Experimental R&B vocalist serpentwithfeet brings a spiritual, uplifting approach to his exploration and romantic and platonic connection on his second full length album, DEACON. A childhood spent in gospel choirs and a learned lifetime of traditional jazz and classical music training bleeds through in the auteur’s sound with synthesised, acapella hymnals that lay blessed prayers upon the objects of his affection. Where his 2018 debut, Soil, explored layers of discontent and pain found in heartbreak, its follow up carries a lighter, more consciously accessible pop sensibility, imparting the joy and ease brought by community and connection. Showcasing the Brooklyn singer’s exquisitely agile, expressive voice, DEACON’s production pairs serpentwithfeet’s delicate vibrato with glowing synths and shiny 90s and 00s R&B-indebted beats. Exploring facets of queer, Black love, both romantic and platonic, DEACON raises the safe spaces for healing that these relationships provide to the level of religious exaltation. Blissful, heartfelt and effervescent, serpentwithfeet’s DEACON enshrines the love at its centre.
Dublin’s David Balfe introduces himself as a potent new poet of grief on his achingly tender and mesmerisingly honest debut outing as For Those I Love. A touching tribute to his former bandmate and best friend, Paul Curran, who passed away in 2018, Balfe exorcises his loss throughout the self-titled record in a tapestry of spoken word poetry, collages of found WhatsApp voice messages and bleary-eyed, strobe-lit sounds that draw on memories of late nights spent driving around to The Streets, Mount Kimbie and Burial, from blissful, peak-rave euphoria to the quiet comedown. Eulogising his best friend, For Those I Love refracts Balfe’s grief as a prism through which to detail the people, places and experiences that constitute his life; stories of warehouse raves, football terraces, housing estates and teenage scrapes, all coloured by the immeasurable loss that surrounds him. For Those I Love places himself in the recent tradition of fellow Dubliners Fontaines D.C., The Murder Capital and Pillow Queens – artists who use their heavy, unfiltered Irish brogues and their poetic, literary honesty to examine the small hardships and the adverse mundanity of life in Ireland’s decimated capital city. With such roots adrift in despair, For Those I Love never buckles under the weightiness of its own grief. Instead, its collection of tracks are as paradoxically uplifting as they are stark and harrowing, reaching a downtrodden sense of catharsis and hope that pays impressionable tribute to art, to love, to restorative relationships, and, above all, to a lost but never-truly-gone friendship.
Threading together sounds of traditional Saharan folk and contemporary club music, Moroccan DJ and producer Guedra Guedra’s debut record reimagines North and Western Africa within a new electronic context. Crammed with lushly textured beats, footwork-esque tempos, propulsive electronic basslines and scattered with layered samples and field recordings, Vexillology transports the listener to the world of the Casablanca-based artist, where beats are self-described as ‘riding the rivers of rhythmic history’. Traversing Northern Africa with an almost anthropological focus, Guedra Guedra’s debut delves into the history and significance of Saharan cultural practices, utilising recordings taken from various Sub-Saharan and Amazigh communities to form the backbone of his dizzyingly polyrhythmic beats. Vexillology is Guedra Guedra’s attempt to authentically and respectfully capture the ephemeral, social nature of music playing in communities he grew up amidst in recorded form. Immersive and head-spinning, Guedra Guedra’s complex, propulsive compositions interweave tradition with the contemporary, the organic with the synthetic, and the acoustic with the electronic in a way that, remarkably, gives each element its own space to breathe. Transcending borders, cultures and time, Vexillology draws out the underlying rhythms of the North African diaspora to present Guedra Guedra’s own interpretation of dance music, driven by this pervasive historical pulse.
Diving into the hidden and darker undercurrents of love, Sydney post-punk outfit Mere Women return with their new album Romantic Notions. The dark moodiness of discordant guitars and rumbling bass paint an atmospheric background for the band’s continued exploration of women’s stories and experiences, a theme that runs throughout their catalogue and continues here on their fourth studio full-length. Drawn from an old stack of keyboardist and lead singer Amy Wilson’s great-grandmother’s diaries, Romantic Notions delves into inter-generational reflection on how romantic relationships have changed and stayed the same, and the continuing ways that love can be used to trap and control women within relationships. Wilson’s dramatic vocals mirror the intensity of the emotional themes of obsession and unrelenting devotion, and, in doing so, challenges the rose-tinted portrayals of love, drawing out to explore how those portrayals ultimately hold back and disempower women. In a climate where stories of sexual assault enabled by cultures of coercion, control, cover-up and misogyny are pouring forth from even the highest halls of federal government, Mere Women’s urgency and their thoughtfulness in challenging cultural depictions of relationships makes Romantic Notions a vital, powerful listen.
Storming in with confidence and bravado that oozes forth, Genesis Owusu drops his debut LP, Smiling With No Teeth. On his debut full length, Genesis positions himself as the motivic “Black Dog” – a multifaceted character that exists across both internal and external worlds, representing both society’s figure of an outcast and the internal demons of anxiety and loneliness that take hold within that outsider. Drawing on his personal experiences of emigrating from Ghana to Canberra as a child and growing up as a Black man within White Australia, the album represents Owusu’s choice to “wear the badge of an outcast as a badge of honour”, speaking directly to issues of mental health and race. Propelled by the energy of creating his own sound and telling his own story, Smiling With No Teeth is slathered in sharp, funky basslines, and sharpened by Genesis’ vocal delivery, which swings between honeyed, smooth singing and wildly-spat, fist-pumping, microphone-smashing lyricism. With production that sits steadfastly outside of the hip hop wheelhouse, Genesis utilises a five-piece studio band to create lush and gaudy arrangements, a collision of sounds, styles and influences that lends the record a wild, propulsive immersion. Smiling With No Teeth announces the arrival of Genesis Owusu in the most convincing and accomplished manner possible, a tour de force that deftly balances style with substance, layering its moments of self-reflection and deep-seated thematic ruminations beneath kinetic jubilation and an undeniable sense of vitality.
