We’re just over the halfway point of the year, so as always we are highlighting some of our writer’s favourite albums from the year thus far. Kicking things off is Elliot Burr, who brings with him an eclectic selection of musical goodies.
amo – Bring Me The Horizon
I can’t quite remember a musical act causing such a U-turn for themselves as Sheffield’s prodigal metal sons Bring Me the Horizon. Stirring a huge boiling pot of hatred from metallers not wanting to be involved with ‘scene poster boys’, and causing controversy aplenty from Oli Sykes’ alleged scandal of pissing on a fan, the band’s early deathcore-cum-downtuned-party-metalcore careers were blighted from the get go. Nonetheless, some of the lads’ fanbase has stood strong, reminiscing on the no holds barred anger on Suicide Season, rising through their breakout opus Sempiternal, and forgetting metalcore’s existence on That’s the Spirit, which eventually caused a new fanbase to spawn and the OGs to take or leave.
Now with amo, BMTH couldn’t be any further from Count Your Blessings, and many old fans wouldn’t hesitate to say those words to the band as they leave the door, but in return the new look chart-toppers (only with the addition of keyboardist/producer/sampler/pop mastermind Jordan Fish for the past two records, mind you) have little remorse, and have headed into the mainstream to craft what is essentially the pop record of the year (so far) against all odds. This is by no means their best album in my opinion (as I still opine for the Suicide Season and There Is A Hell days), but with Lee Malia reminding us of times past with meaty riffs from singles such as wonderful life or lead bopper MANTRA, and other tracks issuing influences from synth-pop to industrial to beat-boxing, this is about as eclectic as you can get, all weaved together in a tapestry that still resembles the ‘fuck you’ attitude that Oli Sykes et al has shown to those that have up and left. You can very much hear that sentiment on heavy metal; not much more needs to be said.
The resulting release is a dizzying, cathartic effort, with crushing beats scattered throughout dancey electronica and Sykes’ newfound singing confidence. His poppy leanings have become thoroughly realised (the Grimes-featuring single nihilist blues showcasing his ability to craft a tasty hook), and still throws in the odd scream – perhaps ironically – for the metal fans to savour. Whilst amo is musically a million miles from where the band started, you have to admire how they’ve maintained their divisive nature still to this day, churning out bangers and even curating their own day at All Points East festival this summer. 2019 has seen them at the peak of UK music, borne from the underground that resented them. Plus, they still play Pray for Plagues live, so don’t lose sleep over it.
Zuu – Denzel Curry
Hip hop releases so far for 2019 have been fairly stagnant, with many experimental releases causing as much strife as elation. Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR for example has once again started the debate of a rapper going too far from what has made them, despite Tyler’s clear vision and ongoing journey to become the excellent producer and introspective soul star he feels he’s permitted to be.
I love that album in fact, but on the point of returning to roots, Denzel Curry’s latest project sees him reclaim his love for his Florida homeland. ZUU is a love letter to Carol City and Dade County, a far more successfully channelled thematic idea than his (still excellent) 2018 LP TA13OO, much akin to the similarly great short-album hometown homage FM! by Vince Staples. Throw in features from some lesser known FL rappers and you essentially have a more compact home state celebration like Outkast’s Stankonia…
…I may be getting ahead of myself there with that comparison, but this is by far the best release from one of this decade’s standout rappers. Denzel’s delivery can go from full-on ranting, pissed off onomatopoeic escapades to soulful R&B hooks and throwback chill sessions, altering his prominent voice with aplomb accordingly. Taking that pent up Zach de la Rocha impression from his outstanding Bulls on Parade cover earlier this year (who’d have thought that would be such a gem?), the trap-happy beat filth that pervades this record lays the foundation for Denzel to display some serious gangster stylings, from booty shakin’ nonsense like Shake 88 or the mind-warping stankiness of Rick Ross-featuring BIRDZ and P.A.T.. Denzel discusses all the usual things like having money, being ‘trill’ etc, but adds a certain sophistication to the usual trap output these days, throwing in a beautifully old school track with WISH and playfully paying homage to his father in the eponymous RICKY, celebrating his main influence on his musical endeavours. We all remember who took us to our first shows, right?
At under 30 minutes of length, this is a flat-out exercise in all killer, no filler crunchy hip hop that deserves constant repetition, complete with skits such as the bizarre YUU featuring a man with the capacity to say only that utterance (hello Stankonia!), and interlude tracks to keep the pre-party vibes flowing. If this is simply a throw-away collection of trap bangers from Denzel, displaying very little build up to this seminal record, then he’s surely on a path to something truly special.
Eternal Forward Motion – Employed To Serve
The UK heavy music scene is hitting an absolute apex. Whilst we reminisce on the bands that got us here in the late noughties (here’s looking at you again BMTH), a new breed of champing-at-the-bit young bloods are brewing in the suburbs of Britain’s morbid towns and cities. It’s hardly surprising given the country’s much documented political turmoil and general discontent, but if we forgot the milkshaking incidents for one second, there are better ways to release that frustration: making absurdly aggressive music.
With festivals such as Download giving these upstarts wonderful coverage (Warwickshire’s Conjurer and Brighton’s Black Peaks being well worth your time), the former band here are on the roster of Holy Roar Records. A label indebted to securing the best abrasive UK metal talent, Employed to Serve’s frontwoman Justine Jones also happens to work at Holy Roar, lending her own aggressive attitude to her band’s formidable third full-length Eternal Forward Motion.
