Album Reviews: December 19, 2017

Belle & Sebastian –  How To Solve Our Human Problems – Part 1  (Scotland)

Given the dance and electronic of their last record,  Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, it's wonderful to see that the sonic powerhouse of Belle & Sebastian is embracing their sounds old and new on this record. The first of a three EP series, this album feels like a perfect marriage of their two sounds while feeling a tad bloated at times. "Sweet Dew Lee" hits its bass lines hard, setting up a driving dance beat with a lot of extra dressing to make the song a constant thrill to hear. Lead single "We Were Beautiful" takes the band's classic blend of harmonies and brass and sets it over distant electronic backgrounds, coming together in euphoric chorus after euphoric chorus. Singers Martin and Murdoch have a lovely back and forth on "The Girl Doesn't Get It" as a lighthearted groove makes the electronics feel more organic, making room for the emotional releases that make the song feel complete. "Everything is Now" has some of the most powerful moments on the record thanks to classic-tinged riffs and orchestration, only struggling to make these moments stand out because of its slow beginning.

Jeepz – U4IA (Ottawa)

Pushing the limits of indie hip hop, Jeepz has grown from record to record a lot in the last year. Slicker than ever on this latest release, the vocals are crisp and the percussion pops tighter than ever. "Make.U.Feel" takes a slow-beating groove under the dreamy vocal samples as the jazzy keyboards add a real sense of depth to the recording. Jeepz throws in twisted and nightmarish background sounds over an exotic time-warped melody on "Strung.Along" for a track that feels reminiscent of Tyler, The Creator. "Got.U.Wondering" loops its vocal samples with a wondrous and catchy tenacity, making its off-kilter percussion all the more exciting. Jumping to the most pop sounds on "Sunshine," the track carries a slow-motion dreamscape to it that gives it the most professional sound of the entire record.

QTY – QTY  (New York City)

It's always refreshing to see a rock duo try and give a new spin on classic sounds, as long as they can pull it off. While sonically on point, this new release from QTY has moments of writing glory just about as often as it feels derivative. "Rodeo" opens the album strong with a beautiful mix of classic rock and heavy Strokes overtones, making for a song that's catchy but fresh. Soaring on harmonies, "Dress/Undress" slowly builds its emotions until it's a burning flame of excitement. Picking things up again on "Cold Night" the band's duet vocals really come through beautifully to bring a new emotional height to their performance. At their highest catchy writing, "Sad Poetic" decidedly leans into its more derivative sounds to make something familiar and excitingly pop.

Mountain Eyes – The Beginning (Ottawa)

Blending tones of Bon Iver and lush folk arrangements, Mountain Eyes make one of Ottawa's most magical albums of the year. Full of wonderful rustic tones but very modern production, there's a very progressive feeling to the record. "The Wind" starts the record with an airy sense of majesty, as the swaying strings keep the composition open for the sweeping vocal harmonies. With big bass hook, "Follow" is a short but sweet pop track made from mostly acoustic and clean tones, sounding so sonically unique in its take on modern pop that it's breathtaking. "This Love" strips a lot back for something that feels the most naturally folk out of anything on the album, while still sneaking some quirky vocals into the mix. Like a single you can't quite pinpoint, "Hope" is brimming with iconic riffs and a new sound in its weird synth rings and heavy bass lines, making for the albums most memorable moments.

Jim James – Tribute To 2 (Kentucky)

When he's not leading My Morning Jacket, Jim James' side recordings have grown more and more wonderfully ambitious. Covering artists all over the map for the second in his tribute series, James makes a consistently stirring record. Soft melodies start the record on the tender "Baby Don't Go" as the heartbreaking lines about leaving a loved one elevate James' performance. Delightfully garage-quality, "Blue Skies" carries Western undertones while its bizarre hooks make it feel like a cowboy's goodbye. Putting James right in a church sonically, "Crying In The Chapel" moves its guitars to make a heavenly built sound and ethereal delivery. "I  Just Wasn't Made For These Times" takes on more soulful grooves and even a bit of disco as James builds harmonies on a huge beast of a production.