ZUU, the fourth studio album from Denzel Curry, is his stunning and complicated tribute to his hometown of Carol City, absorbing all the pain, trauma and belonging its brought to his life. An integral part of the South Florida scene that’s shaped the sound of modern hip hop, Curry has always come across as knottier and more ambitious than his peers – but his latest LP is by far his most accomplished to date. From Miami Bass to coke rap epics to the lo-fi Soundcloud boom of recent years, ZUU delves into the sounds and influences that make up the rich tapestry of Miami rap history, taking in one of hip hop’s most underrated with passion and fury. Bristling with a familiarity that comes from knowing a place with all its subtexts and ins-and-outs, Curry crafts an album which feels truly lived in. ZUU not only places Denzel Curry in the lineage of his great Miami forebears, it also solidifies his reputation as one of the most exciting artists working in hip hop right now.
21-year-old Georgia native Faye Webster has offered her strongest effort to date with her serene third album, Atlanta Millionaires Club. Retaining the luscious, country-tinged instrumentals of her previous records, Webster broadens her idiosyncratic songwriting on Atlanta Millionaires Club by injecting new pepperings of jazz and hip hop. The curious genre blend marries her sleepy, intimate balladry with the rich musical history of her home city. Backed by lazy pedal steel, twangy guitars and soulful horns, Webster’s dreamy and transportative compositions evoke both Kacey Musgraves and Aaliyah in equal measures, touching on themes of romantic escape and heartsick desperation with her own witty lyricism and self-deprecating persona. Atlanta Millionaires Club is a generous yet understated record that downplays its true weirdness, while flickers of Webster’s burgeoning brilliance shine through the contradictions and odd beauty of her small, quirky masterpiece.
The self-titled debut from Melbourne firebrands Amyl and the Sniffers is a burst of primitive and febrile punk at its most potent. Across the record’s lean runtime, the Melbourne foursome hold nothing back, managing to capture and bottle the unfiltered adrenalin and unhinged mania of their formidable live shows. Carried by the righteous, pissed-off anger of their force-of-nature frontwoman Amy Taylor, Amyl & The Sniffers taps into a history of guttural garage-punk and beer-soaked pub rock better than any other record this year. Without entirely reinventing the wheel, Amyl and the Sniffers’ debut LP demonstrates the power of simplicity, a brattish attitude and the obscene fun of throwing all abandon to the wall.
Nothing Great About Britain is the irreverent debut from Northampton rapper slowthai. A visceral blend of the energy, politics and presentation of punk with the jagged and bleak sounds of early grime, Nothing Great About Britain is the MC’s snarling critique of a post-Brexit Britain. It’s a vision of his home country in 2019 which is potent and profoundly grim: a nation torn apart and crumbling under misguided nationalism, rising social injustices and irreconcilable political partisanship. Slowthai tears down these forces with sardonic wit, cutting through the skittish production with his razor-thin flow, while personal stories of growing up in a council estate wrought by financial hardships and domestic turmoil bring a human face to the costs of this toxic political landscape.
What emerges from Nothing Great About Britain is a cautious glimmer of optimism, a faith in humanity that says that working class people will always succeed in spite of a society which was never designed for them. This record has made Slowthai impossible to ignore, solidifying his reputation as a vital new voices while also producing one of the most authentic musical responses to traumatic political and social upheaval in recent memory.
PROTO, the spectacular third studio album from experimental composer Holly Herndon, is a bold and curiously beautiful step into the future. Combining traditional folk singing with gorgeous choral arrangements and emotive electronic sound collages, PROTO collapses the synthetic onto the organic, exploring new forms of creativity and artistic process while keeping an undeniable sense of humanity at its centre. Collaborating with SPAWN, an AI program of her own creation which she is teaching to recognise and reinterpret human musical patterns, Herndon crafts an exhilarating record that speaks to the humanising potential of new technologies. But Herndon’s third project is bigger than any album – it’s a prescient piece of commentary on how the ways AI will affect our future depends entirely on our approach. Throughout the record, her own relationship with SPAWN reaches a new singularity, one in which understanding replaces conflict and dystopian ideas of amoral automation. Sitting at the nexus of technological evolution and musical euphoria, PROTO is yet another stunning statement from one of music’s most essential thinkers.
