With September drawing to a close and the leaves beginning to brown on their branches, it’s time for FACT to deliver its Third Quarter Report: the 20 best albums of the last three months.
The long-players we’ve chosen are listed in alphabetical order over the next two pages, and range from the decadent R&B of The Weeknd’s Thursday to the industrial synth melodrama of Prurient’s Bermuda Drain, via the scuzzed hip-hop of Main Attrakionz’ 8o8s & Dark Grapes II and unheimlich folk-pop of Grouper of AIA: Alien Observer. There’ll be some records that you’re familiar with, and plenty more that you’re not; rest assured that each and every one is worthy of your time and attention.
Oh, and before you ask why we haven’t included Clams Casino’s masterful Instrumentals in the rundown, that’s because it featured in our Second Quarter Report following its initial digital release. So there.
Second Quarter Report 2011: 20 best albums Jan-Mar
First Quarter Report 2011: 20 best albums Apr-Jun
“Andres III is never better, however, than when it goes long-form. Opener ‘Be Free Baby’ takes up over half of the first side of the vinyl, and is the longest, housiest track on the album. It’s also the only track here that’s 4×4, but you’d never notice it for the gloriously swinging drums and ballroom vocal, as piano, trumpet and more subtly sweep the track up into a delicate frenzy. And that’s the rub with Andres III: over just six tracks, it explores such a range of moods, tempos and styles, but the effects are never less than Utopian and irresistible.” – full review
WANDER / WONDER
“At less than 37 minutes, it’s easy to let Wander / Wonder wash over you and mostly pass you by, and that’s in line with its aesthetic. But listen to it on headphones, and you’ll likely find yourself fascinated by both its immaculate beauty and its dedication to a very specific style – one which started off precious and delicate, but has now become something whole.” – full review
Killer album of grungy, give-a-fuck techno on Spectrum Spools, the Mego sub-label A&R’d by Emeralds’ John Elliott. Nowhere near as good as the label’s “Surgeon meets Cybotron on DMT” hype would have you believe, but impressive all the same.
It’s Brown’s embracing of contradictions (“Righteous as fuck but still nut on a bitch’s chest”) that makes him such a fascinating rapper, and XXX is given depth and longevity by a tension, or collision between hardcore rap’s reality fix and the avant-garde’s desire for creative and expressive freedom from reality. This Internet and drug-fueled collision has reinvigorated outsider interest in underground rap in the last few years (see: Odd Future, Main Attrakionz and, of course, Lil B) and XXX might just represent the most polished and fully formed manifestation of street-meets-art rap so far. It is, in any case, essential listening.” – full review
IN ANIMAL TONGUE
Carla Bozulich’s troupe strike out into the unknown and make arguably the best album of their career, dispensing almost entirely with guitars in favour of dustbowl chamber instrumentation and eldritch vocal incantation. Haunting, theatrical and ultimately very moving, this is destined to become a classic.
AIA: ALIEN OBSERVER
The more welcoming and balmy part of Liz Harris’s ambitious AIA diptych (the Use Your Illusion of lo-fi psychedelia), climaxing with the unbearably poignant ‘She Loves Me That Way’ – a track liable to make you feel like a gawky, lovelorn teenager wondering through the suburban shadowlands of Charles Burns’ Black Hole.
GUCCI MANE & WAKA FLOCKA FLAME
(BRICK SQUAD / WARNER)
Collaborative album from two of rap’s current top boys, and although it doesn’t quite hit the sort of undeniable high that Kanye and Jay-Z’s ‘Otis’ did, it’s a far better overall listen than Watch the Throne. According to Waka, the album was recorded in a couple of weeks, and it tells: the hooks always sound a little knocked off, and Gucci in particular phones some verses in (though Gucci phoning stuff in is always entertaining – take “she knows I go full throttle / I’m walking with a slight wobble” for instance), but this simply adds to the overall atmosphere of two rappers on the same page bouncing off each other. It’s a refreshingly natural-sounding, low-frills rap album, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered.
The Horrors are hardly tearing up the rulebook, but they’ve evolved into a rock ‘n roll group of considerable power and poise, free of the contrivance that marred their early, pseudo-gothic incarnation. On Skying they invoke Spacemen 3, early Verve and assorted over-ambitious, undervalued Creation bands, and the results are nothing if not epic.
On paper its combination of quivering strings, synth drones, techno-not-techno pulsation and mellifluous vocal harmonies might sound wholly typical of the current US underground, but this album by sometime Nite Jewel sidewoman Holter is a breathtakingly mature, composed and elegantly realised work.
“In many ways, Room(s) could be footwork’s Untrue. It takes a specific dance form, and inverts it in a way that’s not yet been done over a full-length album, creating a mist-coated crossroads between footwork, pop and ambient. However, like mist,Room(s) can be incredibly overwhelming while you’re inside it, but once it’s dispersed you ultimately don’t leave with vivid memories, and it certainly doesn’t keep me rushing back in the same way that Untrue and others have. One of the year’s strongest albums, for sure, but strangely not one of its most memorable”. – full review
808S & DARK GRAPES II
“Hip-hop’s become increasingly hard to keep on top of (808s is one of at least four – probably more – Main Attrakionz releases this year, for instance), but although this release could’ve lost at least a couple of its 15 tracks, the overall quality is still far higher than the average mixtape in an age where the lack of a filter can be as annoying as it is exciting.” – full review
(NOT NOT FUN)
Deconstructed, valium-smashed Euro-pop, italo and house derivations from Estonia’s greatest export since, er…
LIFE (…IT EATS YOU UP)
“While genuinely hard to listen to in places, [this album] provides a timely and salient reminder that experimental music, whilst often perceived as being cold and emotionless, can be at its very best when wearing its heart on its sleeve. – full review
(NO PAIN IN POP)
Remarkable album from this newcomer, reflecting on ’90s Warp Records and the squashed modern house of Actress and Andy Stott. Patten’s not the complete package yet, and there are moments where the album doesn’t quite come together, but it definitely sets him out as someone with potential to do great things in the future. – stream ‘Fire Dream’
“A great album: visceral, creepy, worrying, funny, loud, morbid, manic, imaginative, funky and a little silly.” – full review
A magnificent solo debut, in which the former Vex’d man stalks out his own untramelled path into darkness, drawing on aspects of noise, techno and modern classical composition along the way.
(FRIENDS OF FRIENDS)
“A great debut album that explores downtempo, often melancholic territory at the junction of abstract hip-hop, dubstep, shoegaze and funky psychedelic rock. Soundwise, it’s a very coherent record: tracks flow into each other naturally, creating a sense of being on a musical journey but without the theoretical baggage of “imaginary soundtracks” or other such concepts. Yes, it’s a trip, but one of you can take in your own way.” – full review
“Forget all that “emotional garage” bullshit masquerading around these days, with those generic dayglo synths and chirpy vocal phrases, Sully’s got the real stuff, and his debut album is a tear-jerker, full of successful and exciting experiments.” – full review
“Thursday is sound of the Weeknd showing his face; stepping out of the mist-filled, Polaroid-shot rooms of House of Balloons. The results aren’t pretty, but they’re every bit as compelling – if less immediately appealing – than its predecessor.” – full review
“These tracks are, of course, full of contradictions: delicate spirals that end off-note and marble melodies punctuated by crude gunshots, but that’s what makes them so fascinating. This is the best record that Zomby’s released yet, and all for this poltergeist talk, the really scary thing is that I don’t think he’s anywhere near peaked.” – full review