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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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.