From Lynchian punk to Lady Gaga: The best music from Guardian staff and writers unearthed this year | Music
Chat Pile – God’s Country
Seeking absolution after realizing I had been streaming NTS Radio non-stop for a week, I took the most convenient route I know of to find something fresh to listen to: mailing Pitchfork of top rated new albums. In this week’s list was Chat Pile’s debut album. Emerging from the post-industrial wasteland of Oklahoma City, the not-so-young four-piece channel that strain of American vitriol that made punk horror canon from Dead Kennedys, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Slipknot.
Frontman Raygun Busch doesn’t so much sing his lines as he inhabits them, methodical characters in the grip of a hallucinatory meltdown, like on the nine-minute epic grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg (they’re really good at titles). But he’s sober on the album’s knockout blow Why?, a sludge-metal protest against a society that has failed its most vulnerable. “Why do people have to live outside? I couldn’t survive, ”he fumes, the impassive face of Zack de la Rocha. No other album this year has articulated modern malaise in such surreal, yet punishing terms. Chal crows
Handle – per three
Earlier this year, I was in the car with friends listening to SYN, the local Melbourne student radio station. As we crawled through traffic, they started playing an unholy racket – a frenzied, muffled song built around anxious, tribal drumming and a chintzy synth hit. Buried somewhere among the detritus was an arch, a classic post-punk howl, the sound of someone shouting “Bicycle wheel?” again and again.
For me, these elements amounted to an instant Shazam: the song was Punctured Time, by the Manchester Handle trio, and, listening again at home, the song turned out to be even better, melting into a sort of lo-fi Lynchian samba . The album Punctured Time comes from, In Threes, is one of the brightest punk albums I’ve heard in years, darkish rock done with a dance producer’s sense of tension and a sense of acerbic humor. It’s a little hard to find out anything about Handle – their Instagram is private, naturally – but I heard they’re going on tour later this year and there’s some new music en route, a bizarre glimmer of hope amid an unrelenting sea of normality. Shaad D’Souza
I love how music can come to you when you least expect it. I was walking to Newcastle Arena to rewatch Tears for Fears recently when a haunting tune started emanating from a nearby pub, The Globe. It turned out to be young singer-songwriter Izzie Walsh, whose deliciously nostalgic voice drew me in as effectively as the Pied Piper. His band’s mix of country, bluegrass and Americana turned out to have been crafted not in the wilderness of Mississippi or Arkansas, but, of all places, in Manchester. A bit of internet research told me she has performed at festivals such as Greenbelt and the Tamworth Country Music Festival and has been described as “quirky and individual” by “Whispering” Bob Harris. I love his song Take Me Back, which is ostensibly a post-breakup apology song (“bring me back, I’m only human”) but seems to be about a larger longing and memories of longer times. happy, and has a chorus to get anyone in the room dancing. david simpson
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, like many pop culture landmarks released in the long year of 2020, initially overwhelmed me and my state of airtight isolation. Then came my birthday party this year, the first social event I had organized since the pandemic. My first nerves dissipated as the drinks started flowing, the dance floor filled up, and my laptop, perched next to a set of speakers, was quickly picked up by friends putting their favorites in the queue. I had prepared a playlist but I quickly (re)learned that the secret to being a good host was knowing when to let go. At 11 p.m., after a series of garage tunes loved by the generations that apparently defined British teenage nights in the late 2000s – I didn’t grow up here, wouldn’t know – came the sound: Gaga’s voice, impetuous, strong, sexy, on ecstatic dance-pop rhythms. It was the perfect crescendo of an evening that reminded me why it felt so good to forget yourself in a sweaty, love-filled, rhythm-driven crowd. Having missed out on cheaper tickets, I skipped the Chromatica Ball this year — instead, I danced alone in my kitchen. It was wonderful. Rebecca Liu
I came across Ranking Ann via YouTube as I was going through a dub wormhole. One of my favorite genres, I had always viewed it as a boys club – my own listening tastes certainly reflected that perception. You can imagine my surprise when I found a DJ who wasn’t Sister Nancy. Although information about Ann is somewhat sparse, she appears to be a Jamaican-born London singer who found popularity in the late 70s to mid 80s.
Ann is a particularly charismatic singer – her toast is rhythmic, free and icy, as if she were quietly freestyling on the spot. But what ensnared me the most was her conscious message: Ann easily skims over topics of racial identity and femininity, turning two fingers toward chauvinism. The formidable immigration plan finds her rallying against incoming legislation at the time, her rapid-fire patois berating the government and recapping sentiments that could be reflected by black citizens today. I doubt I’ve ever heard an artist so good at dressing up, and her releases are welcome gems added to my collection – thanks to Ann, I’ve acquired a new arsenal of slurs ready to be used in the face of racism, misogyny and machismo. Christine Ochefu
Robert Chaney – Breath
Sharing songs can be one of the most intimate, entertaining and eye-opening ways to get to know another person, and earlier this year, in the midst of a big song swap, I received this track from the Floridian Robert Chaney, based in London. A songwriter with a guitar singing about a breakup is not new territory, and yet Breath stopped me in my tracks. It’s the tone of the guitar, it’s the twist of Chaney’s vocals, but mostly it struck me as one of those rare, impeccably constructed songs. It’s lean, there’s not an ounce of fat on it, and that stripped down style speaks well about it. Chaney sings of a love gone cold, the unraveling at the end of a relationship of lives and possessions: the diamond ring, the photographs, the words of love, the bed, the mattress. You can keep it all, he sings, “but just give me back the breath you took away from me”. Laura Barton
System of a Down – Sardarabad / Hangman Demo
When you simmer on a band’s discography long enough, you start to wonder what act they could have been. I had heard all the System of a Down albums and B-sides a long time ago, plus the first unreleased stuff from before Rick Rubin streamlined their sound. But in a quest to find them heaviest and wildest, I came across Hangman. It’s actually a two-minute release for PLUCK, which would be their first professionally recorded song in 1997. But they had made a demo version two years earlier: two minutes of heavy sustains and shaky releases, the lyrics “hanged, hanged, guilty, guilty” swinging nervously like a loose pendulum. It’s System exploding with the kind of raw ferocity rarely seen from them, even among such an aggressive catalog. a version like this if there hadn’t been a YouTuber who took it upon himself to restore the audio six years ago.Here are the archaeologists and archivists of every fandom. Tayab Amin
Tom Brock – I love you more and more
You might reasonably assume that Barry White was in possession of a Midas fingerboard in the 1970s, but apparently not. Like the albums he made with Gloria Scott, White Heat, and Jimmy and Vella Cameron, the solitary album White produced for Tom Brock faded into obscurity when it was released in 1974: I confess I don’t I had never even heard of it or its author before it was re-released last year. Its commercial failure is not a reflection of its quality: Brock sounds good, the songwriting is on point, the sound veers from proto-disco to dramatically orchestrated funk on If We Don’t Make It Nobody Can. But it’s the Side 1 ballads I keep coming back to: soft, sweet and sumptuously arranged (by White and the great Gene Page), music to get lost in when real life gets a little too much. Alexis Petridis