ShrapKnel – ShrapKnel

[Backwoodz Studioz]

Rap duo ShrapKnel (Curly Castro and PremRock) have a style reminiscent of another great duo in rap: Armand Hammer. Bringing ELUCID into the mix as producer for the majority, the case is even stronger that the two teams occupy a similar space in rap. Murky beats, a heavy emphasis on lyricism and tone, with minimal flair: if their style feels challenging to some that wouldn’t surprise them – the themes and topics they touch on are heavy and they have a lot to say about each one.

But as far as debut albums go, ShrapKnel is a bold start for an underground group, no matter how many members they have. Shrapknel’s focus on elemental sounds draws a stark contrast to heavy hitters like Travis Scott or even Run the Jewels. It’s why counterparts like the aforementioned Armand Hammer haven’t quite hit that mega-stardom, and ShrapKnel will likely follow a similar narrative – and that’s okay. It’s a promising start that will hopefully lead to bigger and better things. – Tim Sentz


Soela – Genuine Silk

[Dial]

If you’re tired of going outside and masking up, only to get takeout since restaurants are still closed for dining in many areas, and you’re sitting around wondering what you can do about that nagging urge to listen to some lo-fi deep house cuts, look no further. Elina Shorokhova, aka Soela, has your prescription. Genuine Silk, released back in April, is as smooth as riding in an old Citroën with hydraulic suspension – and that’s pretty darn smooth. This isn’t the kind of house music that will get you up and moving, but if you’d rather sink into your couch while your thoughts drift off to a balmy tropical paradise, this is what you’re looking for.

These songs ain’t gonna get your blood pumping and your ass shaking; these sounds are soft and squishy, like gummy bears for your ears. There’s a sophistication here that even older music listeners will appreciate, and if you old farts are actually reading this, give this a listen. You’ll find these sounds seductive and sexy, but you’re in no danger of suffering a heart attack from it. This is soft and you’ll be able to impress your grandchildren with how eclectic your music tastes happen to be. This music also pairs very well with your favorite strain of cannabis with all its tranquil, funky, trippy, gooey goodness, so you stoners listen up too. After a few tracks, you’ll understand why Soela gave this the title Genuine Silk. – Scott Zanassi


Sprain – As Lost Through Collision

[The Flenser]

Within the opening seconds of Sprain’s debut album, As Lost Through Collision, listeners are put on warning: a squealing guitar rings out like an apocalyptic alarm, before things suddenly go eerily quiet. It’s aural whiplash – and it’s far from the last time it’s experienced as the record progresses. Throughout, Sprain deliver a sonic and emotional barrage, plundering through the vaults of slowcore, post-rock and post-hardcore to create a Frankenstein rock album that sounds like a nervous break down cranked up to 11; guitars ping like haywire synapses, while Alex Kent shrieks and grumbles as though his brain has been completely emptied of positivity.

Considering how many guitar-centric albums are released, it’s surprising there aren’t more that work so starkly in these pitch black and ghostly white shades, but perhaps it’s because they’re not daring enough. It takes patience and no shortage of belief to write songs that creep on for minutes on end of unsettling chords, then jackhammer straight into a wall of atonal noise, while maintaining an all-encompassing atmosphere – but Sprain have the brains and the poise to pull it off. – Rob Hakimian


Squirrel Nut Zippers – Lost Songs of Doc Souchon

[Southern Broadcasting]

On the second ‘reunion’ album from hotpot jazz band Squirrel Nut Zippers, the game is the same as ever on the surface: evoke the sound of a New Orleans street corner and have a blast while doing it. Lost Songs of Doc Souchon meets that criteria, but also brings something more to the table. The album plays tribute to Edmond “Doc” Souchon, an early New Orleans folklorist instrumental for setting up the likes of the National Jazz Foundation and New Orleans Jazz Museum. The band takes two songs from Souchon’s repertoire, and they fit perfectly. Opener “Animule Ball” is like a wildly fun reimagining to Cab Calloway’s “Jungle King”, while “Cookie” is full of innuendo, sprightly piano jangles, and brass going out for simultaneous solos.

Elsewhere there’s plenty to get caught up in: “I Talk To My Haircut” recaptures the neo-swing fun of the band’s early work; “Purim Nigrum” fuses together traditional Jewish and Balkan melodies over seven minutes; and of the multiple covers on the album there’s probably the most unforgettable take on “Can’t Take My Eyes Of You” that comes complete with tipsy rhythm and a terrifyingly stark utterances of the song’s instrumental riff. “Train On Fire” is pure Jimbo Mathus with its spooky banjo storytelling, distant children’s choir, and eerie violin backdrop (courtesy of Andrew Bird), but fits into the wide range of the band neatly. This is Squirrel Nut Zippers in 2020, giving their take on music coming into the world a century ago, and proving that having fun is a timeless venture. – Ray Finlayson


Stabscotch – Twilight Dawn

[Self-released]

Stabscotch’s 2017 art-punk opus Uncanny Valley was a roaring, headlong plunge into the abyss. Over 100 minutes, the Pittsburgh rock alchemists transfigured punk forms into grotesque shapes like a wreck of twisted metal that’s impossible to ignore. Their follow up, the double EP Twilight Dawn, sees the group undergoing another transfiguration. Side A, 7 Is A Cycle, is a final exorcism of Uncanny Valley’s abyssal nihilism, culminating in the coruscating vortex of “Gravity”, where Tyler Blensdorf’s banshee howl clashes with Zack Hubbard’s distorted guitar squalls in an all-consuming battle of wills. Out of the ashes of side A emerges Drama Dragon, a similarly grotesque genre fusion of industrial, jazz, emo, post-punk and experimental rock that throws itself away from the void as forcefully as 7 Is A Cycle rushed into it. – Harrison Suits Baer


