When Edmonton’s Jessica Jalbert first began performing solo under the name Faith Healer, the alias was her way of avoiding being pigeonholed as a singer-songwriter. Now, however, times have changed: Faith Healer has blossomed into a band, with singer-guitarist Jalbert joined by drummer/multi-instrumentalist Renny Wilson and their first album as a duo is Try ;-). The follow-up to 2015’s Cosmic Troubles was largely recorded during an intensive month-long session in September 2016 at Wilson’s personal studio in Montreal. During the process, Jalbert rented a room in Wilson’s house and the pair spent hours jamming and listening to bargain bin rock records in the basement. The resultant pop-rock arrangements are overflowing with beautiful sonic details-from the Twin Peaks synths that enshroud “Sterling Silver” to the funky clavinet nestled within the paisley-patterned pop of “& Waiting.” Jalbert and Wilson were also inspired by the garage-punk snarl of Wipers, the deadpan drama of Leonard Cohen’s Death Of A Ladies’ Man, and the classic songwriting chops of Scott Walker and Elvis Costello. The intensive creative process of making this album inspired the title and serves as a reminder that sometimes you need to grab life by the horns rather than waiting for inspiration to strike. As for that winky face: “I always use that winky emoticon,” Jalbert says with a laugh. “I think it’s hilarious. I think it’s cheeky and fun, which is something I was trying to access a little more with this record.” Balancing melancholy lyrics with playful moods, lush melodies with straightforward arrangements, this album is the sound of an introspective loner leaving her bedroom to make a rock record with her best bud.
The United States’ myriad inequalities, hatreds and phobias are painfully evident in 2017, offering proof that the age-old dichotomy of “political bands” versus “apolitical bands” simply doesn’t exist. Either you are comfortable and unfazed by the current reigning power structures, or you use your music as a vehicle for the dismantling of oppression and the creation of something better. No matter what your songs are about, you are choosing a side. Cost of Living is their third full-length, following a self-released 2012 debut and 2015’s Full Communism on Don Giovanni Records. They recorded it with Guy Picciotto (Fugazi; producer of Blonde Redhead, The Gossip), one of indie-rock’s most mythological figures, in the producer’s chair. Picciotto fostered the band’s improvisational urges while pulling the root of their music to the forefront: unflinching choruses, fearlessly confrontational vocals, and the sense that each song will incite the room into action, sending bodies into motion that were previously thought to have atrophied.
A tear in the firmament. Beyond the noxious haze of our national nightmare – as structures of social justice and global progress topple in our midst – there lies a faint but undeniable glow in the distance. What is it? Like so many before us we are drawn to the beacon. But only by the bootstraps of our indignation do we go so boldly into the dark to find it. And so Sheer Mag has let the sparks fly since their outset, with an axe to grind against all that clouds the way. A caustic war cry, seething in solidarity with all those who suffer the brunt of ignorance and injustice in an imbalanced system. Both brazen and discrete, loud yet precise, familiar but never quite like this, Sheer Mag crept up from Philadelphia cloaked in bold insignia to channel our social and political moment with grit and groove. Cautious but full of purpose. What is it? By making a music both painfully urgent and spiritually timeworn, Sheer Mag speaks to a modern pain: to a people who too feel their flame on the verge of being extinguished, yet choose to burn a bit brighter in spite of that threat. With their debut LP, the cloak has been lifted. It is time to reclaim what has been taken from us. Here the band rolls up their sleeves, takes to the streets, and demands recompense for a tradition of inequity that’s poisoned our world. However, it is in our ability to love-our primal human right to give and receive love -that the damage of such toxicity is newly explored. Love is a choice we make. We ought not obscure, neglect, or deny that choice. Through the tumult and the pain, the camaraderie and the cause, the band continues to burn a path into that great beyond. But where are we headed? On Need To Feel Your Love, they make their first full-length declaration of light seen just beyond our darkness. Spoken plainly, without shame: it is love.
There’s a track on Laurel Halo’s first album, 2012’s Quarantine, called “Joy.” At first it glows with warmth, but after a while dissonant chords cool the mood. On a record full of angst and paranoia, the message seemed to be that joy was something lost, or unattainable. Halo’s music since has pursued the emotion. On 2013’s Chance Of Rain, she ditched the anguished singing to focus on spry drum tracks inspired by her live sets; at the time, she wondered if “this is the kind of music that I’m meant to make, because it just makes me feel better. It’s more of a joyous process.” Dust, her latest and best LP, returns to vocals but goes one further: it’s “the happiest album I have made.”
