New Model Army – Unbroken (earMUSIC)

For their 16th studio release, the band returns to their roots with a punk rock album of defiance that harkens back to their 1984 debut record, ‘Vengeance’. Heavily political, it provides a running commentary of the abysmal mess of the current time and is an eclectic mix of sounds from New Model Army’s circa 45-year history mixed with the formidable skills of Tchad Blake.

Beginning on pastoral single ‘First Summer After’, which acts like an introduction, it simmers down to a keyboard drone and reignites with thrashings of acoustic guitar. ’Language’ is a tempestuous swirl of chaos, with a dark rhythm section and ominous spoken word interlude that displays Justin Sullivan’s astute yet bleak assessment of the situation: “It’s the things that you fear the most that you’re going to make happen.” ‘Reload’, which could be a single in itself, contains heavy metal guitar chords contrasting with the tumbling, glittering keyboards that reveal the smokescreen of nihilistic reality concerning global political corruption.

Second single, ’I Did Nothing Wrong’, focuses on the current Post Office scandal; having been written earlier it could not have been better timed for its release: a panicky track with ticking bass that questions the binary nature of computers, it contrasts between moments of quiet and sudden sonic explosions; the drum sound on this release being particularly emphasised. ‘Cold Wind’ echoes the main single; it also has string keys which could have benefited more from real instrumentation. The Bunrundi beats of dissociative song ‘If I Am Still Me’ are overlaid with magical guitar strokes that make it another album highlight.

The release ends on a couple of songs that differ from the overall feel of the rest of the track list; the most standout of these is ‘Idumea’, featuring a gospel choir with the bashings of tribal drums continuing, providing hope in the darkness as does the ending of the conflicting last song, ‘Deserters’, with Sullivan’s final assessment after much inner turmoil being, “These mornings I wake up singing, even if I can’t remember why”. A revolutionary apex in New Model Army’s rich discographic history that strongly contends for album of the year.

‘Unbroken’ is out now on vinyl, limited edition coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

Black Grape – Orange Head (DGAFF Recordings)

Six years since their last studio album, the Black Grape duo formed of Kermit and Shaun Ryder, finally release their long-awaited fourth album, which was delayed upon release until this year. The record has a heavier rap focus moving away from the electronic funk of before, starting on the samba twirlings of ‘Button Eyes’ before the rappings of single, ‘Dirt’, which is fairly predictable in sound. Traditional Black Grape is seen in ‘Losers’, with its Western guitar funky rhyme influenced by Ryder’s Happy Mondays background.

Second single, ‘Milk’, unfortunately borrows a bassline from Gang of Four’s ‘What We All Want’ which is offputting. Third single, ‘Pimp Wars’, is a funky reggae rap; a highlight on the track list, it contains a summery brass section. The album finishes on ‘Self-Harm’ and the psychedelic garage guitar of ‘Sex on the Beach’. The release is a varied experimental development of the Black Grape sound to keep the duo amongst contemporary genres but still lacks the ‘wow factor’ of those previous albums.

‘Orange Head’ is out now on vinyl, limited edition coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.