Lump On: January Wrap-Up
Another year, another scramble to stay relevant.
It would have been a bit of a job to beat the start of 2021 when it came to quality of releases and if I’m being honest 2022 didn’t quite live up to its predecessor.
Which is fine! And to be honest I appreciate the slow start, it makes the effort to stay on top of the constant stream of music less manic, which can only be a good thing considering the existential struggle for relevancy it starts to feel like as I stumble toward my late twenties. One thing that will never change at the start off a new year however is that, looking forward, you know there’s always going to be that one surprise you never expected. That artist or record that ends up defining your year which at the start of the year was either unknown, unreleased or on the periphery. So even when there’s nothing that would make it into an album of the year list, there is always plenty worth listening to. A whole new cycle of months and seasons to live through with a whole new bunch of sounds that will come to contextualise and soundtrack your existence. Songs that will give me chills when I listen to them that are yet to be heard. If thats not enough reason to put in the effort over the course of these coming months then what am I doing. This time around the format is gonna be looser I’ll obviously talk about my favourite records from each month but i’m also going to be more broad and maybe talk more about Ep’s or singles if they happen to peak my interest rather than force in a record I don’t like that much just cause I want to include 5 a month or something like that.
In terms of expectation at the start of this year I was quite excited. I had been eagerly anticipating absolutely anything from The Smile, the side project of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood completed by Tom skinner on drums of Sons of Kemmet fame — who are probably the most celebrated jazz group around at the moment. And you can hear that in their debut single You Will Never Work In Television Again, which is essentially just three repeating guitar chords, but the drums have that driving but subtle quality to them which unearths more complexity the more you pay attention. Exactly what you’d expect from having such a brilliant Jazz drummer playing to what is essentially just a rock song. Id actually say that throughout the month of January the track releases had me much more excited than most of the records I heard. The thing about a single is that it leaves the album release up to the imagination and it’s hard to not get carried away whenever the first single or two are impressive. And as bad to admit as this is: An interesting single - especially from an artist you’ve never heard from before - peaks the attention much more effectively than a full record. We are in the age of TikTok after all. Case in point here is:
Track Release: Home - Two Shell
I hate using cliche music journo words like infectious but thats exactly what it is, it’s a blend of the glitchy hyper pop aesthetic, edm and uk garage and its absolutely buzzing. The first time I listened to it I just went straight back to the start of track and listened again, can’t believe it worked without being corny then and I still cant believe it works now. I had previously never heard of Two Shell and gems like this are exactly what I was talking about in that opening paragraph, I had never head of them before and now I love them. This is exactly the sort of refreshment you need sometimes, it’s like a palate cleanser for the ears. The rhythms and sonic aesthetics of this track and addictive to listen to and it sounds so fresh, it’s just what I needed in January to be honest. Give it a go.
Album Release: Jana Horn - Optimism
Listen to: Jordan, Friends again, when I go down into the night
One of the biggest awakenings I had last year in terms of my taste was basically anything that sounded slightly folky and had a female vocalist. I don’t know what happened or why - and I cant be bothered to start guessing about where this sudden attraction came from (possibly an unconscious rebellion against the over saturation of trendy by force radio 6 post punk) - but all I know is I now have another bias toward that sound. And this first record is a direct hangover from the 2021 female folk renaissance that I apparently had. Jana Horn’s debut record is a bit of a marker for what she’s capable of. The opening track ‘Friends Again’ is a melancholic amble through a skeletal folk guitar and soft vocals, where as ‘Jordan’ towards the end of the album - while still being musically bare, mostly just a bass - could have been an entirely electric track. From bordering on experimental folk to country sounding moments to a more recognisable indie folk singer songwriter hybrid — Optimism is an incredibly strong debut record. Its fitting here that these are labelled as ‘Lump on’ because what Jana Horn shows on her debut is an ability to nail the sounds she comes from with a healthy ability to experiment, and there are signs on this record at certain points - certainly in the textures and backgrounds of certain songs - which make her seem like an artist that could be a big deal with future releases. The range of ultra skeletal to hooky and sweet sounds like an artist still figuring out the focus of her voice and the finished article is not there yet but the ingredients are and time will tell for Jana Horn.
