Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways (Columbia Records)
On Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan proves that he’s still a force to be reckoned with after all these years. Given the detours the seminal artist has made on his most recent studio efforts – and the debatable quality of his live performances as of late – I’m sure none of us predicted an album this strong from Dylan, six decades into his career and now in his twilight years. For his first album of all original music in eight years, the US singer-songwriter great plays to his strengths, penning poignant ballads that traverse space and time, such as the JFK-eulogising ‘Murder Most Foul’ and the mortal embrace of ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You.’ Who would have thought we’d receive a record like this in 2020?
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (Dead Oceans/Inertia Music)
Phoebe Bridgers is shaping up to be one of the most promising artists of our time, and Punisher really goes the distance to prove why. While delivering a more upbeat and varied palate than her 2017 debut Stranger In The Woods, Punisher is just as serene, melding gorgeous electronic soundscapes and triumphant horns with hushed vocals and guitars to masterful effect. Bridgers’ voice is like a lullaby, and her lyrics ooze a mimetic quality that makes them simultaneously hilarious and crushingly emotive. Punisher might be the album that redefines emo music for a new decade, and we’re 100% here for it.
Ocean Alley – Lonely Diamond (Independent)
Sydney’s own Ocean Alley have followed up their triumphant 2018 LP Chiaroscuro with Lonely Diamond, a record that shows that the band are much more than just another Triple J phenomenon. Across twelve tracks, the Northern Beaches boys provide some of their most ambitious performances and songwriting to date, embellishing their laid-back rock sound with elements of Western, ‘70s radio rock and breezy funk fusion. The dynamic energy of Ocean Alley’s live performances is injected into each track on Lonely Diamond to make for a captivating release that proves that this band are indeed worthy of the hype they garner.
Simona Castricum – Panic/Desire (Trans-Brunswick Express)
Fusing ambient soundscapes and crunchy synth-pop with lyrics that explore identity and urban spaces, Simona Castricum’s latest full length release Panic/Desire is intriguing from start to finish. Castricum, who is an accomplished architecture academic on top of being a dynamic producer and performer, explores her experiences as a gender non-conforming person existing in an increasingly digitalised urban sprawl, which is reflected in both her lyrics and robo-tinged production. Recorded by Evelyn Ida-Morris and featuring guest appearances from Raquel Solier on acoustic drums, Em Gayfer on guitar and m8riarchy on vocals, Panic/Desire functions as Castricum’s most collaborative effort to date, with each guest complementing Castrium to make for a fluid, curious musical offering.
Neil Young – Homegrown (Reprise Records)
Finally – Neil Young has released Homegrown, his fabled ‘lost’ album originally recorded in the mid ‘70s at the peak of his commercial success. As legend has it, Young initially wrote and recorded Homegrown over two months between December 1974 – January 1975 after breaking up with his partner at the time Carrie Snodgress, and then pulled the album at the last minute because he felt it was too personal. Homegrown revolves around a similar instrumental palate to Harvest and After The Gold Rush, with Young’s lyrics delving into the crumbling of his relationship with a heart-tugging urgency and sadness atypical of his more canonical works. Of course, there’s a few roots rock stompers here and there, but it’s in the stripped-down tracks like ‘Little Wing’ and the depressing, druggy ode to cocaine ’White Line’ where Homegrown shines. It’s period-correct nostalgia, but it’s also a reminder about just how important Young really is in the grand scheme of things.
Notable Mentions: Darkstar – Civic Jams, East Av3 – Rugrats EP, The Lazy Eyes – The Lazy Eyes EP
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