FEATURE: Dulwich That Needs Scratching: The Twelve Finest Records of the Year So Far




Dulwich That Needs Scratching


IN THIS PHOTO: Sleaford Mods/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The Twelve Finest Records of the Year So Far


EVEN though we are not even in March...


IN THIS PHOTO: Sharon Van Etten/PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Pfluger

there have already been some big albums released this year and March is promising some terrific releases – as I shall cover over the weekend. I have looked at the albums released so far this year and honed down to twelve. I feel we can all agree this year has started brightly and positively - and let’s hope this continues without interruption. You might have your own ideas regarding the best releases of 2019 (so far) and that is pretty cool – music is a broad spectrum and everyone will have their views. This month is not yet over and, as I will show, I am including a few albums that are out then. The next few weeks will see tremendous albums come out so it is hard to keep a handle on it but, as I say, this year is a pretty exciting one. Have a look at these albums – and buy them if you can – and I am sure you will have opinions regarding additions to the list. If you need to add to your album collection and want some fresh sounds in the mix then you cannot go...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande

FAR wrong here.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify/Getty Images


Sleaford ModsEton Alive


Release Date: 22nd February, 2019

Label: Extreme Eating Records

Order/Listen: https://cargorecordsdirect.co.uk/products/sleaford-mods-eton-alive


Fearn’s arrangements are more sophisticated than ever before, the bassy groove of ‘Big Burt’ (“Shelling out 1500 pound to see an ‘asbeen who can’t even do three gigs in one go – what’s that?)sounding like an actual song. And ‘Top It Up’, with an ominous synth line, veers into art-pop territory. This indicates the polish that success has afforded Sleaford Mods (on ‘OBCT’ Williamson admits he lives “in a house three times the size of my old one” and drives past “Oliver Bonas in the Chelsea tractor”). But they’ve not changed. They’re still taking the piss.
Sometimes a joke starts wearing thin, but goes on so long that it comes back around. And ‘Eton Alive’ is a pretty great punchline. Not everything has to be escapist or explicitly political – sometimes you just want to hear people make gags about a world that you recognise. It’s cathartic, it’s entertaining. It says: you exist. ‘Eton Alive’ makes Sleaford Mods funny again
” – NME

Standout Cut: Kebab Spider

Download/Stream: O.B.C.T/Top It Up/Firewall

Ariana Grandethank u, next


Release Date: 8th February, 2019

Label: Republic

Producers: Various

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/2fYhqwDWXjbpjaIJPEfKFw?si=r9hTuFKbRMKunF1q0tgNxA


The calls to self-love only ring as radical so long as they exist in tandem with the loss before. Ghosts are just fantasies in reverse (“He just comes to visit me/ When I’m dreaming every now and then”) and an ex-anything is just proof of the impact our self and voice has made. Ex- implies its opposite: next.

I hope you find love next. Love, like pop songs, is an improper rendering of a set of untranslateable data; tattoo your mistranslations and imbalances to your body and wave them in the air. Only in something like love, something near next, can we learn to empathize with others, to empathize with ourselves. thank u, next sees our ghosts, feels our echoes, and motions toward a future. Whitney called it “the greatest love of all”; Ari hiccups and hums: “thank you, next” – Tiny Mix Tapes

Standout Cut: fake smile                              

Download/Stream: NASA/bad idea/7 rings

DrengeStrange Creatures


Release Date: 22nd February, 2019

Label: Infectious Music

Order/Listen: https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/music/drenge-strange-creatures


Observations such as “your eyes were like two Catherine wheels/ Just spinning, spinning, spinning” capture a manic intensity echoed by the unhinged drums and psychedelic feedback. It sets the eerie tone of unease that permeates the 10 cinematic tracks, from the ghostly late-1970s synths of “This Dance” to the doom-laden “No Flesh Road” and the deep chants over closing song “When I Look Into Your Eyes”. There’s tender introspection here, too, in the reverb-heavy “Avalanches”.

The title track is an intoxicating mix of stately Paul Banks-esque post-punk vocals, synths, electronic flute, and a searing guitar riff. It’s a riff fit for stadiums, by a band who have the ferocity to be there” – The Independent

Standout Cut: Bonfire of the City Boys    

Download/Stream: Autonomy/Strange Creatures/Avalanches

Sharon Van EttenRemind Me Tomorrow


Release Date: 18th January, 2019

Label: Jagjaguwar

Producer: John Congleton

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/2dvXk4nacVRmDSnbKniwrS?si=SMAH21u9RwmlDKp87l_YXw


It mixes despair for her poor decisions, nostalgia for that headstrong girl, and anxiety over what she would make of her now. “I know what you’re gonna be,” Van Etten taunts at full vocal power: “You’ll crumple it up just to see/Afraid that you’ll be just like me!” She gives no indication of who is right: the teenager disgusted at the thought of growing up and joining the straight world, or herself now, wanting to protect that girl who had no idea what difficulties were to come. What do you attempt to hold onto and let go of?

