Album Reviews: Bicep, General Malaise, Kiwi Jr.

Bicep — Isles (Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Between full dance tracks, scores and modern electronica, Biceps land somewhere in the middle, to craft sonically fierce tracks. While it's definitely crafted for a specific mood and a particular crowd, this is some fun music to get lost in. The frantic beats of "Atlas" are mesmerizing, and take on an exotic kick thanks to the unusual edge the seemingly unintelligible vocals take in this song. "Saku" gains a bit of pop appeal, while focusing the duo's production around silky vocals by Clara La San to drive a romantic story to their listeners. The quirky tones colour their sound all the better on "X" to leave you in an 80's-inspired dreamworld, that's hard not to dance to. The hazy "Rever" finds Julia Kent veering her own voice in and out of Biceps world to leave you with a song that feels pulled together from a digitized take on reality.

General Malaise — When The World Burns Down (Ottawa)

Through the PepTides Claude Marquis has infused jazz and art-pop with a sense of fun, and now they turn to more expansive pop. In this solo project, Marquis finds a huge sound, but one utterly unique to what he's done before. Tones of the recent U.S. Girls album come out of the symphonic and majestic "General Malaise," for a vocally-empowered song that booms with magic. The instrumentals are to die for on intros to tracks like "Filth," which itself takes a much more furious rock approach ripped right from the late 70s. The theatrical heights of "Lena Emphysema" elevate the guitar pop, while using its catchier core to get you caught up in its story. Even the more piano-driven "Dead By Dawn" has a dense production style that lets every key and voice play off each other with delicate beauty. 

Kiwi Jr. — Cooler Returns (Toronto)

Standing on the shoulders of decades of great rock ballads, Kiwi Jr. make sprawling music. Mixing a full-blown magical style with more party-ready tracks, this record blends in a lot of stellar writing for a band that's ostensibly only a few records deep by now. "Tyler" is brimming with McCartney and Big Star influence, while bringing Kiwi Jr.'s own warm charm and weird production shrieks. There's more lyrical fun to "Undecided Voters" despite its neon-bubblegum writing, as it constantly throws a new riff or hilarious line at you. The relaxed drive of "Only Here For a Haircut" is contrasted powerfully in its punchy bridges and a knack for building tense drops out of nowhere. There's a roar to "Domino" that sees Kiwi Jr. charting a euphoric high and getting really into their sonics for a track that really sounds as good as its emotion feels.

Paul Jacobs — Half Rich Loner (Single) (Montreal)

In his latest lo-fi rock release, Paul Jacobs seems to have found the perfect way to finesse the grit and beauty of his writing. The whole track is brimming with these little vocal dribbles, percussive one-offs and little bits of soul that make you fixate on it on your first listen. The drums are rich with a 70s luster you usually only get out of a Tame Impala recording, while the unhinged approach feels like Beck tackling Kinks records with Foxygen. While you could make comparisons for hours, it's not a disservice to the music, as this track feels wholly unique in Jacobs' voice, and is simply tapping into the essences of many other great sounds. Just as the track seems to be riding its vocals, it will veer off to drums, and then in a psychedelic vocal haze, and then close out on this great celebration of all of those, louder than ever before.

Jazmine Sullivan — Heaux Tales (Philadelphia, PA)

There's something to say as to what character can do to sell a sound that takes so many genres into a blender. Jazmine Sullivan handles this balancing act for an alluring record with a lot of versatile hooks. "Bodies" soars in its swing harmonies, and infectious rounds of vocals, while Sullivan sneaks in a lot of spoken-word pops you'd only really hear in a hip hop track nowadays. The groove of "Pick Up Your Feelings" has a fiery choir force to it, that lets any moment of the track explode out of nowhere. "Put It Down" finds the exact midway point between many of the genres on display here, as it lands as a rap track that seems to sample another Sullivan song. The melody behind "Price Tags" leaves you in a dreamy cloud, only for Anderson .Paak's verse to snap you right back up in your seat.