Blending pop, R&B, soul and at times some fairly experimental electronica on her latest album 3, Sydney-based artist Ngaiire certainly can’t be accused of playing it safe, and the album is a constantly shifting joy that seems to delight in playing with your expectations of how a polished ‘pop’ album should sound, then gleefully doing something else entirely. Unapologetically sincere and packed full of infectious rhythms, highlights are many – the awesome Shiver also deserves a mention – but Glitter gets the nod from me for being an absolute banger.
Helmed by producer and saxophonist Pete Cunningham, the Bristol-based Ishmael Ensemble’s announced themselves as a new force in UK jazz with their 2019 debut A State Of Flow, a record I completely missed as I am vehemently opposed to anything jazzy, or jazz-related. Until now it seems, as I absolutely love their new album Visions Of Light, and Feather in particular which is amongst the more beautifully chill things I’ve heard for ages. It would actually be easier if this record didn’t exist as I was quite happy in my jazz-ignoring bubble, but here we are.
The term “easy listening” has a fairly bad rep, and probably for good reason. It evokes mindlessly inoffensive music that seems to be almost wilfully devoid of character, and while I’m by no means arguing that Durand Jones & The Indication be reclassified into this vague sub-genre, one of the things I enjoy so much about their music is that it’s such an effortless pleasure to listen to. Latest single The Way I Do combines elements of funk, soul, disco and pop into an intoxicating blend that infects everything with its breezy, understated optimism, and I am fully here for everything it stands for.
Warm and soulful on the surface but packed with a political directness in its lyrics which are, as ever, flawlessly delivered by Noname, Rainforest packs in an outrageous amount into its relatively short running time. There are so many lyrical earworms here, but “A rainforest cries / Everybody dies a little / And I just wanna dance tonight” is the one that’s stuck with me. On paper perhaps this comes across as a little cliche, but the understated delivery makes dancing seems like the most understandable – and perhaps only – reaction to one of the many approaching global calamities we’re faced with on a daily basis.
Aside from being an accomplished musician, Cam Be is also an Emmy award-winning produced for TV, director, artist and photographer, and Summer In September taken from his 2020 album of the same name. Now accompanied by a dream-like video from director Briana Clearly, there’s more than a hint of Frank Ocean in its tender, drifting melodies and hazy vocals: a pure, innocent snapshot of a burgeoning love frozen in time, looping for eternity.
Southside Chicago native Sunshine Lombre is a dancer, poet and musician set to release her debut EP in a couple of months, from which Just Verbs is taken. On the surface at least this a super sultry, warm, minimalistic piece with little more than Lombre’s closed-mic’d vocal and some gentle Rhodes-y chords playing softly in the background. So far, so relaxing: but there’s something about the ominous pad and sketchy vinyl crackles that run throughout that makes suspect a more sinister atmosphere, like this entire ballad is being whispered to a bound ex-lover as she runs a kitchen knife playfully down their chest. But maybe that’s just me.
Babeheaven are vocalist Nancy Andersen and producer-instrumentalist Jamie Travis, a duo responsible for one of my favourite songs of 2019: the monumentally fantastic Fresh Faced from their Circles EP. Honestly, if you haven’t heard it yet, go and listen to it now, it’s fucking incredible. Swimming up River is from their new album Home For Now and is a lot earthier than some of their previous work; a deep, heartfelt, soulful track that really allows Andersen’s vocal to shine.
Clocking in at under two minutes there’s not an awful not to Hey Boy, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in sultry smoothness, with both Apollo and Kali Uchis delivering their short verses in tones that can only be described as sexy AF. Hey Boy arrives at around the halfway point of Apollo’s excellent new album Apolonio and is a masterclass in modern soul-inflected R&B.
Spellbinding experimentations in rhythm and tone here from the Montreal-based singer-songwriter and violinist (and band) on one of the early stand-out’s from her new album KIND. I Forget to Drink Water (Balance) has so much going on, but it’s all hushed, subdued and innate, as if it’s music that has seeped up from the earth rather than been actively performed.
Even on an album as brilliant as SAULT’s debut Untitled (Black Is), Wildfires stands out. Like much of the LP it focusses on the theme of police oppression towards the black community, with lyrics like “Take off your badge / We all know it was murder” striking a tone somewhere between pleading and resignedly furious. It’s a remarkably affecting track, and even more remarkably they’re giving away the entire album free on their website, or if you’re really feeling it you can get a CD or double vinyl on Bandcamp.