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Music Of The Month: The Best Albums And Tracks Of January 2021
Patrick Clarke , January 29th, 2021 12:00

The new year brings a continuation of old miseries, but a resurgence of extraordinarily good music. Here's our guide to the best albums and tracks of a particularly strong month

I'm not sure why, but in a year so far as disastrous as the last, in which musicians' fortunes continue to plummet to the point that total collapse looms as a real possibility, the art they've been releasing sounds stronger than ever.

From Sleaford Mods' blistering career-best new album, to anti-colonialist duo Divide And Dissolve's unbelievably powerful cascades of crushing doom, to The Body's latest head-melting extremity, music has provided plenty of necessary catharsis.

It seems obvious at a time like this that intense bands are getting intenser, but I've also found those bands who produce beautiful and transporting music upping their games too. In the worlds of psychedelia, dance and pop I'm not sure I can remember a month I've heard quite so much that's really moved me. But then again, maybe we're all just feeling a bit fragile at the moment.

Below you'll find our round-up of the cream of the crop, picked by tQ's staff. We hope you find something you enjoy as much as we have. Also, for those who sign up to tQ's extremely good subscribers' platform will receive links to an exclusive three hour playlist compiling not only the below, but everything great we've featured on the site over the last few weeks.

Other bonuses include exclusive essays, podcast, music releases, and the knowledge that you're helping tQ survive these trying times. Find out how to sign up here.
Patrick Clarke


Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs
(Rough Trade)

Phrases like "state-of-the-nation", "snapshots" and "…for our times" pop up a lot when you read about Sleaford Mods. That makes sense but it implies that the duo's output may be pertinent yet somehow ephemeral, its relevance rather fleeting thanks to Williamson's barrage of contemporary references and on-point observations. It's not as if these will fly over the heads of listeners in future ages though. They're likely to be able to look them up just as we can easily find out what Jonathan Swift is going on about when he mentions draymen or buff jerkins. There are also a couple of songs here during which Williamson draws on his memories of childhood and this suggests that maybe he has been thinking himself about how Sleaford Mods fit into a much longer tradition – or at least how to cleverly and poignantly expand his lyrical palette beyond the immediate present.
JR Moores – read the full review here

Divide And Dissolve – Gas Lit

Drummer Sylvie Nehill and guitarist/saxophonist Takiaya Reed stand in defiance to heavy rock’s core demographics from their band name onwards: according to the sleevenotes for Basic, their 2017 debut album, it’s what they aspire to do to white supremacy. Intriguingly, they’ve professed on a number of occasions to have little if any interest in doom and related styles from a fan perspective, and chose to play it on the basis of its potential for moving audiences through pure sonics. Gas Lit, which follows Basic and 2018’s Abomination and is D&D’s debut on UK label Invada, is billed as being “for fans of” various Black writers, ceramicists, philosophical concepts, states of being, natural phenomena and precisely one musician (Adrienne Davies, from Earth). The worthwhile point implicitly made by this list, about the cultural limitations niche metal subgroups suffer in the name of their self-regard, may serve to mask how weighty and punishing this album can get.
Allan Gardner – read the full review here

La Novia – Le soleil ni même la lune
(La Novia)

La Novia are a French collective who play various strains of traditional and experimental music. Their associated catalogue and various assemblages are a wormhole, and they’re also connected to one of my favourite bands, the chugging drums, hurdy-gurdy and bass trio France. This new release is a duo by Perrine Bourel on violin, and Jacques Puech on cabrette (a type of bagpipe) and singing. It contains waltzes, polkas, mazurkas and rigadons – the latter a French Baroque form with hopping steps, although don’t be fooled, none of these tracks are pretty dances. What I love about various La Novia-related releases is on evidence here: theirs is not polite folk music, never sweet and rarely soothing. It is, often, music that bares its teeth. I’ll admit I’m partial to any kind of bagpipe, but particularly love ones like this, that are sharp, insistent, and come with a loudness that has nothing to do with the volume knob.
Jennifer Lucy Allan – read the full review here

Kynsy – Things That Don't Exist(Self-Released)

Although the debut EP from 23-year-old Ciara Lindsey only features four tracks, there's more dextrous experimentation than a lot of young artists will achieve for years. The Strokes comparisons are unavoidable from a handful of itchy, infectious riffs, but there's much more at play here too: a bit of glitchy pop, a touch of carefree trumpet and grooving bass, and a heavy dose of lively guitar. Lyrics of post-breakup confusion sit alongside the frustration at overhearing casual racism at a party – and when Lindsey sings about having "so much left to feel", you can't help but believe her.
Ella Kemp

