As the year approaches its halfway point, it’s time for us to deliver what we call, with a businesslike gravity, our Second Quarter Report.
Put simply, it’s our pick of what we feel are the 20 best albums to be released in the second quarter of the year – the months of April through August. It’s a diverse and at times admittedly perverse selection – where else, we ask, would you find Nicki Minaj and Dale Cornish afforded equal praise? – but above all it’s an honest one. The following 20 full-lengths are those that FACT’s motley staff have been enjoying the most, both in and out of the office, in recent weeks. Ignore them at your peril.
“R.I.P is a fantastical, fascinating album: as Actress intended, it feels not really of this world. That it is more focused and ultimately successful than its predecessors is symptomatic of what is obviously a very human, personal journey for its maker.” – full review
MACHINES THAT MAKE CIVILIZATION FUN
(LAITDBAK / MUSH)
“It’s far from perfect – Jus has admitted, in fact, that some of the tracks on the album are basically first drafts – but that’s not the point: if a more desolate, worn down and hopeless sounding hip-hop album emerges in 2012 I don’t think I’d want to hear it. This is uncomfortable enough.” – full review
RINSE PRESENTS: BRACKLES
Basically, you’re getting a big handful of guaranteed dancefloor gems showcasing some of Kemp’s finest production to date, and in a way that answers how we should approach this piece of work as ‘an album’. It shouldn’t really matter anymore if it’s for the headphones or dancefloor, what matters is that we pull our heads out of our arses and just vibe to it.” – full review
“Any track on Exercises could be developed to far greater length, but Silver’s decision to reign these in is deftly handled. The result leaves the listener with less of a sense of control and more of an experience controlled by someone who knows exactly what they are doing.” – full review
“Playin’ Me is perfect or thereabouts. Of all the Cooly G albums in multi-dimensional parallel universes, this is the best one, the perfect execution of her sound.” – full review
An Entr’acte record called Glacial is unlikely to feature air horns and a Waka guest verse, but Dale Cornish’s recent LP takes austerity to relatively uncharted extremes. Each composition consists of the skeleton of a drum track, some barely discernible digital tinkering and absolutely nothing else. Something about Cornish’s balancing act – the timbre of the drums, the delicate application of reverb, the tempo – makes this exercise in spartan sonics oddly compelling (it’s worth listening to it immediately after EVOL’s barking FACT mix to get the full effect). Concision in excelsis.
DEAN BLUNT & INGA COPELAND
BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL
“Ultimately, this is music built through play – melodic lines wander out uncertainly, feeling their way into the unknown; structures unfold unevenly or else sputter to a halt in knots of dissonance. The result is a collection of intriguing, often beautiful miniatures – gems to be cherished and enjoyed, sonic curiosities that reward repeated listening.” – full review
Grass Widow are a more accomplished, and somehow more genuine, proposition than any of their immediate peers. Their inspiration is obvious – the shambling indie-pop that came out of early K Records and the UK’s post-C86 underground – but at least they have the tenacity, not to mention the ability, to have created an album actually comparable with, rather than merely a footnote to, those of their heroes.
BOGOTA RICH: THE PREQUEL
(MAYBACH MUSIC GROUP)
“’So much I wanna say, only got one pair of lungs,’ Gunplay raps at one point on Bogota Rich. Well, whatever you make of what he says, you’ve really got to hand it to his lungs. Another line that perhaps comes closer to the essence of Gunplay’s Tyson-esque talent: ‘I beat up the beat, never let it breathe!’. There are plenty of rappers who are nicer people than Gunplay, more edifying and politically conscious, more verbally dexterous – but us Gunplay fans all know who’s wearing the black shorts. Ear lobe in mouth, tattoo on face, opponents being given mouth-to-mouth in the opposite corner: love him or loathe him, the champ is here.” – full review
Boasting production from Supreme Cuts, The-Drum and veteran-of-all-trades King Britt, Oxyconteen is an alarmingly well-realised introduction to a new voice you’re going to be hearing much more from this year. Backed by dark, operatic instrumentals, there are comparisons to be made between Haleek and Spaceghostpurrp, the current prince of hip-hop’s dark side, but really he’s his own guy, and with ideas above his station.
