40 Sturgill Simpson
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
If there is such a thing as alternative country, Sturgill Simpson is its torch-bearer. Having emerged from the ashes of the Dolly Parton-era Nashville bonfire, Simpson is both a philosopher and a raconteur. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a loose concept album about a sailor’s letter home to his wife and son. That sounds trite, sure, but Simpson’s cynical humour and bare lyrical honesty keep the album from curdling. The “antithesis of Brad Paisley” uses classic country traits of storytelling and twangy instrumentation to deliver his “meta-modern” messages – it’s ironic and dark, but brighter and more sincere than his previous couple of albums. Plus, his cover of ‘In Bloom’ by Nirvana is subtle and intriguing.
39 jAMIE t
Jamie T’s fourth studio album, Trick, takes the best parts of the previous three and blends them together in a cheerful fusion of some of the darker aspects of life, from addiction to self-dissatisfaction. Notable tracks include the first single, ‘Tinfoil Boy’, with its booming urgency and punk-fuelled, mosh-worthy chorus, the hauntingly sincere ‘Sign Of The Times’ and the bittersweet ‘Dragon Bones’ that juxtaposes suicide with the most playfully upbeat melody on the album. Jamie steps away from London as the main inspiration for his lyrics, calling instead upon classical literature and mythical figures, but his brutal honesty is never lost, making this quite possibly his best album yet.
38 Glass Animals
How to be a Human Being
Read our review of How to be a Human Being here.
Haitian-Canadian producer, Kaytranada, made waves earlier this year when he dropped debut album 99.9%, an eclectic mix of bustling electro set with a distinct alternative hip hop groove and flourishes of abstract funk and neo-soul. As is evident from that description, the record is fairly genre defying, something that is clear from the wide variety of its collaborators, with the record seeing Kaytranada fuse the likes of Craig David, Vic Mensa, Anderson .Paak and Little Dragon to thrilling effect. On 99.9% Kaytranada engineers the right balance between quirky leftfield production and traditional rap/pop sensibilities (e.g. ‘Together’, ‘Glowed Up’) to make a record that whilst quirky is still very accessible with wider audiences. A melting pot of sounds and beats, 99.9% is as innovative as its head-turning album artwork, which is no mean feat.
36 DD Dumbo
The latest gem from 4AD’s roster is D.D. Dumbo’s debut album Utopia Defeated: the product of a one-man band with a sound bigger and more intricate than you’d think possible from one person. Rhythmic flirtations and playful looping splatters what is in essence a very carefully crafted record, covering coveted topics such as a death of a walrus, UFOs and the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Written, performed and recorded almost entirely by Castlemaine’s Oliver Hugh Perry, this record is a thrilling and thoroughly unpredictable look into the mind of one of Australia’s most exciting musicians.
Puberty 2 is an album about that point in early adult life where there’s a sudden realisation of insecurity, and that happiness is further away than it should be. Mitski’s melodic indie rock and Pixies-style dynamics give Puberty 2 an overwhelming emotional force, but this is not a remake of a 90s alt rock standard; folky experimental sounds meet with wit and imagery in an exploratory, anxious fashion. Tracks ‘Happy’ and ‘Fireworks’ put across the sheer hopelessness that looms over the album, but parts are punctuated with positivity, like the euphoric explosion in ‘Your Best American Girl’. Mitski’s struggle to find some kind of self-meaning is ultimately a fruitless one, as she admits on the final track ‘A Burning Hill’: “I’ll love some littler things”.
34 The Avalanches
33 Various Artists
Day of the Dead
Made In The Manor
Last month Kano grabbed the MOBO for Album of the Year, besting Skepta and Laura Mvula in the process. Made in the Manor is at its best when Kano offers an intimate; emotionally charge introspective depiction of London’s East End. It’s not your archetypal, aggressive, 140-beat-per minute grime album. Nostalgia flows from ‘T-Shirt weather in the Manor’ as Kano raps over a breezy, slowed beat, ‘This is England’ centres on the gritty reality of the urban life rarely paid any attention by the mainstream media and ‘3-Wheel up’ has simply been scorching dance floors since January.
Light Upon the Lake
Light Upon the Lake is almost as chilled out as it gets. The duo of Max Kakacek (Smith Westerns) and Julien Ehrlich (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) are something of an indie supergroup, and their sunny, lazy Americana pop-rock is as crisp and pleasant as a well organised holiday. There are lulled falsettos left, right and centre here, which get a tad sickly at times, but the instrumentation is dulcet and little fragments of catchiness glimmer here and there. If anything, the album is a bit, well, too “nice” to really get anybody excited, but the essential elements of a by-the-book pop-rock album are all present here and it gives us a few more options for our “sipping-Sunny D-in-a-field-of-wheat” playlist.