Look Up Sharp is the eerily charming second record from Melbourne-born, London-based experimental pop artist Carla dal Forno. With sharpened production and crystalline vocals, dal Forno’s second LP takes the stately chamber pop of her pastoral debut and buries it beneath the sprawling mess and blank anonymity of life in a big city. From Melbourne to Berlin to London, Look Up Sharp is the story of a life spent in flux, dissolving into indifferent surroundings, searching for intimacy and connection, falling short of dreams and finding refuge in small places. In between, Carla carves out her own sonic territory, a spectral soundtrack built off a curious blend of dubbed-out trip hop, DIY bedroom recordings, airy folk and haunting post punk. Carla dal Forno’s is a slow-moving and wistful world, but on Look Up Sharp she opens up the possibilities of our internal lives, showing how, if you peer in close enough, you might just glimpse all the activity flourishing beneath the surface.
Please Be Kind is the second full-length from Bleeding Knees Club and Neighbourhood Void member Mikey Barker’s bedroom emo project Dying Adolescence. As he moves out of his teenage years and into his twenty-somethings, Please Be Kind finds Mikey reflecting on the obsessions, influences and passions that shaped his adolescence. Encompassing new beginnings and old ends, the songs on Please Be Kind are both inward and outward looking, downcast but determined to move forward and committed to being and doing better, piece by piece. Brimming with melodic radiance, dreamy, swelling guitar tones and melancholic vocals, Barker’s songwriting reaches for a transcendent, whispered relatability that takes emo back to its lo-fi, homespun origins. With his wistful, resplendent second studio album, Dying Adolescence has quietly released one of the best records to come out of Sydney this year.
Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA returns with his electrifying third record All My Heroes Are Cornballs. A softer, more melodic outing than his breakout 2018 LP Veteran, Peggy’s follow up is no less radical. Like its predecessor, All My Heroes Are Cornballs is aggressive, uncompromising, challenging and yet so deeply in tune with our current moment, borrowing from and then holding a mirror up to mainstream politics and culture. Writing and producing the entire record by himself, JPEGMAFIA’s production taps into a form of expression totally unhindered by the idea of boundaries, both musically and socially. Playing with unconventional song structures and the juxtapositions between sounds and textures, Peggy throws seemingly random samples and references up against one another in a glitchy, industrial whirlwind. Peggy’s lyricism remains a feast of hilarious one-liners, provocative political deconstruction and his unparalleled incisions into the zeitgeist. It’s the sound of being connected to everything and nothing at once; music for scrolling to. Track to track, the third full-length from JPEGMAFIA is a genuinely thrilling experience. Experimental and harmonious, abrasive but beautiful, raw and vulnerable, you never know where he’s going to go next. All that’s left is the realisation that JPEGMAFIA is quickly becoming one of contemporary hip hop’s most truly unique artists.
Sampa The Great has finally unveiled her mammoth, long-awaited debut studio album The Return. At a towering 19 tracks The Return stands as one of the years most arresting statements of artistic intent, with Sampa using each second of her personal odyssey to showcase the full palette of her unparalleled vision. Armed with her poetic lyricism, rapid-fire flow and economic storytelling, she delves into themes of home, heritage, displacement, the weight of fame, cultural politics and freedom. The dense, genre-splicing arrangements that populate The Return are impossible to pin down, incorporating an extraordinary range of different styles and reference points amid moments of breathtaking inspiration, moving between Afrobeat, experimental R&B, neo-soul, golden-age hip hop and influences from her native Zambia. Simply put: Sampa raps out of her skin on The Return and as she does so she sounds fearless, exuberant, indestructible, inexhaustible – free. FIlled with lush, polyrhythmic instrumentals and carried by its communal spirit, The Return is Sampa’s giddy, triumphant celebration of her musical and cultural heritage. It’s a joy to behold.
Collarbones complete a stunning comeback with the release of their first record in five years, Futurity. Touching on themes of devotion, romantic hope and queer futures, Collarbones’ fourth LP is an album about crushing that remains deeply skeptical about its own fixation on crushing, carving out a space to unpack its own romantic tendencies. Futurity matches this emotional instability with a constantly shifting sonic palette that morphs between the warped bass of deep desire and hazy, sensual Frank Ocean-style ballads. 12 years into the Collarbones project, Marcus Whale and Travis Cook manage to uncover new boundaries to their musical partnership, throwing themselves into the indulgent, sincere fantasies of pop music with their most ambitious, accessible and genre-pushing release to date. Full of euphoric highs and fragile lows, Futurity is an album that feels everything. It’s the sound of throwing your all in, even if you’re terrified of the outcome. Futurity is all-consuming, an overwhelming wall of emotion that simultaneously crushes you beneath it while allowing the eternal promise of a perpetually slightly-out-of-reach future.
