Album Reviews: Dua Lipa, John Carpenter, Ibibio Sound Machine

Dua Lipa – Radical Optimism
London, England

It’s crazy to think that in just a few years Dua Lipa went from an up-and-comer to one of the most talked about pop stars of our time, and has kept the momentum going enough to make us forget about “Argylle.” While it was basically impossible for Lipa to outdo Future Nostalgia, she still brings a solid barrage of pop bangers, and a contagious energy throughout the record that keeps you wanting to dance and celebrate life. The bass is flying endlessly on Lipa’s album opener, as “End of an Era” mixes a bit of exotic swing with bells, and a euphoric swirl of harmonies and synths to celebrate new love in all its promise. “Houdini” finds Lipa at her sharpest and most punchy, layering so many hooks and musical moments in its 80s fusion that it really doesn’t matter how silly the line “Go Houdini” sounds on paper anymore. There’s a more mixed experience on her latest single “Illusion,” since the pop drive is inescapable and the melodies land with a divine earworm power, but the production constantly underserves the song, delivering very uneven dynamics and bizarrely burying the great bells throughout this track. Though they fit the album less, the final two tracks find Lipa toying with her sound the most, bringing a little funky dance mix out of acoustic instrumentation on “Maria” and going to a cinematic, cosmic pop cloud on “Happy For You.”

Adeoluwa – Jeje (Single)
Montreal/Regina, Saskatchewan/Nigeria

Filled to the brim with romantic charm, Adeoluwa’s latest single is a testament to how feelings can overtake your soul and body. The shifting bass and drum combo is easily the song’s bread and butter, providing a sultry and smooth base for the horns/winds and vocals to build a full meal out of. Speaking of airy instrumentation, these arrangements set the track into a beautiful haze, putting you in a trance of love and calm. Adeoluwa’s rich, bassy tone really adds to this overall mood, and meshes great with the harmonies that come as the song moves forward. They work so well, in fact, that it’s a shame he spends so much time in the verses on high notes that are pushing outside his strengths, but this does unexpectedly give a little extra to that dire quality of the track’s feelings.

John Carpenter – Lost Themes IV: Noir
Carthage, NY

Though he’s essentially left the directing chair, John Carpenter has stayed impressively busy making music, and that insistence on keeping at it has kept him on his game. Despite a shockingly steep downgrade in the album artwork for this entry, Carpenter and co. feel as fresh as ever. Though it starts off almost sounding like “The Damned,” “My Name Is Death” quickly gains its menacing crawl of synths and visual-evoking arrangements, letting the final wails of guitar feel like a beautiful explosion into a climactic showdown. There’s a fun sense of playing to familiar energies of Carpenter’s on “Machine Fear,” but it never leans into any one song in a painful way, making the entire listen like a glorious collage of his iconography without even being a medley. The rush of keys and electronics lets the sense of grandeur and inescapable horror really take shape on “He Walks By Night,” as the whole track feels like three forces of nature getting lost in each other. The charging night-time synths of “Kiss the Blood Off My Fingers” instantly gives that late-80s/early 90s Carpenter grime, with the roaring guitars giving off tones of that demonic evil he enjoyed filming so much.

Blue Hawaii – Belly Ring (Single)

Over their last few divine EPs, Montreal’s Blue Hawaii have managed to cross over so many hues of dance music into their sound naturally, and have now made their most out of their dive into the breach. “Belly Ring” brings the most modern production notes they’ve used in a while, fully leaning into their alternative showings as a DJ set, and tossing in weird vocal modulation hooks that feel reminiscent of a Grimes song. Raphaelle Standell-Preston takes us through the full range of their voice here too, going high and giddy early on, suave on other lines and giving a bit of Cher and Donna Summers on the harmonies. While it can sometimes feel like Blue Hawaii playing with parts of dance that are almost too familiar for their usual taste, the amount unique hooks and melodies they pull out of this short track is so intense that it seems like it simply gave them more room to play around.

Ibibio Sound Machine – Pull the Rope
London, England

Over the years, Ibibio Sound Machine has made an art out of melding their many influences into rhythmically powerful classics that make you want to move. Though it’s not always as melodically punchy, this album brings a world of sonic delights to keep you dazzled from start to finish. After a bit of a slow-burn start, “Pull the Rope” gets in a deep and blown-out groove, with the bass scraping the walls in its wake, and the horns upping the fiery dance atmosphere as they join in. “Got to Be Who U Are” feels like a play on classic 70s dance tracks, calling on everyone to join in and just enjoy themselves, though the lushness of the mix seems to pull back in the interest of a more accessible sound.  The bass line is in the pocket on “Political Incorrect,” and the synths hit several iconic and beautiful highs along the way too, letting the track get almost too fun for its messaging. The fat tones dancing around the vocals on “Mama Say” make for a playful melodic back and forth on the track, and lets the whole band coalesce on the choruses in a serene swirl, right before the lightning-fast outro that shifts the whole song up about five gears.