The 10 Best Albums You May Have Missed in March 2020
Our latest celebration of records that might have slipped under your radar in the past month includes beautiful songwriting, banging club tackle, monolithic drone and much more besides...
Like Ed Miliband in the shadow cabinet, it’s back - our roundup of hidden gems, rare treats and records that have generally laid low since they were released in March.
As the curtain came down on February we championed new music from the likes of Spinning Coin, Kassa Overall and Lolina. A whole heck of a lot has changed since then (ok, everything has changed since then), but one constant has been a steady stream of outstanding new records. Go and check out some of the isolation ruminations below.
Golem Mecanique’s ‘Nona, Decima et Morta’ bears similarities to Tongues Of Mount Meru’s ‘The Hex Of Light’, an LP which featured in our ‘hidden gems’ roundup for February. Both albums contain two side-long pieces of grinding, discordant drone that seem designed for maximum discomfort. However, Golem Mecanique’s set may be even heavier than ‘The Hex Of Light’, with ‘Nona, Decima et Morta’ given malignant potency through the deathly incantations of project leader Karen Jebane. ‘Nona, Decima et Morta’ is not for everyone, but frankly we can’t get enough of it.
I’ve been wanting to write about this one for ages. Upped online at the end of January, Mutant Joe’s ‘Operation Chaos’ received a vinyl pressing in March. Quite simply, it’s one of the best club records you’ll hear all year. The core style of ‘Operation Chaos’ is nasty, squelching electro from the Bunker Records school, though highlight ‘Knick Knack’ does make moves to jungle as well. However, Mutant Joe’s trick is to cross-pollinate these sounds with influences from dirty south and crunk. Vocals from Freddie Dredd, Julien Andreas and YVNCC twist up the tunes still further. A superb set.
‘Three’ is an album title with manifold meanings, its trilogy of tracks marking thirty-three years in business for this beloved Australian trio. The Necks make a languid, flowing derivation of jazz that intersects with post-rock and NYC minimalism. On ‘Three’ they work the channels to typically stunning effect. Beginning with twenty-one minutes of free rhythm in the form of ‘Bloom’, the album then passes through the parched, arid and droning ‘Lovelock’ before closing with the spiritual murmur of ‘Further’. ‘Three’ is another singular creation in a catalogue of singular creations.
Maskandi is a form of Zulu folk music that sits at the core of Sibusile Xaba’s work. However, on his fantastic new LP ‘Nigwu Shwabada’ the South African guitarist/singer evolves the tradition in his own unique way. An improvisational spirit derived from jazz, avant-garde techniques and desert blues can all be parsed in the sounds emerging from Xaba’s instrument. Meanwhile Xaba’s sonorous, full-throated singing conveys great meaning despite us not being able to understand the language he’s singing in. Shabaka Hutchings continues his quest to appear on every other record released this year by tooting horn on ‘Nigwu Shwabada’s eighteen-minute-long closer ‘Phefumula’. We’d also recommend catching Sibusile Xaba live if possible - rarely do you see someone so clearly enamoured with the art of performing.
There’s shared ground between Helen Money’s ‘Atomic’ and the Golem Mecanique LP mentioned above. Both records hover on the edge of black metal without that term ever really sitting comfortably, both use an unusual set of tools to create their sounds (in Money’s case a cello and a whole mess of pedals), and both can go toe-to-toe for intensity with anything made on guitars, drums and bass. However, ‘Atomic’ is also more turbulent than the unrelenting drones of ‘Nona, Decima Et Morta’ - sometimes the music dissolves into pensive, piano-led ambiences, at other points Money offers up frenzies of noise so intense they threaten to knock you to the ground.
‘Red Sun Through Smoke’ is not a figurative title. This new LP from Ian William Craig is the artist’s response to the forest fires which ravaged his native Canada in 2018 - fires which claimed the life of his grandfather. Craig has made breathtaking music across his career, but this record is particularly stunning. Gorgeous and devastating in equal measure, the backstory and emotional aesthetic of ‘Red Sun Through Smoke’ bears similarities to Sufjan Stevens’ equally incredible ‘Carrie And Lowell’. While there is certainly shared ground between the records, the blend of ambient techniques, piano balladry and contemporary choral music on ‘Red Sun Through Smokes’ means that its sonics more resemble a fragile, crystalline version of Perfume Genius.
Wiccan rock as dark and moody as it gets from Hilary Woods here. ‘Birthmarks’ is an eerie listen, one that dares you to come closer to the speakers and submit yourself to these serpentine songs. There’s something in the greyscale, mournfully beautiful harmonies of ‘Lay Bare’ that reminds us of Low. Elsewhere on ‘Birthmarks’ we find Hilary Woods channelling the bleakest corners of Angel Olsen’s discography - we’re talking the flickering abysses of ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ - and just a pinch of Nine Inch Nails’ doomy industrialism.
Råå is the project of one Magnus Sveningsson, a name that will be familiar to fans of The Cardigans - he’s their bass player, if you didn’t know. Mind you, ‘Ljungens Lag’ doesn’t really sound much like ‘My Favourite Game’, ‘Lovefool’ or any of the band’s other hits. Created with producer Carl Granberg, ‘Ljungens Lag’ tramps its way across a whole array of sonic pastures. Kosmische and fourth-world influences can be discerned, but the record is treated with a fuzzy haze that recalls both Cankun and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Slum Of Legs’ eponymous debut LP is one of those records that is invigorating and disorientating in equal measure. The album is a rambunctious noise-rock scrum that’s capped off by some breathless, yippie vocal performances. Much of it comes off like Los Campesinos! getting schooled by The Ex, but there are moments of rocky clarity here that chime with the sound of fellow Brighton scene veterans Porridge Radio - check ‘I Dream Of Valves Exploding’ on that count.
We end with a tribute, of sorts. The celebrated, hugely influential avant-garde composer/conductor Krzysztof Penderecki passed away in March at the age of 86. While Penderecki himself doesn’t appear on Fire! Orchestra’s ‘Actions’, the album centres around an interpretation of Penderecki’s ‘Actions For Free Jazz Orchestra’. It’s a testament to the scope and scale of Penderecki’s compositional output that this recording of ‘Actions’ differs greatly to, say, Don Cherry’s 1998 attempt (one made alongside Penderecki himself). Recorded live at the 2018 Sacrum Profanum festival, ‘Actions’ is the sort of outer-limits music that Penderecki helped to usher into the world during his lifetime. RIP.