New Music Friday. That’s music, which is new, on a Friday.
“Hang on,” we hear you cry, “didn’t the Charli XCX and Run The Jewels albums come out months ago?” Why yes, yes they did - but you see, as Norman is a physical stock-only shop, ‘how i’m feeling now’ and ‘RTJ4’ are new to us because they’ve only just been afforded CD/vinyl releases. We’re more than happy with this situation, because it allows us the chance to wax lyrical about two of 2020’s best pop records all over again. Line those albums up alongside newbies from the likes of Napalm Death, Sarah Davachi and OSEES and we’d call this a fine-lookin’ listicle.
Brock Van Wey may not be as prolific as John Dwyer's Thee Oh Sees - more on that rabble in a minute - but the producer known to many as bvdub still turns out LPs at a mightily impressive clip. ‘Wrath & Apathy’, Van Wey’s latest bvdub effort, delivers more of his signature blend of ambient textures, knock-knock electronics and skyscraping post-rock atmospherics.
When it emerged online in May of this year, Charli XCX’s ‘how i’m feeling now’ was widely heralded as pop music’s first pandemic-era masterpiece. Demonstrating the sort of savvy acumen that has characterised her career to date, Charli XCX began work on ‘how i’m feeling now’ almost immediately after lockdowns were first announced back in Spring. After crowdsourcing ideas from fans and shooting files back and forth with her famous friends (A. G. Cook, Tommy Cash, 100 Gecs’ Dylan Brady), Charli XCX landed on a record which suffused her maximalist futuro-pop style with the frustration, fear and enervation of The New Normal.
Imagine deciding that you wanted to spend some time by yourself, following through on the idea with a period of self-imposed isolation, emerging back into the world and then very quickly having to do it all again due to the pandemic. I’d be fed up, to say the least - but this is exactly how it’s gone down for Bristol-based singer-songwriter Fenne Lily, who wrote her new LP ‘BREACH’ in a period of withdrawal prior to coronavirus coming along. Mind you, Fenne Lily taking that time for herself has paid off in spades on this album, a collection of contemplative alt-rock tracks that recall Big Thief and early-days The War On Drugs.
Of all the gigs, concerts, raves and parties that we’ve been deprived of during the pandemic, punk shows might be the ones I miss the most, and also the ones I fear may take the longest to return. After all, it’s hard to envisage a socially-distanced iteration of events which hinged on people hurling themselves around and spewing bodily fluids in small, dark rooms. The thought of a new Napalm Death LP may make me feel the loss of those experiences more keenly, but once this thing’s on the turntable I’ve got no time for moping. You see, ‘Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism’ finds the legendary grindcore group at their piledriving best, its caustic tracks delivered with incandescent power. Mourn after; rage during.
How are (Thee) OSEES still managing to make so much music? Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop the world’s most incessant beat-combo (bar, perhaps, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard) from turning out a new set of garage-rock delights. ‘Protean Threat’ keeps the classic John Dwyer sound - motorik beats, raggedy guitars - but also has a nice slinkiness to it which hasn’t always been present in his music these past few years. As such, there’s a bit of Devo energy to ‘Protean Threat’, which is never a bad thing in my book.
Along with the Charli XCX album, Run The Jewels’ ‘RTJ4’ is another year-defining LP that emerged in the early lockdown times which is only now making its way to physical stores. There are similarities between the two records which go beyond the circumstances of their release - both are defiant and brazen records which combine pop immediacy with some bold sonics - but ‘RTJ4’ is also the sort of confrontational-yet-invigorating affair that only the pair of Killer Mike and El-P can create. Backed by some of their finest beats to date, lyrically the duo burn a wretched world to the ground before rebuilding it for the better.
As the old song goes, ‘Cantus, Descant’, knees and toes (knees and toes). Seems like no-one informed Sarah Davachi of the lyrics, though - the rising post-minimalist composer has delivered another LP of heady, droning music here. This is a record that washes over the listener, its unbroken waves of sound teetering between reverie and something more fraught. The ethereal effect of ‘Cantus, Descant’ is only heightened by the addition of Davachi’s vocals on cuts like ‘Play The Ghost’. Fans of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma should find plenty to love here.
Tim Koh has an incredibly impressive resume - Gang Gang Dance, Thurston Moore, Hieroglyphic Being and Animal Collective are just a few of the acts he’s worked alongside down the years. With debut LP ‘In Your Dreams’ it seems like Tim Koh may be on the cusp of ascending to the indie big leagues under his own name. The time that Tim Koh has put in as part of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti serves him well here, for ‘In Your Dreams’ is a collection of hypnagogic and psychedelic pop ditties.
John Newton, the brains behind Total Wkts, spends most of his time in London knocking about in the noise-rock duo JOHN (yes, the other guy’s called John as well). As such, it’s no surprise to find that his solo project’s new LP ‘Running Tracks’ is a set of driving punky nuggets which recall fellow doomy young men like IDLES and Shame. However, ‘Running Tracks’ also has both a rough-and-ready feel and a penchant for crackling techno drum beats which belies its origins as a one-man affair.
Oh HAAi! Didn’t see you there. The electronic musician born Teneil Throssell has been making waves in recent times, and last year HAAi debuted on Mute with ‘Systems Up Windows Down’. That record’s title was as instructive as it was informative - some of the EP’s doom-laden, SVBKVLT-style techno could have summoned wraiths - but follow-up ‘Put Your Head Above The Parakeets’ is slightly different proposition. There are still club-ready beats here, but there’s also an air of halcyon-glow dreaminess ‘Put Your Head Above The Parakeets’ which draws on chillwave, Balearic house and rave revivalism. Fully rate this one.