Let’s see if we can get through a few lines without mentioning it. In between ambient playlists, Tiger King, hand-wash lyric memes, Zoom screenshots and a sadly forgotten historic Irish election, there’s also been a bit of music to distract us this year so far. But what a time to release an album…
I really do feel like r that Roger & Brian Eno album on a loop for the next month, but there’s plenty more here that could accompany a nice brisk 1.9km walk, another emergency wine run or some unnecessary DIY. From the aforementioned serene ambience from the Eno boys and Nine Inch Nails, to some ratbag punk, tech-noir New Jack Swing, spiritual jazz, EBM, militarised techno, glitchy R&B and sci-fi floatiness, there’s plenty here. You’ve got the time anyway…
MART AVI — Spark / Soul ReaVer
Estonian avant-pop artist Mart Avi’s first release since his 2018 masterwork LP OtherWorld is a two-part single that covers as many bases as a whole album. After the spectral, underworld pop collages on OtherWorld, ‘Spark’ is a tech-noir thriller whipped along on a New Jack Swing beat and deep house filters, with the video following Avi through his fictional AVICORP compound. Meanwhile, ‘Soul ReaVer’ feels like an epilogue threaded with delicate psychedelia, smudgy Burial nostalgia and the faded grandeur of Diamond Dogs’ most wistful moments.
MAKAYA McCRAVEN & GIL SCOTT-HERON — People of the Light (We’re New Again LP)
What pressure — jazz drummer and producer Makaya McCraven had a job of taking the vocals of the late Gil Scott-Heron’s swansong masterpiece album I’m New Here, and resurrecting the samples into a new LP on its 10th anniversary.
The spiritual, cosmic jazz and blues here is a perfect complement to these tales of Scott-Heron hanging on for one last shot at the title, and We’re New Again feels like a more grounded tribute that Jamie xx’s remix album We’re New Here.
‘People of the Light’ is McCraven’s take on ‘Your Soul and Mine’, which was itself a retelling of his biblical protest poem ‘The Vulture’ from the 1970s, with Gil’s spoken word over dusky noir jazz.
KING KRULE — Cellular (Man Alive! LP)
On the opener of King Krule’s new LP he hits some woozy sweet spot between Neu!, Smashing Pumpkins’s 1979 and some Bowie sax abstractions as it glides home. It’s strangely comforting, but his usual sense of detachment and loneliness seeps through in the flickering TV images weaving through the lyrics.
BEARD CLOSET — Some Pussyfooting
The visual nod to Robert Fripp & Brian Eno’s 1973 album (No Pussyfooting) is the immediate hook here, with Beard Closet’s Phil Hamilton gatecrashing into the iconic hall of mirror cover by photoshopping his head onto the cross-legged Eno. But it’s also a tribute to that album’s five-track suite Heaveny Music I-V, inspired by the ambient fluidity and ‘Frippertronic’ guitar improv of the original, but with added drones and metallic scouring. Just one of the seemingly daily releases from the brilliant drone/noise/out-there label label Silber Records out of North Carolina.
CEREMONY EAST COAST — Take a Dive
“Take A Dive is our spontaneous little New Year’s track for you guys,” said husband & wife duo CEREMONY east coast on their January 1 Bandcamp email. Take a Dive is a slow-burn psych-rock dirge that channels Ministry’s festering Filth Pig era. Sleazy New Year, everyone.
CHECK MASSES — DRIPN ANGEL
The first single from Edinburgh trio Check Masses is an evocative exploration of blues mythology through psychedelic soul and cinematic hip-hop. ‘Philly’ Angelo Collins’ cracked soul melodies and spectral chanting is offset by Saleem Andrew McGroarty’s dense beat collages and electronics, and Vic Galloway’s guitar twangs echoing Morricone and David Lynch’s darker corners. They followed with the bittersweet roots reggae-tinged ‘Lonesome Little Paradise, and expect many more musical tangents on their upcoming debut album Nightlife.
MEN WITH SECRETS — The Misfortunes of Virtues (Psycho Romance And Other Spooky Ballads LP)
Italian techno producer Donato Dozzy teams up with fellow Italians Rena.it for this album that’s in thrall to early 80s minimal wave and lo-fi synth-punk. ‘The Misfortune of Virtues’ sounds like an early Dopplereffekt cybernetic take on some newly unearthed Soviet cold wave gem.
OTOBOKE BEAVER — Dirty Old Fart Is Waiting For My Reaction
This latest beautiful headbutt from the Japanese punks is inspired by a shitty online sex pest sliming into singer Accorinin’s DMs, as she explains: “This song is about unrelenting (busy,loud,insistent) old man. Such a man that try to talk girls many times in spite of she says NO.” Released like a kick to the balls on Valentine’s Day, it’s exactly one minute of two-finger fury to dickheads everywhere.
WIRE — Primed & Ready (Mind Hive LP)
In the press notes, Newman says that “‘Primed & Ready’ was the easiest song to write on the album, written in less time than it takes to play it… there’s only three chords, two in the verse and one in the chorus. As in all things Wire, less is more”.
