Lockdown Listening: Most Popular Albums
In the words of Blur, we’ve got a file on you.
We’re all listening to different stuff to get us through this lockdown.
Personally this Norman Records™ dreg-swiller has latched onto RMR’s ‘Rascal’, a desert-of-the-real anthem which feels wholly appropriate for these uncanny times. However, I understand that not everyone shares my commitment to the yeehaw agenda, and as such it’s interesting to note what records have been pushing the buttons of you, dear customer.
You see, using Extremely Scientific Indeed methods (a spreadsheet that my editor sent me...), we have been able to crunch the numbers and find out which records on our site people have sought out most frequently since the lockdown came into effect back in March. Some entries here could have been predicted - new records from Yves Tumor and The Chats were always going to do well, pandemic or no pandemic. However, others have really come in from leftfield, the strange emotional trips caused by staying indoors all the time leading people to seek out music they may not have in other circumstances.
This one caught us by surprise. Sure, Hania Rani’s an excellent pianist capable of creating light, feathery contemporary classical compositions, and that sort of thing tends to do reasonably well in certain circles. But ‘reasonably well’ means, like, a dozen sales max - not close to a hundred, as Rani’s debut LP ‘Esja’ has racked up over the past few weeks. ‘Esja’ isn’t even a particularly new album, emerging as it did in the first half of 2019, but a prominent radio spot near the start of the quarantine caused a huge spike in interest. It’s comfortably our biggest seller of the lockdown - and Rani’s forthcoming ‘Home’, the follow-up to ‘Esja’, has been doing pretty well too.
The Chats are the band we need in these times. No, they aren’t spending their time offering ‘an artistic response to the COVID-19 crisis’ or anything of that ilk. In fact, such things could not be further from The Chats’ wheelhouse, and this is exactly why their debut LP ‘High Risk Behaviour’ is proving such a balm. This is about as no-frills as a record can get, a set of tuneful idiot-punk whose primary concerns are stuffing your face and getting as pissed as possible. It’s funny and silly and diverting - perfect listening in a portion of history that is precisely none of those things.
Amidst all the horrible stuff of the past couple of months, the announcement of Plone’s new ‘Puzzlewood’ LP proved a shaft of light. You see, it’s been absolutely ages since we heard anything from Plone - ‘For Beginner Piano’, the band’s only other full-length record, came out all the way back in 1999. No wonder, then, that people have come out in large numbers for ‘Puzzlewood’, an album that supercharges the zippy glee of ‘For Beginner Piano’ into a kaleidoscopic, joyous set of contemporary IDM. Imagine Grandaddy’s ‘A.M. 180’ (aka the theme tune to Charlie Brooker’s ‘Screenwipe’/‘Newswipe’) at album length and you’re not far off.
Pigs. Seven of them. In your house. Playing music. Oink!
Obviously (and a little disappointingly) Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are not actually a band of seven swine. They are, in fact, five human men - human men from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, no less. Pigs x7 have been making quite a racket these past few years, both in the sense that they’re now one of the country’s most successful noise-rock bands and also that their music is Very Loud. After the success of 2019’s ‘King Of Cowards’, their next release was always going to be a big one. 'Viscerals', the album in question, has done the job nicely.
This one’s really got you going, eh? The page for Rowland S. Howard’s 1999 LP ‘Teenage Snuff Film’ is the most visited of any on our site since the lockdown began. And with good reason - even in less extraordinary circumstances, a long-overdue reissue of the late Birthday Party guitarist’s first solo LP would be cause for celebration. The instrumentals here twang like his on-off pal Nick Cave, but Howard’s pinched vocals, which are pitched somewhere between Jarvis Cocker and Shane Macgowan, take ‘Teenage Snuff Film’ in an altogether different direction. We’re very flattered that so many of you have come to Norman for this prime dose of noirish, miserablist rock.
And another! ‘Pop Crimes’ was the follow-up to ‘Teenage Snuff Film’ which arrived a full decade after its predecessor. Despite the gap between them the records don’t differ too much from one another, and this LP finds Howard knuckling down once again to some sombre rock lopes. As well as Howard’s originals, ‘Pop Crimes’ features a couple of delicious covers, with his seedy and strutting take on Talk Talk’s ‘Life’s What You Make It’ the pick for me. ‘Pop Crimes’ also stands as Howard’s final LP - he would pass away at the very end of 2009. This album and ‘Teenage Snuff Film’ stand as testament to Howard’s profound and important legacy.
Everyone loves Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield’s long-running indie-cana project. ‘Saint Cloud’, the fifth Waxahatchee studio LP, is a cleaner affair than its predecessor, 2017’s ‘Out In The Storm’. We mean this in every sense - not only is the production and songcraft notable crisper here, but ‘Saint Cloud’ also emerges from a period of newfound sobriety for Crutchfield. Some of these tracks sound like the sort of thing that you write when you’ve made it through a dark night of the soul and seen dawn on the other side, while others return to that place and cuts like ‘War’ hold both in balance.
At this point, Sufjan Stevens is one of those artists who will forever have an audience - that’s what two decades of releasing classic albums will do for you. ‘Aporia’, the new collaborative LP that Stevens has made with Lowell Brams, doesn’t feel like one of his more major works, but this light air actually turns out to be one of its strengths. After all, when you have a tendency to put your listeners through the emotional wringer, sometimes it's nice to just kick back and mess about on some synthesisers with a friend by your side. The result is an album of playful contemporary kosmische diversions.
It’s only been out for a couple of weeks, but already Yves Tumor’s ‘Heaven To A Tortured Mind’ is being hailed as one of 2020’s best LPs. Anyone who’s heard the album will be hard-pushed to disagree - simply put, this is a stunning and unique set of contemporary pop. Opting for a sort of etherised funk sound in their production, Tumor inhabits the character of a shadowy sex god throughout the album with a panache rarely seen since the golden age of Prince. Also, given that early Tumor LPs like ‘Serpent Music’ tended towards challenging textures, the fact that ‘Heaven To A Tortured Mind’ is so hook-laden really is very impressive.
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again - the timing of the release of The Orb’s ‘The Abolition of the Royal Familia’ is absolutely freakish. The fact this album, one that had presumably been in the works for months if not years, was released in the very week that the UK government announced its coronavirus lockdown is just … it’s uncanny. You see, after an hour or so of beatific rave noodling, warm house beats and zany sonic collaging, The Orb round out ‘The Abolition of the Royal Familia’ with a recontextualised Jello Biafra writing that details - yep, you guessed it - a nationwide lockdown. No wonder, then, that this record has proved so popular over the past couple of weeks.
Alessandro Cortini has a lot more in his arsenal than just pure drone, and Daniel Avery is certainly thought of as a dance music producer first and foremost. However, for their new collaborative LP ‘Illusion Of Time’ the pair have gone all-in on making loud monoliths. While the whole album has an air of electronic gothicism about it, Avery and Cortini spin the sound in a variety of directions here - for every crushing totem (‘Sun’, ‘Inside The Ruins’) we get some watercolour synth work (‘CC Pad’) or a more melodious, keys-led vignette (‘Illusion Of Time’). Drone on you crazy diamonds.
The National’s ‘High Violet’ has been hugely popular ever since its release in 2010 catapulted the band from indie darlings to arena-bothering rockers. A tenth-anniversary, bonus-track-laden edition of the record was always going to do well, but quarantine conditions may have further aided its cause. I mean, if there were ever a time to hole up in your house with a set of quiet-storm rock songs entitled things like ‘Little Faith’ and ‘Afraid Of Everyone’, now would very much be it. And yes, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ still slaps.