Album Reviews: December 4, 2017

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds –  Who Built The Moon?  (UK)

Even as the classic music drama between Oasis' Gallagher brothers continues on over a decade after the band ended, they've continued to thrive on their own. Mixing his sonic mastery into a lot of great retro rock, Noel Gallagher makes a beautiful sounding pop record for his latest release. "Fort Knox" booms right out the gate on the album with crashing distortion and a massive hip hop beat that feels like some of his Oasis work made even more modern. While there's a lightly corny pop stomp to "Holy Mountain" it's hard not to get caught up in Noel's excitement as he shouts out each chorus among a wash of brass and flutes. Giving more angelic tons to his bright pop writing, "She Taught Me How To Fly" with the huge sound-shaping in the song elevating some of the more familiar composition. The most sonically stirring track on the record is "Black and White Sunshine" however which throws sunny guitars and bizarre synth work together for a gripping and hypnotizing track.

Bitter North – Vacation Days (Ottawa)

Making more than the sum of their previous projects, there's an instant click and strength to the sound Bitter North brings to the table. For this latest EP the band starts to move away from their influences and find their own voice, while making some captivating moments worth listening to. There's an immediate hold to the groove on "Seven and Four" that lets its synth hook intoxicate you right up until the chorus blends enough Florence & The Machine with Alt-J to excite just about anyone. "Neck Of The Woods" takes a much more visual approach to its sounds and lyricism, letting its familiar hooks keep its more ambitious moments accessible. While "Vacation Days" may be too much of a slow-burn for some, those willing to wait will be satisfied with the emotional payoff as the drums and keys go from subtle to roaring. The drums really get their most furious on "The Wolf You Cry" bringing the softer tones of the rest of the band forward, eventually pushing them all to a burning growl of distortion and anger.

Hopsin – No Shame (Los Angeles)

After some time away from music, the rapper and multifaceted talents of Hopsin have returned for an album with some of the most intriguing hip hop this year. While a bit bogged down by its more generic tracks, when Hopsin breaks the mould, he really goes for it. Opener "Hotel In Sydney" blurs the lines of skit and song as Hopsin slowly fades the music into his story to make  song out of a shocking story, and it elevates the melodies as well. While not all the songs stick this landing so gracefully, he manages to blend pop sensibilities with his outlandish production styles for an instant standout on "Twisted." "I Wouldn't Do That" enhances its bipolar story through its haunting tones and lets the touches of Kanye he inserts into the track slowly make you question his positive intentions more and more. The album rounds out on its best track however on "Witch Doctor" as massive percussion and a creepy piano line finds Hopsin at his most ambitious writing wise while making something instantly iconic on it.

Kristine St-Pierre – La Promesse (Ottawa)

Proving something inherently acoustic can still be massive and menacing, French-language artist Kristine St-Pierre brings her years of performance to a head on her latest release. More ambitious and aggressive than your classic singer-songwriter album, this is one record to watch out for. "Les Femmes" starts on a slow strum of guitar until its strings come in to bring an utter sense of terror and anger to the track, matching the scary stories behind the track in an elegant way. While "La Promesse" does play more to the overt folk-pop you'd expect of the record with hints of Sam Roberts, there's a delightful finesse to the sound that makes each piano note shine and the strings all the more wondrous. The tender sadness mixed in with a smirk in "Toutes Les Choses" is hard to take as St-Pierre looks back on her life with a bittersweet hope. Mashing pop and jazz like Regina Spektor, "L'Alphabet" has a delightful twinkle to each piano riff and finds her vocals more brilliant than ever.

Loreen – Ride (Sweden)

While one might expect the latest in a rising trend of artsy Scandinavian pop singers to start to feel poppy or derivative, Loreen pushes herself to the brink of the genre for something magical. Totally unexpected and constantly moving, the album is one that is just as easy to listen to as it is exciting. Even in the most overt pop of a track like "'71 Charger" there's hazy sounds and grooving drive to the song that makes it fell more unique and rich in character than your average synth pop track. Loreen even takes a dive into more Tame Impala-like retro rock on "Dreams" as she carries lots of strings and a massive hook to make the song feel like modern psych classic. "I Go Ego" has a smooth but immediate quality, flying off into a lot of interesting improved moments while holding down a strong baseline to keep the song accessible. There's also an instrumental magic to "Love Me America" as the composition grows and even guitars gain distortion to turn the track into an emotional and slow-burning wallop of a listen.