• By: Owen Maxwell

Album Reviews for November 4, 2019

The Desert Sessions – Vol. 11 & 12 (Palm Desert, CA)

As Joshua Homme lets us further inside his twisted mind, his Desert Sessions recordings show us how interesting he can be with a larger cast than Queens of the Stone Age. Though it's not always the most coherent listen, the energy and intrigue in hearing the players from Warpaint, ZZ Top, Primus, Autolux and the Scissor Sisters all fall in together is quite magical. Just when "Move Together" seems like the tempered opener to the album with Billy Gibbons' rasp to guide us, the crunch of guitars and unhinged percussion snaps us right back to Homme's signature growl. However the instrumental intrigue of "Far East For the Trees" is much more exotic and mystifying, as a real sense of setting and smoke is evoked through the band. It's interesting to hear Homme further out of his depth though on the acoustically tinged "If You Run" as he offers support and tone to a track rather than constantly leading it. "Easier Said Than Done" on the other hand feels like a Queens song brought through a wider pop art-rock filter, with the full set of voices and players to give its climactic rises and falls some heft.

Nebraska – Tangerine (Ottawa)

Primitive as some rock can still be, it's nice to hear it really taken with an all-or-nothing attitude. With their mix of vintage inspiration and grimy garage-rock, Nebraska make a record you'll be effortlessly able to rock out to. "Cool Cats" grinds out itself with a kind of chugging fury that few bands can really muster. But it's the menacing wails of feedback on "The Harbour" that show a promise for where the band can go beyond a simply heavy and riff-based core. Within this idea, "Halloween" does play on a more emotive set of chords and danceable moments to push away from what we already know the band for. And with their sludgy dive on "Windchill" Nebraska bridges into a kind of instrumental and sprawling energy that sees them exploring the depths of their own strange rock.

Kanye West – Jesus Is King (Atlanta, GA/Chicago, IL)

Controversy aside, Kanye West is an artist that's gripping to follow for his crazed approach to music and his continuously sublime production. While this new release isn't necessarily a fully fleshed out pop album for him, it's undeniably a startling listen. Case in point, "Every Hour" sees Kanye guiding the Sunday Service Choir across jazzy piano chords in a gospel-fusion swirl that's fun to keep going, and it really feels like one of his samples brought to life. Though it starts a little weaker, the spiritual drop to "Selah" is a heavy and enveloping, and it's a shame that West's raps can't quite meet this grandeur. The once-per-album obligatory sample-driven pop is so sweet on "God Is," as West rises on his simple intro to create a religious track that has enough great hooks to transcend its preachy core. And though "Use This Gospel" is a much more abstract kind of pop, the strange writing and Kenny G's outro are some of the most compelling parts of the whole record.

Kolten Hull – Kolten Hull (Ottawa)

In his acoustic throwback pop, Kolten Hull creates a bit of emotional tenderness in his latest release. While there's a lot of '90s influence all over "The Boy Lives On" it's easy to sink into the smooth fun that Hull brings out in the track. There's a much more hazy feeling on "Caramel Clouds," as Hull brings you into a totally emotive state to make the feeling of uncertainty in the lyrics really feel real. Thought it does feel like "So Much Love" suffers from feeling a little too close to the tracks it pulls from, there's a kernel of wonder in all of Hull's bridges that really shows where they could go beyond that. Plus with the heartbreaking storytelling of something like "Rainbow" it's clear Hull is trying to create something meaningful in their art. 

Papisa – Fenda (Sao Paolo, Brazil)

In a cloud of murky synths and witchy harmonies, Papisa creates a sound that truly feels of another world. So regardless of your understanding of the actual lyrics behind it, there's something captivating in her creations as an artist. After bringing us in on "Moiras" we feel the emotion drop with a sense of despair on "A Velha," while every keyboard refrain keeps us wrapped in her spell. There's a much darker energy on "Fenda" with Papisa's few bright shifts in tone really creating the song's most powerful moments. "Retrato Infinito" seems to warp something much older around Papisa's own voice to create this kind of emotional and musical dissonance that aches with a feeling of being trapped. A constant mix of dark and light, and off-key elements for that matter, blend in "Roda" for a track that seems to teeter on the edge of something much angrier given how tense its emotional balance often is.