Is your playlist in need of some refreshment? We have some suggestions.
Ariana Grande - 33+45 Remix feat. Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion
The original album version of this track certainly wasn’t a picture of innocence (as anyone who’s added up the numbers in the title can tell) but now she’s upped the ante with two suitably amorous verses from Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion. You couldn’t get a much bigger trio on a track together right now - expect this one to do some hefty numbers.
Lana Del Rey — Chemtrails Over the Country Club
It’s become almost customary for a Lana Del Rey announcement to be accompanied by some controversy (this time it’s been about racial representation on her album cover and comments about the Capitol riots that were supposedly taken out of context) but dig through it all and you’ll find this excellent new track. Minimal pianos, darkly romantic lyrics, restrained vocals — it’s classic Lana.
Shame - Drunk Tank Pink
Across 2017 and 2018, south London quintet Shame were one of the hardest-touring bands in Britain, bringing their scuffed post-punk sound to hundreds of venues and festivals. Drunk Tank Pink bristles with the pent-up aggression of men who aren’t allowed to be loud and shirtless in public any more. The production is incendiary, but there's relative sedateness on Human, for a Minute and epic closer Station Wagon, where the band show a new sonic maturity and rise above the rawness.
Tom Jones — Talking Reality Television Blues
Who saw this coming? Tom Jones is back, and he’s given us a stormy, six-and-a-half-minute blues track with lyrics about how the rise of TV eventually gave us a Trump presidency, all delivered in an ominous, spoken-word baritone. It’s unexpected, but really very good. It’s his take on a Todd Snider song, and will feature on Surrounded By Time, a new covers album due on April 23.
Sleaford Mods - Spare Ribs
Recorded last July, Spare Ribs is very much of its time. Frontman Jason Williamson lays the crosshairs on everyone from the failing Tory Government to “f***ing class tourists” in the music industry. Williamson delivers plenty of Malcolm Tucker-level swearing but it shouldn’t mask the more tender side of his writing, such as his portrait of a small-town childhood on album closer Fishcakes. It’s all squarely matched by Andrew Fearn’s productions, uninterested in varnishing their gritty post-punk surfaces, and in a lot of cases sounding stronger than ever.
Bicep — Sundial
Belfast dance duo Bicep were one of the most popular live acts in the scene before lockdown hit, and their new album Isles, out next Friday, was inspired by those packed-out gigs. In these locked-down times, then, their music is about as close as you’ll get to the dancefloor. Misty vocals and a skittish drumbeat characterise this new single — definitely one for the smoke machines when we’re all back in the club.
Mogwai — Ritchie Sacramento
The Scottish post-rock veterans indulge their poppier, more shoegazey side on this single, the latest taste of their 10th studio album, As The Love Continues (February 19). It’s more tightly structured than a lot of their work, and carries a heartfelt message — penned after the death of Silver Jews’ Dave Berman in 2019, it’s frontman Stuart Braithwaite’s tribute to all the friends who have passed away over the years.
Foo Fighters — No Son of Mine
At the tail end of last year, Foo Fighters released Shame Shame, the first single off their upcoming album. It was a groovy oddball of a track, but this latest installment sees Dave Grohl and the gang stepping back into more familiar territory — it’s a riff-tastic punk rock rager, proving the band haven’t forgotten how to get heavy.
Slowthai — MAZZA feat. A$AP Rocky
Slowthai’s forthcoming album, TYRON, will be split into two halves: the first seven tracks will be lively and hard-hitting, while the following seven will be more subdued and introspective. This simmering new single will make up part of the first cohort, and features a guest verse from US favourite A$AP Rocky.
Kylie & Dua Lipa — Real Groove (Studio 2054 remix)
Two of 2020’s disco saviours, Kylie Minogue and Dua Lipa, come together on this track. It’s a remix of Real Groove, a cut from Minogue’s latest album, with the pair duetting on a floor-filling chorus and an extended instrumental break that’s sure to keep you boogying through the January blues.
Barry Gibb & Friends — Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1
Two decades since the last Bee Gees album, and following the deaths of twin brothers Maurice and Robin Gibb in 2003 and 2012 respectively, oldest brother Barry is finally ensuring that his group’s legacy has the respect it has always deserved. This album sees 12 songs given a classy country-soul makeover, with contributions from the likes of Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow.
Nubiyan Twist — If I Know feat. K.O.G
Talking of the January blues, if the Kylie-Dua combo doesn't blow away the cobwebs, this effervescent track surely will. The latest collaboration between Afro-jazz outfit Nubiyan Twist and Ghanaian artist K.O.G., it sparks with Afrobeat and highlife rhythms, resulting in six minutes of gold.
The KLF — Solid State Logik 1
After The KLF vanished from the music world in the early Nineties — a departure that included a notorious BRIT Awards performance, burning a million pounds in cash and deleting their entire back catalogue — the electronic duo have made an unexpected return. They’re in the process of uploading their music onto streaming services, starting with this eight-track collection of their best-known material.
