The 10 Best Albums You May Have Missed in February 2020
There’s a lot of music, isn’t there? Even a month as short as February has managed to cram scores and scores of great new records into its four fleeting weeks (and a day - don’t worry leap year completists, we hadn’t forgotten).
The bigger acts - your Grimeses, your Gil Scott-Herons - can be sure that each new release will be given plenty of attention by the listening public. But a whole host of fantastic albums dropped in February that, for one reason or another, did not get the shine they deserved. We’re determined to champion a few of them here. As such, please find ten of these rare treats listed below.
Please don’t let the fact that Reggie Watts is the bandleader on ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden’ put you off. I know Corden is abrasive, but to his credit he did co-write ‘Gavin & Stacey’, and he also had the good sense to hire one of the funniest and most charismatic dudes in the business for his in-house band. Wajatta is a link-up between said dude and techno bloke John Tejada. On ‘Don’t Let Get You Down’ they combine to make bouncing, effervescent grooves which prove to be the ideal backdrop for Watts to flex his frankly astonishing vocals.
When has a Scottish indie-rock band ever done anything wrong? Never, that’s when. I’m pleased to be able to write that, with their second album ‘Hyacinth’, Spinning Coin have not bucked that trend. This one’s got everything you want; jangly guitars, a driving rhythm section and an entertainingly idiosyncratic vocalist. In fact, let’s talk about Sean Armstrong’s vocals. There’s something almost threatening about them - not a word that tends to be associated with Scottish indie groups, but maybe one that more of them should aim for.
Thanks in part to that wonderful album artwork, this is one of the month’s more intriguing releases. Karkhana’s ‘Bitter Balls’ is equal-parts jazz, prog, and noise-rock, and that’s before they start drawing on traditional Middle Eastern musics. It’s the sort of record that revels in disorienting the listener, throwing bitter curveball after bitter curveball. The group is formed of members of The Dwarfs Of East Agouza and Land Of Kush (among others), so the fact that they were able to pull together something so unwieldy should come as no surprise.
‘Suburban Scum’ is not a metal album, but with that all-black cover it really could be. As it is, what we have here is some extremely. Dark. Techno. The name ‘Guilt Attendant’ gives you a sense of Nathaniel Young’s fraught relationship with the Christian faith he was raised in. It’s no surprise, then, that ‘Suburban Scum’ is techno and its most intense and punishing. It’s hard not to think of the creation of these monstrous tunes as an act of self-flagellation.
You know those bits on ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ where Kanye just let distorted guitars/vocals noodle away atop some ornate, baroque backing? Gamardah Fungus’ ‘Natural Storm’ is a whole LP of something not far off that. The Ukranian duo may not employ string quartets and MPCs, but there is a similarly solemn grandeur to the way in which they fuse melodious guitar wailing with droning post-rock/post-metal atmospheres on ‘Natural Storm’.
I’d imagine that, from an artist called Grimm Grimm, you’re expecting hard bars - driller boasts, hard-head braggadocia, street-level shit-talk - rather than psychedelic pop so woozy it could soundtrack ‘The Clangers’. However, Grimm Grimm’s new LP ‘Ginormous’ is very much of the latter camp. Once you acclimatise to these new surroundings, you’ll find plenty to love about this dreamy collection from ex-Screaming Tea Party bloke Koichi Yamanoha. Fans of Spiritualized, Ultimate Painting, Temples etc. should direct their attention the way of ‘Ginormous’ post-haste.
Who indeed? If you had to pick up a representative for the rich world of experimental music then you could do a lot worse than Inga Copeland, the former Hype Williams member who has spent the past few years making increasingly abstract work as Lolina. ‘Who Is Experimental Music?’, the first substantial Lolina release for a couple of years, is possibly Copeland’s most erstwhile release yet (and that’s saying something). Comprised almost entirely of strange looping/phasing exercises that are indebted at least in part to Steve Reich, ‘Who Is Experimental Music’ is a strange and fascinating record.
Drone to melt your brain here from Norwegian duo Tongues Of Mount Meru. ‘The Hex Of Light’ is comprised of two side-long pieces that channel the deep-psych part of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ - you know, with the monkeys and the obelisk and György Ligeti’s ‘Atmospheres’ needling away at your soul. Whereas Ligeti used a whole orchestra to bring his work to fruition, Tongues Of Mount Meru require but a couple of synths to achieve a similar effect. A real experience, this one.
Those of you who read our February 'Albums Of The Month' feature will know that we’re enjoying the current glut of releases from new-school jazz aficionados. To the pack that includes Makaya McCraven and Moses Boyd we can now add Kassa Overall. There are certainly links between the three - all are rising drummers whose work operates at the crossroads of hip-hop, jazz and neo-soul, and Overall and McCraven also showcase a talent for production. However, as is demonstrated by ‘I Think I’m Good’, Overall’s music is both more ruminative - something made apparent in the bars of contemplation which Overall spits across ‘I Think I’m Good’ - and more unusual, often squirrelling off down curious stylistic burrows. Earl Sweatshirt comparisons fit his music just as well. ‘I Think I’m Good’ boasts a fair few guest spots, the most eye-catching of which is surely Dr. Angela Davis.
It’s hard not to imagine ‘Andersabo’ soundtracking some independent horror film - this was recorded in a barn in rural Sweden for drone’s sake! It doesn’t help that all three tracks trade in their own distinct brand of malaise. There are frenetic saxophones and tortured guitars, subtle field recordings making way for booming organs, and patient (oh so patient) drones. Most captivating are the various incidental sounds intentionally captured by John Chantler and Johannes Lund. The barn sounds alive.