13 albums we’ve loved in August 2020

13 albums we’ve loved in August 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.

Releases have landed thick and fast throughout the summer but here’s out list of albums we’ve been loving listening to in August 2020.

Popoptica albums round-up for August 2020

Paper Birch – MORNINGHAIRWATER (TakuRoku)

Paper Birch MORNINGHAIRWATER album cover

Sometimes an album comes at you from nowhere and makes you realise that no matter how well plugged in you think you are, there are corners of every scene which have escaped you, and blends of sound you hadn’t even conceived of. When those records appear the best set you off down a rabbit hole with Alice-like curiosity, and turn your ear in brilliantly new ways.

Paper Birch’s debut MORNINGHAIRWATER is right up there with the best surprises. A lockdown project from Urusei Yatsura’s Fergus Lawrie and Dee Sada of NEUMES and An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump the track, there is noise rock heritage running through the veins from the off.

Experimental, dissonant, occasionally abstract but never less than melodic this is a varied and permissive piece, created in the physically distanced correspondence between London and Glasgow.

There is plenty of scud and scuzz scattered through the rest of the record, but it’s paired with pop sensibilities, gently twinned vocal harmonies. It’s coy odes to love, to loss, and better days shot through with hope and soul set to experimental beats and electronic glitches, and the most melodious guitar sweeping in and out in a way which makes its presence wonderfully felt even in the spaces.

Shoegazey, indiepoppish, noise rocking this album draws not only on the influence on both Lawrie and Sada’s own back catalogues but which at times echoes with everything from Heavenly to Joy Division. For a record so quickly conceived and released it doesn’t feel like hyperbole to say this may well be a contender for album of the year.

You can read our review of single Summer Daze here. Find Paper Birch: Cafe Oto

Oceanator – Things I Never Said (Plastic Miracles / Big Scary Monsters)

Oceanator Things I Never Said album artwork

There is a chug to the guitar and a cinematic sweep of melody flowing through the debut album from multi-instrumentalist Elise Okusami, backing the lyrical twists of overthinking which boil down to love and friendship being the thing which will endure when all else falls apart.

Recent single I Would Find You encapsulates the best of this indie rock album, which rejuvenates the genre with aplomb. Of the track we said it musically sits right between the shimmering synth waves of ’80s indie, and the warm full guitars of ’90s alt-rock. The spot it finds is pop, in the best possible way. It’s catchy and accessible – you are humming the melody and finding yourself singing along within the first couple of listens – but it’s also serious, and sets thoughts and feelings running.

This sets the tone for an album which brilliantly reflects the itchy insistence of a busy brain faced with the anxieties of a world falling apart, and turns bombastic rock into something altogether more considered but no less immediate.

You can read our review of single I Would Find You here and check out episode 17 of God Is In The TV Zine podcast Show Me Magic! where Popoptica editor Sarah Lay picks Oceanator single A Crack In The World. Find Oceanator: Bandcamp | Spotify

BYENARY – BYENARY (Hell Hath No Fury)

BYENARY album cover

‘We will not be silenced / taking up this space’ is the lyrical call throughout second track (We Will Not Be Silenced) from BYENARY’s short and sharp debut album and it’s also at the heart of this record thematically.

A vital release for the marginalised, by the marginalised. Making visible and giving voice to those who are oppressed in the mainstream, and under-represented in the underground this is a non-negotiable shout of solidarity, and should be a compulsory listen for those who don’t consider themselves allies.

Blasting through with scrappy riffs, and shout-sung vocals, all clicking sticks and tight percussion and squeal and crunch guitar there are subtle elements of Urban mixed with the old-skool Punk pushing this toward musical boundaries while defiantly standing in its truth thematically.

You can read our review of single Princess Give A Fuck here. Find BYENARY: Bandcamp | Spotify

Dream Nails – Dream Nails (Alcopop! Records)

Dream Nails album cover

The debut studio album from Dream Nails is here at last. At under 30 minutes its a fast-paced mix of music and skits which brings the effervescent joy of rebellion and self-sovereignty to the fore in the pop-punk songs, while delivering with lyrical bite songs of the violence and action needed in every part of modern life from the environment to personal relationships.

Writing about this band following the drop of the video for This Is The Summer we said, “The energy and commitment of this band is incredible. Not only are their politics in every note and every word, but they are making sure that carries through in how they work.” We said their album would stand not only testament to their hard-work, talent and perseverance in an industry set up to preserve everything this band is not. It is. We also said it would be a victory on many other levels too – and it is.  For women, for queers, for DIY bands, and for anyone for who punk is an ideology not a fashion statement or a genre to slip into. This album shows we can rise.

Yes, this is victorious, and it’s a glorious full throttle selection of political, protest and personal anthems which show the most important messages don’t have to be finger-picked to be earnest, and anger can be delivered in surf-tinged melody and lyrical wryness without losing any of its power.

