2017 in review: My top 10 albums

10. Kingswood – After Hours, Close To Dawn

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 9. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone

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 8. St. Vincent – Masseduction

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 7. Elbow – Little Fictions

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 6. Dappled Cities – |||||

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 5. The Preatures – Girlhood

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 4. Gang of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness

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 3. Lorde – Melodrama

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 2. Dan Sultan – Killer

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1. Gordi – Reservoir

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December album reviews

Miguel – War & Leisure

Miguel’s a busy dude and seemingly has a tonne of friends, having spent the last couple of years appearing on tracks from all sorts – Mac Miller to Schoolboy Q to Dua Lipa. Beginning as a smooth, upbeat and feel-good record, Miguel’s fourth long player, War & Leisure, takes dark turns, as well as laying down some uncomfortable truths. It’s varied in the right way, balanced to really draw you in before it sets things straight. Miguel wears his influences on his sleeve, with nods to Prince slicked through this album, vocally on ‘Pineapple Skies’ and guitar-wise on ‘Banana Clip’. Album highlights come by way of the sombre ‘City of Angels’, in which an apocalyptic Los Angeles is imagined, and ‘Wolf’, which fuses Miguel’s best blues take with gutsy vocals. Politics is the new relationship in 2017, with every pop and R&B star penning their thoughts on the rather shitty state of affairs. Miguel is no exception and there’s poignancy in War & Pleasure late comers, no more so than on album finisher ‘Now’, which sends a clear message: “It’s time we talk about it / Let’s not waste our common ground / We will fall for standing and watching, all in silence / Dear Lord, are we numb? Where we going right now?”

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Sia – Everyday Is Christmas

Sia’s song writing has seen some stellar albums, commercial smash hits or her own and for others, and accolades galore. And when you reach superstardom, your thoughts turn to… making a Christmas record? Christmas albums are such a niche market it’s hard to say whether they are a success or not; but even if it’s forgotten come Boxing Day, Sia’s pop prowess ensures that Everyday Is Christmas is, at the very least, a seasonal win. The ten tracks are originals, which is the first tick, and for the most part they sound like actual Sia songs, the second. There’s no religious fervour that some Chrissy records push, and there’s little sop. What Sia does deliver are inflated, colourful jams that will appeal to kids and inner-kids alike. ‘Candy Cane Lane’ sounds like the product of a true sugar overdose, while ‘Ho Ho Ho’ gets jolly about drinking all the booze with your misfit friends on Christmas – sounds good to me. Also appreciated is ‘Puppies Are Forever’, which is the kind of message that needs to be yelled more and more this time of year. The jovial side settles down at the back end, with Sia slowing pace on the final three tracks, but keeping things wistful in the round out. There’s definitely some tracks on Everyday Is Christmas that could replace the stale classics thrashed out every December. This will be a fun one to revisit in a year’s time.

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Charli XCX – Pop 2

Prior to recently seeing Charli XCX support Sia, I didn’t know much about her and thought what tunes I did know were fairly average (‘Boys’ is all kinds of bland). On stage, Charli delivered a pretty fun show, supplementing what the song writing lacked with a solid, energetic presence. So, I figured I’d give Pop 2 a go… A collaboration bonanza, Pop 2 seemed full of promise, with everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen to MØ and, well actually, a whole bunch of names I didn’t recognise. It begins with an approach that Charli seems to take with her everywhere: auto-tune. When artificial intelligence takes over Earth, the robots will leave Charli XCX alone the moment she starts singing to them. The Carly Rae double up takes the lead, followed by another with Tove Lo (‘Out of My Head’), which attempts the kink of the Swedish singer (“You got me doin’ all this stupid shit / You fuck me up like this / Secretly I’m into it though”) but falls way short of just how dirty Tove’s own lyrics are. Pop 2 doesn’t lift off early, which means by the time a complete pop abomination like ‘I Got It’ sounds, there’s little to no chance of turning it around. Stripper turned rapper Brooke Candy blasts all kinds of nonsense and murders the track entirely. As much as I love MØ, even she can’t bring it all back. Appearing very late in the game on ‘Porsche’, the song repeats the same synthetic nonsense of all that before it and by that stage it’s hard to even still pay attention.

