The Wrap Up: January 2021
Updated: 5 days ago
January album reviews, the E/O January playlist and February's most anticipated releases.
It's definitely too late to say Happy New Year isn't it?
An official welcome back (or just plain welcome) to Either/Or, where I'm wrapping up the first month of 2021 by taking a look at just some of the highlights of an unusually busy January - one that featured a super mix of releases over the last four weeks.
In addition to the album reviews below, as always the E/O January Playlist offers you a condensed version of the best music of the month and there's also a preview of what to expect in February. Let's get to it.
January Album Reviews
Parallel - Four Tet
Four Tet's eleventh studio album is a dulcet showcase of Kieran Hebden's skillset in ambient mode, as the venerable producer paints a colorful electronic canvas with 70s Eno synths ('1') and the kind of melodious birdsong ('9') that Hebden has made synonymous with his most popular moniker over the past two decades.
The rich texture and layered indulgence of Parallel's wandering 27 minute synthscape 'Parallel 1' sets the tone of the record (as it should, clocking in at almost half its runtime), yet there's still plenty of room for some typically understated beats on '2', '4' and '8'. Each of these club inspired tracks is delicately sprinkled throughout the sparse calm of Parallel's meditative comforts to mesmerizing effect.
Guaranteed to satisfy long term listeners and casual fans alike, Parallel finds one of electronica's foremost composers in total command.
7.5 / B
Best Tracks: 'Parallel 1'/'Parallel 4'/'Parallel 8'/'Parallel 9'
No Driver - I Love Your Lifestyle
January was evidently a good month for Swedish rock music, with Stockholm punks Viagra Boys covered last week on site and Gothenburg/Malmo based outfit I Love Your Lifestyle dropping their third full length No Driver this past month.
No Driver serves up a seeming contradiction with its breezy set of feel-good emo tunes, making for a paradoxically easy listen by mixing a reliable dose of melodrama with some shiny guitar jangles.
The punk-pop of its first half is a mixed bag, owing to a heavy reliance on ILYL's clear influences (you can almost hear Nothing Feels Good, Your Favourite Weapon or Bleed American playing in studio as tracks like opener 'Stupid' or 'No Harm, No Foul' were being written), but it's when the post-rock touches come to the fray at the midsection of the tracklist that No Driver really starts to groove.
The arpeggiated guitar lines of 'Align!' and the post-hardcore thrash of 'I Have No Point to Make''s chorus pay deft homage to the likes of Explosions In The Sky and ILYL's most obvious forebearer American Football, but the album's best moment comes with the delicate beauty of Swedish language ballad 'Fram Och Tillbaka'.
A strikingly tranquil moment amidst the noise, 'Fram' demonstrates the potential of ILYL to deliver a great emo record in time, if they can find a sweet spot between worshipping their idols and creating something with more individual touches.
6.5 / C+
Best Tracks: 'Align!'/'Fram Och Tillbaka'
Heaux Tales - Jazmine Sullivan
''It's about women writing their own imperfect stories.''
Jazmine Sullivan's Heaux Tales may be billed as an EP but it would be closer in truth to describe these 32 minutes as a concept album, and a deeply satisfying one at that. Sullivan artfully navigates themes of sexuality, class, feminism and more through a series of spoken word interludes or 'tales' which are dissected and expanded upon on corresponding tracks. Musically speaking, Heaux Tales boasts a silky smooth collection of sensual R&B come hip-hop jams with a delightfully explicit edge, yet crucially the stories we hear from these empowered female characters gift each track a compelling context and lift this extended play as a whole to a level beyond the sum of its parts.
Whether it be the vulnerable self examination of 'Rashida's Tale' into 'Lost One' or the body shaming issues that 'Amanda's Tale' confronts before Sullivan and H.E.R collaborate on stunning closer 'Girl Like Me', Heaux Tales gives a voice to every one of its women with class and style, and begins the year with a boldly unifying statement.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Pick Up Your Feelings'/'Lost One'/'Girl Like Me'
Whole Lotta Red - Playboi Carti
The third LP from one of the hottest acts in hip-hop dropped this past Christmas Day, gifting Playboi Carti diehards two reasons to celebrate as they feasted on twenty four tracks following a quiet two years since Die Lit.
Whole Lotta Red doesn't disappoint for sheer ambition, as Carti relentlessly doubles down on his raw brand of experimental trap and pushes himself further sonically than ever before. With major assists from a lengthy list of superstar producers including Pierre Bourne and Carti's 'Creative Director' Art Dealer among others, the rap star blazes through a futuristic trap nightmare that never pauses for breath.
The 62 minutes that comprise Whole Lotta Red are a distinctly atmospheric trip - traditional rap fans won't find lyrical thesis to dissect, because the power of WLR is in the hypnotic energy of Carti's anthemic bars and the hyper minimalist production that swarms wildly around the 24 year old's freaky vocals.