You can read our review of single Jillian here. Find Dream Nails: Bandcamp and Spotify.

Bill Fisher – Mass Hypnosis and the Dark Triad (Septaphonic Records)

Bill Fisher Mass Hypnosis and the Dark Triad album cover

A theory set to deep melody, the first solo album from Bill Fisher (Church of the Cosmic Skull, Mammothwing, Dystopian Future Movies) brings together stoner rock, doom, and the intricate heaviness of metal for a record which aims for spiritual awakening as much as muso nods of approval. It may well achieve both being a resonant listen on both fronts.

With the Dark Triad of personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy intersecting with money, power, and status, as well as our past, present, and future Fisher presents his stance here that we need to wake up to these things in ourselves, and shake off the mass hypnosis the toxic mix of capitalism and populism has lulled us into.

Blending proto-metal with stoner cycles, there are elements of Prog here beyond being a concept album. Full force melody and heavy grinds which envelop you and offer escape from the dystopia by having you face right into it. Powerful stuff in every sense.

You can read our review of single The Dark Triad here. Find Bill Fisher: website | Spotify | Bandcamp

Sea Glass – Shifts (WIAIWYA)

Sea Glass Shifts album cover

An album which evokes the feel, the very nature, of the item at the heart of the band name. Those pastel coloured, smooth-pitted, round-edged shards of sea glass which are being returned to their composite state by time and tide. So too then does this album give you the patient feel of being changed, of becoming more and less over time and through soft but restless movement.

Formed by The Leaf Library‘s Matt Ashton and Melinda Bronstein the album has slowly, carefully, and somewhat organically formed across years and distance. Untethered from being created in a single place, or in shared moments, it has swelled to fill that space in an understated but no less majestic way.

Gorgeous layers of ambient folk, and abstract somewhat melancholy but wholly unselfconscious pop ballads there are elements of Grouper, Müm and the pair’s other projects echoing in the reverb and the considered detail. An unexpected gem polished by unconventional process to become an album you’ll want to sink into and have slowly unfurl around you.

Find Sea Glass: Bandcamp | Spotify

Ganser – Just Look At That Sky (Felte)

Ganser Just Look at that Sky album cover

With a no-wave squall and a relentless beat unmoved by provocative guitars, and repeated lyrics the influence of noise and art rock on Ganser is immediately, and brilliantly, evident on second album Just Look At That Sky. This is a record which stands battered but resolute, defiant in a destructive landscape.

Exploring the mirroring of society’s turmoil in a tumultuous inner world the album drives tracks forward with steady but relentless rhythms and guitar lines which hiss and fuzz as often as they pointedly punctuate. While the scale of these songs is often massive they lose nothing through building such huge swathes of sound. The detail is there, there are passages of spiralling melody (Shadowcasting) to balance out the sonic storms (Lucky).

Embracing the idea that not all art is beautiful, there are sometimes uncomfortable moments lyrically and sonically, but which make this an album of blistering authenticity and raw noise, carefully wielded into bold alt-rock melody.

Find Ganser: Bandcamp | Spotify

CLT DRP – Without the Eyes (Small Pond Recordings)

CLT DRP without the eyes album cover

In a world which tries to reduce everything down to simple sloganism repeated ad nauseum forever, and which finds it easier to raise up something which fits a neat template while demanding innovation, difference, and authenticity you might think a band like CLT DRP might struggle to find their place. Far from it on this debut – they explode all of that preconception and swirl the resulting chaos into fine form establishing themselves firmly as one of the most exciting groups around.

Speaking about the album Annie Dorrett said, “This album for me was a way of speaking about my regression and progression surrounding feminism…a lot of the songs on the album have very real moments of empowerment but also self hate. I acknowledge a lot of parts of myself that still struggle to resist change. The album is aggressive and vulnerable, but most of all extremely proud. My hope is that when you listen to it, you can find comfort in the anger and brutal honesty of our sound.”

Mixing EDM, punk and industrial tones this band challenge the expected norm and are unafraid of reflecting duality and nuance around themes of feminism and sexuality. Drawing on influence from the Prodigy, Death Grips, through to Peaches this band are striding far out beyond their peers and have lost none of their intensity, power, or vitality through committing to record.

Find CLT DRP: Bandcamp | Spotify

Jeremy Tuplin – Violet Waves (Trapped Animal)

Jeremy Tuplin Violet Waves album cover

Mixing expansive space rock with surreal stories Jeremy Tuplin brings us another weird caberet collection in Violet Waves. Following on from 2017’s I Dreamt I was an Astronaut, and last year’s acclaimed Pink Mirror this set is full of smooth and laid back late night tales which swells against its predecessors’ more stripped back sound.

