6 albums we loved in September 2020

6 albums we loved in September 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 late summer but we’ve found listening hours reduced by, well, life. Yet here’s out list of albums we’ve been loving listening to whenever the chance allowed in September 2020 and those we can’t wait to stay cosied up with through autumn.

Popoptica albums round-up September 2020

Lady Di / Mega Emotion – I Know You Know I’m Perfect / Move, Motherfucker (Fake Feelings)

Mega Emotion / Lady Di albums cover

Consisting of the same members, sharing a hometown scene, and a musical heritage Lady Di and Mega Emotion have embraced what makes them different as much as what makes them the same on this split debut album release.

Despite theoretically sounding as if it’s a move of practicality rather than creative direction it makes absolute sense upon listening as they set the enigma-wrapped electronica of Mega Emotion (Move, Motherfucker) against the scrappy noise-pop of Lady Di (I Know You Know I’m Perfect).

They said, “We’re a musical Sliding Doors. We’ve slipped into two different parallel universes. Both bands are Gwyneth Paltrow, but with either punk hair (black) or techno hair (blond). We started Mega Emotion first – but it’s very electronic and we missed the simplicity of an indie punk show. So we started another band, swapped instruments, and called it Lady Di.”

Across Lady Di’s eight tracks you get grungy bubblegum punk and alt-rock feels referencing everyone from Urusei Yatsura to Upset to Martha and even Out of Time-era REM. From the pealing-harmonies, dissonant guitars and rhythmic thrash of AAAAA, to the snarl and shout of Do Better, and the woozy rapture of Home Alone this side is direct, and swelling with possibilities even as sinking reality leaves hope sharp-edged. Lady Di render wonderfully a classic sweet-harmony/raw-vocal loud/quiet rough-hewn but melodic garage rock collection of tracks, which will quickly become firm favourites.

On the flip the Mega Emotion offering is grandiose, sweeping, and often icy electro evoking Metronomy, Goldfrapp, The Knife, and ’80s noir-pop. With rich layers of sound, the ceremonial aspects of the way they work and their live show somehow seeps through the speakers and even as they chant (BRAINS), or emerge from an aural mist to tell the surreal stories to retro pop synth stylings (Uncomfortable), and pre-Hit Factory shimmering girl group production (Laura). Both heritage and legacy are baked in lyrically, melodically and in an unquantifiable ‘feel’ which makes Mega Emotion so intriguing and special. They deliver on their promise with this first collection.

Of the recording of the albums and the cross overs they said, “We recorded Mega Emotion’s Move Motherfucker in the depths of winter. It was freezing cold and very bleak in the studio. Then we recorded Lady Di’s I Know You Know I’m Perfect in the middle of summer, drinking beers and hanging by the pool in flannel shirts. The difference in the weather is a very obvious but absolutely true metaphor for the contrasts between the bands. You can hear rain and thunder and snow on the Mega Emotion tracks, and blazing sun on Lady Di.”

Two very different albums with more common points that the members, and a split which works as a cohesive whole thematically despite melodic differences and is bound to appeal wherever the listener falls on a preference spectrum for guitar-to-electro.

Find Mega Emotion: Bandcamp | Spotify
Find Lady Di: Bandcamp | Spotify

Pillow Queens – In Waiting (Pillow Queens Records)

Pillow Queens In Waiting album cover

Everything feels so broken right now. On each issue we are polarised, and nuance is an academic oddity having become alien in public discourse. We are restricted and left unsettled by pandemic and ideology alike. So much of this has, of course, been creeping in and now all of a sudden all at once has reached the line where it can overwhelm.

The debut from Pillow Queens is here to offer some respite, a sanctuary, unity and hope. With soft harmonies around empowered words, and chiming guitars as foil for spacious beats In Waiting is about acceptance now and faith in better times to come, it’s about identity and body positivity, relationship with others, with self, with the world through which we move. It’s the biggest themes captured perfectly within bright indie rock, as suited to the intimacy of the headphone or the euphoria of stadium sized-sound.

Consistent throughout there’s enough detail scattered to hold the ear – Harvey takes you in its arms and gently spins you around the dance floor, the echoing and sparse opener of Holy Show, the crunching guitars and soaring chorus of Liffey, and the tripping melody and daydream of Handsome Wife. However the signature sound is turned it’s the reassurance, and togetherness of this album which makes it not just a welcome drop from a vital band but one we could probably all do with hearing right now.

Find Pillow Queens: Bandcamp | Spotify

Throwing Muses – Sun Racket (Fire Records)

Throwing Muses - Sun Racket album cover

For a band who have been going three decades it’s stunning to hear the familiarity of the Throwing Muses‘ sound nudged up against surprising detail across latest release Sun Racket. It’s a record full of those pushes and pulls – familiar against new, loud – of course – and quiet, fierce against gentle, the comfort of a story against the discomfort of some tales.

