Best Albums of September 2020
Featuring Run The Jewels, Kate NV, Marie Davidson, Nicolas Jaar and more...
Shorty got them albums of the month (month!), records with the sleeves (with the sleeves!).
September 2020. Was it good? Did it happen? No-one can actually confirm or deny at this point. The only clues that we have which point to September 2020 being a thing which existed is a buttload of excellent new music, though even then none of us can be absolutely certain that the drop of a new Napalm Death LP wasn’t some sort of collective fever dream. From riot-starting hip-hop to fragile acoustic balladry, via louche electronic pop and squirming garage-rock, here are ten of the best albums which may or may not have been released in the past few weeks.
The Microphones - Microphones in 2020
At some point in the early 2000s Phil Elverum left behind the Microphones moniker that he had previously operated under and embarked on his journey as Mount Eerie. Seventeen years and several LPs of transcendent songs later, Elverum has gone back to the Microphones well on ‘Microphones In 2020’. This is a record which finds Elverum’s brand of introspective, wintry acoustic guitar ballady (think Smog and Elliot Smith) spun out to a single long track. Flecked by some passages of heavy drone, ‘Microphones In 2020’ is a brilliant return from the project - let’s hope we’re not waiting so long on the next one.
Run The Jewels - RTJ4
There’s something both reassuring and invigorating about the fact that Run The Jewels called their fourth LP ‘RTJ4’. The duo of Killer Mike and El-P have given all of their previous records similarly utilitarian titles, and each sleeve has featured a variation on the group’s gun/chain/hands logo. As such, what we get from ‘RTJ4’s cover is both the sense of continuity with the group’s previous work and also the knowledge that ‘continuity’ in this instance means ‘Bomb Squad-style hip-hop so incendiary it should come with a flammability warning’. Ooh la la indeed.
Marie Davidson & L'Oeil nu - Renegade Breakdown
Having broken through over the past few years, and particularly after 2018’s ‘Working Class Woman’ established her as one of modern techno’s premier subversives, one would have forgiven Marie Davidson for playing it safe on the follow-up. However, ‘Renegade Breakdown’ is another bold move from the Canadian artist. Working alongside L’Oeil nu, a backing band made up of her husband Pierre Guerineau and Asaël R. Robitaille, Davidson eschews the EBM/minimal wave sonics which backed her previous LPs for a strutting, maximalist and slightly rockist palette that has everything from Peaches to Cocteau Twins in its DNA. Despite the stylistic switch-up, Davidson’s charisma and critical faculties remain in good nick on ‘Renegade Breakdown’.
OSEES - Protean Threat
“‘Protean Threat’ feels like a mixture of everything John Dwyer has offered us so far” - that’s what our Tommy had to say in his 8/10 review of this LP. This album is truly a smörgåsbord of delights for those who’ve kept up with the insatiable Dwyer and his band of merrie O(h)SEES these past few years. While still helmed with whip-crack garage-rock beats, ‘Protean Threat’ maintains the wild experimental energy of those proggier outings Thee Oh Sees have delivered lately but slims things down to deliver some of their leanest material for a fair while. Fidgety funk, Devo-core, Krautrock and plenty else are stripped for parts by Dwyer et al here.
Tricky - Fall To Pieces
‘Fall To Pieces’ may bear Tricky’s name, but this can almost be seen as a collaborative album - Marta Zlakowska appears on all but two of the tracks, and that pair feature vocals from Oh Land. ‘Fall To Pieces’ is an LP which finds Tricky processing the death of his daughter, and as such Oh Land and Zlakowska provide something like balance to his mournful vocals and the brooding electronica which backs them. The Bristol legend’s choice to work with others on this record makes sense both musically and emotionally. Sad, brilliant stuff.
Kate NV - Room For The Moon
Kate NV’s ‘Room For The Moon’ has already established itself as one of 2020’s premier art-pop LPs. The album’s blend of woozy bedroom electronics, electronically-generated tuned-percussion tones, an ever-so-slightly gothic production sensibility and NV’s quixotic vocal style all make for a delightfully unusual blend, one that comes off a bit like a modern-times take on Talk Talk. One of the year’s sleeper successes, ‘Room For The Moon’s underground popularity has now been recognised by the album being afforded its own colour-swirled, sticker-adorned Dinked edition.
Bill Callahan - Gold Record
‘Gold Record’ could be considered a slightly self-aggrandising thing to call your album, but then again this is Bill ‘Smog’ Callahan we’re dealing with here and he's more than good enough to be proud of his music. This one’s come out pretty quickly after ‘Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest’ - particularly when you consider how we waited several years for that particular LP to emerge - and the close proximity of the releases testament to the artistic roll that Callahan is on at the moment. Callahan’s conversational songcraft creates spaces of solace in our world of chaos.
Napalm Death - Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism
Napalm Death are kind of like a grindcore football club. The personnel change, the style varies slightly, but the core principles remain the same. ‘Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism’, the first Napalm Death LP for a half-decade, proves that the project’s commitment to furious punk and metal sonics is undimmed. ‘A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen’, ‘Contagion’, ‘Backlash Just Because’ - these are very much sentiments for our times. Loud gang stand up.
Throwing Muses - Sun Racket
Seven years on from ‘Purgatory/Paradise’ the beloved alt-rock crew Throwing Muses come down from the mountain once more to deliver their latest collection of grungy alternative rock. There’s a pleasing swagger to much of ‘Sun Racket’ which belies the band’s Pixies influences, but the points where the record slows down deliver contemplative, slightly heat-hazed ballads - fitting I suppose, given the album’s title. Throw the muses, I say, throw them all!
Nicolas Jaar - Telas
2020 really has been a banner year for Nicolas Jaar - ‘Telas’ is his third full-length since January and follows excellent outings both under his own name (‘Cenizas’) and the more industrialised alter-ego Against All Logic (‘2017-2019’, ‘Illusions Of Shameless Abundance’). Probably the most experimental thing he’s issued in the past few months, ‘Telas’ features four long pieces where contemporary chamber music stylings dovetail with electronic glitching and musique concrete techniques. It’s not too far from Oliver Coates, Mica Levi and the most abstracted bits of the Actress discography.