We know there are albums in limbo waiting for the right time to be released. So many delayed until tours, festivals and full promo kick in proper again. I like to imagine them kept in rooms the exact right temperature, not too cold or chilly, air holding the precise amount of moisture. At the same point each day a man or woman in a crisp white laboratory coat and latex gloves – plus mask of course – unlocks the room, enters, checks the temperature and humidity, gently sees to each album with a clean muslin cloth to wipe away any dust particles. They might say a prayer, but they’re scientists so voice it quietly or mouth it in silence. Task completed they leave the room, turn the key in the lock once more and smile because this, making sure those records are kept perfect for us, is the best part of their day. Wonderful music is coming, friends. Can you tell I’ve thought about this maybe a little too much?
But for now, we find ourselves halfway through the year with a sense of optimism. Not about the mess of the world around us because that’s all bat shit crazy right now, but we’re allowing ourselves pleasure at the albums released this year so far. The albums shared over the past six months are like a very welcome rainfall after a tough and stubborn drought. We are grateful for them, whether shelved for a bit or made by the creative souls making best use of that extra time we were lumbered with.
We have picked albums released in the first difficult six months of 2021, the best and most loved by GIITTV editors and writers. Read, listen, enjoy, challenge our list. Tell us what we’ve missed out. Share you favourites too. We’re all ears. But we’re looking forward too. It’s what we do. (Cath Holland)
UV-TV – Always Something
New York City trio UV-TV released their exhilarating third album Always Something earlier this summer and its an absolute winner.
The sound of a band enjoying themselves playing live: it’s supercharged with awesome fuzz trailed guitar riffs, flowing boy/girl melodies and bounding percussion. It fizzes with the effervescent power-pop of Blondie and
The Primitives, melodies that touch on early R.E.M. or the guitar sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s an album that plugs into sounds of the 80s and 90s but unlike much of the lad bands that populate this year’s festival lineups, it sounds utterly infectious and refreshing. A release of frustration after eighteen months of lockdown, it’s a supercharged guitar album ripe with bittersweet life-affirming melodies, it’s the kind of record that can restore your faith in the ability of guitar music to excite.(Bill Cummings)
Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Michelle Zauner aka Japanese Breakfast has always been an uninhibited writer; it forms the backbone of her work. After mourning her mother’s death on Psychopomp and slowly moving forward on Soft Sounds, we’re used to her compelling honesty and humanity. Jubilee often sees Michelle welcome optimism whilst having a freedom to follow her impulses to explore new themes. This positivity is carried over into the most expansive and grandest music of her career. These progressions in scope and design are seamless, and in-line with the vision Michelle talked about before Jubilee’s release.
Jubilee is a stunning and bold step-up that firmly cements Michelle as one of music’s most gifted songwriters, composers and performers. Be sweet to this one, we need more like her.(Jonathan Wright)
Lou Hayter – Private Sunshine
Lou Hayter first made her mark professionally as keyboardist for the Mercury-nominated New Young Pony Club, before going on to form the New Sins with Nick Phillips and Tomorrow’s World with Air’s JB Dunckel.
Now she is striking out solo, skilfully mining a brand of sophisticated and infectious synth-pop that taps into the Jam and Lewis era of Janet Jackson and the knowing suites of pop explored by the likes of Goldfrapp and Pet Shop Boys. The sumptuous title track, ‘Private Sunshine‘, is a breathy cloud of French touch tinged pop wistfulness. It’s the follow up to the confident funky grooves, knowing hooky refrains, and sparkling synths of ace previous single ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. Elsewhere the sax laden groove ‘Telephone’ struts infectiously to capture someone’s heart, while the sugary sweet melodies of ‘Cherry on Top’ is bursting with infatuated shimmering possibilities woven with house flavours.
With this clutch of brilliant singles, her debut solo album is a treasure trove of refreshing slinky sunshine flecked pop sounds that surf the lines of disco, 70s, and synth-pop and cuts it into a colourful pattern that will brighten up your day and get your feet moving.(Bill Cummings)
Slowthai – Tyron
After taking 2019 by storm Northampton rapper Slowthai developed an odd relationship with fame. Not only has he cut through this on Tyron, he has managed to present his new found status and difficult to relate to experiences without losing touch with what originally made him a special property. This is the same artist who gave us Nothing Great About Britain and those glorious pre-debut singles.