“I don’t know how it ends,” Van Etten sings dreamily on “Stay,” a reverie of rippling piano and bass that addresses the need for reciprocal support and independence between a mother and her child. It sounds like a resolution, or at least her making peace with how to develop trust when everything can slip away so easily, but the arrangement is still anesthetized, unresolved. Having more to live for, hence more to lose, is rarely soothing. But it’s worth the mess” – Pitchfork

Standout Cut: Seventeen                              

Download/Stream: I Told You Everything/Comeback Kid/Malibu

James BlakeAssume Form


Release Date: 18th January, 2019

Label: Polydor Records

Producers: Various

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/23dKNZpiadggKHrQgHLi3L?si=9yrkN1YoTcKzOXGqeycUwg


Though the features add texture and variation to a record that’s constantly shapeshifting, it’s James’ solo songs that define the album. ‘Where’s The Catch’ is followed by the gorgeous ‘I’ll Come Too’. A lovestruck ballad, the song glides upon an instantly memorable vocal line via which he reaches more personal epiphanies. “I’m gonna say what I need, if it’s the last thing I do,” he begins emphatically. “I’ll throw my hat in the ring / I’ve got nothing to lose.”

‘Power On’, which follows the track, is an even more forceful exorcism of past demons and the album’s stunning centrepiece. “I thought I might be better dead but I was wrong,” he begins, reflecting on former mistakes from a new vantage point. As the song draws to a triumphant close, he turns these personal revelations outwards, miles away from the shrouded, shy figure we met nearly a decade ago. “If it feels like a home, power on,” he repeats, encouraging others to grasp any opportunity to move forwards and onwards, completely changing his placing as an artist in the process. Where James Blake can go now is limitless” – DIY

Standout Cut: Can’t Believe the Way We Flow    

Download/Stream: Assume Form/Are You in Love?/Don’t Miss It

Steve MasonAbout the Light


Release Date: 18th January, 2019

Label: Double Six Records

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/1IOnfFfswEAQzFbfUI68XE?si=hkKs9TguSFmIINx5N_NHbw


The most immediate thing about ‘About the Light’ is that all the songs have massive choruses - nothing new considering Mason’s back catalogue - but it’s the level of catchiness that’s the surprising, and surpassing, thing.

Standout track ‘No Clue’ is classic Mason with swirling guitars and massive hooks. There is a playful bounce to it, meaning this should go off when played live.

‘About the Light’ separates Mason from that current glut of nostalgia acts trying to cash in on their past. Mason has always followed his own path, and we’re better for it” – CLASH

Standout Cut: Walking Away from Love

Download/Stream: America Is Your Boyfriend/About the Light/Stars Around My Heart

Blood Red ShoesGet Tragic

Release Date: 25th January, 2019

Label: Jazz Like

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/04Z8mAFmRcsijATnu4t5DM?si=_2t_-_CLT4OGo6C3OtRsww


Honourable mentions - ‘Anxiety’, which comes after an Interlude in which the subject matter of the album moves away from the LA scene – that manages to both educate and encapsulate the feeling of being anxious whilst being a fuckin’ banger (“Honestly/I could take a chance but it terrifies me”). ‘Howl’ – “I’ll be waiting on my own, I’ll be waiting dog and bone”. ‘Elijah’ - “I heard you fucked up again Elijah/one day you’re up then you’re down/in this old town” – we all know a fucking Elijah. FUCKING ELIJAH.

In short – someone very dear to me once told me that artists are artists because they can convey in words what others can’t; and that that’s what makes them beloved, and beautiful. It would have been so easy for Blood Red Shoes to part ways as enemies, to never speak again, to start solo careers and guest on documentaries about band rivalries and sure, they would have been okay – but instead, they flourished. They gravitated back together. They healed, they argued, they made music about it and to use an LA phrase - ain’t we lucky they did so” – Drowned in Sound

Standout Cut: Eye to Eye                              

Download/Stream: Mexican Dress/Howl/Anxiety

Julia JacklinCrushing

Release Date: 22nd February, 2019

Label: Liberation Records

Order/Listen: https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/music/julia-jacklin


Fragile, acoustic solo songs like "When the Family Flies In" and "Convention" are contrasted by full-band arrangements, including the defiant, alt-country-tinged "You Were Right" and the rollicking but highly stressed "Pressure to Party." The final song, "Comfort," is a solo acoustic guitar tune that has Jacklin's quivering voice delivering a stream of affirmations beginning with "You'll be okay/You'll be all right/You'll get well soon/Sleep through the night…" before she reassures herself that her ex will be okay, too. It's this type of devastating emotional honesty -- one that admits both strength and weakness -- that, along with the performances, sets this record apart from others in its heavy-hearted category” – AllMusic