Francisco Mela – MPT Trio: Volume 1
(577 Records)

The MPT Trio are a real power trio in every sense of the word. Whilst occasionally capable of gorgeous little ditties (see: ‘Naima’), they’re at their best when each member is giving it both barrels. Each player is totally off-kilter, and at their best – like on fragmented closer ‘El Llanto de la Tierra’ – when it sounds like they could each be playing different songs. Whilst there are gems in each player’s discography, and Mela has spent a career lighting up every recording he drums on, this is the boldest and best entry point into each of the trio’s discography. With a lot of bleak shit happening in the world right now, and little to look forward, thank your lucky stars that this is only MPT Trio: Volume 1.
Cal Cashin – read the full review here

Various Artists – Wish You Were Avon
(Avon Terror Corps)

This pay-want-you-want compilation from West Country label and collective Avon Terror Corps is a shapeshifting monster of a record, full of blistering avant-techno thumpers, blissful ambient pieces, churning abstraction, headspinning reggaeton, ambitious prog, overwhelming maxed-out noise, chambergoth, darkwave and everything in between. Every moment is ace. All proceeds go to Bristol organisation BASE & Roses, who coordinate free food parcel and cooked meal deliveries for people in the Bristol area. If you have anything to spare, there is literally no reason why you shouldn't download this album.
Patrick Clarke

Shame – Drunk Tank Pink
(Dead Oceans)

It must be unusual for anyone to release an album precisely a year after it was recorded to a world completely different to that in which the music was initially conceived. For Shame, that’s precisely the circumstances they’re met with as they unleash Drunk Tank Pink, the much anticipated follow-up to their widely acclaimed 2018 debut, Songs of Praise. Finished in January 2020, the London-based post-punk quintet emerged from La Frette Studio in France with a body of work blisffully unaware of what was to take hold of the world for the proceeding twelve months. It makes the opening line of their brilliant Drunk Tank Pink all the more striking: “Not what you see is what you get.” Fast forward to present day, skip a few lines in the lyric sheet of the same song, and vocalist Charlie Steen poses the question, “Are you ready to feel good?” The answer? Yes. Very much so.
Zara Hedderman – read the full review here

Senyawa – Alkisah
(Phantom Limb)

There was a time when the year in experimental music would be punctuated by a (relatively) big budget, fairly out-there album by treasures like Scott Walker, PJ Harvey, Robert Wyatt. Those sort of ‘event’ releases have been largely absent lately, now we’re all in our personalised silos, but the pure class of this new Senyawa album brought back that feeling of something really important dropping. Wukir Suryadi beats his home-made instruments as if to force a fissure in the earth itself; twangs outsized strings as if to raise the dead. Rully Shabara (singing in a mix of Indonesian languages) and can turn his voice from polyphonic layers of sacred, monk-like chanting to a classic death metal growl. Like an album of massive tunes for thirsty Sunn O))) fans, Alkisah is brutally doomy, and vividly apocalyptic. It’s absolutely brilliant.
Jennifer Lucy Allan – read the full review here

Tiziano Popoli – Burn the Night / Bruciare la Notte: Original Recordings, 1983-1989
(Freedom To Spend)

I’d suggest Popoli’s work from the 1980s is essentially spatial, a liminal music happy to exist “in the hallways” between determined or accepted musical spaces. He embraces the results of accidents and experiments, and makes work that has no time for fitting snugly in any canon. This is what we hear with cuts like ‘Svelf’ (which is maybe a mishearing of the German word, zwolf?), ‘Night Flight—Prozession’, ‘L’amour Fou’ and ‘Iunu Wenimo’; compositions that sound like momentarily overheard conversations, music made “on the move”, if you will. ‘Iunu Wenimo’ – a louche lofi disco number introduced by a curious soundscape (workmen drilling in a train station’s entrance hall?) is a brilliant example of seemingly disparate sounds being shuffled around and appearing in cameos, like slides in a magic lantern show. Now and then there’s a distinct sonic similarity with another trickster who was tuning into dissonant frequencies, Holger Czukay. (In fact the two may share a Pope, as the voice on ‘L’amour Fou’ doesn’t half sound like John Paul II’s, who takes lead vocal duties on Czukay’s Rome Remains Rome).
Richard Foster – read the full review here

The Body – I've Seen All I Need To See
(Thrill Jockey)

