Nobody Is Listening
Even among the pantheon of former boy band members, Zayn Malik's position is unenviable.
Since leaving One Direction in 2015 and releasing a promising debut solo album, his path has been one of sluggish descent.
When he departed the X Factor-formed group, he made it clear he was not doing a Robbie Williams, or a Justin Timberlake for that matter, and setting out his stall as a blockbuster solo artist.
Instead, he was hoping for some peace and quiet, and a chance to pursue music that was less poppy, more soulful.
Six years down the line, Malik, now 28, remains an enigma - he has failed to establish a strong artistic identity (especially in contrast to former bandmate Harry Styles) and remains best known for his romance with supermodel Gigi Hadid, now the mother of his child.
On the ironically titled Nobody Is Listening, he strains painfully towards maturity with navel-gazing lyrics about fame and sex - lots of sex.
On quality alone, this record seems unlikely to right the ship. It's all a bit lightweight and leaves him in the last chance saloon. If nobody is listening, it's because he has nothing to say.
4/10 Review by Alex Green
Hello Cosmos' debut album Dream Harder succeeds in conjuring up images that are detached from reality.
Listening to the Manchester-based band's explosive collection of tracks, it is not hard to picture an energetic live show in front of a packed-out crowd.
It is a shame the group will not be able to showcase their new material in front of an audience for some time yet because they appear so clearly well-suited for a live show.
This is perhaps not surprising given they are fronted by Ben Robinson, the mastermind behind the Kendal Calling music festival.
While the band's sound is not the most original, Dream Harder's catchy guitar riffs and punchy lyrics mean it looks set to win them fans when they are able to play gigs again.
Raise The Dawn, with its snappy, bright melody, is a particular highlight, while tracks such as Renegade Love show Hello Cosmos' more punky side.
Dream Harder is a solid first effort and the sooner the band can take their new music on the road, the better.
7/10 Review by Tom Horton
At the start of 2020, Toronto's Kiwi Jr self-released their debut album, the exuberant Football Money, packed with catchy guitar-driven gems.
Since then the world's changed, but the four-piece are back a year on, now on Sub Pop with another 13 infectious songs showcasing their slacker charms.
"There's a crowd gathering outside our apartment," opener Tyler starts, a non-socially distanced hymn to under-achieving. Snippets of lyrics stand out - "newspaper headline, homemaker takes it too far", "there's no proof Woodstock happened in the first place" - while Undecided Voters takes aim at political apathy.
Maid Marian's Toast, an oblique tale of arson and insurance fraud, is a typical example of their absurdist leanings.
There are echoes of other bands, Pavement, Parquet Courts, Tokyo Police Club, and Norma Jean's Jacket has The Velvet Underground chords, but Kiwi Jr are their own band, scrappy at times, but smart and always thrilling.
Kiwi Jr have missed out on touring, but the time spent in the studio instead of on stage has paid off, and if you liked Football Money, you'll love Cooler Returns.
8/10 Review by Alex Green
Under A Mediterranean Sky
It has been more than a decade since Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis, released an album of acoustic music.
Like most alumni of the band, he is relentlessly prolific, working almost constantly on new music and exploring new avenues. Under A Mediterranean Sky, his 26th studio album, was inspired by his extensive travels around the region with his wife Jo - travels that now seem like a faint dream.
The guitarist, who turned 70 last year, teases out romance and passion across 11 tracks that span the walled city of Mdina in Malta to the blue of the Croatian coastline.
The only non-original piece is a sonata from the Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, a restless piece performed delicately.
On breadth and talent alone, Under A Mediterranean Sky is worth a listen, jumping from flamenco style to Iraqi oud and Andean chango.
It's a worthy work from a pioneering guitarist and one that will hopefully offer respite to listeners in lockdown.
6/10 Review by Alex Green