‘Beautiful but devastating’: Livia, 23, student, Glasgow
I discovered this album during quarantine and was floored by its honesty. It is a beautiful but devastating collection of introspective songs addressing religion, mental health and addiction. The darkness is probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it has been one of the most meaningful albums to me this year, as it accompanied me throughout lockdown. I remember when the last song on the album happened to come on just as I received news that my beloved grandmother had passed away. Although the lyrics are about something else entirely, the sombre guitar notes in the beginning are what I still hear when I recall that first wave of grief.
‘One hell of a party’: Robyn Skinner, 47, travel worker, London
Du Blonde’s Homecoming is just a joyous romp of short, sharp, melodic indie anthems. In a time when guitar music is considered dead by a lot of people, she takes you on a trip through the nostalgic past of roaring 90s punk-pop while bringing a real freshness to her sound. Add some splendid collaborations with the likes of Shirley Manson and Ezra Furman and you’ve got one hell of a party.
‘It has a special resonance’: Jack Seymour, 36, research nurse, Oxfordshire
The Hold Steady were the last band I saw live before you-know-what, so a new album was always going to have special resonance. The band take full advantage of being a six-piece (plus horns) on this record. Craig Finn’s unique tales of down-and-outs and Franz Nicolay’s keyboard flourishes are on point in tracks such as Lanyards, while the woozy Unpleasant Breakfast takes things in an unexpectedly spooky direction. As usual with the Hold Steady, though, it’s all about the amazing Unified Scene fan community. Hearing these tunes played at the brilliant online Weekender shows, live streamed from New York’s Brooklyn Bowl in March, was bittersweet, because as good as it is to see our favourite bar band online, it would be great to see them back in the bar. At least we have Open Door Policy to see us through.
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma by Topaz Jones
‘Best paired with a day in the sunshine’: Andy Spiers, 27, office worker, Huddersfield
This is a gorgeous record, steeped in funk, jazz and the hip-hop traditions of humour and wordplay. Everyone I tell about this album likens it to classic Outkast, with Topaz’s delivery falling somewhere between the subtlety of André 3000 and the loudness of Big Boi. It’s best paired with a day in the sunshine, or the 30-minute short film that came with its release.
‘Gorgeous, swoony’: Leighton Carter, 49, care worker, Godalming, Surrey
This album is a gorgeous, swoony companion piece to her previous masterwork Norman Fucking Rockwell. Intricate melodies, beautifully restrained production and a real sense of time and space. Lana shows herself to be a singular, vital talent, up there with the best. It took a while, but she got there.
As the Love Continues by Mogwai
‘It helped me write my PhD thesis’: Stuart Pearson, 31, coastal engineer, Netherlands
This album is my favourite so far this year because it helped me write my PhD thesis. I am in the final months of my research and spent a lot of late nights blasting Mogwai on repeat in order to get myself across the finish line. I am a long-time Mogwai fan and this album stands shoulder to shoulder with their best work.
‘On another level’: Tom Sanderson, 47, freelance book cover designer, Brighton
This is such a deep, multilayered record. The more I listen to it, the more satisfaction it gives me. Ghetts has crafted such a great sound, his rapping/spitting is on another level. I didn’t know much about him before hearing this album, but I think he, Kano and Little Simz are taking British hip-hop in such a creative direction.
‘I can’t wait to play it on a dancefloor’: Victoria, Leeds
This album is joyous and infectious and sounds completely fresh. It’s one of the most exciting releases of the last couple of years and I can’t wait to play some of these on a dancefloor as soon as we’re allowed.
‘Perfect summer tunes’: Steve Gibson, 54, education worker, Japan
Anyone familiar with Lou Barlow’s Instagram knows his year of social distancing has been centred on his rather amusing domestic life, and this is also apparent in this upbeat collection. It’s difficult to imagine anyone not being charmed by the acoustic, intimate tone of the album. Longtime fans will also be satisfied with the homemade, lo-fi production, which harks back to his early Sebadoh and solo efforts. His songwriting works superbly in this pared-down setting, but much of it could also be imagined as full-volume ear-melters in the vein of his other band, Dinosaur Jr. These are perfect summer tunes for ginger re-emergence from a year-plus of lockdowns.
‘Fresh and honest’: Julia, 22, graduate student, Munich
Despite lots of 90s and 00s throwbacks, this album feels honest and fresh. You could argue some parts of the sound are too familiar, or that the breakup lyrics aren’t groundbreaking, but it hits the spot for me. I really love the production and I found myself listening to the album every day, enjoying the small details and shouting the bitter lyrics alone in my apartment, even though I’ve never actually experienced a breakup, let alone such a dramatic one.
‘The warmth seeps through’: Ian Grant, Hastings
This is a collection of songs written by Irish musician Constance Keane in response to a mental breakdown and a spell in a psychiatric hospital. On the surface, it’s incredibly bleak – “I’m black and blue on the inside too” is its first chorus – and its sound is a uniform, still whiteness, a perfect evocation both of institutional spaces and of mental paralysis. But then the insistent, underwrought melodies start to get stuck in your head, and the human warmth underlying it all starts to seep through.