Whether you’re hankering after a hotspot, or just looking to get through the winter months, you can enjoy new releases during February from The Pet Shop Boys to Poliça, with a diversion via Best Coast.
Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
x2 Records/Kobalt | January 24th
What exactly do you want from a Pet Shop Boys record in 2020? Because, if the answer is “another synth-tastic pop-romp, please,” Hotspot has you covered. Recorded in Berlin’s Hansa studios, made famous by Bowie during his Berlin period, the studio’s influence seems mostly that it’s sonically less ‘digital’ than its predecessor, 2016’s Super.
Which is not to say the duo have gone full analogue, (as if). There’s one acoustic-y number, the sublime ‘Burning The Heather’ (featuring Mister Bernard Butler on jangly guitar duties). As Neil Tennant croons about how he’s “just the singer of the song…,” we can just be glad he is, as the track itself is a reminder that, for those of us who love Tennant’s yearning, emotive vocals, he can still envelop you like an old favourite cardigan. It’s a feat he constantly repeats on Hotspot, whether hanging out with Years and Years on ‘Dreamland’, or on the more wistful ‘Hoping For A Miracle’ (think ‘Kings Cross’ and you’re kinda there).
The title of ‘Will O-The-Wisp’ might evoke childhood memories of Mavis Cruet for those of us old enough to remember the 80s teatime cartoon (which probably has nothing to do with it, but thanks for the memory anyway), but also seems to contain momentary fragments reminiscent of ‘It’s A Sin’. It’s just in the opening few seconds (before it transforms into an absolute belter), but it’s surely deliberate, designed to remind you that, in the past, present and hopefully future, Tennant and Lowe remain genuine National Treasures. Simone Skilbeck
Orbury Common – Building The Goddess Temple
Self-released | Out Now
The second EP from the ever-cryptic Orbury Common sees them push their space-tinged soundscapes even further from the Earth’s orbit. Across its three tracks, the duo click together sounds like inquisitive children, blending ambient electronics with a range of instruments and samples.
Opener, ‘(wo)Menhir’, stutters to life with a distorted electronic hum, gathering additional layers of sound as it moves along, before closing out with a Boards of Canada-like sample of a child counting. ‘New Moon Nudes’ takes things in a heavier direction, driven by a violent, almost ritualistic drumbeat, before ‘Geodessia’ offers the listener a moment to cool down with cooing electronics and soft keyboards. Though brief, it’s hard not to get lost in the world that Building the Goddess Temple teases open. Elliott Simpson
HAAi – Systems Up, Windows Down EP
MUTE | 14th February
Australian-born, London-rooted producer, HAAi – real name Teneil Throssell – links with legendary imprint Mute for a new EP, and it refuses to disappoint. Six tracks of sweaty, cramped, digital hedonism, it matches her predilection for working the room with a penchant for sound design that pairs industrial tones with something rather more playful.
Opening with ‘Don’t Flatter Yourself Love’ – its spacious arrangement akin to a soundsystem slowly leering into life – the EP moves through warped heads-down techno chuggers, Aphex-leaning atmospherics, and the subtle dub-inflected sparsity of ‘6666’. Probing yet light-spirited, HAAi refuses to be hemmed in. Ending with that magnificent title track, she is truly laying down a marker, following those sought-after London residencies with a fine, nuanced, and endlessly exhilarating new EP. Robin Murray
Beach Bunny – Honeymoon
Mom+Pop | 14th February
Scattered with power-pop remnants of decades passed, Beach Bunny’s forthcoming debut marks a fresh and optimistic take on love. Aptly set for a Valentine’s Day release, Honeymoon branches away from predictable, woe-is-me songwriting, opting instead for a hopeful and unapologetic approach as vocalist Lili Trifilio embraces the positivity of love.
While ‘Cuffing Season’ and ‘April’ deal with the process of recovering from a broken heart and learning to be alone, the latter half of the record turns towards excitement, heart-bursting crushes and opening ourselves up to new possibilities. From the hazy melodies of ‘Promises’ and ‘Ms. California’ to the stripped-back intimacy of ‘Rearview’, Honeymoon is empathic and confessional, presenting love and romance as a blissful awakening, without falling into the trap of lyrical cynicism. Ari Sawyer
Destroyer – Have We Met
Dead Oceans | 31st January
Have We Met is a refinement of the shimmering indie-pop Dan Bejar’s Destroyer perfected on 2011’s Kaputt, and while there’s little to be found that will surprise anyone who’s followed his career trajectory over the past few decades, there is more than enough that will delight.