A new Mount Eerie album unlike anything else in the Mount Eerie or Microphones back catalog. Eleven stark songs about basic deep grief, loss, real death, love, significance and non-significance, reality. Nothing wise or learned, just the described experience of living through unimaginable domestic obliteration, with names and dates.
For Sugar At The Gate, their third and most ambitious album to date, Montreal’s TOPS peaced out to LA. They lived and recorded at “Glamdale”, a mini-mansion and former brothel located in the Jewel City, Glendale, CA. The unassuming record unfolds slowly, taking time to reveal itself. Like nearly everything TOPS does, multiple meanings overlap with the album’s title referring to orgasm, but also to carrot chasing, gatekeeping, and the social contract. Vocalist-songwriter Jane Penny, at this point one of the most distinctive vocalists of her generation, took time during the recording learning how to drive in the Forest Lawn Cemetery parking lot. “Living in LA was living out a teenage fantasy, living with your band and practicing in the garage. It was also the first time we’ve ever had that much space to make music. I took the experience of living LA as a challenge to make music that I know is real to me, in the sense of it feeling true and containing true feelings, but also recordings of great songs, the real thing.”
Damn (stylized as DAMN.) is the fourth studio album by American rapper Kendrick Lamar. It was released on April 14, 2017, by Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records. The album features production from a variety of record producers, including executive producer from the Top Dawg Entertainment label-head Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Mike Will Made It and Ricci Riera; as well as production contributions from James Blake, Steve Lacy, BadBadNotGood, Greg Kurstin, The Alchemist and 9th Wonder, among others. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
Supa Dupa Fly is the debut studio album by rapper Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, released July 15, 1997 on The Goldmind and Elektra Records. The album was recorded and produced solely by Timbaland in October 1996, and features the singles, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, “Sock It 2 Me”, “Hit Em wit da Hee” and “Beep Me 911”. Guest appearances on the album include Busta Rhymes, Ginuwine, Nicole, Keith Sweat, Magoo, Queen Latifah, Da Brat, 702, Lil’ Kim, K-CI & JoJo and Aaliyah. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It sold 1.2 million copies in the United States, where it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, their third and finest full-length to date. Recorded live in July of 2016, with producer Matthew Simms (Wire) at Jackpot! in Portland, Oregon (birthplace of some of their favorite Elliott Smith records), it’s a dark and uncommonly beautiful set of moody post-punk that finds the Seattle outfit’s feelings in full view, unobscured by humor. There is no irony in its title: Before she had Chastity Belt, and the close relationships that she does now, Shapiro considered herself a career loner. That’s no small gesture. I can make as much sense of this music as I can my 20s: This is a brave and often exhilarating tangle of mixed feelings and haunting melodies that connects dizzying anguish (“This Time of Night”) to shimmering insight (“Different Now”) to gauzy ambiguity (“Stuck,” written and sung by Grimm). It’s a serious record but not a serious departure, defined best, perhaps, by a line that Shapiro shares early on its staggering title track: “I wanna be sincere.”
Beach House fans were spoiled in the late 2010s: Not only did the band release Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars within a year of each other, they followed it with an even deeper dive into their music with B-Sides and Rarities. Covering more than a decade’s worth of songs, the collection underscores that while Beach House’s music sounds fragile, it’s also surprisingly resilient. Their albums range from charmingly lo-fi to ethereal perfection without diminishing any of their poignant beauty, and B-Sides and Rarities is nearly as consistent. The set is bookended by a pair of songs that are classic Beach House: The previously unreleased “Chariot” begins with glowing keyboards and a ticking drum machine that are instantly, reassuringly familiar, while the drifting “Wherever You Go” closes the album with a slow fade. In between, B-Sides and Rarities points out the similarities and differences in Beach House’s music over the years, even if its tracks aren’t in chronological order. “Rain in Numbers,” a hushed, demo-quality song from 2005, proves once again that the interplay between Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally was magic from the start, while “Used to Be (2008 Single Version)” hints at the more polished approach they took on Teen Dream. Elsewhere, the Bloom outtake “Equal Mind” reflects that album’s crystalline beauty, and the whispery ruminations of “Baseball Diamond” (the collection’s other previously unreleased track) are lovely even if they’re not quite up to the standard of the songs that appeared on Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars. Many of B-Sides and Rarities’ scattered gems come from 2009 and 2010, including standouts such as a remixed version of “White Moon” from their iTunes session EP and the aptly narcotic “10 Mile Stereo (Cough Syrup Remix),” which inflates the song’s melancholy to vast proportions. Meanwhile, other Teen Dream-era outtakes like “Baby,” a sardonic waltz about an overly confident lover, and the ’70s sunshine pop-indebted “The Arrangement,” serve as reminders that the band’s rare glimpses of humor are a refreshing part of their music. A live version of “Norway” with a different bridge, and a lullaby cover of Queen’s “Play the Game” are treats for super fans that round out a collection that’s lovely in its own right, and in its own way, is just as representative of Beach House’s music as a traditional best-of would be.
