Album Reviews: Arkells, Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo
Arkells – Laundry Pile
For all their great music, Arkells have rarely strayed away from their well-tested essentials, until now. Bringing a mix of emotional acoustics, fun production details that feel like a return to their indie roots, and a sense of urgency, this is the band’s atypical record, and it’s great to see them change up the game. The album opens on the reflective and comforting “Life Is” that blends a campfire style acoustic glee with a chilling touch of harmonies and deeper production, to welcome you into the record just like a loved one. “Skin” instantly drops that little bit of Arkells DNA in its piano rushes and that frantic running momentum, but it adds a more mature sense to those older Arkells classics with that hum of cool synths that flesh out its time-spanning message. In some of their most effects-drenched work, “Wash Away” creates a dizzy sense to compliment the feeling of attachment that sometimes won’t quit your soul, and lets every hook feel just as tragic as it is magical. Returning to their eager, determined core, “Shot in the Dark” takes a similarly colourful approach to a more unsure kind of love song than the band have recorded in some time, and with great quirky percussion to make it feel apart from their other albums.
Aphrose – Roses (Single)
After proving a lot of great and layered soulful pop on her last few singles, Aphrose creates a transcendent new space on “Roses.” With notes that ring out like they’re both honey and water, the track almost feels like it’s echoing out of a body, or through liquid. Aphrose’s vocals are smooth and calming as ever, soothing your mind and giving you space to sink into your deeper self. And as the drums start to cascade into these torrential moments in its back half, and the harmonies grow denser and more ethereal, Aphrose finds a new layer to their kaleidoscopic pop.
Doja Cat – Scarlet
For whatever she says about where her career’s going next, Doja Cat can really use a microphone to paint a vocal texture tapestry. Amala Dlamini overstuffs the record a bit, but drops so many great singles and iconic performance moments that you’ll be having too much fun to care. “Paint the Town Red” is infectious right off the bat with that sublime hook over its cool ah-ing base, with Dlamini delivering more in a short song with how she twists her voice than most do across a whole album. The fun, dreamy production on “Gun” lets its wavy synths take you under and gives Doja a lot of room to shift from coy to hilariously aggressive every few lines. There’s a touch of Sleigh Bells in the eerie tones of “Shutcho” as it veers between a kind of crooner sound and a weird echo-scape where you feel like Dlamini is messing with your thoughts. The hazy glow overtakes the whole feeling on “Skull and Bones” feeling like a step between Sade and the Fugees, but in a completely new vocal register.
The Commotions – Feel the Commotion (Single)
Glossy and sublime in their funk and orchestral punch as usual, The Commotions create a party on their latest single. “Feel the Commotion” slides and floats in its brisk beats, letting you bop and pose to the track as you go. Every horn and vocal hits like a beautiful ray of sun as this one grows, making you want to sing and throw your hands in the air to every instrument in the mix. And that break plays on a lot of great Quincy Jones tracks to really add an extra layer of groove before the whole track sends itself off for a great mix altogether.
Olivia Rodrigo – Guts
After her last record, Olivia Rodrigo had asserted she was the person to watch in pop for the next few years, and now she’s proven she had more potential than we ever could have even realized. With an album full of heartbreaking tracks, great pop-punk bangers and the personality to sell it all beautifully, Rodrigo is asserting her place as a new pop royal. “All-American Bitch” has a playful approach, as it seems to almost toy with Taylor Swift style intros at first before running through a blown-out pop-punk chorus that will make you scream and rock out to its ironic-but-still-fun-as-hell energy. There’s a lot of 90s pop-rock in “Bad Idea Right?” and it feels so gloriously grimy in its writing and sarcasm that it wins you over in seconds, and long before that massive build up. While it’s a triumphant of stirring ballad crafting to begin with, the true knockout touch to “Vampire” is those Perfume Genius-esque pumps after every refrain of “Goddamn Vampire” that go from light pianos to loud drives to a destructive explosion of what must have been every instrument in the studio. As revenge on a particular person or the industry as a whole to her soul, this is quite possibly the most perfect response to years of drain. The dirty production to “Get Him Back!” almost makes you forget how well the pop hooks are orchestrated here, with Rodrigo swaying through the choir-laden chorus like a commanding officer.