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20 Of Our Favourite Albums From The First Half Of 2020

A quick trip back through the memory cells and some scanning of my music library has thrown up these twenty artists (in alphabetical order) who have released some of our favourite albums of 2020 so far. There are plenty more I haven’t heard yet, hopefully some gems among them. In the meantime, I hope this throws up a few that you may not have had a chance to check out yet. They come highly recommended by Doubtful Sounds.

Andrew TuttleAlexandra
Baxter DuryThe Chancers
Bob DylanRough And Rowdy Ways
CalifoneEcho Mine
CorikyCoriky
D.C CrossTerabithian
Drive-By TruckersThe Unraveling
Fiona Apple Fetch The Bolt Cutters
James Thomson Golden Exile
Jason Isbell & The 400 UnitReunions
Luke VibertPresents: Amen Andrews + Presents: Modern Rave
MoodymannTaken Away
Neil Young Homegrown
Rolling Blackouts Coastal FeverSideways To New Italy
Rose City BandSummerlong
RVGFeral
Shopping All Or Nothing
Suicide SwansThrough The Years
Tony Allen & Hugh MasekelaRejoice
ZelienopleHold You Up

SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES: Simon Sweetman

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

For episode two we’re very lucky to have New Zealand author, podcaster, music journalist and poet Simon Sweetman taking us through three albums that he’s been drawn to over the last few months. Simon has been writing about music for much of his adult life, he’s the man behind the long-running music blog Off The Tracks, host of Sweetman Podcast, which is now up to its 218th episode and in 2012 he published his first book – OnSong: Stories Behind New Zealand’s Pop Classics. His next writing project is his first book of poetry, due out in October through The Cuba Press and titled The Death of Music Journalism. He also recently made his first foray into e-books with Drummers You Just Can’t Beat a series of essays about favourite and influential drummers.

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Forces of Victory (1979)

Lockdown – in its various states and guises around the world – has done funny things to us and I first noticed that when all I wanted to listen to was reggae and dub music. This isn’t usually the case – but I found myself a fan anew. Returning to old favourites and desperately soaking up classic material that was brand new to me. I devoured the entire Bob Marley canon which included first listens to a few albums and I warmed my soul with the work of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell. Of their collaborations, this has always been my favourite, I guess it’s that nostalgia-thing of returning to the work you heard first. I hunted this album out 20 years ago or so after watching a documentary that was ostensibly about the poet John Cooper Clarke. And much as I loved it for that and soon immersed myself in his written words and worlds, it was the footage of LKJ that really impacted. Specifically his poem called “Sonny’s Lettah” – it’s probably my all-time favourite work of Johnson’s. And so Forces of Victory has been on a loop or me across the last few weeks. And, yes, I’ve gone through other albums by LKJ – his first handful all so magnificent that it’s almost a line-call – and Bovell’s production and DJ work outside of his collaborations with Linton. It’s all pretty special but Forces of Victory remains the one for me. It’s one of those albums where I remember instantly where I was when I first heard it.

Curtis Mayfield – Curtis (1970)

I was preparing a recent feature for RNZ where I talked about Curtis Mayfield’s life and work and played some tunes. That means I went deep – right through all the work, even though it was only a 40-minute program and I focused mostly on the soundtrack work and the diversity of his writing, from The Impressions through his own songs and several producing and writing jobs for other acts. But at home, in the build-up, I worked through all of the Impressions albums (fabulous!) and all of Curtis’ solo material. The album I kept coming back to though was his 1970 debut. I finally bought myself a copy for the turntable, but this was one of the first things I rushed out to buy when I got hooked on Curtis Mayfield about 25 years ago. The songs here, and the production, so vital and fresh and perhaps sadly so they are still so relevant. I mean take a listen to ‘We People Who Are Darker Than Blue’. That’s a movie in and of itself right there; that could be anyone else’s one and only greatest hit. For Curtis, it’s one of the ones you mention in a first or second breath.

Grace Jones – Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (1998)

This two-disc anthology covers the work Grace Jones did with Sly & Robbie in the early 1980s. Phenomenal music that had a massive impact on me at the time and continues to – I feel like I’ve never not been a Grace Jones fan. As a kid she was just intriguing: turning up on TV and in movies, making these great pop songs and then finding out she was a model, artist, celebrity. The music is the thing I’ve always cared most about with Jones and this time around it was as much to do with loving and studying the work of Sly and Robbie – all timed and tied up with my reggae fascination I guess. The signature Grace Jones hits are here – ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, ‘Walking In The Rain’ and her magnificent covers of ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Love Is The Drug’. (In fact she’s just a covers machine here: ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Use Me’, ‘Breakdown’, ‘Ring of Fire’, ‘Demolition Man’ and of course the title track – ‘Private Life’. Again this sounds so fresh and inventive close to 40 years on and the mix of dub and long versions, demos and originals paints a picture of the studio genius of Sly and Robbie as players and producers. 

NEWS: Boris Announce New Album ‘NO’ and Release Single ‘Loveless’

Japanese genre-destroyers Boris return with a new album, NO, due out July 3rd, self-released on Bandcamp. Check out the searing, careening distortion punk-fest that is ‘Loveless’.

A message from BORIS: 

“International borders are ‘closed’ now. 

