Welcome to the first ever Put Your Records On!, a music column run by our Deputy Arts Editor, EJ Oakley. Every Tuesday we’ll bring the best albums of 2018 straight to your ears, whether they’re fresh off the press from the last New Music Friday, or whether they’ve been kicking around for a little longer than that. This week our column's coming in a little late as a one-off, but we've got three spanking new releases from the likes of Gorillaz and Let's Eat Grandma, as well as a blast from the (pretty recent) past with records from Super Whatevr and Artificial Pleasure.
Gorillaz – The Now Now
Sometimes, not having a single shred of purpose in you (or your music) really doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Damon Albarn, who is now pushing 50 (!), clearly knows this. 2010’s criminally underrated Gorillaz record The Fall was recorded entirely as sketches and demos on a single iPad, and finally manifested as a collection of songs that weren’t quite the concept-driven pop operas everyone was used to, but were still ultimately pleasant, more than just listenable, and even strangely innovative.
Eight years on, The Now Now follows that exact formula once more as Albarn swaps out the over-glorification of collaborations and features for fuss-free pastures; a surprisingly endearing fusion of tropical dance music and alternative rock. A large majority of the tracks, from brooding single ‘Fire Flies’ to the album’s thumping heart, ‘Lake Zurich’, sound like they could have been picked straight off the B-sides from 2017’s bloated, messy Humanz – but that’s completely alright. As it was an overblown ambition that destroyed Gorillaz, so shall a lack of ambition raise them up again.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Lake Zurich’, ‘Magic City’, ‘Souk Eye’
Florence + The Machine – High as Hope
It’s been too long since we last heard from Britain’s undisputed queen of song, Florence Welch – but High as Hope was certainly worth the wait. Welch’s flair for almost mystical lyricism is put to use, this time chronicling the chanteuse’s often-misspent youth in Camberwell, cycling through heartbreak, jubilation, and tear-jerking confessionals with graceful flair. Not many songwriters can write an album almost completely about themselves and yet have it remain completely compelling the whole way through, but Welch and her distinctive voice mesmerise throughout the record’s 40-minute runtime. Your heart wrenches as she sings, “At seventeen I started to starve myself,” you feel the unmistakable calm of forgiveness as she apologises for past wrongs on ‘Grace’, and you relive your own past heartbreaks in the flash of an eye as ‘The End of Love’ comes to its defiant crescendo.
Don’t be mistaken, though – the album’s sound strays far, far away from Welch’s usual choral pomp and bombast; the record even closes on a track called ‘No Choir’. Instead, we are left with nothing but the sound of Welch’s voice over a soft piano for most of the record. But should we be lamenting this sudden introspective turn? Absolutely not. Welch’s compositional elegance and emotional pull remain firmly intact, and when you listen to this album, you’ll agree that’s all that matters.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Hunger’, ‘Patricia’, ‘The End of Love’
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Sure, they make pop music; but this esoteric Norwich duo are not and have never exactly been “easy” to listen to. While they’re no longer deploying flippantly macabre lyrics along the lines of, “My cat is dead / my father hit me,” Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are still dead set on challenging the music world to recognise their talent, even as they fly in the face of everything the pop music scene stands for. I’m All Ears is a mission statement as such. Opening with the jarring, abrasive one-two electronic punch of ‘Whitewater’ and ‘Hot Pink’, the album instantly lets its message be known – it’s an insolent turning of the other cheek; a fuck-you to all the critics who berated them for being teenage girls, or doubted that they were the actual writers of such innovative, avant-garde music.
Walton and Hollingworth also reflect on the growing pains of being young and female in a quieter fashion. ‘Falling Into Me’ is an unapologetically poppy synth-ballad exploring the power struggles within a relationship, while ‘Donnie Darko’, the eleven-minute behemoth that closes off the record, lashes out at the larger-scale oppression of the patriarchy – “the hand that does the [beatings] is the one that feeds your mouth”. All in all, Let’s Eat Grandma are no longer be the poster children for the next Tim Burton movie. No, they’ve grown up, they’re angry, and they’re letting you know.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Hot Pink’, ‘It’s Not Just Me’, ‘I Will Be Waiting’
Super Whatevr – Never Nothing
Yes, their name’s spelt like that… but lazily dropping that last E doesn’t indicate anything about Super Whatevr’s work ethic. Born on the more soulful side of garage rock, Never Nothing is made of twelve well-crafted tracks that alternate between stripped-back acoustic ballads – see the stellar ‘Kathrin with a K’ – and rip-roaring chronicles of what it’s like to be down and out in the modern age. “I wanna kill myself, but I’ll read a book instead,” sings frontman Skyler McKee off lead single ‘Telelelevision’, in the kind of hoarse, weary voice that perfectly illustrates the undercurrent of the younger generation’s angst.
Super Whatevr aren’t trying to be anything they’re not, and they don’t shy away from straddling the fence between alternative rock and emo – which in turn sets them apart from most American bands stuck firmly in either corner. Never Nothing, as a whole, is a record that admits that solving your problems often means confronting them head-on, and blending lightly-fuzzed-out guitars with surprisingly contemplative lyrics creates the perfect vessel for a pill that is often hard to swallow.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Bloomfield’, ‘When Doesn’t The World End?’, ‘Loser’
Artificial Pleasure – The Bitter End
Artificial Pleasure is perhaps the best-kept secret of London’s alternative music scene today, and their debut album The Bitter End deserves to be blasted off every rooftop in the city to make up for their complete lack of exposure in even the small press. Sounding like the lovechild of David Bowie and Kraftwerk raised on a healthy diet of post-punk music, the four-piece manage to mash up the golden genres of the 70s and 80s while still sounding completely fresh. Maximalist glam-rock has never sounded so good on album standout ‘Wound Up Tight’ and the slightly peppier 80’s slow bop ‘On A Saturday Night’.
On the other side of the coin, slowing things down also produces a variety of intriguing musical cocktails, from the dark and pensive slow-burn of ‘Stammheim’ to the sensual sway of the bassline on ‘Bolt From The Blue’ – you can just hear the disco dancers thrusting their hips in time to that hook. The Bitter End is so much more than an album waxing nostalgic for “the good old days”, though. If anything, Artificial Pleasure prove that the past, and the genres they pay homage to, are truly immortal. And most importantly, they prove that a good bop never dies.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Wound Up Tight’, ‘All I Got’, ‘Young And Carefree’