13 albums we’ve loved in July 2020

13 albums we’ve loved in July 2020

We don’t really do album reviews here at Popoptica but that doesn’t stop us wanting to enthuse about the great albums we’ve been listening to. Here’s our list of 13 we’ve been loving listening to in July 2020.

13 Albums We’ve Loved in July 2020

Taylor Swift – Folklore (self-released)

A surprise drop for Taylor Swift‘s eighth album, Folklore – the natural companion piece to 1989. If that album was shimmering with new found independence and that first heart-so-big-it-breaks lost love, then Folklore is the slip toward wisdom as synths give way to piano and strings, managing to temper the stories without losing a jot of the emotion. Lengthy and understated in parts it’s a not always clammy-palmed exhilaration musically but is still a gorgeous progression for the artist.

Taylor Swift Folklore

Lead single Cardigan echoes with the melodic refrains of 1989 and the gum-gum heartbeat-like rhythm steadfastly propel the song forward, even when lyrically it sounds as if it would be easier to just not. Openly referencing the cinematic quality of life across the album – from the orchestral slow-mo soft-light of falling, to the grainy kitchen sink detachment of being left, the sliding doors moments scattered through life – it is longing, missed chances and illicit feelings which give much power here.

Managing to craft both ambiguous protagonists insightful phrases the album is co-produced with Aaron Dessner (The National) and Jack Antonoff. With a Bon Iver collaboration too Folklore makes it harder again for critiques to dismiss Swift although perhaps comes out a bit beige at times for a pop record (but I’ve never been excited by The National or man-indie of that ilk). It’s certainly flushed out a whole host of hot takes from men who suddenly feel Swift’s validity as a songwriter has been rubber-stamped through her collaborators here (presumably because they do like nodding along to The National and can almost do the same here).

Proving that pop can be mature (but that lots of people still find it easy to dismiss as a genre) this album makes perfect sense in the Swift canon and feels like both the most obvious collection of songs to be coming from her now, as well as a delicate surprise of an album. Enough hooks, and just enough depth to keep you returning. Ignore the hype and the critics who suddenly get her when nothing was right before and find yourself a gently melodic and sweepingly romantic album.

Find it: Spotify

Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me? (Frenchkiss Records)

Diet Cig Do You Wonder About Me? album cover art

Diet Cig are growing. This second album from the band brings everything good about 2017 debut (Swear I’m Good At This) and runs further with it. Added to the jangling and sometimes lo-fi indiepop we get reconnaissance runs at punk (Flash Floods), experimental and sparse layers (Night Terrors – Reprise), and crashing shoegaze waves (Broken Body).

The album as a whole still feels cohesive musically despite the broad palette they paint from. More polished in the production too none of the charm has been lost, only much-needed depth added.

If emotions peeked from behind the armour of snarky humour on their first record, here they push them to the fore as if realising the music itself is the only protection needed. Exploring the aftermath of a break-up, loneliness, separation, trying to nurture friendships when adult life does everything to distract you from connection, anxiety, and more the one-liners are more directly devastating this time out.

If you loved the first album you’re going to be into this one too. A band who know their sound, know their style, but are growing up and growing into it. You’re going to want to grow with them.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify

Happy Accidents – Sprawling (self-released)

Happy Accidents Sprawling cover art

Their third album has Happy Accidents refining their indiepop sound and pushing tentatively toward new sonic territories from the off.

With opener Whole there is a hypnotically repeating phrase mimicking the piano melody from Phoebe Cross, while Rich Mandell speak-sings over it aligned to the rhythm. The track grows slowly until it blooms into fuzz-edged guitar riffs but sets out a stall for a confident and catchy album.

There is slacker rock vibes, sadcore pop, a few jangles but far more crunchy sections. If there were songs written to ring out across the humming lines and rumbling rolling stock of Indietracks as the sun sinks in a blaze of neon light it is these (somewhat sadly given *waves arms* everything).

DIY in its heart, a more restrained approach in parts has allowed the melodies to really shine here. An album littered with little indiepop gems, polished with the broadening of what the genre usually encompasses.

Find it: Spotify | Bandcamp

Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink (Infectious)

Kitchen Sink by Nadine Shah album cover art

The pressure to have it all, be it all, and present the way society demands will be something most (all, I’d wager) women have felt at some time and one which only hits you more often the older you get. Build a career and break the glass ceilings, but be the wife and bear the children, and make sure you do it all in a strong-but-slim body with hair only where you’re told its acceptable. Most of all make sure you don’t let the approaching footsteps of your competition get drowned out by your ticking clock and find yourself floundering behind as they shine across social media. Such myth, such control, such everyday and ingrained thoughts for so many.

