Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life
Released on Rough Trade Records
Further delving into the afrobeat sounds they explored on Wide Awake! reveals a songwriting split within the group: Half the songs double down on that essential Parquet Courts sound while the other half blast off into the Talking Heads-populated unknown. Of course, even the more straightforward numbers are danceable as hell, so strap on your best shoes before you put this one on.
Lana Del Rey – Blue Bannisters
Released on Interscope Records
Her second album of the year marks a return to the storied gloominess that is her stock in trade, and if some of the lighter moments of Chemtrails Over The Country Club are missed, the instances of pure frisson here more than make up for it.
Parannoul, Asian Glow and sonhos tomam conta – Downfall of the Neon Youth
Released on Longinus Records
Another international collab, this time between a couple of Koreans and a Brazilian, facilitated by a record label out of Michigan. Dream pop af, with heavy tints of blackgaze – think Mass of the Fermenting Dregs post-Deafheaven.
Black Marble – Fast Idol
Released on Sacred Bones Records
A synth rock album that borrows liberally from Eighties ambient-pop maestros. And by “liberally” I mean “wholesale.”
Grouper – Shade
Released on Kranky Records
The sound of barely-embedded childhood memories, roaringly quiet, blurred in one moment and then brought into sharp, intimately heartbreaking relief.
Deerhoof – Actually, You Can
Released on Joyful Noise Records
Inventive, propulsive, and dedicated to nothing less than remaking the world from the ground up, Deerhoof continue their unbroken streak of great albums dating back to the 20th Century.
JPEGMAFIA – LP!
Released on ETQ / Republic Records
Peggy’s last album for Republic – and his last under a label entirely, allegedly – is a leap forward for him. His ear for samples and production tweaks is second to none and on full display here, as is his caustic sense of humour. He has vision, in the inexplicable way that characterizes both geniuses and the insane.
Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
Released on Universal Records
Rebecca Taylor’s second post-Slow Club record is a big, pop-cinematic ode to being true to yourself, and not letting the expectations of others hold you back.
La Luz – La Luz
Released on Hardly Art Records
Dusty pocket indie psych, tailor made for afternoons in little underground coffee bars.
Every Time I Die – Radical
Released on Epitaph Records
Good when giving everything to an all-out assault. Less palatable, unfortunately, when the tempo slows and the melody comes out.
Helado Negro – Far In
Released on 4AD Records
He came of age of Sufjan’s Asthmatic Kitty label but this is his first entry for 4AD and as is fitting he has put out an intriguing ambient pop record with a myriad of instrumental voices to reward the patient listener.
My Morning Jacket – My Morning Jacket
Released on ATO Records
MMJ were the critic’s darlings among jam bands before 2008’s Evil Urges made them reconsider. The years since have been up and down in terms of successes, but this new self-titled entry represents a return to that old jammy sound. The results, predictably, are up and down; studio jams are mostly just hangers to expand upon live. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure the album cover is a vagina, so there’s that.
Hand Habits – Fun House
Released on Saddle Creek Records
From playing slide on the War On Drugs’ “Holding On” to touring for several years with Kevin Morby’s side band, Meg Duffy has been a background player in the contemporary indie world. Hand Habits is her own vehicle and if it comes off at times as a sum of her friends and influences, it’s played so well that this becomes a feature rather than a bug.
RÜFÜS DU SOL – Surrender
Released on Reprise Records
Like Jamie xx, L.A.’s RÜFÜS DU SOL make great efforts to mine festival EDM and rave to make broad-stroke pop statements.
Good Morning – Barnyard
Released on Polyvinyl Records
Aussie folk-rockers aiming for California but falling short into the ocean. Which, you know, still ain’t half bad.
MOD CON – Modern Condition
Released on Poison City Records
Draws from the less hardcore parts of Sleater-Kinney’s back catalog to make their own genteel riot grrl racket.
Slow Crush – Hush
Released on Church Road Records
Slowcore dream pop with an influence drawn from the ambiguous, blurry nature of the term “dream.”
Lonely Guest – Lonely Guest
Released on False Idols Records
Tricky, alongside members of IDLES and Maximo Park. Notable for an appearance from the late Lee “Scratch” Perry.
The Surfing Magazines – Badgers of Wymeswold
Released on Moshi Moshi Records
A little bit British Invasion, and a little bit Workingman’s Dead era Dead. Good enough for a good time.
Clinic – Fantasy Island
Released on Domino Records
Clinic has always been a bit out there, but this vibe of tropical hedonism might be the most out-there yet.
Guided By Voices – It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them.
Released on Guided By Voices Records
An album ago (or two or three, who can really keep track?) the Greatest Rock And Roll Band Around started down the end-game path of sounding old – like old men playing rock and roll, a la the last Sonics record. Now they don’t again. Robert Pollard with the fake-out once again.
Blackwater Holylight – Silence/Motion
Released on RidingEasy Records
Haunting, crawling stoner rock. Call it dreamy doom, although the dreams are just on this side of nightmares.
Circuit Des Yeux – -io
Released on Matador Records
Hayley Fohr began 2020 with the death of her close friend. Then, of course, came the plague. -io is the result of processing all of this, filtered through a 23-piece orchestra, huge stately movements, and cut-scarred textures. It’s a hell of a way to grieve.
Paris Shadows – Two Nights In Paris
Released on 300 Entertainment
Goth-mope pop rap, like Post Malone without the charm.
Majid Jordan – Wildest Dreams
Released on OVO Sound
Hooky and pop-centric but still encased with a core sort of sadness that makes it art rather than commerce. Halfway between the Weeknd and Drake, it’s further proof that Toronto gets sad when it’s drunk at 4 AM.
Wale – Folarin II
Released on Maybach / Warner Records
Not even close to his heights but still worth it, although he makes a lot of references to being famous for a guy who came up because of a Seinfeld-themed mixtape.
Fetty Wap – The Butterfly Effect
Released on 300 Entertainment
Man, remember Fetty Wap? The breakout star of the final year of the Obama administration? “Trap Queen”? The debut album that displayed an impressive voice that threatened to take over the game? It took him six years to follow that up and in the rap game that’s an eternity. Now he’s just a guy predators toss on to impress the impressionable, because he was big the last time they were.
Big Zuu – Navigate
Released on eOne Music
Some high-level grime, with knotty, intricate wordplay and manic, staccato beats.
Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile
Released on Nuclear Blast Records
Always the most pop of the black metal bands of the Nineties, the band has put out their latest camp-adjacent collection of theatre-goth songs. It’s the gallows humour that makes it, as always.
Worm – Foreverglade
Released on 20 Buck Spin Records
Funeral doom and death metal, a little one-note but within that note is the crushing depths of hell itself.
Primeval Well – Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits
Released on Moonlight Cypress Archetypes
Primitive black metal held together with spit and darkness, and embedded with some neat textures and odd voicings. There have been strides toward incorporating older forms of American music into extreme metal of late (Panopticon, for example) and Primeval Well represents a strong entry in this movement.
1914 – Where Fear And Weapons Meet
Released on Napalm Records
The Ukranian band has long been known for deeply historical songs framed in blackened death metal, and for an obsession specifically with First World War history. Here they continue to dwell on this, but some of the focus shifts from those who died to those who somehow managed to live and who had to live with their survival amongst the dead for the rest of their lives. Not the first song though; that’s a song about Gavrilo Princip, who triggered the entire war and very much did not survive.