Best Albums of April 2020
Featuring Yves Tumor, Windy & Carl, Plone, Rina Sawayama and more...
A full month of quarantine down. Well done everyone.
We’ve found time for plenty of listening over the past few weeks, meaning that this month’s best albums round-up has been on our minds even more than usual as the end of April has drawn close. Some of the LPs in this list we’ve sung the praises of already - you’ll probably be aware of our fondness for new records from Plone, Yves Tumor and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs if you’ve kept up with some of our recent updates.
However, there are also a few newcomers in this list, albums which were either released late in the month or whose charms have revealed themselves to us more slowly. The knotted guitar instrumentals of Sir Richard Bishop’s ‘Oneiric Formulary’ aren’t the sort of thing you necessarily go for first time around, for instance, while dgoHn’s careful junglism also takes a little while. Both offer rich rewards for those who put the work in.
We kick off this month’s roundup by going down, once again, to Plonetown. We’ve banged the drum for ‘Puzzlewood’ a fair bit since it came out earlier in April, but that’s with good cause - it really is a very good record, one that’s full of colourful, fizzy-pop electronica and IDM. As ‘Puzzlewood’ is also Plone’s first new release for two decades, the fact that this album was so delightfully unexpected only adds to the fun.
Once & Future Band (great name) do a sort of modern-day Steely Dan thing on ‘Deleted Scenes’. No, wait, come back, it’s good! One imagines that ‘Deleted Scenes’ is the sort of record Thundercat might make if he quit noodling around on the bass and dedicated himself to his true love of nudge-wink Yacht Rock. Ever-melodious, full of sprightly charm and executed with impeccable musicianship, ‘Deleted Scenes’ is art-rock for the classicists amongst you.
What if Pigs, but too much? Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ ‘Viscerals’ is another one that we’ve already waxed plenty lyrical about this month. Mind you, given how popular the album’s been, it would seem that this one is quite an easy sell. Anyone who’s heard any of the Tyneside band’s previous releases will know what to expect from ‘Viscerals’, but for the uninitiated this lot are basically your new favourite noise-rock band, Black Sabbath as reimagined by The Heads.
Will Yves Tumor’s ‘Heaven To A Tortured Mind’ come to be as synonymous with 2020 as, say, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was with 2015? Well, it’s too early to say (and let’s be real, does any album truly want to be linked forever more with these times?). One thing that’s beyond doubt, however, is that many are already discussing Tumor’s masterful, purple-prose, ‘Stankonia’-on-valium fourth studio LP as a potential album of the year. You wouldn’t bet against it.
Sir Richard Bishop hasn’t actually been knighted, but such are his guitar-playing abilities that he can certainly claim the title of Lord Of The Six Strings. Once of Sun City Girls, Bishop’s made some increasingly singular albums down the years, and new LP ‘Oneiric Formulary’ is another set of weird and wonderful guitar music. From sonorous, folksy strums to moody rumbles that sound like Sun Kil Moon LPs played too slow on a beat-up turntable, ‘Oneiric Formulary’ doesn’t give an inch yet still manages to pull you in.
‘I Feel Alive’, the fourth LP from Montreal’s TOPS, is shaping up to be the band’s breakout album. This is with good reason - ‘I Feel Alive’ absolutely teems with well-written indie-pop tunes, and the band’s videos prove them to be a quietly charismatic bunch, particularly lead singer Jane Penney. A lot of the songs here have been produced with the same arch sheen that one finds in some of Prefab Sprout’s early work, and that’s no bad thing in our book.
Friends, you will not believe how often I confuse Windy & Carl and Bing & Ruth. Usually this isn’t a problem, but the two double-barreled minimalists will have released LPs by the end of 2020 and so I must be careful. ‘Allegiance and Conviction’ is by *checks notes* Windy & Carl and sees the duo behind our 2012 Album of the Year in fine form.
They combine deep, droning organs with all the tricks in the slowcore guitarists’ handbook; twinkling guitars, big and slow chords, and melodies that are unbearably moving. Windy also sings, a powerful and earthy voice, one sturdy enough not to get swept away by this beautiful blizzard of an album.
I like to imagine that, each time J Hus says the title of his new album ‘Big Conspiracy’ out loud, he does it with the voice of a journalist in an old-timey film who’s being carted away by police just as he’s about to blow a case wide open. It’s all a scam! They’re lying to you! It’s a big conspiracy, I tells ya!
Scoop or no scoop, ‘Big Conspiracy’ has certainly been a big success-racy for the ascendant Afroswing artist - the record topped the UK album chart when it was released onto streaming services in January. This new vinyl edition may not shift quite the same amount of units, but ‘Big Conspiracy’ sounds even more mega in a double-LP pressing.
I’m always curious as to why artists like dgoHn have opted to write their name in such a way. Why the lower-case ‘d’? Why the big ‘H’ in the middle? (Shout out to Big H). There must be some concerted thought behind these choices, the backstories of this logic leading us to essential truths about the person behind the music. Or maybe they just look cool, which is a truth in itself of course…
Either way, dgoHn’s ‘Undesignated Proximate’ is a set of drum ‘n’ bass odysseys as inventive as the grammatical choices in the artist’s name. There’s plenty of deft junglism in the breakbeats here that points to the influence of classic Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, but some of ‘Undesignated Proximate’s expansive, almost cosmic treatments have as much in common with the modern jazz expansions of artists like Shabaka Hutchings as they do with the IDM overlords.
Rina Sawayama’s semi-eponymous debut LP has been the talk of the town these past couple of weeks. Well, obviously the townspeople can’t talk to each other at the moment … Maybe we mean the talk of the web? You get our drift, anyway.
‘Sawayama’ feels like what comes after the age of PC Music - indeed, it’s no surprise to find that crew’s Danny L Harle among the credited producers here, though the bulk of the record has been tooled by Clarence Clarity. Songs like ‘Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)’ and ‘XS’ sound like late-90s pop that’s been sharpened on a whetstone, its sugariness offset by a deadly edge. Indeed, the fact that ‘Sawayama’ sometimes ruptures into the kind of digitised nu-metal that Grimes has been exploring of late only adds to the album’s sly power.