With her usual mastery of distilling the nuance and complexity, and subtly holding a mirror to both the personal and the wider political Shah takes on and explores the expectations of womanhood on fourth album Kitchen Sink.

Underpinning sharp lines and reassuring refrains with familiar post-punk sounds there is also some melodic meandering here – from chunkier indie dancefloor fare to experimental pop moments. There are some places where this album immediately hits but as a whole it more slowly reveals itself until you suddenly realise, several listens in that Shah has once again skewered your feelings with such seeming ease.

Personal, complex thematically and melodically, Shah has once again shown herself to be one of our finest and singular songwriters.

Find it: Spotify

Dream Wife – So When You Gonna? (Lucky Number Music)

Dream Wife So When You Gonna album cover

There is a raucous no-fucks-given energy to the second album from punk trio Dream Wife, balanced with a groove you can’t help but want to get into.

There’s plenty of razor sharp edges melodically and lyrically, but rather than approach with caution its the sort of album you want to recklessly throw yourself full-bodied into. And for every barbed jab, there is as many Blondie-esque moments.

An art school experiment which turned into a going concern the band continue to deliver important topics in melodic vessels. A band who blaze their own trail without razing it to the ground for those that come after – and quite apart from the songs themselves props need to be given for breaking through with the only fully female-produced independent record to make it into the Top 20 at the time of it’s release.

Having got our full attention with their debut they’ve settled into their sound without losing any of the vibrancy or vitality for their second full length offering.

Find it: Spotify

Lavender Witch – Awakening (self-released)

Lavender Witch Awakening album cover

Described as the missing link between Hole and Bikini Kill there is no escaping the huge Riot Grrrl influence on the debut album from Belgium’s Lavender Witch but it reaches back further in places too, toward more typically second wave feminist themes.

In sound the guitars are fuzzy and abrupt, fast and raw while lyrically they are tackling ‘feminist issues such as man-spreading, menstruation, and rebellious muses as well as more personal stories of feeling like outsiders or being disrespected in relationships’. It’s an empowered and empowering listen. As the title suggests, it’s an awakening and a call to others to wake.

This is DIY punk – rough and ready, visceral and smart – and in just 22 assertive minutes pushes you toward action, conjures up the classic Riot Grrrl sound and echoes the solidarity and action of the movement.

Find it: Spotify | Bandcamp

Alabaster DePlume – To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1 (Lost Map / International Anthem)

Alabaster DePlume To Cy and Lee album cover art

Bringing together the instrumentals from his previous releases To Cy & Lee is subdued and contemplative and a wonderful introduction to the saxophonist and social activist for anyone who isn’t yet familiar.

Based in London DePlume here forms compositions from folk structures – from the traditions of England to the Far East – and builds beautiful meandering melodies around them. Pastoral in feel vibrato saxophone adds to the organics, rather than distracts. DePlume says: “We made these things to help each other be calm. Three labels and I have collected them together, in case they might do you good.”

These tracks are meditative, and hold much stillness. A quite simply wonderful collection which should send you off to investigate or revisit the neo-psych jazz fusion spoken word he’s better known for.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify

Bugeye – Ready Steady Bang (Reckless Yes)

Bugeye Ready Steady Bang album cover art

Soundtracking the constant shit-surprises of 2020 with a rich, deep disco-punk sound, the album takes up the darkness through the lyrics and speckles it with mirror-ball light melodically .

With agitated guitars rubbing up against melodic synths, and bouncing rhythms punctuating the distinctive vocals, there is much depth to the songs on offer here. Exploring some difficult themes the songs are far from downturned introspection and rather blast defiance with every chord, owning personal faults while making no mis-steps in the music.

Originally formed in the ’90s this one has been a long-time coming but seems to have been released at the perfect moment for where we all find ourselves now.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify

The Winter Passing – New Ways of Living (Big Scary Monsters)

The Winter Passing New Ways of Living album cover art

Before emo became synonymous with too much eye-liner, heavy fringes, and a lot of bombastic bands with high-shine production, it was more honest, more heavy, and a gateway to drone and noise rock. Bands like Jimmy Eat World, Appleseed Cast, Dashboard Confessional dragged us into their swells and drops, their soaring call and response vocals, their baby screamo. That melding of rock and understated but dramatic emotion was fresh.

But anything new becomes old eventually. The loud-quiet-loud has been around the block a few times, the authenticity seems tarnished. Not so for The Winter Passing who take all that was good of that genre, turn it up, and blast it out harder – nevermore so than on second album New Ways of Living.

