10 Albums You May Have Missed in October 2020
Featuring Open Mike Eagle, Skullcrusher, Emmy The Great, Oliver Coates and more...
We’re all adjusting to the new lockdowns differently. I know I am.
Sometimes I have a lot of pent up energy; sometimes I’m really tired. Sometimes I get myself up extra early to seize a bit of morning light; sometimes I lie in a little longer, easing myself into another strange day among the pandemic. Whatever mood you're in, these ten records should provide a soundtrack to how you’re feeling. From light-touch indie to ultra-futurist rhythm music, confessional leftfield hip-hop to searing club innovations, here are ten records which came out in October that we reckon deserve a little more shine than they have had up until now.
Recent years have seen Emmy The Great gracefully transition from the wry anti-folk of her early LPs into a maturer indie-pop style. ‘April / 月音’ is a collection of songs which were conceived after the singer born Emma-Lee Moss took trips to China and her birthplace of Hong Kong. These tracks feature both contemplative lyrics and passages of rousing, deftly orchestrated indie-folk. As such, there’s both The Magnetic Fields and Summer Camp to the wonderfully warm ‘April / 月音’.
HHY & The Kampala Unit are the latest fantastically original proposition from Nyege Nyege Tapes. Bandleader Jonathan Saldanha brought the group together as part of the label’s Nyege Nyege festival, and as such it’s no surprise to find the collective - who also feature trumpet player Florence Lugemwa and percussionist Omutaba - delivering similarly future-forward sonics to those we have heard on the label’s other drops. However, while the record’s percussive drive recalls one-time NNT act Nihiloxica, there is a warped quality to the bass and atmospherics here which motions to everything from Cabaret Voltaire to The Modern Institute.
Nothing, you say? ‘The Great Dismal’, you say? Alright, point taken, I’ll leave the bunting and party hats at the door. The fourth full-length LP from this Philadelphia outfit is an emo-fied take on old-school shoegaze - which means that, while it’s not exactly an upbeat record, there is plenty of heft to the band’s work here. There’s a wistful beauty to this record, the way the slightly mournful vocal/lead guitar melodies flutter across these grungy walls of distortion like ribbons in the wind. A good one for those of us who aren’t going to the party (which, let’s face it, is just about everyone at the moment).
‘Anime, Trauma And Divorce’. That just about sums it up, to be honest. This new LP from Open Mike Eagle finds the underground hip-hop mainstay ruminating on the breakdown of his marriage. The beats largely orbit ruminative, tender bedroom hip-hop, though there’s some of Galcher Lustwerk’s troubled house to ‘bucciarati’ and more abrasive cuts such as ‘the black mirror episode’ almost stumble into clipping. territory. As heavy as the subject matter is, and as wounded as Open Mike Eagle sounds at points here, the MC also peppers his poetic bars with dark humour throughout ‘Anime, Trauma And Divorce’.
‘HA Chu’, the second LP from Leron Thomas’ Pan Amsterdam project, comes from a similar continuum as the Open Mike Eagle album. This is another set of thoughtful hip-hop joints, one where the MC takes a stroll through lyrical back-alleys atop beats which knock enough to get your head bobbing but not so much they break the record’s flow. However, ‘HA Chu’ is more contemplative than ‘Anime, Trauma And Divorce’, the MC’s musings somewhere between abstracted and involved. MF DOOM’s early work is a clear touchstone.
Skullcrusher is in full-on troll-mode here. From the project’s name to the eerie photographs and runic typeface used on the cover of her eponymous EP, everything about Helen Ballentine’s aesthetic here sets you up for a record of brutalised black metal. However, when you put this thing on the turntable, what you actually get is a quartet of etherised folk tracks that come shaded by influences from dream-pop and ambient music. It’s a great switch-up, but the ‘Skullcrusher EP’ also has enough about it to remain in rotation long after the joke’s worn off.
SUMAC run the ruddy gauntlet on ‘May You Be Held’. This album features some of the most fearsome, abyss-raking death- and doom-metal you’ll hear in a long time. At their most ambitious, SUMAC craft side-long masterpieces which just keep layering the distortion, groans and noise ever-higher. It’s truly mighty stuff, like a more dynamic version of early Sunn O))). However, there is also a great beauty lurking within SUMAC’s sound, something exemplified by the two glacial post-rock numbers which bookend ‘May You Be Held’.
Oliver Coates is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever come across. An extraordinary cellist, the Radiohead affiliate has been able to twist up the tones of his instrument into everything from impressionistic art music to pulsating two-step down the years. New LP ‘skins n slime’ finds Coates running his cello through a variety of effects units in order to create some of the most intense work of his career. The album contains folksy lilts, post-trance ambiences, shoegaze-adjacent skyscrapings and drones so abrasive they verge on metal.
Good Sad Happy Bad is the new iteration of Micachu & The Shapes, the Mica Levi-led band who delivered some of the most uniquely brilliant art-punk LPs of the late-2000s and 2010s. Levi largely cedes lead vocals in Good Sad Happy Bad, and the change of dynamic within the group helps to keep their sound fresh on ‘Shades’. While it remains quirky and bright, the band’s music here is a little closer to the ruminative indie-pop stylings of artists like The Pastels and Porridge Radio than it has been previously.
‘Age In Decline’ is an absolutely slamming compilation of club tackle from Natural Sciences, a label which has become a go-to for this sort of thing since it launched a few years back. Put together to celebrate Natural Sciences hitting a half-century of releases, ‘Age In Decline’ brings together new tunes with choice cuts that originally surfaced as part of the label’s ‘Future Works’ series. The tracks here ghostride through the grizzliest corners of hardcore dance music, delivering everything from mutant techno to Three Six Mafia-esque horrorcore.