In between the end-of-year lists and ones-to-watch for 2020, I’ve somehow managed to find time to listen to the clutch of new releases out this week. It helps that I have colleagues like Alex Pollard, who did a great review of FKA twigs’ album MAGDALENE, which I’m now slightly obsessed with.
My album of the week is by French producer SebastiAn, who I caught up with in Paris just before he played the most incredible set at Pitchfork Paris festival; his album Thirst is loaded with surprising collaborations, such as Syd from The Internet, and serves as a reflection on the violence and confusion taking place in the world around us.
I’m really happy to see J Hus back with his new track “Must Be”, and that signature blend of dancehall, grime and afropop. It seems to address his sentence of eight months in jail last year for carrying a knife in public (“You’re guilty, guilty by association”), and there’s a sense of determination in his delivery that gives me hope that 2020 will be his year.
Two of my favourite new artists, Collard and Bakar, have teamed up for the sensuous new song “Stone”. Collard’s silken falsetto is the perfect contrast for Bakar’s rough, slightly slurring delivery. Icelandic singer Glowie is here with her most R&B-influenced number to date, the catchy “Unlovable”. Then there’s the superb Arlo Parks, who’s joined forces with up and comers Easy Life for the laid-back “Sangria”, packed with deep grooves and jazz-lounge piano.
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After a tumultuous 2019, Krept & Konan are ending the year on a high note with their album Revenge Is Sweet. It’s heavy with guest features, from Stormzy and D-Block Europe to Krept’s late cousin Cadet; the record also has one of the most thoughtful and cohesive structures of any rap album I’ve heard this year. There are tender lulls, such as “G Love” with Wizkid, and the deeply affecting closer “Broski”, along with the essential icy beats and rapid-fire delivery of bars that are intended to shatter stereotypes about young black men.
I’m a big fan of the moody “History” from Sick Joy, a Brighton trio harnessing the grunge sound of Pixies and Nirvana with a few pop hooks thrown in for good measure. The outstanding new mixtape from Emotional Oranges, The Juice Vol II, is out now so you should check that out.
My spotlight artist this week is Gizmo Varillas, a London-based Spanish basque songwriter whose new song “Saving Grace” is being premiered right here on Now Hear This:
Tell me a bit about 'Saving Grace'
"Saving Grace" is a new single from my upcoming third album, Out of the Darkness. On this track, I collaborated with one of my heroes, the legendary Tony Allen. He was the musical director for Fela Kuti’s band Africa ’70, and most recently worked with Damon Albarn and Jeff Mills.
I wrote "Saving Grace" as a homage to music. Throughout the toughest times in my life, music has always been one of the few things I could count on to lift me back up.
What I’ve learnt over the years is that, in the end, we all turn to music for healing. This song is very close to my heart.
On your track "No War" in 2016 you used a John Lennon sample for your song about influenced by Trump's wall-building and growing nationalism around the world. What's your take on the state of things three years later, and has the way you approach music that reflects the times changed at all?
I think progress takes a long, long time. And we still have a long way to go. Since Trump was elected it does seem like we have taken a few steps backwards. And with the rise of nationalism across the globe, it feels like people are more polarised than ever before. However, we are progressing as a society. If you think about it, only a few generations ago slavery was legal and women were not allowed to vote. That notion is crazy to me. So I do think that, even though the state of the world looks bad today, we've come a long way.
And I am optimistic about the future, slowly but surely we will keep making good progress towards a better society. I think it's important not to lose hope. What other options do we have? With all the hate brewing these days, it’s a lot harder to have a positive outlook and it takes a lot of courage to be unifying people. In my music I try to give hope to people that have lost faith in humanity.
What's been one of the best things about your 2019?
Working alongside Tony Allen has to be at the top of my list. Growing up I'd listen to his music a lot and even to this day, I am in awe of the rhythms and music he's created throughout his career. Being in RAK Studios while this musical legend laid down drums on one of my own tracks was a magical experience… To add to that, he was so humble and kind, he worked hard to get the best performance possible. That alone is such a massive stamp of approval and I will be forever honoured to be part of his legacy!
What do you have lined up for fans next year?
I'm releasing my third album Out of the Darkness and will be touring across the UK & Europe! I'll also be co-writing songs with other artists and this is a new chapter in my career which I'm very excited about. In the meantime, I’ll be playing at Camden Assembly on 26 November in London with my full band.