[sic] Magazine

2021: Half-Term Report

Barely a press release goes by without a mention of the communal nature of the pandemic these days. We were, and to a degree still are, all in it together and it’s normal to want, or even need, to reflect on the happenings of the past 18 months. Inevitably this all filters down to the music created during this most unique period, some of it understandably paranoid and claustrophobic, some of it more hopeful and transportative, literally wishing it were somewhere else. And that’s before we consider the impact on lyrics too, just as diverse in their ways of coping.

There’ll be plenty more to come as well, as the light at the end of the tunnel seems a false dawn in places, the ebb and flow of infections, variants and restrictions here to stay for some while yet. Add in 9-month queues at pressing plants and we’re in this for the long haul when various artists’ reflections do eventually hit the shelves. Mark our words though, when the public’s patience finally runs out, those are the records you’ll really want to hear. So where does this leave the state of play this year? Well, it’s just starting to come to the boil, really. You’ll undoubtedly have had your favourites. Mine are below.

Starting with a trio of fine post-punk LPs, Shame’s surprisingly mature second record elevates them from the laddish enthusiasm of their debut to a place that respectfully borrows from their elders rather than robbing them blind, finally becoming a band cast only in their own image. More pointedly recalling the tight angles and rhythms of someone like Gang Of Four then come NOV3L, who have also stepped it up for their exciting sophomore release with some of the best tracks of the year so far. An entirely more idiosyncratic proposition however, London’s Dry Cleaning are drier than Richard Ayoade’s best man’s speech, Flo Shaw’s tumble of near-spoken-word adept at drawing out magic from the mundane.

Hot, hot, hot new Washington-state combo Enumclaw deliver pure garage-punk heat with their debut EP, coming on strong like genre statesmen No Age and compliments don’t come much better than that, trust us. Getting better with ever spin, Iceage’s poppiest album to date drags their gruff-punk edge off into the softer, artier hunting grounds of New Wave, synths and even a few beats starkly contrasted against frontman’s Elias Bender Rønnenfelt trademark despondency. A hint of Nick Cave’s more louche moments help tie it to The Underground Youth’s unexpected digression into dark folk, aligning their latest with the sinister song-writing of the likes of Leonard Cohen too. A breezier, more jangling take on honest singer-songwriting, the latest Reds, Pinks & Purples record is, in turn, a charming dose of shadowy indie-pop that hits like Belle & Sebastian on holiday in California.

Keeping things dreamy, Preston band White Flowers have undoubtedly heard Heaven Or Las Vegas once or twice too often, but don’t hold that against them as their hazy ‘gazer of a debut LP is simply beautiful. Throwing up walls of noise, prolific Brazilian band Firefriend are drawn to the more extreme end of the same sound, strutting rock ‘n’ roll cool over psych and kosmiche like some after-hours BRMC demos on their best album yet. Industrial, woozy witch-house outfit White Ring finally round out the group, their glitchy, ghostly sound sinking into the abyss on a very solid record dedicated to late founding-member Kendra Malia.

While few real stinkers are yet to cross our path this year, the less said about the new try-hard black midi album the better, so too the shrugworthy latest from William Doyle, the forgettable new Tim Cohen record, and that ho-hum Insides return. Nevertheless, with plenty more releases to come during the second half of the year, 2021 is starting to show its silver lining.

That list in full (no particular order – linked where reviewed):

ShameDrunk Tank Pink (Post-Punk) [Dead Oceans]
NOV3LNon-Fiction (Post-Punk) [Tin Angel / Meat Machine / Unheard Of Hope]
Dry CleaningNew Long Leg (Post-Punk) [4AD]
EnumclawJimbo Demo EP (Garage-Punk) [Youth Riot]
IceageSeek Shelter (Punk/New Wave) [Mexican Summer]
The Underground YouthFalling (Singer-Songwriter/Alt-Folk) [Fuzz Club]
The Reds, Pinks & PurplesUncommon Weather (Singer-Songwriter/Indie-Pop) [Tough Love]
White FlowersDay By Day (Dream-Pop/Shoegaze) [Tough Love]
FirefriendDead Icons (Noise-Rock/Shoegaze) [Cardinal Fuzz/Little Cloud]
White RingShow Me Heaven (Witch House/Industrial) [Rocket Girl]

Not a fan of the album format? Hear some of our tracks of the year so far too: