Modus Vivendi is the long-awaited debut album from New Jersey rapper-singer 070 Shake. After first breaking out with a show-stopping feature on Kanye West’s Ye, Shake forges her own idiosyncratic path on her first studio full-length, reemerging with an enveloping cycle of heartache that tackles desire, loneliness and anger from the perspective of a queer LatinX woman in her early twenties. At the centre of Modus Vivendi is Shake’s indelible voice. Hovering somewhere between rapping and singing, her malleable delivery is dotted with moments of organic imperfection, off-kilter phrasing and tricky rhythmic and melodic turns. At times her voice is fractured, bleeding into the electronic instrumentals beneath its heavy processing, and at others it cuts through with an earthy, emotive yearning. Below, its lush, spaced-out sonic backdrop, infused with strings and gentle drones, sounds designed to comfort, an intensely private sound that sits somewhere between shoegaze, dream-pop and hip hop. With its unconventional arrangements and restless flirting with the contrasts between raw and smooth, light and darkness, heartbreak and tenderness, the music on Modus Vivendi swallows 070 Shake, the album moving with her ever-shifting mood. In between all its searching, it occasionally hits upon small moments of bliss amidst life’s hardness. 070 Shake exists in these moments of reprieve. On Modus Vivendi she finds her own voice, a fierce, resilient, proud twenty-something, who’s been through and seen a lot, who’s also insatiably hungry, a bit scared, self-destructive, self-loathing and above all human. On her debut project, she’s cautiously hopeful for what comes next.
All in Good Time heralds the return of enigmatic Melbourne garage-punk outfit Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Nearly a decade after releasing their last record, 2009’s Rush to Relax, the legendary foursome opt for a low-key approach to their comeback on their surprise fourth LP, offering a quiet, elemental lesson in how it’s done without sacrificing any of their well-worn vitality. As they balance nervy guitar riffs with thumping, minimal beats and nasal vocal melodies, Eddy Current Suppression Ring hone in on a simmering tension that bubbles just below the surface. Claustrophobic and coloured by a jittery restlessness, the personal and social commentary on All in Good Time is pervaded by future disasters and this feeling that everything could fall apart at any time now. After helping to define the Australian underground with their angular punk at the end of the last decade, the fourth album from Eddy Current Suppression Ring is a slow-burning reintroduction to a band whose absence has cast a long shadow – and whose return is much welcomed.
Joyride the Stars is the debut project from Hearteyes, the latest artistic adventure from Sydney’s Maurice Santiago. Away from the melodic 90s house of his George Michelle project and the brooding post punk of Death Bells, Joyride the Stars is Santiago’s most unabashedly sentimental and openly emotional release yet. Channelling fellow pop iconoclasts The 1975, Lil Peep, 100 gecs and Ariana Grande, Hearteyes packages earnest, poignant honesty inside glistening, genreless tracks that feel thoroughly modern, implacably familiar and wholly distinct, dealing with themes of suicide, addiction and psychosis. Existing somewhere at the intersection between all these strands of popular music from the past decade, Hearteyes’ debut is difficult to define. Recorded across a period of four years between Sydney, Los Angeles and Berlin, Joyride The Stars is animated by this sense of openness and the realisation that boundaries in life are meaningless. It follows Hearteyes’ artistic impulses wherever they lead, from syrupy bubblegum pop to desperately lonely Instagram ballads to woozy, trap-bent dancefloor hits, reaching the bittersweet, cathartic bliss that comes from releasing yourself from past inhibitions.
Intoxicatingly brutal, the self-titled debut record from Bristol’s Giant Swan is an unglamourous melee of muck and industrial techno. Straddling the line between club music and punk rock, Giant Swan’s music is confrontational and intense, revelling in the uninhibited joys of physicality and freakdom, stripping avant-garde techno down to its most primal elements. Each sound on Giant Swan lands a blow directly to the gut, a twisted melange of industrial noise, thunderous drums, buzzsaw basslines and blistering rhythmic bursts. Consolidating an excellent run of EPs and 12 inches, the duo use their first full-length to delve into their serrated aesthetic, providing a terrifying glimpse into the psyche of two musicians who have completely unshackled themselves from the world. With backgrounds in hardcore and experimental rock, Giant Swan prove themselves unbeholden to conventional electronic structures, demonstrating a fearsome mastery of dynamics, melody and atmosphere. Feral, uncompromising and suffused with an unrelenting sense of unease, Giant Swan condense every sweaty, subterranean night spent glassy-eyed and borderline-deafened in a pitch black rave into the sonic assaults of their debut LP.
OOFIE is the second studio record from New York rapper Wiki. His first release since leaving his old label, OOFIE is a return to the raw basics of Wiki’s days spent in the New York underground with tight, diaristic raps and grimy, muddy boom-bap production. Reflective and stressed-out, OOFIE is Wiki’s quarter-life crisis, a weary portrait of an artist looking around and taking stock of his life so far, contending with his own arrested development and conflicted nostalgia, reconciling with his position in the industry, lamenting a city forever changed and a youth lost to him. Wiki’s vision of New York is full of grit and devoid of glamour, rallying against gentrification, sanitisation and the impulse to romanticise the city’s past at the expense of its future as he artfully explores the minute details that make his hometown unique. Trading party-raps and nights of drunken debauchery for introspection and nights in, the one-time gap-toothed street rat emerges on his second LP with a confidence which is less bombastic, but more measured and mature. On OOFIE, Wiki perfects a form of personal, insular rap music that never disappears into the ether or shuts the rest of the world out.
