Four Outstanding Debuts
Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B (Rough Trade)
“Shifting about in her god-damn crotchet pants, Staring at god knows what” – it’s a line you’re probably not going to hear a disembodied voice gurgle on many records this year, but it is there on the pseudo-title track Jennifer B from Jockstrap’s debut. The London duo’s work takes a little bit from everything that’s musically gone before it, and reassembles it in sound sculptures that verge on the non-Euclidean. I Love You Jennifer B can tapdance between Hollywood golden age orchestration to PC Music sugar high bounce within a few steps, and all in all, is a manic bag of fun. And when they focus on the pretty, they can conjure up songs like Concrete Over Water and Glasgow, two of the grandest songs of the year. (Austin Maloney)
King Hannah – I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me (City Slang)
A lot of bands these days strive to sound raw and unpolished, but rarely do any come as close to that ideal as the Liverpool dream pop duo King Hannah, whose debut record I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me is an extended pleasure of dozen songs full of melancholic reveries and dark-witted tales of everyday life. A darkish tone lulls in the scope of the record, while the build-up and dramaturgy of this debut showcases a class on its own: From the Americana-fused fog of A Well-Made Woman up to the enthusiastic rock finale of It’s You And Me, Kid the record evokes certain cinematic vibes, with the songs blending into each other, progressing on their harmonic scale, altogether evoking the image of a mythical landscape in the back of your head. It is one thing to introduce yourself with a bold album theme to the world, it is quite another to live up to the expectations, like King Hannah have done on their firstborn. (Andreas Peters)
Local Suicide – Eros Anikate
2022 has been a year for personal and professional changes to me. Leaving the leadership of this blog behind might me one of the most important one but it somehow also encouraged me to dive deeper into other musical fields, electronic club music especially. Berlin-based duo Vamparela and Brax Moody have been DJing for over a decade as Local Suicide now, but their debut album needed a moment to manifest. Packed with pumping beats, dark wave infused songs and 80s references this Goth italo disco gem was a fitting soundtrack for my nightlife experiences thoughout the year. And it’s also great record for all fans of gloomy, nocturnal sounds. (Norman Fleischer)
Ravyn Lenae – ‘HYPNOS’ (Atlantic)
I’ve been waiting a sweet while for this debut. Ravyn Lenae has been a presence in my life for the past years since her independently released Moon Shoes EP from July 2016 and all the following collaborations with artists I adore such as Mick Jenkins, Saba, Noname, Joey Purp, Jean Deaux, all of Smino’s records or JID. All of this is to say – in whichever context Ravyn Lenae’s voice appears, it effortlessly stands out while blending in. Ravyn Lenae Washington was born in Chicago, grew into vocals through church, and studied Classical Music. It feels like her voice is made for worship and glorification of the body, of lovers, of herself and the powers beyond. On her debut, she demonstrates her extraordinary way of engaging sensory excitement. With sixteen songs moving through RnB, soul and Afrobeat, the 23-year old proves that from now on, she will be the one asked if someone can feature on her record. (Anna Stich)
Four Surprising Discoveries
River Whyless – ‘Monoflora’ (Soundly Music)
Some careers progress painfully neglected and the astonishing case of North Carolina folk-pop quartet River Whyless is one example that solitary beauty still exists out there. Admittedly brought to my attention by means of the mighty Spotify algorithm, Monoflora is already their fourth album and sparks sweet Americana meets world music vibes, capturing the tender vocal front of Ryan O’Keefe in soft and lush guitar and violin pickings, taking the listener in an unharmed acoustic meadow. From charged acoustic pieces such as Heaven And Light to country-esque pieces (Mourning Dove, Michigan Cherry) up to classically-minded piano ballads such as To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave (a setting to music of a poem by Emily Dickinson), Monoflora feels like a fascinating puzzle of many sorts. And as such, it is a great introduction to the inspiring back catalogue of this band. (Andreas Peters)
Sofie Royer – ‘Harlequin’ (Stones Throw)
I sort of came across this one randomly, by seeing a cool concert poster, for a show I never actually went to, but all paths lead to Schweden Espresso, and all things end as they should. Borrowing a name from a bar in her home city of Vienna, Sofie Royer wrote a spectacularly sprawling sun-setting anthem, and from there it was easy to fall for Harlequin. It is basically just a collection of amazing songs, from skittering synth-pop in Baker Miller Pink, to dynastic-collapse disco in Klein-Marx, to the weary ballad Someone Is Smoking, spiced up by the sheer cleverness and warmth of Royer’s lyrics. (Austin Maloney)
Die Nerven – ‘DIE NERVEN’ (Glitterhouse Records)
For full disclosure: I was obviously aware of the existence of German post-punk institution Die Nerven. They have been crossing my path a few times over the past ten years and we even published a piece on NBHAP about them a few years back. And yet, somehow I never enjoyed a record by them. But sometimes it just needs the right album at the right moment and their self-titled fifth full-length was exactly that: A brutal reflection on the terrible state the world is in at the end of 2022. Overwhelmed by late-capitalistic despair, the stiffness of German society and the digital age Die Nerven scream all that frustration into the void while also delivering some really catchy melodies. A truly surprising outlet for all those twisted emotions.
