Releases that would be the ideal Valentine’s gift for your ears. IDLES said it: “Love yourself.” Plenty of Bristol favourites among the array of glittering delights.

Jamie Cruickshank

JAMIE CRUICKSHANK – WORN THROUGH
Breakfast Records | 1st February

A harmonious blend of lilting strings, tender vocals and intricate folk guitar, Worn Through is a striking solo debut of graceful sonic subtlety from Breakfast Records’ Jamie Cruickshank. An undeniable stalwart of Bristol’s music scene, Cruickshank’s aptitude for crafting lingering, wistful tracks imbued with a certain earnest warmth really comes to the fore on this record and leaves a lasting impression.

‘Loserville’ offers dreamy, sighing melodies, whilst ‘New Shoes’ brings fuzzy, reverb-infused basslines that emerge amidst Cruickshank’s gentle, heartfelt crooning and the rustling drums that saunter throughout the record. Glistening with the delicacy of dewy droplets in early morning sunshine, Worn Through is permeated by this particular kind of quiet, poised contemplation, both sonically and lyrically, that makes for an unassumingly-poignant listen. Kezia Cochrane

Woahnows

WOAHNOWS  – YOUNG AND COOL
Specialist Subject | 22nd February

If 2015’s Understanding and Everything Else was Woahnows’ frontperson, Tim, turning a sympathetic eye on inner doubts, picking at the stitches of personal wounds, Young and Cool is the application of that emotional insight to the people around them. Empathy is at the heart of these melodies. Fretful but gentle, and warmly intelligent, Woahnows’ latest is thoroughly-present punk, where the consideration of others and the way we affect one another stands as the tentpole from which their sunny, fractious punk can hang.

Everyone has fragilities, and everyone carries stones capable of shattering those they love; a topic which Tim broaches with a fraught delivery and refreshing sensitivity, removed of judgment or ego. ‘I Know, I Knooow’ is an irrepressible banger, too. Grant Bailey

ÅLESUND

ÅLESUND – SHIFT AND FLUX
Self-release | 15th February

With sparse guitars underlying lead singer Alba Torisset’s powerhouse vocals, it’s no surprise that Ålesund have already drawn comparisons to the likes of Florence & The Machine and London Grammar. But thanks to some restrained and inventive production from Jake Bright, alongside Torisset’s beguiling voice, Shift and Flux avoids the looming shadows of Ålesund’s predecessors, albeit only by a hair.

While the verses of the title track are a little amorphous, the chorus is breathtaking, with Torriset’s rich voice easily carrying the weight of the song’s simplicity where many others would fall short. The true intrigue of the EP, however, is in second track, ‘Lucid’. With trip-hop shimmers and intricate electronic vocal layering, the experimentation is welcome and offers the kind of originality that stops fans from growing fickle. Zander Sharp

AJ TRACEY

AJ TRACEY – AJ TRACEY
Self-release | 8th February

Right now the world is at AJ Tracey’s feet. A storming 12 months have seen the West London rapper seize control, with his Not3s-aided single ‘Butterflies’ providing last summer with arguably its most seductive, entirely irresistible soundtrack.

With two EPs and a bulging bag of singles behind him, he has every right to approach this debut full-length with confidence. Able to call on some of the biggest producers in the game, he’s largely shunned this path, matching red-hot beatmakers – step forward man of the moment Steel Banglez – with artists more neatly aligned to the underground.

The result is a punchy but broad selection, moving from road rap to chrome-plated hip-hop, while fusing elements of afrobeat, grime, and more into a sound that neatly sums up where UK underground music is at in 2019. Opener ‘Plan B’ twists and turns on its spine-shattering electronics, while ‘Double C’s’ has that ice cold Eski feel. New single ‘Psych Out’ might come with a trademark lavish video, but the beat is sheer London, while the Landlord himself, Giggs, guests on riotous club burner ‘Nothing But Net’.

