Hey, it's been a helluva year (so far!)
Well, what a year it’s been. Yes, you’re right, we’re only in February, but we’ve been inundated with amazing albums since 2018 fucked off with a final sad splutter, so let’s bathe our eyeballs in words about them, and then perhaps even inject our earholes with the sounds themselves, because the good times, surely – surely! – cannot last. (Spoiler alert: I’ve seen the release schedule and they most definitely can.) Anyway! You’re after loved-up electronica? Raucous punk? Near-perfect indie singer-songwriter stuff? Politicised veteran ska? Hoo boy, are you in luck.
Here, then, are the records that have been blaring out the NME office stereo since January (so far!).
Suryakant Sawhney, frontman of Peter Ca Recording Co., the weirdo nu-jazz collective from New Delhi, released this eight-track electro solo banger to uproarious applause from us. Four Tet: watch your back.
The NME review concluded: “Without saying much, Sawhney has carved a path for himself, setting himself apart from the moody, ambient tracks or heavy, militant and precise electronic projects that has come to characterize the Indian sound in recent years. ‘Jaago जागो’ confirms Lifafa is creating the most singular music in South Asia.”
The New Jersey singer-songwriter, having been away for five whole years, returned with the fantastic, thumping electo-pop of ‘Comeback Kid’, the first release from a record by turns reflective (‘I Told You Everything’), fierce (the whopping ‘Seventeen’) and raw (‘No One’s Easy To Love’).
The NME review concluded: ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ is full of beefy basslines and shuffling drum beats, while the slinking ‘You Shadow’ is both laid-back and arresting, as Van Etten’s piercing vocals act as the song’s driving force… [this] may well be her most intoxicating and impressive work to date.”
The Cure’s Robert Smith has spoken of his love of the Scottish doom-mongers, and their fifth album proved exactly why. Recorded after the death of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison, it’s a meditation on grief and inner-demons, on the redemptive power of music and the hope it inspires.
The NME review concluded: “Rather than being owned by their demons, The Twilight Sad have created an 11-track exorcism to master them. It’s a full-bodied and inescapable mood-piece, and a visceral account of their victory in the fight to exist. We should feel grateful to have them.”
The feted producer, having previously submerged his identity in glitchy electronica and production credits for other artists, returned with a bold, bright album that stripped back the layers, offering unfiltered insights into his thoughts on mental health and a new relationship. And that Andre 3000 feature was great, too.
The NME review concluded: “‘Assume Form’ finds James Blake clear-headed and in focus like never before… The album’s opening title-track sets that newfound clarity front-and-centre. Gone is the hazy, south London night bus ambiance of Blake gone by. In its place is a newfound sharpness.”
The LA garage punks broadened and polished their sound a little for album three, a collection that contained breathtaking frank lyrics about the struggle for sobriety, which are all the more powerful for being set to songs that – on the surface – sound like fun, dumb party tunes.
The NME review concluded: “Stuffed with fizzing hooks and brilliantly frank lyrics, ‘Almost Free’ could be FIDLAR’s best record yet. A blistering collection of eclectic tunes threaded together by punks’ fearless riffs and unguarded admissions, which add even more weight to their sound.”
A marked progression from her previous (brilliant) post-punk albums, Eva Moolchan’s third record was a masterclass in understatement, drawing on hip-hop, ’90s rave and the post-punk scene from which she emerged; the tracks were short, clipped, like bangers slowed down and played backwards.
The NME review concluded: “‘Highway Hypnosis’ is Sneaks’ longest (just over 28 minutes) and by far most worked-up record to date, layers of electronic instrumentation demonstrating a keen attention to detail… A unique record from a self-assured talent.”
15 years into their career and light years from their deathcore beginnings, the Sheffield band embarked on an odyssey in sound, turning in a pop-metal album that touches on ambiance, electro-pop and a cameo from Dani Filth.
The NME review concluded: “[This album is] proof alone that this band can do what they want and get away with it. There’s nothing as exciting as a surprise that pays off. It ain’t rocket science, it ain’t heavy metal, it’s just class songwriting.”
Surviving members of the veteran ska band addressed Brexit, austerity, Tory rule, Black Lives Matter and mental health on album eight, their first in 20 years, and what a blessed relief it is. This was fingers up to the establishment, delivered through the time-tested mediums of mellow ska, reggae and funk disco.
The NME review concluded: “These are tracks cutting deep into the malignant tumors of society, out to heal them by brutal, frank exposure… We need right-thinking rebel records like ‘Encore’ now more than ever.”
The Savannah, Georgia, duo explored a poppier side of their darkwave electro with a pulsing album that revels in the complexities of love, in the atavistic pull of a relationship that you just can’t leave alone.
The NME review concluded: “At their grungiest and most claustrophobic, dance duo Boy Harsher hang in similar shadows to Factory Floor and Chris Carter; at their most unguarded and upbeat, they’re letting their hair down in San Junipero.”
Only six months after her career high record ‘Sweetener’, one of the biggest names in pop surprise (ish) released this 12-track sassfest, an album that took tragedy and trauma and transmogrified it into pure pop magic.
The NME review concluded: “Above all, ‘Thank U, Next’ is a document of self-care; a guide to getting through bad times even when you think nothing could ever be good again.”
This crisp collection of retro-pop brilliance was overseen by STATS head honcho Ed Seed, who spent one year stitching jam sessions into a coherent album that comes off like Groove Armada doing David Byrne.
The NME review concluded: ‘Other People’s Lives’ has achieved a wonderful thing. It is both calm and collected, but wildly unhinged at its core, which bubbles away with insecurities and mysteries.”
The lad from Ladbroke Grove, NME’s Big Read cover star, proved there’s way more to UK rap than drill and this joyous debut bumps from booming hip-hop to garage via the grime that made him a star.
The NME review concluded: “As a document of British rap’s indefinable present – a snapshot of a time that’s seen UK rappers springboard from grime’s international explosion, and warp sonic expectations at every opportunity – AJ Tracey’s debut is perhaps the best of the current crop.”