Melbourne’s EXEK return with their new album Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet, a disorienting and entrancing new iteration of the band’s unique sound. On this, their fourth LP, the band continue to captivate through their hallmark blend of post-punk, dub and krautrock atmospheres; filled with strange echoes, juddering feedback, ephemeral samples and melodically compelling guitar parts. Released via Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club – the new imprint from iconic Melbourne underground record store Lulu’s – Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet is an album in two parts. Part A comprised of material written and recorded over the course of 2020, with Part B made up of re-interpreted EXEK material from past releases.
Peppered with the absurdist observations, wry humour and nonchalant drawl of singer Albert Wolski, EXEK’s new LP further cements their place as one of the most eccentric and exciting acts in Australian punk.
Erika de Casier returns with her signature smooth-as-silk RnB on her second studio album, Sensational. Leaving behind the sweet naivety of her widely acclaimed 2019 debut Essentials, de Casier brings a moodier maturity to Sensational, while retaining her hushed vocals and masterful pop melodies. The charm of de Casier’s delivery lies in her evocative, tongue-in-cheek lyrics – painting a portrait of an empowered young woman navigating the often-toxic dynamics of modern dating.
Melding 90s and 00s pop production with a current techno and ambient sensibility, Sensational sees Erika de Casier pluck inspiration from all over, ultimately transforming it into something completely her own.
British five piece Squid deliver a topsy turvy ride on their debut album Bright Green Hills, conjuring both real and imagined worlds through their eclectic musical stylings. Amongst a fanfare of jazz horns, unearthly medieval instruments, intricate guitar riffs, skipping percussion, church bells, sounds from honeybees and suspended microphones swinging around a room of amps, the band’s boundless sense of creativity is encapsulated in a sound that is jaunty and capriciously experimental. Arguably the band’s most notable feature is lead singer Ollie Judge’s wildly inflected vocals – mostly spoken, sometimes barked, but sometimes sliding up an octave mid phrase, creating an unpredictable and cheeky sense of unhinged narration. Bright Green Hills draws on each corner of the band’s shared musical history, pulling from their formative passion for ambient and jazz on the atmospheric drones of ‘Boy Racer’ and the propulsive, hypnotic krautrock of ‘Paddling’’s chunky drum machines and synths. Steering clear of the gloom-ridden fervour of other British post punk contemporaries, Squid instead paint a more exuberant and frolicking sense of their ‘imaginary cityscape’ and ‘the places, events and architecture that exist within it’, imbuing their debut LP with a push-pull flow energy that ramps up as easily as it dissipates. Despite their often cynical themes, and tendency towards ferocious delivery, the sound of Squid is ultimately an uplifting expressive statement, making for an exhilarating listening experience throughout Bright Green Field.
Abrasive and disorienting, Melbourne trio Too Birds channel a headbanging energy with a dissonant blend of influences in their second album together, Melbourne 2. Comprised of rapper-vocalists Teether and Realname, and producer Mr Society, the trio have been collaborating since they emerged in 2016 with their debut mixtape, Where My Jacket, helping to explore and expand the forefronts of heavy, experimental hip hop in Australia through their joint record label and collective, X Amount Records. Melbourne 2 continues to push these bounds, dialing up the cacophonic dissonance, pounding electronics, filtered vocals and distinctive, twisted rapping. Filled with grinding low frequency bass and jarringly chopped samples, the production of Melbourne 2 looms over the horizon like an imposing vortex of sound, blurring industrial electronic and trap-inflected hip hop with metal and noise as it moves closer and closer, inevitably swallowing you up. With Melbourne 2, Too Birds create their own world of chaos and originality from the depressed, apathetic existence of an urban wasteland, flexing an impassioned middle finger to all that is left in their incendiary wake.
