Album Reviews: Dua Lipa, Mack & Ben, and more
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (London, U.K.)
Pop is in a great place for feel-good jams and Top 40 artists like Dua Lipa who can mix the weird with infectious hooks. Though Canadians might find the album title confusing next to the The Sheepdog's own 2015 release, they will find Dua Lipa does a similarly great job of adapting old pop concepts herself. Much like Carly Rae Jepsen's Dedicated did in 2019, this record of mostly single-worthy songs flies by before you even realize it's over. Within seconds of a Goblin-like spooky pop sound, Dua Lipa sets her whole record off with fireworks on "Future Nostalgia." Between producer Jeff Bhasker's older vintage pop and the overt fun of this track, it sets the whole thing off like a theatrical musical intro. Since the album pushes so many high-energy tracks back-to-back, it's easier for the dark energy of something like "Physical" to seep in and show a maturity and mysterious that much pop tries to stray away from. "Hallucinate" kicks up a little more straight dance fuel, keeping the record flowing. The true jazz comes out on the funky "Good In Bed," where Dua Lipa unleashes a bit of Amy Winehouse sensibilities while bringing out some hilarious writing that makes the song exciting to put on again and again.
Mosbé – You Hearing This? (Ottawa)
One of the greatest parts of exploring the world of online producers is the heavily crafted gems you can find. With lush details and a finesse of production you know only comes from love of the art, Mosbé's record is an electronic thrill. From the pounding drums to unorthodox synth tones "Ubasa" is instantly memorable, and rings out with an Avicii-like grandeur. While "37mili" chugs alon with dance flow itself, it's the kind of sprawling modulation that goes around it all that gives it a kind of colour and setting other tracks here focus on less. Between Lynchian warps and an in-your-face, abrasive haze, "Fskida" wallops your ears in menacing waves. "Daskew" rounds the whole listen out somewhere between an 8-bit score and an 80's sci-fi thriller, and in such a way that you feel soothed.
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud (Philadelphia, PA)
Katie Crutchfield really doesn't seem to slow down, and it's assured her music keeps nice and sharp. Though there's definitely a melodic overlap between this record and other works of hers, it's kind of wondrous to hear how it all evolves along the way. This is why the more freestyle vocal delivery of "Oxbow" can land so seamlessly, and see Crutchfield delivering some of her most hilarious lyrics while also playing with weird electronic sounds. The country influence can also give the reflective narration to "Lilacs" a sense of contrast, as Crutchfield plays with and against what we expect from the genre. There's much more of a space to the sound on "Arkadelphia" that allows it to feel like it's drawing from a much different emotion than other songs on the record, while warm guitars echo out like a cheery pop song. Despite all this, Crutchfield is able to make even more impactful music with closer "St. Cloud," as the light room tones and solemn instrumentation add to the melancholy in its bones.
Mack & Ben – These Walls (Ottawa)
Crisp acoustic soul can work on its own, and Mack & Ben do a great job of breathing life into that simple concept. Across this small EP the room brings a tone to the whole recording and the duo's use of layering really fleshes out what could be a sparse listen. This thinking lets the already moving writing of "These Walls" really swing, and each chorus comes in like a wave thanks to their masterful use of harmony to actually make their melodies feel bigger. Alternatively, the street hum of "Try" provides a nice little jazzy break, and even touches on a spacey kind of orchestration that is usually reserved for Janelle Monáe records. The overall sense of warmth and welcome in their writing hits most powerfully on "Take Away," as they strip down to emotion so bare that it makes all the other parts of the song just feel complimentary.
Little Dragon – New Me, Same Us (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Between the world of art-pop and straight dance floor electronica, Little Dragon has always managed to carve out an entrancing niche for themselves. With a record focused on tight ambiance over simple riffs, they create a listen that keeps you moving all the way through. This comes out immediately in the smooth grooves of "Hold On," as its understated percussion and delivery open the song into a more rhythmic place. The atypical beats of "Kids" makes for a challenging listen, but it uses this unorthodox feel to let each chorus melody feel all the more memorable. A much more punchy attitude lets "Are You Feeling Sad?" stand out on the record, as every drum and keyboard really bounces around and makes you feel like shaking it. Though "Stay Right Here" nearly floats to the point of stagnation at times, this tracks smooth, airy energy really stands as a piece of beauty that can't be missed on the record.