Soft Hair’s weirdo grooves, Powell’s punk rock vision of techno and Kero Kero Bonito’s Anglo-Japanese pop feature in our roundup of October’s best albums
Our roundup of October’s best albums includes an anarchic electronic album from Powell, an eccentric collaboration between Connan Mockasin and LA PRIEST, and some darkly funny rap from Swet Shop Boys. As usual, we’ve selected five key releases, so an honourable mention has to go to artists like Kuedo, the Lemon Twigs, D.R.A.M., and NxWorries for making stellar albums that missed the cut.
KATIE GATELY – COLOR
LA-based sound artist Katie Gately uses her own voice as her primary instrument, layering it with various found sounds, field recordings, and vocal manipulations. Despite Gately’s lack of formal music education, she displays an inherent pop sensibility on her debut album Color, twisting and stretching her sounds into infectious melodies and rhythms and giving the album a sprightly energy and elastic sound. It’s bursting with ideas, proving that a record of DIY vocal experiments needn’t be a dry or academic exercise.
KERO KERO BONITO – BONITO GENERATION
South London-based Anglo-Japanese trio Kero Kero Bonito are far from the conventional definition of ‘cool’: their music is bright and playful rather than moody and serious, their sound palette seems to draw from all sorts of un-hip sources (sophisti-pop bands like Prefab Sprout, fidgety house, family-friendly rap, “Steal My Sunshine”-style alt-rock-lite), and their lyrics – half-rapped in English and Japanese – are rooted in a very particular, quite unspectacular UK suburban upbringing. Yet this is what makes Bonito Generation so unique. KKB are spectacular songwriters and producers, but it’s Sarah Bonito’s lyrics in particular that stand out – there’s a clear understanding that musing quite specifically about unlikely subjects can often be far more emotionally resonant than themes of love or heartbreak, which are often so universal they practically become meaningless.
POWELL – SPORT
Weird, abrasive, experimental albums can often be a slog to listen to, but Powell’s debut album Sport – even at its weirdest, most abrasive, and most experimental – has a huge personality. The album’s extended universe has been a fun one to live in, with various billboard campaigns, daft music videos, and sportswear tie-ins (his label, XL Recordings, evidently have some Adele money left to use up). But it’s really the music that’s a jolt to the system: the addictive grooves and deadpan vocals of “Johnny” that are constantly interrupted by strobing synth glitches, the voice of Chicago DJ Traxx showing up on “Skype” with a fuck-the-canon screed about the laziness of most DJs, or the punk rawk guitars that trip up the unusual “Do You Rotate?”
SOFT HAIR – SOFT HAIR
Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust (aka LA PRIEST) started making their collaborative album as Soft Hair eight years ago, back when Mockasin was a little-known New Zealander trying to break into the UK music industry and Dust was touring the world with his adventurous electro-pop band Late of the Pier. Despite the album’s age, it doesn’t sound a day out of date – it’s far too unique to ever seem dated. Soft Hair is full of eccentric sounds (“Jealous Lies”), lush grooves (“Lying Has To Stop”), and even quite deep, introspective moments (“L.I.V.”); it’s another solid entry into the discography of two of the most unique musicians working today.
SWET SHOP BOYS – CASHMERE
Swet Shop Boys are made up of rappers Heems (formerly Das Racist) and Riz MC (the alias of Riz Ahmed, whose acting roles include HBO’s The Night Of and the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One). Their first mixtape came out in 2014, but two years on they’ve honed in on their ideas and finessed their technique with Cashmere. With Heems’s US-Indian and Riz’s UK-Pakistani backgrounds, Cashmere offers comments and critiques of the post-9/11 surveillance state, racial profiling, religious radicalisation, and the visibility of Asian cultural icons. The lyrics are pointed, but they’re also wryly humorous, and the beats – produced by London’s Redinho – are peppered with Bhangra samples and have a propulsive energy that is, above all, fun. It’s one of the most entertaining yet most necessary releases this year.