A guitar solo is just as likely as spacey-synths and storytelling sits somewhere between Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen where seemingly throwaway lines become the pay-off on repeat listens. For all its louche delivery, and deprecating lyrics, there is a careful conducting of details so each flourish and each space are carefully measured for impact.

The disintegrating state of the world is reflected here, with a certain seediness, with dream-like qualities where reality seems heard through unexpected filters. Among the best of English songwriters this is an album which revels in grandiosity, and the disintegration of glamour back to an everyman state, without indulging in any kind of grandstanding.

Find Jeremy Tuplin: Bandcamp | Spotify

Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)

Kelly Lee Owens Inner World album cover

A long-awaited follow-up to her 2017 debut Inner Song comes off the back of what Owens has said have been the 3 hardest years of her life, and then a further delay due to the pandemic. It lands as a techno-pop record rich in melodic detail, and lyrically cool honesty reflecting acceptance not only of personal and environmental loss, but of self too.

Over by turns squelching and pointed beats there are layers of vocal harmony as Owens finds her voice, and shimmering waves of synths to make this as dreamy as it is futuristic. The spacious Corner of My Sky sounds hopefully melodically, and resigned and ready to move forward vocally as John Cale intones. But it is on ode to her ‘legend nan’ Jeanette that Owens fully reveals the heart and the pulsing strength of this album.

Coming from a place of grief and loss Owens has kept all that was so vital and honed on her debut, and grown into an artist finding her voice while further perfecting her prowess with beats and bloops. Difficult years become a comforting listen, as full of life and the liberation which comes with acceptance.

Find Kelly Lee Owens: Bandcamp | Spotify

Carla J Easton – Weirdo (Olive Grove)

Carla J Easton album cover

Reclaiming the word weirdo and leaning heavily into the differences, embracing the outsider status, Carla J Easton has created an album of anthems for those who are bonded by their failure and refusal to fit into someone else’s mould.

Melodically and stylistically this sits fairly neatly to the darker left of pop titans Carley Rae Jepson and Taylor Swift with industrial edges to the beats, and even-sweeter-than-the-mainstream soars to the synths. It’s a detailed world which has been built, sputtering percussion, and twinkling chimes, nursery rhyme cadence, layered harmonies in the vocals and understanding the power in the right pairing (here with rapper Solareye on Waves That Fall, and with Honeyblood on WEIRDO).

Gloriously dirty pop from an artist who is clasping her differences and growing in confidence. These songs could soar in the cavernous expanse of an arena, but reveal their most special and individual details when you get one-on-one with them, playing this loud for yourself alone, and realising that ‘weirdo’ doesn’t mean ‘alone’. And that’s a revelation you can dance to, sing-a-long to, and celebrate with this stunning set of alt-pop anthems.

Find Carla J Easton: Bandcamp | Spotify

Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess (Jagjaguwar)

Angel Olsen Whole New Mess album cover

Last year’s All Mirrors gained Angel Olsen critical and fan acclaim for the grandiose and orchestral wrapping around songs which vulnerability at their heart. With Whole New Mess that vulnerability is presented raw, as the demos of those songs cast them in a different light and stripping them bare.

Fresh from a break up Olsen’s voice trembles at times, around stark guitar lines finding their way around the melodies, and the occasional sweep of an organ giving the songs an ever-more organic feel. These are emotions still ragged as they are cuffed to sound. There is no escaping them, no distraction through layering on orchestration.

Far from wringing dry an album we’ve already loved and settled in to, it reveals something more but also stands alone in the intimacy it allows. Returning Olsen to her earlier demos it is a fascinating insight into the process, but more-so is a revealing invite from the songwriter, and a starkly fitting version of these tracks at a time when solitary reflection has come to us all.

Find Angel Olsen: Spotify

International Teachers of Pop – Pop Gossip (Desolate Spools)

International Teachers of Pop Pop Gossip album cover

The second album from International Teachers of Pop continues to blend genres oft-looked down upon but which find their brilliance in their universality. Disco to electronica to pop. Theses are songs about being lost in music, found by music, and belonging in those euphoric moments of instinctual physicality of sharing a dancefloor.

The album peaks around the tracks which fully embrace this, ebbing around slow-jams, and almost audibly grinning at the post-punk pastiche of tracks like ‘I Stole Yer Plimsoles’ with Sleaford Mods Jason Williamson.

These are undoubtedly songs which make way more sense played live where the comedic edge unlocks inhibitions, and the shiny beats and sweet synth sweep everyone into moving as one. On record, the lack of seriousness is exactly what makes this such a serious pop record. It’s a deep love affair with the genre, and with the bands and scenes which have supported it. It’s a celebration of the grit, and grime, the fun, and the fantastic of club nights and sweaty shows.

Find International Teachers of Pop: Spotify

Still need more?

Follow our New Music 2020 playlist on Spotify for a weekly dose of brilliant new releases. There’s already more than 200 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.

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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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