A selection of the best albums from the first month of the year, and of the decade...

A full month of 2020 has already passed, if you can believe it, and the great music is already piling up. From J Hus’ introspective ‘Big Conspiracy’ - drawing on a more diverse palette of sounds than ever before - the psychedelic, hazy beats of Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, and Easy Life’s unique spin on indie, folding in elements of hip-hop and neo soul, to the emotionally provocative The Big Moon and classic grime from Mercston, January gave us loads of material to get our ears around.

Here’s our round-up of some of the best records that dropped over the last month…

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J Hus - Big Conspiracy // Review

‘Big Conspiracy’ is a record dogged by continual themes – the impact of warfare, both external and internal – but also fraught with contradictions. The palette J Hus draws on has never been more diverse, moving from fluid afrobeats leaning production through to the live guitar and bass which permeate ‘Helicopter’. An album that moves from red-blooded braggadocio to intense self-doubt, ‘Big Conspiracy’ never fully sits in one place, this ever-evolving puzzle with J Hus at the core.

Robin Murray

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Petshop Boys - Hotspot // Review

Entering a remarkable fifth decade in pop, ‘Hotspot’ is Pet Shop Boys’ 14th studio record and is the final part of a trilogy of records produced by electro pop whizz Stuart Price. The previous two installments ‘Electric’ and ‘Super’ were predominantly poppers o’clock banger filled sugar rushes but ‘Hotspot’ rounds things off with a lovingly crafted variety pick and mix of all the flavours that keep Pet Shop Boys at the top of their game.

Martyn Young

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Bombay Bicycle Club - Everything Else Has Gone Wrong // Review

Bombay Bicycle Club have emerged from a six-year hiatus with a striking record that is ­exquisitely produced and well thought out. ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ is a culmination of Bombay Bicycle Club’s evolution of sound, from the guitar music we fell in love with on ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’, to the woozy folk on ‘Flaws’, as well as bringing in elements from the more experimental, synth-driven ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’. Rather than sounding defeated or resigned to familiar territory, there's a delicate optimism and graceful honesty that shines through the project, both lyrically and melodically.

Yasmin Cowan

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V/A - JACKBOYS // Review

After Travis Scott teased the release of the compilation album back in October, ‘JACKBOYS’ has come upon us by surprise, with an adventure into the collective thoughts of the Cactus Jack label, one that includes Don Toliver, Travis Scott, Sheck Wes, Octavian, and Chase B. All the tracks on the EP take you to a different realm of music, with samples that have the feel of different cultures and eras of music throughout time. ‘HAD ENOUGH’ is a song delivered by Don Toliver, which features verses from Quavo and Offset, takes you on a journey of serenity and peace, with the subtle flow of all the artists, the trap rappers take a different approach to this song, and treat with delicacy, showing their wide range of musical understanding.

Ramy Abou-Setta

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Mick Jenkins - The Circus // Review

With a psychedelic, hazy beat coalescing with elite storytelling, Mick Jenkins welcomes us to 'The Circus'. Introspection is a perpetual theme for the Chicago-based rapper and, as always, provides a breath of fresh air with a motley crew of parables throughout the project. Energetic flows with methodical yet swift changes to the beat and rhyme, this EP shows us what is to come on Jenkins' forthcoming album. If 'The Circus' is just a prelude, then old and new fans alike are up for a special treat.

Sade Hawthorne

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Easy Life - Junk Food // Review 

Easy Life are as complex as they are loveable. Latest mixtape, ‘Junk Food’, is their most complete work to date and exhibits exactly why many see them as the next big thing to blow out of the UK. Their eclectic - and fan-winning - sound incorporates elements of hip-hop and neo soul with classic indie pop vocals, a refreshing spin on the specific strain of indie that meets at the cross section between Jamie T and The Internet.

Angus McKeon

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The Big Moon - Walking Like We Do // Review

‘Walking Like We Do’ presents a sense of musical fearlessness from The Big Moon. Lyrically defined and musically characteristic, it is an emotionally provocative, empowering listening experience. By considering themes such as love, social injustice and all round perseverance, it is both mature and engaging. The Big Moon are constantly breathing new life into a genre which sometimes runs stale. For that we should be eternally grateful.

Angus McKeon

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Mercston - Top Tier // Review

Originally gaining an audience alongside Ghetts, Devlin, Wretch 32 and Scorcher in The Movement, East London MC Mercston has finally released his debut studio album, over 15 years in the making. The result is ‘Top Tier’, 14 tracks which skip from hardcore grime to more radio friendly cuts with hints of Afro-swing. Despite the refusal to stay in any one lane, the quality never dips drastically, but a few songs in it’s abundantly clear what Mercston’s really good at – grime.

Jake Hawkes

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Georgia - Seeking Thrills // Review

The youthful, thrill-seeking (much like the title suggests) exploits of Georgia Barnes position her as an unwittingly and encouragingly confident new face of the British music scene. Early singles from this album - most notably 'About Work The Dancefloor' signalled that something different, something bold, something exciting was on the way on her sophomore full length and, for the most part, these assumptions are realised.

Michael Watkins

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Wire - Mind Hive // Review

‘No Love Lost’ sums up the band politics in Wire so accurately, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s their song. “It can be brutal. I felt crushed at times”, Colin Newman wrote in 2006. “We have been playing power-games for 30 years. Wire could be an even better band, if not for that.” Better how exactly is anyone’s guess. If anything, the previous 16 studio albums have cemented their status as heroes of rock music. As the title implies, the band’s latest album ‘Mind Hive’ centres around a problematic political trend, where groupthink renders one’s critical faculties useless, messing up our moral compasses.

Michael Watkins

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