The year's essential releases...
Clash entered 2021 with high hopes - after all, we made it through the chaos of the previous 12 months, right?
Yet the opening week of this New Year has already been tarnished by a Far Right insurrection in the States and yet more appalling pandemic figures here in the UK.
Music takes a much more important role in our lives during these fraught times, becoming a place of solace and inspiration.
Here's 16 albums that could yet save 2021...
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*Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club*
Lana Del Rey is a polarising artist. Her music either makes you think she is the second coming of pop or it’s another case of the Empresses’ New Clothes. Her last studio album, ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, was a lauded as a career high. Last year’s poetry book / spoken word album ‘Violet Bent Backwards’ was the album we always needed from Del Rey but didn’t realise we wanted.
So, expectation levels are high for Del Rey’s new album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’. Rumour has it that the album is immense, but nothing has been confirmed. However, like the end of COVID-19, we know it’s coming. (Nick Roseblade)
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*Drake – Certified Lover Boy*
‘Certified Lover Boy’ - Drake’s latest album - is incoming. This album marks his sixth full length studio album and follows 2018’s ‘Scorpion’. The Toronto born rapper released a teaser to Instagram back on October 24th, 2020, his 34th birthday. The teaser is an artistic live action recreation of his previous releases ‘Take Care,’ ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes,’ and ‘Nothing Was The Same’.
Drizzy fans are on the edge of their seats for this release and it’s speculated that this album will be a sonic culmination that caters to all types of Drake music. The album also ties into Drake’s ‘Certified Lover Boy’ capsule collection with Nike that is in the works. (Rae Niwa)
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*Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight*
2020 was meant to be the year when alt-rockers Foo Fighters celebrated 25 years at the top of their game, with their tenth studio album supporting the event. Everything was organised in precise detail, but the Coronavirus soon put an instant halt to their plans.
There is a but. In December frontman Dave Grohl laid out the band’s revised plans, confirming that ‘Medicine At Midnight’ would come out early this year instead. The two incendiary single releases ‘No Son of Mine’ and ‘Shame Shame’ from the anticipated record already under their belt only serve to mark the truly special occasion. (Susan Hansen)
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*AJ Tracey*As a teaser to satiate the loyalists, Ladbroke Grove’s AJ Tracey tweeted the near-completion of his sophomore effort at the tail end of 2020. The upcoming record follows his star-making, manga- referencing surprise release, ‘Secure The Bag! 2’, a spiritual sequel to his 2017 mixtape of the same name. Since then, the West Londoner has embraced the era of the multi-disciplinarian, with crossover hits and big brand partnerships racking up. We expect the upcoming LP to be a bold fusion of grit and gloss, with Tracey’s cultivated word play the focal point. (Shahzaib Hussain) - - -
*Rihanna - R9*
I’m convinced a new Rihanna album could end corona. It’s been over four years now, sure we’ve got Fenty Beauty now, but we need a new banger, not a contour stick. Though consistently rejecting claims of new music and clapping back at impatient fans with snarky one-liners, we’ve still got fingers crossed that 2021 could see the comeback of Ri-Ri.
Ideally it’ll drop in time for summer where the vaccines will be flowing and the speakers will be blasting a follow up to the iconic 2016 anthem ‘Work’. Yes, 2016…that’s now long it’s been, who knows how we’ve lasted. (Lucy Harbron)
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*Travis Scott – Utopia*
It’s fair to say Travis Scott had an incredibly successful 2020, landing deals with global brands, whilst talking care of his fans with standout singles and a movie score. The rapper is following up on such success, teasing his upcoming album ‘Utopia’. After several hints on Twitter, all was confirmed on Instagram. Eagle-eyed fans may have noticed when he changed his bio from ‘Astroworld’, the title of his 2018 album, to ‘Utopia’.
‘Utopia’ will be the rapper's fourth studio album, set to be released in March. Scott is yet to spill the details on the official tracklist of ‘Utopia’, but there are rumours of features with Kevin Parker, Young Thug and M.I.A. (Josh Crowe)
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*Mogwai – As The Love Continues*
It’s been four years since Mogwai’s last effort Every Country’s Sun, but the band have kept pretty busy with soundtrack work for sci-fi film Kin and Italian crime drama ZeroZeroZero.
Fans have come accustomed to their servings of fluctuating, planet-scale post-rock by this point and though the music is still abstract, the ideas aren’t this time around - lead guitarist Stuart Braitwaithe has said ‘As The Love Continues’ is one of their most fully-developed records in years.
Set for February 19th and boasting contributions from Atticus Ross and Colin Stetson, album #10 could spring new horizons, and based on the lead single ‘Dry Fantasy’, they are looking to lighten up. (Nathan Evans)
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It’s now been four years since Compton born rapper Kendrick Lamar told us the story of Kung Fu Kenny on 2017’s ‘DAMN’. Since then we have had very few K Dot appearances, but most recently he appeared on the Busta Rhymes track ‘Look Over Your Shoulder’, boasting a nostalgic Section 80 style flow.