The biggest change, bar from how sonically consistent the production on this LP is, is that he has fully embraced UK hip hop, with any traces of grime now being barely detectable. The debut even had a punk track in the shape of ‘Doorman’ – nothing as off the beaten path has made it to this hyper-focused release. Part of this makes Tyron a less dangerous, combative and explosive follow up. On the other hand, it’s a smoother, more cohesive, mature release.
Has it got the stand out tunes? Well yes, some. ‘Terms’ sees Slowthai in passionate form, considering his life and how badly he treats his body. Perhaps more surprisingly Dominic Fike provides one of his very rare high quality performances. ‘45 Smoke’ is a dark, smokey and substantive track to kick things off with. ‘Mazza’, on the other end of the spectrum has a gorgeous synth melody winding through it and smooth as hell bars with a perfect flow. Final track ‘ADHD’ has an enjoyable intensity that ends things on a strong note with things finally getting twisted.
I don’t have any particularly strong feelings on ‘Cancelled’. It’s a nice enough song but if you were going to do a critique on cancel culture I think it would be worth telling your audience about what you don’t like about it, rather than just postulating about your popularity – which you could do any track. Only Britain could produce a rapper that dedicates a song to their national health service. Though ‘nhs’ is home to the clunker of a lyric “what’s knickers without frilly thongs”.
All in all I’d say this second LP is a small step down from the first, but is an interesting development in Slowthai’s sound and (most importantly) hasn’t seen him crash, burn and squander his efforts as a result of fame.(Richard Wiggins)
Grandbrothers – All the Unknown
Grandbrothers create a mixture of minimal electronic and modern classical music with touches of nu jazz. I listened to ‘Bloodflow’ as a primer for All the Unknown and it struck a strong chord. I am a naturally sentimental, soft guy so it’s unsurprising that this song, specifically designed to key into heightened emotions, worked a treat on me. The title track of this new LP works the same magic. Repeating, tragic piano chords matched with jittering, on edge, vibrating electronic percussion that feel like the climax of a grand movie, or the soundtrack to some seismic realisation.
‘Four Rivers’ initially leans more heavily into that nu jazz bent with the group moving into Portico Quartet-esque arpeggiated half synths, half acoustic strings before simmering down into something less immediate but beautifully obscure. It’s amazing that the group is able to keep that lump in your throat throughout the majority of the album. The emotional tension peaks and flows but they rarely let it fade away entirely.
You need to have energy to properly invest in an album like this. Listen to it tired and you could run the risk of it washing over you like hollow, epic nothingness. If you have energy to give this record and are willing to get lost in its winding melodies, Grandbrothers will reward you.(Richard Wiggins)
Lael Neale – Acquainted with the night
Acquainted With Night, is one of the albums of the year so far. With all unconnected sound and production removed and recorded on an four-track – an extraordinary testament in itself – Acquainted With Night captures the human spirit with all of its flaws and struggle, yearning and questioning of its own mortality: it is both nakedly personal to Virginian native Lael Neale and universal at the same time. It speaks to the contrast between the vastness of a city you can get lost in, with communities that hold the human connections. At a time of tragedy and gruelling isolation, when we have been huddled up alone for vast periods of time, this album offers a flickering light of hope that things will be OK in the future.
If you squint it sounds a little like a lo-fi Lana Del Rey or Mazzy Star chiseled down to its bare bones; add the distinctive omnichord and personal revelations delivered by Lael Neale’s unique voice then it’s in its own orbit and very special indeed. This subtle approach is contrasted by the cinematic grandeur and sense of space with which she imbues each song, as Neale reaches toward the transcendent experience with a vivid and emotional clarity.(Bill Cummings)
The Anchoress – The Art of Losing
Welsh songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Catherine Anne Davies, The Anchoress, released her second studio album this spring and it deeply captured our hearts.
Inspired by loss and trauma, this is a collection of songs that are masterfully affective. They take grief and traumatic experience by the shoulders, shake it, pin it back, and ultimately look it deep in the eye. With the darkness though also comes beauty, with gorgeous melody simultaneously offering a balm for the heart as it cuts deep. Tracks such as ‘Unravel’, ‘5am’ and ‘The Heart is a Lonesome Hunter’ particularly made an impact on me. The production of the album, by The Anchoress, is particularly impressive, teasing out the layers of each song, with the overall soundscape beautifully Inspired by music from Scott Walker, Tori Amos, Manic Street Preachers (James Dean Bradfield is a guest vocalist on the album), and David Bowie. This is an astonishing record that stays with you long after each listen. Audacious, compassionate, and breath-taking. (Lucy Bennett)
Shame – Drunk Tank Pink
Shame’s 2018 debut album Songs of Praise saw them proclaimed as one of the leaders of an ever-growing group of post-punk bands. This is still Shame, but with their hearts on their sleeve. Drunk Tank Pink is a brutally honest album. Constant touring led to a need to reconnect with their own selfs and rediscover their identities. Drunk Tank Pink lays bare all the anxieties and insecurities felt by the band but with a frenetic manic passionate energy which marks this firmly as a Shame album.
