June album reviews

Lorde – Green Light

I’ve been in love with ‘Green Light’ for a while now, praying the tune doesn’t suffer the curse of popularity, get played to death, and sent to the hatred bin. This happens a lot if you’re keen on pop music, and Lorde has joined the genre’s elite. Melodrama is probably one of the year’s most anticipated albums. A golden first single followed up by a heart wrenching piano ballad ensured a lot of intrigue in its lead up. So does it live up to the hype? Yep. Lorde has delivered an album that’s as much true to her debut style as it is an opening to the mainstream; somehow pairing new, intriguing and often dark musical ideas with pop, radio earworm sensibilities. ‘Green Light’ isn’t a fluke, with tracks like ‘Supercut’ and ‘Perfect Places’ offering perfect follow-up options for high rotation dance floor hits. Despite their shining through though, Melodrama’s most prominent moment in fact comes from the subtlety and lyrical prowess of ‘Liability’, the stripped back moment that pulls you apart. Lorde’s got all the right angles covered.

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Phoenix – Ti Amo

Listening to Phoenix in June is like watching the Tour de France in July – a French summer escape in the darkest part of Melbourne’s year. Ti Amo isn’t surprising – it’s as cool and sexy as you’d expect a Phoenix album to be. But while it seems very familiar, I doubt fans are gonna shirk off any new material from the band. The album begins at a very fast pace, playing with bilingual lyrics, tonnes of synthesizer and a voice so cool it wears shades at night time. How they turn a title like ‘Fior di Latte’ into a slick indie jam, or deliver lyrics like “I don’t like it as it is / A disaster scenario / So don’t look at what you did / This melted Gelato” with suavity is beyond me, but they pull it off without seeming cheesy. (Ok, it’s a little cheesy, but pay a little less attention and you wouldn’t even notice.) Memorable for its words, but more so for the stellar dance tracks behind them, this is a hot, holiday-vibes album that’s a pretty sweet escape when you need it.

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Fleet Foxes – Crack Up

Who knew Fleet Foxes had gotten so huge? As Vivid headliners in 2017, I was surprised to see they had four concert hall shows on the go – a mean feat for what I thought was a humble little indie band without any new material in the past half-decade. It’s hard to articulate how I hear Fleet Foxes’ music, as they’re a rare band I associate with a specific setting. Their songs have a kind of wild feeling about them, taking my mind wandering through forests and prairies of West America. Crack Up is their third outing and while I don’t think it necessarily has their best or most accessible songs on it, it has struck me, wholly, as their most compelling work. Like its predecessors,Crack Up is lyrically poignant and highlighted with gorgeous harmonies and rich instrumentation; but this time there is a feeling of continuity that runs through the record, resulting in a product that succeeds its predecessors. There are many occasions here where songs adjoin one another, the passage from one to the next marked by subtle melodic shifts. This creates a musical timeline holding everything together, instead of presenting a collection of individual songs. A triple-headed and very unconventional opener ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’ begins the diverse meander that is Crack Up, setting the scene for a widely varied, beautifully performed, and perfectly pieced together folk meandering.

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Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

How Did We Get So Dark? is a good question and an even better record. Royal Blood’s second outing is ferocious, loud, varied, and above all addictive. It rounds out in under 35 minutes, but doesn’t relent from the word go, pulling you into its mosh pit and dragging you through some of 2017’s most rockin’ turns. Musically, the heavy pace on How Did We Get So Dark? sounds like a visceral mash up of Queens of the Stone Age and Muse, yet altogether it remains distinctly Royal Blood. It’s a rock and roll album that tightly packs highlights and doesn’t let a token track in, which accounts partly for its brevity, but more importantly for its excitement. Perhaps most impressive is the fact Royal Blood is simply made up of two guys – proof that good ideas is the principle ingredient for intense diversity.

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London Grammar – Truth is a Beautiful Thing

I’m fairly impressed by the success of a single like ‘Rooting For You’. It’s a striking song for one thing, but what’s really interesting is that despite being so far from high rotation radio material, it is. It’s really cool to hear tracks that completely change the pace of all else getting attention (a reminder to just calm your farm, folks). The single is a fair example of the album it’s plucked from, with London Grammar continuing to defy their own popularity by creating pop that’s very much understated. Hannah Reid’s vocals are elegant and Dan Rothman’s guitar work atmospheric, setting the tone for Truth is a Beautiful Thing. Where London Grammar lose ground is in the time they commit to this album – the songs feel quite long (epic slow burner ‘Hell to the Liars’ clocks in at 6 minutes, although the average is above 4) and there are lots of them. As a result, in its subtlety Truth is a Beautiful Thing risks fading away as it moves along; for as lovely as its songs are in isolation, there is a starkness that overcomes them as a collective. London Grammar have delivered a wonderful album here, but its consumption is something best broken down.