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N.E.R.D – NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES

When I heard ‘Lemon’ for the first time I was kinda torn – I wanted to get excited at the prospect of new N.E.R.D, but something about the track grinded me very much the wrong way. Intrigue brought me back, along with the killer Rhianna verse, and before I knew it, I couldn’t get the “bouncing around” repeat out of my head. I realised the single worked because it’s supposed to be strange. And in the very same vein, NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES succeeds. It’s wacky, a lot of it doesn’t sit right and it’s cross-genre to heck, but somehow the tracks are super catchy, collecting in a solid 2017 late comer. Once ‘Lemon’ kicks things off, there’s a little of what sounds like Pharrell’s solo leftovers in ‘Deep Down Body Thurst’ – a buoyant pop track that sets the mood for what’s to come. Cheesy R&B by way of ‘Don’t Don’t Do It’ carries on the vibe with its very chant-able chorus, before the tables turn with some long hauls in the bizarre ‘ESP’ and ‘Lightning Fire Magic Prayer’, the latter coming in just short of eight minutes and flipping between weird synthetic percussion and the sound of running water. There’s plenty of friends on board as well, like Future, Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A. and Andre 3000. By ten tracks in, you’d think N.E.R.D would have exhausted their imagination, but then out of nowhere Ed Sheeran pops up on glitzed up reggae closer. I told you this was odd, right? Blending everything from hip hop, R&B, pop, and rock, N.E.R.D have a knack for getting you hooked on the peculiar. And it’s been a long time between drinks (Nothing was released seven years ago), so it all comes across even more alien at first. But sink in, and NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES will have you well and truly back on board.

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Eminem – Revival

The (extended) saying goes, “you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter” right? Well not everyone can – Eminem’s rolled his latest work (said turd), but it’s very patchy and despite the sparkly spots, it is still quite visibly a big ol’ pile of shit. I realise the absurdity here – likening Beyonce, Pink, Ed Sheeran and Alicia Keys, who all for some reason appear on Revival, to glittery spots patch-working a poo; but really, for one of the last albums we’ll hear in 2017, it’s an incredible dud. Having been at it for over 20 years, you’d think he’d evolve, but Eminem is still doing the same stuff I remember all the 14 year old boys thinking was “fully sick”. And frankly, nothing a 14 year old boy likes is remotely “fully sick”. The formula goes: sings about himself, gets a guest in, sings about someone doing him wrong, gets angry, gets a guest in, gets angry… Repeat. All over some of the lamest backing tracks Eminem could afford. So there you go, now you don’t need to endure those 80 minutes(!)…

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November album reviews

Taylor Swift – reputation

I’ve never listened to a Taylor Swift album before and have zero intentions of dipping into the back catalogue. However, I figured I’d give this one a go given all the hype surrounding it and all things Tay Tay. Turns out reputation is a fairly solid pop album, albeit tainted by Swift’s attempts to convince everyone that she doesn’t want restitution for having been a victim all this time, she just wants to be a badass. The problem is, she’s terrible at her new persona (I can’t vouch for her previous ones) – her “dark passenger” is as cheesy as that very Dexter voice-over reference. Lead single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is where the reputation journey started. It’s hard to convince anyone this is a good track when its chorus is as bad as it is, but if you were to cut that out it’s actually pretty cool. Funnily enough there’s a bit of Lorde rip-off on the track, as Swift makes it clear she’s keen for a little melodrama of her own. The single will go down as a 2017 flop, but it’s kinda fun to see some kook from a mainstream mainstay. Follow up single ‘…Ready For It?’ is far more solid of a pop tune, and as the album’s lead track it kicks things into gear before you’re jolted back with ‘End Game’, a mixed-genre attempt that for some ungodly reason reboots rapping Ed. It’s probably more shocking than samples of Right Said Fred, but at least it’s out of the way early, leaving Swift enough time to try and make it up to us. What we’re left with is a package of mostly fun pop tunes, the odd misstep (like ‘Gorgeous’ – what a dud), and a question of why Swift needed to go “dark” so hard. Pop reinvention shouldn’t seem so forced.

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* I thought we left rapping Ed back in January!? Why was he not murdered on Game of Thrones!?

