August is traditionally a quieter month for new music before the final quarter of the year with its traditionally big releases. Not 2014. From new music by way of Merchandise, FKA Twigs, Childhood, Falty DL, The Vines and Royal Blood, SOPHIE, Rustie, Cyril Hahn, Leonard Cohen, Ex Hex, Joey Bada$$, Trust Fund and Jessie Ware to Kate Bush's return, we've been pretty spoilt. What's the best thing you've heard this month? Let us know in the comments below. NME writers' picks might jog your memory:
FKA Twigs – FKA Twigs
Come the end of the year, FKA Twigs' debut album is likely to feature among many of the Best Of lists. It's an album that confounds with its lack of compromise. "Could do with more tunes" is the most common retort but to those who get it, songs like 'Two Weeks' and the brutal percussive bounce of 'Pendulum' are transportive jams which feel like the last five years of underground music coalescing into one collection of undeniable quality.
Nicki Minaj, 'Anaconda'
Nicki Minaj is by far the most impressive of all the major modern pop stars. Beyoncé, Bieber, Swift, Rihanna, Perry, Gaga and Cyrus: nah. Minaj is cooler, scarier, badder and weirder than all of them. ‘Anaconda’ is, of course, the 31-year-old flipping Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 track ‘Baby Got Back’ (most famous lyric: “I like big butts and I cannot lie”) and using it for her own ends (“this one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club”) in glorious fashion. But it’s great because it fits right into the niche she’s created for herself as an invincible and hyper-sexualised cartoon character. Cross her, and she’ll destroy you.
Pile - Serious Business session
Pile are four Boston scruffs whose 2012 album 'Dripping' sounded like Pixies with the brakes cut. Speedy Ortiz love them, as do fellow Massachusetts heroes Krill - so much so, they wrote an entire EP devoted to their brilliance, February's 'Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears'. This week they debuted new songs on US radio show Serious Business which suggested their next album, due in 2015, will take the down-tuned thrills of 'Dripping' to new levels of dirgey excellence. Till then, 'Prom Song' (below) remains a heart-bruising Albini-shaded epic. Cult heroes in the making.
Institute - 'Salt'
This reminded me of the first time I heard Milk Music or Merchandise. 'Salt' is less than three minutes long, but its hammering, repetitive riff feels like it could go on for four times as long. It doesn't, and when the song comes to an abrupt end, it sounds like Austin punks Institute are burning holes in their amps. It's intense and you'll want to play it again. They've released singles on Katorga Works, Merchandise's pre-4AD label, and some of their number played in Texan hardcore band Wiccans with Parquet Courts' Andrew Savage. Now signed to Sacred Bones, Institute's story will be every bit as exciting as the rest of American punk's exploratory new wave.
Caribou - 'Our Love'
The sleeve of Dan Snaith’s forthcoming fifth record (due for an October release on North Carolina imprint Merge) is a kaleidoscopic wash of random shapes and colours, but his formulations are anything but haphazard. Listen to this single and title track – the follow-up to summer brain-melter ‘Can’t Do Without You’ – while staring at the yellow-ish pink and blue tones of the artwork and feel the warmth of human affection, the possibilities of mother nature, the limitlessness of the horizon, the ecstasy of a sunrise after a night of non-stop dancing, the beauty of a new connection, the splendour of a bowl of breakfast cerea… OK, who poured happy pills into my earlobes?
Alt-J - 'Every Other Freckle'
Alt-J have been drip-feeding us teasers from forthcoming album 'This Is All Yours' all summer. First, the Miley Cyrus sampling 'Hunger Of The Pine', then the Black Keys-esque rumble of 'Left Hand Free'. And now, 'Every Other Freckle', a turbulent pop song which features 'heys' and 'hos!', a pan-pipe breakdown and Joe Newman getting amorous (amorous, by way of the A-level biology class) with lines like "I want to do all the things your lungs do so well." And of course that wonderfully unique drummer sound of Thom Green's eventually comes right to the forefront. "You're the first and last of your kind," sings Newman. As is true with Alt-J, there's no British band quite like them right now.
Only Real - 'Pass The Pain'
"I run for days in wonderland," sings a wide-eyed Niall Galvin on his new single, 'Pass The Pain', and it's that dedication to cartoon-ish, exaggerated fun that makes Only Real so special. When the rest of the world is busy getting down in the dumps, he's whipping up tracks like this to turn frowns upside down and keep the carefree, woozy spirit of summer running long into winter. Expect his debut album to be one big serotonin rush.
Run The Jewels - 'Blockbuster Night Part 1'
El-P has made the most ridiculous beat of the year with the first taster of 'RTJ2', the follow-up to the debut album of his project with Killer Mike, out October. It starts with a muddy electro four-to-the-floor club beat before a cuckoo call unleashes deranged hell. Hospitals have reported escalating admissions of RTJ fans with broken necks since it was posted on Soundcloud. It should definitely come with a health warning. But 'Blockbuster Night Part 1' is proof, if it was needed, that El-P and Killer Mike's creative relationship is fertile as fuck and their first album wasn't a one-off.
For me, Slaves played probably the best show of Leeds Festival – a darkly comic performance involving a furious mosh-pit, a man drumming like a wind-up monkey and a song that had a two minute spoken word introduction but itself lasted for about 30 seconds (the profound 'Girl Fight'). August's single 'Hey' is the perfect example of the Kent duo's MO of pent-up suburban paranoia exploding into barely-contained noise. "Watch out for those kids – they'll tear you apart!" it yells, madly, over 'Juicebox'-like riffs.