Rad Releases 20 – Richard of Silent Forum
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.
Our next addition comes from Richard of Cardiff based Post-Punk / New Wave Silent Forum. It’s no surprise we’ve got an obsession with this band, we want everyone to hear them. Last December the band released their flawless debut ‘Everything Solved At Once’ via Libertino Records. We were delighted to welcome copies to our own shop shelves earlier in the year. Despite the lull of 2020, Silent Forum had several moments to celebrate, the bands’ album was nominated for this year’s Welsh Music Prize and to honour their year anniversary the band dropped a dance-pop remix of ‘How I Faked the Moon Landing’ by their producer Charlie Francis. We speak to Richard to find out more about his year in music…
Top 5 LPs of 2020
1.GoGo Pengiun – GoGo Penguin (Nu Jazz)
GoGo Penguin are one of my very favourite groups. They are known for their glamorous, hooky Nu Jazz; addictive piano runs; off-kilter, forensically accurate drums and double bass which drills into the depths of your soul. Their 2019 EP, Ocean in a Drop, saw the group on their best form, returning to a dancier approach in their music which they had shied away from since their breakthrough second album v2.0. There has never been a better time for a self-titled LP.
The best song of the album has to be ‘Totem’ in which the bass and drums get tied up in themselves, every note is perfectly precise but for the listener it is entertainingly difficult to determine where one bar starts and the next part ends – the musical equivalent of an M.C. Escher painting.
2. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension (Art Pop)
If Carrie & Lowell was Stevens at his simplest and most accessible, The Ascension is a leap in the opposite direction. Not only has he returned to long form, high concept compositions, he has re-embraced a style of glitchy, progressive synth music that he has not dabbled in since 2010’s The Age of Adz. This time round though he has arrived at a more refined, less scattershot approach, throwing out the guitar and strings entirely and focusing on a smaller, cohesive set of sounds. It is far better realised than The Age of Adz which is impressive as unusually for Stevens, these songs were written and recorded at pace with little outside interference. To me it is equally as enchanting as Illinois or Carrie & Lowell and is by far the best LP he has written in this style. This record has once again raised my estimations of Sufjan Stevens as an artist.
3.Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Art Pop)
On Fetch The Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple transforms harsh, dissonant sounds into vibrant pop music. I’m not generally a fan of abstract sound collages but Apple has managed to weave a perfect selection of odd sounds seamlessly into her songs. In one sense every track here is immediate and easily accessible but at the same time there are bizarre ideas packed into the presentation which make them difficult to wrap your head around.
‘Newspaper’ is one of my favourite tracks. It takes an interesting but relatively conventional vocal melody and backing vocals and places them over odd percussive hand claps, a loose skinned bass drum, a tinkering single note from an unplugged electric guitar and miscellaneous clattering. There is a rewarding tension that comes from these detached sounds and the pop vocals. I appreciate how difficult it is to arrive at these pop melodies, but they are more interesting in this carefully composed avant-garde environment.
4.Idles – Ultra Mono (Post-Punk)
Regardless of whether this album changes any stubborn minds on Idles as a band, it is a phenomenal achievement. They have matched their last album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, in terms of quality. It is a release that reaffirms that they are deserving of their position as one of a small handful of current rock groups that sit in the public’s consciousness.
‘War’ is a monstrous opening track, starting with a moment of silence and the click of a jack lead before throwing you into riotous guitars and pummelling drums. At regular intervals the guitars pull out, sucking all the air out of the track before a rush of noise – it gives you sonic whiplash every time. The incongruous drum pad blast beats provide the best moment of what might be the band’s best song to date.
5. Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today (Post-Punk)
In the five years I’ve been listening to Protomartyr nothing prepared me for the overwhelming menacing force of the guitars that arrive two thirds of the way through ‘I Am You Now’. It is a moment which makes me look forward to the return of live music. This is perfectly sequenced next to the breezy, regretful ‘The Aphorist’ where Casey’s typically dark and humorous lyrics take centre stage. “There’s the failed lawyer haunting teen-punk shows/ he’ll explain his top 5 for 09 and what to eat/ but, if you ever saw his bald-skull head/ you’d be certain he’d been dead for weeks”.
