‘Hidden Gems’ are my favourite things to write about – as nothing gives me quite the same joy as introducing someone else to music that’s important to me, sharing the excitement that takes place when hearing something unique and beautiful. The albums below are some of the first albums I ever saved to my Spotify, and even though my taste in music has changed a lot since then, these albums still hold a special place in my heart. I’m hoping that, perhaps, one of them might be a treasured addition to your own Spotify library.
Arthur Beatrice – Working Out
Working Out was one of the first records I dared put on in my A-Level art class, and its universal acclaim from a group of notoriously picky art students is the finest signifier of quality I can muster. The debut album from the London-based Arthur Beatrice, Working Out has a pensive, minimalist atmosphere that recalls London Grammar and The XX in equal measure, and a hushed sophistication that suggests a talent and flair for songwriting unmatched by many other bands across their entire career, let alone a first try. It’s largely a pop album, but perhaps a pop album recorded in gallery, or an outmoded, dignified mansion. Delicately folded into each of these 11 tracks are plucked guitars, a steady rhythm section, and enough grand piano to fill all the concert halls between here and Venice. The binding core of the record, however, is the combined vocal talent of Ella Girardot and Orlando Leopard, whose voices glint like twinned strands of spun gold, complimenting eachother perfectly, serving as opposite ends of the vocal spectrum that play off of one another in the most gorgeous of fashions. Working Out is a record that strains for perfection – a contemplative and studied work that never quite managed to get exactly where it wanted to be.
Big Scary – Vacation
Vacation is the sophomore album from Australia’s Big Scary – and is a strange work of art. Vacation is a half-formed record, a messy progenitor of things to come and is aggressively unstylised and chaotic in its scattershot approach to music-making. It’s a vulnerable album – raw in its presentation and constantly oscillating between different sides of the emotional spectrum – the joyous clashes with the forlorn, the beautiful with the ugly, the angry with the calm. The patina of different states that daubs every inch of each track is plainly stated in the cover – splattered with scruffy patches of bold colour that represent the mishmash studio approach and juxtapositions of content that take place across its runtime. Radical shifts in tempo, style and flourish happen in the space between tracks – emblematic of a band finding their feet for the first time, trying on new sonic identities and seeing what suits them best. Vacation is a record that seems completely at ease with not having a concrete identity; it acts as a loose-fitting, shape-shifting auditory experience that stays as relatable and poignant now as it did when I first had the pleasure of listening to it.
Big Scary – Not Art
Not Art is the immediate follow-up to Vacation, and is the more polished, thoughtful and thematically complex record of the two. After struggling to find a distinctive voice on Vacation, the musical powers of Tom Iansek and Jo Syme seem at their fullest on their third album together. Narrative threads come in and out of focus, musical motifs come and go, and styles are shifted and manipulated – but in an altogether more controlled and sophisticated fashion than on their previous effort; the band evolve in every conceivable direction. There’s a quiet confidence and musical clarity throughout – the chaotic identity of their music excised in the opener ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ and a new path forged in its place. Not Art must have been chosen as a title with a sly wink and a nudge, as the record is perhaps the closest to art that the band has come to date – a complete, complex work of imaginative song writing and instrumental prowess.
Empress Of – Me
Me is the debut record from Lorely Rodriguez, who performs under the name Empress Of. Empress ‘Of what?’, you may ask; to which there is only one answer. Lorely Rodriguez is the Empress of bops. Me is packed, front to back, with some of the best synthpop hooks money can buy, each song latching onto the sections of the brain that just want to move. It recalls early Chvrches and Marie Davidson in equal measure, mixing them together into a dancefloor-ready swirl of analogue electronic goodness. But at the centre of the record is Rodriguez herself, sat calmly amongst her library of titanic synthpop bangers, quietly admitting her own personal foibles and insecurities. Me is the sound of getting lost in music – or rather allowing music to wash over the self and ebb away the doubts and struggles of being young, alive and ridiculous; Me is the sound of ‘danc[ing]yrself clean’.