Album Reviews for November 25, 2019
Aldous Harding – Designer (Lyttelton, New Zealand)
Few singers can straddle theatrics, celebration and sadness quite like Kiwi songstress Aldous Harding. With rustic charm, unexpected arrangements and storytelling that can only be taken further by Harding's own evocative singing, this record transports you. In spiral of particular word choices, "Fixture Picture" hits you from so many sonic angles, that it's truly a cherry on top by the time the harmonies come in like a light. "Zoo Eyes" however contrasts a more downbeat set of instrumentation with some of Harding's best trebly vocals, for a track that feels like a folk tradition and modern classic all together. There's so much rhythm to "The Barrel" that it's truly a wonder the track itself builds from simple acoustic guitars. It's this constantly spontaneous growth in the sound however that makes the track such a shining star of the album. Contrasted against the mostly singular dynamics of "Damn" however, it's cool to see how powerful Harding can be between strict melody and a more bouncing sound.
Merganzer – Montage (Ottawa)
Between indie-pop and the world of classical music, Merganzer finds a way to expand both genres and the ears of their respective audiences. Though this latest record's ambient approach may prove testing at times for either side, it's nonetheless an experience you'll be glad you had. As the ominous energy and nearly Celtic riffing of "Cloud Cover" sets the stage for the record, it feels as though you're being enveloped into darkness, while each string brings a new emotion to the piece's palette. In this way, "Dreamery" is truly drenched in sadness, and brings out effects cleverly to create watery textures somewhere between synth and string. With a more directly melodic approach on "Ganz Grosses Kino" the direct emotional uptick can be jarring, but the resulting directness of the song is refreshing for the record. And as this piano comes in with the album's best hook on "By the Millimetre" Merganzer is able to take their whole sound to its peak, and create something not only fun but thought-provoking too.
CRX – Peek (Los Angeles, CA)
A supergroup like CRX is one of those projects always worth giving a listen if for nothing else just the directions its members can go when given a new creative energy. Though this isn't exactly the raw fury with a Strokes-like tightness that their previous release was, it's cool to see them expand their sound. "We're All Alone" plays to the smoother side one would expect given the roots of the band, and though it has a dark, spacey tinge, it rarely feels immediate and pressing. Though the riffs are used more playfully and space used more expressively on "Get Close" it still feels a tad unenthused. This is why it's fun to hear the more Devo meets modern rock tones of "Crash," as the warm harmonies separate the track from the past while still keeping it lively. In fact it's the more angular direction and risky choices that go into "Love Me Again"
The Obsidians – The Obsidians (Ottawa)
Though classic surf-rock has been largely relegated to niche venues or the world of soundtracks, bands like the Obsidians that can make it feel fresh are worth checking out. With their polished but fluid tones on "Selenite Stomp" it's clear that the Obsidians have thought about their sound, and the tracks serves as the perfect demo to this end. But it's in the shredding hooks of "Martian Hotrod" that you truly hear how well this works beyond the confines of genre, as echo and percussive strumming really up the ante. Though "Le Fiord" sides with the more classic composition of the genre, the band is able to make something that feels pulled eerily right out of grindhouse films and Tarantino's catalogue as a whole. Once again however, it's the unique drumming and overall aesthetics presented on something frantic like "Abobo A Go-Go" that tells you why The Obsidians are important, and not just another band.
FKA Twigs – Magdalene (Cheltenham, England)
Like Kate Bush in a blender with Solange and Grimes, and the artistic weirdness of Bjork, FKA Twigs makes a record that's just as much emotional as it is intense from an acoustic level. Whether it's a devastating single or the genre-bending feelings around it, this record gives something to everyone. To this effect, "Thousand Eyes" goes from a cappella melancholy to a visceral sonic barrage, letting every emotion go from tender to blown-out in its voyage through the dark. As she transcends over hip hop with Future, "Holy Terrain" sees a wider side to FKA Twigs' range, as she pushes Future to create something more vulnerable than they've done in their own work. Just as you feel like "Fallen Alien" has lulled you in with piano and heartbreak, the vicious approach of its club-pop and radio-like style swapping makes for a track so out there that you'll really have to listen again and again to find the strange tension it establishes across so many sounds. Ultimately it's the intimacy and blatant passion of "Cellophane" however that really seals the whole record powerfully, as the vocals tell a story all their own to flesh out a track built on memorable simplicity.