Words by Kris Smith

There’s been a lot of talk about Team Loud Women. Maybe, maybe too much talk. The leadership of a shadowy krypto-Marxist conspiracy promoting counterhegemonic values as part of a long-term culture war against whitecishet patriarchy? You may very well think that; we couldn’t possibly comment. One thing is for certain though: the annual Hercury Music Award for best album by British Isles-based (self-identified) female/nonbinary artist or (self-identified) female/nonbinary-led band, released between July 2020 and July 2021 – any format, any level of distribution. Accept no corporate imitations.

Clearly there was frenzied artistic activity between strictly-observed lockdowns this year, with the dozens of albums below as aural evidence. As ever the Team has whittled these excellent entries down to a shortlist of 12 in a UN-monitored democratic vote, with the winner to be announced in September. In alphabetical order, let’s take a look at that shortlist:

Lilith Ai – Folk You Hard (May 2021)
A couple of fresh versions of songs from her first three EPs join a majority of new tracks on this debut album from songwriter, graphic artist and veteran of Loud Women Fest, Lilith Ai. The title is a nod to the lone acoustic guitar highlighted here, but genre-wise Lilith tags herself on her bandcamp as ‘lo-fi indie.. with soulful flavour’ and there’s a punk anger, too, not far beneath the surface. Stripped down, the strength of these songs is undeniable.

Delilah Bon – Delilah Bon (May 2021)
Straight outta Barnsley, the debut communiqué from the self-declared ‘hip hop alter ego project’ of Lauren Tate. Already on her 7th album and still in her early 20s, long-time hard rock influences help shape the rap-rock/nu-metal aspects of Tate’s new record, while song titles like ‘War On Women’ and ‘Chop Dicks’ exemplify her lyrical transformation for this defiant RnB-inflected message of female empowerment.

CLT DRP – Without The Eyes (Aug 2020)
Debut album from Brighton-based Canadian/Greek/English electro-punk trio, CLT DRP (pronounced *with* the ‘i’s), brought to you by local label-to-watch, Small Pond Recordings. Intense, introspective, intersectional feminist lyrics set to a searing soundtrack, something like an updated, less gimmicky Peaches. 

Desperate Journalist – Maximum Sorrow! (July 2021)
Fourth long-player from Desperate Journalist and another incredibly strong set which does everything you expect from the band – soaring emotive vocals over chiming 80s guitar and driving post-punk bass – yet somehow they seem to do it all better each time. If we casually expect bands to plateau and decline after a few years and a couple of albums, ‘Maximum Sorrow!’ breaks that mould with self-effacing style.

Goat Girl – On All Fours (Jan 2021)
Second album from London’s Goat Girl, easily one of the UK’s most intriguing bands, and a huge step forward in structure and focus from their first record, encompassing electronica, horns, more space and more bass. Traces of possible touchstones such as Talking Heads, Warpaint and Stereolab are stirred into an experimental, and fairly uncategorisable musical mix. To highlight just one moment, when ‘Sad Cowboy’ breaks down into a house influenced coda, it’s clear that Goat Girl are out in a class of their own.

Hadda Be – Another Life (Apr 2021)
Debut album from the former Foundlings; eleven tracks of irresistibly-tuneful post-punk indiepop. Even the most furiously-paced songs are offset by a kind of 90s-reminiscent, nostalgic melancholia. Make no mistake, though: this LP starts strong, gets stronger, and burrows its way further into your brain with every listen.

Nervous Twitch – Nervous Twitch (Jan 2021)
A fourth album for prolific rock ‘n’ roll pop punks Nervous Twitch, and their first LP for the Reckless Yes label. The band are well-known for their dependable delivery of an almost timeless lo-fi garage sound, but highlights here include songs like ‘Alright Lads’ and ‘Keeping Faith In Something’, supplementing their style with a distinct 70s new wave aesthetic.

Oh! Gunquit – Why Haven’t You Watered The Plants? (Dec 2020)
A third album from Oh! Gunquit, surely one of the most underrated groups in London, playing a unique take on surf-trash-garage-pop sometimes known as ‘rumblebop freakabilly’, a description which frankly deserves some sort of award in itself. Tina Swasey’s sardonic vocals give away her American origins, but I’d love to believe the rest of the band is British, just to know that these septic isles could breed a band as irreverent as this. Like the Cramps, if their drug of choice had been sugar.

The Other Ones – The Other Ones (Feb 2021)
With these chunky power pop chords, the Other Ones are truly spoiling us. ‘Punk rock noise pop’ is the band’s own online tag, but that underplays the sheer pure-pop-hook-iness on offer here, topped off with lead vocals that exemplify the kind of passionate 80s sincerity that singers used to have before irony spoiled everything. Echoes of Blondie, the Go-Gos, late-period Hole, Manic Street Preachers and all kinds of classics resound across this impressive debut album – a second Hercury nomination for Derby’s Reckless Yes label. 

Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams (Jan 2021)
A beguiling vocal style and unshowily poetic lyrics throughout this masterful debut album from London’s Arlo Parks. The production conjures up ghosts of genres past from the last three decades: trip hop, acid jazz, and whatever you call that offbeat-pop that Lily Allen did back in the day. The relentless sweetness of these songs is counterbalanced by an unassuming wistfulness, but this is still by some margin the most poppy nomination on this year’s Hercury shortlist.

Penfriend – Exotic Monsters (May 2021)
A fifth album from one-woman music industry Laura Kidd and the first under her new project name, Penfriend, the name a nod to some of its subject matter: the less toxic era of analogue communication. This record sees her return to Bristol-bedroom production, with an assured electro-pop influence on certain tracks and the same powerful vocals and solidly-crafted songwriting throughout.

Screaming Toenail – Growth (Jul 2020)
Debut statement from anti-colonial queer punks Screaming Toenail; a track each from their first two demos and a majority of new material, ranging from the furious ‘Define and Conquer’ and defiant ‘Crystal Queer’ to more light-hearted songs like ‘Get Cute’. The skill and dynamics in ‘Sever’ show how easily the band could turn their hands to mainstream pop if they weren’t otherwise committed. Possibly the first band to give their location as ‘Mitcham, UK’.

Other Hercury contenders included:
IDestroy, Cherry Pickles, Pillow Queens, Weekend Recovery, Lande Hekt, Greentea Peng, Truemendous, Landshapes, Ravioli Me Away, Pink Suits, Rachel Aggs, Efa Supertramp, Emma Kupa, Clementine March, SPC ECO, Loraine James, Shingai, Maid Of Ace, Swan Prince, Burning Flag, Wolf Alice, Miss Kitty, Dry Cleaning, The Anchoress, Black Honey, Eliza Shaddad and Roisin Murphy.