The Wonderful World of Nature is the beautifully tragic solo debut from Elizabeth Mitchell. Emerging from the ruins of a past life, Elizabeth sounds rejuvenated on her debut record, armed with a clear-eyed statement of intent that wastes no time carving out her own identity and space in the world. Fluctuating between melancholy and euphoric freedom, Elizabeth’s cinematic, slow-burning songwriting overflows with emotion as it captures the incandescent glow of romance and the flickering-out of dying love. With distant melodies, reverb-soaked guitars, and lush, hazy production, The Wonderful World Of Nature wraps the ugly truths of love in a twinkling, dream-pop veneer. The songs contained on The Wonderful World of Nature leave a lasting mark: they bruise, linger and kiss it better. Elizabeth’s stark honesty takes no prisoners, including herself. Inviting us to indulge in her pain and wallow in her glorious indiscretions, she casts herself as a queer pop anti-heroine. But mistakes are a necessary part of any growth, and on The Wonderful World of Nature Elizabeth shows that she understands this. She is messy and she is glamorous, but at least this moment belongs to her.
MAGDALENE is unsparingly beautiful and deeply personal second record from FKA twigs. Written during the dissolution of a high-profile relationship and twigs’ recovery from laparoscopic surgery to remove six tumors from her body, MAGDALENE is a portrait of a woman shattered and wrung out, at her most broken. It’s also the story of twigs’ journey to reclaim agency over her art, image and body, rooting the music in her resolve to overcome as she moves towards redemption and surveys her own traumas. Musing on themes of sexuality, physicality, power, partnership and self-worth, MAGDALENE is an anguished and uncompromisingly introspective release from an artist previously defined by their alienness. Working with a handful of outside producers, including Nicolas Jaar, Arca, Oneothrix Point Never and more, she finds kindred spirits to construct gorgeous, disintegrating soundscapes that marry her ornamental but avant-garde approach to songwriting. With melancholic, synthetic melodies, hushed trip-hop beats, fractious electronics and her soaring, audibly heartbroken falsetto, twigs tapes into a more natural and openly resonant version of her self and sound. MAGDALENE is the sound of someone knitting themselves back together again after coming undone. FKA twigs might not be all the way there yet, but on her second album she’s getting closer.
Athena is the brave and utterly unique debut record from Los Angeles artist Sudan Archives. A smorgasboard of sounds and styles, everything comes together on Athena for Sudan Archives – all her curiosity, experimentation, vibrancy and boldness. The songs on Athena are swooning and soothing, heart-breaking and confident in equal measures, full of crisp, syncopated beats, West African rhythms and the fractured, experimental R&B of her peers FKA twigs and Kelela. The backbone of her compositions, as always, remains her violin, which she deploys almost as a second voice, interweaving with her own cooing vocals with an endlessly creative approach to the instrument that’s freed of constrict and convention. With her ability to incorporate avant-garde motifs and textures, Sudan Archives absorbs the instrument within her R&B framework, pushing the project in an ever slightly poppier direction without abandoning the idiosyncratic building blocks of her earlier material. Straddling lines between the traditional, contemporary and futuristic, Sudan Archives’ music weaves together distant histories and cultural heritages into one whole. It’s the illusion of her debut record that she unites these disparate musical elements in such a way that makes you believe they always belonged together. Sudan Archives’ Athena is a debut in the truest sense, a bold and vibrant culmination for an entire life up until this point.
Welcome to the Error Zone is the debut record from Sydney producer and OTIS Records boss Hugh B. A longtime stalwart of the Sydney electronic scene, Hugh B uses the canvas of his first full-length to explore his feelings about the emergent AI industry over a vintage-leaning, vocoder-infused brand of electronic funk. On Welcome to the Error Zone, he takes the listener into the backend of their everyday technology, revealing hidden worlds buzzing away between the microprocessors and algorithms. He creates soundtracks for these worlds, full of hypnotic rhythms and rich, tactile, analogue textures. Eminently movable and emotional, Welcome to the Error Zone is Hugh B’s contribution to the mantra that all new technologies will always reflect the values of its creators, standing apart from the cold, dystopian attitude most creators bring to artificial intelligence. In doing so, Hugh B has produced one of the most distinct – and best – electronic albums to come out of Sydney this year.
Six months after the release of their third album U.F.O.F., Big Thief return with their second landmark record of the year, Two Hands. Where that album was full of celestial, multi-layered odes to the unexplainable natural world, its twin sister is grounded in the earth, an unadorned collection that contains Big Thief at their most skeletal, violent and beautiful sounding as they grapple with issues of gun violence and the climate crisis. Recorded a few days after finishing U.F.O.F., swapping the forests of Washington State for the arid, harsh desert of El Paso, Two Hands is a warmer, more direct release. The songs on Big Thief’s fourth record are raw, tactile, stripped down to their barest elements, the stuff of blood, guts and gnashed teeth. Recorded live in-studio, you can hear the band together in the room practically touching each other, crowded and sweating through the Texan heat, moving as one. The focus on Two Hands is on these interpersonal dynamics, an attempt to capture a band in their most imperfect state as they zoom in on the energy and presence at play when four individuals come together as Big Thief. And when they do come together, they sound magical and invincible. On Two Hands, Big Thief assert themselves as the best band working in indie music right now.