Forever Turned Around is the achingly beautiful second record from Chicago two-piece Whitney. Where their debut was marked by breezy nostalgia and resplendent horn sections, its follow-up is a more pastoral offering, the duo tinging their playful melodies and moments of anthemic release with a pervasive anxiety and lyrical allusions to social, political and environmental disaster. Musing on themes of confusion, fear, loneliness as a natural fact of life and relationships between both lovers and friends, Whitney produce a record which is less immediate than its predecessor, but feels more lived-in and enduring. Still, the relationship that defines the album is the musical friendship at the heart of the Whitney duo, who take their songwriting to new, refined heights on Forever Turned Around, weaving horns and bittersweet guitars into their always meticulous arrangements with a more invisible, organic touch. By getting more in touch with the world on Forever Turned Around, Whitney offer a warm, welcoming hug to anyone barely keeping it together while a world crumbles around them.
Braindrops is the stormy, chaotic second full-length from Melbourne outfit Tropical Fuck Storm. Knotty, compelling and thoroughly weird, Braindrops bends and warps the eccentricities of the group’s 2018 debut to even more harrowing and electrifying extents this time around. With their second record, Tropical Fuck Storm continue to hone their brand of surreal and apocalyptic psych-rock, while bringing sharp electronic influences into the fold. Suffused with a dystopian atmosphere and a sense of breathtaking spectacle, Braindrops inspires feelings of awe and anxiety in equal measures. The quartet’s murky polyrhythms, interlocking guitar riffs and semi-dissonant harmonies oscillate between moments of turbulent cacophony and precarious quiet. A tumultuous listen that never fails to surprise at every turn along its spiralling descent to madness, Tropical Fuck Storm’s second LP is their soundtrack to the end.
Emily Alone is the hauntingly beautiful third record from Florist. Stepping away from her bandmates, frontwoman Emily Sprague excavates a painful period in her life that covers the unexpected death of her mother, the breakdown of a long-term relationship and a cross-country move from New York to LA. Writing, performing and producing the album entirely by herself, Sprague fills Emily Alone with a ghostly presence, coloured by hushed, enveloping acoustic guitars and double-tracked harmonies. In its lightness, you feel the imprint of everything she’s lost. Despite its title and spectral sound, Emily Alone is not a self-absorbed record. Sprague’s simple and plainspoken lyrics are full of the kind of mundane, everyday moments that healing happens in. Her songwriting emerges from underneath the weight of her losses with a strangely uplifting comfort, turning solitude into a blanket of quiet strength. Emily Alone is a curiously beguiling and beautiful record, the kind that’s best saved for those moments when you want to detach from the world and feel something bigger than yourself.
A seasonal cycle that begun with the solitary winter of For Emma, Forever Ago finally reaches its natural conclusion with the autumnal thaw of Bon Iver’s stunning fourth record, i,i. For an artist whose career has so far been defined by constant reinvention, Justin Vernon’s latest release is a chance to step back and pause, a rare moment to breath and survey the landscape, tying everything together with a subtle delicacy. The intimacy and humanity of his earlier work remains in tact, but it’s now buoyed by years of experimental tinkering and infused with a warm, generous beauty. Fragmented and impressionistic, i,i is a record governed by feeling rather than theme, its layered textures and cryptic lyrics housing seemingly infinite moments of harmonic, atmospheric and melodic brilliance.
Made with a revolving cast of collaborators that counts James Blake, Moses Sumney and Francis Starlite among them, Justin Vernon ends i,i worlds away from the isolated origin story of his Bon Iver project. i,i is something to behold; not only is it the most complete Bon Iver record, it represents the closing of a chapter, the culmination of an entire career. Rarely does an artist achieve such a finished and wholly rewarding discography.
IMMUNITY is the remarkably assured debut from the endlessly captivating Clairo. Co-produced by Rostam of Vampire Weekend, IMMUNITY trades the unvarnished, lo-fi authenticity of her earlier singles for a cleaner, more polished palette of plaintive pianos and quietly booming drums that blurs the lines between bedroom pop and indie rock. Infusing her debut record with the sort of confessional introspection that sounds like a whispered late-night secret, Clairo achieves all of this without sacrificing any of her natural charm. Armed with an irresistible sense of melody and her subtly devastating voice, Clairo weaves together a collection of homespun tracks about friendship, romance and the nervous energy of self-discovery during your adolescence. On IMMUNITY, Clairo completes her transformation from viral Youtube sensation to a new kind of pop star all together, staking her claim as a voice of the new generation.