July album reviews

Meg Mac – Low Blows

Low Blows has been a while coming from Meg Mac – the softly spoken Melbournian who belts out soul like a seasoned pro. With a couple of singles and damn fine covers to her name, a debut album was hotly anticipated and although it’s a fleeting visit, it does the trick. A hefty double-up leads Low Blows, firstly with ‘Grace Gold’ – laying down an instant groove and earworm chorus – followed by the powerful title track. While instrumentation like piano and percussion dress things up here, the real kicker is Mac’s voice, which packs serious punch, especially in urgently soulful moments like ‘Don’t Need Permission’. While there’s cool drum work on tracks like ‘Kindness’, Mac’s voice hardly even needs a musical backdrop in many places. ‘Ride It’ is a late highlight, surely crafted to be performed live with musical cutouts bound to enhance an audience sing- and clap-along. Mac made an impression several years ago, so it’s cool to see she’s now following through with an extended offering.

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Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life

Honestly, I don’t care if I’m alone here – this is not a great album, not even a good one. Acclaim for Lana Del Rey’s latest seems way over the top. Sure, there’s occasionally some interesting writing on Lust for Life, and I get that her breed of pop steps away from all the expected glitzy smiles of the genre, but this is far too much of the same, bland, flat-line pop to be an enjoyable package. Lana exhibits little vocal range and draws on other big names to add flavour where she can’t – the prime example being The Weeknd’s employment to heighten the title track. A$AP Rocky appears in a couple of others, but they’re fairly terrible, while Stevie Nicks’ appearance is plain weird. Songs like ‘Groupie Love’ and ‘13 Beaches’ are unconvincing, if not vacuous, and add to an overall drone that fills a whopping 72 minutes. An attempt to rouse things up on closer ‘Get Free’ is too little, too late, as the fixed-tempo gloom of Lust for Life’s majority leaves you wondering how on earth Lana came up with the name.

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Haim – Something to Tell You

Haim pick up where they left off with Something to Tell You – it’s like Days Are Gone just played right through to album number two. The sisters fall into a megastar spectrum between the guilty country pop of Shania Twain and classier efforts of Fleetwood Mac, all the while delivering some of the finest harmonies going around. They make daggy awesome, but are so good at doing so the cool kids that dig it don’t even realise. What I really love about their album is that for all the pop hooks that make Haim so accessible, they’re still able to swings things around into unexpected territory. Any single will sell Something to Tell You, but the album ends with three tracks – ‘Walking Away’, ‘Right Now’ and ‘Night So Long’ – that completely change the pace and mood set by the radio fodder before them. You’re lured into the back end of this album and when things go dark I reckon Haim prove how great they are. Variety, charm and melodic prowess make this a 2017 standout.

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Vera Blue – Perennial

Perennial is a bit of a strange album – beautiful, but often cross-genred to the point of weird. There are plenty of singer songwriter types emerging at the moment and, likewise, plenty of laptop dance acts continuing to rise on the Aussie scene. While I feel like she emerged as predominantly the former, Vera Blue heavily combines the two on this album. What she leaves us with is a whole bunch of dance tracks you don’t necessarily want to dance to. Opening track ‘First Week’ is a subtle pop track – sweet vocals, simple instrumentation… Then the heavy synths drop and it morphs into something far bolder than you’d have thought it could. ‘Give In’ and ‘Regular Touch’ follow a similar mold, cranking up the production big time. Then things calm with ‘We Used To’, which relies on an incredible vocal range and rousing percussion instead of the artificial, and it feels far more natural. There’s a tug-of-war between bangers and beauties that continues from there to album’s end. For every over-manufactured one like ‘Lady Powers’ there’s a fragile stunner like ‘Pedestal/Cover Me’. And while Perennial is confusing at times, Vera Blue’s voice is the saving grace of this album. Even when everything else seems haywire – she’s got some serious power.

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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April album reviews (2)

Mew – Visuals

I’m new to Mew, the Danish indie band of over (wow, I’m late to this) 20 years… I came across this album by chance, and not aware of their previous catalogue found all sorts of likenesses as I listened through. At first it felt like the band were borrowing from so many of their contemporaries, but on learning how long they’ve been at it I realised it was the other way around. This made me wonder why those similar acts are getting all the praise here (in Aus), while Mew remain relatively unknown. Things kick off with full-blown anthem ‘Nothingness and No Regrets’, which would immensely please any Of Monsters and Men fan, before a pair of synth-laden tracks – ‘The Wake of Your Life’ and awesomely titled ‘Candy Pieces All Smeared Out’ – present the same glossy pop sounds adapted by Two Door Cinema Club and Passion Pit. Further likeness is then found in the vocals on ‘Ay Ay Ay’, which smell distinctly Shins-y. The whole way through, Mew present slick pop tunes, held together by a lot of synth with production evoking the feeling of a full string section. Mew could easily adapt this work to a pop/orchestra collaboration. I’m sorry I don’t know how Mew have come to this point, but I’m glad I can now find out.

