There’s a strong opener to our recommendations for 2024: Little Rope (out 19 Jan) is one of the finest, most delicately layered records in Sleater-Kinney’s nearly 30-year career. To call the album flawless feels like an insult to its intent: it careens head-first into flaw and brokenness, a meditation on what living in a world of perpetual crisis has done to us and what we do to the world in return. On the surface, the album’s 10 songs veer from spare to anthemic, catchy to deliberately hard-turning. But beneath that are perhaps the most complex and subtle arrangements of any Sleater-Kinney record, and a lyrical and emotional compass pointed firmly in the direction of something both liberating and terrifying: the sense that the only way to gain control is to let go.
Green Day is sending out a fiery SOS for these troubled times. Saviors (19 Jan) is Green Day’s 14th studio album, yet somehow this enduring power trio – Billie Joe Armstrong, Tré Cool and Mike Dirnt – remain devoted to their defiant craft that has fuelled a career-long destruction of every boundary bestowed on the genre, and landed three East Bay punks in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. So, even as the band acknowledges its illustrious past – such as with the 30th anniversary of the now classic Dookie and the 20th anniversary of American Idiot later this year – Green Day remains firmly focused on the here and now.
There are few great bands on our planet that you can infallibly identify within the first few bars of one of their songs. Their unique melodic skill, their tasteful instrumentation, the right balance of depth and catchiness, and then of course that charismatic voice: Magnum are Magnum! The same can be said of their latest studio album, Here Comes the Rain (12 Jan).
Torchbearers for British guitar music The Vaccines are back with their sixth studio album, Pick-up Full of Pink Carnations (12 Jan). The title comes from a misheard lyric from Don McClean’s ‘American Pie’, a song that for singer Justin Young fittingly evokes the death of innocence and the American Dream. After he moved to Los Angeles – a city the band grew up being captivated by – he was forced to wrestle with the disillusionment that comes when expectations, dreams and reality don’t quite meet. Yet, although Pick-up Full of Pink Carnations is an album about reconciling with loss, it’s also filled with gratitude for the people and places we once loved.
Black Grape could only have been made in Manchester. The swagger, fun and cryptic humour seem hewn from a city historian AJP Taylor once described as offering a way of English urban life archetypally different from that of London. Both Shaun Ryder and Paul Leveridge, known as Kermit, came from edgy-but-cool parts of the city: in Shaun’s case, Salford, with Kermit originating from Moss Side. For those unfamiliar with ‘the Moss’, it lay in the shadow of Manchester City’s old stadium at Maine Road and was one of the first multi-ethnic areas in Manchester. Ryder has grown from a wild young tearaway into a British National Treasure. Orange Head (19 Jan) is the latest installment in Black Grape’s grimily cosmic musical jigsaw, melding rock, hip-hop, acid house, psychedelic pop and reggae with Ryder’s gutter poetry, delivered in his inimitable shyster’s bark.
Our release of the week is Sadness Sets Me Free (26 Jan) – incredibly, the 25th album that Gruff Rhys has released in his 35-year career individually, collaboratively and as a member of various bands. In the early hours of a March morning in 2022 Gruff and his band piled into a van driven by late, legendary tour manager ‘Dr’ Kiko Loiacono and raced from Dunkirk, where they had just played the final show of a tour of Spain and France, to the outskirts of Paris. There, in La Frette Studios, a recording facility installed in a 19th-century house, Gruff and his road-hardened group recorded Sadness Sets Me Free in just three days. Along the way, backing vocals were added by Kate Stables from This Is The Kit along with additional strings and orchestration, and it was mixed in Marseille and Cardiff. What finally emerged from these intense bouts of cross-continental activity was Gruff’s most accomplished and beautiful record to date.
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