Best Albums of February 2020
February - a month short on days and long on music. Despite being the briefest of months, artists from around the world have still managed to cram more excellent music into February than you can shake a stick at. We’ve heard some great stuff, from hotly-anticipated new LPs by Grimes and The Orielles to delightful curios on tiny lil labels. Stay tuned for a roundup of our favourite hidden gems - for now, let’s stick with the big hitters. Here then, verily, are our albums of the month for February 2020.
There’s something so antiseptic about ‘Workaround’. It’s in the way that all the elements sound so isolated from each other, somehow layering onto each other across dimensions. Instruments like tabla and pedal-steel guitar and kora sound as crisp as they’ve ever done, even getting to the point where they almost sound computer-generated. Beatrice Dillon then weaves them into a fractal tapestry, moving always at 150BPM, as dizzying to contemplate in the macro as it is the micro. ‘Workaround’ is one for the detail-oriented.
The Orielles coming from the same county as us (West Yorkshire, for the uninitiated) makes it hard for us to not like them. But then again, their music does a decent job of that too. In terms of palette the band that first comes to mind when listening to ‘Disco Volador’ has to be Stereolab, though The Orielles are a little more interested in making you dance than Gane, Sadier et al. It’s hard to think of a more perfect band for a late-afternoon festival set.
In retrospect, I should never have doubted Makaya McCraven. His career has shown that he is the authority when it comes to making jazz edits and whatever difficulties were going to come with doing that to Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘I’m New Here’ were difficulties he was going to be able to overcome. McCraven transforms the 2010 LP while always finding space for the original’s linchpins, Scott-Heron’s voice and the things he says with it.
Despite Phil’s best efforts, we keep enjoying jazz records. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the London jazz scene is one of the most lively musical communities anywhere in the country, of any genre. The scene’s health is partly thanks to Moses Boyd, who, like Makaya McCraven, is as meticulous a drummer as he is a producer and composer. Guest spots from Obongjayar and Joe Armon-Jones help keep things interesting on Boyd’s solo debut LP ‘Dark Matter’ and also demonstrate Boyd’s full embrace of jazz’s collaborative spirit.
Grandaddy’s ‘The Sophtware Slump’ used spaced-out indie-rock to exorcise the band’s anxieties about technology way back in 2000. It’s now 2020 and Pictish Trail have some similar worries, specifically about what our phones do to us. Now don’t fret, this isn’t your average ‘what-if-phones-but-too-much’ polemic - Pictish Trail are far too canny for that. In using their own recipe of electronica, folk and indie rock, the Scottish group have proven themselves the worthiest inheritors of the world Grandaddy imagined two decades ago.
When Grimes first broke through with the release of 2012’s ‘Visions’ people were practically lining up to criticise her making music on GarageBand, the digital audio workstation known for being easy to use. Well, I hope they’re happy now, because ‘Miss Anthropocene’ practically glows with Grimes' production skills. Though there are still elements of pop, this climate anxiety epic leans more towards genres like trip-hop and even wild-eyed drum ‘n’ bass. ‘Miss Anthropocene’ is less vivid than ‘Art Angels’, but as things stand our future will be less vivid too.
How do you think a band with a song called ‘Fuck The Beatles’ sounds? Go on, have a guess. How about a band whose album is called ‘Nah Nah Nah Yeh Yeh Yeh’? Stumped? Then let me help. Luminous Bodies make wild and flailing noise-rock that verges on thrash-metal. It’s about as unhinged as that album cover suggests. As an experience it’s not unlike a dream in which a mysterious man yells at you in a forgotten language, all while a friend of his is shredding guitar.
Friend, if you were not already sold on the latest compilation from the wonderful Soul Jazz Records then I don’t know what to tell you. Twelve tracks of the hardest, most devastating early jungle you’ll ever have the pleasure to listen to. When we first had this on in the office every head at every desk was nodding along in perfect 160 BPM synchronisation. Absolutely magic. As with every Soul Jazz compilation ‘Black Riot: Early Jungle, Rave and Hardcore’ works just as well for the jungle beginner as it does the expert.
All the chat around Shopping’s ‘All Or Nothing’ has been that the trio have ‘gone pop’ (more like Popping, am I right ladies and gentlemen?). There is certainly greater gloss to the group’s fourth LP than heard on previous records, with bright synths buoying up some hooky songcraft. However, none of the band’s wiry agit-punk has been lost in the shuffle. The resulting record comes off like what Devo, Wire and Gang Of Four did in the 80s - some of the most vital work in their respective catalogues.
Originally released as 2019’s Summer dissolved into Autumn, JPEGMAFIA’s ‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’ has only just got its first vinyl pressing. That’s fine by us - it gives us a chance to champion this extraordinary record once again. ‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’ is an album that sounds as if it’s trying to outrun itself, its beats crowding each other out as Peggy throws his voice all over the place. Funny, frantic and fired-up, comparisons with industrial-strength hip-hop-adjacent LPs from Moor Mother and Death Grips don’t really nail an album that is at once the work of a master troll and also the sound of someone fighting for sincerity in an age of air-quotes.