Jenny Owen Youngs – Night Shift
[Fisher and Porcupine]
Jenny Owen Youngs is a busy person, and this five-track EP is the first she’s released under her own name since 2015. In the meantime she’s been co-writing and releasing lots of music with her podcast Buffering The Vampire Slayer. All this variety has allowed her the chance to experiment, and on Night Shift we are rewarded. This EP is simply beautiful. Like walking through water, it ripples around you, forcing you to slow down as the dream-like melodies and layers unravel and seep into you. Youngs has always been an astute lyricist, but the emotional insomnia that ties these tracks together makes her writing more resonant than ever as she laments, “Pacing like a bobcat in the kitchen / or up the stairs just solitaire-ing in my room.” Or on the sunny “Dreaming On The Bus” where she fantasizes, “I will sleep through everything / pull me down I need to see your face again.” I could comment on every track, but I won’t, instead just go and listen to it.
Jerry Paper – Abracadabra
With his second album on Stones Throw, Jerry Paper is undeniably smooth now. He’s come a long way on basically every musical front – his singing is better than ever, surprisingly soulful at points, his melodies and songwriting are more varied and adventurous, his old Casio-keyboard-demo-evoking arrangements are replaced by a full backing band (tight and jazzy in a way that should be familiar to anyone acquainted with other Stones Throw acts). And yet, the unique Jerry Paper ambiance could never be shaken, from his distinct surreal (bordering on cryptic) lyricism and wistful reflections on the difficulties of human connection. This culminates on the gorgeous final track “Puppeteer”, which sounds like a plea to a God or science-fiction overlord, either works. It’s not the sound reinvention that 2018’s Like a Baby was, but a steady refinement and excellent intro to Jerry Paper’s world.
Juniore – Un Deux Trois
Juniore‘s Un Deux Trois follows the trio’s exquisite “Françoise Hardy on acid” tradition to deliver a solid sophomore long play. Had things run according to plan, it would’ve put the UK on its knees with a little help from a fairly extensive tour in April – they’ve been a big BBC Radio 6 favourite for quite a while, anyway. However, nothing is lost; with their dates rescheduled for October, now’s as good a time as any to revisit the release and let it serve as an amuse-bouche for the band’s overseas conquest later in the fall. Featuring singles “En Solitaire”, “Bizarre”, and “Ah Bah D’Accord”, the album showcases Juniore’s more nocturnal side, hypnotising you with haunting synths à la française and Anna-Jean’s dark, silky voice.
Kassa Overall – I THINK I’M GOOD
One of the most under-the-radar releases that’s captivated me has been from Kassa Overall, the mult-instrumentalist producer whose second proper LP I THINK I’M GOOD lands like a drawer full of silverware on a hardwood floor. It has the uncanny ability of being simultaneously chill and chaotic, all within a single track. Everything about I THINK I’M GOOD works – from the unconventional horn transitions, to the random samplings baked into the smallest corners of his mind, Overall has assembled a major breakthrough album.
Katie von Schleicher – Consummation
[Ba Da Bing / Full Time Hobby]
Katie Von Schleicher’s second full-length is her boldest work yet. For one thing, the Brooklyn singer-songwriter has greatly expanded her sonic palette; Von Schleicher has made a name for herself with her lo-fi, tape-based releases, but nothing about Consummation feels lo-fi, yet it maintains the same hazy atmosphere of her previous work. Each and every one of these songs has been intricately fleshed-out to their full potential, creating compelling musical textures that add to the album’s overarching sense of drama and tension.
Consummation was in part inspired by the Hitchcock film Vertigo and its subtexts of abuse and objectification, something that Von Schleicher used as a jumping-off point to reflect on her own experiences in relationships with men. The lyrics are dark and not without anger and confusion, but the music is filled with momentum and color, drawing from a variety of 60s and 70s pop subgenres to create a diverse-yet-cohesive sound. Centerpiece “Brutality” is a powerful stand-out, with brooding verses and explosive choruses in which all of the album’s sinister undertones seem to bubble to the surface. Overall, Consummation is a masterfully immersive collection of dark, overcast pop songs that keep you on the edge of your seat.
