Written by Harry Featherston
Slowthai – TYRON
Released almost exactly a year after he stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the 2020 NME Awards, Slowthai’s second full-length effort is an album of two halves. The first, with its song titles all in capital letters, sees Slowthai in his natural habitat, energetically firing off bars that are packed with all the vitriol fans have come to expect. It’s as entertaining as ever, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before from the Northampton rapper. In its second half, however, TYRON truly comes into its own. Slowthai treats us to some uncharacteristically introspective lyricism here as he grapples with the feelings of regret and self doubt brought about by his past actions and reminds us that there is a human being behind the persona. The album is not without its missteps (such as the genuinely cringeworthy “CANCELLED”), but it’s refreshing to see an artist face up to their mistakes with such honesty.
Black Country, New Road – For the First Time
Not many rock bands have a violinist and a saxophonist in their ranks – but then again, not many rock bands are quite like London’s Black Country, New Road. Their brand of experimental, musically complex art rock has earned comparisons to the likes of Talking Heads and Slint (to the extent that they even refer to themselves on the album as “the world’s second-best Slint tribute act”), but in truth any simple comparison would be doing a disservice to the originality on display on this debut album. As soon as the sax kicks in over the frenetic African-inspired drums on the imaginatively-titled opener “Instrumental”, you realise you’re in for an experience unlike any other. Frontman Isaac Wood’s vocals, meanwhile, are just as noteworthy as the instrumentation — his quivering, half spoken delivery elevates the album’s obtuse yet strangely poetic lyrics: “I met her accidentally / It was at the Cambridge Science Fair / And she was so impressed that I could make so many things catch on fire”. Pretentious? Probably. Brilliant? Definitely.
Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
This third studio album from the American singer-songwriter marks a significant departure from her folk-inspired roots, but loses none of the emotional warmth that made her previous efforts so compelling. In fact, her music, now bolstered by a full band, arguably packs more of a punch than ever before. Thematically, however, the songs here tread ground that is all too familiar for Baker. Her past music has frequently dealt with her experiences of addiction, and this is one of few respects in which Little Oblivions is no different. After six years of sobriety, Baker suffered a relapse in 2019, and it is this that forms the basis for some of the most painfully honest songwriting of her career. “Song in E”, for instance, explores the complex impacts of her addiction on her personal relationships: “When I sang / a horrible drunken parade of my worst thoughts / I’d say ‘give me no sympathy’ / it’s the mercy I can’t take”. Difficult to listen to, perhaps, but beautiful nonetheless.
Hayley Williams – FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
Written and recorded entirely during lockdown, this record sees Williams taking a cue from Taylor Swift by releasing a mellow, predominantly acoustic offering. Fans hoping for a continuation of the sound of last year’s Petals For Armor might be disappointed with this ballad-heavy follow-up, but those who keep an open mind will be rewarded as the Paramore frontwoman’s gift for poignant songwriting reveals itself on repeated listens. The sparse instrumentation shines a spotlight on Williams’ effortlessly gorgeous vocals as she guides us through tales of grief and heartbreak with the kind of confidence that comes from over 15 years at the top of the music game. Producer Daniel James has taken great care to emphasise the intimate nature of these recordings. The opening verse of “HYD”, for instance, is interrupted by the noise of a plane passing over Williams’ home, prompting her to laugh: “are you fucking kidding me?” before restarting the song. It’s a pleasingly human touch that only strengthens the sense of genuine emotional rawness that permeates the album.
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 @HarryF_42.
Feature Image from CANVA