With releases from The Hold Steady, Marika Hackman, Ezra Furman, Whitney and many other luminaries, August is a veritable love-in of long-players.
The Hold Steady exist to dish out solace and solidarity to humans falling apart and getting fucked-up. Or, equally, those doing fine who live all speedy and vicarious through Craig Finn’s tales of killer parties, redemption and more killer parties. So, basically, they exist for everyone. Just as importantly (and it really is), The Hold Steady are the greatest band on the planet to see with one fist clutching a beer and the other fist pointing to the heavens and the fist with the beer pointing to the heavens too.
Thrashing Thru The Passion is very much here for the fists-to-the-heavens crew. The guitars just absolutely rip and Finn’s immaculate enunciation spits out every harsh consonant with the purest conviction. It might not quite touch the white-hot fury of the first three albums, but it’s honestly the best – the most alive – they’ve sounded in years.
Lyrically, though, it’s a new Hold Steady – or an older Hold Steady. Finn claiming “I don’t want to dick around, I just want to devastate”, feels a helluva tone switch. Literary references swap Sal Paradise’s exhilarating trips for Brick Pollitt’s apathetic, self-defeated alcoholism. There’s irregular heartbeats, serotonin getting you glitchy, everything’s “brittle and falling apart”. The killer parties might not have killed us (yet), but they sure ain’t doing us any good. For all that, though, there’s never any doubt that the solace and solidarity is still abundant. Basically, when Craig Finn said “While you’re still alive, I wanna make you feel protected and high”, I felt that. Dave Rowlinson
Ezra Furman’s Twelve Nudes bleeds the hot, red blood of a man frustrated, confused and intensely pained by the state of our political and emotional dissonance. Opener ‘Calm Down’ (aka ‘I Should Not Be Alone’) screams of loneliness, desperation and horrible men in suits that crush us into submission. Punky, fuzzed-out guitars in ‘Evening Prayer (aka Justice)’ are reminiscent of the drug-fuelled, booze-induced songwriting of 90s Beastie Boys, and Furman’s edge-of-chaos shrieks in ‘Rated R Crusaders’ stretch the vocal cords like Germs’ frontman Darby Crash in the late 70s. There are moments of reflectivity, in the short and intense hangovers like ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ that languish in surf-rock guitars, but very authentically, this is an album for losing your shit to. Caitlin Clark
Before you immerse yourself in Blanck Mass’ latest offering (and trust me, it is an immersion, there is nothing passive about this record) make sure you brace yourself. A brutal but brittle assault on the senses, it continues where World Eater left off, though maybe lacks the nuance and variation in pace of previous efforts.
The influences are direct and stark, displaying Benjamin Powers’s talent for everything from pop (honestly there are parts of ‘Death Drop’ which sound like Tears for Fears), to screamo, ricocheting from one to the next in a single track. There’s no surprise, then, that the singles ‘No Dice’ and ‘House vs House’ are the most recognisable, fully-formed moments on an otherwise ambitiously-abrasive album. There’s a familiarity to them that help bring the record together. An enjoyable ball of energy and passion, that reveals what pop music would sound like if you put it through an organ grinder. Jess Partridge
Surrendering your voice to your surroundings is a boldly quiescent choice for a sophomore album. After a debut which introduced Black Belt Eagle Scout to the world with a neat assertion of her queer feminism and Native American upbringing, those facts have now been sublimated into a far softer, prettier sound. On At The Party With My Brown Friends, instead of using words, Paul’s more likely to use long, whooping notes; her voice now being used more as an ambient instrument. While on the surface, this album doesn’t do much to separate her from her friends and musical peers – Hayley Hendrickx, Jay Som, and Hand Habits come to mind – it’s clear that behind it, there’s a heart as large as the wide beaches and canyon-scapes that she conjures. Emma Madden
These indie-folk anecdotes and internal musings of a far-from-spotless mind showcase Jake Ewald’s enigmatic, wry and pathos-laden storytelling. The songs’ musicality – simple electric picking or swells of slide guitar – provides a lush, fertile soil in which these things of beauty can take root. ‘One Down’ acutely depicts life’s tendency to bring only partial success and ‘Black Oak’ is a cautionary tale about “eating household objects for a dare”.
