Nearly halfway there people. Nearly halfway through the annus horribilis to end all anni horribiles (googled the plural).
At least for music fans, during the utter s**tstorm that is 2020, artists have been ploughing through isolation, financial turmoil and postponed dates to deliver another selection box of unmissable albums to our front doors – here’s ten of the best we’ve featured on Live4ever so far…
10/ Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Often here songs are collaged. Sometimes there seems to be more than one going on at the same time, the first 30 seconds of opener I Want You To Love Me with snippets of jazz, hip-hop and a looped piano, all before Apple’s hazed, sweet-but-hot voice kicks in. More than once she stops singing mid-tune to deliver an aside, the title-track more poem than verse, while Under The Table – a glance at her own notoriety for outspokenness – is a stomping, bluesy piano-rama.
9/ Kaytranada – Bubba
Bubba perhaps intentionally has the feel of a mixtape in its purest sense. Sometimes when committing to record a stream of ideas which sound great in the DJ booth of the mind instinct rules over continuity, but from the languid beats of opener Do It to the languid, Williams upscaled closer Midsection, everything here is on the money, a needle deep in the groove so centered it almost seems wrong to break away from it. These are bangers then, but in a more relaxed, feet-up-on-the-sofa style.
8/ Bambara – Stray
Appropriately, singer Reid Bateh – his sibling Blaze plays the drums whilst William Brookshire plays bass – has laid out Stray as if it were some darkly ritualistic novel, the contents each served up like chapters. Augmented by a cabal of friends picking up extra homework on trumpet, strings and backing vocals, it’s a record inspired by O’Connor but created by Reid’s obsessive narrative weaving, the source of inspiration being a collection of stranger’s photographs bought at a thrift store.
7/ Hazel English – Wake UP!
Hazel English spent much of her adolescence writing poetry before becoming intrigued with the ideas contained in Guy Debord’s Situationist bible The Society of The Spectacle…Translating this without irony into a medium like pop is something that requires either great finesse or a revolutionary’s flair for the polemical, but Wake UP! is a more personal journey, the title a note to self about having to constantly jolt the spirit out of the disorientating 24-hour-everything cycle.
6/ Porridge Radio – Every Bad
It’s one of those albums that instantly sounds familiar and unique, right from the off. Lyricist and singer Dana Margolin grabs attention with the album’s opening line: ‘I’m bored to death, let’s argue’, as Born Confused swells with gentle acoustic strumming giving way to a background organ while the rest of the band slowly make their presence felt. The song finishes with a coda of, ‘Thank you for leaving me, thank you for making me happy’. As becomes apparent, Porridge Radio refuse to conform.
5/ Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Knowing yourself again means being comfortable in taking new forms, and the best moments here – the sweetly harmonious Lilacs, Arkadelphia’s desultory charm, the glittering slow dance quality of the title-track – are tokens of a writer taking bold, courageous steps forward. It’s proof that not every dry well lacks magic. Saint Cloud’s backstory is one familiar with the telling, presented throughout history in many forms by the raw-boned female soothsayers of Katie Crutchfield’s upbringing.
4/ BC Camplight – Shortly After Take Off
There are, if you insist, proper songs here as well, ones that start and end in broadly the same key…The press kit for Shortly After Takeoff comes with all the standard blurb about an artist making a great leap forward in their craft, which usually means that they’ve discovered a couple of new minor chords recently, but for Brian Christinzio this isn’t another regurgitated trope. He confides that his biggest regret is that his father isn’t around to hear it – a sincere, human wish that is as much about love as it is pride.
3/ Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
Just before the album’s release, Marling remarked on social media that Song For Our Daughter is, ‘An album stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I’d like for you to have it’, and as the endearing old-world simplicity of For You brings yet another self-assured rumination on the human condition to a close, we couldn’t be any more grateful for her consistent brilliance in this time of uncertainty.
2/ Hamilton Leithauser – The Loves Of Your Life
Not everything has changed: Leithauser’s voice, which scales from twenty-a-day rasp to twinkling falsetto, is still a small wonder, but this is, without sounding too pretentious, a musician’s record, filled with amiable and discretely grand performances. Where there are guests, they mirror this purist approach, with a notable contribution from the near-legendary Jon Batiste, but also the Leithauser juniors play a part, along with their elementary school teacher on occasional backing vocals.
1/ Other Lives – For Their Love
We end though with hope, the easiest thing to lose in America (or anywhere else), the economically played slide guitar of Sideways taking us back to the grass, sun and warmth that that should be enough to sustain us all as humans. The end of a journey which began under the same sky for us all, Other Lives have made For Their Love a definitive statement about the power of belief, whichever square inch of dirt you happen to be standing on.