MAPLE GLIDER – To Enjoy Is The Only Thing
[Indie Folk, Singer/Songwriter – Australia – Partisan]

Singer/Songwriter Tori Zietsch AKA Maple Glider marks a huge impression with this debut full length, To Enjoy Is The Only Thing, in what feels like a wave of extraordinary indie folk artists coming out of Australia, alongside the likes of Courtney Barnett, Jen Cloher, Julia Jacklin and Indigo Sparke. I’d heard nothing about Maple Glider beforehand and checked out this album on a complete whim, and it’s been one I can’t stop revisiting, finding myself lost and gripped within the heartfelt stripped back folk wonderland within.

Maple Glider’s effortlessly beautiful and sorrowful music really transports me to another place, from the striding yet dreamy singing, the sparse yet delicately rich folk instrumentation to the incredible storytelling lyrics and arrangements. ‘Swimming’ is an early attention grabbing highlight built on swirling arpeggios, a light drumbeat and such a commanding and melancholic voice that guides through the wilderness. ‘View From This Side’ strips things back to the bare minimum, with raw, quiet fingerpicked acoustic guitar and an aching, yearning vocal that sounds like it’s just you and Zietsch sitting in a darkened lounge together at night, the embers on the fireplace gently illuminating the room. ‘Good Thing’ reaches a rare conclusion where Maple Glider puts their foot on the gas, as this song goes from a soft whisper that very gradually builds into an explosive chorus complete with swirling strings and soaring harmonies, just briefly before settling down to a ghostly haunt again. Zietsch leaves the most affecting and devastating song for the finale with ‘Mama It’s Christmas’ presenting an overwhelming sadness and an affecting chorus about longing to return home – and no it’s not really a Christmas jingle!

In the spirit of artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Adrianne Lenker and Indigo Sparke, Maple Glider has a remarkable ability to find strength and power through sparse arrangements and quiet recordings. There is no need for drama or bombast here, as Zietsch grabs hold of you and mesmerises without breaking a sweat. To Enjoy Is The Only Thing could go down as one of those great quiet recordings in the spirit of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and PJ Harvey’s White Chalk, where the bare beating heart of the record is exposed, needing very little else to make a huge impression.

BACKXWASH – I Lie Here Buried With My Rings & My Dresses
[Industrial Hip-Hop – Zambia/Canada – Self-Released]

Backxwash delivers an aggressive and brutal slab of dark industrial hip-hop on their latest record. Once ‘Wail Of The Banshee’ kicks in, Backxwash – the alias of Zambian born rapper and producer Ashanti Mutinta – commands your attention with their shouty raps and clanging industrial beats that recall the likes of Techno Animal through to Death Grips and JPEGMAFIA. Backxwash turns in a supremely pissed off and passionate performance, sounding completely in their element. In particular, on ‘Terror Packets’, Backxwash screams their brains out with such an exquisite tone, offset by the eerie piano that can’t help but feel squashed into the background from the might of such a crazed and raging performance on the mic. ‘Blood In The Water’ is a strong highlight, guest produced by Clipping who slip perfectly into the sound pallet of this record, which is largely self-produced. Capping off a high energy, blood pumping, gut churning record is the magnificent ‘To Ashes’ which is built on an incredible beat that samples Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s iconic ‘Sleep’. I Lie Here Buried With My Rings & My Dresses will surely be the most angry, fiery and maniacal hip-hop album you’ll hear this year.

BOSSK – Migration
[Post-Metal – UK – Deathwish Inc.]

Things move slowly for Kent, UK based post-metal champions Bossk, putting out two EPs and one full length prior to this in their sixteen years as a band, but with enough high quality material to continue their dominance in the live circuit. For many, Migration has been a highly anticipated release; their second full length following on five years from the fantastic Audio Noir. In comparison, Migration feels like a smaller, colder and more insular record than it’s predecessor, trading in the vibrant and colourful sheen of Audio Noir for a grey, industrial mesh coating mirrored perfectly by the album art.

Across the forty minute runtime, Bossk invite guest collaborators including Japanese abrasive noise outfit Endon to contribute electronics and drones that enhance the industrial influences, especially on interlude tracks ‘Iter’ and ‘Kibo’ that sound like something akin to Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill score. Cult Of Luna vocalist Johannes Persson delivers their trademark screams on the explosive riff monster ‘Menhir’, which really bursts Migration into life, whilst Palm Reader’s Josh McKeown provides vocals on ‘HTV-3’. Though the most impressive track here, ‘Lira’ is a slow building instrumental that gradually escalates in dynamics and intensity using post-rock structures and feels like Bossk just doing their thing. When you bear in mind that there are two drone interlude tracks and two meandering atmospheric soundscape tracks that bookend the album, it only leaves the listener with three tracks that actually feel like fully formed songs. With this being the case, the use of these guest musicians feels like it is detracting and distracting from what Bossk are capable of as their own unit. For example, with only ‘Menhir’ and ‘HTV-3’ featuring lead vocals – both performed with guest collaborators – Bossk’s own lead vocalist Sam Marsh feels completely lost on this record. There are some excellent moments to be found on Migration, but also plenty of filler moments too, and with it being such a wait to finally hear a new studio album from Bossk, I’m not sure if this effort is going to leave fans feeling fully satisfied and well fed.