Still House Plants – Fast Edit

[Bison]

On their third proper album, Glasgow experimental trio Still House Plants smash apart indie rock and piece it together in jagged, cubist forms. The free-jazz interplay of vocals, guitar, and drums is arrhythmic but amoebic, with the instruments constantly diverging and converging in surprising ways, as in the fluid controlled chaos of “Blink Twice” and “Do”. When they do lock into a groove, as on the beginning of “Crreeaase”, it isn’t long before the rhythm begins to stumble over itself like Frank Zappa falling down a flight of stairs. – Harrison Suits Baer


Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?

[Church Road]

Two years on from their second album It’s Hard to Have Hope, Bristolian quartet Svalbard opened a new chapter of their career in September in more ways than one: When I Die, Will I Get Better? was unleashed on Church Road Records after a brief spell in limbo, as their old label imploded amid abuse allegations against its founder. It’s driven by vocalist and lead guitarist Serena Cherry’s deeply personal narratives: railing against misogynistic keyboard warriors on “Click Bait”; pleading for better understanding of mental illness on “Listen to Someone”; and pushing back against the lecherous male gaze on “The Currency of Beauty” as she trades vocals with guitarist Liam Phelan.

Her impassioned delivery is set against the band’s potent mix of shoegaze, black metal, hardcore and post-rock to create something cathartic and devastating in equal measure. “Open Wound” and “Silent Restraint” soar in spite of their respective lyrical themes of abuse and depression, and “Pearlescent” shimmers with resolve before its transcendent instrumental finale closes the album with a flourish. An intense and unflinching eight-track collection, it finds the band broadening their sound without compromise as they reaffirm their position as one of the UK metal scene’s leading lights. – Gareth O’Malley


Thanya Iyer – KIND

[Topshelf]

KIND opens with the sounds of birds chirping, water splashing, and an anticipatory, spritely plucked violin line. Thanya Iyer and her collaborators explore a variety of timbres and colors throughout her second album, but never stray too far from the atmosphere set in these opening seconds: one of refreshing beauty, clarity, and light. Flutes, trumpets, synths, and strings glimmer around Iyer’s pristine vocals as she sings about healing, self-care, and interpersonal growth, creating an invigorating mélange of sound and poetry. Rooted in improvisation and unfettered musical exploration, KIND has a certain magic to it, and its transfixing freshness is instantly appealing. Listening to this album feels like a restorative experience in and of itself. – Emma Bauchner


Them Airs – Union Suit XL

[Self-released]

Them Airs are without a doubt the most exciting unsigned band of 2020. The Connecticut-based post-punk outfit that is made up of anything from five (if you trust their Bandcamp) to seven (if you trust their exhilarating website) members released their fourth album in four years this January, and it’s like nothing else around at the moment. From their idiosyncratic design concept to their wild blend of styles – somewhere between Mission of Burma, This Heat, Field Music and early Slint – there’s something inherently exciting and refreshing about Union Suit XL. Even though there’s no real resemblance here, the record recreates the same feeling I got when I came across The Fall. It’s incredibly intelligent, artsy, funny and constantly finds new ways to deliver climactic moments. Maybe this bristling showcase of talent proves the ability of a bunch of Zoomers to cut their teeth online with no corporate oversight whatsoever, but I’d like to think we’re rather witnessing what will be one of the coming decade’s great acts come into their own. John Wohlmacher


The Unfit – The Unfit

[Share It Music]

If The Unfit‘s self-titled debut is anything, then it’s a reward for patience. Coming eight years after the band first formed, it does not disappoint. Full of brash noisy punk, snarling commentary, and screeching guitar distortion, the album feels familiar, like we’re listening to a band who have been around for decades. Bass player/vocalist Jake Knuth spits his take on culture (“No Culture”), mass media (“Spin It”), and the endless toil of life (“Progress”). He’s never short on intensity, and his delivery (combined with the frenetic energy of bandmates Tyler Johnson on drums and Michael Lee and T.J. Johnson on guitars) feels like it’s the only time he has to say his piece before the world ends. On Future of the Left-like “The Living” he blurts out a surprising message of hope to those lost, and it’s so stark and affirmative you can’t not accept it. Conjuring similarities to early output of Sacred Bones heavy rockers like The Men or Pop. 1280, The Unfit is a brick in the face to remind you that punk is not dead. – Ray Finlayson


Young Dolph – Rich Slave

[Paper Route Empire]

Lest you thought Young Dolph was at his best purely alongside younger pal Key Glock, he clearly maintained the energy from Dum and Dummer going into the sessions for Rich Slave. Thankfully backing down on threats to retire, he’s all determination here, with ever the laidback flow offsetting just how clever and fun his punchlines often are (“I stay on a plane so much, they don’t know if I’m a passenger or the pilot”). Add the best collection of beats the Memphis favorite has ever rapped over, as well as a convicted sense of social responsibility (the commentary of “The Land” is genuinely blistering) to the mix, and you have by far the most cohesive – and best – album Dolph has released to date. – Chase McMullen


Listen to our track choices in the Spotify playlist.


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