Album Reviews: August 7, 2017

Arcade Fire- Everything Now (Montreal)

While any Arcade Fire album these days is undoubtedly going to be hyped to its own detriment, their fifth album does a lot to improve on the missteps of Reflektor. Tighter as a whole and truly only weak at times from the other highs of the record, Arcade Fire is definitely on the upswing. The blissful hook of "Everything Now" is crisp and all-enveloping, as the band harmonize their way through one of their best singles in years, all while making biting commentary. Moving to dance beats, "Signs of Life" shifts to loose disco grooves while the blaring saxophones amp up the energy for the album's best dance track. "Chemistry" booms with life as the band takes a simple repetitive song and blow it out through growing dynamics and a post-Beatles McCartney-esque bombast. "Put Your Money On Me" is the most dense song of the record, with lush mixes of synths and sequencers crafting a core for the strings and swelling chorus to boom over.

Bendish – Che Vuoi? (Ottawa)

One of the rare abstract instrumental gems of the local scene, Bendish crafts electronic tracks both strange yet understandable. "Welcome to Sotira" chugs along on a heavy beat, and fluttering notes of wondrous electronic depth. "Think of Me Among The Amber Waves of Grain" rolls on its subdued bass hook, with a flutter and light sense of loops that gives it a sense of place and life simultaneously. Gaining unsettling cloudiness on "Wiederholungszwang" there's a cutting back-and-forth of keyboards and jittery beats, and the touches of key strokes that fly throughout are the icing on top. A little more hollow, "Oh But You Do" has prominent beats and some fun midi key melodies but just doesn't feel as distinct and evocative as the rest of the record.

Juanita Stein – America (Australia)

Straying from her rock fame in The Howling Bells, Aussie songstress Juanita Stein turns her sites to America for a record that captures the essence of iconic USA better than Ray Davies outing earlier this year. "Florence" shuffles along with the stomp of classic country crooners, while adding a sense of mystery and awe through the harmonies and tone mastery behind the track. Digging deep on "I'll Cry" she blends her desert sound with hints of Lana Del Rey, making a lush and hazy song that somehow feels like iconic pop. Taking a classic guitar hook into demented waters, "Shimmering" is a classic-sounding pop song taken for twists and turns through the lens of heartbreak, as the weird arrangement makes the track fall into strange worlds. Shedding idealism, "America" gives a sobering look at the way America has changed and changed its people, with Stein's vocals and harmonies providing a dreamy blend.

Free Refills – Nearly Expired (Ottawa)

One of the more unique punk acts out of Ottawa right now, Free Refills bring not only a clever sense of art to their new record but great pop. "Gelatinous Fluid" starts the album on gritty rock with exploding drums at every turn, but it's the light touch of pop-composition that makes the track come together memorably. Shredding a bass on "Cancer of Society," the groove is king, as they blast the listeners with relentless punches of sound. Moving to ska tones, "Still Awake" recalls so much pop-punk of the 90's while easing away from the brass that would almost feel too cliché in 2017. Going all out on "Blank Minded," they lose the speed for a rock finale that is firing on all cylinders, hitting each note with more importance and meaning.

Katie Von Schleicher – Sh*tty Hits (Brooklyn)

Through a deep reverb chamber, this New York resident crafts a classy but emotionally heavy record that needs all the attention it can get. From the opening track "The Image" Katie is throwing distorted percussion and wilting piano tones that both lull you and slap you with the full emotional heft of her writing. "Paranoia" drifts between her melancholy tones and a quirky pop, with all the right harmonies and off-colour hooks. In a smothering amount of distortion and bass, "Nothing" trudges along with a cloud of depressive mood, but it's the emotive lyrics that make this track hit home as one of the purest expressions of low-state's in recent recording. On a baroque riff, contrasted by the distorted guitars, "Going Down" has a menacing push to its theatrical rock, as Von Schleicher shows her dark side.