundays So Depressing all sound like highlights in the band’s long career. Every track’s a winner though, in an album which feels like the return of a long-lost friend. 9/10.
Key track: Not The Same Anymore
Moodymann – Taken Away
Detroit native Kenny Dixon Jr. has rightly been revered by house music fans over the years. Best known under his Moodymann alias, the artist has been responsible for some of the funkiest, sleaziest and downright crucial music to have been pressed to wax. Released on his own Mahogani Music imprint, Taken Away is Moodymann’s latest soul-infused LP. The slow blues strut of Do Wrong gets things off to a brilliant start, spoken word samples and gospel inspired vocals merging with a steady house beat to produce an exhilarating stew. Next, the title track ups the funk factor with a classic sounding house stop/start beat underpinning a mournful vocal sample to create a track which you will never want to end. Further in, Goodbye Everybody recalls the beat-up jazz of St. Germain, Just Stay A While is gloriously sparse, while Do Wrong (skate edit) may just be the finest thing the celebrated producer has ever done. A skilful and passionate mixture of soul, funk, gospel, blues and house, Taken Away is a record any music fan will love. 9/10.
Key Track: Do Wrong
Sleaford Mods – All That Glue
Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods have been releasing furious punk rock hip hop jams for a while now. Formed of tough, yet funky basslines and Jason Williamson’s expletive-ridden lyrics, the band have created an impressive roster of releases in their short(ish) lifespan. Mid May saw the release of All That Glue, a best of of sorts. Collecting singles, B-sides and exclusives, the album perfectly illustrates why the band are one of the most celebrated chroniclers of modern-day life. With vintage sounding drum machines, Andrew Fearn’s impeccable bass, and a sense of humour which hits you like a punch to the gut, Sleaford Mods have carved a sound entirely their own. McFlurry opens proceedings with a dirty electronic sound, before tongue-in-cheeks lyrics like “Boris Johnston is a Cheeky Girl” take centre stage. From here, the post-punk fuzz of Fizzy is a ferocious burst of anger, Jobseeker successfully merges punk spite and drum n’ bass rhythms, while the looped guitar sounds of Fat Tax makes for a deliciously hazy listen. Go buy! 9/10.
Key Track: Jobseeker
Arutani – Memories Of Something New
Cologne imprint Laut & Luise have become a label whose every release I buy on sight. Specialising in spacious electronica, techno and house music, each record they release hits those sweet spots for me. Case in point is Memories Of Something New, Berlin artist Arutani’s outstanding new LP. Formed of eight long, chugging tracks, the album is a rare thing, a rich rewarding listening experience which works just as well in the club. Opener, Enchanted begins with some atmospheric synths, before a lush mid-tempo beat enters the fray. Driving and hypnotic, this is practically guaranteed to be the highlight of any warm-up set. Next up, Flatliners merges phat synth stabs with a spoken word sample, a roving melody line and a deep, funky groove to stunning effect. Other gems include the dubby minimalism of If There’s No Fun In It, the echo-laden thump of Memories Of Something New and the mournful romanticism of When I Am With You. By giving each track room to grow and breath Arutani has created an album which reveals hidden depths after every play. 9/10.
Key Track: If There’s No Fun In It
Too Slow To Disco – Too Slow To Disco: Yacht Disco Edits
During the lockdown, sites such as Bandcamp have proven essential for artists to make a living while record stores and live venues were closed. With exclusive releases and most of the money going directly to the record label/artist, it has proved a more ethical alternative to the likes of Amazon or Spotify. One of the best Bandcamp exclusives is the excellent Too Slow To Disco – Yacht Disco Edits compilation by the Too Slow To Disco crew. Formed of twenty soft-focus edits, the album manages to stay on the right side of cheesy, just. Waiting by LeBron gets us off to slow, sultry start. Recalling sun-kissed days spent on a tropical isle, it could make even an irate turtle feel a sense of inner calm. Other picks include the slow funk strut of We Do It by DJ S, the silky house glide of DJ Laurel’s Easy Does It, Jack Tennis’ emotion-laden juggernaut About ‘Cha, and the gentle house shuffle of Get Down With The Get Down by Mr. Franklin. An unbridled musical treat, get yourself to the Too Slow To Disco Bandcamp page to treat yourself to a copy today. 8.5/10.
Key Track: We Do It by DJ S.