The second of six albums issued under the title Everywhere At The End Of Time, The Caretaker’s fictional first person account of life with early onset dementia, takes a more wistful tack as our protagonist gradually realizes that all is not well and begins to rummage deeper into the recesses of his memory, masking emotions of grief, loss, fear, and uncertainty by deeper dwelling in the recesses of a decaying mind. As The Caretaker’s short term memory functions begin to more rapidly erode, the loop-based punctuation of previous installments begin to subtly unravel, leading his mind to drift off and ponder fuller segments of tea dance strings and horns which appear uncannily more inviting, seductive, and now even more tangible than the abbreviated reels of earlier editions. Loop points wilt away in autumnal greys and russet rustles as new information becomes more difficult to process, back pedaling down memory lane toward an opaque smudge of half-forgotten/remembered spaces, places and un/familiar faces which provide more comfort and clarity than the world around him. It feels strange to recommend undergoing this experience, albeit in such an impressionistic and detached manner, but it somehow feels like a conversely enlightening one for these strange, disingenuous and unpredictable end times that we inhabit right now.
Acclaimed duo Sylvan Esso – comprised of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn – have released their first new music since their celebrated self-titled debut came out in 2014. The new single, “Radio,” is bold and boundary-pushing, turning the band’s signature sounds in brilliant new directions.
It’s a Myth builds on Sneaks’ playfully stark approach to post-punk, which, as her hometown City Paper described it, causes listeners to go “from curious to provoked to hungry.” Hungry, in part, because the new album clocks in at just 18 minutes of 10 taut, captivating tracks (but still a feast compared to Gymnastics’ 14 minutes). It also adds Jonah Takagi and Ex Hex/Helium frontwoman Mary Timony, who recorded the album at Timony’s D.C. studio. “She’s got art in her brain,” Timony has said of Moolchan. “Her brain is making beautiful stuff.”
Vinyl LP pressing includes digital download. In The Same Room, a beautiful new release from Julia Holter, inaugurates the Domino Documents series. Named after a song from Holter’s 2012 album Ekstasis, this career-spanning collection is the fruit of two days recording by Julia and her tremendous band (Corey Fogel – drums/vocals; Dina Maccabee – viola/vocals and Devin Hoff – stand-up bass) at RAK Studios in the days after their main stage performance at Green Man Festival in Wales. Comprised of new arrangements of songs from three of her previous studio releases (Tragedy, Loud City Song and 2015’s breakthrough Have You In My Wilderness), Holter’s Domino Documents is an essential release for anyone who has witnessed her brilliant, beguiling band on tour around the world in the last five years as well as the perfect introduction to a truly important and innovative young artist.
Phoebé Guillemot’s music can feel like alien terrain. As RAMZi, she twists exotic samples, percussion and vocals into something unfamiliar, making songs that seem to spread outwards and move in confusing patterns. A RAMZi track is like a living collage in which all the fragments are shifting. Phobiza “Noite” Vol. 2—a follow-up to 2016’s Phobiza Dia: Vol.1 on Total Stasis—presents four concise and captivating sketches.
