March can start to feel like a ‘release’ in itself. Let’s not overly trivialise this coronavirus thing, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of self-isolation, then why not line these beauties up and ignore the world for a time.
Fake Laugh – Dining Alone
State 51 Conspiracy | March 13th
“The act of dining alone is either awkward and embarrassing or honourable and enjoyable, depending on who you ask,” notes Kamran Khan, aka Fake Laugh, in a press release for his latest full length effort, Dining Alone. That juxtaposition of vulnerability and defiance is perhaps emblematic of Fake Laugh as a project generally. From catchy-sad early singles like ‘Short of Breath’ all the way up to last year’s celebratory but self-deprecating ‘Honesty’, it’s Fake Laugh’s ability to blend light with dark that gives his music its sepia-like quality. On his sophomore album Dining Alone, however, this approach is taken to new, surreal depths, as if a lonely walk had turned into a stroll through a hall of mirrors.
That stroll begins right from the start with the circus-y but menacing album opener, ‘Ever Imagine’ through to bashful bop, ‘If You Don’t Wanna Know’. Pensive choruses are interwoven with playful synth lines and jagged rhythms that mark a distinct break from the eager riffs and scuzzy bedroom production of Fake Laugh’s eponymous debut. Fans looking for their fix of shimmering guitars and heartfelt hooks will find much to dig into through Dining Alone, but the jovial panic of ‘Alarm Bells’, the haunting glitches of ‘Dining Alone’ and the gangster majesty of ‘Empty Party’ shows an additional side to Fake Laugh that goes beyond the realms of lo-fi jangle pop. Kazim Gangadin
J-Felix – Whole Again Hooligan
Tru-Thoughts | March 8th
Championed by Beats1 tastemaker, Julie Adenuga and BBC6 Music presenter, Lauren Laverne, it’s no surprise that J-Felix’s vivacious take on funk has pulled in thousands of listeners. His second record even comes with a squad Taylor Swift would be envious of, including noteworthy collaborators such as Afua, El Train, Sol Goodman and Andrew Ashong.
First single, ‘Mind Up’ demands attention through a heady mix of trumpet, horns and dreamy guitar plucks. His meticulous ear for modern grooves proves crucial in tracks like ‘String Singalong’ and ‘Good Ol’ Love’. Immense potential lies in ‘Choppa Fiesta’ and ‘Check’, which tout him as Bristol/Brighton’s answer to electro-jazz maverick, Thundercat. Whole Again Hooligan serves as a progressive step in the right direction for a world-class underdog. Oliver Evans
U.S. Girls – Heavy Light
4AD | March 6th
U.S. Girls’ Meghan Remy assembled a cast of 20 session musicians – including Bruce Springsteen’s right hand man, Jake Clemons – to record her seventh album, Heavy Light live to tape, resulting in a distinctly choral, spacious sound that feels strangely sparse, despite the fact if you listen closely, there are about a million interesting things going on at any one time.
Spoken-word interludes reminisce on not entirely pleasant childhood experiences, while the record is concerned more widely with hindsight and its personal and cultural ramifications. Weighty themes indeed, but it’s an uncomplicated treat of a listen that contains some of Remy’s best work. ‘4 American Dollars’ in particular is among her finest songs, ‘And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve’ her most formidable groove. Thomas Hannan
|MJ Cole – Madrugada
Decca | March 27thBefore you recoil at the prospect of yet another electronic music pioneer stripping back their trademark sound and exploring a new ambient direction, this one’s worth sticking around for. Thanks to MJ Cole’s effortless musicality on the piano, a childhood passion he found himself reconnecting with, there’s a real sincerity (sorry) to Madrugada that elevates it above its contemporaries.
Having littered minimal compositions in releases throughout his career, the results across a full album are undeniably powerful. From the swirling electronics that bubble under ‘Reimagination’s dreamy crescendo to ‘Strings For Jodie’ ranking as the album’s emotive high point, there’s no greater privilege as the listener than entering the “meditative state” MJ Cole inhabits when playing. Above all, Madrugada brings peace in the most trying of times. Lee Wakefield
Minor Science – Second Language
Whities | March 20th
Nic Tasker’s label, Whities, is continuously transforming the landscape of electronic music, shapeshifting between dancefloor clangers and emotional ambient sonics from the likes of Avalon Emerson, Leif and Nathan Micay. They’ve also released three leftfield EPs from the British-born, Berlin-based producer, Minor Science, recently issuing his debut, Second Language.
