Best Albums of May 2020
Featuring Einstürzende Neubauten, Mark Lanegan, ADULT., Perfume Genius and more...
May 2020. What in the world. When I think about the things that have happened in the past month it properly feels like my head is going to explode.
Let’s keep to the tunes. We’ve seen some glorious albums come in of late. Sorrow, anger, frustration, love, pain, hope - they’ve all been in the mix, and plenty else besides. Some of the music has been ebullient, some has been contemplative, some has been furious and some has been Sleaford Mods. All of it has been brilliant, from India Jordan’s life-affirming club reveries to the troubled ruminations of Mark Lanegan and Perfume Genius.
‘Mutable Set’ has been a sleeper hit around Norman Towers these past few weeks. Though Blake Mills is a prominent behind-the-scenes character in the music biz, his isn’t exactly a household name, and as such ‘Mutable Set’ slipped out somewhat unnoticed in the early days of May. However, since then the LP has quietly become a firm favourite of ours, its welcoming and unusual take on the folk singer-songwriter tradition pitching it somewhere between Animal Collective’s acoustic period and the ruminative dreamwork of classic Nick Drake.
Perfume Genius albums aren’t the sort of records that bludgeon you over the head. Instead, the songs that Mike Hadreas makes under this name shimmer like light on water, their beauty so fragile that it might turn to dust in your hands. New Perfume Genius LP ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’ is another stunning display of tenderness and strength in the midst of great emotional turmoil, and the fact that it sounds like Edith Piaf doing music for ‘Twin Peaks’ only adds to the spare beauty of the thing.
Modern Studies’ ‘The Weight Of The Sun’ is the only album released this month that runs ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’ close in the beauty pageant. There is a mite more muscularity to the music of this Scottish quartet, and their songs aren’t dunked in stormy seas of emotion in the same way Mike Headreas’ are. But ‘The Weight Of The Sun’, and its dozen pieces of slightly baroque-ish, slightly psychedelic indie, raises its voice to hit similar heights. It’s an album that holds tight the harmonies of Camera Obscura, Belle And Sebastian and The Coral.
Back once again for the renegade masters, new-buildings collapsers, Einstürzende Neubauten! It’s been a long old time since we last had an LP from the legendary German industrial group - twelve years, to be precise (though we did get something close in the form of 2014’s ‘Lament’). With its air of pensive, slightly seedy noir, ‘Alles In Allem’ is not the sort of album that you’d label a triumphant return, but it is a fantastic record by anyone’s standards. The manner in which Einstürzende Neubauten have worked serious songcraft into their inimitable hammers-on-sheet-metal style down the years is hugely impressive.
Sleaford Mods, they keep it real. They’re not cynical, they don’t try and fob you off, and they don’t release music that isn’t worth buying. Basically they aren’t industry careerists, a stance which, in a rather pleasing turn of events, has led them to becoming one of the biggest ‘punk’ (or whatever else you’d call it) bands in the country. For the past couple of years they’ve started to release things through their own Extreme Eating imprint, and ‘All That Glue’ is a compilation which brings stuff that they’ve shotted to other labels back into the fold. Rare tunes stand alongside fan favourites, an approach that both provides a composite overview of what Sleaford Mods do and reminds us that, whether they’ve been in the big leagues or down the bottom, they’ve always done things their own way.
Mark Lanegan’s ‘Straight Songs Of Sorrow’ is his first LP for seven years to be credited to the former Screaming Trees man alone rather than the Mark Lanegan Band. This is a subtle but crucial distinction. You see, ‘Straight Songs Of Sorrow’ emerged in the orbit of his recent memoir ‘Sing Backwards And Weep’, and the songs here are a byproduct of Lanegan processing his troubled past for the book. It’s a wearied record, but one that is made all the more affecting for its hard-bitten nature, with Lanegan intoning his struggle atop beautiful grungy songcraft.
One of the most exciting things in music is when an artist surprises you. On Against All Logic’s ‘2017-2019’, Nicolas Jaar thrillingly changes pace, going up several gears from the considered electronics and sample-heavy deep house that he’s become known for. This is a collection of caustic techno and unpredictable genre forays - juke, industrial, power electronics. The distorted beats on tracks like Lydia Lunch collaboration ‘If You Can’t Do It Good Do It Hard’ sound as if they have been lashed to a mast during a storm.
It’s not often we get two records in quick succession which have intimate relationships with Scotland's islands. However, this is exactly what has happened in the past few weeks - shortly after Lord Of The Isles and Ellen Renton stoked up rave memories on their Whities EP, Erland Cooper completed his trio of releases based around his beloved Orkney home by dropping ‘Hether Blether’. It’s a stirring set this, one that emboldens the contemporary classical sound of Erased Tapes with both avant-garde and chamber-pop influences.
If the festivals, gigs, raves and parties had been going ahead as scheduled this Summer, there is no doubt in my mind that India Jordan’s ‘For You’ would have received heavy rotation at every single one. In particular, opening track ‘I’m Waiting (Just 4 U)’ is an absolutely glorious slice of sample-house, a track with everything from Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ to Daphni’s ‘Sizzling’ in its DNA. Jordan draws from both their journey of queer self-discovery and their wide-ranging, deep love of club musics, from house to jungle to happy hardcore. ‘For You’ is an absolute triumph of a record.
For more than two decades now ADULT. have been a byword for all that is good in hardcore Electronic Body Music. The pair’s new LP ‘Perception Is/As/Of Deception’ reminds us that, though many acts have emerged in their wake, ADULT. remain the go-to for the most scuzzy, gnarly, uncompromising techno songcraft. In the vein of the D.A.F., Boy Harsher and Nitzer Ebb, ‘Perception Is/As/Of Deception’ is music that channels dark desire into something righteous.