Phobiza “Noite” Vol. 2 may be four tracks long but it flows like one piece. Fans of previous releases like Houti Kush might recognize the birdsong backdrop of “For Vanda,” where buoyant hand percussion pairs with snatches of horns, like a dub instrumental. Like Guillemot’s best music, it’s detailed, swampy and humid. She gets housey on “Fuma” with deflated DJ Sprinkles-style chords that have the dull gleam of fogged glass. Guillemot throws tabla into the mix on EP highlight “Messiah,” where her voice turns from a low garble into childlike squeaks. Guillemot’s vocals are distinctive, rarely intelligible and almost never follow a clear melody—they suit her abstract landscapes. By the time Phobiza “Noite” Vol. 2 ends with “Male heya,” we’re back in the peaceful birdsong it began with. Guillemot can make the strangest of places feel like home.
The Courtneys drift back to the sound of the early ’90s, drawing from strong influences including Teenage Fanclub, Pavement, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and The Clean. Courtney Loove’s dreamy guitar riffs add a timeless powerpop element to the punk backbone formed by Sydney Koke’s driving basslines, while drummer/lead singer Jen Twynn Payne delivers heartfelt lyrics with a powerful vocal style. These components come together through a passionate collaborative songwriting process to deliver a special blend of fuzzy “artisanal grunge”.
The first Courtneys album (self titled) came out in 2013 on small independent label, Hockey Dad Records, based in the band’s hometown of Vancouver, BC, Canada. They have since worked with a number of independent labels including Conquest of Noise in Australia and Waterslide Records in Japan, as well as Burger Records and Gnar tapes in the USA. They have released a number of singles and music videos, and toured throughout Canada and the USA, including spots supporting Tegan and Sara and Mac Demarco.
In 2015 The Courtneys made their way to Australia and New Zealand, where they were hosted by Flying Nun Records. Influenced by the legendary label from early on, the group are honored to now be able to call it their home.
Born in the bleak isolation of the secluded prairie city of Edmonton, Canada, Homeshake’s Peter Sagar worked with friends in a number of local bands before picking up and moving to Montreal in 2011 to begin recording under the Homeshake moniker. Following two self-released cassettes (The Homeshake Tapes and Dynamic Meditation) and two acclaimed full lengths (In The Shower and Midnight Snack), Sagar cracks a window open with his third album for Sinderlyn – Fresh Air.
Started immediately following the recording of Midnight Snack, Fresh Air continues Sagar’s exploration of dreamy, downtempo bedroom R&B and draws inspiration from such disparate artists like Sade, The Band, Broadcast, Prince, and Angelo Badalamenti. As the title Fresh Air suggests, Sagar’s songs were created to clear his listeners’ minds of negativity. Full of smokey, laid back love songs and airy productions, Sagar’s decidedly stoned sound is a breath of fresh air.
Beguiling Welsh musician Cate Le Bon released her new album, Crab Day, earlier this year, and she’s following it up with a 4-song EP in January made up of leftover songs from that writing period. “Rock Pool is the killed darlings from the Crab Day sessions brought back to life on a classic 2-2 formation,” she says. “Written under the same banner of the impossibly absurd and emerging to unimaginable bedlam.” Produced by Noah Georgeson and Josiah Steinbrick, and featuring musicians H. Hawkline, Stephen Black and Stella Mozgawa, Rock Pool spins and swirls the waters with carnival pop, synth, drone and dance, all beamed along the pan-electric ray of Cates immutable blank stare. Short-and-sweet-play fun of a highly ambiguous nature.
Formed in Atlanta, Georgia TLC originally consisted of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. The best-selling female group in music history, the trio greatly influenced the landscape of popular music during the final act of the 20th century, captivating audiences with their signature blend of pop, R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk, and new jack swing.
TLC shot to superstardom in the ’90s thanks to a series of best-selling albums, including 1992’s quadruple platinum Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, 1994’s Diamond-certified CrazySexyCool (which has sold over 23 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling album by a girl group in the U.S.), and 1999’s FanMail, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and has been certified 7x-platinum in the US and has sold 14 million copies worldwide.
Regarded as TLC’s masterpiece, CrazySexyCool was nominated for six Grammy Awards winning for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “Creep.” All four of the album’s singles (“Creep,” “Red Light Special,” “Waterfalls,” “Diggin’ on You”) reached the Top 5 on the Billboard charts with both “Creep” and “Waterfalls” hitting #1. Rolling Stone rates the album at #379 on their ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list, noting that with CrazySexyCool, TLC “emerged with the most effervescent and soulful girl-group R&B anyone had seen since the Supremes.”