Full of rich, symphonic synth-pop and sparse, heartrending ballads, Melbourne artist June Jones arrives with her self-produced second record, Leafcutter. On the follow-up to her 2019 debut, Jones gives shape to how each of us attempt to make sense of our lives and our selves through looking outwards, lacing together entwined themes of humanity and technology, harmony and dissonance, intuition and uncertainty, the natural, exterior world and our own private, interior universes. Throughout Leafcutter, Jones uses these thematic tensions to explore and explain different aspects of her experience as a “deeply emotional trans woman, a lesbian with ADHD”. Overflowing with intricate details that unfurl with each listen, Jones’ second solo outing fuses contemporary production styles with centuries-old musicological techniques, placing her in the lineage of Björk, Kate Bush and Fiona Apple, artists whose atemporal, collage-like approaches to art-pop have rebuilt music in their own language. With her immersive production, open-hearted lyricism, skeletal electronic arrangements and her enthralling, dynamic vocals, Jones makes Leafcutter feel like the safest, most confessional space to nestle inside of.
Sydney folk singer-songwriter Indigo Sparke conjures up the mysteries of life on her debut full-length, Echo. With gentle guitar melodies tracing the contours between darkness and light, poetic lyrics invoking soothing and at times nostalgia-tinged atmospheres, Echo draws on deeply personal themes of dreams, queer love, addiction, heartbreak, connection, death and unfurling life. Written during her travels across America, Sparke’s debut LP captures both a sense of boundless, open skies and highways, alongside cloistered, anonymous hotel rooms and lonely hours of introspection. Co-produced by Sparke, Adrianne Lenker and longtime Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, Echo is a sparse affair, filled out primarily by Sparke’s ethereal vocals and accompanying guitars. It goes in search of intimacy and the vulnerability that comes from feelings of true safety, floating between the softness of her art and the grit that underlies her lived experiences, stripping the music back until, like Sparke herself, it feels humbled by life. On her debut LP, Indigo Sparke looks towards a vast sea of constellations in the desert night, drawing parallels between those heavenly bodies and the human experience. Those stars are much like ourselves: connected but apart, luminous and awe-inspiring but suspended amidst a blank, void expanse of space, all of them yearning for something greater to belong to.
Skuzzy and restless, Sydney noise-rock outfit Zeahorse return with their 3rd studio album Let’s Not (And Say We Did), their first new music in almost five years. The album’s title and its lyrics show the band’s sense of cynical humour and the running thread of satirical social commentary that has also marked their previous releases. With their half-shouted, heavily accented vocal delivery, the four piece harness a typically feral strain of Australian punk, while also incorporating more heavy and sludgy elements. Fuzzy guitars and a healthy dose of feedback lend a noise rock influence whilst contrasting against the tight, precise drumming, propelling the album from track to track with a fidgety momentum. The sense of noise and energy carried across Let’s Not (And Say We Did) is accented by gnarled and electrically charged guitar riffs, expanding at times out into sludgy, hypnotic, psychedelic realms. On their third full-length record, Zeahorse submerge the listener head-first into their world of hazy, slime-coated noise-rock, a radioactive return for one of the Sydney underground’s most potent acts.
London seven piece Black Country, New Road deliver on the hype of their early singles with their six-track debut record, For the first time. The latest outfit to emerge from the UK’s explosive scene of new rock sounds, Black Country, New Road’s twisted, gnarled compositions traverse wild changes of pace, genre and mood, taking the listener on frenetic, meandering sonic journeys that build to wild crescendos of noise that collapse jazz, hardcore, Jewish folk music, 90s post-rock and post-punk onto each other. With frontman Isaac Woods’ distinctive growled vocals and his borderline spoken delivery, For the first time matches his freewheeling, scattershot meditations on pop culture with an all-consuming, overwhelmingly dense and visceral energy, referencing everything from Kanye West to nutribullets to UE Booms, Phoebe Bridgers, Bruce Springsteen and Black Midi along the way. Described as an attempt to capture their sound as it exists in the moment, For the first time distils Black Country, New Road’s first 18 months together as a band, bottling a youthful exuberance pushing fearlessly into unknown musical realms.
Surfing a wave of critical acclaim, British artist Arlo Parks delivers her hotly anticipated debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams. Having established herself as an artist who intimately and frankly bears her inner truths and struggles, the tantalising rollout of Arlo Parks’ debut album culminates in a listening experience which threads together her lyrical storytelling vignettes into a multifaceted, diaristic record that illuminates on her everyday experiences with poetic, detailed and visually rich songwriting. Opening with a spoken word poem, Collapsed in Sunbeams fluidly shifts between sounds, with a strong 70s soul influence as well as more contemporary RnB sounds and together with Parks’ light dreamy voice, paints a personal and deeply engaging portrait of her experiences. Touching on topics of queer love, mental health, body image, friendship and self identity, Collapsed In Sunbeams channels a youthful intensity of emotions and sense of navigating the world, yet is created with a certainty of vision which is impressive for an artist so early in their career.