10 best albums of the year so far, from Olivia Rodrigo to David Balfe
Is it pop? R’n b? Experimental soul music? All the boxes are checked on the sublime second album by Josiah White from Baltimore. The subject is gay love in Trump’s America. And the vehicle through which White reflects on his place as a queer black man in an increasingly divided world is a blissful ballad, brimming with warmth, wit, and a giddy sense of optimism.
The teenage actress blossoms as a pop star on a record that plays out like a Gothic reimagining of Skins or Dawson’s Creek (or HBO’s already baroque Euphoria). Rodrigo has an irresistibly laconic voice and oscillates between hazy electronics and rock music that borders on indie pop. There was a backlash, of course, with Rodrigo accused of appropriating the fallen cheerleader artwork from Hole’s Live Through This and an Elvis Costello riff on the track Brutal – which Costello rightly rejected on the grounds that all artists ultimately delve into the work of their ancestors. .
The Fall and Fontaines DC are among the references of this unmissable London post-punk group. The ringing guitars will have you longing for the independent nightclubs of yesteryear, though the project’s real secret weapon is Florence Shaw, who delivers dense lyrics on Tom Dowse’s relentless guitar. The effect is both surreal and sublime.
A secret gift wrapped just for you, Filipino-American producer and singer Ringgo Anceta’s eighth studio album is packed with understated surprises and piquant humor. Technically, it’s an LP r’n b. But Rare Pleasure hovers above the genre to float on clouds of pure joy. And given the year we’ve all just lived, it’s a record that needs to be played over and over again.
Grieving is something the world as a whole has had to come to terms with 18 months after the start of the pandemic. And this is a subject that producer David Balfe unveils with tenderness, wit and wisdom on his project For These I Love. A tribute to his late friend and bandmate Paul Curran, this Jamie XX-style banger suite is also colored by the courage and angst of Balfe’s upbringing to Coolock and Donaghmede. Irish music is full of false working class heroes. But the snapshots of life on the fringes of Balfe are genuine and touching.
Enemies claimed there were too many ballads on Del Rey’s seventh studio LP. And it is true that the course is careful and graceful throughout. However, the often oblique Del Rey has never been so direct as when she yearned for her silent wrestling days before the superstar, as she does on White Dress. The title track, on the other hand, perfectly captures the unsettling intermediate quality of life of the moment, when everything at hand feels dull and repetitive and yet the horizon is streaked with fear and disgust.
There are lots of things and then there is the debut of the Ghanaian-Australian singer and rapper Owusu. Toothless smile is by turns spooky, fantastic, and irresistibly eye-catching. Comparisons are pointless – but if you wanted to imagine Kendrick Lamar making a lo-fi record brimming with haunting vintage synths, you wouldn’t be entirely in the wrong time zone.
Goat Girl’s debut album in 2018 was a glorious mess. The second time around, the all-female London quartet shows just how far they’ve come as songwriters. Overflowing with hooks and offbeat lyrics (PTS Tea says it was splashed with a hot infusion on a ferry), it’s original, melodious and full of post-punk flair.
The glory years of high-level electronica are evoked on the second long-player of the Belfast producer duo of Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar. There are notes of Orbital, Brian Eno, Underworld, Leftfield and the early Chemical Brothers on a record saturated with epic beats and a sense of limitless adventure.
One of the great post-Brexit albums, Elizabeth Bernholz’s ruminations on English identity and the degree to which it is linked to nativism, xenophobia and an obsession with the past make it a wonderfully disconnected listen. A cover of The Wicker Man’s Fire Leap sounds like Prodigy trapped in a ’70s folk horror film. Who could – or would – resist?