“If you ever wanted a house or techno album as endlessly listenable, as varied, assured and as good value for money as Madvillain’s 2004 hip-hop classic Madvillainy, then your wish has been fulfilled. Fuck intros, let’s dance.” – full review
“It’s like hearing Sim City played through music: grid-based construction occurring at a robotic pace, but with subtle curves and twists of individuality that make it personal.” – full review
Anyone worried that Peter Rehberg and Stephen O’Malley’s decision to work with neo-classical composer/arranger Jóhann Jóhannsson and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra has resulted in a softening of their sound can relax, at least some: KTL’s heaviness remains in intact, but the previously all-pervading doom has given way to a strange kind of ecstasy.
“Dark York feels like a gauntlet thrown down to the straight hip-hop world, not an inward-looking one-off. Which straight rappers are ready to match Le1f’s fierceness? Which of them can take on his beats (you can imagine everyone from T.I. to Cam’ron jumping on ‘Wut’)? Who will dare to go head-to-head with him on record? Le1f’s made his statement, a formidable one – and a potential blueprint for the future.” – full review
“Quite simply, a brilliant album from musicians who deserve immense respect.” – full review
NENEH CHERRY & THE THING
THE CHERRY THING
“By the end, you only want more: you find yourself wishing that Neneh Cherry and The Thing would just go ahead and cover every song in the world in this inimitable manner.” – full review
PINK FRIDAY 2: ROMAN RELOADED
(UNIVERSAL REPUBLIC / YOUNG MONEY)
OK, we’re expecting some flack for this – mostly due to the fact that a large proportion of Roman Reloaded simply isn’t good. Nicki Minaj’s second album feels like an exceptional case, however, as it’s effectively two albums in one, with no attempt made to combine the two into a cohesive whole. And so you get the album’s first half: arguably the best run of minimal, rock-hard hip-hop anthems in the making since Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury, ‘Beez in the Trap’ and ‘Come on a Cone’ particular highlights, like Missy and Timbaland never left. Then, the album’s second half is dedicated to trashy 4/4 chart pop, with production spots from RedOne, Dr. Luke and other unimaginative compression heads. Sometimes, it’s beyond repair (the Rihanna-aping ‘Beautiful Sinner’); other times, given the chance, it might grow on you (‘Starships’, ‘Whip It’). But the overall impression is of an attempt to please both Minaj’s long-term fans and her younger, more chart-orientated audience. By effectively splitting it into two short albums, she’s done this with more transparency than usual – and presuming that side one is the side meant for us, we’re more than happy with our share.
(NOT NOT FUN)
We really didn’t think we needed another album of lo-fi techno dreamscapes to file alongside our largely unlistened-to Container and Diamond Catalog LPs. Then along came Sand Circles with this (so far) cassette and digital-only release on Not Not Fun, which might just be the finest example of this micro-genre yet, and certainly the only one we realistically imagine ourselves returning to in one, two, five years’ time.
MUSIC FOR THE QUIET HOUR / THE DRAWBAR ORGAN EPs
(WOE TO THE SEPTIC HEART!)
“Music For The Quiet Hour tilts from the sublime to the ridiculous, and enchants along the way. The EPs, meanwhile, show Shackleton elaborating his strange, creepy, weird old sound. It’s not without faults, but overall it’s a undoubtedly a very welcome gift.” – full review
(HIPPOS IN TANKS)
Back in May, Vinh Ngan’s Hong-Kong-via-South-London production project, quietly slipped out one of the mixtapes of the year. Ngan’s voice is a fantastically mournful instrument: over drifty instrumentals held together with sticky tape, Ngan moans, coos and cants in his native tongue. His forthcoming full-length for Hippos In Tanks is still an unknown quantity, but if it’s even half evocative as NXB, we’re looking at a triumph. Original Pirate Material meets Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.