At nineteen tracks and 57 minutes, Die Lit was even a somewhat daunting listen itself back in 2018, and Whole Lotta Red goes further into the void with its massive tracklist and hour long runtime. Carti clearly has a very fixed idea of how his albums should be formatted, and this super short, high intensity song formula has a jading effect to a point, suffering mixed returns towards the albums latter stages as a result of its exhaustive pace and borderline repetition. Still, this is a more consistent collection than both its predecessors and Carti must be commended for how fearlessly he continues to push the boundaries of the trap genre as a whole. With Whole Lotta Red , Playboi Carti remains essential listening for hip hop heads in 2021.
7.0 / B-
Best Tracks: 'Slay3r'/'Vamp Anthem'
What Else Is Good?
As much as I'd love to cover everything I'm listening to in a given month, I haven't quite got the time! So I want start including some quickfire recommendations I've been enjoying that are well worth checking out even if I couldn't review them in full. I'll be throwing in a paragraph or two in each monthly wrap-up going forward to shout out some more great listens.
It was a great month for instrumental music with Pulitizer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw's experimental classical piece Narrow Sea a particular highlight, while Mason Lindahl also dropped a wonderful instrumental album with his classical guitar compositions on Kissing Rosy in the Rain. If you're in the mood for some Catalonian riot grrrl then Mourn are a great fix, they released their rocking fourth album Self Worth last month.
Like with Carti and Four Tet above, there were some fantastic albums that dropped over the holidays which I didn't get around to until January, and particular shout outs must go to Paul McCartney who's still producing masterful pop experiments like McCartney III at 78 years of age, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took us back to the golden age of Hollywood with a superb orchestra of original instrumentation on the Mank score, before gently exploring some ambient electronic environments for Pixar's Soul, with a gorgeous trip through the 'Great Beyond' of its titular movie that's wonderfully complimented by Jon Batiste's original jazz pieces.
If any of these sound like your jam, check them out on Spotify below: Narrow Sea - Caroline Shaw
Either/Or's January 2021 Playlist
As always, the best music of the month is right here in a playlist curated by yours truly so you don't have to wade through any rubbish to get to the good stuff. Like I said it was a pretty busy month so there's over double the normal amount of tracks here!
Enjoy, follow and share if you like the mix.
'It's All Right' - Jon Batiste
'The Chocolate Conquistadors' - MF DOOM, BADBADNOTGOOD
'Good Days' - SZA
'Don't Judge Me' - FKA Twigs
'Lo Vas a Olvidar' - Billie Eilish, ROSALIA
'Hard Drive' - Cassandra Jenkins
'Gravity' - Brent Faiyaz, DJ Dahl, Tyler The Creator
'Girl Like Me' - Jazmine Sullivan, H.E.R
'MAZZA' - slowthai, A$AP Rocky
'Slay3r' - Playboi Carti
'One Step Closer - 100 gecs Reanimation' - 100 gecs, Linkin Park
'Parallel 4' - Four Tet
'SUFFER AND SWALLOW' - Alice Glass
'L8R Boi' - Ashnikko
'Nudge It' - Sleaford Mods, Amy Taylor
'Rona City Blues' - Kode9
'Mulher Homem Bicho' - Ana Frango Eletrico
'Yuce Dag Basinda' - Altin Gun
'Groove Elation' - Bernice
'Close To You' - Dayglow
'Come In Closer' - Rhye
'Easy' - Pale Waves
'Together' - Maggie Rogers
'Find My Way' - Paul McCartney
'Hardline' - Julien Baker
'Reason to Believe' - Vagabon, Courtney Barnett
'Alien Crime Lord' - The Voidz
'Blame Game' - Beach Bunny
'Hesitation' - Tigers Jaw
'Fram Och Tillbaka' - I Love Your Lifestyle
'Ritchie Sacramento' - Mogwai
'Atlantic' - The Weather Station
'Solstice' - The Antlers
'Sky Breaking, Clouds Falling' - Mason Lindahl
'Narrow Sea, Pt 2' - Caroline Shaw
'A Bottle of Rum' - Xiu Xiu, Liz Harris
'December' - Lande Hekt
'Stay There' - Mourn
'I'm More Inclined' - Teenage Fanclub
'All My Favourite Songs' - Weezer
'CYHSY 2005' - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
'O.N.E' - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
'Born in Luton' - shame
'Toad' - Viagra Boys
'Track X' - Black Country, New Road
'Liberty Bell' - DARKSIDE
'Shoshone Point' - Richard Haswell
'Tryin' To Get To Heaven' - David Bowie
'Chemtrails Over The Country Club' - Lana Del Rey
'(If Only You Could) Save Me' - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
February's Most Anticipated Releases
Black Country, New Road - For the first time
Foo Fighters - Medicine at Midnight
The Weather Station - Ignorance
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - New Fragility
Django Django - Glowing In The Dark
Pale Waves - Who Am I?
Slowthai - TYRON
Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
Mogwai - As The Love Continues
Wild Pink - A Billion Little Lights
Cloud Nothings -The Shadow I Remember
Julien Baker - Little Oblivions
Lost Horizons - In Quiet Moments
Check back in with Either/Or this month for reviews of the above and leave a comment if there's something you'd like covered especially on site - thanks for reading!