• By: Owen Maxwell

Blur Seems to Have Let The Grit Sift Back In

Little Dragon – Slugs of Love (Gothenburg, Sweden)

With their mix of electronic vs indie-pop sensibilities, Little Dragon have mastered the art of a low-key approach that still makes you want to dance. While it might take time to really settle with you, this is one of those albums that bakes itself into your ears and gets stuck in there without you even realizing it. “Frisco” bounces with a mix of quiet club glamour and a powerful, blown-out low-end, resulting in a track that will have you shuffling one second and aggressively shoving your shoulders the next. The subdued drive is absolutely glowing on “Disco Dangerous,” with every synth and bell tone creating a new level of euphoria on song’s lush feeling. The harsh synth lines and slinking vocal harmonies on “Stay” craft something that can feel almost Devo-esque at once, Kali Uchis-like at others, but wholly something different from either. The production provides a simultaneously retro and futuristic touch to “Tumbling Dice,” tackling a fun little melody with a very 90s approach to the sound, almost like a natural evolution of music like Deee-Lite was making.

John R. Miller Ditcher (Single) (Toronto)

John R. Miller speaks to that constant need to move forward, for better or for worse on his latest single. The swinging mix of slide guitars and quiet keys create a hazy feeling in the track, as Miller gives a kind mythologized tale of his own life. The fiddle and rings of piano accent the sadness in his tale, which only comes through in gleams lyrically. The slow rolling nature of the song captures the scope of the story, and lets each instrument breathe in its own melodic character to the tale. However it’s Miller’s own gruff vocal tones that really steal the show as the standout of the track, telling as much in its delivery as in the actual words.

Blur – The Ballad of Darren (London, England)

One feels at once that you’re returning to a classic sound on the new Blur album, but rather than growing rusty in the long wait, the band seems to have let the grit sift back in. Though it may not touch on quite the niche of The Magic Whip, this feels like Blur evolving their more iconic sounds into a new age with perfect balance. “St. Charles Square” captures the band’s unique charm in a lot of the dressing, but it’s where the riffs fly with grimy flourish and the chorus ah’s seem to warp that the song finds its staying power as a demented gem. The dreamy pop tones of “Barbaric” catch you quick, and the track keeps amping up amazing band punches and harmonies to the point that its cheesy wonder becomes intoxicating. There’s a sense of rising again on “The Narcissist” as the singer steps up into a harsh world defined by their past mistakes, all highlighted by some of Damon Albarn’s most colourful poetry. The guitar lines give you a sense of calm on “The Rabbi” as Albarn’s bass-laden harmonies provide a base to lament about searching for a savior.

Nino Dani – On the Surface (Albania)  

Taking an over-the-top and goth-infused drive to his rock, Nino Dani crafts a familiar but intense EP full of larger-than-life tracks. The explosive guitars of “Death for Us Awaits” set the whole song ablaze again and again, with Dani’s menacing vocals setting the stage for each booming chorus. The more electropop focus of “Over” gets indulgent, with Dani crooning his way through the hyper refrains in the album’s most in-your-face delivery. Bits of a Muse-like grandeur come through on “Reminds,” with the leathery guitar lines filling out the rest of the sound with a more dark and sinister tone. Taking a bit of Leonard Cohen pastiche in moments on “On the Surface,” Dani quickly swaps into an all-or-nothing rock stomping drive, closing out the album with a vicious fury.

Jess Williamson Time Ain’t Accidental (Austin, TX)

Giving a country-tinged folk that delivers on the full deep sadness of vintage country, Jess Williamson delivers music that takes your heart in its hands, and both lifts and breaks it. Rendered with a strength and narrative intensity, this is music that speaks to the soul very quickly, and pulls you into its world. “Time Ain’t Accidental” opens the album on a warm and tender love story of two people falling into each other in rich detail, while both feeling powerfully aware of the steps to do it right. There’s a touch of ethereal synths on “Hunter” that gives it that magic feeling, as its otherwise moody folk soothes you just in time for those choruses to devastate you.  The vocals feel all the more immediate and dire on “Chasing Spirits,” with Williamson offering the question of the difference between chasing love or fame. Once its mellow piano intro opens the track up, “Something’s in the Way” breaks into a horn-driven ballad with a vibrant energy to contrast its deep sadness, making all the excitement seemed trapped within the block that Williamson sings about.