Sam Smith – The Thrill Of It All

Bringing mum music to the masses, Sam Smith returns with some superb soul on The Thrill Of It All and confirms classic components like piano and choir are fit for the mainstream in 2017. This is a seriously schmick record, beautifully produced with Smith delivering vocals that are smooth af. The album flows between forlorn balladry and roof-lifting gospel, the latter of which truly shines. The gutsier stuff hits hard early on, which meant there were many quieter moments on which I just wanted that choir to come back (and the odd time they did so frightfully – ‘The Thrill Of It All’). Musically, this album is consistently strong, although there are moments that hint a Chrissy album is on the cards (‘One Last Song’). Complimentary then are the words placed to those songs, which work especially well when Smith is conflicted between faith and feeling (‘HIM’). The Thrill Of It All is a bold follow up to a huge debut, but given Smith is just 25, his best is very likely yet to come. If that’s the case, watch this space.

Pnau – Changa

Pnau’s self-titled record – their third, released in 2007 – was an unexpected delight, embracing us with the kind of strawberry kisses we actually wanted, and earning its place among the memorable Aussie dance records of the naughties. With the exception of the kinda novel Elton John material, it’s taken Pnau a good ten years to come back to form. And while they’ve taken a new form, it’s pretty damn cool. Lead single ‘Chameleon’ was flogged hard in 2016, yet being almost a year older than its album home doesn’t mean it’s not a good indication of what to expect on Changa. The neon spattered jungle feels are all over opener ‘Save Disco’, as the tripped-out vibes blend into the fluro-bounce of ‘Chameleon’. It’s an altogether new brand of whacky thought up, at least in part, by the man who used to completely lose his mind and hang precariously from stage scaffolding – Nick Littlemore. There are a lot of pools that Pnau then dip in and out of among the tribal path of Changa, from pop rave ‘Go Bang’ to falsetto thumper ‘Please Forgive Me’ and from 90s British club vibes on ‘Into The Sky’ to all out sci-fi theme in ‘La Grenouille’. There’s even an intriguing cameo from Vera Blue on pulsating ‘Young Melody’, who delivers some of the rare lyrics you can actually understand. Pnau have created a real animal in Changa, which I feel is what they were after.

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Paloma Faith – The Architect

Paloma Faith’s latest begins with a monologue from Samuel L Jackson. It’s meant to be a political rally call, but there are no obscenities to be heard from the king of yelling “motherf*er” and a minute into The Architect I’m already left yelling “Snakes on a plane!” It’s a strange way to begin things, sitting alongside the title track, which totally blasts off. But while the lyrical message demonstrates Faith in political mode, The Architect is still an brazen pop record. Gutsy at its best and cheesy at its worst, glossy summer jams (‘Crybaby’) neighbour Smooth FM fodder (‘I’ll Be Gentle’) and Faith moves through a kaleidoscope of pop varieties. ‘Kings and Queens’ is an early crowd pleaser, built for the theatrics of a live arena, while the neo-soul likeness to Amy Winehouse and Duffy (‘Guilty’ and ‘Love Me As I Am’, respectively) offer more substantial emotion. The Sia-penned ‘Warrior’ bares more likeness to the writer than just its words, with Faith’s marbles-in-the-mouth delivery a vocal doppelganger of the Adelaide songstress. ‘Til I’m Done’ follows that up as though it were a new Sia collection, nodding to her We Are Born material. The likenesses play in Faith’s favour, coupling with her own kookiness to create an album simultaneously familiar and standalone.

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Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?

Liam Gallagher just released a chart topping solo album and within a month his bro Noel is back… Get the popcorn. While the post-Oasis Gallagher race has been neck and neck tool-wise, musically Noel’s been out in front when compared to Liam’s Beady Eye material. Where Liam’s 2017 As You Were won’t let go of the brothers’ heyday, Noel’s found his own groove as a solo artist, marking prominent territory with a High Flying Birds debut and backing it up with Who Built the Moon? While High Flying Birds is no Oasis 2.0 (ala Beady Eye), there is a familiarity to much of the material here, with Noel often doing a kind of Kasabian doing a kind of Beatles. The psychedelic side that made the first High Flying Birds album such a trip isn’t quite as prominent, but there’s enough loud, fuzzy grit to keep it real and the horns that feature heavily are superb. ‘Fort Knox’ is a formidable opening track, bound to soundtrack a big action sequence someday and one of the album’s finest moments straight out of the gate. From there the album is a reminder of great rock and roll, which Noel does justice. There are plenty of nods to Noel’s merry ol’ home of England: ‘Holy Mountain’ rings Bryan Ferry’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ borrows from The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, ‘End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)’ smells of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’, and ‘The Man Who Built The Moon’ is all kinds of, well, Oasis. It seems he’s not completely over the good old days.