All kinds of anxieties, fear, sadness, anger, and hatred have arisen to drive the world apart.Everyone is in a process of trial and error, doing what they can to live.The critical state of the world has placed culture, art, and other means of expressing ourselves into a dilemma as well.We decided to start managing our band ourselves again a few years ago, so we even more keenly aware of the current situation. 

It was our actions up to this point and our methodology, various cultural influences, as well the connections and support we received from people around the world that led us to create this latest album. 

Culture is lore that is not bound by blood, in other words ‘Non Blood Lore.’ 

We have put all of our influences and connections into this album so that they may be passed on circulated.That is our current stance now as Boris, our role and mode of action. 

The title of this album is NO. People have a system whereby they unconsciously grow accustomed to things and adapt to them.But, this same system is also cursed in the way it allows inconvenient or troubling things to be disregarded as if they were never there to begin with and goes by other names such as ‘resignation,’ ‘subordination,’ and ‘forgetfulness.’We renounce this system.‘Is this something I felt on my own? Is this idea something I came up with on my own? Is this something I chose to act upon myself?’Everything begins with questioning and denying oneself.That is the proper stance for people to adopt. 

Music and culture possess incredible power.The anger and discontent we had no outlet for in our youth shone through in our music, helping us to channel negative energy channeled towards creative ends and leading us to new means of expression and artistry.We hope this latest album can be a mirror that gathers and reflects people’s negative energy at a different angle, one that is positive.That is the power and potential of the dark, extreme, and brutal noise music that we have experienced up to this point.Today’s society is littered with words that may or may not be true, making it easy to want to just not listen to what anyone has to say.But, that’s all the more reason why we hope that you will at least open your ears to these songs sung in the language of another land.These shouts that have no proper meaning as words will help release the raw, unshaped emotions within you.This is ‘extreme healing music.’ 

International borders are ‘closed’ now.When we’re able to travel again, it will be proof that the world has moved forward.We pray for the day when we can share the same time and place again. 

Boris

NEW MUSIC: PC Nackt – Space_Schubert

What starts out sounding playful and tentative, quickly blossoms into something deeper and resonant on ‘Space_Schubert‘, a new track from an album that features an impressive array of contributors.

Plunderphonia is a new series of musical projects that create original music by “plundering” unexpected historical sources and genre blueprints. Developed by !K7 founder Horst Weidenmüller, the debut Plunderphonia album has been recorded by Grammy nominated artist PC Nackt – collaborator with Apparat and José González and creative head of The String Theory and Warren Suicide.

Continuing a theme explored in Henrik Schwarz’s 2018 Plunderphonia concert, which re- appropriated 700 string sequences, PC Nackt’s new album re-uses classical piano compositions that have been selected by music supervisor Hania Rani. The piano scores have then been played into MIDI by pianist Antonis Anissegos. And the MIDI Files have been “plunderized” (processed and played live) by PC Nackt through two Yamaha Disklaviers (MIDI operated classical pianos), creating compositions that take classical music into unexplored territory.

“It started in 2015”, says Weidenmüller. “A string arranger on !K7 had been writing highly emotional music and I was amazed by its intensity.” He decided to launch a sub-label, 7K!, to explore new classical and undefined music. “And from that moment I wanted to mirror the DJ Kicks series on the new label.”

The inaugural Plunderphonia album release from PC Nackt is set for release this Friday, June 26th release date on 7K!.

NEW MUSIC: John Lebanon – I Fail They Die

John Lebanon are a band  based in Providence, RI who recently released this new single ‘I Fail They Die‘. Founded by Roy S, MD, the project originally began as a way for the songwriter to cope with the physically and mentally exhausting work of a medical resident at Brown University.

Sonically their sound takes in spoken work, sparkling, burbling retro synths and melancholic guitar lines that track and trail through the landscape with beguiling curiosity and resonance.

“I work as a physician and needed a way to cope with all the stress going on…hence the track : If I fail they die. The track is meant to help me get ready for work. Be mindful and diligent yet relaxed and steady. It is also a message to all how we are connected more than ever need a healthy planet. Individual actions do matter.” – Roy

NEW MUSIC: Albin – Mellandagar

Albin is the moniker of Albin Johansson, a musician, composer, and producer based in Malmö, Sweden. Primarily using analog synthesizers and drum machines, he’s released material on a number of labels over the last seven years and performed in cities such as Malmö, Berlin, Vienna, and New York.

‘Mellandagar’ comes from his new EP Passage, and it cuts a wonderfully minimalistic swathe through the history of electronic music, from Kraftwerk through to the early 80s experimentalists in the UK who were adding pop aesthetics to the synthetic framework of the music. Bleeps, pulses, weightless drum machines and a playful sense of melody are the key elements of Albin’s track.

Check out the full EP over at Spotify and Apple Music.

NEW MUSIC: Drens – All My Friends Got Time

Super catchy summer vibes on this recently released track from Drens, who hail from Dortmund, Germany – apparently Europe’s capital of moustache style!

‘All My Friends Got Time’ is a bouncy, slacker surf track which comes from their new Pet Peeves EP. I can hear bands like Girls and Black Lips in their sound and they pull it off well, never forgetting the simple joy of hooks and killer melodies. A mad gaming-themed video clip too. Surf’s up!