Album reviews: December 10, 2019
Beck — Hyperspace (Los Angeles)
Never one to stay still genre-wise or writing-wise, Beck's latest venture feels of another time and dimension. Though it might feel a tad too inspired at times, this record is certainly the most coherent album he's put out in a while, and it's wonderful frankly to see him dive into a world of sound so wholeheartedly again. As we set out on the cold and spacey tones of "Hyperlife," we're given the feel for the whole record, and a kind of taste of all the electronic textures to come. "Uneventful Days" sees Beck using this palette to warp and twist his voice endlessly, though a lack of dynamic range in the music he does this on leaves the whole thing a tad flat. Though "Chemical" does itself feel bizarrely equalized on the volume and drops, the blend of hip hop and colourful riffing is a fun stretch for Beck. It's cool in this way that as a result, the minimalistic crooning of "Star" actually feels more satisfying as each note means a little more, and the changes in pace are finally given weight that the otherwise dense production never allows elsewhere.
Richard Reed Parry — Quiet River Of Dust Vol.2: That Side of the River (Ottawa)
In the second part of his new tone-guided journey, we see the rustic side of Richard Reed Parry brighter than ever. With the folk notes he rarely can flex in Arcade Fire coming out as well, this is a fun listen to explore sound and pick apart the abstract feelings in the music. Like a trip through a psychedelic traditional, "The Fiddlers Play" breathes in and out like parts Celtic theme and an otherworldly cry of danger. However as the more pop-infused chug of "Lost in the Waves" uses these textures to take you out to the wild, the floating energy of its performances feel like they gain a visual potency as well. It's this kind of setting from a musical perspective that make the sweeps from dark, brooding moods to explosive and rhythmic choral celebrations on "Where Did I Go" so exciting and unique. Surprisingly the shorter breadth of "Cups in the Ocean" creates a uniquely synthetic aquatic feeling in its short run, and achieves an equally powerful space in its sound by getting denser. And by melding some of his rawest sounds into a mesh that surrounds his strongest melodies on "Long Way Back," the outro track really wallops listeners the whole way through.
Omar Souleyman — Shlon (Tell Tamer, Syria)
For something that's club-ready but still a little beyond your usual Top-40, Omar Souleyman has the ticket for transcendental hits. So whether you just want the dance energy or something with a little more flavour, his mainstream-driven tracks will have you shaking if nothing else. With its steady stomp and wubs "Shlon" never ceases to give you something to move to whether by beat or groove, but it's the layered riffing that keeps the whole thing from ever growing dull. Though the core of "Shi Tridin" is a little easier swapped with as many Western dance songs as Souleyman's own, the vicious hooks and the frantic production sees the producer really going all out. There's an interesting edge to Souleyman's more ambient approach on "Mawwal," with so little to drive the synths that his step into a much slower energy is wonderfully exotic and deep. So though his overdrive on speed for "Layle" loses this kind of wonder, he does at least use it to round out the album on a track that will leave you worn from the pace of his dance-pop.
Growing Fires — Love It Or Leave It (Ottawa)
With a simple post-punk-meets-modern-pop approach, Growing Fires make a statement with this latest release. Every guitar lick that flies out of "Disbelief" helps paint a warm picture to try and earn a little compassion. However it's the track's more haunting story of disillusionment and vice that really makes it a constant rollercoaster to take in. As the bass runs high through "Devour" there's also a sharp sense of pop dynamics that sees each section feeling satisfyingly punchy in its own way. And with the building weight they put into this darker story, the chorus hits you like a ton of bricks until you want to jump up and scream.
Lindstrøm — On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever (Stavanger, Norway)
As an explorer of synth textures from the very bright to hauntingly dark, Lindstrøm has taken us to different worlds on every record. Here he stretches the power of singular melodies above all else, and really creates an album you'll be tense to follow around every turn. As the edges of "On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever" slowly come into focus, you find a shimmering feeling in the keys but one with a story that hides in the quiet details below it all. It's almost jarring to feel the racing pace on "Really Deep Snow" by comparison however, though Lindstrøm nevertheless creates a chilling energy, and really pulls you into a place of movement and temperature. While the title alone appear to be a wink to synth lovers everywhere, "Swing Low Sweet LFO" plays with so much modulation and glistening lines that it's a true piece of magic to take in. Like an 80's cop theme gone through a David Lynch filter "As If No One Is Here" keeps teetering on the edge of a proper pop drop but always veers further into darkness each time it gets closer.