Albums of the Month: 7 albums you need to hear from August 2021

Albums of the Month: 7 albums you need to hear from August 2021

Albums of the Month August 21We 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 and pull them together into our albums of the month feature.

Releases have landed thick and fast throughout this summer and as we’re only just stepping back into the fray of music writing there are a few long players included here which dropped at the last moment in July, as well as through August.

Our penchant for dreamy droney pop continues and we’ve been thrilled with the latest releases by our faves Haiku Salut as well as the depth of covers put forward by so many indie artists for the God Is In The TV Zine compilation celebrating 40 years of REM.

Anyway…without further ado… here’s our selection of albums you should hear before summer is out.

Albums of the Month August 2021

Haiku Salut – The Hill, The Light, The Ghost (Secret Name)

Haiku Salut The Hill, The Light, The Ghost cover

There is much contentment, and much passive acceptance, to be heard on the fifth record from Derbyshire’s Haiku Salut. There is curiosity too, with some explorations circling to conclusion while other musical moments are questions left unanswered.

The album is built from found sound and field recordings surrounded by glitchy electronics and fuzzy guitars, all warmly yet subtly bathed in washes of melody. On previous releases the band has explored themes such as togetherness (2018’s There Is Nowhere Else) and here they lean into the idea of memory and time. They stitch together the parts of these tracks with skilful softness, leave delightful surprises to discover, and intimately and intelligently communicate ideas, concepts, and even whole stories without the use of words.

See here Entering which uses found sounds from an abandoned house visited in Germany in 2019. A decaying snapshot of the life it once contained, the uses it had been put to, and the material detritus left behind the track echoes with all these elements of a past, an evocative musical postcard from a time we cannot truly visit; a faded still photograph blooming with forgotten colours and movement.

The real majesty of Haiku Salut though comes not from presenting these stories well in a dryly intellectual way, which they surely do, but to have the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of each track and place so strongly and organically embedded they burst forth from every note, drenching the listener gently but unequivocally.

Conjuring such rounded spectres comes too from the diligent process. Never able to rest on what they have already mastered the band push forward their blend of digital and analogue instrumentation with each record, and the deeper dive into found sounds and automation plays so well here. That curiosity bubbles to the fore once more.

Still somewhat overrated considering the quality and evolution of their work The Hill, The Light, The Ghost will intrigue those already submerged in the band’s back catalogue, while remaining an accessible entry point for those about to discover their worlds. Foraged snippets blended with composition, the reflection of the ever-changing light of their surroundings, and the reverbs of the past or place they pick up on and choose to pursue their latest album beautifully evolves from their past work and leaves no doubt Haiku Salut are a band of import who are now really hitting their stride.

Find Haiku Salut The Hill, The Light, The Ghost at: Bandcamp

The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost – Afters (K Scope)

The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost - Afters album cover

When joyriders smashed into Billy Reeves in 2001 they left him in a two week coma, with a year in and out of hospital, and crash-related amnesia. A burgeoning musical career – Reeves was bandmates with Sophie Ellis-Bexter in theaudience – was curtailed and focus put firmly on recovery.

Among the things forgotten in the crash were the demoes and song snippets contained on mini discs pulled from the wreckage. Yet years later these became the basis for Afters, the debut album from The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost. It’s a beautiful, and at times delicate, album imbued with the artistic respect and friendship of the team Reeves’ put together for it – Mark Morriss (The Bluetones) on vocals along with Richard Archer (Hard-Fi), Crayola Lectern (Zofff /  Departure Lounge), and Mark Peters (Engineers).

With other guest appearances to boot the resultant album is one which doesn’t feel dragged from a traumatic past moment but rather is gentle, and filled with the crooning warmth of Scott Walker and piano taking it all in a more folk-rock direction.

Slowly rendered after a long period hidden away, Afters is a colourful but never pushy album to keep you company for many days yet to come.

Find The Helicopter of the Holy Ghost Afters at: K Scope store

Paper Birch – morninghairwater (Reckless Yes)

Paper Birch - morninghairwater cover artThis one sneaking into our August round-up due to release at the end of July during our hiatus but being so brilliant we couldn’t not mention it. Again. As it was also in our round-up last August when it had an initial very limited digital release on TakoRoku. Now out on vinyl, CD and more fully available digitally via Reckless Yes we want to bring your attention to its dreamy shoegaze-noise rock brilliance once more.

Created collaboratively but at a distance by Fergus Lawrie (Urusei Yatsura) and Dee Sada (NEUMES) the words we offered up then about this debut stand now. We said, ‘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.’

Whether you discovered it a year ago, or are hearing it for the first time now, this is one of those albums which feels as elusive as a fistful of mist but suddenly and warmly soaks through you, becomes you, and of course then stays with you.

Find Paper Birch morninghairwater at: Bandcamp

Various Artists – A Carnival Of Sorts: An REM Covers/ (God Is In The TV Zine)

A Carnival of Sorts - REM covers compilation by GIITTV - artwork

REM were one of the first alternative bands I remember getting into, albeit in what is probably considered their most mainstream phase at the time. Automatic For The People was a massive and seemingly ubiquitous among my school year, as we passed notes in class creating conversations from snippets of lyrics, and played copies in our Walkmans until the exhausted tape unwound.

They are a band more than worthy of a deep dive retrospective as they hit the 40 years mark, and God Is In The TV Zine under the editorship of Bill Cummings have done a great job bringing new insight to existing fans and giving those less familiar a jumping in point. At the centre of it this curated covers collection with proceeds going to Help Musicians. Endorsed warmly by the band themselves there are 40 takes on their tracks by some of the brightest independent musicians around today.

