Music

Set the Tape’s Mid-Year Report 2019 – Favourite Albums (So Far)

I currently “work” in a little independent record shop and even amongst a staff of hardcore music aficionados, we’re all in collective agreement that there is Too Much Music™ to go around.  Come to think of it, I’m fairly certain that I have used some form of that sentiment in the intros to these sorts of pieces for the last several years.  But the reason folks like myself and my record shop comrades keep returning to that sentiment – well, other than the fact that some of those are in bands and would rather like to make a living out of it at some point – is because so much of it is so goddamn good!  It’s not a moaning about quantity leading to a reduction in quality (see: the English-speaking movie industries for an example of those) but more that the increase in quantity hasn’t also led to a diluting of quality, in a way which can instil genuine FOMO in those of us who want to expand our horizons and hear all of the great music going about.

I personally could put together a bulletproof Top 10 Albums for the Year even with it only being half-done and Sleater-Kinney’s The Centre Won’t Hold yet to arrive, subsequently levelling all other contenders like that bit in Infinity War where Thanos effortlessly trucks the heroes on his way to the Mind Stone.  Shout-outs to the latest works by Charly Bliss (whom we interviewed here), The Chemical Brothers (whose discography is being Ranked on this here site soon), Lizzo, Foals, slowthai, Vampire Weekend, Jayda G, and especially the inescapable Billie Eilish.  But I am to pen 10 write-ups by myself and this is a website with many other very talented writers who’ve been tirelessly working to expand our Music coverage this year – why not check out some Throwbacks whilst you’re here?  So, here’s a small sampling, in no particular order, of what records have been spinning repeatedly on our turntables in these past six months (for those of us proud snobs that still buy vinyl and/or CDs).  Why not shout out your favourite albums from the year so far in the comments and the socials?  Something needs to take my #2 slot after Sleater-Kinney arrives. – Callum Petch


Tyler, The Creator – IGOR

Ironically, Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR is a Frankenstein in and of itself. A mish-mash of styles, sounds and production techniques as unabashed as anything you’re likely to come across. From the dark, fuzzy bassline of ‘New Magic Wand’ to the smorgasbord of soul influences that make ‘Earfquake’ a radio pop smash, Tyler more than ever lives up to his alias; a genre-spanning auteur consistently evolving, and this is far and away his most complex and immersive work yet. – Joel Thornton


The Specials – Encore

If, like me, you too have been working for the rat race, then: a) you know, you’re wasting your time and b) you may have missed the not-so-well-hidden secret that The Specials released their eighth studio album this year, some two decades after their last outing. Perhaps more pertinent is that it’s not just the return of The Specials after a far too long hiatus. The revival also reunites the snarky witticisms and glib Midland-tones of lead vocalist Terry Hall with Jamaican-born ska legend Lynval Golding. Encore features Coventry’s finest’s first new material with the two-tone ska band since the 1980s.

And perhaps more pertinent than that even, Encore is a damn fine album. As with The Specials at their absolute finest, the cultural and social observations are spot-on and only furthers the band’s chameleon-like ability to shift with the times. Whether it’s Golding’s confessional ‘B.L.M.’ that reminds you just how bloody good these guys are when they work together, or the reworking of Fun Boy Three’s spectacular ‘Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum’ that wins you over, there’s no doubting the consistent quality on display. Drafting social activist Saffiyah Khan – who was famously pictured standing up to the abhorrent EDL circa 2017 while wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with The Specials’ logo – to rework Prince Buster’s less-than-PC classic ‘Ten Commandments’ was a stroke of genius. Even completely original tracks like ‘Breaking Point’ sound like The Specials hitting the zeitgeist square on the nose, as if they’ve never been away. Encore is a timely and most welcome return. – Owen Hughes


Motionless in White – Disguise

There is something beautifully raw and passionate about Motionless in White’s music. The screaming metalcore band in their more than ten years have supplied some of the catchiest metal tunes around. From ‘A-M-E-R-I-C-A’ to ‘Reincarnate’ to ‘Voices,’ the guys have always tried to use their music for good. In recent years, with the rise in mental health awareness, MIW are among those not afraid to put their feelings right there for us to hear so we can, if we wish, find something deeply personal in what we hear. This year’s Disguise is no different.

