Album Reviews: April 13, 2017
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (USA)
While a lot of heavy music can end up exhausting, the right commentary and delivery can make it all work. For this latest release from Josh Tillman, he goes on a bleak exploration of our technologically powered future but keeps it interesting with his cutting opinions and powerful music.
Taking a few nods from Elton John, the iconic sounding "Pure Comedy" opens the album on some great piano crooning, with swelling strings and apt moments of humanity. "Total Entertainment Forever" goes deep into dystopian focus putting moments of happiness in with the dark sadness and ending on some flaring saxophone for a show-stopping track.
"Smoochie" and "A Bigger Paper Bag" bring in addictive melodic hooks on their lyrics of identity and the mundane, saving them in the process. While some tracks run too long and sometimes repeat themselves too much, the overall result is a great album with enough commentary and great composition to excuse its more indulgent moments.
Karen Elson – Double Roses (UK)
With more Kate Bush than the Southern-overtones of her previous release, Karen Elson finally has a new record seven years down the line. Mixing this older style with a grander sense of mystic pop, full of strings and slide guitar Elson cleverly merges two sides of her life into her music for a record that overflows with intrigue. Overtly of the aforementioned influence of Kate Bush, the album opens with the harp-laden "Wonder Blind," bringing a storybook level of magic to a sad tale of love, with a captivating flute solo that turns into an organ solo so satisfying it makes it sadder Elson was gone for so long. The lengthy "Double Roses" goes from the slide-guitar fuelled mysticism to a Victorian harpsichord solo, and switches gears in its latter half to outro on Elson going spoken word for a track that earns its length. "Hell Or High Water" brings a heavier tone as Elson faces demons through clouds of distortion and ride cymbals, bringing all the soul and strings along for the ride. The most surprising however is "Why Am I Waiting" where Elson brings a much more modern and electronic-inspired sounds to a track that feels the most avant-garde pop of the whole album. With some amazing solos and intense passion from the record, it only lacks memorable moments to make it a truly great record.
Noi Ya – Self-Immolation (Ottawa)
If you have the right focus and drive, escaping the boundaries of genre will free you to make something truly unique. On his latest release, local artist Noi Ya pushes the boundaries of sound as far as he can mixing in elements from dance, trance and rock for something that manages all of the above without sounding out of place. "Love Me In Knots" takes an ambient, shining sound and layers it in with dance beats and a deep sense of pop for something both experimental and easy to get into.
There's a cutting sheen to "Glitter" that is so in the forefront while blending its heavier notes in an elegant way, that by the time you get to the visual lyrics it all comes together beautifully. Darker tones take over on "Buyers Remorse" as consumerism is on blast through the glitchy music, making unsettling music out of an unsettling topic. Going for a bigger sound on "Romanticism," booming drums and soaring synths, mashing it with roaring feedback and out of control synths for a closer not easy to forget.
Tikal – Reflections (Ottawa)
Hard-hitting hip hop seems harder and harder to find but there are still a few artists trying to keep the legitimacy of the genre going.
Tikal's epic but soulful hip hop takes parts of the early days of the genre and mashes in newer sounds in interesting ways for a great example of Ottawa's powerful scene.
"In Time" rolls on piano and a solid beat, as he speaks to saving yourself from the darker sides of life. The quirky sample of "4x" provides a stellar bedrock to rap on about fighting for your life. "Recognize (ft. Shah Rashid13 & Ace Da Moor) takes some darker moods for a mysterious track that brings the most gangster style to the record as well as some nerd cred through the Dragon Ball references.
Distorted bass roars in "Da Wurd" as the Tikal raps about staying true and dealing with the ignorant people of the world by taking initiative and making a change. The track's distinctively poppy high-end notes are cutting and succinct as they drop like rain in the background.
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions (Vancouver)
It's generally daunting how often The New Pornographers seem to be able to advance their sound, keeping everything distinct about them while moving the sonic scope further. Their latest in a long line of work great records also finds them without Dan Bejar as they move into what seems to be their electronic phase. Lead single "High Ticket Attractions" is one of the strongest of the record, with a deluge of melodies flowing throughout.
While distinctly happy "Play Money" finds Case and Newman injecting life into their digital sound, while throwing all the weird chord progressions to remind you it's still a New Pornographers album. Unfortunately the title track does slog a bit through heavy repetition, holding back a sonically powerful song. "Avalanche Alley" nails the finale however taking more risks and sonic pushes than the rest of the album, opening them for future records.
Ultimately there aren't any bad songs on the record but it rarely feels like there are great songs here, potentially due to the absence of the weirdness Bejar brought to the table.