‘Doing It’ is a return to his early grime sound, while Conducta channels the ghosts of UKG on ‘Ladbroke Grove’, a homage to AJ Tracey’s roots both sonically and physically. Indeed, that’s exactly what makes his debut album so emphatic – AJ is able to stretch, to absorb new influences, while remaining completely true to himself. It’s a triumph. Robin Murray

Beirut

BEIRUT – GALLIPOLI
4AD | 1st February

Zach Condon’s fifth studio album came together after doing what so many of us have threatened but failed to do in response to a domestic political “shit-show”; that is, move to, like, Berlin or somewhere (specifically in this case: Berlin). As influenced as his work as Beirut ever was by his extensive travels across Europe, the splendid if familiar Gallipoli sounds everywhere and nowhere, with a spirit that flits between restless and serenely spaced- out. If in a correctly fragile mood, it’s also downright tear inducing; ‘On Mainau Island’ sounds like being on a desert isle if all the discs Lauren Laverne packed you off with had started to warp, while the title track is quintessential Beirut, its beautifully maudlin brass melodies nostalgic yet at-once unplaceable. Thomas Hannan

Sneaks

SNEAKS – HIGHWAY HYPNOSIS
Merge Records | Out Now

After years carving out a musical identity as a one-woman punk band, on her third release Sneaks, aka Eva Moolchan, focuses on forging the DIY practicality of the lo-fi world with her need for avant-garde experiments. Highway Hypnosis veers between diluted versions of 90s rave culture and bass-heavy hip-hop. It’s an approach that bubbles and bounces quietly on the experimental r&b number ‘Ecstasy’, while the sultry ‘Suck It Like a Whistle’ is a ready-made electroclash club banger. The album is also awash with samples of conversations and percussive household items, heard on ‘Money Don’t Grow On Trees’. The result is an album that evokes the same cut and paste feel as the zines from the punk culture Sneaks came up in and clearly is still loyal to. Stephanie Phillips

Elder Island

ELDER ISLAND – THE OMNITONE COLLECTION
Elder Island – 8th February

As kids, we’re encouraged to respect our elders, but at a certain point in life, we start to question that notion with the scepticism gained through experience. Before I’d even listened to the new album from Elder Island, The Omnitone Collection, I instinctively wavered between instant deference to their musical authority and my ongoing desire to be mildly subversive. I often feel like a kid when listening to music. It’s part of the fun.

As the best adults do, it won me over, gained my admiration quickly and completely. As the best adults do, it combined youthful energy, joy, curious wisdom, and ‘Kape Fear’ allowed me to dance in my pants around my living room without inhibition. This album pulses with vibrant life. Jon Kean

Gum Takes Tooth

GUM TAKES TOOTH – ARROW
Rocket Recordings |Out Now

Wait! You haven’t put your Panda Bear LP in the wrong sleeve. It’s the lovely distorted warble of singer Jussi Brightmore on opener ‘Cold Chrome Hearts’ that is playing tricks on you. Listen closer… You’ll hear the hyper-kinetic London duo revelling in their expansive new sound which is laced with shimmering keyboards, hypnotic drumming from Tom Fug and a groovy psychedelic nod to the Krautgods. It’s an oddly beautiful – if unexpected – departure from their earlier noise assaults. While it generally gets bolder and brighter as it unfolds, it also manages to conjure up an acidic and claustrophobic smog. Look no further than the frightening bass rumble of ‘Seizure’. The duo have created a wild landscape where you forget where you’ve been and can’t see where you’re going. Geoff Cowart

Hockeysmith

HOCKEYSMITH – TEARS AT MY AGE EP
Ex-Local | January 25th

Cornwall-based sisters Hockeysmith were quite the buzz band five years ago. ‘Let’s Bang’ was stirring dream-pop, while the darkwave acid house trip of ‘But Blood’ was a masterclass in fusing guitar and synth. Now, with Annie Hockeysmith continuing without guitarist Georgie, she’s produced an EP that keeps experimentation alive but introduces flushes of pop. ‘Lonely Loving You’ is Annie’s catchy “Kylie-on-acid” number. Elsewhere, inspired by ‘90s IDM and Cornwall’s historical rave subculture, Annie employs dance samples such as York’s ‘On The Beach’ for ‘Messed Up’. This ode to self-destruction shapeshifts fluently from Balearic to slowcore. With shoegaze guitars, ‘Tears At My Age’ is the most idiosyncratic ‘old’ Hockeysmith song – almost as if Georgie’s back – though Annie proves she can do it alone. Charlotte Krol

Mercury Rev

MERCURY REV – BOBBIE GENTRY’S THE DELTA SWEETE REVISITED
Bella Union | February 8th