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August album reviews

 

The Preatures – Girlhood

The Preatures have followed up one fantastic album with another – this one the cooler sibling of 2014’s Blue Planet Eyes. It’s clever and infectious rock-fused pop, led by our future musical monarch, Izzi Manfredi. As retro sounding as it is fresh, Girlhood is a concept album that wears its influences on its sleeve. I was not surprised to hear Manfredi would be stepping into the shoes of Chrissy Amphlett for a one-off Divinyls show later this year (albeit jealous it’s in Perth) – this album oozes Amphlett flair in both its heavier and gentle moments. The familiarity of it all draws you in to what is one addictive collection of tracks. The chorus of ‘Yanada’, sung in the Indigenous Darug language, is highly contagious, while ‘Magick’ cements the Preatures’ prowess for winning slow grooves (‘Two Tone Melody’ was no fluke). Genre shifts continue to highlight the energy of Girlhood, moving between Aussie punk (‘Lip Balm’), Chic-esque guitar jams (‘Mess It Up’) and prime ballad work (‘Cherry Ripe’). This is addictive stuff and I’m keen to hear it again and again.

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Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

“There’s always someone cooler than you” is a saying that applies to all bar one person in the world, as someone has to hold the superlative, right? Joshua Homme is that person. Even performing with a hefty limp and hopped up on painkillers (ala his Festival Hall show this year), the man is untouchable – a pro at demolishing hecklers, on-stage grooming and of course, belting out the classics. Villains is no exception to the Queens of the Stone Age stand outs. Even with its nine tracks averaging well over 5 minutes apiece (‘Un-reborn Again’ tops the list at 6:40), it’s a really fast record, hitting top gear immediately and blending the QOTSA stoner-rock vibe into a far more polished groove (thanks Mark Ronson). You’ll dance because the funked-up rock enters your bones and because Joshua is subliminally making you. He’s that good. ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’, ‘The Way You Used To’ and ‘The Evil Has Landed’ are standouts for me – sexy, addictive and as much classic QOTSA as they are new. ‘Villains of Circumstance’ is saved to the very end, as QOTSA prove again what masters of the slow burn they can be (having just fooled you into thinking there were none this time around). It’s a paradox, but with every album, QOTSA reinvent their sound while staying true to it. Villains is so far from Songs for the Dead or Era Vulgaris and all those before and in-between, yet I’d be surprised to find a fan not impressed by what’s on offer here.

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Everything Everything – A Fever Dream

In comparison to its predecessor, Get to Heaven, which was insanity in musical form, A Fever Dream is controllably manic. Without knowing what came before it, Everything Everything’s third album sounds crazy for sure. But I feel like there’s a balance here that shows a more considered approach from the band. The frantic is balanced out with subdued touches – for every eccentric ‘Ivory Tower’ there’s a measured and calm ‘Put Me Together’ …well almost. It could be an attempt to get more listeners on board and not scare them away, or it could be an indication Everything Everything have honed in on a sound (although not entirely settled). In any case, A Fever Dreamdemands attention. Jonathan Higgs’ voice is unbelievably good, swinging in and out of intense falsetto and huge choruses – none more bombastic than on album standout ‘Desire’. You want to sing along so bad; but face it, you’ll never get there.

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Brand New – Science Fiction

Brand New have been touting their demise for some time now – all signs point to 2018 as their final year as a band. If that turns out to be the case, Science Fiction is a damn fine way to go out. Eight years on from their fourth album, Brand New return in form far finer than where they left off, and while there are clearly elements left behind (where’d all the screaming go?) this new music is superb. The ferociousness of albums prior is stripped back on Science Fiction; where Daisy’s opener ‘Vices’ led with face-tearing volume and aggression, ‘Lit Me Up’ is a dark, unexpectedly gentle opening tune, and subsequently very eerie. The album seems to build itself around central tracks ‘Same Teeth/Logic’ and ‘137’, each a lengthy addition that build into the heaviest moments, the latter track offering severe guitar work that’s even tastier because of its moderation elsewhere. Science Fiction delivers incredible songs that sound uniquely theirs, yet are indicative of so many indie, rock and punk bands that have flourished in Brand New’s extended absence.