DARKTHRONE – Eternal Hails……
[Black Metal, Heavy Metal – Norway – Peaceville]

When it comes to the heritage of Norwegian black metal, Darkthrone’s duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are now cultural icons and national treasures. Even though Darkthrone have moved on sonically from the defining black metal tropes of their classic ’90s trilogy – culminating in the landmark Transilvanian Hunger – fans of their work don’t care and are just glad that the legendary duo are still putting out new music every two years. Darkthrone don’t care what anyone else thinks either and they have absolutely nobody they need to impress or answer to other than themselves. This ethos has landed Darkthrone some of their most outlandish records, with their ’00s material exploring crust punk and speed metal. This latest effort has the banner “Epic Black Heavy Metal” written across the back sleeve and that is exactly what Darkthrone deliver. These five tracks owe much to classic ’80s heavy metal (think Dio and Ozzy Osbourne) with some crunchy traditional Candlemass sounding doom riffs thrown in, a pinch of Motorhead’s snarling attitude and a dash of Celtic Frost worship to top it off.

Opener ‘His Masters Voice’ sounds wicked and lost in time, trading off slow palm-muted chug with bouts of thrashy madness. The finesse of the recording and sound of the instruments sounds a little off, but in the right way, sitting somewhere between the sounds of a demo and black metal nostalgia. Sadly Eternal Hails…… lacks that extra body and detail that producer Sanford Parker brought to the mix on previous album Old Star, but the grimness and damp sound does compliment the duo’s performances pretty well, reminding you that it’s Fenriz and Nocturno Culto against the world. ‘Hate Cloak’ happens to boast some of the catchiest riffs Darkthrone have ever played, probably since the ear worms of ’91’s ‘In The Shadow Of The Horns’. Eternal Hails…… is another really solid entry into the Darkthrone catalogue, providing some of their most air guitar friendly riffs ever. It ain’t trendy, it ain’t pretty, it ain’t cutting edge… But it’s a fucking Darkthrone record through and through.

DEATH GOALS – The Horrible & The Miserable
[Post-Hardcore, Screamo – UK – Self-Released]

London based queer chaotic hardcore duo Death Goals follow up the promise of their early singles and EPs with a full length album that is their most realised and definitive statement. The absence of bass gives Death Goals a really biting, acidic sound as spidery riffs flop around, often breaking into discordant mathcore madness, topped off with rackety drums and agonised screams. ‘OK/SAD’ is a force of jittery rhythms that never sit still, whilst ‘Helen Keller Is Teaching Me How To Talk To Boys’ flitters between quiet restrain and ungodly loud brutal onslaughts so masterfully, crumbling into a dissonant unfolding guitar line. With all the songs being kept relatively short, spots of downtime and experimenting don’t come too often, but ‘Exit Wounds’ and four minute closer ‘Nothing Left To Give’ welcome in some moodier moments to keep things interesting, resulting in a really dynamic finale. Death Goals’ sound aspires to the likes of The Armed’s ultra shrill noise-hardcore and Employed To Serve’s early mathcore sound; but it’s the chemistry between Harry Bailey and George Milner that really shines, feeling like an inseparable force, especially when they trade off vocals. The Horrible & The Miserable is a brief yet attention demanding delight that is more vibrant than it’s sinister album cover implies.

MJ GUIDER Temporary Requiem
[Drone, Ambient, Ethereal Wave – USA – Self-Released]

When US musician Melissa Guion isn’t performing with doom metal legends Thou, they also perform ethereal dream drones under this alias MJ Guider. Following on from the spectacular Sour Cherry Bell record (though recorded prior), Temporary Requiem is a score for a dance performance choreographed by Ann Glaviano inspired by the traditional Latin requiem mass. Guider uses this commission as a sonic playground to explore new sounds and ideas, resulting in six very distinct movements. Nine minute opener ‘Kyrie’ begins with a lone drifting synth flickering like a torch gradually lighting up an enormous cave. After building up a feeling of dread, in crashes a looped industrial beat that allows the synths to whirr and wrap around it as washed out vocals guide you through the darkness. ‘Gloria’‘s eerie synths and pared down minimal techno beat could have come straight off Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, whilst ‘Benedictus’ is a gloriously loud and abrasive speaker rattling drone. The album concludes with the majestic ‘Agnus Dei’, which sounds like it could be a lost unearthed gem from This Mortal Coil. Temporary Requiem feels like MJ Guider’s most daring and boldest work yet, successfully using the dance score as a springboard to go wild and experiment with news sounds, whilst also creating a great album that works as it’s own separate entity.