Aaron Frazer — Introducing...
In the soul revival group Durand Jones and the Indications, Jones got top billing but the occasional lead vocals of drummer Aaron Frazer were every bit as captivating. One notable enthusiast was musician-producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who phoned to invite the musician to his Easy Eye Studio in Nashville for an intense week of co-writing and recording, resulting in this delicious debut solo album. Frazer doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but the music is proof that there’s plenty of value in an old sound done supremely well.
Paul McCartney — McCartney III
Forty years after releasing McCartney II, Paul McCartney has delivered the final installment in the trilogy. The songs here are finely crafted, that effortless way with melody front and centre, and aside from the odd deviation, he never pushes too hard at the traditional stylings of classic pop songwriting. Even with such a rich, full sound, the overall feel is relaxed and freewheeling. Macca's having fun knocking around the house, free from any pressure for these songs to unite an arena, and at his most appealing.
Drive-By Truckers — The New OK
The New OK, released in physical formats today after its appearance on streaming services in October, is the 13th album from Drive-By Truckers — a document of an unlucky year that is as lyrically bleak as their soulful Americana sound is appealing. A kind of optimism arrives late on with a rowdy Ramones cover — an odd fit on a powerful album that has anger as its central emotion.
Hayley Williams — Petals For Armor: Self-Serenades EP
During the quiet days of lockdown, Paramore’s Hayley Williams passed the time by recording a series of acoustic cover versions and posted the so-called “self-serenades” onto Instagram. Now, she’s releasing an EP inspired by exactly that. It’ll feature stripped-down versions of two tracks off her solo debut album from earlier this year, as well as a brand new cut, Find Me Here.
Little Dragon and Moses Sumney — The Other Lover
Moses Sumney released one of the best albums of 2020 with græ, and this latest installment of his work proves he’s still full of creative juice. It’s a collaboration with Swedish outfit Little Dragon, and the two come together perfectly: Sumney’s voice neatly intertwines with Yukimi Nagano’s, and the whole thing builds with grace.
Madlib — Road of the Lonely Ones
It’s a pretty good combo: legendary US hip-hop producer Madlib provides the music and electronic music guru Four Tet chops, edits and arranges it all into an album. The finished product, Sound Ancestors, will arrive in January and this track is the first taste of what’s to come, a moody groove of a track with some typically astute soul sampling from Madlib.
Taylor Swift — Willow remixes
Swiftian devotees have hardly been deprived of new music in 2020 — we’ve had two new albums, Folklore and Evermore (more on that below), both of which were pretty fantastic. But if you’re still craving more, then check out the various remixes of the track Willow that Swift has been putting out. There are three so far, ranging from the kind of synthy pop Swift was known for a few years ago, to something a bit more trip hop-ish.
A Man Who Dreamed
You’ve got until Monday December 28 to see/hear the Chineke! Orchestra give the U.K. premiere of Adolphus Stork’s lovely 1979 work, Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed: In memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr, conducted by Karena Bovell from the Memphis Symphony. Recorded last month at the Royal Festival Hall, now on the Chineke! YouTube channel.
Taylor Swift — Evermore
Surprise! Again! Taylor Swift’s lockdown adventures continued with the news that she has a recorded second secretly written album. Evermore is the “sister record” to July’s Folklore, recorded with the same team swiftly afterwards, Aaron Dessner of the National and Bon Iver included. While so many of us have been waiting for the world to restart, this restless talent has created so much, and so much of it brilliant.
James Blake — Covers EP
Fans requesting covers and then performing them on Instagram was “one of the things keeping me going mentally throughout lockdown,” James Blake said. They sustained many of us too — his rendition of Frank Ocean’s Godspeed was superb, and it’s one of the tracks on this EP comprising Blake’s own takes on other people’s songs.
Nilüfer Yanya — Feeling Lucky
This west London artist swept up plenty of critical adoration for her debut album Miss Universe back in March 2019, and this new EP is her much-anticipated follow-up. The release, led by fizzing single Crash, is going to be relatable for a lot of listeners in 2020, exploring as it does themes of feeling at the mercy of powers beyond our control.
Live at Windmill Brixton — In Between The Lockdowns
In the gap between Lockdown 1 and Lockdown 2, the much-loved grassroots venue Windmill Brixton hosted 77 gigs. Some of the best performances have been immortalised on this 13-track live album, featuring the likes of Black Midi, Squid, Shame and Sorry. It’s all excellent, and available to buy on Bandcamp, with proceeds split equally between the venue and local charity Brixton Soup Kitchen.
My Albion, BBC Radio 4
This fascinating four-part radio series sees NTS host, DJ and audio producer Zakia Sewell embark on a quest for her own “Albion”. How exactly that’s defined is an ongoing question, but in the process of answering it she explores her own identity as a mixed-race woman, and interrogates themes of land ownership, culture, belonging and more. It’s all punctuated by folk music artefacts and a cast of enlightening interviewees. Catch up on BBC Sounds.
