24
Feb 20

Unheard / Unread: January 2020

FT2 comments • 443 views

Starting in 2017, I’ve had the aim of listening to a new (to me) album every day. This has been – for the most part – one of my best ever ideas. That said, in 2018 and 2019 I didn’t actually manage to finish – in fact I only got about 100 days in each time. The error was in trying to write it all up as well as doing it.

Still though, it’s good to have some way of recommending these things! So this year, the plan is more modest – a monthly round up of my favourites from the new (to me) records I played. Oh, and this year I’m combining it with the Unread Comics Project too, an attempt to do right by half a decade’s worth of Comixology sale buys. 

Here are my picks for January.

THE 8 BEST ALBUMS I HEARD FOR THE FIRST TIME IN JANUARY 2020

  1. POPPY – I Disagree (2020)

I’ve been dubious about Poppy in the past – she came across as a scam, if I’m honest. Her reincarnation as a bubblegum/nu-metal crossover act is just as ‘artificial’ – every hairpin turn, inflection and nightmare collage falling into place like a gamer’s speedrun – but it’s way more exciting. The lacquered carapace is what you might have imagined pop would sound like in 2020 (especially if what you imagined was “Magical Girl Atari Teenage Riot”), underneath is a set of songs which process trauma, anxiety, industry fuckery and life during crisis as well as any pop album since Sky Ferreira’s Night Time My Time.

2. KING CRIMSON – Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973)

This was released on the day I was born! Pretty sure neither of my parents noticed, and who can blame them. I have a lot of King Crimson still to listen to, but I know roughly what I’m getting now – knotty, thrilling, cerebral rock music, sometimes garnished with ignorable singing: it’ll take me a while before I notice a single word here. The measured build of the title track and the rising aggression in “Talking Drum” are especially exquisite.

3. DANNY BROWN – uknowhatimsaying? (2019)

Danny Brown was always likely to come out with an album I really loved at some point – I’m not bothered by his cartoon gobble of a voice, which is a sticking point for many. This is a whole record in (roughly) the normie-friendly old-school hip-hop style of “Grown Up”, my favourite Brown single, so of course I think it’s great. Hyped as a comedy record, and some of the tracks (“Dirty Laundry”) borrow a kind of stand-up storytelling style, but mostly it’s just Danny Brown bouncing lines off himself and I’m happy with that.

4. SKARBO SKULEKORPS – Skarbo Skulekorps (2019)

Norwegian ensemble blending skronky improv with heavy-legged funk at the bottom end. Much more enjoyable – and accessible – than that description probably suggests!

5. JENNY SCHEINMAN AND ALISON MILLER’S PARLOUR GAME – Parlour Game (2019)

I loved drummer Alison Miller’s Glitter Wolf LP from last year, a forage through rich, luxuriant jazz foliage with Miller as the generous bandleader pushing her ensemble forward into the spotlight and supporting the moves they made there. Her team up with Jenny Scheinmann is calmer, more pretty than sublime, but still a delicious way to spend your time.

6. GILLETTE – On The Attack (1994)

Includes her best known track, “Short Dick Man” (or “Short Short Man” if you’re British) – it’s as harshly boshing as ever (John Holmes himself would cross his legs at the way she says “shrivelled”) – I was more surprised and intrigued by how good the rest of it is, bratty glam-rocking dance music, a more grown-up (and more entertaining) precursor to Shampoo.

7. DINAMARCA – Fantasilandia (2019)

Sun-splashed, shimmering mood music from a Swedish-Chilean producer who’s apparently best known for fusing trance and reggaeton (eek, but also wow). This isn’t nearly as propulsive as that might suggest, but it’s a brief and cheerful listen I can see myself coming back to in many a spare half-hour.

8. MEITEI – Komachi (2019)

The concept of this Hiroshima-based producer’s work is ‘Music for a lost Japan’ – the quiet, liminal and spirit-ridden remnants of earlier eras, now being lost to development. J-Hauntology, if you like: certainly the vibe is hushed, creaky and melancholic, music for abandoned barns and crumbling roadside shrines.