Listening to the new Slaughter Beach, Dog album is like discovering a previously-unpublished set of Raymond Carver short stories. You’ve not heard this album yet, so if you’ve never read Short Cuts, or seen John Altman’s 1993 film based on those stories, you have three things to add to your ‘To Do’ list of essential cultural learnings. Jon Kean
A star of the Internet age, Clairo didn’t have a Top 40 hit or smash streaming records. Instead, she quietly scored a viral YouTube win with ‘Pretty Girl’, and amassed over a million Instagram followers in the process. Although this breakout tune didn’t make the album cut, there’s plenty of other songs coddled in the same reassurance, all backed with celestial choruses and notes of longing. Squaring up to The Japanese House, her songs are as sweet as sugar, especially when matched with her butter-wouldn’t-melt vocals that infuse upbeat indie with DIY electronica: the kind of stuff her producer, ex-Vampire Weekend-er Rostam Batmanglij, is master of. Think fuzzy black noise, devastating percussion and twinkling ballads. It’s music made for pensively staring out of your car window. Georgia Marsh
‘I’m Not Where You Are’, a pop rock jam with ‘80s synths – and the first release from Marika Hackman’s Any Human Friend – subverted expectations like her material did from two years ago. To recap: in 2015 Hackman released her debut album bristling with wistful folk before dramatically changing tack in 2017 for the grungey, garage rock-indebted I’m Not Your Man. Her new album is her most open and daring yet, lyrically and musically. Eleven songs play hopscotch with genre (see the krautrock-esque ‘Conventional Ride’ or traces of space rock on hilarious wank anthem ‘Hand Solo’). But really these creations surpass such signposting. Any Human Friend is a thick quilt of refreshingly varied sounds knotted by tumultuous turns of love, lust and fragility. Keep subverting, Marika. Charlotte Krol
Caprice Enchanté is not a train that you board calmly from the platform, but rather, one you jump on while it careens through the station at 100mph, before veering off onto a rollercoaster track towards its final destination.
This album is an incredible tour de force through the world of heavy rock, rolling effortlessly through different styles and tempos, often within the same song, notably on the brilliant ‘Carroll a.Deering’. It constantly surprises, never allowing the listener to get complacent, venturing into hardcore, mathrock, and on ‘Omens’, a spot of doom metal. TSPSI have always written great songs, and their clever, witty lyrics are clearly evident here, but the additional depth and heaviness of sound take this album to a whole new level. Masterpiece. Simon Moyse
Whitney’s gilded charms resulted in one of 2016’s standout debuts, and the group stick to that pattern on a wonderfully endearing follow-up.
After embarking on some unfulfilling studio sojourns, the Chicago group – hinging on Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek – opted to finish the album in the same bedroom they laid down their debut LP. As a result, Forever Turned Around shares the almost-pastoral feel of its forebear – from the lilting Neil Young-isms of ‘Giving Up’ to the jaunty 70s strummer ‘Friend Of Mine’. There are surprises, too – take the country inflections of ‘Before I Know It’, while those trumpet flourishes find full light on jazz-leaning ‘Rhododendron’.
Broadening and deepening their sound while remaining true to that initial ethos, Whitney may just have crafted another classic. Robin Murray
Marking the sixth studio album since the band’s formation, shoegaze pioneers Ride return this month with an outstanding twelve-track release. This Is Not A Safe Place begins with a distorted three-minute instrumental, before the dream-pop haze of latest single ‘Future Love’ breaks through the chaos, embodying a sense of desire and infatuation. The drastic contrast of ‘Repetition’ and ‘Kill Switch’ comes next, layering echoes of heavy, post-punk influences with a burst of raw emotion, until ‘Clouds of Saint Marie’ brings the record back to a bittersweet sense of nostalgia. ‘15 Minutes’ reaches back into early-nineties territory, while the rest of the album expertly blurs the lines between The Cure’s Disintegration and Silversun Pickups’ entire discography, finishing with the beautiful, yet intensely emotional ‘In This Room’. Kelly Ronaldson
Back on the scene, Bristol’s Minke Whales bring a punk overtone to a collection of narrative-heavy folk musings. Painted in a palette of deep blues and blacks, Cromarty comes with an air of sea shanty sadness. Opener, ‘North Sea‘, holds a heartbreaking tale of self-destruction within its walls of mandolin and wiry guitars, while you’ll find wonderfully-produced gang vocals and dry, sarcastic wit on the later ‘Sandbags’.
Haunting declarations of war and perseverance echo throughout ‘Draw Your Gun’, pinned down by an impressive vocal performance that in itself becomes a recurring motif throughout the record. Between its infectious melodies and strangely optimistic guitars, The Minke Whales have managed to pack a surprising amount of gumption into a short run-time, without sacrificing the fun of the genre they inhabit. Sean Toohey