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Gorillaz – Humanz

Z’s everywhere… “double the e, double the z, double the flava!” Not exactly the right kinda quote when listening new Gorillaz material, but with Humanz is there a right thought? There are a lot of trackz here and a seriouz case of cohesion confusion. ‘Ascension’ and ‘Strobelite’ (can they not spell because they’re animals?) lead the first Gorillaz outing in seven yearz and, surprisingly, it’s not an immediate capture. These first songz fair well on their own, but I could be listening to any number of hip hop recordz. A memorable synth sound eventually appearz along with Albarn’s voice to remind you where you’ve landed, but the early setup gearz Humanz in a randomised flight path that’z altogether confusing and a little frustrating. Genre-bending and guest-loading are Gorillaz trademarkz and there’z no shortage of that here. Discounting any interludez, there are 16 trackz and an even greater number of vocalistz. A bunch of humanz helping those gorillaz with their singing (but not spelling). While there waz no standout pop gem for me on this album az there haz been on otherz, ‘Momentz’ (feat. De La Soul) is certainly in the party camp when many of its neighbourz are dark or dreary. For said dark side though, there iz not a finer moment than late comer ‘Hallelujah Money’ (feat. Benjamin Clementine), a very nice, deep and murky political piece.

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The Smith Street Band – More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me

I really didn’t know if I liked The Smith Street Band before listening to a full album of their material (as opposed to radio singles), with their talking(yelling)-not-singing approach to vocals and lines all about the northern suburbs (that’s jealously… I live in the boring east). Maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome, or maybe I found something, but my opinion of these fellas has turned around having heard More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me. Wil Wagner has some seriously heavy stuff to say here, and if you can move beyond his style (or perhaps you love it, weirdo) you’ll take something, perhaps a lot, away. There are three levels to the writing on More Scared… First, the complete album is a relationship story, beginning to end; second, the songs are emotional captures, among which you’ll likely find at least one that’s relatable; and third, some of the standalone lyrics are brilliant. There’s a lot to rediscover with subsequent listens. The standout for me was ‘Passiona’ – a candid expression of fear and anxiety – that’s musically gentle before fleshing out sounds along with its lyrics. I’m not convinced TSSB have an album to win over those that truly dislike their style yet. But if you’re still to decide, this one’ll do it for you one way or the other. As far as I can see, so long as you can write, who cares if you can sing.

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Maximo Park – Risk to Exist

Break out the hat and air splits because Maximo Park are back! I never get tired of this band, who consistently release albums with plenty of tracks I want to see on their setlist (and seeing them live is an absolute must). Their catalogue is far from a case of old-is-better and, in many ways, their tunes improve with age. In their sixth outing, the fast indie hooks are paired with a measured and pertinent sentiment. Europe’s political climate is high on their agenda. On title track ‘Risk to Exist’, Paul’s refrain “Show some empathy” is a good summation of the album’s message. There, as on ‘The Reason I Am Here’ and several other tracks, Maximo Park recognise and question a continent in crisis, and point out how flawed reactions to it are (“We will have to make a journey / Through the eyes of idiots / Where every problem in the country / Is blamed upon the immigrants / Not exactly high society / Neither tack nor sobriety”). Risk to Exist is cleverly created; while their strongest messages to date might appear this time around, they haven’t lost the flare of a good tune. You can take it intellectually, or just enjoy the musical mirth, that’s the beauty and the triumph here.

April album reviews

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

“The comedy of man starts like this / Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips / And so Nature, she divines this alternative / We emerged half-formed and hope that whoever greets us on the other end / Is kind enough to fill us in / And, babies, that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since”

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Father John Misty’s wit is endless and he’s tied a tonne of poignant humour with stirring musicality on third outing, Pure Comedy. There’s a swag of great lines on this album and it’s hard to pick a favourite. Tillman commentates on our woeful political state, God’s misjudgement, and our own selfish stupidity (I like ‘Ballad of a Dying Man’ lyric: “Eventually the dying man takes his final breath / But first checks his news feed to see what he’s ’bout to miss / And it occurs to him a little late in the game / We leave as clueless as we came”) throughout a series of well-worded lines, verses and even one 13 minute essay (‘Leaving LA’). I’m happy to leave any major interpretation to the smarty-pants folk; but it does seem to me that Pure Comedy is designed to set us up – smirk if you like at his witty lines, we really should be crying. The words throughout are accompanied by understated arrangements (strings, piano, acoustic guitar) and the occasional soulful outburst (‘Pure Comedy’, ‘Ballad of a Dying Man’), all tying in to form the exceptional country-tinged indie folk of Tillman’s preacher moniker.