THE SEVEN BEST COMICS I READ FOR THE FIRST TIME IN JANUARY 2020

  1. WITCH HAT ATELIER Vol.1 (Kamome Shirahama)

You often see manga where the covers are gorgeous but the art style inside is a lot more hurried (or, just as likely, the work of many less careful hands). Not so this magical coming-of-age story, where Shirahama’s Arthur Rackham-esque interiors fulfil the promise of her covers and then some. Stays broadly within shojo manga tramlines – rivalries, friendships, handsome teachers – but it’s never creepy and the execution is heartfelt and visually inventive. Really good stuff.

2. HIS DREAM OF THE SKYLAND (Anne Opotowski / Aya Morton)

First of a trilogy of historical graphic novels – with heavy magic realist hints – set in colonial Hong Kong, and focusing on Kowloon Walled City. The story is often told obliquely, with a lot of hints and riddles rather than revelations – occasionally that’s frustrating, but the emotional punches land as hard as intended. The main draw though is Aya Morton’s terrific art and lettering – delicate line-drawings, breathtaking perspective shifts, and a wonderful sense of motion, essential as one of the main characters is a reckless boy acrobat. Each book uses a different illustrator, and Morton will be a very hard act to live up to.

3. PRISM STALKER #1 (Sloane Leong)

When the creators can pull it off, I love an in-at-the-deep-end sci-fi comic that commits to presenting an alien world with minimal hand-holding: it combines the pleasures of discovery with the satisfaction of puzzle-solving. Sloane Leong’s post-colonial fable does as good a job at it as anything I’ve read since the initial issues of Brandon Graham’s PROPHET, and thematically she digs a lot deeper. 

4. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 1 (Al Ewing / Juann Cabal / Federico Blee)

The boy has, once again, done very good. Not previously the biggest fan of the Guardians in any of their incarnations, but I may have to revise that: this has lovely action storytelling from Juann Cabal and Al packs a very generous amount of story in, plus – as ever – makes convoluted continuity juggling look elegant and easy. 

5. LAND OF THE LUSTROUS Vol 1 (Haruko Ichikawa)

Our brittle protagonist tries to find their place within a tiny, besieged society of living gemstones in this weird, wonderfully stylish manga – “Art Deco Steven Universe”, as one Facebook commenter summarised it. There’s a lot of Hindu art as well in the drawings of the relentless “Lunarian” attackers. Not always the clearest of stories, but intoxicating and strange.

6. EXCELLENCE Vol 1 (Brandon Thomas / Khary Randolph / Emilio Lopez) 

As in “Black Excellence” – all-POC created Image series which mixes a coming-of-age story, wizard duels and (as the series progresses) increasingy pointed but never heavy-handed social commentary. The action sequences – physical and magical – are particularly strong, and there’s great use of flash-forwards as counterpoint. Intelligent thrill-power.

7. NO MERCY #14 (Alex De Campi / Carla Speed McNeil)

The final issue of an Alex De Campi and Carla Speed McNeil’s teens-in-peril Image series from a few years ago – I had no idea I hadn’t finished it before! Fortunately this is a done-in-one story, and a poignant one at that, as a hearing-impaired kid heads off to college and his friends try and work out where that’s going to leave them. A slice-of-life comic which works even if you never read the rest of NO MERCY (which you should, it’s good!) with some really clever use of lettering to visualise and dramatise lip-reading and hearing difficulties.

Comments

  1. 1
    Matthew Marcus on 25 Feb 2020 #

    Many thanks for this – really enjoying listening to the Poppy album! It’s really hard to work out what’s good or not now that I’m lost in translation in the SF bay area.

  2. 2
    Garry McKenzie on 2 Mar 2020 #

    Lark’s Tongue is my favourite 70s Crimson album. Muir’s percussion gives the album a magical otherness not found on the others. He balances Bruford perfectly.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page