Continuing the tradition of there really not being any bad Destroyer albums, Have We Met has a number of peaks that put it among Bejar’s best. The gorgeous ‘It Just Doesn’t Happen’ is one of his most rewarding compositions, and of course it’s peppered with the sort of turns of phrase that see him regarded as one of rock’s most skilled lyricists (“The television music supervisor says ‘I can’t believe what I’ve done’…” being a favourite). Thomas Hannan
Nicolas Godin – Concrete And Glass
Because Music | 24th January
Godin’s follow-up to Contrepoint is less complex and classically minded than its Bach-inspired predecessor, but is again motivated by a single theme, that of architecture – Godin is a graduate in the field and has composed a site-specific tribute to modernist structures. But shorn of its sense of place, does it work for a listener inhabiting, say, a Barratt semi? If they favour the sonorous ambience of Godin’s primary band, Air, then probably, though this album’s layered electro-pop is slighter.
Guest vocalists include Alexis Taylor and, on the catchy ‘Back to Your Heart’, Kate NV, while Godin’s overuse of the vocoder taints ‘The Border’s ethereal drift like a garish paint-job on a minimalist façade. It’s the album’s instrumental infrastructure – its taut beats and warm synths – that give most pleasure: firm foundations, at least. Nick Mee
Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Exodus Records | 14th February
Jazz is alive and well in London. Want proof? Look no further than Catford drummer, Moses Boyd. Already a well-known name on the scene thanks to collaborations with tenor saxophonist, Binker Golding, his debut album represents a chance to test his own vision and chops. With previous sessions with Gary Crosby and Nubya Garcia under his belt, his jazz credentials are assured.
Yet Moses can also claim mixes from Floating Points and Four Tet. Now, these 10 tunes offer a delicious fusion of his highly-syncopated drumming with some exquisitely lush grooves, topped off with an electronic flourish. Think Weather Report jamming with an African Highlife lounge band in Rye Lane and you’re getting close. Guest vocals from Poppy Ajudha, Obongjayar and Nonku Phiri add another, slicker dimension. Geoff Cowart
Poliça – When We Stay Alive
Memphis Industries | 31st January
Carrying on is hard to do. Physical and emotional trauma can leave us cynical and world-weary at best. The idea of totally shedding your skin and approaching life with unbridled optimism after the fact is a common lie passed about way too freely in pop culture. Which is why When We Stay Alive feels more truthful than that. At the heart of the album lies acceptance: examining the curious relationship of embracing pain over total resilience and sometimes surrendering the belief that you have control under the whims of natural chaos.
The contrasts between Channy Leaneagh’s ethereal hyper-pop vocals and sardonic lyrics steeped in cryptic metaphor are exquisite – an aural to-and-fro that seems to epitomise this whole process of realising one’s vulnerability. Definitely their finest, most fully realised album to date. Harriet Taylor
Squirrel Flower – I Was Born Swimming
Full Time Hobby | 31st January
What noises have you made when pleasantly overwhelmed by the power of new music – when you expected it to be good, but you didn’t expect it to be quite so good? Whatever quirky sound you made, be prepared to emote that way again when you blast (please, please play it loud) I Was Born Swimming by Squirrel Flower.
Why turn the volume up on this album? Because it is so sensitively produced. You can hear hand movements along guitar frets, as on ‘Headlights’. Its moments of quiet have a profound atmospheric depth and a high emotional volume. ‘I-80’ and ‘Red Shoulders’ provide a breathtaking opening. Later, when she sings, “My body’s buzzing as I start to dance” on ‘Street Light Blues’, yours ought to follow suit. Jon Kean
Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
Concord / Virgin | 21st February
Throughout their first release since 2015, not including their 2018 children’s record, Best Kids, Bethany Cosentino oscillates between self-assurance and the THC-tinged self-deprecation that Best Coast are known for. This record is not a move back to the poppy surf-rock that broke them into the mainstream in 2010. However the first single, ‘For the First Time’, again uses a laid-back, pop-rock foundation to examine the slacker’s paradox of whether actual change is happening in your life or if it’s just another song about trying to move on.
‘Everything Has Changed’, and Always Tomorrow in general, might be as heavy as surf-rock can sound and the best resolution you can get is that self-improvement and happiness are relative. Albert Testani
ALLIE X – CAPE GOD
Twin Music Inc | 14th February
‘Fresh Laundry’, the first track on Cape God, is also the earliest taste we had of new Allie X material. Confronted by unnerving versions of herself against a backdrop of moody electronic growls and the unshakeable hook of “I want to be near fresh laundry; it’s been too many years of not folding,” it’s visually astounding and sounds phenomenal.
Consider it a tone-setter, because everything on Cape God resembles only the most infectious, sleekest cuts of pop. Highlights come thick and fast: ‘June Gloom’ is reminiscent of Prince at his funkiest; the Mitski-featuring ‘Susie Save Your Love’ is a shimmering ballad and the exhilarating ‘Life of The Party’ and ‘Super Duper Party People’ go for the throat. 2020 should be dominated by Allie X. Lee Wakefield