Sydney post-punk trio Married Man have released their debut full-length, Hard Bargain. Produced by Straight Arrows’ Owen Penglis and Total Control’s Mikey Young, Hard Bargain is an airtight collection of nine nocturnal tracks that sit somewhere between serene and smoldering. Blossoming from the solo project of singer-songwriter Sarafina Pea into a full-blown three piece, Married Man harness their swooning guitars and mystical layered harmonies to infuse their blissfully bruised dream-pop with the wired tension of post-punk. Lush, atmospheric and fiery, Hard Bargain is a fever dream, an otherworldly collision between heavenly and haunting, that announces Married Man’s arrival with a remarkably cohesive debut.
New Jersey singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten returns from a four year hiatus with her fifth studio album, Remind Me Tomorrow. Written during a period in which she walked away from music to study for a degree in psychology, take up acting and become a first-time parent, Remind Me Tomorrow surveys those lost years of Van Etten’s life while blowing her songwriting up with a widescreen ambition and a newfound confidence. Working with St. Vincent’s producer John Congleton, Van Etten pushes her sound into new territory with a self-assured progression, edging away from her guitar towards piano, ghostly synths and spacious, ambient soundscapes – a sound designed for midnight hours spent driving through the deserted streets of New York City. A testament to music as a coping mechanism for filtering out the dysfunctional mess of life, Remind Me Tomorrow is Van Etten’s masterpiece, her most atmospheric and expansive but accessible and emotionally piercing work to date.
James Blake has returned with his fourth studio album, Assume Form. Eschewing his tendency for cryptic melancholy, the album showcases Blake with a newfound romanticism. A highly sought-after collaborator for the world’s biggest stars including Beyonce and Frank Ocean, Blake has evolved far from his London post-dubstep roots to become a central figure in popular music, with feet firmly placed in both the mainstream and underground music worlds. Assume Form sees Blake exploring diverse sonic territory ranging from his trademark minimalist ballads to percussive, cosmic jams including features from Andre 3000, Rosalia and Travis Scott. With a new found honesty and unafraid to reflect on the vivid sensations that come along with being intensely in love, James Blake has reached new heights on Assume Form – an album that exhibits his strength for captivating sound-design as much as his refined talent for songwriting.
Prolific American songwriter and producer Toro y Moi returns with his 6th studio album Outer Peace. With origins tracing back to the chillwave movement of the late 2000s, Toro y Moi has far outgrown the constraints of the short-lived genre and in the ensuing years has amassed a discography that spans genres and includes collaborations with Travis Scott, Tyler, the Creator and The Avalanches. Outer Peace continues to document Toro y Moi’s continual growth, with nods to everything from French house and R&B to emo rap and dance-punk, even featuring an overt shoutout to LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Despite his ever-changing approach and experimentation with styles, Toro Y Moi never seems out of his depth. Outer Peace is no exception, presenting itself as one of the artist’s most vibrant and cohesive records to date.
Some Rap Songs is the third album from hip-hop prodigy Earl Sweatshirt. After emerging as part of the Odd Future collective at the age of 16, almost 10 years ago, Earl Sweatshirt has forged a fiercely original approach to his solo material. On his latest offering the LA based rapper and producer again exhibits his knack for constant evolution, showcasing a rawer style, constructed of obtuse samples that meld elements of hip-hop and jazz reminiscent of Stones Throw legends J Dilla and Madlib. Using his family as a lyrical source of inspiration, Some Rap Songs is a thoughtful album that reflects on his own personal struggles as well as the recent passing of his father, South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile. Earl Sweatshirt has reached new heights on Some Rap Songs, rounding out 2018 with one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.
British musician Elena Tonra has released her self-titled debut under the pseudonym Ex:Re. Taking the opportunity to step away from her duties as front woman of dream-pop band Daughter, Ex:Re illuminates the songwriter in a moment of profound self-reflection, acting as a form of catharsis for a broken romance. Lyrically, the album is Tonra at her most direct. Urgently attempting to understand and externalise all of the thoughts that accompany a broken heart. Although underpinned by suitably melancholy arrangements, the music on Ex:Re is not overwhelmed by it’s introverted nature. Driven by a dynamic rhythm section and Tonra’s hypnotic ear for melody, Ex:Re is a deeply sincere and enthralling debut album.
Palm Springs is the solo moniker of Melbourne artist Erica Dunn. As a member of Mod Con, Tropical Fuck Storm and Harmony, Dunn has cemented a central place in the city’s underground music community but on her new album Palm Springs & Friends she takes the opportunity to explore a different sonic identity. Recorded during an artist’s residency program in New York in June 2017 the majority of the tracks on the album were completed in a single 10-hour session. This approach to recording reinforces the immediacy of the tracks on Palm Springs & Friends. A seven track expedition of outsider folk, set amongst the warm hiss of tape and stripped back instrumentation, Palm Springs & Friends is an intimate and arresting album.
Dark-synth luminary Buzz Kull returns with his second album, New Kind Of Cross. A mainstay of Sydney underground music for almost a decade, Buzz Kull has sculpted a distinctive and sophisticated approach to production and songwriting that has earned him cult status at home and abroad. Spurred on by a near-death experience the artist had in Germany and the subsequent questions of mortality and existence that emerged in the ensuing months, New Kind Of Cross coaxes us into an eerier, more menacing musical space than Buzz Cull has ever facilitated before. Propelled by arpeggiated basslines, whipcrack snare hits, neurotic synthscapes and disaffected vocal delivery, the album encapsulates the unsettling mood of its origins. However, in characteristic Buzz Cull style, New Kind Of Cross is able to evoke elements of classic darkwave and renew them in a fashion that is fresh and compelling.
Under The Weather is the new album from bedroom-pop underdog, Candy. Written and recorded over a few months in 2017 – a period in which the Melbourne artist found himself without an income or home – the album is a 10-track interrogation of uncertainty and vulnerability. Despite these challenging circumstances, Under The Weather is illuminated by a subtle element of hope, one that emerges through Candy’s endearingly self-deprecating lyrical style. Painted with a palette of nostalgic guitar hooks, airy new-wave synths and punchy drum-machine patterns, Under The Weather is a heartening, honest and catchy album from Candy.
With the release of his second LP, Cocoon Crush, Berlin based producer Objekt has created one of the most impeccably crafted electronic albums of the year. Having already garnered critical acclaim from publications including Resident Advisor and Mixmag for his more club-oriented music, Objekt takes the opportunity to shift his focus away from the dance floor on Cocoon Crush. The album is an exploration of organic textures and auditory illusions that allow Objekt to reimagine the conventional palette of electronic music. Blurring the lines between real and synthesised sounds, Cocoon Crush affirms Objekt’s role as one of the most impressive contemporary producers. Alluding to a time when the boundaries of the technological and natural worlds are indecipherable from each other.