Experimental electronic-pop auteur KUČKA arrives with her debut full-length, Wrestling. Self-written, -produced and -recorded, KUČKA’s debut LP binds together autobiographical stories on love, growth and journeying, circling around an informative period of personal transition, spanning love, conflict, sexuality and maturity. The result is an honest, disarmingly intimate depiction of KUČKA’s lived experiences set to a thrilling suite of electronic tracks that meld the futuristic, saccharine sheen of pop and R&B with the complex musicality of her jazz and new age influences, all while harboring and cultivating a mesmerising weirdness at their very centre. Evoking early-90’s Björk, Wrestling takes on the deeply personal nature of its subject matter with an insular and introspective bed of sound, where textural layers melt into one another, unpredictably catchy melodies prove impossible to pin down and KUČKA’s distinctive, crystalline vocals veil themselves within the mix. Propelled by dark-hued bassline grooves, glitchy samples and detuned synth tones are stitched together in atmospheric, ASMR-like arrangements with fractured and delicate digital percussion programmed into wild, intricate patterns. KUČKA’s Wrestling is not the birth of some newfound popstar nor is it the stepping-out of a previously shadowy collaborator. Instead, it’s a revelation of KUČKA’s full scope and breadth as an artist – in total control of her craft, ahead of any curve, and taking her place amongst the most essential artists working in the margins of pop music today.
London pianist and producer Alfa Mist returns to mine his multifaceted approach to contemporary jazz with an album that traces his musical origins to the current moment, his third studio LP Bring Backs. One of many breakout artists to emerge from the thriving, youthful UK jazz scene, Alfa Mist brings the community’s sense of hybridisation and spirited, expansive revitalisation to his latest LP, playing on the line between jazz and hip-hop, layering freewheeling improvisation atop low slung beats and intricate grooves. Recalling 90’s beatmakers J Dilla and Madlib, Bring Backs traces Alfa Mist’s musical upbringing, from his early days of self-taught sampling to his adolescence producing grime and hip hop in his bedroom to his maturation in jazz. Described as a “sonic trip”, Bring Backs reflects on Alfa Mist’s artistic development in uniquely satisfying manner, folding his influences together in a sort of constant, nonlinear conversation with ruminative, looping lo-fi beats and rap verses and spoken word fragments that float in and out of ethereal, transcendent improvisation. Weaving together warm threads of nostalgia, Alfa Mist’s reflective third record is an ode to resilience and growth, balancing his experimental stylistic fusion with an aching awareness of the traditions to which he is indebted.
Noise rock four-piece Repo Man stake their claim to the title of Sydney’s heaviest purveyors of all things dark and twisted with their voracious self-titled debut. Having established themselves in the local scene across an EP and slew of standalone singles, Repo Man’s debut full-length takes this embeddedness and enters their own name into the pantheon of fellow boundary-pushing Sydney rock outfits. Appropriately, the tracks on Repo Man share a lot with these luminaries – combining the teeth-bared, white-knuckled intensity of DEN and White Dog with the abrasiveness of Behind You and the skuzzy, riff-laden appeal of Zeahorse, swaying with the brooding, gothic atmospheres of Mere Women. A warped amalgam of grunge, industrial, post punk and art rock, Repo Man feels like a slow descent into the sludgy underbelly of a psyche. Guided by the entrancing, half-murmured vocals of lead singer Josh Duffy, Repo Man immerse you within this gloom – track by track, from head to toe, until this ominous, foreboding malaise overwhelms. Troweling through classic post-punk themes of isolation, alienation and misery, Repo Man exists at the edges, the line between base primality and civilised exterior, the margins of all that we see, hear and feel, those sensations that we know are there but would rather not acknowledge. Repo Man’s debut reflects that sediment back at us and urges us to give in, if only for the course of an LP.
South London post-punk outfit Dry Cleaning deliver a detailed and angular depiction of the everyday on their singular debut, New Long Leg. Lacking the bawdy yelled vocals of fellow UK post-punk contemporaries, lead singer Florence Shaw’s sardonic spoken-word delivery and her surrealistic lyricism take centre stage throughout New Long Leg. A collage of pop culture references, elliptical character portraits and jumbled poetics, Shaw’s compelling cut-and-paste technique paints a wry and witty picture of humdrum life that’s part confessional, part interior monologue and part random observations, as if Ulysses was brought forward to 2021 and set to adventurous art-rock. The obscurity of Shaw’s lyrics are matched only by their sense of playfulness, full of absurd non-sequiturs and a sarcastic humour that injects itself with just the slightest inflection of Shaw’s largely monotone voice. Where the lyrics layer an inexplicably fascinating perspective into the world of New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning’s rhythm section simmers with tension and expression, elevating through contemplative, deeply textural guitars, propulsive basslines and quirky riffs that match Shaw’s curiosity. Needling and necessary, Dry Cleaning’s debut full-length absorbs and throws the unending noise of the outside world back at you, emitting a magnetic energy that pulls you in closer even as it continues to baffle more and more.
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.