Best Records of August 2019 Blanck Mass, Nérija, HTRK, Charles Mingus
Sounding “personal” and having “personality” are traits music fans seem to all value in their favourite record. There’s even consensus among musicians, this month alone we sold two records named for that most personal of pronouns, “I”. One of the few things that unites much of the music Norman has enjoyed over the years is personality, and the records of August 2019 were no different.
Best albums this month
Blanck Mass - Animated 176869 Mild
We’ve come a long way from Benjamin Powers’ solo debut. When this half of Fuck Buttons first struck out on his own he was making body high inducing power ambient that somehow ended up being used in the London Olympics’ opening ceremony. Since then the Blanck Mass project has morphed into something I can only describe as glam-rock body-horror power-electronics. All the tracks on Animated Violence Mild are comic and absurd, as though Powers is looking at the current state of the world, and breaking down in pained laughter.
Nérija - Blume
Not a month goes by without someone from London releasing an excellent jazz record nowadays. August’s contribution to the pile was the debut from the Nubya Garcia led Nérija. Two things define Blume. First, its colour. This is more or less a given thanks its four charismatic horns, but there’s something in the production that makes the record sounds especially vivid. The other is Shirley Tetteh’s skeletal guitar playing, which provides a lively backdrop for the rest of the band to dance in front of.
Uniform & The Body - Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back
Though the Body are easily one of my favourite bands, their deluge of collaborations have never grabbed me. Even their first record with Uniform, Mental Wounds Not Healing, didn’t come close to how the experimental metal duo are capable of making me feel. But on Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back it finally clicks, and not just because it’s named for a Bruce Springsteen lyric (though that definitely helps). Uniform’s industrial muscle provides a marching beat for the Body’s more elusive weirdness, making for a record that is uniquely propulsive in their discography.
HTRK - Venus In Leo
According to the experts at Cafe Astrology, Venus In Leo people are “warm, generous, and even grand”. I’ve never tried to read an album’s horoscope before but that is an apt way of describing HTRK’s fourth album. Where once their music was abrasive and stand offish, it’s now smooth and welcoming. The production has an absorbing fluidity to it, above which Jonnine Standish’s deadpan vocals float completely carefree. That said, Venus In Leo people are apparently also “proud, even boastful” which fits less well. There’s a modesty and restraint to this record that is refreshing.
Bobby Krlic - Midsommar (Original Score)
Thank you Ari Aster for doing what all the other horror directors were clearly too afraid to do. He only went and asked Bobby Krlic aka the Haxan Cloak to record a horror score. Krlic built his career on making music that managed to terrify all on its own, so potent was he at capturing dread. After the success Aster had with asking Colin Stetson to soundtrack Hereditary, there was little chance Krlic’s Midsommar score would disappoint. And it didn’t, it’s the perfect compliment to the film’s folkish menace.
Ride - This Is Not A Safe Place
Since this album’s release, its artwork has taken on a life of its own, with people recreating it at their local large body of water. Our Ian’s even got in on the fun, taking his above his bathtub. I think it’s testament to Ride that their fans have run with such a subtle invitation to get involved, something that stems from their music which remains generous and warm. They’ve always been the boy band of the shoegaze world, and though they’re more of a man band nowadays, that earnestness hasn’t gone anywhere.
Oh Sees - Face Stabber
I don’t know much about Oh Sees née OCS née Thee Oh Sees née Oh Sees née I’ve done this joke before. But I do know frontman John Dwyer looks like Jeremy Renner if he had a mop haircut and always wore jean shorts. They’ve been around the block long enough to be one of psych rocks most reliable institutions. tThat usually isn’t enough to earn a spot in our best albums of the month, but you see, Face Stabber sees the band trying on krautrock for size. It makes sense, Oh Sees have a reputation for playing hard, playing tight and playing fast. So it was only a matter of time before they released a 21 minute kraut workout.
Pastor T.L. Barrett and The Youth For Christ Choir - Do Not Pass Me By Vol. II
It’s hard to talk about the music Pastor T.L. Barrett without talking about his personality. This, after all, was a man who was able to generate some two million dollars with a pyramid scheme. He was eventually forced to return the money, but fortunately for us his musical output was much less illegal. Do Not Pass Me By Vol. II is the last album he would release and sees him and the Youth For Christ Choir creating euphoria through a thrilling combination of soul, jazz, funk, and more. Though that may be ahistorical, these genres grew up together in churches like Barrett’s.
Föllakzoid - I
A decade after their self-titled debut, six years after II, four years after III, Föllakzoid reach their apotheosis, I. Where before they were counting up, now they count down. But count down to what? To the destruction of the ego of course. This is acknowledged in the album title’s second meaning, the first person singular pronoun. But it’s made evident by the music. This is psych rock that wants to be techno, that yearns to be. There’s no excess, there’s no showiness. Psych music as utilitarianism. Psych music not for finding yourself, but losing it.
Bon Iver - i,i
Justin Vernon has long been occupied with questions of self. His second album as Bon Iver was called Bon Iver, Bon Iver for goodness’ sake. And now we have that album’s mirror in i,i. In many ways, Vernon’s career has been building to this point. The beautifully lonely songs of For Emma, Forever Ago, the sprawling prog-folk of album two, and the horns and beats of 22, A Million, they all feed into i,i. Vernon is reflecting on a career at the forefront of big indie, and the view is wonderful.
Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
The album Norman Fucking Rockwell! most reminds me of is Arctic Monkeys’ divisive Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino. Both records cast their eyes back to a time of west coast glamour. But neither record is smitten. Yes they’ve borrowed some of the sonic trappings, but these albums were written in the 21st century, they know what happens to all that glamour. Lana Del Rey is at her best here, all wistful and sad, even during the happier numbers. Here naivete has hardened to a wisened cynicism, helped along by some of her best ever songwriting, and Jack Antonoff’s dreamy production.
Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady
What a miracle of a record. It’s rare that an album takes my breath away but the first time I heard The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady I was completely floored. Much to my shame that first listen came this past month so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Charles Mingus is considered one of jazz music's historic heavy weights, and rightly so. On this album he took the very concept of the big band and thought, a big band could be so much more, it could be everything. And so it came to be. So long Glenn Miller, it’s been good.
Coming to a shelf near you this September
- Boyband Girl Band keep things noisy.
- Stranger Things are afoot.
- (Sandy) Alex G should visit his dentist.
- Jenny Hval is back in the world of music after a brief defection to so-called “literature”.
- Some good noises from Gruff Rhys (Pang!), Andy Bell (Glok!), and Charli XCX (it’s Charli, baby!).
- When God closes a Massive Attack box set, he opens a Beatles one.
Missing the nice weather? Bask instead in the glory of our release schedule.