Written by Harry Featherston
Shame – Drunk Tank Pink
Written and recorded shortly after their mammoth 2018 tour (which included a gig at the University’s very own O2 Academy), the hotly-anticipated sophomore album from London post-punk outfit Shame is a worthy successor to their acclaimed debut, Songs of Praise. The aftermath of that tour saw frontman Charlie Steen locking himself away (even before it became a legal requirement), and experimenting with his music in isolation as a reaction to the non-stop action of his life at the time.
As a result, the lyrics here reach deep into the recesses of his mind, raising questions of identity and loneliness amidst an atmosphere of panicked claustrophobia, created by the frenetic guitar work of Eddie Green and Sean Coyle-Smith. Given the current state of the world, these themes will resonate with listeners more than the band probably intended, and the album sounds all the better for it.
Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs
While blending elements of electronic, hip-hop, and punk, Sleaford Mods have gained a reputation for being a voice of the UK’s often neglected working-class. On their latest album, the Nottingham duo once again take aim at socio-political injustice with their trademark no-nonsense lyricism. ‘Out There’, for instance, criticises the racial prejudices borne out of the coronavirus pandemic: “I wanna tell the bloke that’s drinking near the shop / That it ain’t the foreigners and it ain’t the fucking Cov / But he don’t care”.
It’s not particularly poetic, but delivered in the embittered, East Midlands-accented vocal style of frontman Jason Williamson it’s certainly effective. It’s a shame, then, that the production here leaves so much to be desired. The vocals are too often drowned out by uninteresting guitar riffs or simple EDM beats, giving the impression that Williamson is shouting to be heard over the music at a second-rate nightclub. Overall, it’s worth a listen, but after a year of such political turmoil, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Doc D – Planetory Destruction
After a nine year career, American rapper Bobby Hall (better known as Logic) made clear that last year’s No Pressure would mark his retirement from music. Evidently, however, he’s had a change of heart, returningjust six months later under the new alter ego Doc D. Listening to this mixtape, it’s easy to see why the Logic name wasn’t attached—it’s a clear departure from the often-derided commercial pop-rap that he has become synonymous with, leaning instead into a lo-fi jazz-rap style reminiscent of the late MF DOOM.
Indeed, it’s difficult not to notice his influence throughout this project, since the very concept of a masked supervillain persona is ripped straight from DOOM’s playbook. That’s far from a bad thing, of course—Planetory Destruction is more exciting, more adventurous, and more playful than anything he has released before. By paying tribute to one of rap’s most iconic and influential figures, Hall has created arguably the finest record of his career.
ZAYN – Nobody Is Listening
Considering that it’s not long since he was heralded by the music press as one of the rising stars of UK R&B, the third solo offering from former One Direction heartthrob Zayn Malik is a disappointment. While his vocals (especially his soaring falsetto) remain as strong as ever, they’re about the only thing of note here—everything else is just mind-numbingly bland.
Lyrically, it’s full of all the tired clichés about sex and drugs that were excusable when his debut released in 2016 but are significantly less so when he’s pushing 30. While there’s admittedly nothing outright terrible on this record, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that he’s capable of better. His debut Mind of Mine showed enough potential to justify his decision to leave One Direction, but Nobody Is Listening will have fans hoping for a reunion sooner rather than later.
Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
20-year-old Londoner Arlo Parks has seen a meteoric rise in the last few years, with her deeply personal, evocative song-writing quickly cementing her as one of the most exciting new acts in the world of indie pop. Her debut record Collapsed in Sunbeams invites us deeper into her psyche than ever before, tackling such themes as depression and sexuality with a maturity that belies her age. Take the heart-breaking ‘Green Eyes’ (co-written by fellow indie pop darling Clairo) for instance, which gives us an insight into life as a queer woman in modern society: “Of course I know why we only lasted two months / Could not hold my hand in public / Felt their eyes judging our love and begging for blood”. It’s a stunning debut from an artist who continues to go from strength to strength.
Madlib – Sound Ancestors
Despite being better known in recent years as a producer for rappers such as MF DOOM and Freddie Gibbs, Sound Ancestors shows us that Madlib is still more than capable of crafting a compelling record without the need for guest vocalists. Electronic producer and long-time friend Four Tet contributes throughout, with his characteristically intricate arrangements serving as the basis for Madlib’s manic sampling.
From the well-known (Snoop Dogg’s iconic catchphrase “fo shizzle”) to the almost unbelievably obscure (pieces by Brazilian anti-fascist jazz quartet Quartabê), Madlib takes fragments from across the musical spectrum and moulds them into a unique instrumental hip-hop record worth far more than the sum of its parts.
Harry Featherston is a first-year English student at the University of Leicester, interested in a career in journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @HarryF42.