Album reviews — Hazel English, Jack Pine and the Fire and more

Hazel English  – Wake UP!  (Sydney Australia)

Retro yet somehow of a totally different planet, Hazel English's music melds so many worlds into its desert pop sound. Crisp and full of wonder, this record is one to really get your mind racing. This is instantly palpable in the hazy synths of "Born Like" as the rumble of drums and English's own voice raise you into these heavy ethereal drops that command all your attention. Even the rushing rock of "Wake UP!" comes in like waves of a dream, as English uses the layers of effects and keyboards to elevate the frustration in her writing into something higher. Though she takes her smoky tones to more Lana Del Rey-like progressions on "Combat" there's still a majesty to the way each chorus swings and ebbs back out. The magic in the psychedelic hooks of "Milk and Honey" are so easy to dance to, and show off a fun edge to Hazel's music that would be fun to explore from a stadium rock angle.  

Jack Pine and The Fire – Rich in Time  (Ottawa)

With some twang and a sense of unrest, Jack Pine sings about the dissonance of working a classic 9-to-5 job. The bounce and slide guitars he presents in his music echo this yearning for freedom, and contrasts the prison-like way he describes work. Though it's the subtle charm he presents for this exact same kind of work that shows how many can find comfort in it too. Pine's use of group harmonies and slowly bumping rhythm section energy also keeps the song from slumping as it goes on. This catchy mélange of opposition and the music to symbolize the life he's trying to hold onto make for a fun listen you want to sing along to.

Lido Pimienta  – Miss Colombia  (Barranquilla, Colombia/Toronto)

Few artists can pull listeners into other worlds, but Lidi Pimienta is constantly able to spin her music into something that evokes time and space. With parts Colombian and futuristic influence in a blender on this record, there's constantly something new and refreshing in its bones. Through the swelling tones of "Eso Que Tu Haces" we're transported but it's by its free-flowing wind instruments that we're pushed to dance. Parts of "No Pude" echo out the dulcet feel of Kali Uchis' "Nuestro Planeta," while a heavy-hitting barrage of electronics and loud beats place it somewhere between Bjork and modern hip hop. As the album shifts to more chant-driven compositions on "Pelo Cucu" it doesn't lose its charm, instead becoming a subtly moody piece. So much comes alive in the rhythms of "Resisto Y Ya" that it's genuinely hard to sit still while listening and it just feeds into its own energy as the song goes on.

Straw House – Balloon Soldier  (Ottawa)

Slow and brooding, Straw House's music is definitely for those looking to sink into something minimalist and stripped-down. Whether it's the ticking groove of "Bored Game" or its solitary vocal cries, much of it works because of how strongly you can focus on the story it tells. With a bit of Pixies spirit, "Balloon Soldier" feels like its constantly building to a big moment, and its amazing hooks between the bass and drums really capture a fun rock energy. There's a watery ambiance to "Hazy" that feels like a walk through fog at times, as you're led between a sense of heaven and fear. Strangely however, it's the dreamy tones of "A Day in Quarantine" that feel the most memorable of the who recording, as it presents a chipper soul in its melodies to make waiting out our current storm seem less dreadful.

Brendan Benson – Dear Life  (Nashville, TN)

Beyond the Raconteurs Brendan Benson seems to be doing like his good friend Jack White and getting weird with his rock. With equal parts guitar and unusual production, Benson pushes his limits as an artist on this release. There's trippy tremolo and electronics, a heavy rock chorus and racing punk energy all packed into "I Can If You Want Me To" and somehow it all works without losing its edge. This takes a more swing-driven approach on "Half a Boy (Half a Man)" where a bit of Led Zeppelin sweeps in with the strings and grimy riffs Benson toys with. It's a nice shift however to hear the pop-rock spin on country in "Baby's Eyes" where Benson crafts a strong single that stands like a hit from a different record. This shifts into a play on Damned-style riff rock on "I'm In Love" while the fuzzed out towns play to the most Third Man Records sound of the whole record.