Album reviews — Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Alma and more
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B (Mission, British Columbia)
While her last B-sides EP was a surprise hit, it's insane to think Carly Rae Jepsen could follow up a record of single-worthy material with another LP's worth of solid tracks. Though it's a step below the might of 2019's Dedicated, it's still a thrilling, unique album that will give us danceable tracks in otherwise dark times. Perhaps the strongest rush of life the record delivers is the radiant "This Love Isn't Crazy," which races with all the layered vocals Jepsen excels at and the soaring power-ballad choruses she's made part of her music lately. A much more acoustically-fuelled jam, "Window" sees a loosely R&B Jepsen playing in territory that would usually be a little too slow for her main records. The booming choruses and the screeching, warped hooks of "Stay Away" beg for a live show dance-along, as the momentum never lets up in this banger. Plus between the ecstatic emotions of "This Is What They Say" and the rhythmic drive on songs like "Summer Love," Jepsen could easily lean her post-quarantine tour into a lot of this material without a single complaint.
Loneward – Moongate (Ottawa)
Through heavy drones that blur the space between guitar, synth and electronics, Loneward creates music that envelopes you into a world. With tones of sci-fi and David Lynch, this is a listen that pulls you wholly in. With its creeping melodies, "Eventide" burns with a constant roar, and lays out the massive synth soundscapes of the record. Hearing the tones flow in and out of each other on "Shadowed Ivy" it can feel like an organic rise and fall of voices as you're asked to think more about the whole than any individual piece on this record. The most moment-to-moment flow of the record comes in the shimmering majesty of "Ethereal Glow," and its ability to condense the charm of this album into a more directional place. And though "Nightsong" slows things down even more, it does bring a sense of scale to each note that creates a much larger impact than anything else on here.
Tove Lo – Sunshine Kitty (Paw Prints Edition) (Stockholm, Sweden)
Though not the full-record companion Jepsen offered, Swedish adult-pop queen Tove Lo has essentially added a small EP onto her new deluxe release. Evaluating these new tracks as their own release, Tove Lo shows that even without a more album-wide focus, she can craft singles that are fun explorations of pop and everything that makes it fun. The stadium size of "Sadder Badder Cooler" slows things down to a more ballad-like energy, to help people move past the terrible people in their life. The intoxicating beat of "Bikini P*rn" plays right off her own vocals to create a song that makes you understand the allure of the all-out life that Tove tries to celebrate here. We also get to see the Tove Lo take on Robyn-style pop on "I'm Coming" with its swelling synths and a much more wholesome energy that might not carry the brutality her lyricism usually does but still the same emotional weight. Nothing is heavier than "Passion and Pain Taste The Same When I'm Weak" however, since this pensive lament on being treated like dirt and not being able to break the cycle.
The Prime Rib Big Band – Choice Cuts (Ottawa)
Not every larger band can always make their size feel quite as immense, but the Prime Rib Big Band really create a sense of dynamics amongst their members. The small solo intro of "The Lion Thing" suggests one kind of listen, but as soon as the whole group comes out wailing you feel the utter difference and swing of it all. Layers and the versatility of voices play into the more free-flowing listens like "Sable's Saga" as the group is able to pull out a lot of details and extra richness from their unique standpoint. This plays against the punch of the rhythm section on "Hard Drop Part 2" as every section of the band feels like its own gang vying for space like gigantic beasts in the sonic space. In "Crunch" every end of the group is sharpened to a razor's edge to let harmony, riffs and the scale of their power really come out in its full glory.
Alma – Have U Seen Her? (Kuopio, Finland)
The amount of guest appearances over the past couple years has made finally hearing Alma on her own satisfying. Though this release still sounds a little too close to the works of her friends like Tove Lo and Charli XCX, it's a step in the right direction for her to get weirder. There's an inherent catchy fun to "LA Money" that still tries to dissect the darkness to otherwise accepted lifestyles. "Stay All Night" does more to create a distinct voice for Alma, as she twists ideas from across pop and lays them out in ways that feel totally hers. Alma's range is perhaps her most exciting tool for now as she swaps from sad or warm tracks into "Nightmare," a track so demented that it feels even beyond Billie Eilish. And the kick she injects into the personal anthem of "Loser" really does a lot to send its empowering narrative over the top.