Designer is the beguiling third studio album from eclectic New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding. On the follow-up to her much lauded second record, Party, Harding straddles the intelligible and the straight-up perplexing, deftly threading her music with close details and tangled but compelling contrasts. Designer invites obsessive attention whilst always keeping us at arm’s length. With her opaque, poetic lyricism and playfully off-kilter arrangements, Harding imbues Designer with her enigmatic personality and a sense of disquiet that creeps underneath the sheer prettiness of her third LP, balancing the absurd against the alluring, the darkness against the light.
Blood is the wonderfully eclectic debut studio album from singer and avant-garde cellist Kelsey Lu. Boundless in its scope, Blood distills the range of Lu’s impressive resumé, which includes collaborations with the likes of Solange, Blood Orange and Oneothrix Point Never, into a crystalline collection of tracks threaded together by her goosebump-inducing vocals and expressive cello playing. Sauntering through sumptuous dream pop, symphonic disco and spacious, meditative R&B, her debut offering eludes genre and answers with a stylistic confidence seemingly beyond her own experience. Lu moves through this lush, vibrant musical universe in restless pursuit of her own vision, aesthetic and spirituality. Listening to Blood is to watch an arresting portrait of a young artist coming into her own, always pushing forward in her enigmatic, exploratory wanderings towards the promise of, one day, reaching some higher plain.
Irish post-punk outfit Fontaines D.C. deliver on years of feverish hype with their debut record, Dogrel. Taking its title from an old form of working class poetry, Dogrel is lovably rough-around-the-edges, a patchwork quilt of an album which places stream-of-consciousness monologues alongside mosh-pit inducing crescendos, balancing the quintet’s ferocious energy with moments of wide-eyed melody and tender, expansive balladry. Throughout, Fontaines D.C. use a combination of the harsh and the poetic to paint a picture of the grit and romance of life in their home city, drawing on influences as lofty as James Joyce to experiences as mundane as drinking in a Dublin pub into the early hours of the morning. Authentic, raw, honest and carried by its clearly defined voice, Dogrel is a record about identity, about being proud of who you are and where you come from. With it, Fontaines D.C. have produced one of the year’s most evocative pieces of music, meticulous and rich in its love for the character of Dublin and all the little characters, places and stories which make it up.
Sydney quartet I Know Leopard offer up their long-awaited and luxurious debut, Love Is A Landmine. Brimming with unabashedly romantic synth-pop and shimmering 70s new wave, Love Is A Landmine is a self-knowingly retro album that eschews any pretence of self-consciousness, unafraid to delve into the sincere and the authentic in its quest to detail the myriad frustrations and ecstasies of new love. With tightly-wound songwriting, I Know Leopard deliver an eleven-track series of tangled love songs where pain and pleasure exist side-by-side, anchoring their musical sheen with earnest but sly and emotionally complicated lyricism. An explosion of emotion layered atop an endlessly stylish and playful homage to the music of the 1970s, I Know Leopard craft a glamorous and singular debut with Love Is A Landmine – one which you’re unlikely to hear matched any time soon.
Experimental Melbourne duo Squaring Circles step out of the ether on their debut record, Motion. A swirling, slow motion kaleidoscope of free form jazz, textural psychedelia and analogue electronica, Motion is Squaring Circles’ attempt at capturing and embodying the spirit of musical spontaneity, an eight track exercise in throwing genres and moods up against one another in cathartic collision. Motifs, melodies and rhythms gradually reveal and release themselves across the record’s meditative runtime, hypnotically dissipating as soon as they develop. Motion is music at its most immersive, an invitation to step into Squaring Circles’ deliberately slow and pensive ether, to pause and consider what surrounds us.