Album Reviews: Dream Wife, Sparks, 070 Shake and more

Dream Wife — So When You Gonna… (London)

There was a delightfully unrelenting lyrical narrative to Dream Wife's last album, so for round two they holding nothing back. With gritty, danceable rock and vocals that constantly rotate styles in their delivery, this is a fiery follow up that doesn't slow things down. Though inherently popular, there's a constantly experimental energy to "Sports!" as it flows between spoken-word flow, video game emulation and chanting harmonies, creating something punk in its bones while a little bit of everything in its aesthetics.  The constant tension in "Homesick" is a real trip, as frantic shrieks and even whispers play to up the momentum to another vicious chorus that you know is all too close. A open sound with focus on drums is a welcome change-up for the band, as they show a pensive side in the conversational "U Do U." While the tracks closest to their first record certainly thrill, it's exciting to see the electronica tones of "Old Flame" that shuffles with a different rhythm and lets Dream Wife play with handfuls of unique vocal approaches at once.

Songs of Tales — Life is a Gong Show (Ottawa)

With a more complex and rhythmically focused approach than other offerings from Petr Cancura and friends this year, Songs of Tales is hearing a band move as one. You can feel the kinetic momentum in "Burning Bright" as the band pulls in and out of their unison for deeply satisfying riffing or excitingly abrasive soloing. From a dark core, "Jojis" itself spirals with a more horror-influenced spin, and lets many of its big moments come out the percussive wallop of its hooks. This album also captures a lot of overall feel and place within its sound, as the glowing tracks like "Sun Sets in the West" can take you to a balmy afternoon  with a colour all its own. And it's this ability to really add shades around everything they write that gives the already punchy force of "Moanin'" an extra sense of scale that can't be beat.

Sparks — A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (Los Angeles)

Over fifty years on, the Mael brothers have avoided the boring repetition that many bands can hit less than ten years in. At best they mix truly one-of-a-kind stories into chaotic melodies and at worst you still get a fun pop song with a sense of scale and weird instrumentation that no other band is offering. There's a church-like grandeur to the chants and organs of "All That" as the brothers preach of the bliss of actually knowing everything that's out there. Ripped straight out of the 80's, "I'm Toast" twists between punk and synth-pop energies, but with a smirking theatricality that only Sparks can muster. Speaking of theatrics, "Stravinsky's Only Hit" takes modern keyboards on a trip of satirizing classical music, with a fun mix of vintage riffs and vocal swapping that they haven't done quite so energetically since Kimono My House. Before their more grandiose final third of the record, you get a more soaring rock feel on "Self-Effacing" as the brothers create a bridge between their rock attitude and a more modern concept-album aesthetic.

Shuffalo — Stay On Me (Calgary)

A soulful swing permeates Shufallo's latest release, injecting a lively boom into their dynamically-charged rock. The sparse and ultimately a cappella intro allows the song to really explode when it drops, and it makes each chorus feel like a triumphant cheer. Along with Shuffalo's sly use of subtle claps and neon riffs, there's a constant detail to follow here, rewarding those who keep coming back to the song. And with so much detail in each guitar line and the instrumentation as a larger beast, they really leave you a lot to bite onto.

070 Shake — Modus Vivendi (North Bergen, New Jersey)

Between the unpredictable production of a Kanye West and little bit more pop-centric writing, 070 Shake makes perfect music to balance the outlandish with something accessible. Between the edges in its electronics and a sophisticated set of instrumentals, this album more than lives up to its artwork long before the vocals add to the melange. The warmth in the voice of "Don't Break the Silence" establishes both the raw core of the record and many of its synthetic elements, in a passionate wail to the ether. The rushing drive of "Morrow" is exhilarating, and lush in its collection of tones that elicit both a place and deep emotion.  Like The Weeknd meets Kavinsky, "Guilty Conscience" soars on the albums retro feel and lets a deep personal pain make something memorable out of what could otherwise be another in a long line of 80's-inspired pop. And as the drums clash with the tones of "Microdosing," there is truly a sense of beauty created from all the friction abound here.