Demonstrating anxious techno that varies in intensity and tempo, it’s intricately packed with modular vocal inflexions and experimental electro: the kind of sounds that wouldn’t feel out of place on a release or showcase from Ilian Tape. The timescale of the record is blissfully built, with melodic intervals, jazzily rhapsodic percussion and maddeningly complex sound design, all pieced together in a release that, once again, shows off Whities’ ability to radicalise dance music. Georgia Marsh
Porches – Ricky Music
Domino | March 13th
“I think I was as lost as I was madly in love,” Porches’ Aaron Maine has said of Ricky Music. Across 11 songs, the New Yorker stumbles through heartbreak with looser structures and an undercooked production style that sometimes lands but often misses. Those searching for the slick house grooves of 2016’s Pool or the warped techno-pop flirtations of 2018’s The House won’t find more of the same here.
Ricky Music instead revises the intimacy of Maine’s 2013 debut but imbues his songs with his latter-day electronic turns and pitch-bent vocals. ‘Rangerover’, Maine’s collaboration with Dev Hynes, is by far the highlight: a skulking, rich synth-pop ballad that encapsulates feeling both sorrowful and hopeful post-breakup. More of this please, and a bit less moping, on whatever’s next. Charlotte Krol
Melt Yourself Down – 100% Yes
Decca | March 27th
For a band who’ve built a reputation for drawing upon diverse influences and sounds, 100% YES is yet again an incredibly varied listen. Not in an untethered, Mr. Bungle Disco Volante kind of way – everything here maintains a certain cohesion to the band’s beating heart of jazzy tenets and repertoire of bangers. But through an ample touch of creative insanity, you glean the sense that this iteration of Melt Yourself Down has evolved with sufficiently more to say.
The first clue that things are predominantly different with this release lies in the cover art, where an arresting psychedelic image from Alex Garant replaces the pyramid logo that adorned past releases. Evolution, not necessarily adaptation, is here conveying the band’s humanistic strength, positivity, and vitality. And that’s something we all need desperately in 2020. Harriet Taylor
Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini – Illusion of Time
Phantasy | March 27th
This sounds a lot like the weather, with soft, swirling synths unfolding into grainy, industrial drone rattles that put me outside on a stormy day. Not unlike Pariah’s excellent 2018 release, Here From Where We Are, but wandering down a longer, less signposted path, each composition evokes a hypnotic bleakness that’s soothing and unsettling.
This is a gently self-indulgent collaboration between two heavyweight noise experimentalists that’s too ambient for daytime listening and too edgy for sleeping. I would suggest perhaps meditating or quietly pondering how many leaves are left on all the trees in the world at this very moment to be the perfect listening environment. Madeleine Wrench
Little Dragon – New Me, Same Us
Ninja Tune | March 27th
Little Dragon have a pretty consistent scorecard when it comes to reflecting on their output. Whether crafting percussive floorfillers (2011’s Ritual Union) or wonky ‘80s-inspired synth-pop (2017’s Season High) the Gothenburg band seem incapable of letting the quality of their songs dip. On New Me, Same Us, the group pull in more acoustic instrumentation, without abandoning their intoxicating brand of alternative club-ready music.
Moreover, the record contains some of singer Yukimi Nagano’s most personal stories, ostensibly about moving on from a long relationship. On ‘New Fiction’, gamelan chimes and a lounge bass underscore the bruising realisation: “We need new fiction / We need to find our own way.” ‘Hold On’, meanwhile, is a certified Little Dragon 101 banger. They’re seemingly incapable of missing the mark. Charlotte Krol
Disq – Collector
Saddle Creek | March 6th
When life gives you lemons, what do you do? The reality has nothing to do with lemonade production, or G&T. You’re usually too melancholy, distracted or over-worked for that. You forget you have lemon juice on your fingers and you wipe it in your eyes. For Disq, on Collector, therein lies the rub: Modern life is regularly rubbish, and it stings.
The workaday tedium of staring at screens on ‘Daily Routine’ leads naturally into being “too restless to unwind” on ‘I’m Really Trying’. By the time we hit the penultimate track, we hear them rock out on the exhaustedly bleak ‘I Wanna Die’. Frequently sounding like a blend of the Lemon Twigs and The Lemonheads, Collector balances its lyrical acidity with compositional freshness and zest. Jon Kean
Hilary Woods – Birthmarks
Sacred Bones | March 13th
Enshrouded in spectral mystery, Birthmarks is a deeply sensory, corporeal record. Opening with ominous, droning drums and growling strings, Hilary Woods’ vocals are evocative, whispered incantations that glide amidst the eerie landscapes of the album. Sometimes sparse, sometimes densely textural and populated, the sonic terrains Woods crafts are earnest, haunting, and ritualistic.
Recorded while heavily pregnant, between Galway and Oslo last winter, at times the drum beats feel like a pulsating heartbeat, claustrophobic and all-encompassing. And this intensity pervades throughout, as across the eight tracks, Woods explores fluctuating experiences of selfhood and becoming expressed with unbridled ferocity. There’s a visceral, cinematic quality to Birthmarks that further accentuates the internal and external turmoil at the core of the record, leaving a poignant, transcendental impression. Kezia Cochrane