Opener is ‘Alphabet’, the first single from the album. Straight into what we expect from Shame. Brilliant guitar rhythms and thrashing drums – perfect moshpit material. Very dancey and yet the lyrics suggest the feelings of an outsider, perhaps a feeling of imposter syndrome. “Now what you see is what you get. I still don’t know the alphabet” “Don’t forget your P’s and Q’s. Just smile when we tell you too”. Introduced here is that sense of insecurity, but buried within the power and emotion of the track.
A number of the tracks have a complete change of pace midsong. On ‘Nigel Hitter’ lead singer Charlie Steen sings “I’ve been waiting outside for all of my life, and now I’ve got to the door there’s no-one inside”. Its as if they have been working so hard to be part of the gang, but having achieved the goal, its not what is required after all.
There is a frantic pace, but then an abrupt slow down perhaps reflecting the fact that the band have been running around trying to do all the right things and then waking up when it stops and thinking – what now?
“You become very aware of yourself and when all of the music stops, you’re left with the silence,” reflects Steen. “And that silence is a lot of what this record is about.”
Shame began the journey to producing a second album feeling shell shocked from constant touring. To cope, guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith barricaded himself in his bedroom and obsessively deconstructed his very approach to playing and making music. Frontman Charlie Steen took a different approach and partied. The toll of life in the band had hit hard. The disintegration of his relationship, the loss of a sense of self and the growing identity crisis both the band and an entire generation were feeling. “When you’re exposed to all of that for the first time you think you’re f*cking indestructible,” he said. “After a few years, you reach a point where you realise everyone need a bath and a good night’s sleep sometimes.”
Charlie hid away to work on the lyrics in a room painted from floor to ceiling in the pink shade developed to calm down inmates in a US Naval correctional facility. The result is an album full of twists and turns, depth, emotion, and honesty; however, I am not sure the calming influence of the colour Drunk Tank Pink worked. Thank goodness.(Julia Mason)
Squirrel Flower – Planet (i)
From its huge opener, ‘I’ll Go Running’ to the half-light fragility of ‘Starshine’, there was never any doubt about the impact of Ella Williams’ second Squirrel Flower album. It hits all the soft places you wouldn’t believe still exist after a heart-hardening year, not with force but with a subtle loving kindness that shines all the brighter because of the adversity. Against an acoustic guitar style that evokes the rolling, endless plains of her native Iowa, Williams’ vocals are warm even when they’re singing about the impending apocalpyse of tornado storms, rising flood waters and forest fires, expressing a wisdom and self-awareness that resonates with the likes of Aimee Mann, Sharon Van Etten or Julien Baker.
If this one passed you by in 2021, we suggest you check out the singles ‘Flames and Flat Tires‘ or Mitski-like ‘Desert Wildflowers‘ to get a feel of the ground Squirrel Flower covers. Devastating, simple, sparse and brief. “I’m not scared of the storm”, Williams breathes, “I’ll be lying on the roof when the tornado turns and the thunder screams, I’m another piece of debris”. A stunning album that will most likely also be on my year end list. (Trev Elkin)
Dorothea Paas – Anything Can’t Happen
Canadian songwriter Dorothea Paas has probably already filled your headphones with her distinctive voice without you realising it, particularly if you’re a fan of U.S. Girls, Jennifer Castle or the Badge Epoque Ensemble, for whom she has played guitar and sung back-up. No wonder that Paas’ debut album glows with the sheen of an artist at their peak not a newcomer. It’s rocky, experimental, jazzy, yet intensely romantic, gently sending your day in a more interesting direction on every listen. Paas’ meandering lyricism is a sunlit stroll through the autumn of a relationship, at the fringes of a break-up that could never happen. Her voice floats melodiously and cascades through thought patterns and the discordant ripples left in their wake. Simple lyrics are animated by unusual phrasing, circling around the most straightforward of concepts until new meanings emerge. ‘Container‘ and ‘Anything Can’t Happen‘ are great entry points if you are new to Paas, recalling classic 70’s folk-radio summer soundtracks. The hazy songs that get under your skin and sink into the memory, as the sun beats down.
