Circuit Sweet Interview, Feature, Reviews

Rad Releases 20 – Portals

December 23, 2020

Rad Releases 20 – Portals

It’s that time once again, as the countdown to the end of 2020 rapidly approaches and we quickly want to move away from this year- we take a personal look back on familiar names, labels, promoters, and musicians’ best releases of the past 12 months. In what has been a challenging year for all, the one constant has been how artists and their labels have adapted and produced some of the best records of our time and it’s those releases that have the audience has depended on to get them through the year.

This year the Rad Releases special celebrates 10 years, to mark the decade-long feature we let our favorites take over the site to tell us the records that have kept them going throughout this trying year. Telling us how they’ve adapted, if they’ve returned to a loved record and what we can look forward to from them next year.

We are in awe of how promoters have adapted throughout a year of the unknown. At the start of 2020 we were delighted to share the news of the then anticipated Portals Festival for that summer. When life paused, the hardworking promoters Portals faced the challenges presented to them and continued to put music and their events community first. They quickly adapted their live event to a virtual two-day festival back in June. They provided an accessible streamed event that gave their fans a welcomed return to a life they’ve had to put on the back burner. We are seriously in awe of the entire team of Portals. They’ve also announced their 2021 return plans (poster above) and we have everything crossed for them. We handover to the team to find out more about their year in music…

Top Releases

We decided to go a bit rogue with our Rad Releases this year. We each picked two outstanding albums and wrote a little about why they meant so much to us in a really difficult year. It’s been a fantastic year for music though, the hardest part was whittling it down!

In no particular order…

Aiming for Enrike – Music For Working Out (Asher)

Aiming for Enrike were a band sent to us by their booking agent (shout out to Mr. Niblock) that we immediately knew we had to book. They have that rare combination of instant satisfaction with tonnes of layers to unpeel upon each subsequent listen.

Music For Working Out is no exception. For me, it’s their best record, and the best record I’ve heard in 2020. It sounds like the band would play at the last party on earth…banger after banger after banger…with a simmering feeling that everything is about to go very wrong. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment from this Norwegian guitar-and-drums 2-piece. Technical wizardry, complex looping and heaps of groove lie at the heart of this record. A telepathic understanding between the musicians holds it all together. If you enjoy experimental electronica such as Aphex Twin, Three Trapped Tigers or El Ten Eleven, this is essential listening.

The Guru Guru – Point Fingers (Asher)

There seems to be something in the water in Belgium that produces amazing music. From Brutus to Oathbreaker, Amenra to Six Hands, the consistent quality emerging over the past few years has been fascinating to follow. The Guru Guru are certainly helping to cement their nation’s reputation. Combining the raw energy of someone like Metz or Idles with the explosive technicality of The Mars Volta and And So I Watch You From Afar, they are one of the most exciting bands on the planet right now.

Point Fingers is a brilliant showcase of their flexibility and inventiveness. Right from the off the band are in top form. Mache saunters along with its tenacious earworm, whilst Chramer builds a simple idea into a frenetic, showstopper of a crescendo. It’s fair to say the band aren’t afraid to experiment. The album’s quietest track, Origamiwise, is captivating in its delivery of something confusing yet powerful. It’s hard to decipher exactly what vocalist Tom Adriaenssens is singing about, but boy does he feel strongly about it!

Nothing on this album should make any sense at all. It’s easy to feel lost listening to this record due to the breadth of ideas they explore, but it’s such an infectiously catchy album that you’ll be singing it’s hooks to yourself for days on end. A joyous, tumultuous, journey of an album which is incredibly rewarding to the listener who will be left scratching their head, wondering why they can’t stop going back to it.

Vennart – In The Dead Dead Wood (Sam F)

Oceansize are one of my top bands of all time, no question. The combination of melody, texture, heaviness, soaring vocals, wild screaming, experimental time-signatures, catchy riffs and juxtaposition of aggression and delicacy has lead me to devouring any music that combines a smidgeon of those elements; In The Dead Dead Wood goes a long way towards satiating my cravings.

Vennart reminds us what he’s best at. Glorious riffs of crisp guitar tones fill the space with crushing clarity combining with his unique soaring vocals over irregular time signatures, that altogether manages to maintain its melodic, trance-like catchiness. Parts of this album have incredible hooks whilst keeping an abrasive edge with the tonality and use of chromatic notes, in addition to delightful piano, tearing into sections that rival even the most aggressive of his previous work with screams to boot.

The title track brings a sense of foreboding and tension rarely found in the rest of the album; a cautious dread-filled breather, with a sense of tranquil darkness, and a perfect introduction to Weight In Gold: a cathartic release. Layer upon finely assembled layer, it washes you with reverb drenched vocals whilst warming your innards with unrelenting stacks of guitar tone.

The pièce de resistance is Forc in the Road. The way the song slowly builds textures, taking its time to grow, develop and reel the listener into a comforting trancelike state is something special. The best Vennart song so far. If this is an indication of things to come, Vennart might finally get the recognition that Oceansize incomprehensibly failed to achieve.

Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Sam F)

Lulling you into a false sense of security with warm, luscious tones, then battering you with wave upon lurid wave of abrasive energy, Svalbard hold nothing back with this astonishing album. It really surprised me, tonally moving from the fringes of my Venn diagram with their previous work right into the sweet spot. It encompasses raging vocals, incredibly pertinent subject matter, sumptuous guitars complimented by layers of textured instrumentation drenched in reverb that embraces a wonderful shoegaze tone.

That being said, Svalbard are not afraid to take a step back and strip down to a raw sound, adding in a vulnerability that juxtaposes the occasional bombardment of your senses. Melding smatterings of hardcore, metal, punk, shoegaze and post-rock into a distinct sound takes a great deal of craft to pull it off succinctly; at no point on this album does it feel like anything is shoehorned in, or there without merit. It reminds me of the latest Rolo Tomassi album Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, in the way it propelled that band onto the next step towards world domination; a contender for my aoty 2018, very high praise indeed. When I Die, Will I Get

Better? is an incredibly well put together piece of work that will catapult Svalbard into a wider consciousness.


In this difficult year where I have found myself mostly retreating back to the comfortingly familiar embrace of my AOTY from last year, American Football’s still-fantastic LP3, two exceptional 2020 releases managed to truly stand out for me.

Luo – Unspoken

As a lover of pocket grooves and lo-fi chillout, I’ve played Luo’s 2016 debut Sleep Spindles more times than I can count, so to say their follow-up was eagerly anticipated would be a serious understatement. We were lucky enough to be given a sneaky preview of a few tracks from the new record last year, so I knew it was going to be good, and then they absolutely killed on the main stage at Portals Festival – yet even with those high expectations they still managed to take my breath away.

Releasing Unspoken just as the world began to fall apart in March, the dark and often sinister tones throughout the record felt like a fitting soundtrack indeed. The sheer musicianship Josh and Barney display is breathtaking, with songs veering effortlessly from Boards of Canada lush mellow to aggressive synth and riff combinations that Three Trapped Tigers would be proud of. They even flirt with tech metal vibes a few times across it’s 42 minutes, demonstrating not only serious chops but a willingness to push their boundaries, but it’s when the chaos all comes together into moments of euphoric singularity, like a vibrant ray of sun pushing through the darkest storm clouds, that their true vision for this piece of art comes into focus. Truly outstanding.

Martin Grech – Hush Mortal Core

If Luo’s release was highly anticipated, Martin Grech on the other hand totally snuck up on me and well and truly showed me what I’ve been missing out on all this time. By all accounts Grech had finished the record, his fourth solo album, all the way back in 2015, spending five years perfecting and then seeking label support, before finally self-releasing to his Patreon backers in March and more widely in the summer this year.

Hush Mortal Core is, quite simply, magnificent. It’s ambition and scale defies putting into words, being delicate, triumphant, heartbreaking and devastating all at once. His true art lies in his command of dynamic range, leaping from the quietest falsetto to gospel-like chorus, acoustic fingerpicking to earth-shattering prog riffage. Individually these aspects are common enough amongst my favourite albums, but I’ve never heard them as skillfully put together as Grech accomplishes on this record. To go from frisson to gurning as quickly and artfully as this album manages to is testament to his mastery of his craft.

At this point I could list a whole bunch of ‘sounds like’ comparisons, but I can’t help but feel to do so would be doing the record a disservice, and besides, if you’re not already familiar then do yourselves a favour and go play Aurus Awol as loudly as your neighbours will allow you to and, as I did, discover the best progressive artist you never knew (and delight in an extensive enough back catalogue to get lost in).

Loathe – I Let It in and It Took Everything (Sam J)

Loathe’s sophomore full-length turned out to be exactly what I needed to soundtrack what can be considered one of the biggest shitstorms of a year in my (and many others’) lifetime. This is a modern, abrasive, progressive metalcore record; one with zero compromises, and not a moment wasted across its 50-minute runtime.

Critics immediately began their comparisons with Loathe’s contemporaries and influences alike, and while bands like Deftones, Polaris, and Between the Buried and Me are strong starting points to describe the band, it doesn’t really do justice to the breadth and consistently high execution of songcraft that you find throughout I Let It in and It Took Everything. If the idea of a record that hot swaps between caustic, lower-than-belief baritone slams, half-awake ambient traps, and beautiful, elegiac vocal beds sounds even remotely appealing, then I can guarantee that you should strap in and see where Loathe are willing to take you.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Sam J)

2020 was the year I realized that I have slept on Fiona Apple for too long. From the moment I heard the ringing chaos of the Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ delicate opening minutes morph and snake into the outstanding single Shameika, I knew that Fiona Apple’s long-awaited fifth studio release was something that would stick with me for a long time.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is a triumph in everything it sets out to do. Apple’s incredible, cutting, oftentimes heartbreaking lyricism interweaves with her deft piano work and her own home’s percussive, abstract collages to create something that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts, not that those parts were lacking anything to begin with. These are songs that linger and echo in the memory far after they’ve ended.

No one was surprised this record was brilliant – just me. I have a new favourite artist, and a lot of listening to do.

Portals Festival 2021 will be headlined by Vennart and Bossk. It takes place on the 29th and 30th May at the Dome, Boston Music Room and Aces + Eights Bar, in Tufnell Park, London.


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Thank you Portals!!

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