Polish Club – Alright Already

A gritty and mean cover of Flume’s ‘Never Be Like You’ pricked my ears on Like a Version one week and drew my attention to one slick, yet unashamedly wild band. There’s only two guys in Polish Club, but that’s far from a detriment. They’re in good company, with the likes of duos Royal Blood or King of the North proving that two blokes can smash out a lot of sound. But Polish Club are a soul act at heart, and with Novak’s dominant, belting voice being their cherry on top, they set themselves apart from their contemporaries. Their first album is also pretty damn rad. Alright Already is quick, brash and frenetic. It’s like they made up their mind and raced out an album. But despite the rush of it all, or perhaps thanks to it, Alright Already sounds bloody fun. When these guys describe their sound as soul, there’s no safe sense to the description. It’s an amped up, rock’n’roll version of soul, the kind you’d get punched in the head in a mosh pit listening to, yet not really care about. It’s soul to be enjoyed loud and preferably live. But you’ve got to get to know the songs first, right? So get on this disc.

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Cold War Kids – LA Divine

Cold War Kids haven’t made a record like Robbers & Cowards since Robbers & Cowards. That was more than 10 years ago. If you claim they’re not the same as they used to be, get over it – you should have been saying that circa 2008. To get on with it then, LA Divine is bloody great. CWK quickly developed a big sound, shaped for stadiums but concealed in clubs. This album, then, is another example of rousing, raucous work intended to lift spirits and heart rates. There’s no mistake who you’re playing as ‘Love is Mystical’ kicks off – that piano, that voice and that chorus you wanna belt out are fell like classic CWK. Welcome additions to the catalogue include the familiar (‘Can We Hold On?’ feels much like ‘First’) and the varied, with a White Stripes feel on ‘No Reason To Run’ and CWK’s Cake moment as Willett speaks his way through ‘Wilshire Protest’. LA Divine is heavy and fast, with the exceptions quite odd; like slow ballad ‘Camera Always On’ only clocking in at half a minute long and the calm twist of ‘Free to Breath’ used to conclude the record rather than pace it. In its real body, ‘Ordinary Idols’ and ‘Part of the Night’ sound huge, while ‘Invincible’ glides and ‘Open Up The Heavens’ offers something growly, gritty and sexy. Altogether, this album is overwhelmingly blues and gospel laden stadium rock, with many great moments.

Future Islands – The Far Field

I’m more than happy to admit that I’m a recent Future Islands convert and lay no claim to diggin them before that demonstration of sheer brilliance. This means I’m also not across their long term growth. But I’m pleased to have heard them, and very pleased in their latest, The Far Field. This is a solid album lifted greatly by an symphony of arcade sounding synth, but most heavily by Samuel T Herring’s unmatchable voice. ‘Aladdin’ not only opens The Far Field, but it highlights it too. That’s not to say there’s no room to move, with ‘Ran’ and ‘Cave’ also early standouts, the latter of those teasing toward a death-growl from Herring that sadly doesn’t eventuate. Later on, ‘Candles’ and ‘Shadows’ act as the albums “twists”. The first is a wooing love song that changes the mood of the record, the second a cool duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry that flicks back and forth. They’re strangely out-of-place among the more mutual material, but each is a welcome divergence none-the-less. What Future Islands lack in recorded form is Herring’s signature dance moves. I cannot wait to see The Far Field performed live, as these guys are easily one of the most exciting live indie band out there.

March album reviews (2)

Kingswood – After Hour, Close to Dawn

After Hour, Close to Dawn comes on, ‘Looking for Love’ starts and I’m taken to a tiny, dark club with a piano on stage, little tables full of seated patrons, sipping drinks and enjoying this soulful, bluesy goodness. But hold on a minute, isn’t this Kingswood? As in, smash ya face off, ‘Yeah Go Die’, ear bleeding, scream-a-minute Kingswood? Well yes it is. And as bizarre as this experience is, I really, really like it. Similarly, having heard ‘Golden’ on the radio without a back-announce grabbed me and only later finding out who it was made me double-take. Moving from ripsnorting rock and roll to various forms of soul and blues is an awesome change of tact for the Melbourne trio – it’s not so much a follow up to Microscopic Wars than it is a re-imaging of the band. Their repertoire has been smashed wide open now, the occasional Kingswood-of-old a rare thing (‘Like Your Mother’) among arguably much more interesting material. ‘Big City’ is full country blues that, along with ‘Belle’ before it, includes some stellar harmonies; ‘Rebel Babe’ is multi-faceted, genre-hopping wonder; ‘Alabama White’ goes wild on guitar; and ‘Atmosphere’ saves the best til last, going full-gospel with grouse layers of vocals, guitar and percussion for a rousing end.