A Seat At The Table the 2016 album written and performed by Solange Knowles. The album features collaborations with Q-Tip, Kelly Rowland, The Dream, BJ The Chicago Kid, Kelela, Tweet, Moses Sumney, Sampha, Sean Nicholas Savage, Nia Andrews, Devonte Hynes of Houston Texas and Lu of Carolina. A Seat at the Table is the third studio album by Solange. Following the release of her second studio album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (2008), Knowles began work on her third studio album, during which she suffered a “breakdown” due to the amount of time and emotion she was putting into the recording process. Writing for the album began as early as 2008, while the albums recording sessions took part from 2013 to June 2016.
Legendary Swiss punk band from the late ’70s. ‘You can’t dispute Liliput’s status as pioneers of feminist art-punk. Along with fellow travelers like The Slits and The Raincoats, this (mostly) female Swiss group took advantage of punk’s anything-goes attitude and created jittery, spirited pop that was both in step with the times and completely singular. The early material is a riot of exuberant energy, taking stylistic cues from peers like Gang Of Four and Wire — propulsive bass, skittering pop rhythms, slashing guitars — and adding distinctive overlapping vocal patterns, which are sung, shrieked, and hiccuped in three languages and made-up dada slang. More than 20 years on, it still sounds fresh.’ –Lisa Gidley. All material has been previously released as Liliput on Kill Rock Stars as a double CD, and a 4 LP box set on Mississippi Records, 1977-1983.First Songs combines all the pre-1982 material. All three Kleenex singles, the first two Liliput 7″‘s and all the originally unreleased material prior to Liliput’s debut LP.
“Stars come and go,” Maya Arulpragasam sings as her fifth album comes to a close, and it’s another reminder of what a self-aware artist she is. On AIM, which was rumored to be her final album at the time of its release, she sounds revitalized. For someone supposedly ending her career, M.I.A. issued a lot of music in the months prior to the album’s arrival. Several of her best songs didn’t even appear on AIM’s final track list (the excellent “Swords,” which samples clashing blades for its beat, only appears on a deluxe edition of the album). Nevertheless, M.I.A. sounds more relevant on AIM than she has in some time. As a musician who always sought to break boundaries, it’s fitting that she explores the issues facing refugees, immigrants, and others at the mercy of geographical and political borders with renewed passion. Though the trap-tinged “Borders,” which premiered in late 2015 with a powerful music video inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, loses a little something when stripped of its visuals, she fares better on “Go Off,” where she sings of the “fans back home” over a Skrillex/Blaqstarr production that blends traditional music with contemporary beats — a classic M.I.A. tactic, if there ever were one. As the title suggests, Arulpragasam comes full circle on AIM, revisiting some of her career highlights along the way. She name-drops “Bamboo Banga” on “Visa,” which shares the feeling that M.I.A. represented a new pop paradigm; alludes to “Bad Girls” on “Foreign Friend”; peppers “Finally”‘s dancehall rhythms with gunshots à la “Paper Planes”; and harks back to the storytelling of her earlier albums on “Ali R U OK,” where she tells her overworked refugee lover “I haven’t even seen you since we left Calais.” While some songs recall Matangi’s droning cul de sacs, more often than not Arulpragasam remembers to include melody and fun, particularly on the swaggering “A.M.P (All My People).” “Freedun,” which features former One Direction member Zayn, is a highlight that proves M.I.A. still has the ability to surprise. Even if AIM is more scattered than her finest work, at its best it plays like a scrapbook that pieces together over a decade’s worth of sounds and issues.
Lauryn Hill is best known for being a member of The Fugees and for her critically acclaimed solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which won numerous awards, broke several sales records and was listed by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest albums of all time. The acoustic MTV Unplugged No.2.0 double album from Lauryn Hill came nearly four years after the first solo album and gives an insight in her deeper thoughts and emotions about her life, artist, the judicial system (in ‘Mystery Of Iniquity’) and spiritual side. Lengthy intros, conversations and deeply personal songs like ‘Conquering Lion’ accompanied with her acoustic guitar, with the audience add to the intimate performance in her typical raspy voice. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 and her song ‘Mystery Of Iniquity’ was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rap Solo Performance and used as an interpolation by Kanye West for his single ‘All Falls Down’. Great acoustic songs like ‘Adam Lives In Theory’, ‘Oh Jerulasem’ and ‘I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind’ complete the album. MTV Unplugged No 2.0 was her last album and pressed in limited quantities. This reissue comes just in time for it’s 15th year anniversary in 2017.
Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat to Earth is folk music of the near future. The closeness of Natalie Mering’s third album conceals it’s aspirations to the outside, to the “Earth” of it’s title. Mering leads us through the microcosm of the personal to the macrocosm of the transpersonal. These are not typical love songs or protest songs of folk before; they are painful, poignant riddles that celebrate the ambiguity of love. There is a faded California beauty to Front Row. A gentle honesty that recalls the finest folk music made on the West Coast of the ’70s. The hue hangs in the sweet-spooky harmonies, the pulsing sway of the vibrato, and the ecstatic chord resolves. It is the joyful release of energy as the song delicately unfolds from intro to extrospection. But this beauty is scratched with shadow; with dark foreboding, alienation, and acceptance of change. Love and loss balance together in suspended alchemy, as the earthiness of the singer-songwriter tradition wears digital sounds like feathers in it’s hair. Mering, together with co-producer Chris Cohen and some special guests, contrasts live band intimacy with the post-modern electric sheen of A.M. radio atmospherics. The experimental flourishes sparkle amid the succinct, thoughtful arrangements.
Jenny Hval’s conceptual takes on collective and individual gender identities and sociopolitical constructs landed Apocalypse, girl on dozens of year end lists and compelled writers everywhere to grapple with the age-old, yet previously unspoken, question: What is Soft Dick Rock? After touring for a year and earning her second Nordic Prize nomination, as any perfectionist would, Hval immediately went back into the studio to continue her work with acumen noise producer Lasse Marhaug, with whom she co-produces here on Blood Bitch. Her new effort is in many respects a complete 180° from her last in subject matter, execution and production. It is her most focused, but the lens is filtered through a gaze which the viewer least expects.
It’s easy to get the wrong impression about Warpaint. The band’s studio albums (including their most recent full-length, 2014’s Warpaint) have tended to emphasize moody atmospheres: gauzy keyboards, hypnotic harmonies and sinister grooves. In concert, however, the Los Angeles quartet – vocalist/guitarist Emily Kokal, vocalist/guitarist Theresa Wayman, bassist/vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Stella Mozgawa – pair this moodiness with bumped-up tempos and sinewy beats. The music’s no less dark – but it has an additional rhythmic urgency and tension that can be surprising. Of course, confounding expectations has been part of Warpaint’s m.o. since the band formed in 2004. And so when the band convened to make their third studio album, Heads Up, they shared a common goal: to make a faster, dance-oriented record. “We’ve always had this really jammy, high-energy live show compared to some of our records,” Kokal says. “We all love to dance. We didn’t want to take away from the emotion or the core feeling of what our band is all about – which I don’t even think we could take out if we wanted, because it is who we are – but we wanted to bump the speed up and have a little bit more fun.” Mission accomplished.
Anyone reckless enough to have typecast Angel Olsen according to 2013’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness is in for a rethink with her third album, My Woman. The crunchier, blown-out production of the former is gone, but that fire is burning wilder. Her disarming, timeless voice is even more front-and-center. Yet, the strange, raw power and slowly unspooling incantations of her previous efforts remain. Over two previous albums, she gave us reverb-shrouded poetic swoons, shadowy folk, grunge-pop band workouts and haunting, finger-picked epics. My Woman is an exhilarating complement to her past work, and one for which Olsen re-calibrated her writing/recording approach and methods to enter a new music-making phase. As the record evolves, one gets the sense that the “my woman” of the title is Olsen herself, absolutely in command but also willing to bend with the influence of collaborators and circumstances. An intuitively smart, warmly communicative and fearlessly generous record.
The best of Dev Hynes? Probably. ‘Freetown Sound’ is a monolithic record of smooth aesthetics and furious politics, a panoramic view of marginalisation covering blackness, feminism and queer struggles through song and sample. Seventeen songs long — each brushed over the next like another coat of paint or an overlapping collage — it feels exhaustive in both emotional and musical intent, spinning out Hynes’ penchant for funk, ballads and liquid-ambient production with pitch-perfect vision. It’s a narrative as confused as the world makes it.