Kristin Hersh, legendary songwriter with the band, said of the album, “All it asked of us was to comingle two completely disparate sonic vocabularies: one heavy noise, the other delicate music box. Turns out we didn’t have to do much. Sun Racket knew what it was doing and pushed us aside, which is always best. After thirty years of playing together, we trust each other implicitly but we trust the music more.”

It’s an intense album with plenty of the musical oddities we’d expect from the band, off-kilter music-box lullaby vocals around chiming guitars, shuffling percussion through darker, heavier, raw and rough-edged passages. It’s exactly the sort of record you want from Throwing Muses and shows why they are still, were always, one of the most exciting and resolute bands around.

Find Throwing Muses: Bandcamp | Spotify

Mammal Hands – Captured Spirits (Gondwana)

Mammal Hands Captured Spirits album cover

With a gentle pull the saxophone lines lead you through Captured Spirits, the fourth album from Norwich’s Mammal Hands. It weaves you between and around flows of percussion, and intricate peaks and drops, loops and layers which draw from electronica, jazz, World Music, and post-rock.

Of the album they said, “The name has multiple readings but was first inspired by something Jordan (Smart, saxophone) was reading about past experiences of ancestors being caught and coded into our DNA and having an effect on who you are today. This ties in with themes that we have touched on before relative to identity and the collective unconscious. It also toys with the idea of feeling contained/trapped and the need to break out of something and also the idea of people being spirits that are ‘captured’ in a body”

With British jazz having a bit of a moment this album is a most welcome release. An expansive and emotive cinematic soundscape, beautiful blending of tabla into the rhythms and melodies, and a collection which will speak directly to you without uttering a word.

Find Mammal Hands: Bandcamp | Spotify

Dead Method – Queer Genesis (Afanc)

Dead Method Queer Genesis album cover

With a creeping darkness this is an album which peaks around tracks drawing on electronica, disco, and the sub-genres which ripple outward. Sometimes introspective, sometimes defiantly addressing the world there are moments of stark space juxtaposed with bubbling beats and soulful vocals.

Of Queer Genesis Dead Method said, “For me, this album is the washing away of decades of turmoil, societal oppression and the subjugation that I have faced as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. As an adult, I have had to tear down many walls I built to keep me safe and societal structures that oppressed me into hiding many parts of myself.

“These songs are a way for me to explore my identity and deal with the trauma that came as part of the package when growing up gay and coming out of the other side as a human being who embraces and celebrates their unique identity.

Over speeding beats, machine-like backing vocals, and a piercing vocal Violent Men draws a firm line while recent single Haus (Of God) builds layer upon layer as you descend deeper into the track, evoking the sparks of colour in dark, the escape into music, the spaces of solidarity and safety, of the queer nightlife at the tracks heart. There may be some lo-fi moments, some wavering, but across Queer Genesis you find an album indebted to, and pushing forward with a blend of confessional songwriting and rich electronica.

Find Dead Method: Bandcamp | Spotify

Emma Kupa — It Will Come Easier (Fika Recordings)

Emma Kupa It Will Come Easier album cover

It Will Come Easier is the second solo record from indie-scene lynchpin Emma Kupa and hears her collaborating with many, while presenting an album of personal reflections resonating with universal themes. Recorded a few years back the uncertainty and insecurity which comes from realising you’re stepping over another threshold of adulthood as your 20s flip into 30s. It’s the meeting of reality, with expectations, and in the dissonance between the two wondering where you fit, and facing a future without guide or structure.

As with her earlier work, or that across her many projects (Mammoth Penguins, Standard Fare, The Hayman Kupa Band) there are moments of intense vulnerability presented fearlessly. The violin-sharpened Hey Love is as ephemeral as a flame, with the same potential for devastation, as it holds itself steady around guard dropped. Elsewhere its space is set against the carefully-crafted full-sound shambolics of indiepop, wonderfully warm and upbeat and emanating togetherness (Nawlins), classic rock sweeps of guitar (There’s No Easy Way Out), and folk-tinged tales of the smallness of everyday life mixed with the enormity of an inner world (Crying Behind The Marquee).

An album full of honesty, and acceptance, and hope. An album which sees the measures sets by society, and the expectations we place on ourselves, and ultimately lets go of them and in doing so reveals the way forward. A wonderful album of warmth and wisdom, perfect for sitting with as nights draw in to hold you steady until the light returns again.

Find Emma Kupa: Bandcamp | Spotify

Also out this month

We’d also recommend EPs released in September by:

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.

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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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