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May album reviews

Asgeir – Afterglow

‘Afterglow’ is the title and lead track from Asgeir’s latest, and it’s a beautiful summation of what is so excellent about the Icelander. Twinkling piano accompanies the beautiful voice, boosted a minute in with superb harmonies and, not long after that, rich string sections. Simply put, it’s bloody gorgeous. Asgeir has drawn likeness to Bon Iver in the past, but where the American went all technologically wacky last year, Asgeir has stayed on the vocally pure path that made both so great to begin with. Afterglow begins strong, with complex production in places balanced with simplicity elsewhere. ‘Underneath It’ begins extremely gently and could easily be an acapella track, but allows dark electronic glitches to creep in. ‘Dreaming’ is again vocally stunning, while ‘Unbound’ and ‘I Know You Know’ offer more complexity in their instrumentation. The latter half of Afterglow is really quite calm, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that whereIn The Silence had hugely rousing track ‘In Harmony’ rounding it out, album number two doesn’t have the spine-tingling latecomer it needs to perfect it.

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Dappled Cities – |||||

Dappled Cities are one of my favourite local acts to see live. The thing is, I’d much rather hear what new things they have recorded than risk dealing with the group’s Melbourne fan girls (really. friggen. annoying.) I’m pretty pleased then that ||||| is quite a grouse offering. Where their last album, Lake Air, felt like a collection of standalone pop songs strung together, the tracks on ||||| gel far better, making a cohesive piece that engages more wholly (possibly than ever before). It may be at the sacrifice of a clear “single” moment, but that’s not to say there aren’t memorable moments. Standouts include the gentle, quieter ‘Weightless’, which carries the best harmonies; ‘What Is Impossible’ introducing clever and whimsical elements; and ‘That Sound’ rounding things out with a little jauntiness not really found anywhere else on the album. ||||| is a mature and rewarding addition to the Dappled Cities catalogue – certainly in line with their best. (On a side note, releasing a fifth album named five on the 5th of May is pretty damn stellar.)

!!! – Shake the Shudder

!!! keep coming back to the dancefloor with sharpened pop sensibilities. The groove on opener ‘The One 2’ draws you right into Shake the Shudder, with the stellar vocals of Lea Lea providing a soulful introduction. It’s followed by ‘Dancing Is The Best Revenge’, which begins to feel like an M83 track with wispy spoken vocals over a subtle bassline, before thrusting into frenetic body-shaking joy. Every track thereafter keeps in step, moving through a wilderness of dance pop stylings. Where similar albums might take breathers for pacing sake, !!! just keep things in high gear. As a result, they’ve pulled off one of the finest pop offerings – or should I say modern disco – 2017 has seen so far. At album number seven, that’s a damn cool thing.

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Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud

When you get big, your music has to come with you, heaven forbid you fall from on high. In order to keep their status as festival kingpins – held for considerable time now – Kasabian have pulled out another hefty offering, complete with mosh filling lad-rock, awkward-indie-shuffle, and some token snorey soft stuff. For Crying Out Loud starts big with ‘III Ray (The King)’, a sample of staple Kasabian sound that twists into a bizarre structure toward its end (fading into another song that, oddly, is the same song…) There’s wailing anthems (‘Wasted’) and an eight-minute indie rave (‘Are You Looking For Action?’) boosting the energy of this album, but an attempt to create something balanced falls flat with lighter songs that feel unfortunately like filler (‘The Party Never Ends’, ‘All Through the Night’, ‘Sixteen Blocks’). The redeeming “slowie” is saved til the end – ‘Put Your Life On It’ a stereotype of Beatles-wannabe Britpop. Despite its predictability, it’s an absolute corker. As it builds, you’ll be hard pressed to not feel like a patriotic pom. For Crying Out Loud is flawed overall, but where it pulls punches it lands knock outs.

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