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The Shins – Heartworms

So it turns out I like to hold stupid grudges. Upon learning The Shins had a new album, the first thing I remembered about the band was that, five years ago, they ruined a blissful gig when James Mercer self-indulged in a blatantly longwinded (I’m talking looong) solo throughout the encore. Apparently I’m still bitter. I thought about that timeframe, too, and realised Heartworms is the first Shins album in five years. I wish it had come sooner, because when I listened to this beauty I forgot about hating on them so much and quickly remembered how great The Shins are. ‘Name for You’ is instant Shins gold and the right way to kick things off. It feels like a cut from Wincing the Night Away, which given the time Mercer holds onto songs for it could easily have been. ‘Painting a Hole’ is a little weirder, and a few tracks join the variation to break things up (the dreamy country nostalgia of ‘Mildenhall’ and the spacey vibes of ‘Dead Alive’). For the most part though, this disc is full of familiar pop hooks – they haven’t tried any form of reinvention, they’ve just picked up where they left off. With its stirring strings and almost Celtic vibe, ‘The Fear’ is an intriguing way to end such a happy sounding album. “I passed another pointless year,” sings Mercer. “This fear is a terrible drug / If I only had sense enough / To let it give away to love.” This is a sad song masquerading in the company of joyful ones, and it’s done very well. An intriguing way to end a stellar album.

Milky Chance – Blossom

Remember ‘Stolen Dance’? That was a killer track; fresh and interesting with an earworm hook and unique vocals. Well, while I’m not reviewing a four year old single right now, I may as well be. ‘Stolen Dance’ was followed by debut album Sadnecessary and, several singles later, sophomore effort Blossom. From breakthrough single to album number two, you’d expect to hear some growth right? Well the sad fact here is that Blossom does not do what its name suggests, and when you throw it on you’ll hear the exact same Milky Chance you were hearing everywhere in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, single ‘Cocoon’ is damn fun in its own right, but it lacks the new excitement of the aforementioned “smash hit” (I wouldn’t afford the same judgement to the wasteful follow-up single ‘Ego’). I counted three attempts to not just copy and paste on this album: ‘Stay’, ‘Bad Things’ and ‘Piano Song’. The first of these dropped percussion from the equation to produce a dreary acoustic track and the third just annoyed me for how unimaginative its title was …because it’s a song with only piano, guys… ‘Bad Things’ is pretty great, though; the band employ Izzy Bizu to sing along and it makes for a nicely rounded pop item with variance to boot – probably the album’s highlight.

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Laura Marling – Semper Femina

Laura Marling has done something pretty cool over the last 10 years – she’s become a kind of archetype for female folk acts evoking a sound of decades past. Yes, that’s a pretty specific summation, but in fact her name does often come up as an influence or comparison nowadays, to the point it’s hard to not be aware of her work in some way. Like Marling’s work before it, Semper Femina doesn’t so much sound old fashioned as it does timeless, and it’s a good demonstration of why she’s held in such high regard. It’s full of diversity, from striking string arrangements, acoustic guitar carried by rich voice, and the odd rocky moment that breaks out from the calmness across most of the record. The depth of arrangements and lyrical prowess are fairly strong here, as Marling balances the dark and light, proving now – as she did back in 2008 – that she’s writing music beyond her years. Of course, her style is quite specific and therefore will draw a quite specific listener. For all the charm and magic that comes across to one listener, another dose of Laura Marling might just be a tad tiring to another.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts

This is a sexy beast of a record, and after only one listen it propped itself up as one of my favourite Spoon offerings. It’s fresh stuff for the Texans, yet so distinctly theirs; a fact that becomes quickly apparent. The first three tracks set the tone for this album: the steamy funk of ‘Hot Thoughts’, a toe into dark and broody territory on ‘WhisperI’lllistentohearit’ (something of a hangover from Divine Fits), and classy guitar work on ‘Do I Have to Talk You Into It’. The last of those, along with tracks like ‘Shotgun’, are for the Spoon purists, with driving, repetitive hooks and choruses, and Britt Daniel’s unmistakable squawk. But Hot Thoughts is more than predictable Spoon – it’s full of cool new trials and successes. The ensembles used are far more varied than before, with piano featuring heavily. There are psychedelic waves (‘Pink Up’) and deep groove basslines (‘Can I Sit Next to You’), as well as one airy, horn-laden outro (‘Us’) that delves into jazz territory far removed from what you’d expect of the band and is left to smoulder as the album ends. The album’s eclectic and a tad addictive, so get on it.