The title track alone is a deep dive into how we hide who we really are from ourselves and others every day just to keep a sense of normalcy. It’s one of those songs that strikes a chord the second you hear the words. Disguise is an album brimming with songs like that. Lost loves, loneliness, depression, you name it, it’s there front and centre in this 13-track heavy metal psychiatrist’s couch. And if it wasn’t for the fact you were screaming along and trying to give yourself headbanger’s whiplash on the drive home from work, you’d be sat in tears because someone put out what you’ve been hiding, afraid to talk to people about, and made it ok to put it out there in the world.

It’s the beauty of a band like MIW. And it’s what makes albums like Disguise something truly special when there’s a song for every mood. And a whole record’s worth of songs to scream along to just because. – Andrew Brooker


Little Simz – GREY Area

Simbiatu Ajikawo is tired of being overlooked.  Simz has been recording raps since she was 9, self-releasing mixtapes since she was 16, and receiving big-ups and cosigns from artists like Gorillaz and Kendrick Lamar all decade long, yet still she has remained undervalued and underpushed by the music industry and those who cover it.  GREY Area, her third official album, is the sound of an artist who knows exactly how gifted she is tired of waiting for everyone else to come to her and forcibly kicking down the door to make everyone pay attention.  10 tracks, every last one of them absolute bangers which sound equally at home rattling speakers in the back of trunks as they do flourishing in the intimacy of a good pair of headphones.  35 minutes, not a single second of which is wasted, prioritising the statement of a complete album that demands instant replaying as soon as it’s done.

Entirely produced by childhood friend Inflo with a premium placed upon live instrumentation, the result is a unified sound yet with no two tracks wholly alike.  The raucous Blaxploitation of opener ‘Offence,’ Noname-reminiscent jazz-hop with ‘Selfish,’ the chronic-dusted hole of ‘Venom,’ the sprightly videogame bounce of ‘101 FM’ (one of the best beats British hip-hop has cooked up in an age).  All a canvas for Simz to spit undeniable BARS of the most golden standard.  “I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days.”  “Pussy, you sour/Never givin’ credit where it’s due cos you don’t like pussy in power.”  “Just tryna pass the test like I want A-stars, don’t give me no C in this life.”  “I see the way you look at me like I’m some sort of charity/Only reason I come here is so I can get some clarity/And it didn’t work.”  It’s a heavy, often emotionally raw record, particularly in the second half, yet Simz is such a forceful presence and a gifted storyteller that it also doubles as 2019’s finest pop record.  GREY Area is undeniable and, if there’s any justice, Little Simz will be overlooked no longer. – Callum Petch


The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men

After around 30 years of fights, break-ups, addiction, and both physical and mental illness, you could forgive The Wildhearts if they wanted to throw in the towel. But due to frontman, band leader and all round song writing genius Ginger Wildheart’s stunning work ethic and the group’s undeniable talent, they are back together armed with another album of big riffs, catchy shout-a-long choruses and clever, witty, relevant songs about the state of Britain/the world, the state of themselves, mental health and both the good and bad aspects of relationships and living life in general.

Opening track ‘Dislocated’ is a good sign of what’s to come with its big riffs and lyrics about isolation and feeling detached from the world.  It also comes on like a bitter break-up letter in parts and here lies the genius of Ginger’s writing, where you can see and feel what the songs are about but there’s enough depth to identify the lyrics in your own way. The first big sing-a-long comes in the shape of ‘Let ‘Em Go’ featuring Frank Turner on vocals, the title saying it all with the song simply about getting rid of the negative people in your life: “Let the wankers find their own.”