Kate Flynn’s vocal once again stands stark against the rolling riffs, more complex elements of math rock and traditional folk structures break in and break up the walls of sound. The quieter passages are delicate but never weak, the emotions never less than relatable and genuine sounding.

With this album they continue to show why they are one of the most promising and exciting bands around, and are ready to bring their music to ever-bigger audiences.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify

Screaming Toenail – Growth (Hell Hath No Fury)

Screaming Toenail Growth album cover art

Short and sharp the debut release from Screaming Toenail sets out their politics and their experiences in a sub-30 minute blast of anti-colonial punk. It takes in being black, being queer, and coming back bigger and louder each time you’re downtrodden.

Splicing samples over raw melodies there’s a subtle two-tone vibe across much of the album. There’s also an edge which suggests the emotions here are unchecked and honest, and are barely contained in this sonic shape. With synths cutting in around the snarling vocals, anger and frustration energise this whole record.

Growth is embryonic anthems for those who want activism as much as they want art and a good first album for a band using music as a reflection of reality, rather than an escape from it. Songs to make you feel powerful and to bolster you when all feels hopeless, there is solidarity and moments of glittering synth-punk brilliance gathered here.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify
Read our new music piece on singles I.O.U and Sever.

Even As We Speak – Adelphi (Discos de Kirlian)

Even As We Speak Adelphi cover art

The ghosts of dead media dance with graceful melodies on the latest album from Even As We Speak and their mission to defy pop conventions is clearly still very much on.

Signing to the legendary Sarah Records imprint in the ’90s, recording a handful of Peel sessions then taking a break until a few years back their charming melody, knack for imbuing bedsit lyrics with everyday magic, and delightful touches of electronica has only strengthened with the passing years.

From vinyl crackles, to rotary dial-tones, and the comforting bleep-and-crackle of a modem there is much here to bring history into the record. The delicate tones of ‘Leaves’, the echoes of classic ’80s pop in ‘Forgiving’, and the soft hold and paranoid futurism of ‘Signs’. With Adelphi Even As We Speak have released an album of what could become your new indiepop favourites.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify

Shirley Collins – Heart’s Ease (Domino Recording Co.)

Shirley Collins Heart's Ease album cover art

After 30 years away folk doyen Shirley Collins returned, aged 82, with 2016’s Lodestar. Not so long away this time and with an abundance of pastoral spirit as she releases Heart’s Ease.

The closer to this album is the real clincher. Sparse and ghostly, with waves breaking beneath the call of birds and the melancholy call of instrumentation. The vocal here is short, and low, but shows the confidence Collins has over the compositions and the mastery of space as well as melody.

A benevolent feel shines through this album. Traditional British and Irish folk structures and themes are blended, a wavering tone to the voice but emotion glowing in each note. These are songs which evoke journeys through slumbering forests and gazing across raging seas, they are love of the land as much as the self or another.

Collins confidently presides across it all, welcoming and untouchable and reigning again after the dysphonia-enforced three decade exile from music. Intimate, companionable and quietly joyful – press play and explore whether Collins is an old friend or new to your ears.

Find it: Spotify

Winter – Endless Space (Between You & I) (Bar/None Records)

Winter Endless Space (Between You & I) album cover art

So much dreampop can – sadly – be fall the wrong side of a thin line between ephemeral and insubstantial. It drifts away leaving no memorable trace. Not so with the latest record from Winter.

Sputtering guitars, shimmering synths, breathy echoing vocals, and soft beats are all present and correct. But with reversed passages, reverb soaked field recordings, and playful yet solid rhythm make this record so much more: a fully realised otherworldly soundscape to become immersed in.

There is much introspection here as influence is drawn from Broadcast and Melody’s Echo Chamber but even thematically there is a depth to be explored. Psychogeography – the effect of physical surroundings on you – is reached through the poetry of Mary Oliver and turned into a complex but hugely melodic study in detail.

A treat of a record which you’ll want to play over, and over again.

Find it: Bandcamp | Spotify
Read our new music piece on single Healing.

Still need more?

Check out our two recent recommendation lists from lockdown – 10 here, and 10 more here and follow our New Music 2020 playlist on Spotify for a weekly dose of brilliant new releases. There’s already more than 100 tracks added from this year, and it’s growing all the time. Find it here – and if you fall in love with something and you’re able please consider spending money directly with the artists to help support them.

If you have enjoyed reading this piece on Popoptica you can buy us a virtual coffee via Ko-fi – every donation helps us to do what we do. We’d love it if you shared on social media too – and do join the conversation with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Transparency: Sarah Lay is not only editor of Popoptica, but co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, which features in this article. Reckless Yes would not sign, nor Popoptica feature, artists or releases they didn’t truly believe more people need to hear.

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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