The idea of one artist reproducing the work of another isn’t new, but put all thoughts of Ryan Adam’s reworking of T Swift’s 1989 to one side, because Mercury Rev’s loving tribute to Bobbie Gentry’s flop 1968 masterwork is something else. Featuring different female guest vocalists on each track, the overall effect is more shimmering than the original; even ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, the only hit from the record, in the hands of MRev and Lucinda Williams sounds more glossy, but desperate, than Gentry’s more passive version. Swapping out the guitar for keys on ‘Courtyard’ with Beth Orton is gorgeous, Lætitia Sadier’s almost Carpenters-esque take on ‘Mornin’ Glory’ is exquisite and ‘Reunion’ with Rachel Goswell is glorious rather than the foot- stomping Gentry version. Brilliant. Simone Scott Warren

Jessica Pratt

JESSICA PRATT – QUIET SIGNS
City Slang | 8th February

Only today’s greatest musicians are able to convey absolute solitude — it’s there in Frank Ocean’s echoey soliloquies, and there in Grouper’s lonely hiss. Now it’s here again in Jessica Pratt’s Quiet Signs. Pratt’s third album is that rare thing, where the music is so preternatural that it’s almost impossible to understand how the musician got there. The songs are melodically and hypnotically simple, with each sound seeming to melt into one another in a cosy similitude, while Pratt sings entirely untethered. And that’s something that often goes unfortunately unremarked — Pratt’s phenomenal singing range. She glides into soprano and skids into a croaking bass effortlessly, re-enacting the sounds that we likely heard from inside our mother’s stomachs in utero. How anyone is able to convey that is near miraculous, but it’s what happens when you can tell that the musician has no audience inside of their head, only sound. Emma Madden

HEALTH

HEALTH – VOL. 4 ::SLAVE OF FEAR
Loma Vista Recordings | February 8th

Paying heed to the steady slew of collaborations HEALTH released recently, you’re able to see a band continuing to fight the lingering, oppressive and clumsily applied labels that have clouded perceptions of their music for over a decade. Following on from 2015’s Death Magic, Vol. 4 still packs a fair punch, but once more redraws the lines of what to expect from this atypical heavy band in 2019.

Giving Duznik’s candid ruminations further opportunity to breathe and reach out beyond layers of tortured synths and industrial riffs is working wonders – as on ‘Decimation’ – providing additional depth and a stirring desire to replay. At least half of the songs present on Vol. 4 are among the best HEALTH have committed to record; its missteps, entirely forgivable. Harriet Taylor

Homeshake

HOMESHAKE – HELIUM
Sinderlyn | February 15th

Helium is a brilliantly apt title for the new record from Homeshake. Peter Sagar’s follow-up to 2017’s Fresh Air is a gossamer collection of late-night cuts, from the heady, hypnotic highlight ‘All Night Long’, which cleverly evokes both Mac Demarco and Frank Ocean, to the laid-back r&b jiving of ‘Just Like My’. Punctuated with soporific interludes, the LP drifts by effortlessly, thanks to loungey moments of romance (see the falsetto cool of ‘Nothing Could Be Better’) and subtly-infectious 80s pop of ‘Another Thing’. Helium is not short of gentle vulnerability and feeling, with the swaying chorus of ‘Like Mariah’ showcasing the Montreal-based artist’s knack for soulful melody. Homeshake goes from strength- to-strength and it’s a treat to float away with Helium. George O’Brien

Julia Jacklin

JULIA JACKLIN – CRUSHING
Transgressive Records | 22nd February 

Despite spending a significant part of last year working on indie-pop side project Phantastic Ferniture, Australian artist Julia Jacklin returns this month with another captivating musical offering. Following up her acclaimed 2016 debut Don’t Let the Kids Win, Jacklin’s latest release Crushing is an emotive time-capsule that solidifies the singer’s identity and radiates an impeccable sense of self- assurance.

Lead single ‘Body’ marks an intimate opening while the unapologetic ‘Head Alone’ sees the musician taking control and setting boundaries, before ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’ floats by in the form of a soulful post-rock masterpiece. Expressing the inner workings of Jacklin’s mind as she challenges expectations, Crushing expertly showcases a plethora of human emotion through a blend of intricate melodies, romantic narratives and raw vocal talent. Kelly Ronaldson