Leafar Legov – Mirror
Like much of the best electronic, Leafar Legov’s nebulous Mirror drifts deftly between labels. Is it deep house, is it ambient house, or is it more ‘ambient’ of the Aphex Twin variety? More confident minds than mine may be more willing to make that call, but for my money, it exists somewhere between all these poles, gingerly entering its own little world. “Hyyde” takes you to some distant pier with its foghorn-like blasts, waiting on someone that has no intention of coming, while “Fade” flirts with full on Thom Yorke-ianism. For an album that seamlessly slips together to form a cohesive experience, it’s slyly varied. What is certainly consistent is the mood, a peaceful, wistful sort of greyness within which you can comfortably reside, day in, day out. Mirror indeed: the music just might take you to places of introspection you’re not quite ready to go, but you’re certain to be the better for it.
Long Neck – World’s Strongest Dog
Seizing control of the narrative after label troubles left them high and dry late last year, New Jersey quartet Long Neck came blasting back in April with their second full-band album World’s Strongest Dog – a compact collection acting as a vehicle for leader Lily Mastrodimos’ brutally honest lyrical bent. Building on the foundations of 2018’s Will This Do?, the album sees the band coming into their own as purveyors of layered indie rock, a far cry from the project’s homespun beginnings. By turns, the record soars, smarts and scathes, with the push and pull of “They Shoot Horses” features Mastrodimos tearing into those who have wronged her; while on “Slowly, Slowly”, she gives voice to her anxieties amid acknowledgement of the personal growth experienced in between records. Long Neck has been a deeply personal project for her since she made her bow with 2015’s Heights, and its evolution has been something to behold. For an album so focused on vulnerabilities, it’s remarkably confident, even when – as on lead single “Campfire” – its creator is filled with self-loathing, comparing herself to a leech. These 10 songs are bruised and beautiful, with plenty of bite (and bark) to boot.
Orchards – Lovecore
[Big Scary Monsters]
On the surface, Brighton four-piece, Orchards, are just capital-f Fun. Their brand of math-pop – equal parts Battles and After Laughter-era Paramore – is as garishly bright as that album cover, and so catchy its R-nought puts COVID-19 to shame. However, just like the excellent Big Scary Monsters label roster they’re a part of, there’s depth to Orchards. In the time-honoured tradition of tackling heavy subject matter through the lightness of pop, vocalist Lucy Evers uses her preternatural melodic gifts to couch candid examinations of her own struggles with social anxiety and depression in irresistible hooks.
Whilst the songs on Lovecore bounce around the room like a hyperactive toddler, Evers openly bears her vulnerabilities. On “Sincerely Overwhelmed” she asks where her medal is for making it through the morning, whilst “Magical Thinking”, a single that deserves to top the charts (whatever that counts for, these days), has Evers conceding that she doesn’t have the headspace to deal with the feelings of her loved ones right now.
Lovecore is a stunning fruition of the blueprint laid out on their 2018 EP, Losers/Lovers, but expanding the Orchards sound in exciting ways. For an album that has inspired countless lockdown dance parties with my three and five year olds, it contains a nuanced portrayal of living with mental health issues, which many listeners will relate to. And that makes it capital-f Fucking Vital.
Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna
Every few years there’s a surge of interest in shoegaze. In 2020, Peel Dream Magazine are pushing their Stereolab influences to the background and pulling the Ride and My Bloody Valentine influences to the fore, recalling the 90s alt-gaze that everyone hopped on board with. Peel Dream Magazine aren’t afraid to wear these influences on their sleeves though, and it’s completely welcomed here as they’re able to make it refreshing. With the lack of new My Bloody Valentine (despite being promised, again), it’s nice to have something close to them that is so accessible and enjoyable. This is radio-friendly shoegaze, but it doesn’t sacrifice its bite for its singalong choruses. It may not reach the classic status of a Going Blank Again, but it’s in the same vein, and just as fun.
Phish – Sigma Oasis
Hear me out, hear me out. Phish found out a solution to the infamous ‘jam band studio album’ dilemma: tour the songs for a few years first. It worked! Jam bands are usually on a sliding scale of finely-tuned studio craft and ornate arrangements vs. lived-in breathing room, but Phish put have put the work in to prove they can have both. It’s still Phish, which means you’re in for some cheeky lyrics and some musical cornball, but it’s balanced by an emotional earnestness and impressive craft for restricting their jamming from meandering off into space, while still letting their songs build to earned dramatic payoffs. If you’ve ever wanted to give them a fair shake, this is it. You don’t have to tell that guy you knew.