Boo Seeka – Never Too Soon

Boo Seeka impressed me a lot last year, with ‘Deception Bay’ an easy pick in my tunes of the year and their Like a Version cover of MØ’s ‘Pilgrim’ a favourite among 2017’s strong batch of renditions. For a local, emerging act, they sound solidly versed in what they do – one of those acts that release songs in the band’s infancy that may well trump anything that comes later. As far as debut album efforts go, Never Too Soon keeps pace with the stellar singles that preceded it. Smooth vocals and subtle electronica flood this record, as Boo Seeka chill their way through. It’s soul / electronic / indie field day that’s difficult to classify, punctuated with uplifting moments (‘Argo Misty’) and quirky dance tracks (‘Calling Out’) that make it a damn fine experience.

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Dan Sultan – Killer

The man can do no wrong. He sets a direction, he nails it, and then he starts all over again. This to me feels like Dan Sultan’s third incarnation in only four albums. Ditching the guitar and grunt of Blackbird, Dan returns on Killer with a whole lot of piano and gospel swagger. The tracks are instantly in your head, with a bevy of pop soul singles each owned by Dan’s inimitable voice and accentuated with glorious backing vocals. The album is definitely about the big tunes – ‘Hold It Together’, ‘Killer’, ‘Magnetic’, ‘Reaction’ – but is punctuated with a well-placed shifts, like the percussive ‘Drover’, which feels instantly like an Aussie folk classic, or ‘Fire Under Foot’, which combines Dan’s skill for balladry with a huge strings build-up. Each song holds its own in isolation, which is a great start. As a collection, though, this could be Dan’s best to date.

Gordi – Reservoir

I caught Sophie Payten – the coolest thing to come out of Canowindra – as a support act at the Palais Theatre last year, and was immediately transfixed by her sound. I’ve been looking forward to an album since and Reservoir surpasses my expectations. While there’s plenty that I already knew and expected about this album (single ‘Can We Work It Out’ a telling representation of Gordi’s folk pop prowess), the interwoven touches of weird make it a far more intriguing experience than I thought it would be. The album’s continuity actually ends up being one of its surprises, given Gordi will sing over a whispered counting sample one electronic track (‘Heaven I Know’), then pull out an acoustic guitar for a more classic approach the next (I’m Done’); or that ‘Myriad’ features a warped, auto-tuned voice throughout, yet is followed by pure, beautiful vocals on ‘Aeon’. In theory these musical ideas shouldn’t work together, but Gordi is clever enough to pull it all off. A lot of Reservoir holds a keen likeness Bon Iver’s work (they’ve been hanging out for sure), so if you like the American singer you’re in for a treat here. The debut all pays off for Gordi, leaving us with a versatile and memorable collection of tracks.

Gang of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness

Go Farther In Lightness is grand, intense and remarkably poignant – traits now synonymous with Gang of Youths. If you weren’t sure how emotionally heavier this band could get, album number two lets you know quickly. It’s a collection of tracks that both lyrically and sonically play tug-of-war with your feelings; taking you from despair to elation and everything in between over a lengthy 75 minutes. The album is built on a big scale, with several orchestral interludes and massive songs like the outstanding ‘Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane’ and ‘Achilles Come Down’. Even single ‘Let Me Down Easy’ is given new, intensified life on the album, coupled with what is effectively a 3+ minute symphonic introduction (‘Le symbolique’). All facets of David Le’aupepe’s life are penned here, from the hopelessness of ‘What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?’ to the happiness of ‘The Heart Is A Muscle’. Both his lyricism and the sheer talent of Gang of Youth’s rock style completely pull you in; it sounds cheesy but you can’t help but be entirely wrapped around lyrics like “the heart is a muscle now, I want to make it strong”. Go Farther In Lightness is destined for big things – acclaim, accolades, influence, and hopefully some kind of full blown orchestra tour to show its music justice.

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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.

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.