With ‘Cupid Deluxe’, Hynes hinted at his love of immaculately structured records, sequencing with precision while switching in and out of a reprise of his ominous dance cut “Time Will Tell”. Though much longer, this record is even more confidently arranged, splicing pop songs between one another with frenzied but combinative sampling, like post-modernism with hooks. Every switch-up feels like a conscious decision, whether it’s to jar the listener or numb them. The more musical scene changes are all the more striking — one brazen chord leads us out of “Chance” and into “Best of You”, a track eventually detaching with an Arthur Russell-inspired cello fragment textured into its backdrop. It changes in just the right way for us to feel like it’s always been the same.
There’s so much mixed into this album: if it’s not Debbie Harry singing through choice pre-choruses in “E.V.P.”, a funky epic of supreme harmonies and shattering vocal glitches, it’s a drum machine trying to bleat its way over the disparate voices of “Squash Squash”, or the acoustic swan song of “Better Numb’, stuttering with samples of planes overhead and hurried footsteps. The texture is so thorough and so varied — between recordings and compositions, high-fi production and lo-fi slumber — that it’s easy to forget the majestic pop music happening over top, the simplicity Hynes grabs with when he sings “you are special in your own way”. It’s like TV static alongside the clear picture.
Considered by many to be their “magnum opus”, Live Through This, Hole’s second studio album following Pretty On the Inside, was met with much critical acclaim. Critics praised Love’s crooning as she sings of life’s pressures, and her own personal challenges. Many of her lyrics cover deeply rooted emotions, spanning topics such as motherhood, depression, child abuse, and self-image, as well as her transcendence over her personal issues. Though unbeknownst at the time, the title Live Through This would foreshadow her unfortunate circumstances as she comes to grips with her husband’s death.
Love is a highway, but you’re not likely to find Terry there anymore. He’s on the train. Terry saw the light, and he put on his sunhat. Ring Ring – “If you’re carsick, get outta the car!” There’s only room for one big pug in this doggy daycare. Terry’s taken to the night. Thank you nurse, I’ll see myself out. LOOK! There he is, peeping through the cracks in your screen. Nuanced. Mercurial. Free. Blowing you a kiss. Marcel Marceau, Shmarshel Shmarsheau! But Terry? How unforgettable. What will you do when the cloud gives way? When the map leads you to a pile of potatoes? We wuz wrong. Hit me with your algorithm stick! Siri, is death an illusion? Siri, am I locked in a prison of my own making? Don’t pull that thread kiddo. Siri’s gone. Talk about truth! But when you’re ready for real answers? Talk about Terry. “Their debut single features three doses of shambly Television Personalities/Swell Maps style earworm indie rock.
Montreal’s Fixture Records has always excelled at putting out records of a very particular kind of minimalist guitar-pop, from the wonderfully stoic vocals of Moss Lime to the done-in-a-flash rock of Freelove Fenner. So it’s no surprise that Tessa Smith and Conor Prendergast of Brave Radar—who also run Fixture Records—recorded Lion Head in Freelove Fenner’s studio. Also not surprisingly, it’s solid across the board.
Both Smith and Prendergast, who trade off vocal duties and have mastered the stoic vocal tone akin to their labelmates, know how to make a simple guitar/bass/drum arrangement into something worth sticking around for. Song titles are minimalist, but sometimes give hints as to what to expect from their sound. A song like “New Shades,” for example, is exactly the kind of bright, forward-momentum music that could be the soundtrack to driving around in a convertible while the sun beats down on you.
Brave Radar has you covered no matter what speed you prefer to drive, though. “Earth Control” is in fact a “technofuturistic driving song” with a smooth bassline. Put your foot on the accelerator just a bit more to cruise along with the surfy vibes of “Atmosphere Room.” Have fun at a reasonable pace with “Moves in Time,” a more blatantly jangly little bit of guitar pop.
The slower-paced songs are like something out of a dream. “Castle Mixer” at first sounds like a fusion between the band’s guitar pop and a medieval melody, and Prendergast’s gentle vocals keep the song sailing along. His vocals also play a part in arguably the album’s best song, “Silver Touch,” with its delicate, almost 50s-esque melody.
There’s a sense of mystery in the album’s lyrics; images of melting chalk and underground rays of light sprinkle over the songs to give you another layer to think about as you’re bouncing around in your seat. Brave Radar are smart and sleek, if you’ll allow me to finish off the car metaphor, and will take you anywhere you want to go.