As Renaissance Men continues it’s pretty clear that The Wildhearts have done it again and created an album a bit different from their others but still managing to sound like The Wildhearts, a huge credit to a band whose last studio album was in 2009 (the brilliant Chutzpah!) and have been through so much in that time alone – let alone the time since the band’s inception – yet the passion and creativity is still there for all to hear. With the likes of ‘Diagnosis,’ ‘My Kinda Movie,’ ‘Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon)’ and the brilliantly-named ‘Pilo Erection’ showing their cast-iron mix of heavy riffs, punk energy and rock n roll spirit, The Wildhearts show no signs of slowing down here. As Ginger sings on the infectious title track, you can’t keep a good band down – like cheap Tequila. – Adam Massingham


Jade Bird – Jade Bird

Channelling a legacy of Americana and American folk, 21-year-old Jade Bird’s debut is a bombastic entry into the world of music. An album where you need to check that it’s actually her first and not her fifth, it being such a brilliant and fully-realised collection of songs. Starting with the slow build of ‘Ruins,’ and containing loud singalongs such as ‘Love Has All Been Done Before,’ she maintains a confident charisma and a really strong voice throughout the twelve songs that she has sole writing credit for. There’s not much here that feels like filler, each song allowing for Bird to showcase a different aspect of her voice, songwriting and sound. – Matt Latham


CHAI – PUNK

Perhaps the most plain-fun record I’ve had the pleasure of listening to so far this year, Japanese punk quartet CHAI realise all the potential found on their energetic but scattered first album, 2017’s PINK, with their sophomore release, PUNK.  The all-girl band’s body positive Neo-Kawaii manifesto, rebelling against Japanese society’s oppressive and traditionalist views of beauty and gender roles, has been finessed into a series of irresistible blasts of glorious three-minute pop songs.  ‘Fashionista’ fights against the fashion industry to a CSS/Rapture reminiscent dance-punk boogie, self-love anthem ‘I’m Me’ radiates sugary J-pop bliss, prospective theme song interlude ‘THIS IS CHAI’ mines the same noise-hop sound collage as vintage Go! Team, whilst the climactic ‘Feel the BEAT’ envisions what The Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love’ would sound like if written in 2019 and was way less self-important.  Between this and Otoboke Beaver’s pummelling ITEKOMA HITS, Japan is crushing it when it comes to exciting takes on punk music; both records should be on any self-respecting music fan’s radar. – Callum Petch


Rival Sons – Feral Roots

Since their breakthrough in 2011 with second album Pressure & Time, California rockers Rival Sons have been making steady progress up the ranks with 2014’s Great Western Valkyrie in particular earning them some well-deserved attention. But it’s Feral Roots, their sixth record, that will hopefully push them up into the echelons with rock n roll’s finest. Yet again, the ingredients are all there, the Sons’ 70s rock influences proudly on show but with a talented bunch of songwriters skilful enough to make their influences more than the sum of their parts.

The band are on fire here, the likes of blistering opener ‘Do Your Worst,’ the funky, mid-paced ‘Sugar on the Bone’ and the big rocker ‘Back in the Woods’ making for quite an incredible opening trio, the latter’s rolling drums at the start bringing to mind Led Zeppelin’s late, great John Bonham.  Whilst the massive, anthemic riffage of album highlight ‘Too Bad,’ along with frontman Jay Buchanan’s stunning vocals, sends chills down the spine, makes arm hairs rise and goosebumps form. Buchanan and guitarist Scott Holiday are clearly one of modern rock’s finest double acts; Buchanan soars, smoulders and simply sings his ass off while Holiday’s inventive, effective playing keeps things ticking along splendidly until the gospel tinged closer ‘Shooting Stars’ brings things to a nice end. More a fade out than an explosive finale but no matter, Rival Sons have created another solid hard rock album worthy of the greatest praise and adulation from their peers and growing fan base. – Adam Massingham


So, what albums are most rocking your world this year?  Sound off in the comments, and come back later this week for Our Top 10 Films of 2019 So Far!

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