Album Reviews: Chai, Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen, Olivia Rodrigo

CHAI — WINK (Nagoya, Japan)

Though their live shows and aesthetics come off as playful, CHAI bring a true sophistication to their studio recordings. As they mix this kind of fun and more lush sensibility into their albums, WINK ends up a sublime listen that will appeal to your mind and soul. The grooves of "Donuts Mind If I Do" are a fun counterpoint to their high harmonies, but it's their jazzy chord progressions that really make this song feel like something totally different to anything around. After some tracks with seductive beats and bass, "END" comes in with a furious sound, mixes in all their quirks and abrasive tones to make a "Jet Set Radio Future"-sounding jam, all with enough hooks to make you hit play again. They fully ditch the more R&B tones here on "Ping Pong!" to create a chunky, chiptune-fuelled dance banger, that feels perfect to come blasting with all of its bass from a full concert setup. Alternatively, their unique timbres mesh best in the more suave song ideas on "In Pink," especially as all the voices of the record are melded in a more separated way to highlight everyone.

Pete Moss — Chickadee (Single) (Toronto)

Somewhere between a simple cute sixties folk track and a modern children's educational song, "Chickadee" serves both audiences surprisingly well. Pulling a lot from Moss's background as a teacher, the ease of the lyrics is immediately apparent. It's within the layered guitars and similar instruments that it really gets its strength. The grip of its melodies keep the song memorable from the get, allowing its earworm qualities to avoid getting too much. And with the nice departure in the downbeat bridges, Moss makes this lighter track feel deeper than it once was.  

Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen — Like I Used To (Single) (Belleville, NJ/Brooklyn & St. Louis, MO/Chicago)

Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten have always been painting with similar colours, so it's wonderful that they've finally decided to share a canvas. Right away the breadth of this track's riffs and arrangements grab you, calling like a lost Springsteen hit, but driven by the styling that these to modern legends have continuously brought to their music. Even just the creeping roll of a keyboard after the chorus has this rush of wonder to it, glimmering like stars in water. Their nostalgic yearning  comes off equally excited and seemingly sad at a return to old ways, which is why the dual voices really elevate the song on their own. To this effect, the song also dually works as a personal return, but also one that works surprisingly well to the slowly opening post-Covid joys of life should one want to take it so bluntly. Though one could also take it as our narrators lockdown life reflecting their own old ways as well. Van Etten and Olsen's voices themselves blend amazingly together, giving each verse its own heart, and the harmonies a truly magical quality. Plus, the high "Like I used to" notes the pair freestyle in the finale take it all the further to give you goose bumps. That mysterious orchestral sound in the back is wielded like a living creature, and gives the heavy tone of the song another level of might, just to make it feel unforgettable. Ultimately this whole mix works like a sharp wrecking ball, unstoppable and so strong you can't ignore the force that it brings when you hear it. Given how rare it is to truly get a single that is truly a standalone release like this, Van Etten and Olsen bring the depth of production and emotion to make this one moment a wonder of the modern age.  

Dobet Gnahoré — Couleur (Cote d'Ivoire)

With a wide range of arrangements and a heavily rhythmic sound, Dobet Gnahoré digs in on their latest record. "Désert" lets the hooks come out, and build a chant amongst all the beats to create a large, group energy has you wanting to clap and cry back with her band. There's a much more overt fun to "Lève-toi" in its deep bass, and a funkier drum section, with Gnahoré hitting all the harder with their voice. The vocal percussion of "Yakané" is a wondrous touch, especially as the song itself is coloured by so many uniquely warped vocal tracks. The soaring runs of "Ma Maison" is the most danceable listen here, urging you to shake where you might have only felt a bit of movement before. 

Olivia Rodrigo — Sour (Temecula, CA)

Following her acting success, Olivia Rodrigo has wasted no time carving out her voice as a recording artist. Though her lyrics an unmistakeably wise and biting quality that elevates the whole record, the fusion of pop-punk and modern pop makes this record a truly fun listen before you dig into its true darkness. Like Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" on acid, "Brutal" chugs along, with Rodrigo riffing on how often elderly advice can pull you in every direction at once. While a totally wondrous vocal highlight of Rodrigo, "Drivers License" definitely shows her admitted influences of Taylor Swift and Lorde to the point that you will likely know this song already. The most interesting production on the pop side of the album is "Deja Vu" as throws a lot of fun rock ideas and warped tones under the pop, as a total reversal of how her rock tracks work. So by the time you get to "Good 4 U" the sheer release of her high-octane and polychromatic production makes for a simply fun time.