Album Reviews: Empress Of, Jockstrap, Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher (Los Angeles)

There's always a deep emotional weight behind Phoebe Bridgers' music, one that leaves her albums heavy but rewarding. With a renewed sense of sonic exploration and an even more in-depth understanding of her own inner turmoil, this is  Bridgers most startling work to date. She's at her most classic and cutting on "Garden Song" where a much more active pursuit of melody allows Bridgers to guide you through her past, present and future with ease. Her most unhinged mix of production and lyrical meaning collide on "Punisher" as she creates a swell of feeling and concern through the song's rollercoaster of ghostly tones and symphonic choruses.  This focus hits a dreamy note on "Savior Complex" that blends a humorous level of self-awareness with genuinely brilliant song-crafting . All these elements tie into "ICU" to make one of Bridgers' most cosmic pop gem in years, as mesmerizing washes of keys and strings create something infectious without feeling to simple.

Adam Ambrose — Heroes (Calgary)

Given how quickly the realities of the pandemic have washed over us, the music that's been a good metaphorical reflection of the time has been mostly coincidental. But Adam Ambrose takes us through the journey of medics and those trying to keep everyone from getting sick as they struggle with even living. The guitars sway beautifully and let the more progressive beats bounce the song along, like a collaboration between Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes. However the more sympathetic view of the daily struggles for even just five minutes of rest are where the song shines. The track is dually uplifting and dark in this way, painting a picture of encouragement, amidst a much darker reality. Given all of this it's inspiring that Ambrose is also playing a benefit show for Heart Beats Live on Saturday June 27th to help COVID-19 related charities.

Jockstrap — Wicked City (London, UK)

At the crossroads of punk and electronic, groups like Jockstrap are creating the most insane music possible right now. Kind of like if Superorganism did a collaboration with Death Grips and Regina Spektor, and left listeners to make sense of it. This comparison helps make sense of tracks like "Robert" that go from a simple bass chug to dozens of samples, a churning mix of vocal effects and intoxicatingly exotic hooks. Their demented edge leaves the sunny jazz pop of "Acid" feeling tense at times, as even between the fun lo-fi dives, you await everything to break down. Meanwhile "The City" is a much sparser piano ballad, leaving you lamenting sprawl before it descends into a vicious charge of drums in its final moments. These two ends meet much more harmoniously on "City Hell" where angelic vocals and crisp hooks are mashed into a digitized kaleidoscope of wonder.

Petr Cancura — Another Way Home (Ottawa)

In an attempt to remind people of happier times, local jazz guru Petr Cancura's music is smooth and soothing to listen to. Even the more downbeat inclinations of "Lonely Hearts suggests a sense of togetherness, and lets every flourish bring more hope with it. There's a more overt glow to "Good Times" and its constant set of riffs are brimming with joy. The shuffling soul in "Chug Chug" has both the spontaneous energy of a party and a kind of explosive back and forth of tempo, to keep you on your toes for a drastic change in mood. It's only really the slow-burn and rasps in "Freedom Waltz" that grind things down to the album's one meditation on what we still have amidst everything going on.

Empress Of — I'm Your Empress Of (Brooklyn)

Though she can make smooth pop, Empress Of has always been the most fascinating when she's gotten abrasive. And with a record of strong  dance tracks that aren't afraid to get aggressive, she lets out easily addictive pop. Grooves pump out around every turn on "Bit of Rain" with the vocals creating both angular and warm hooks within the mix. "Love is a Drug" gets even more beat focused while the overall effect questions how love is arguably the world's most dangerously unbalanced narcotic. 90's techno beats and sultry whispered lines fly throughout "Give Me Another Chance" to create an ethereal listen, and perhaps Empress Of's most passionate track to date. And she lets you fall right into the rhythm on "Maybe This Time" while the swirl of hazy synths force you to grasp onto every bit of instrumentation there is.