Album Reviews: Billie Eilish, Marina, Half Waif

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever (Los Angeles)

After becoming one of the single-most popular singers on the planet and making a documentary charting how tumultuous that journey can feel, Billie Eilish's latest record maintains darkness. With a lot more flourish, tempered moments and the emotional intimacy that has people coming back to her work, Eilish's menacing exploration of the grit behind fame has us both fascinated and hoping she's able to find some solace. "Getting Older" is a wonderfully sparse keyboard meditation on what sounds like her well-known mixed feelings towards the process behind making music, and how maturity has her seeing the best way forward is just talking about her ghosts. There's a mesmerisation with hope on "My Future," as Eilish makes one of her most bouncy and morphing tracks in some time, as the brooding intro drops into this groovy and ecstatic second-half. Interestingly, the kinetic rhythms to her most growling production on "Oxytocin" does recall the first record, while getting so overtly in-your-face that it'll either scare you or leave you intoxicated. "NDA" has the most immediately addictive hooks on the record, warped just enough to feel creepy, and using Billie's own fame to blur the lines between stories of shadowy execs and the monster she could become.

Martha Wainwright – Hole in My Heart (Single) (Montreal)

Part folk-pop, part country, part ethereal acoustic music, Marth Wainwright gets giddy and borderline surreal on her new single. The song matches the intense emotion of that first moment of love in its booming guitars and keys, with such an immediate kick in tempo that it's unmistakable. Wainwright gets more hysterical as the song goes on, talking about stripping down and finding her partner living in the park, to the point it seems like the song may be covering multiple stories in on exploration of the inception of love-at-first-sight-style romance. As it pitches all of this up, the bass starts to dance about, and the cries out that Wainwright does just hammer home that cheerful but self-aware of how over-the-top things are feeling.

Marina (fka Marina and the Diamonds) – Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land (Brynmawr, Wales, U.K.)

With her very glossy, vocally-charged and very specifically glamorous-meets-blown-out-rock sound, Marina has always had a kind of love-it-or-hate-it following. While her latest evolution on that aesthetic is firmly rooted in her usual musings, this record is easily her strongest writing in years, and will leave her fans dazzled in its Janelle Monae-esque concept album energy. "Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land" mixes a bit of Metric under the hood, with a lot of wonderfully operatic chords and shouts to make an intro that really pulls you into the world of the record. The rush of drums and slap bass lets the synths really explode on "Venus Fly Trap" as Marina commands her stand as a strong but dangerous pop star. While Tove Lo's added vocals and the overall production on the Kito remix of the song are great in their own right, the sounds on the original track are still stronger. Marina is at her most classic and self-indulgent on "New America" with bells, pianos and a strings turning the song into a uniquely Marina experience, though it's hard to deny how goose bump-inducing that final chorus is either way. The orchestral scope of "I Love You But I Love Me More" makes for a transfixing listen, though it's the great production around Marina's singing and how her harmonies come in like separate  spirits that give the song so much character.

John Orpheus  – IG  (Single)  (Toronto/Trinidad)

With an immediately infectious groove and guitar lick running through it, "IG" shows John Orpheus at his infectious best. There's a sense of self-celebration and mockery in the track, as the weirdness of social media is highlighted just as brightly as its empowering sides. None of this gets in the way of its punchy bass, and the way each "rah" vocal cuts through to make you want to sing along. The whole feature sees Orpheus blowing the whole back of the track out through distortion, and effectively celebrating his own grimy side. The whole track flies on the great "Gotta live" chants, to the point that you can easily get hooked on the song by just hearing this section.

Half Waif – Mythopoetics (New York City)

Avoiding genre conventions with such a free-flowing sense of exploration, Half Waif's music is a trip of personal instrumentation and awe-inspiring electronic touches. Certainly a dense and varied listen sonically, this is a truly fun record to dive into. The swells of an organ-like instrument open to the sprawling synths of "Swimmer," and see the vocals constantly climbing to match the heights it manages emotionally. There's a darker twist on this fusion on "Fortress," as the morose feelings are seemingly made endless through its electronic elements and allows the vocals enough room to truly burst in the choruses. As it sways between a dance core and a regretful wave of harmonies and more industrial beats, "Party's Over" is a shifting emotional journey constantly emulated in its arrangements. There's a Kate Bush-like fun to "Midnight Asks" as it takes a deeply complex emotional torment, and recreates it through its acoustics to create this truly cinematic and overpowering experience.