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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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.