Then again, ‘Primed & Ready’ opens with heavily processed riff that could be looped into a wiry electro banger, before it’s knocked sideways with some post-hardcore menace and an all-in dirge chorus, all offset by Newman’s effortless, sarcastic vocal melodies. We’re less than a minute in at this point. More is more.
DANIEL LOPATIN – Uncut Gems (Uncut Gems OST)
From Replicant Vangelis floatiness to maximalist vaporwave and cosmic idents, Uncut Gems is one of those scores that elevates the film and also works as a singular album on its own terms. It might even be Daniel ‘Oneohtrix Point Never’’s best album yet, but that’s probably the recency bias of being turned inside out by the film a few weeks ago. The title track is the most Blade Runner of the lot, with some late-70s cosmic Tangerine Dream… dreaminess.
MELJOANN — Company Retreat
Irish singer and producer Meljoann has been throwing shade at the absurdity of capitalism and office drudgery for years, through an unlikely combo of business power dressing performance art and leftfield R&B, disco and electro-pop. While her last single ‘Assfuck the Boss’ took a dark Gazelle Twin turn, ‘Company Retreat’ is a dancefloor belter somewhere between 80s electro-funk and Prince’s ‘Controversy’.
JAH WOBBLE — Crazy For You
Jah Wobble’s first music of the year — on Bandcamp on January 1 — feels more like a 10-minute snippet of a far out 7am DJ mix by the Glimmers, Optimo or Trevor Jackson rather than a single track. Beginning with a nervy Fever Ray synth line, Wobble steers the mid-tempo ‘Crazy For You’ through dubby New Beat, dark prog-pop, deep house, Middle Eastern melodies and more, with a predictably brilliant shapeshifting bassline throughout.
ZOID — ssdex_phon3
You never know quite what’s coming round the corner with Dublin producer ZoID — it could be jazzy Braindance, acid or downtempo electronica, or an album that comes on a credit card USB. This latest release is a rare 4/4 electro track, with jazzy leads and a classic Detroit-style soul and depth that evokes The Other People Place.
ALPHA CHROME YAYO — Snuff ’em Out (Choke LP)
Belfast producer Alpha Chrome Yayo (or ‘Pete’ according to liner notes) has just released a chillwave/jazz-noir/electro-funk/horror drone album inspired by the “wretched lullaby” of an ice-cream van wheezing outside his house late at night. Which sounds odd enough till you find out his next release is a vaporwave-pop concept album about a virtual golf course. There’s plenty more synth left turns in his back catalogue, including a brilliant cover of Moroder’s ‘Gina and Elvira’s Theme’ from Scarface.
‘Snuff ’em Out’ has the most overt noir soundtrack vibe on the album, and kinda sounds like a banjaxed Danny Elfman synth version of the Twin Peaks jazz interludes.
ACTIVE PRESENCE — montreaux smooth (fresh LP)
Like his 2019 album Tropical Mess, this new one from Co Down producer Active Presence should also be floating around your head as a whole. While Tropical Mess had a smudgier, analogue feel — right down to the childhood pic with the Irish orange and brown carpet — fresh is more in line with other Vaporwave and future-funk releases on the Business Casual label. With most tracks under two minutes, it’s a hyper-vibrant glitchy rollercoaster with 100 tabs open at once.
VATICAN SHADOW — Inherit the Ruins (American Flesh For Violence LP)
Dominic Fernow’s first proper Vatican Shadow album since 2016 comes near the end of an extensive remaster/reissue project that began last year with monthly recaps of his hard to track down limited releases. American Flesh For Violence is packed with militarised techno, sand-blasted breaks and dark ambience, with remixes from Alessandro Cortini, Ancient Methods, JK Flesh, and CUB (Regis & Mønic). The slowly decaying ‘Inherit the Ruins has an submerged Drexciyan vibe wafting through.
JIM GUTHRIE — Into the Dark (Below OST Volume II)
I’ve never played the dungeon exploration role-playing game Below, but its bleak, dark ambient soundtrack is stunning, and holds up as a stand-alone work. Canadian producer Jim Guthrie plumbs the cavernous depths with nods to John Carpenter, The Black Dog, Pye Corner Audio and video nasty analogue synth scores. ‘Into the Dark’ curdles with mid-tempo melancholy dread.
NINE INCH NAILS — Letting Go While Holding On (Together LP)
After a few weeks of everyone on social media trading ambient playlists, mindfulness tips and slow life mantras, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross wafted into the conversation with the double album Ghosts V-VI. They said that “Ghosts V: Together is for when things seem like they might be okay, and Ghosts VI: Locusts… well, you’ll figure it out.”
I’ve been letting the minimal ambient drones like this on Together weave through me ever since, but I’m skipping Locusts for the time being, just in case.