In all honesty, from the outset this record will not let you breathe for a second, stifling your entire body with feedback, pulsating drums, relentless traded screams between Jones and guitarist Sammy Unwin for a full on metallic hardcore masterpiece. The title track gets off to a blistering start, constantly threatening to build up to a climax multiple times before finishing with a tasteful bopping outro, only minnowed by Dull Ache Behind My Eyes, reinventing the idea of a half-song breakdown à la Converge. Even the interlude Sore Tooth Twin threatens a false sense of security, slowing the record to a beautiful string-ringing mid section before pummelling you senseless anyway, because fuck you. Album closer Bare Bones on a Blue Sky shows the diversity in Employed to Serve’s locker with some anthemic leanings, and album highlight Harsh Truth shows the beauty in layering instruments towards a crash-course outro, topped with some excellent, relevant lyrics on mental health awareness.
Taking political hardcore to extreme lengths, Employed to Serve have crafted another attention-grabbing release that couldn’t sum up the sign o’ the times in Britain much better. It’s a confusing, drab and hopeless call for change, with a clanging sound that’ll get any useless politician off their arse to sort out this mess, surely? Maybe not, but with ETS and Northampton’s Slowthai assessing the dire situation from very different musical backgrounds, it’s clear that music still acts as a perfect vehicle for embracing the present day’s problems to force solutions.
Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) – Jai Paul
Even if this record was a leak from 2013, there’s no chance that this now legitimately released relic from the enigmatic pop renegade Jai Paul can escape anyone. Still unfinished, still near-perfect, but now still not a marvel left to the crevices of the internet, with Paul coming out of his apparent hibernation to unfortunately address the depressive episode he endured during the aftermath of the mythical leak which took the rights of his music away from him.
If you’d like to read more about this, our editor Tom Geraghty summarised the events of the past decade and reflected on the artist we don’t deserve right here, but somehow we are still in luck with the return of the Bredrin himself. Hailing from Rayner’s Lane, Jai Paul remains a figure in music that we rarely get to see in the world of the arts nowadays. Completely elusive, fully committed to musical output and taking precious time to create what he feels is ready to entertain, not in the age of social media do you get to experience art from a genuine source with no added image. It’s music that speaks for itself, and the (mostly unfinished) tracks which have been mocked up into an album here all show signs of a masterful producer, songwriter, beat maker and visionary.
We can all remember the fiercely fresh and boppy Genevieve, and the Myspace-famous pre-James Blake vocal harmony sensation BTSTU, yet with the blessing of Paul himself to finally be shared on streaming services, revisiting these tracks knowing he’s happy with the final outcomes (bar a few samples that would be expensive to clear) is like seeing a dear old friend for the first time in 5 years. And you know what? It’s like they haven’t aged a single day. It’s testament to Jai Paul’s musical prowess that tracks from the start of the decade still sound futuristic. Pop without the plastic, and just all the right amounts of nostalgia and heady tinge.
This proper release, along with year-best new tracks Do You Love Her Now and He, perhaps foreshadows the return from London’s best, and if tracks such as 100,000, Vibin’, Str8 Outta Mumbai, and jasmine are reflections of the ‘past’, it’s beyond comprehension what Jai has in store for us mere mortals.
Fishing For Fishies – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
I could wax lyrical about Aussie prog-psychadelic-rock-blues-garage band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard all day, but before delving into a detailed rundown of the 14 albums (at time of writing) top to bottom, let’s just reflect on this year’s first glimpse into new music from the 7-strong group of psychotic nutcases.
Taking 2018 as a single year of hiatus from releasing ANY MUSIC (my god, what were they thinking?) we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt as they relentlessly toured their gargantuan back catalogue and finished 2017 with their promised year of five album releases. Clearly not dealing with any burnout, the Gizz opened 2019 with Fishing for Fishies, an ultra-weird brand of blues music that they hadn’t limited themselves to before. As is customary with any new project from Tame Impala’s bizarre younger brother, even if lead singles such as the title track (an apparently vegan inspired, children’s show folk jam), Boogieman Sam (a rollicking blues rock number) and the ‘it’ll grow on you’ synth-only robot friendly Cyboogie gave no indication of a cohesive record. I was scratching my head to find any way that these tracks could find themselves situated in the same running order, but holy cow did Stu and the gang manage to actually make a themed blues record featuring, not just these, but other cuts talking about abolishing human plastic consumption, shiny flying elephants and mites.
Whilst being mocked about ‘playing it safe’ with these tunes (granted, it’s not an infinitely playing psych record or an experiment into microtones as they’ve exhibited before), this is a damn fun record, with bouncy, good natured blues riffs and ridiculous lyrics getting us all in the mood for even more buffoonery. Who’d have thought that stringing the word ‘boogie’ into most tracks and throwing in harmonicas to the Polygwondonaland-era sounding Acarine would make each of these seemingly random exercises harmonise so perfectly? If anyone can, these guys can. Any genre, any time, any place – it always sounds like King Gizzard. Now that they’re hinting at a full-on thrash record with Planet B and Self-Immolate, who the hell knows where these psychedelic mentalists are taking us in the (very) near future and beyond? Until then: boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie boog…