Now that lockdown is ending and we’re taking our first tentative steps outside again, I have decided to write a tribute to Tom Coley’s list of the new music he discovered during lockdown. My list celebrates the songs that have been my soundtrack to the pandemic and have captured this strange time we’re living through.
Most of these tunes were released in the last year and a bit, some weren’t, but they’re all tunes I discovered during lockdown that helped me get through the last 15 months or so. Now, without further ado, the list:
Sleaford Mods – Mork n Mindy ft. Billy Nomates
“I live on a really depressing Cal-de-Sac/Where couples get divorced/And people come up that you’d never seen before”
The pioneering electro-punk duo Sleaford Mods have a large back catalogue of angry, political, thought-provoking and at times hilarious songs. This advance single from their sixth studio album, Spare Ribs, is true to their previous excellent form.
This time, they teamed up with fellow offbeat rock/electro MC Billy Nomates, for a song exploring the dark world of a child growing up in a broken home on a forgotten council estate. This tune is catchy and has a strong political message about the people our society would rather forget. The video, directed by British indie darling Ben Wheatley, is also excellent.
Amyl and the Snifflers – Gacked On Anger
“I wanna help out the people on the street/But how can I help them when I can’t afford to eat?”
Punk is not dead. It’s very much alive in the form of Australian punk rock band Amyl and the Snifflers. In this blistering anthem, lead singer Amy Taylor hollers about the social pressures facing many people in late stage capitalism, from homelessness to low wages, over hardcore guitar rifts reminiscent of Minor Threat. This is one song to get the rage going.
Dry Cleaning – Scratchcard Lanyard
“I’ve come here to make a ceramic shoe/And I’ve come to smash what you made”
The dry sarcasm of Dry Cleanings’s lyrics are perfectly off-set by their funky Gang of Four-esque post-punk rifts. This song manages the double act of being a fun, catchy, gets stuck in your head, hum it all day slice of pop, whilst also being darkly mocking of the futility of shallow past times. The song aims sarcastic jabs at middle-class arty hobbies from pottery to knitting circles, in a way all world-weary indie kids will relate to.
Big Joanie – Used To Be Friends
“Remember when we cut off our hair?/Didn’t care if anyone stared/Can’t go back to those days/We’ll never be the same again”
South London’s Big Joanie combine punk riffs with biting social critique (something of a theme for this list). The band is Stephanie Phillips, Estella Adeyeri and Chardine Taylor-Stoney, three women of colour, activists and founders of Decolonisation Fest, the first festival for punks of colour.
This song is an ode to a female friendship that has become toxic, with hints of regret and longing for the past. Big Joanie’s sound bears hallmarks of hard hitting, female punk three-piece Sleater-Kinney and their uncompromising lyrics skewer the thinly veiled racism of modern Britain.
The Pretty Reckless – So It Went ft. Tom Morello
“The world does not belong to you!”
American rockers The Pretty Reckless sit somewhere on the intersection between punk and heavy metal. Drawing on influences from Metallica to Misfits, their music is fast and heavy in the style of so many great hardcore acts. This song brings the epic, with huge energy and anthemic lyrics. A guest guitar solo from Rage Against the Machine legend Tom Morello is the icing on the cake. Throw in a chorus of children for the final verse, that somehow works, and you have the making of a rock barnstormer for the ages.
Billy Nomates – No
“No’s gunna start a war/So die if you think its worth fighting for”
This is a solo outing for Leicester-born Billy Nomates, who mixes mod sounds with danceable electro beats and lyrics that cut to the bone of modern Britain. The dark, sparse riffs and haunting vocals on No, her debut single, are reminiscent of Joy Division and showed her talent for mixing pop with social critique. Her self-titled debut album is one of the must-own records of 2020.
Anna Meredith – Paramour
Scottish composer Anna Meredith and her band make music that is difficult to pigeonhole. Part electronic soundscape, part avant-garde composition, part pop dance numbers, each of their songs feel like they’re in a genre of their own. This track from her 2019 album FIBS moves from pop keyboard rifts, to offbeat orchestral swirls that could have come from a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. The video for Paramour is as complex, finely tuned and impressive as the song itself.
Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
“Let your demeanour be your deep down self/And don’t sacrifice your life for your health”
Dublin indie band Fontaines D.C. have one of the most distinctive sounds of today’s guitar group scene. Their riffs evoke The Kinks and The Strokes, whilst their lyrics have a subtle poetry whose deeper meanings creep up on the listener. This title track from their second album mixes indie sensibility with lyrics that are more upbeat than the traditional Smiths-esque gloom of many post-punk influenced bands. The way this second album builds on the solid ground work of Dogrel, their first, shows the promise this band has to carve a niche for themselves in the annuals of indie rock.
Dream Nails – This Is The Summer
“This is the summer/Where we’re saving you”
Feminist DIY punk band Dreams Nails’s explosive self-titled debut album came out during a summer of worldwide BLM activism and continues to be relevant in the wake of Sisters Uncut protests against police violence this year. Their sound draws from a wide range of punk pedigree, including 90s riot grrrl bands, like Bikini Kill, and pop-punk acts, such as Bleached. This track is a hymn to global youth protests movements, from BLM to Reclaim the Streets, to Extinction Rebellion. As the temperatures rise and the state becomes more authoritarian, we need more voices like Dream Nails sounding the clarion call of resistance.
Run the Jewels – Ju$t ft. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha
“Mastered economics ’cause you took yourself from squalor/Mastered academics ’cause your grades say you a scholar”
Another Rage Against the Machine veteran making a guest appearance here, as Zack De la Rocha joins Pharrell Williams on Run the Jewels’s biting critique of American capitalism. New York based Run the Jewels’s lyrics are always ingenious, hard hitting and politically charged. Their fourth album was released last year as American society was rocked by mass Covid-19 deaths, BLM protests, and police violence. This song tackles America’s original sing, it’s history of slavery and how it still leaves marks on the country today. In years to come, this may be the defining sound of these turbulent times.
Idles – Mr Motivator
“Like Flava Flav in the club riding on the back of John Wayne/Like David Attenborough clubbing seal clubbers with LeBron James”
Bristol based punk band (yeah there’s a lot of punk in this list, so what?) Idles have been making waves since their debut album, Brutalism, shook the punk and indie world in 2017. Their mix of hardcore riffs, lyrics that lay bare the emptiness and violence of modern life whilst still finding some space for joy as an act of resistance, make them both politically relevant and a lot of fun to listen to.
This advance single from their third album, Ultra Mono, was released at the beginning of the first lockdown and provided the energy we needed to face the new normal. Idles are one of the most exciting acts today, mixing the raw energy and anger of punk with a message that‘s more peace and love than alienation and despair. They’re the punk we need, to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Enjoyed this list? Got any additions? Want to share what got you through the lockdown? Then leave a comment below.
Peace, love and hardcore forever.