Paul Thomas Saunders – ‘Figure In A Landscape’ (sevenfoursevensix)
Brighton indie-pop artist Paul Thomas Saunders is rather a re-discovery for me, having fallen in love with his debut Beautiful Desolation back in 2014, after which the musician left his career to pursue a training as a paramedic, deeming his art was valueless. Luckily for us, the song poet returned with new music at last: His sophomore Figure In A Landscape is a beautiful continuation of the path he began at the time and it breathes soaring and wistful sentiments which introduced his music first to the world. Paul Thomas Saunders‘ approach to music is always one closely connected to the space the verbalised feelings arouse and one must imagine a voice carefully walking through the fields that open up to every side of every sound. Heartlands, carefully voicing the opposition of subject and landscape epitomises that very sensation: “Till you see the light / Till you hear the choir in the heartlands / Feel that burning fire / Did you get what you desired?” Thank you kindly for returning, Paul Thomas Saunders, if this all is not of value, then I really don’t know what is.
Four Permanent Delights
Foals – ‘Life Is Yours’ (Warner Music)
It’s not easy to perfectly time a record release in times of constant uncertainty but in the case of Foals their seventh release did indeed feel like the right album for the right time. First envisioned in the darkest hours of the Covid winter lockdown of 2020 the seventh studio album by the acclaimed British rock band is the exact musical opposite of that scenery. Life Is Yours is a brighter and more light-hearted affair and their most pop-infected work so far. Foals embrace life and dance and put the drama aside, resulting in an album that gives escapism, hedonism and joy much needed space while also breathing new life into the slightly outworn Foals formula. This was easily my favourite album of the summer and beyond.
Sudan Archives – ‘Natural Brown Promqueen’
If 2019’s Athena was Sudan Archives‘ promise to the world, then Natural Brown Prom Queen is a promise to herself. On fifteen tracks and three interludes, Brittney Parks shows off her multi-faceted and multi-instrumentalist visions of a sophomore album. Each track fuses genres and soundscapes without confusing NBPQ’s conceptual direction or overloading the listener with its rhythmic changes. Each song is an exciting exclamation of Park’s identity, her Blackness, her eroticism propelled forward by a will to test limits sonically and lyrically. Selfish Soul is the artist’s take on Black women’s hair, Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant) is as slick, honest, and sexual as Drake’s Can I? (feat. Beyonce), and pivot ChevyS10 moves from spoken word to high-pitched vocals to a beat that’s almost ballroom. At least, half of the songs are accompanied by violin, though the instrument is less in focus as it was on her previous work. It becomes the perfect partner, adapting to what the individual track needs. There’s TDLY (Homegrown Land) with its Irish fiddle intro, that fades into whispered words but stays an anchor throughout the song. The closing track #513 declares Sudan Archives’ return to Cincinnati. It’s a statement, not up for debate that her work is done here – as in “I’ve done the most to refine and show my artistry, I’ve shown you who I am”. Somewhere, a mic drops out of her pussy, and out of mine as well. (Anna Stich)
Lucas Laufen – ‘Weathering’ (Embassy Of Music)
Weathering is another proof of Lucas Laufen’s knack for soothing and tranquil moments the gifted songwriter has well exercised on his 2019 debut, but it takes the down-to-earth folk spirit of his predecessor a bit further towards neo-classical influences alike. Capturing melancholic despair and lockdown confinement in hushed and soothing manners, Laufen fuses soft guitar pickings (such as on Weathering or Time Took Tolls) and delicate piano arrangements (heard on Cabin Fever or the instrumental Heaven On The Hill) into a sweet mélange that easily endures all day-to-day hardships. In the end, Weathering is essentially about putting an antidote to the feelings of despair and loneliness, beautifully showing how hope trumps pain eventually, delivered in the most soothing and melodic fashion. There is a reason to hold on, and with Lucas Laufen‘s sophomore release, it has come in the most magnifying and compassionate way too. (Andreas Peters)
Alvvays – Blue Rev (Polyvinyl)
Don’t need to stress too much about this one, Alvvays are one of the best bands on the planet, Blue Rev is one of the best albums of the year, and Belinda Says is probably the best song of all time. Things can become very clear very quickly sometimes. (Austin Maloney)
Want to keep track on our release updates throughout the new year? Make sure to regularly head over to our monthly roundups right here.