GREY Area – Little Simz – Genie Harrison
Little Simz returns with her third studio album GREY Area. Tackling the difficulties that understandably accompany the limbo state that is one’s twenties, GREY Area sounds like Simz working out both where and who she is. The album veers between vulnerability and overwhelming empowerment, with tracks like ‘Boss’ and ‘Offence’ powerfully proclaiming her status in the hip-hop scene in a lyrical whirl (“I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days”), and the more reflexive ‘Therapy’ and ‘Selfish’ providing intimacy, her more personal doubts and insecurities. Created in collaboration with British producer Inflo, there is a rawness to the album; the paired-back sampling and an often-sparse texture leaves space in the music for Simz’ lyrics to take centre stage. GREY Area sees Simz solidly finding her feet, standing her ground in a manner that simultaneously intimidates and inspires, making this an album worthy of all its critical praise.
Avalon – Roxy Music – Eddie Milton-Seall
It would turn out to be Roxy Music’s final studio release. However, Avalon is by far their finest. The album’s success is predominately due to Bryan Ferry’s remarkable performance on piano and vocals, especially in the lush, elegant soundscapes of title track ‘Avalon’ and the heart-warming lyrics of ‘More Than This’. Far removed from the edgy avant-pop of their early work, Roxy Music’s last showpiece blends the sounds of Joy Division and The Human League to produce a true Eighties masterclass. A must listen.
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic – Foxygen – Ben Philipps
Foxygen’s second album has always been my favourite, lacking as it does the self-aware indulgence of 2017’s Hang, and being as it is a lot better than their debut, Take the Kids Off Broadway. 21st Century Ambassadors is in large part an ironic love letter to the music of bygone years, with Sam France doing his best Mick Jagger impression on songs like ‘No Destruction’. This would be annoying if he weren’t a really good singer, and crucially, if he didn’t make it seem so effortless. Even with its Little-Richard-by-way-of-Sir-Paul howling, the album’s sprawling technicolour soundscape remains weirdly laid-back. ‘San Francisco’ has long been my favourite, partly because of its hilarious call-and-response chorus, but also because it’s the most elusive of the nine tracks, the one that makes me most excited to see where they might take their music next. The album sounds like two talented musicians riffing on the sounds and vibes that they grew up with. I think on some level that this is a sign of artistic maturity: the duo, despite not themselves being bigger than Jesus, are confident in the fact that they can play with the best of them. This may not be true, and they still suffer from the curse of their singles being far better than the album tracks, but somehow, in thirty-six minutes of music, France and Rado vividly evoke a time and place that probably never existed outside their heads.