Among those tracks are stand-outs from I, Doris giving a 2021 update to It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), an angular take on Moral Kiosk from GodNo!, a beautifully fractured but faithful rendition of Nightswimming from Piney Gir, an electro-infused So Central Rain from Body In The Thames, disco-punk tinged Crush With Eyeliner from Bugeye, and some 60s girl group harmony on Bang and Blame delivered by The Crystal Furs. Mark Morriss, Hadda Be, The Pocket Gods, Japan Review and Andrew Eaton-Lewis also feature. There’s no bad track here – testament to the breadth and quality in REMs output in the last four decades as well as the artists taking them on.

Find A Carnival of Sorts at: Bandcamp

Slash Fiction – Gender, Trauma & Friendship (Amateur Pop Incorporated)

Slash Fic Gender, Trauma and Friendship artwork

There is one thing that is inherently clear with this record, one emotion which shines through the rough-edged guitars and big, raw production: joy. This is not an emotional state which seemed easily arrived at, not something to be taken for granted but rather across the album we trace all the paths to get there, bruised but beautiful and ultimately victorious.

With group vocals and fuzz aplenty this is firmly lodged in the emo segment of the indie wheel, but with plenty of detail scattered through and the confidence to give space to the expression, and to punctuate those musical flourishes.

Authentic, vulnerable and giving the comfort of solidarity there are many aspects of the album’s title shared and explored. The Lighthouse is a fractured lullaby of survival, Ten Feet Tall a quiet-loud-quiet challenge with bursts of warm guitars, Headaches a brutal tale of loss where feelings are chased down by insistent percussion.

A central and important band within the DIY scene Gender, Trauma, & Friendship is a fully realised record of brilliant guitar-driven emo rock building community from experience, and one which will become a welcoming home for those who feel pushed outside.

Find Slash Fiction Gender, Trauma and Friendship: at Amateur Pop Incorporated

Gemma Cullingford – Let Me Speak (Outré)

Gemma Cullingford Let Me Speak artwork

As half of post-punk electronic dance duo Sink Ya Teeth like many musicians Gemma Cullingford found plans for last year were spiked by the pandemic and replaced with a stretching expanse of time. Retreating to her home studio she worked on Let Me Speak, a solo debut drawing on her influences – Throbbing Gristle, A Certain Ratio, New Order.

They are all well evidenced here on a clean-sounding record packed with cool tones, soft half-spoken vocals lower in the mix to pristine rhythms (Sight For Sore Eyes), or hazy and indistinct as they grasp to break through the blooming surface of beats and folk-melody (Wide Boys), hypnotic, seedy and insistent (I Like You).

Of the record she said, “The peace and solitude forced upon us over the first six months of the pandemic gave me the time and space that I’d desperately needed to process events of the past few years. It enabled me to figure out a lot of things about myself, and that has helped me to be more at peace with who I am. All of my life I have felt out of place, but I now accept that I am simply a highly sensitive introvert who longs to be able to express herself and be heard.”

As varied and creative as you could possibly hope for given her musical heritage, there’s many layers to sink through in this record, surprises in every bar. Cullingford has delved deep into herself to produce a record which is intimate, but never indulgent, and which challenges your expectations while remaining accessible, taking you with her on every step of this musical and thematic exploration.

Find Gemma Cullingford – Let Me Speak: at Bandcamp

Feat. Graham Coxon – Superstate (Graham Coxon / Z2 Comics)

Graham Coxon Superstate soundtrack artwork

Best known as guitarist in Blur Graham Coxon is no stranger to the art world and on this latest release he blends to the two with the release of a graphic novel and soundtrack album under the Superstate name.

He’s also de-centred himself from the work by collaborating with a number of other artists (both musically, and illustratively) to become a featured rather than lead player. Superstate comprises 15 stories from a world not too far removed from our own – where the richest use a planet in demise as a playground while they wait to leave and the rest are kept under control through the use of a digital system them plug into.  Talking about the concept, the novel and the album Coxon said, “Superstate is a story of escape in a society where war rages between the forces of negativity and positivity, encouragement and discouragement. Where only the struggle from oppression, chaos and brutality leads to the fragile road to freedom. A road that burns its way through the far reaches of space to a planet called… heaven.”

No stranger to soundtrack composition (The End Of The F***ing World, I Am Not Okay With This) we get the best of Coxon as a solo artist with Superstate. Endlessly curious and seemingly uninterested in any expectations on his sound given his reputation with this we get more electronics here, creating a retro-futuristic sound inspired directly by each story. There’s elements of prog, and pop, and so much more – well realised world building which can be explored alone, or as an accompaniment to the graphic novel itself.

Find Graham Coxon and Superstate: at these places (album out now, graphic novel to follow in September)

Further listening – more albums of the month for August 2021

Top your list up to a lucky 13 with these albums of the month we also recommend:

  • Hadda Be – Another Life (Last Night From Glasgow)
  • Lorde – Solar Power (Universal)
  • The Joy Formidable – Into The Blue (Full Time Hobby / Enci)
  • Villagers – Fever Dreams (Domino)
  • Sister John – I Am By Day (Last Night From Glasgow)
  • Erica Nockalls – Dark Music From A Warm Place

If you have enjoyed reading our albums of the month 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.

Find out what other new music has been exciting us recently and get in touch if you want to submit music or contribute to Popoptica.

Disclosure: Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica and co-founder of Reckless Yes, so has some involvement in some of the albums of the month listed here – but she really does only write about or work on music she loves.

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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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