Top 5 EPs of 2020
1. Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 (Pop Rap)
It’s almost taken as read nowadays that a great pop rap act is also a great r&b act. We mustn’t forget how impressive this is. Tkay Maidza is the absolute pinnacle of this. The rap flows on the distorted, relentless ‘Grasshopper’ are totally villainous. How is the same woman behind the sunny, pretty, r&b vocals of ‘You Sad’? She nails both modes.
2. Tobi Lou – Lingo Starr (Trap Rap)
Tobi Lou is perfectly tight and focused on this EP. Lingo Starr could easily be pitched as a single 6 minute track with various beat switches. The mix of winding, bending guitar, constantly changing melodic rap flows and r&b choruses rip up and alter the pace of each song before you are ever able to get accustomed to a flow. Tobi Lou has the rare quality of instantly striking you with his unique personality – I can’t think of any artist that sounds like this. Hazy, bright and gently experimental production meets irresistible rapping.
3. Shygirl – Alias (UK Bass)
‘Slime’ is another hit for Shygirl. Dark and mean spirited vocals are paired with choppy flows and clubby production. ‘Leng’ slips into manic, falling down stairs keys and freaky production. It’s a stomach churner. It is not until ‘Tasty’ where things get a little more accessible. Sung in a more conventional way both this and ‘Siren’ could be Ibiza dance anthems – a nice way of mixing Alias up. Similarly ‘Bawdy’ puts a weirdo twist on a late 2000s r&b chart sound – reshaping it into a scarier, more dramatic cut. It is another superb EP from Shygirl which has me crossing my fingers hoping for a full length record some time soon.
4. Bombay Bicycle Club – Two Lives (Indie Folk)
It always struck me as odd that Bombay Bicycle Club’s second LP Flaws was their only acoustic effort. Jack Steadman’s finger patterns and delicate, whispery voice lend themselves perfectly to this style of performance. Flaws was released 10 years ago and after an acoustic tour they did not seem to enjoy, it gained an odd reputation with the band. They have now publically made peace with that LP and followed it up with this new EP.
Two Lives is Bombay Bicycle Club’s most consistent release in the 10 years since Flaws, there is not a dud in its short tracklist. It makes me fully reconnect with a band who I adored when I was 17 but since then have enjoyed in a milder way, at a distance. Let’s hope they give us more treats like this going forwards.
5. SL – Selhurst SE25 (UK Hip Hop)
This is the first I’ve heard from UK hip hop artist SL. The solid, matter of fact rap flow and dark, chiming beat on ‘Hit the Block’ are a killer combination. It has a spooky feel which is drastically different from the next two tracks, which have brighter, more melodic production from Kenny Beats (fresh from an amazing collaboration with Denzel Curry). He uses panpipes and violin synths which give SL’s frank, laid back approach a slightly freaky quality.
LP that has gotten me through the year
The Field – Looping State of Mind (2011, Minimal Techno)
Every year I would give the same answer to this. Looping State of mind is a perfect 10 out of 10. My favourite album to listen to when I need to knuckle down and get through anything. As well as sounding absolutely gorgeous and otherworldly, it puts you into a perfectly focused state.
How have you adapted with releasing/recording/promoting during this year?
Recording went almost entirely out of the window. We were on track to record a substantial amount of material in late March 2020 which would have made up half of our second album. We have still not had this session and do not look like we’ll be able to until we are vaccinated. However, writing has continued at pace and we are racking up song after song. I’m especially enjoying the songs which give a slightly odd and unexpected take on mundane aspects of the pandemic. It’s going to be a great record.
We released an ace remix of our song ‘How I Faked the Moon Landing’ last week – by our producer Charlie Francis. This was alongside a previously unreleased track from the first album sessions ‘Don’t Overcook It’ which is a pretty little song about an uncertain, slightly fascinated romance. Earlier in the year we released two cool remotely recorded David Bowie and Velvet Underground covers as part of a couple of pandemic compilations – something great which we never would have done in a normal year.
Our biggest bit of promotion was having our debut album Everything Solved at Once nominated for a Welsh Music Prize – something I’m eternally grateful for. It does not make up for the pandemic cancelling our tour, but it certainly helps!
Best discovery this year?
Australian rapper/ singer Tkay Maidza. She’s a fascinating and bizarre composer. Can’t wait to see where she goes next.
Stand out moment of the last 10 years
Probably still supporting post-punk/ soul act Algiers last year. That has stayed with me.
Plans for the New Year
Rearranging that tour. Continuing to write. Recording our second album.
Thank you Richard, really excited for that second album!