Album Reviews April 16, 2017

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (U.S.A.)

Few artists maintain their quality and reliability across not only albums but guest-work quite to the extent of Kendrick Lamar. Over the past few years since To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick Lamar virtually become a stamp of quality through his various appearances, culminating in this latest triumph of a release. The album is production and performance dream from top to bottom with duets like “LOYALTY. (FEAT. RIHANNA.) showcasing a playful back-and-forth with harmonies and touching talk about the importance of not only love but being able to rely on someone. “PRIDE.” finds Lamar delving into more psychedelic sounds while evaluating his own actions and potential downfall. Many of the albums elements of cutting social-commentary and religious comparisons come to a front on “HUMBLE.” where Lamar mashes a sound and attitude of macho rap with a satirical and religious side making for a powerful single that fires on every cylinder. Pushing the religious breakdown on the record as far as it will go on “XXX. (FEAT. U2.)” Lamar makes the intriguing comparison to patriotism. Mixed with Bono’s haunting delivery it also marks one of the best songs U2 has put out in a while.  Needless to say Lamar is at the top of his craft right now and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be slowing down any time soon.

House In The Fall – Buttons For Eyes (Ottawa)

Always full of surprises, Ottawa’s online instrumental scene has seemingly endless amounts of talent in its depths. Local talent House In The Fall crafts some moody and distressing track that blend sci-fi with demented feelings of horror. Openers “The Black Mirror” and “Buttons For Eyes” blend sparking hooks with some ominous bass washes for an unnerving sense of dread. “Four White Walls” call to the visuals and sounds of “Blade Runner” with its own sense of dark mystery looming like a heavy cloud. Going into more experimental ground, “Merging Parallels” takes more frantic and disturbed moments into the fold for something that carries listeners to another world in its evolving tones. Closing on a more piano-driven note, “Winter’s Icy Blade” cuts through like just that, pulling a different feeling with its slow building notes, it comes crashing down with a rage and weight unmatched on the rest of the album despite its more open sound.

Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (U.S.A.)

Jack White certainly has an eye for talent. On the latest Third Man Records solo release from one of White’s band members, it’s clear he’s picking some truly gifted people to round out his live roster. This alt-country record features more generic country tunes on tracks like “Honky Tonks and Taverns” and “Wash Me Clean” brought into 2017 with much fresher and personal themes than much of the older music she’s emulating. Tracks like “Honest and True” blend pop and more of the forward thinking country styles that White has been pushing on his recent records, while layering sweet harmonies and melting slide guitars to push the emotional punch of the song. “Dance To The Beat of My Own Drum” takes the most risks on the record in its strange key sounds mixed with a more abrasive and quirky use of the twangy instrumentation, making for a more artistically charged track than the rest of the album. Mixed with the more generic sounding material earlier on the record the final track does leave one hoping for a little more ambitious direction in the sound, but Mae does still craft a record that outdoes a lot of modern country while only being held back by its lack risk.

Vienna – //music.2017// (Ottawa)

Popping with life in just a few tracks, Vienna is concise wonder of Ottawa hip hop, bringing a mainstream level of quality to his tracks in a sparing sample every few months. For tracks that sound like they could back artists on the top 40 it’s an impressive outing for the local producer. Opening track “Cloud Storage” ripples with synth lines before it finally blasts in with a groove and funk that would make Bruno Mars blush, and a flashy swagger to match as it kicks with every last ounce of energy. It even manages to smoothly switch moods with a deceptive bridge that brings the beat back in with a more laidback feeling. “Simple” is anything but in its creeping lines that introduce the beat in a choppy and grimy manner. Taking a dark and building funk with the same suave style its impressive how elegantly it maintains the same feeling. Taking a much more delayed approach to kick in, “Craft” finally slaps in the beat with a hefty helping of bass, taking what would be straightforward and playing with sonic qualities (like tremolo and tinkering percussion) to make a floating and unique timbre. On a trap-influenced note “Rainforests” closes the release with a more avant-garde beat and even stranger synth notes, making for something very off-kilter but oddly addictive.

 Splashh – Waiting A Lifetime (England-Australia)

With so many indie rock bands to sort through, it’s always exciting to find a band that not only sound unique but write with the same level of fearlessness and creativity as bands many years their senior. Splashh mix a sense of driving alt-rock with a startling amount of artistic drive for an album full of surprises. “Rings” starts with a deceptive amount of dirty, thrashing drive before its slow burning, dreamy choruses that come out of nowhere. While more straightforward, tracks like “See Through” are just so undeniably catchy in their layers of melodic bliss, mixing in guitar screeches that would climax other songs as a throwaway moment. Reaching far on tracks like “Look Down To Turn Away” they even manage more synth and electronic driven pop moments with strong songwriting, just as effective as their pop, even taking their time on the opening to really make something unique. “Closer” takes their pop and more aggressive tendencies into something danceable but artistically respectable, adding a surprising amount of variety to a record that one might mistake from casual listens as typical.