Have you ever been to a steel mill? Looked into the white-hot, molten stuff? A guy I know used to work in them. He’s a talker, even a bit of a fabulist. So, this guy, he once told me that if you happen to be unlucky enough to fall into a vat of it, the heat is so intense that the meat of your body never even makes contact with the liquid metal. It gets vaporised right off your bones. And maybe even your bones are vaporised, too. We’re simply not made to handle it, corporeally speaking. To be honest, I have no idea if this is true. It doesn’t seem like it, does it? But that’s how the sound of I've Seen All I Need To See feels: like it could evaporate you, its thunderous, doomed chug playing out like the 1510-degrees-celsius musique concrète of melted iron.
Bernie Brooks – read the full review here


Jane Weaver - 'Heartlow'

Though consistent in her output, it's been a while since Jane Weaver has produced a track of quite this much beauty. This cut from her forthcoming album Flock is a total gem.
Patrick Clarke

Madlib – 'Hopprock'

Edited, arranged and mastered by Kieran Hebden, the new Madlib record is shaping up to be a strange and ruminative affair. This recently released preview track leaps from a sample of someone's voicemail inbox to a propulsive tapestry of palm-muted guitar riffs and chopped up vocal samples.
Robert Barry

Billie Eilish and ROSALÍA – 'Lo Vas A Olvidar'

Euphoria might not be able to resume filming season two for some time, but they've certainly made the most of the "Special" bridge episodes. Two of the world's biggest, and more importantly, actually wildly talented, pop stars come together for the show on a haunting ballad in both Spanish and English that showcases their vocal range – Rosalía, in particular, is spellbinding, while the production feels like a direct sequel from Billie's own debut album.
Ella Kemp

Ed Dowie - 'Number Eight Wire'

Ed Dowie's forthcoming second solo record Number Eight Wire is crawling with utterly gorgeous melodies. The title track, which arrived at the start of the year, is among the very best.
Patrick Clarke


Nagoya quartet Chai have been around for the best part of a decade, collaborated with Gorrillaz and JPEGMafia, released records on Sony and Heavenly, and still somehow hitherto completely passed me by. But this track immediately reminded me of old Tom Tom Club tracks like 'Wordy Rappinghood' and frankly I know of no higher praise. A very strong early contender for my personal NYE tracks of the year playlist in 11 months time.
Robert Barry

The Weather Station – 'Atlantic'

Is it me or does this sound like a Fleetwood Mac song covered by Hood? It's the arrangements, I think. Those great swells of warmth that wrap around the track like Bernie Sanders' mittens. This is rich, high quality pop for grown-ups (in a good way).
Robert Barry

Virginia Wing – 'St. Francis Fountain'

Picking up where 2018’s excellent Ecstatic Arrow left off, the second single from Virginia Wing’s forthcoming private LIFE furthers the group’s investigations into 1980s American art hybrid pop, leftfield jazz and a seriously bright sky of analogue synthesisers – clarified with vocalist Alice Merida Richards’ insistent sprechesang.
Fergal Kinney

Black Country, New Road – 'Track X'

The first track from BC,NR to have not been previously aired live, 'Track X' carries much of the pastoral stillness of Penguin Café Orchestra, whilst Isaac Wood’s lyric suggests a figure far more romantic than the pop culture reference spitting cynic of Athens, France or Sunglasses may have suggested.
Fergal Kinney

Whispering Sons – 'Surface'

'Surface' is the first taste of a ferocious new LP coming later this year from Belgium's Whispering Sons. It's the first sign that they're fast outstripping the genre-trappings of their post-punk roots, and an ample showcase for Fenne Kuppens' magnetic presence on lead vocals.
Patrick Clarke

SOPHIE – 'BIPP (Autechre Mx)'

I'll be the first to admit I wouldn't have correctly guessed the remixer of this relaxed version of 'BIPP' in a blind test. Autechre certainly haven't produced anything that sounds like this for quite a while and in one sense it points directly back to the duo's B-Boy roots in late 80s Manchester. Despite splitting the critical vote savagely this, to me, has become a minimalist R&B marvel and has a bassline to die for.
John Doran

FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred Again.. – 'Don't Judge Me'

Visionist – The Fold

With all due respect to Hayley Fohr's popular Jackie Lynn project, it's such a rare and genuine treat to hear her singing as Circuit Des Yeux again. 'The Fold' is a stately first single from Visionist's new LP on Mute A Call To Arms due in March, and on it she sings like Marlene Dietrich moves across the screen: as if nothing else could possibly matter.
John Doran