Ever felt that rush of the familiar and the unfamiliar at the same time? It's like that in Sparksland.

In Sparksland things remain both impervious to change and also uncannily up to date.

A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is full of such moments.

Nothing Travels Faster Than The Speed Of Light could be a Gary Numan track from the synth-craze of the early 1980s, but then on I'm Toast, lines like "Alexa, get me out of this place" put us firmly in the present.

Fans will be comforted that they are as dedicated as ever to the anthemic (All That is a real lighters-aloft moment) and the irreverent.

I mean, what other band would have chosen Please Don't F*** Up My World from this album for their Christmas single?

Though there are few of their trademark collage-style songs on here, Russell Mael is in fine voice, those impossible falsetto notes still ringing out clear as a bell, and brother Ron's lyrics have stayed wickedly funny and gloriously direct (sample lyric: "Put your f****** iPhone down and listen to me").

They might be living through dark times, but the songs show they're still a pair of bright sparks.

(Review by Rachel Farrow)




San Francisco-based Hanni El Khatib may be a new name to many but his fifth album in a decade should make him your new favourite garage-soul-punk-blues stylist.

There are 13 songs packed into 31 adrenaline-fuelled minutes, all with one-word titles such as Alive, Room, Dumb and Harlow, which doesn't appear to be an ode to the Essex new town.

Carry is as exciting an opening track as I've heard all year as El Khatib sings "shoot a bullet in the sky and see it fall" over pounding drums, while Glassy is slower, 68 seconds of half-spoken lyrics over swirling keyboards.

The album is short, sharp and thrilling, with a classic rock 'n' roll ethos underpinned by samples, tape loops and drum breaks, which makes sense given it was not intended to be played live, and sounds both familiar yet also like nothing else.

One reference point is Chicago maverick Ezra Furman, who rose from cult success to providing the soundtrack for hit Netflix show Sex Education, and similarly El Khatib's raw talent could take him anywhere.

Superb closing track Peace states "I'm a child of the 80s, born in the Bay", lamenting "no-one understands my pain" before proclaiming "I've found peace in my mind" and ending abruptly, and you'll want to play it again immediately.

(Review by Matthew George)




When The Dears released breakthrough album No Cities Left in the shadow of 9/11, the Montreal band - literate, influenced by The Smiths - were widely touted as the next big thing.

Somehow they rather dropped off the radar, noted mainly for forcing Madrid indie band Deers to change their name (they became the excellent Hinds), but Lovers Rock, their eighth studio album, comes at a similarly foreboding time, and now the time again feels right.

After numerous line-up changes husband-and-wife duo singer/guitarist Murray Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak are leading their self-styled "orchestral pop noir rock band" back into the limelight.

As the world gets gloomier, The Dears are getting smoother, with hints of yacht rock in Stille Lost's sax and the polished strings arrangement on Instant Nightmare, while Play Dead and Too Many Wrongs veer towards a Vegas sound.

But the lyrics reflect 2020's foreboding sense of ennui, with Lightburn crooning "nobody wants to die, but does anybody wanna live another day going through the motions" on Is This What You Really Want? and "we're lost, and nobody gives a damn" on Stille Lost.

The radio-friendly album repays repeated listening, and though the tour dates supporting it were cancelled The Dears are due to return to the UK in November and it'll be fascinating to discover how they play these songs live.

(Review by Matthew George)




Matching a soundtrack to the emotions of modern life is ambitious but the second album from Josef Salvat excels.

With a heady mix of bass-filled tech pop and stripped back vocals, Modern Anxiety is a complex and heartfelt album with something to match nearly every mood.

Modern Anxiety opens with a track of the same name, a rapid and ethereal song that sets the tone of the album.

In The Afternoon is the hit of the album's 10 tracks, with the bouncy yet smooth pop telling a tale of sweet love.

Paper Moons meets the other side of this emotion, with Salvat's despair-tinged vocals.

The album can drag in places, with some tracks feeling over-long, but overall the Australian singer-songwriter excels.

From intimate and stripped back tales of young relationships to bone-shaking beats, this album provides the soundtrack for not only a night out but also the morning after.

(Review by Jess Glass)




While many older stars have responded to the spread of Covid-19 by postponing releases, a generation of so-called digital natives have done the opposite, storming ahead with surprise albums for their streaming fanbases.

North Carolina rapper DaBaby unveiled Blame It On Baby, Drake dropped Dark Lane Demo Tapes, and now Bad Bunny delivers a surprise album of his own, direct from self-isolation.

The Puerto Rican trap and reggaeton superstar's influence remains negligible in the UK, but in the US it's a different story.

His last album YHLQMDLG debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and became its highest charting all-Spanish-language album.

Las Que No Iban A Salir, Spanish for The Ones That Were Not Coming Out, arrives three months later and sees the 26-year-old in spritely form.

Isolation has not dampened Bad Bunny's energetic presence.

Si Ella Sale delivers bone-shaking beats and hypnotic raps, while Mas De Una Cita evokes the spirit of a now-so-distant beach party.

The reggaeton sound may still sound alien to British ears, but when it eventually reaches these shores, Bad Bunny will be at the vanguard.

(Review by Alex Green)