Paas says the songs on Anything Can’t Happen are “about the transmutation of love from a specific object to a broad object”, or, the way a specific experience can expand and ultimately change your life. If you’re even slightly moved by Joni Mitchell‘s similarly exploratory Hejira album, if you’re searching for that special new voice and musical inspiration, Anything Can’t Happen is full of promise. (Trev Elkin)
Kiwi Jr – Cooler Returns
A microcosm of all that is good about American Alt/Garage rock. But Canadian. Which is possibly the reason why there is a wry humour, a raised eyebrow, a sardonic, ironic bent on the observational lyrics, non sequiturs flying in all directions.
It is the best of early REM and early Weezer so a perfect hybrid of alternative early 80’s and 90’s rock. From sliding scales of ‘Tyler’, through The Strokes space age solos on ‘Cooler Returns’ to the concluding ‘Waiting In Line’ and it’s genteel jangle pop it traverses all the elements of great Indie from across the water.
For fans of singing loudly along whilst in the shower, cooking dinner, or washing up, with a sense of humour that would make a co-headline tour with We Are Scientists a must see, as funny as it would be musically exhilarating. (Jim Auton)
Anna B Savage – A Common Turn
A voice that could equally turn you to stone as it could thaw you into a puddle on the floor, Anna B Savage makes pain and heartache feel like a beautiful part of life’s rich tapestry, coupling it with the natural world to evoke euphoria and strength from adversity.
Anna’s voice is one of the most stunning you will hear this year, an incredible range, honed from classic soul to bubble-gum pop and everything in-between, she has taken a huge step forward from the stark debut EP to this first full-length LP with the production values up a few levels without taking away the star attraction. Singles such as ‘Dead Pursuits’, ‘Corncrakes’, ‘A Common Tern’ and ‘Baby Grand‘ are cinematic, intricate vignettes to her experiences in unrequited love, toxic relationships and writer’s block.
A truly stunning collection. (Jim Auton)
Lonelady – Former Things
Former Things is a celebration of drum machines and electronic hardware, put together by LoneLady during her time spent in Somerset House Studios Rifle Range. Inspired by a seismic move for Julie Campbell known as LoneLady who left her native Manchester, decamping to London’s Somerset House Studios. Here she implanting the vintage synth sounds of early New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode with a funk infused imagination influenced by Jam and Lewis era Janet Jackson, Prince and the twitchy of disconnection of leaving home and everything behind.
At just eight tracks there’s an economy, directness and adventurous spirit at the heart of Former Things. The title track is an evocative song is layered with choppy guitars, popping percussion and bubbling rhythmic pops and infused with a wistful soulfulness of memory, it harks to early Yazoo, swathed in analogue synth textures that are redolent of early New Order. While awesome lead cut ‘(There is) No Logic’ is a pinpoint cut up of synths, samples and r&b grooves, that will fill floors just as soon as they are allowed to open. Perhaps the best moment comes with the sleek mechanical funk of ‘Fear Colours‘ that rustles with a paranoia. With the superlative Former things LoneLady is honing her craft, still further clarifying her sound and carving out an artistic commentary on moving city, and leaving the past behind, it bristles with the uncertainty and paranoia of the last eighteen months. Most of all it grooves the hell out. (Bill Cummings)
Desperate Journalist – Maximum Sorrow!
It will come as a surprise to few that Desperate Journalist are one of my choices. The most consistently brilliant band for the past 7 years, they have not put a foot wrong with three superb albums and two EPs, and now they topped them all with this, their fourth LP, Maximum Sorrow!
Stifled by lockdown, they were starved of time to work these songs out together but gave them opportunity to write, so when they made it into the studio in late 2020 in-between lockdowns they rang every second of studio time out and produced a masterpiece
From the sombre electric piano of ‘Formaldehyde‘ through the sweet sarcasm of ‘Personality Girlfriend‘, the swirling dystopia of ‘Utopia‘, the soundtrack to the end of the world of ‘What You’re Scared Of‘ to the kiss off, ‘Was It Worth It‘. As every review has said, yes, yes it was worth it ha ha ha.
And I haven’t mentioned single of the year ‘Fault‘.
An impeccable album from an incredible band. (Jim Auton)