Amp Fiddler — Amp Dog Knights
Funk-laden House and Hip Hop beats from Detroit remind us that it’s a city of more than the early Techno pioneers, as Amp Fiddler puts together a who’s who of luminaries on his fourth release. Created in collaboration with the Kenny Dixon Jr, aka Moodymann, ‘Amp Dog Knights’ features two cuts based on beats by the late, great J Dilla. Gifted to Amp Fiddler as thanks for tutoring in the art of sampling, one of those beats makes up the track “Through Your Soul”, a cornerstone of the album that draws a line back through every great, stripped back Soul track to Nina Simone. Catch the other Dilla beat, “Return of the Ghetto Fly” here.
Julien Baker — Turn Out The Lights
Using elegant and spacious soundscapes as a backing, Julien Baker has found a way to create deeply confessional music which is at once intimate and staggeringly public. ‘Turn Out The Lights’ appears like a diary read out loud; self-conscious yet driven by a release of a heavy weight as Baker releases her hopes, fears, and demons through assured vocals. Despite the sorrowful tone, there is poise and direction to Baker’s work, each track here a moment and a feeling, perfectly encapsulated. Seldom are such personal works so utterly lacking in self-absorption. Catch a live performance of the title track here.
John Maus — Screen Memories
Having taken a six year break to gain a doctorate in Political Philosophy, John Maus is back to continue his brand of dark synth brooding. A decidedly dark album, ‘Screen Memories’ has moments of black humour delivered deadpan in such a way that even this levity is dark. All that said, it’s a surprisingly spry album, as rhythms bounce and melodies lead the way without the weight that so often comes with darkness. While much of the album is synth led, the highlight track, “Find Out”, is classic Post-Punk in the vein of Pere Ubu. Listen to the album here.
Curtis Harding — Face Your Fear
As a singer with Cee-Lo Green’s band, a collaborator with the Black Lips’ Cole Alexander, and multi-genre performer in his own right, Curtis Harding has experience under his belt. To discover, then, that ‘Face Your Fear’ is only his second album comes as a surprise as it may be one of the most complete works of the year. With Danger Mouse on production duties, this album of modern-but-vintage Soul has the depth and nuance of a classic Phil Sector recording, but the robust flow we’ve come to expect with more contemporary takes. Every single track is a highlight. Catch it before you read a single ‘Best of the Year’ list.
Kllo — Backwater
An unending array of contemporary Electronica influences appear throughout the twelve tracks on ‘Backwater’, the debut from Australian cousins, Kllo. Most obvious are the moments that channel The XX and James Blake, though it’s clear that much of this is as much a shared influence from 2-Step and UK Garage as it is a debt to those contemporaries. More surprising are hints of Everything But the Girl, Banks, and R&B. Together these diverse influences come together in a more laid back and warmer package than Electronica has trended towards of late. It’s a sound worth spending time unpicking. You can listen in here.
Jordan Rakei — Wallflower
Built around Rakei’s vocal harmonies, each tinted with light delay, ‘Wallflowers’ is very much a singer-songwriter album that doesn’t necessarily conform to type. A broad palette of textures range from the simplest of guitar patterns on “Eye To Eye”, to the warm synth vibrations of “Sorceress”, while each track is anchored by percussive rhythms on the simplest of trap kits. The result is an effortless bounce to tracks that otherwise may have felt under-developed. It’s a surprisingly poised musicality that sits well behind Rakei’s vocals throughout. Check out “Goodbyes” here.
Ikebe Shakedown — The Way Home
Powerful but never over powering, energetic but never over whelming, eclectic but singular; this is the sound of Ikebe Shakedown. Taking in the most enthusiastic ends of Soul, Funk, Afrobeat, and Jazz before layering in a side of Psych, it’s a blistering sound packed with warmth, passion, and joy. ‘The Way Home’ is marked by the sheer depth of its sound along with the quality of production, enabling the rolling melodies and rhythms to take their turn in the spotlight while never diminishing the others. It’s a joyful balancing act that results in a broad soundstage that sounds almost cinematic. Do not miss it. Start by catching the title track here.
Robert Plant — Carry Fire
Robert Plant is back with his eleventh solo release and there’s simply no mistaking that voice. Sure, some of the top end may have been lost over the years but there’s a free flowing mid-range that’s as detailed and nuanced as any other. Carrying a steady pace throughout, ‘Carry Fire’ shies away from the Bluegrass and Americana of recent Plant albums, instead sticking to Blues and Folk based Rock. In some ways it’s a glance over the shoulder at where he comes from, yet keeps a focus on the future. The highlight, a cover of Ersel Hickey’s “Bluebirds Over The Mountain” with accompaniment by Chrissie Hynde, is a perfect case in point. Catch the animated video here.