Album Release: Yard Act - The Overload
Listen to: 100% endurance, Tall Poppies, Dead Horse
“The way Alex Turner wrote lyrics around social observation definitely helped me grow in confidence. To go into that amount of detail on specific objects, to make them seem poignant and profound was really cool. Before that, the music I was listening to wasn’t doing that. I never got into the poetry of The Libertines – that always felt too flowery – and with The Strokes, you could assume everything was set in a dive bar in New York.” This is what James Smith said when talking to the NME shortly before the release of the overload and I can’t think of a better way to describe and compare the impressively sharp Turner-esque lyrics that this album constantly features. Paired with a musical base which is more interesting than a first listen might betray, sort of sounding as if The Rapture grew up in Leeds hanging around the Brudenell, sort of embodying the characters of brit pop and obviously firmly planted in the post-punk bubble we currently find ourselves in. However, there is a complete openness and effort to be catchy and poppy which separate Yard Act from some of their other painfully serious contemporary’s. At first glance I wanted to dismiss Yard Act, I mean let’s be honest. Another post-punk band that all wear grey workers jackets and long coats in their promo photos, great yeah. And after so much drivel from other bands in the scene that use being left wing as a marketing ploy, yet only show absolute high and mighty contempt toward anyone that stays in their home town — or is actually working class. Such as the gigantically embarrassing career defining Model Village from Idles and bands like Legss who probably went to charity shops to buy workmen clothes then write lyrics insulting people who choose apprenticeships. Smith has a self awareness of the box he is standing on and its directly addressed in lyrics such as on 100% Endurance ‘…the key to peace lies within us. And we'd already have achieved it. If everyone was as enlightened as me’. The recognition of the uncomfortable and contradicting nature of someone saying i’m just like you, but standing on a Digital soapbox being famous while saying it. This little display of self awareness and self-deprecation fits completely with the brand of the northern bread and butter attitude on the album and keeps the whole thing stunningly genuine. On The Overload both the music and the sentiment is full of a richness that other bands similar to this sounds seem to be incapable of producing. This is an album that the mullet bashing students can enjoy whilst sipping a half pint of 9% craft ale, but also one that deserves mainstream praise that it should achieve.
Track Release: Simulation Swarm - Big Thief
This new single from Big Thief ahead of their album ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You’ on the 11th of February - which will probably be out by the time you here this - pretty much signals that next month we will be hearing one of my favourite albums of the year. Ive always loved Big Thief, and one of the main reasons is that Adrianne Lenker’s vocal melodies just wriggle straight into the middle of my brain. Wether it’s a fuzzed up electric track or a sombre ballad I just get dragged into the songs. Simulation Swarm sounds like Big Thief are ready to achieve the high critical acclaim they’ve seemed capable of for a few years. I really don’t really need to describe the sound of Big Thief, you just need to listen. And if when you’re reading this, the album review scores are 9’s like I almost promise, then do yourself a favour and make them one of your most listened to bands in 2022.
Unfortunately I cant just force praise on everything that I listen to, but there are some things that live in the grey area between me not wanting to focus in on them and me not wanting to leave them out. SO, hence the honourable mentions section. You can check these out and maybe catch something you missed and I can find a place to talk about these still great songs that would normally be left out. In a track notable track round up style we had new releases from Father John Misty, Pavement, Fontaines D.C, and even unreleased Sonic Youth sessions. Check em all out:
Father John Misty - Funny Girl
Pavement - Be the hook
Aldous Harding - Lawn
The Game, Kanye West - Eazy
Jackie down the line - Fontaines D.C
In and out - Sonic Youth
Soul Glo - Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)(by the future)
The Smile - You will never work in television again
The Smile - The Smoke
When it comes to albums in these round ups, the ones I focus in on might not necessarily be my personal favourites but ones that I think are the most interesting to highlight. With that being said i’ll also include albums here that I enjoyed more than others, but didn't talk about.
Earl Sweatshirt - Sick!
Silverbacks - Archive material
Also as a curveball I will also give you a live album from one of my favourite vocalists in music. It’s strange its eerily gothic at points but its also equality stunning: Anna Von Hauswolf - Live at Montreux jazz festival. Give that first track enough time to hear her incredible voice.
So there we go everyone thats January wrapped up. Next month we’ve got Ants from up there by Black Country, New Road among others so expect a fair few album features and I swear to god keep an eye on that Big Thief record. I’m staking my whole reputation on that album getting 5 stars and 9’s out of 10’s. Until next month, bye bye.
Music loving, opinion giving Barrovian