Little has been said about a new album other than Billboard columnist Bill Werde saying that he would have an album releasing 2020 with “more rock sounds”; but that didn’t happen. All we can do now is look forward and hope that 2021 brings us something more substantial. (Mason Meyers)
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‘Ho, Why Is You Here?’ was the debut EP by Alabama born rapping powerhouse and viral sensation Flo Milli. Released in summer 2020 it served as the soundtrack to a brief period of respite from lockdown life here in the UK.
In 12 short tracks, Milli’s minimalistic bass-fuelled trap beats accompany her smart stinging lyricism and infectious energy throughout. If the first week of 2021 is anything to go by, things aren't looking swell, and I can only think of two ways to save it. An effective vaccine roll-out, and a new Flo Milli project. Her untouchable and unapologetic style is as brash as it is playful, brimming with charm as she toys with her haters and “weak” men.
Hearing her tag line alone: “Flo Milli Shit” is enough to inspire hope for more lighthearted days ahead. (Megan Warrender)
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*J. Cole – The Off Season / trilogy*
We’ve had a pretty steady supply of J. Cole music in recent years. His collaboration album ‘Revenge Of The Dreamers III’ only dropped a year ago. Since then Jermaine has released a single detailing his drama with Noname and half an EP called ‘Lewis Street’ featuring the opening two tracks from his future album ‘The Fall Off’.
Recently Cole took to social media to show the world his to-do list for the album release schedule. It looks as if we might be eagerly waiting for some while for him to tick them all off in 2021. (Mason Meyers)
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*Shame – Drunk Tank Pink*
“You become very aware of yourself and when all of the music stops, you’re left with the silence,” considers Shame’s frontman Charlie Steen. That silence is partly what the new record looks to tackle.”
Challenging boredom and conventionalism, The South London punks are well-known for their twitching anxieties. If ‘Songs of Praise’ demonstrated concept and purpose, their second album pledges ambition and depth. Known for writing and performing with unshakable honesty, they set out to shake things up by experimenting. Instead of a ‘rock’ sound, they play with tunings.
A route to escapism or realism? The choice will be yours! (Susan Hansen)
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*Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs*
Sure, on a surface level Sleaford Mods essentially remain a gobshite shouting at pigeons while his mate knocks back can after can of Tetley’s, something you could catch down your local town centre any given Saturday afternoon.
But, for those who have been tracking the subtle evolution of the Notts duo’s sound on each release since ‘Austerity Dogs’, ‘Spare Ribs’ has the potential to be one of 2021’s most essential releases, particularly if it leans more towards the eerie groove of Billy Nomates collab ‘Mork ‘n’ Mindy’.
Expect laughter and loathing in equal measure. (Josh Gray)
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*slowthai – TYRON*
The follow-up to slowthai’s poetic snarl ‘Nothing Great about Britain’ looks set to be another conceptual project, just as inspirational as his zeitgeisty debut. When the Mercury Prize nominee announced details of ‘TYRON’ in November, it became clear that this record derives from a more intimate place.
Following the release of ‘NHS’, a track celebrating Britain’s health service, the rapper spoke about soul-searching, the idea came to him at a challenging point in his life. Tackling themes like appreciating what you have and how learning about yourself makes you a better person, promises of great things have already been made. (Susan Hansen)
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*Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams*
Arlo Parks’ first full length album debut, Collapsed in Sunbeams, is set to be released this month. The 20 year old West London singer-songwriter rose to the top last year and mesmorised listeners across the globe with her notable singles such as ‘Cola’ and ‘Black Dog’.
Her music and poetry is a particular tenderness that sets the place for not only narrative, but an intentional world of feeling. She is direct, yet intimate, powerful, yet soft. Her ethereal voice and vulnerable lyrics hold cosigns from Billie Eilish, Phoebe Bridgers and Florence Welsh.
With an expansive palette of a full length album, there is an excited anticipation over the nostalgic interludes and reservoirs of feeling that Parks will employ in this upcoming body of work. (Rae Niwa)
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*Migos*The Georgian hip-hop trio dabbled in ancillary solo projects since releasing their last record as a collective, ‘Culture II’, which didn’t quite meet the starry heights of meme sensation ‘Bad and Boujee’. The final part of the trilogy – originally titled, you guessed it, ‘Culture III’ – is complete, expected to arrive when the pandemic eases. In a recent podcast, Quavo touched on a traditional album roll-out, allowing Migos the chance to tour and feel reciprocal feedback of their newest material in a live setting. We do know late rapper Juice WRLD will feature and here’s hoping the trio revisit or indeed build on the kinetic synergy that was harnessed to incredible effect on ‘Culture’. (Shahzaib Hussain) - - - *Pusha T*Pusha T’s titanic, sampled-drenched record ‘Daytona’ was an austere synthesis of laconic wordplay and minimalism; tales of excess, drug trade and meagre rap competition who favoured ghost-writers (ouch!) making it one of the strongest rap albums of recent years. We’re intrigued to see where Pusha ventures for his fourth studio album. What we do know is it will bear the production imprint of Yeezy once again, in addition to long-time collaborators The Neptunes. “I’m well in on my next project,” Pusha said during an Ask Me Anything session in May 2020. “It’s looking kind of selfish right now, to be honest...I got a lot to say. A lot’s went on. A lot to address.” (Shahzaib Hussain) - - -
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The year's essential releases...