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March album reviews

Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten

I really love Methyl Ethel’s song ‘Ubu’, which appears up front on the band’s second album Everything is Forgotten. The vocals are intriguing and distinctively Jake Webb’s, the hook is catchy and the chorus has one of those lines that just keeps creeping back into your head. The problem, though, is that the song contributes to a major flaw of the band’s second album. In isolation, the lengthy repetition of the lyric “why’d you have to go and cut your hair” is fun; but when batched in with a bunch of other tracks that employ a similar tactic it gets frustrating. This isn’t to say they’re musically similar – there is in fact a clever display of creative variance throughout – but to have at least six tracks refrains repeated a few too many times is kind of annoying. Sure it’s a pop technique, but it’s jarring here. They’ve chucked in plenty of neat stuff, however. ‘L’Heure des Sorcieres’ employs Midnight Juggernauts-esque synth, ‘Femme Maison/One Man House’ some messy fuzz (and transfixion), and ‘Groundswell’ an old worldly harpsichord intro, with each fronted by that unique vocal which pulled me in in the first place. I feel that in time I’ll forgive my initial criticism of this album, or at least just takes the songs in isolation. Many of them a pretty rad.

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Ed Sheeran – ÷

It’s the emo rap sob pop album nobody wanted! False, actually. Hordes of emo rap lovers wanted it. Or, pop lovers. Sobbing pop lovers? Or the Irish… Do the Irish like the English these days? I think the emo rap lovers wanted something different. Confused? I am too… Because that is what ÷ does to you. Now, the third album in Ed Sheeran’s mathematical catalogue does contain proof that he can write a fun, memorable pop song. The unfortunate thing though, is that it also contains a whole lot of other stuff. You’ve probably heard ‘Castle on the Hill’ – a perfectly rounded, rousing pop tune that reminds us that English teens love to vom (so nostalgic) – and ‘Shape of You’ (the banana shaker one). You could easily stop there, basking in the craft of two well-rounded radio favourites. But, if you want to hear Ed delve into all sorts, listen to ÷. There’s an expected list of (mostly ordinary) ballads on ÷, but there’s also an odd amount of rapping (‘Eraser’), a flawed go at sexy soul (‘Dive’), a kind of nod to Graceland (‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’), an attempted street party anthem (‘Barcelona’), and a stab at an Irish pub ditty (‘Nancy Mulligan’). While this all rushes past in a confusing blaze, nowhere is the randomness of ÷ reflected more than on ‘Galway Girl’, a rap-versed Irish fiddle love song. Now do you see why I’m confused? He’s used so much here, it’s hard to know what else is there to look forward to. Perhaps deathcore, reggae and EDM will be thrown into the mix on his future albums and π. You know, because Ed.

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Alice Jemima – Alice Jemima

These tunes may envelop you or just pass you by depending on how much attention you want to give them. On one hand, the wistful pop of Alice Jemima is a fair stress remedy and escape from the world. Electronic beats, synth and cool guitar (think the xx) combine with whispery vocals (think Lisa Mitchell) to create a dream state you can close your eyes and bathe in. It’s chilled out, summer arvo music. There comes a point where you forget to notice the songs differentiating, but try not to miss the gentle oh-so-odd reworking of ‘No Diggity’. On the other hand, if your eyes are wide open and you’re caught up in whatever else is going on nearby, the “quiet” of these songs will struggle to seep in. This is calm stuff – you have to meet it accordingly.

Holy Holy – Paint

Holy Holy’s Paint is a triumphant Australian rock album, stacked with beauty and feeling. Its paradox is that the songs sound both classic and brand new, each awash with rollicking guitar and smooth vocals that draw you further in with each track. While the band have sited American folk and country bands as influences in the past, there is a distinct Australiana about Paint that is instantly recognisable. Hints of Icehouse and The Church can be found, as can likenesses to many contemporaries who Holy Holy may just well surpass with this release – in several instances I heard a balance somewhere between a Husky-like folk and the brooding of City Calm Down. ‘Darwinism’ is an all-round brilliant track and the indie rock mastery of ‘Elevator’ contains the defining riff off the album, while added touches of progressive psychedelia (‘Shadow’, ‘Send My Regards’) and pop sensibility (‘True Lovers’) only add to Holy Holy’s conquest.