Standout Cut: Pressure to Party                

Download/Stream: Head Alone/Convention/Comfort

Better Oblivion Community CenterBetter Oblivion Community Center


Release Date: 24th January, 2019

Label: Dead Oceans

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/5622zSt4RLqNSPShdqmWpj?si=0WzvV7zmRT2asna-WwmQEQ


Bridgers has a knack for cultivating vocal collaborations. On Stranger In The Alps, John Doe added harmony on her calling card, “Killer,” and Oberst pitched in on “Would You Rather,” a haunting song about Bridgers and her little brother. More recently, she enlisted Jackson Browne on her cover of McCarthy Trenching’s “Christmas Song.” With boygenius, she’s found a harmony that’s more than the sum of its formidable parts.

As social media leaves us paradoxically more isolated than ever, the sound of voices literally finding strength together is a potent metaphor. “Big Black Hearts” locates a vaguely Bonnie-and-Clyde-ish communion in joyously ugly guitar noise, while “Dominos,” a song staggering into the thin light after an all-night bender, looks towards something less than hope, but preferable to numbness. “I’m car-pooling to kingdom come/Into the wild purgatory,” the pair sing in the wake of a gushing Nick Zinner guitar solo, clearly glad to have the company for the ride” – Rolling Stone

Standout Cut: Dylan Thomas


Download/Stream: Sleepwalkin’/Exception to the Rule/Big Black Heart

The SpecialsEncore


Release Date: 1st February, 2019

Label: UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/2K7Z8kR4tsXDIkS0jWLkwZ?si=AyAJSlAwSVCpzswXceOjow


And don’t go thinking the Tories get a free pass. ‘Vote For Me’ is a slinky ska takedown of the rule-makers protecting their own interests while “tearing our families apart”, and Fun Boy Three’s ‘The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)’ is resurrected from 1982, a song whose time couldn’t get more now. The mildly unhinged circus spin of ‘Breaking Point’ even manages to capture our current, social media-driven sense of desperation, confusion and frustration as we hurtle inexorably towards riot and revolution: “with the help of God and a few Marines we’ll blow this place to smithereens”, Hall sings, presumably with one ear to the door of May’s no-deal planning committee.

The album ends on a similarly optimistic, but far more realistic, note than it began. “Looked all around the world, could be a beautiful place,” Hall decides on deserted ballroom ballad ‘We Sell Hope’, but acknowledges that the best we can do on a planet run by madmen is to be the sanity you want to see in the world: “do what you need to do without making others suffer”. We need right-thinking rebel records like ‘Encore’ now more than ever” – NME

Standout Cut: Vote for Me                          


Download/Stream: The Lunatics/10 Commandments/We Sell Hope

Boy HarsherCareful


Release Date: 1st February, 2019

Label: Nude Club

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/6G1kayusfMD3mcRXtPty2k?si=LcJer8fATpa_9bIbR1pwkw


On ‘Come Closer’ there is no space to hide anymore, as Matthews’ repeated urge for proximity intensifies alongside the pounding drums. Between instrumentals tracks with Lynchian flairs, ‘Tears’’s lived-in lyrics project this inner-sense of brokenness, now ready to be danced to as a way of reflection and acceptance.

Their innocence might be gone, and their sound might be polished, but Boy Harsher have kept the foundations and the loyalty to each other to push through the storm. With Careful, they are no longer the best-kept secret among the dingier crowds, but their music, passion and on-going commitment have placed them close to a league of their own, hopefully lasting throughout the years to come” – The 405

Standout Cut: Come Closer                          


Download/Stream: Face the Fire/LA/Crush

The Twilight SadIt Won/t Be Like This All the Time


Release Date: 18th January, 2019

Producer: Andy Macfarlane

Order/Listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/6yeitgWpug7poDRRMPRb2i?si=KI44aVPkT32mTM_opF88bg


Newly-minted full members Brendan Smith and Johnny Docherty contributed to the writing process, adding new depth along the way. The decision to sparingly nibble at the vocal parts with digital manipulation feels vital, re-integrating singer and backdrop. ‘Keep It All To Myself’ finds them totally in sync, Graham sitting in the pocket of a big Novoselic bassline and rising with his bandmates as the music builds. Final track ‘Videograms’ pulls the opposite trick and thrives on tension without resolution, imperceptibly coiling itself around you with its beautiful Joy Division shiver.

This is a muscular collection, informed by Sad cheerleaders The Cure and Mogwai but also edging closer to Forget the Night Ahead and No One Can Ever Know; an avalanche of ideas and excitement built to carry multiple tours. The overriding sense is that this is how the band was always meant to sound. It’s a determined, seductive experience, brimming with belief and completely torching everything they’ve done before. As of now, The Twilight Sad are basically untouchable” – Drowned in Sound

Standout Cut: VTr


Download/Stream: Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting/Keep It All to Myself/Videograms