Album Reviews: Angel Olsen, Dua Lipa Remix, Kelly Lee Owens
Angel Olsen — Whole New Mess (Asheville, North Carolina)
There's a magic to Angel Olsen's voice and the constantly expanding breadth of her writing that keeps every new record entrancing. What this album lacks in full-blown productions and a completely new swath of tracks, it makes up for in the mysterious growl that the record builds its songs around. The tumbling stream-of-consciousness delivery of "Whole New Mess" can feel like an eerie trip, but one that only hints at a fiercer side. After some reworks, the sparse beauty of "Waving, Smiling" has a quaint and often heartbreaking quality to its story of paths never truly meeting. Olsen is able to breed a dark brood in "Impasse (Workin' For the name)," and leave its drone with a more ghostly quality than others here. "What It Is (What It Is)" takes things to such a brighter place it can feel ripped from another record entirely, but luckily it's one of the few times on this release she really pulls out guttural releases in the music.
Zella Day — Where Does the Devil Hide (Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona)
Between the vintage country approach Karen Elson and a She & Him approach to oldies, Zella Day carves out a lightly psych niche in retro-pop. Definitely one who knows all the strengths in their own voice, Day is able to really bring her tracks somewhere more interesting. Blending genre influences into a crooner ballad, "People Are Strangers" aches of that magnetic push pull that some find in romance, where they're never quite able to make anything stick. Familiarity doesn't hurt "My Game" in its disco heights, even in its most Maxine Nightingale moments. There's a truly sultry and often psychedelic quality to "Purple Haze," as it seems to surround you in colourful imagery and weird beats to draw you into a trance. Even the more straightforward "Benny My Dear" swells with such a wave of warm feelings you will likely not find much fault.
Dua Lipa — Club Future Nostalgia (London, U.K.)
Depending on the artist, a remix album can be a whole new masterpiece or a bit of long reach for potential new hits. Considering how much of a fierce album Future Nostalgia already was, this offers more inspiring moments than a fully realized new spin on the record. Essentially, the highs are great, but not every update feels necessary. "Future Nostalgia (Joe Goddard Remix)" displays the highs and lows of this approach as it can elevate a build, but sticks too closely to the original form to make it a wholly new track. The new hooks and aesthetic overhaul of "Love Again (Horse Meat Disco Remix)" shows at least how to bring out a new dance flair, while playing with what we know to make things fun. But when Madonna and Missy Elliott jump on the much darker "Levitating (The Blessed Madonna Remix)" things feel completely new, and each section of the song morphs to fit around the two other legends on the track. There's such a unique neon flair to "Physical (Mark Ronson Remix)" that it's easy to forget it's the same track, and Gwen Stefani's understated vocal additions really help it soar.
Black Soprano Family (w/ Benny The Butcher) — It's Over (feat. Heem & Rick Hyde) (Buffalo, NY)
Hearing a solid hip hop collective come together is a truly sublime experience, and Black Soprano Family truly feel like a large power. "It's Over" wastes no time hitting you with its velvety vocal loops and getting all the attitude on the table from the start. Over each recurring story of escaping troubling roots, the flow grows more dynamic on every verse. Amongst all this, the layering complexity of their tales and the references that range from Wu-Tang to the Knicks put the group up there with many groups they clearly love.
Kelly Lee Owens — Inner Song (London, U.K.)
Few artists can break away from pop in truly mesmerizing ways, though Kelly Lee Owens manages to do such with both meditative and progressive qualities. While this record definitely requires a lot more patience from listeners, it's such a unique listen those who love it won't mind. That's why the futuristic rush of an instrumental like "Arpeggi" can really wash you away, enveloping you in dark electronics before kicking things up a notch. This said, harmony quickly takes the wheel on the cold "On," as it leads up to a truly infectious club beat in its back-half. The empty feeling of some verses on "L.I.N.E." opens into some of the most lush synth bursts imaginable, and sees Owens singing much more intimately with the listener. Plus the way Owens is able to snowball her techno vibe from ethereal slow-jam into a bass-driven wall of noise in its finale is simply explosive.