ROGER ENO & BRIAN ENO — Spring Frost
In the liner notes to Brian Eno’s inconic year-zero album Ambient 1: Music For Airport, he wrote that he wanted to create music that would “induce calm and a space to think”. He’s largely acheived that in the decades since, through albums like his Ambient 1-4 series, Apollo Soundtracks, Thursday Afternoon and Reflection, and generative ambient apps such as Bloom and Scape.
He even created the six-second Windows 95 start-up ident (on a Mac). This new album with his younger brother is an exercise in playing the long game, curated from 15 years of back and forth collaboration, with Brian Eno adding impressionistic electronic smudges to Roger’s keys. It’s a tranquil, minimalist 75-minute suite of 18 passages that bypasses the older Eno’s high concepts and just leaves a jewel of an album. You probably need it right now.
RODDY WOOMBLE — Everyday Sun
By the look of the EP artwork for Everyday Sun, and his social media posts, Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble enjoys a rugged retreat into nature. Well, maybe he’s hitting the same beauty spots as Boards of Canada, as this new release shares much impressionistic analogue nostalgia with his fellow Scots. The ambient minimalism and spoken word passages mark a left turn from his day job, but you’d hope he goes further down this path.
KK.NULL/WATSON/Z’EV – Climax – Madness, (The Trickster / Fool) Venus Smell Metal Autumn Dusk / Sunset
I’ve been a sucker for ambient insectoid electronics since hearing Future Sound of London’s Dead Cities and Lifeforms on a comedown in the 90s, but this is next-level chattery paranoia. For a start, it hangs off East African field recordings by award-winning natural world recordist and former Cabaret Voltaire man Chris Watson. The incessant sound of bugs and mammalian grunts fold into skittery bass tones and electroacoustic abstractions, and it sounds like some weird new life forms are oozing out of my headphones.
THE CHATS — The Clap (High Risk Behaviour LP)
Australian punks The Chats had a viral hit of sorts in 2017 with Smoko — Oz slang for having a fag break. The song’s lo-fi surf rock vibes and wry lyrics — and frontman Eamon Sandwith’s brilliant teenage 80s mullet scored a bullseye with fans out for a new left-field rock detour. They’ve got a song about spending your bus fare on crap and another one called ‘Mum Stole My Darts’, with their tracks coming off like a stream of consciousness teenage social media feed. This song called The Clap… well have a guess. Then again, they kinda sound like Pink Flag-era Wire without any O-Levels.
MORRISSEY — Jim Jim Falls (I Am Not a Dog on a Chain LP)
You could get cancelled these days for liking Morrissey, as he really has been a dickhead for years. But sorry not sorry, the opening track from his so-so new album is brilliant. Really. It hangs on a crude synth bassline that gurns like The Fall’s best mid-90s electro experiments, light vocoder overdubs, abstract proggy lead guitars, and Stephen Patrick’s most majestic vocal in years. Crtitics have been lining up to kick this album up the hole, but Jim Jim Falls is a totally unexpected triumph of a song. Pity about the absolute state of him these days.
MOTHER JUNO — Divided (Conflict LP)
Nasty lo-fi EBM from US crew Mother Juno — possibly named after the cult 1987 album by cult post-punks The Gun Club but with a more wiry, manic take on the world. Snarly square wave synths and a half-disgusted vocal delivery straight out of Douglas McCarthy’s Nitzer Ebb playbook. Another bullseye from German cassette label DetritI Records.
HIDE — Blockbuster
Chicago DIY electronic noise duo HIDE’s latest release Kill Your Head is a two-track cover EP tackling Jesus Lizard and Born Against, managing to strangle even more venom out of the already depraved source material.
Blockbuster is a pretty faithful retooling of Jesus Lizard’s original off their 1989 debut EP Pure, with Heather Gabel out-reprobating David Yow as it gets battered by Psalm 69-era Ministry drum machine thuds.
PRIMITIVE KNOT — BRUTALISM (BRUTALISM LP)
A bastard hybrid of harsh noise and industrial doom… the zenith of Ballardian future-now intensity,” says Primitive Knot on Bandcamp, saving me the trouble of nailing this album perfectly. If you’ve ever revelled in the primal brain-wrongs of Ministry, Fudge Tunnel, Godflesh or Jesus Lizard this will open a nerve — let that relentless drum machine headbutt you into next week.
NGHTCRWLR – Let the Children Scream (Let the Children Scream LP)
If you’re one of those people who’s allergic to cute Facebook videos of schoolkids singing, you’ll dig this track from Kris Esfandiari aka NIGHTCRWLR. Well, the second half at least. It does start with a woozy recording of children’s religious choir, before the kids are wiped out with an in-the-red powerviolence-techno kickdrum and Esfandiari wretching her thoat out. Parental advisory sticker for the rest of the album too.
JANUSZ JURGA — OCCULTT EP
Insidious Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement vibes on this new EP from Polish dark ambient producer Janusz Jurga. Look what it’s called — what did you expect?
Moo Kid first Quarter Spotify Playlist