Last year was shit, except for music, and this year looks likely to be very similar. There were some good releases in the first couple of weeks of 2021, but Friday the 15th really seemed to kick this year into life. I entertained myself with three albums and three EPs.
Shame – Drunk Tank Pink (Dead Oceans)
It’s been three years since Shame released their debut Songs of Praise, possibly my favourite album of 2018, and I did worry they may have missed the boat a bit. Fontaines D.C. barely existed when Songs of Praise came out, yet they’ve since released two wonderful albums. Idles too have dropped two LPs in that time. When Shame put out what seemed like a pretty unremarkable comeback single in ‘Alphabet’, I worried all the more.
It turns out I needn’t have. ‘Alphabet’ is somehow transformed into a scorching opener on this blinding second album from the London post-punkers.
And if there was any doubt that they are post-punk rather than standard indie, Drunk Tank Pink dispels them. While ‘Water in the Well’ and ‘Snow Day’ stand out at first, I love the new dissonant, Fall-esque sound they’re developing on tracks like ‘6/1’ and ‘Harsh Degrees’.
There’s no singalong like ‘One Rizla’ on here, and I sense some fans who lapped up the first album might struggle with this one. Personally, I adore it. It’s kind of a depressing thought in January, but I might not hear a better record than this all year.
Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs (Rough Trade)
More rage, wit and venom from the most idiosyncratic British band around, as well as one of the most important and best. Spare Ribs is the duo’s eleventh album, believe it or not, although the first four or five aren’t easy to get hold off.
Jason Williamson regularly acknowledges the fact that he started the Mods while skint, and is now a successful and financially comfortable musician. Personally, I don’t think their music lacks any sincerity or relevance despite their rise to fame and success – indeed they’ve managed to hit the top five with this album.
I think a bigger challenge for them is keeping their sound fresh while being so distinctive. They do always try to make it a little different, with guest vocals from Billy Nomates and Amy Taylor (the latter a great addition to the banging ‘Nudge It’) mixing things up here, while Andrew Fearn injects a bit more of a krautrocky electronic aura in parts, particularly the excellent ‘I Don’t Rate You’.
Some tracks miss the beat a little. I love Billy Nomates but ‘Mork n Mindy’ doesn’t do it for me, ‘Elocution’ falls a bit flat and so does closer ‘Fishcakes’ – in fact I’d say most of their albums have weakish closers, funnily enough. Still, these are more than cancelled out by tracks like ‘Out There’ and ‘Thick Ear’ that tear you a new one.
It’s a good album. Not their best (that honour goes to 2014’s Divide and Exit), but up to their normal standards. You either get Sleaford Mods or you don’t, and Spare Ribs isn’t going to change your opinion either way.
Pom Poko – Cheater (Bella Union)
A new one of me as I explore this unusual Norwegian band.
Pom Poko take their name from a Japanese animation, and there is a futuristic, video game-like appeal to their slightly pop, slightly punk sound. Vocally though, it’s piercing and warbly, reminiscent of Bjork but set to the wrong type of music, and I think that’s the main reason why I struggled through this record.
‘Like a Lady’ is easily my favourite song, taking inspiration from the likes of The Breeders and Sleater-Kinney with its quiet verse, loud chorus. That aside, I tended to find the album irritating rather than catchy.
The band have something original going on with Cheater and I feel like it’s not a million miles away from something I might enjoy, but certain ingredients just prevent me getting on with it.
Yard Act – Dark Days (Zen F.C.)
I always thought Leeds band Post War Glamour Girls were horrendously underrated, and now their frontman James Smith is back with a new band that brings his wordsmithery to the fore.
Is James the natural successor to his late namesake Mark E.? He has that deadpan, Northern delivery, and a knack for a cuttingly clever lyric. His wordplay in PWGG was sometimes buried in the band’s dark aura, but in Yard Act it’s what drives this four-track EP.
I don’t know if I’ll hear a smarter lyric all year than “it takes real guts to fake being nuts, and it takes real nuts to break fake guts” on the superb ‘Peanuts’, and the rantings of ‘Fixer Upper’ are also well worth allowing your head to be battered about to. A great start from this exciting and innovative band.
Beach Bunny – Blame Game (Mom+Pop)
Beach Bunny’s Honeymoon comfortably made my top 100 albums of last year, and hot on the heels of that is a brand new EP.
It’s very pop – more so than I remember Honeymoon being – but also very likeable, despite the serious subject matter of harassment and blokes being all-round dicks.
‘Nice Guys’ has probably been the tune in my head the most this week, and I’m fine with that, even if as a man it is a bit weird to have lyrics like “I’m sick of nice guys, I want someone who actually wears hearts inside their eyes, and isn’t only interested in what’s between my thighs” circling through my brain
There’s a fine line between this and radio-friendly pop, but the bedroom pop simplicity and edgy lyrics work well in Blame Game‘s favour.
The Chisel – Come See Me (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos)
It’s not very fashionable to just be a plain old punk band these days. You’re expected to develop the sound, come up with introspective lyrics and throw in some poetry. Not that The Chisel care, and nor should they with this riot of an EP featuring three glorious shout-alongs.
In the vein of The Exploited and Icons of Filth, the Londoners romp through three tracks in not much more than five minutes, with the rampant, jumping about with your arms around your mate (at least pre-Covid!) chorus of ‘Not the Only One’ the highlight.
A fine week of new releases, and this was a rousing way to round it off.