Arctic Monkeys - Live at the Royal Albert Hall
It’s been a while since we last had any new music from the High Green foursome but this is the next best thing: a career-spanning live album, recorded during a superb show at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018. And all proceeds from the release go to War Child UK.
Goat Girl - The Crack
On the strength of the first two singles, Sad Cowboy and The Crack, Goat Girl’s album, arriving January 29, might be one of the first great albums of 2021. The Crack is a surreal, slyly ominous portrait of a post-apocalyptic world, propelled by crashing guitars and wobbly synths.
Khruangbin - Late Night Tales
The long-running Late Night Tales compilation series asks bands to pick out a collection of tracks best enjoyed in the small hours. This time it’s the turn of Texas psych-funk band Khruangbin, whose eclectic choices veer from Soviet folk to South Korean rock.
Spitalfields Festival: At Home
Dunedin Consort, the Miller-Porfiris Duo and Chineke! are among the performers of works by composers from Errollyn Warren to Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi to Joy Effiong at this digital version of the annual music festival. Tune in from 3pm-10pm on Saturday at spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk
Viagra Boys - Creatures
Stockholm punks Viagra Boys have a new album, Welfare Jazz, out on January 8, and it’ll feature this arresting track, which masks a wave of self-loathing and throaty vocals with twinkling synths and an almost-happy bass-line. Be sure to check out the video, which plays out like some period drama semi-reality.
Migration Museum – Departures
This new podcast from the criminally little-known Lewisham museum explores 400 years of emigration from Britain. That’s right, for most of our history it’s been people leaving, rather than arriving, that was the major concern. The first episode focuses on the 17th-century wave of emigration to America and includes heart-rending letters from an indentured 10-year-old boy to his struggling parents back in England: “With weeping tears I beg of you to help me.”
Porij – Breakfast
Dirty Love, the first track of the Manchester quartet’s bouncy debut mixtape, veers wildly across pop genres but sets the eclectic, exuberant tone. A faint whiff of UK garage hangs about the first minute of Closer, while Your Love is administered with a heavy dose of rave. I feel quite nostalgic.
Matilda Mann – Because I Wanted You to Know
Gorgeously light and airy, Matilda Mann’s latest EP flits smoothly between heartbreak and bubblegum escapism. Lyrics take centre stage but Mann’s vocals feel more like a breath of cloud floating over each track, buoyed along by understated production and honeyed guitar.
FLOHIO – No Panic No Pain
"Where’s your energy right now?” demands FLOHIO on FLOFLO!, the opening track to this typically explosive mixtape from the South London rapper. Erm, I dunno mate I think you might have all of it? With its moody beats, smart lyrics and the constant feeling that there’s a live wire somewhere, this will either knock you over or pin you to your chair.
Megan Thee Stallion — Good News
On her debut album, US rap star Megan Thee Stallion delivers single entendres, graphic imagery and bulletproof self-confidence. Hers is a clean sound: crisp beats that echo the earliest hip hop, with a clear, fast vocal delivery that’s a long way from the Auto-Tuned, sing-song style of so many rappers today.
Ezra Collective, Jme, Swindle — Quest For Coin II
Back in 2019, during their headline gig at the Roundhouse, jazzy genre-mixers Ezra Collective were joined on stage by grime hero Jme for an impromptu performance. A year later, that collaboration has finally resulted in this, a sparky reworking of the track Quest For Coin, with typically sharp bars from Jme and production by Swindle.
Phoebe Bridgers — Copycat Killer
How do you make a really sad album even sadder? Swap out the instrumentation for some mournful strings, that’s how. This EP features four reimagined tracks from Phoebe Bridgers’ excellent album, Punisher, keeping the original vocals but losing the guitars and drums in place of some beautiful orchestration. It works incredibly well.
RAYE — Euphoric Sad Songs
A proper Ronseal release, this one. Euphoric Sad Songs, a new nine-track collection from south London artist RAYE, will make you dance-cry in the best way possible. It’s full of big, club-ready beats, heartstring-tugging synths and forlorn lyrics — it’s a perfect soundtrack for a lockdown boogie, basically.
Biig Piig — Feels Right
Do you miss going out and having it large? So does Biig Piig. The 22-year-old artist, real name Jessica Smith, has had a good year in terms of growing her profile with a string of hyped singles, but still misses “feeling of letting go and being surrounded by sweaty people,” she says. This song is an ode to that — and the chorus bassline will have you positively itching for the dancefloor.
The Cribs — Night Network
Fresh from years of industry wrangling that threatened to force the band into calling it quits, indie heroes The Cribs are back with their eighth studio album. It’s the sound of a band unshackled, with plenty of their familiar trademarks — big, fuzzy riffs with a DIY honesty — but there’s enough experimentation to prove that this is a band still with something fresh to say.