• By: Owen Maxwell

Album Reviews: Chai, Kylie Minogue, Jorja Smith

Chai – Chai
(Nagoya, Japan)

Given how wonderfully unhinged and indulgent Chai have been in their career so far, it was only a matter of time till we got a more classic pop album from them. Though it definitely feels like the band is playing into more pastiche than they have in the past, it’s cool to see this group’s unique blend of harmonies and quirky tones shifting what can be done in these genres. The smooth groove of “Matcha” sets the record off with a smoky R&B sheen, and sees the group really honing on the layers and textures of their composition in a way they usually blow out more than keep subtle. The stomping disco of “Para Para” plays like a long-lost dancefloor deep cut, with more voices and synths than the genre ever got before. With the bass driving the whole show on “Game” there’s a funkier and more off-kilter approach to sound, almost feeling like it’s ripped from a video game at times. “We the Female!” loosens up the more sparse production in a way that much of the album holds back, letting the whole back half of the song turn into this groovy and futuristic trip through the stars.

Autogramm WannaBe (Single)
(Vancouver, British Columbia)

Hard rock crunch and glowing synths collide on Autogramm’s latest single “WannaBe.” This massive scale is amped up further through the hefty drums, which sound like they were recorded off the edge of a cliff. But while Autogramm create a driving anthem in the track’s first half, there’s a more serene and explorative quality as the song hits its bridge. The sunny and harmony-rich runs through this next phase of the song shows the band’s full range of colours as a group, as they take you through a mesmerizing rush of vivid tones. Though the track mostly sticks to their large and chunky drive for its run, they show there’s a lot of room to change things up in this one track.

Kylie Minogue – Tension
(Melbourne, Australia)

No matter the decade, no matter the producer, Kylie Minogue has found a niche in the dance music scene to say something new. For any of the clichés she uses, there’s such an infectious energy on these tracks that you’ll want to crank them up anyway. There’s a tangible cinematic scope to “Padam Padam” as it rides through atypical hooks and a desert-like acoustic space, though it seems like its best potential is already being mined in remixes. The 80’s charm of “Things We Do for Love” hits like it was born right from a classic film soundtrack, with an entire montage popping into your head to its perfectly echoed synth drops and running beat. The best club tones rip through “Tension” as Minogue exudes her effortless, sultry energy while managing to command the song through every corner. With sax driving up the disco high on “Green Light,” Minogue shows again just how much she was meant to dominate the club charts, with the sublimely smooth and hip-shaking beats sending the whole track all the higher.

Hey Major Down the Ride
(Sherbrooke, Québec)

With a unique use of piano and textures in their music, Hey Major accomplish more as a duo than many groups can do with three times as many people. “M.I.A” bursts with rushes of piano almost in a calmer take on LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” while it brings a great pop drive to stop and start those piano lines, and use them to enhance the drops, rather than being the sole hook of the song. There’s a cool neon sheen to “Frees My Soul” as the duo let guitars and synths dance off each other on every chorus, and throw in their own oo’s and rising hooks to create a euphoric boom on every chorus. Tackling climate change with both horror and a sense of a new horizon, “Our World” paints that potential as equal parts fascinating, exotic and deadly to dazzle you with a vision of what’s to come. The instant pop grip that “Running” drops grabs you, with bits of ABBA and their own piano pop in the mix to create falsetto-drenched choruses that you’ll want to sing along to again and again.

Jorja Smith Falling or Flying
(Walsall, England)

After honing out her art across EPs since her debut album, Jorja Smith has returned even sharper than before. With the same lush vocals, and a bass and drums combo that absolutely cuts up this record, Smith has truly upped her game. The rhythmic punch of “Try Me” sets the album off with a vicious kineticism, as all the beautiful vocals and orchestral swells are given a visceral weight in those drums. Exotic bass runs and a frantic percussion section send you into a funky fog on “Little Things,” as Smith plays between 90’s production and such an amazing rhythm section that you could really craft handfuls of songs off that one combo. Against the angular bass and smoky drum hits, Smith gives some of her most impassioned and frantic vocal lines on “Falling or Flying,” resulting in a track that feels dire and immediate in every note. The soul in “Broken is the Man” will reach into your very being, as Smith gets pulled right into the forefront of the mix and lays the truths of toxic partners out bare.