LORAINE JAMES – Reflection
[Electronic – UK – Hyperdub]

London based Hyperdub Records have really continued to find and push exciting and fresh sounds in electronic music over the years, carving out their own sound, home to the likes of Burial, Kode9, Jessy Lanza, Foodman and Loraine James. Reflection is James’ third full length, an energetic exploration of deep bass, shifting rhythms and strange samples. ‘Let’s Go’‘s jittery metallic scraping and banging is reminiscent of Autechre’s heavy LP5 sound, delivering nightmarish textures, which is countered marvellously by the effortlessly cool bounce of ‘Simple Stuff’. Despite it’s title, ‘Insecure Behviour & Fuckery’ is one of the more accessible tracks here thanks to its strong bubbly synth melody, and late cut ‘Running Like That‘ invites vocalist Eden Samara to implement dreamy singing, but as a whole the beats and pounding walls of bass go pretty hard throughout Reflection. The way James drops in vocals that sound like they are cut up and being drowned in radio distortion throughout Reflection becomes one of this record’s most endearing qualities, evoking an otherworldly atmosphere, as if the listener is trying to recall distant dreams and memories. Nothing is quite spelled out or given clarity, much like the feeling of seeing one’s own reflection in a pool of water or perhaps a broken mirror, and that strange feeling follows you across the whole album.

[Chamber-Pop, Indie Folk – UK – Memphis Industries]

Manchester, UK resident Francis Lung delivers a bold and brightly produced third album of chamber-pop gems. Right off the bat, lead single ‘Bad Hair Day’ let’s you know what you are in for with Beatles-esque vocal harmonies and Big Star style power pop, switching up between bouncy verses and an infectious slow swampy chorus. Following track ‘Blondes Have More Fun’ reverses the formula with a much more stripped back bedroom folk production, sounding like XO-era Elliott Smith or even a low key Weezer ballad. In fact the title track feels like it has studied Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 album in fine detail. ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ is an excellent highlight, rocking up with a confident swagger and boasting a lovely piano melody that brightens up Lung’s bubbly voice. ‘Want 2 Want U’ works in some delightful buzzing synth and organ leads that keep the sunny vibes rolling, whilst ‘Lonesome No More’ is a reflective and sad highlight that slows things down and goes heavy on the violin. The whole album has a candy-coated feel that masks a bittersweet melancholy as Francis Lung pulls in strings, synths and piano to great effect to add a richness and sweetness to the sound. Miracle is full of catchy gems and compelling performances; though it struggles to escape wearing its influences so heavily on it’s sleeves, it’s catchy and charming enough to leave you blushing and bopping along.

[Neo-Soul – UK – Forever Living Originals]

Anonymous UK soul futurists SAULT became one of the most exciting breakthrough acts of 2020 releasing a near two hour double album Untitled (Black Is) / Untitled (Rise) consisting of highly politically charged music that could be as soulful as it was hard hitting. SAULT have an incredible knack of making their lyrics concise and direct, almost like protest chants, such as on ‘Don’t Shoot Guns Down’‘s repeated command “Don’t shoot, guns down, racist policeman” which held even more poignant power by the time it was released in summer 2020. Though it isn’t clear how many performers are behind SAULT, their music feels organic and down to earth, giving a home recorded sound that is a little frayed around the edges. Live rock instrumentation collides with spoken word stories, hip-hop leaning beats and samples, with singing that really takes charge, delivered with a dense, airy reverb heavy sound akin to the classic Spector production of bands like The Ronettes.

Running at just over half an hour, NINE doesn’t quite hold the same ambitious vastness of SAULT’s previous double album, acting as something of an appendix, but still has plenty of interesting tunes and a nice bit of variety for a fairly brief record. ‘Bitter Streets’ is an excellent highlight, focusing solely on the words of the title in the repeated vocal hook that glides over shuffling drum breaks, with heavenly strings overtaking the song in the second leg. ‘Alcohol’ is a really downtrodden and sorrowful ballad with an expressive and traditionally soulful vocal performance that ducks and dives around a gospel backing choir. On the other hand, ‘London Gangs’ is a funk rager which sounds like it could have made it onto Tarantino’s Jukebox in the film Death Proof. Though NINE has some great and joyous individual moments, as an album experience it feels a little spotty and doesn’t quite hold the immense scope of their previous opus. But if you just want a light sprinkle of SAULT on your fries then you’ve still got a nice little lunch to enjoy.


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