Album Reviews: January 2, 2018

Bahamas  – Earthtones (Toronto)

For his fourth album Afie Jurvanen manages to push the envelope once again for an album that perfectly embodies catchy pop and ambitious writing. Throughout the album, Jurvanen brings powerfully personal lyrics to his lush arrangements for music that's surprising on all fronts. Despite its stripped back instrumentation, "Alone" manages to be hypnotic in its bizarre uses of echo, making every little hook feel otherworldly. "Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby Song)" however leans right into the pop sounds of the album, making for an uplifting and harmony-filled love song. The most rock-focused track comes on "Way With Words" as Jurvanen marries choir-like vocals with a steady and aggressive drum beat. "Bad Boys Need Love Too" is the most cheeky track here though, with its over-the-top grunts and bass-heavy chorus vocals making for something funny but exciting.

Sills & Smith – Maps – Burned Or Lost  (Ottawa)

Pushing themselves to new frontiers sonically on their sixth album, Sills & Smith have brought their finest release yet. Assuming you can lean into the album's overtly cutting lyrics, their ominous storytelling will have you hooked. "On The Edge" is certainly on the nose with its political criticism, luckily however this works in the dark rock groove they set it all in. They step up the production with lush strings and drum work on "Kings" though, as their clever lyricism turns a fall from grace into something almost apocalyptic. "Grave Fascination" brings in a little more country production for a sunny yet sharp track about reading deeper into things. They bring a swinging beat on "Miss Us" that makes the whole song stand out compared to the rest of the album, and its rugged piano hooks really pop on the mostly light album.

Belle & Sebastian – How To Solve Our Human Problems Part. II  (Scotland)

After a mixed bag on their previous EP, Belle & Sebastian bring the same level of variety, without the inconsistent writing quality. Despite its widely different moods from song to song, this EP is a stellar collection that shows the Scottish band can still pump out unique classics. "Show Me The Sun" is the most psychedelic the band has ever sounded, with roaring guitars and Latin drum lines pulling a wonderful level of aggression from the usually chipper band. They bring their more recent dance grooves back on "Same Star" as the shimmering jazz guitar and dynamic vocal play make the song bounce over and over. Filtering their song through a sixties specific fidelity, "Cornflakes" as the band marries the era's sense of wonder with more frightening electronics. They even get intensely heavy on "A Plague on All The Other Boys" as the heavy reverb and poignant bass drawl makes the song's sad lyrics all the more noticeable.

Mayhemingways – Skip Land (Peterborough)

Years of hard work has certainly shaped the Mayhemingways into a sharp and poignant band, and their upcoming release Skip Land shows a narrative strength as well. The audio storytelling really shines on "Skipland" as the band opens the record with static, crisp banjo and a loose flutter of radio chatter to make something truly imaginative. "Frances The Truck Driver" rips with breakneck speed, telling Frances' story with the detail of folk band and the tenacity of a rock band. There's a mystifying darkness to "Hillbilly Heroin" that finds the band creating a smoky haze around their music and making a dense dance groove out of it all. The accordion hooks of "14th of January" has an old-world soul to it that makes it stand out in the album's more modern stories, and its barebones instrumentation really lets the accordion sing.

The Go! Team – Semicircle (England)

While England's The Go! Team have remained an obscure gem for their past few albums, the strength of their latest release deserves to be seen. Blending pop, hip hop and psychedelic tones into their giant mélange, the band creates a sound like no other band you'll hear this year. The relentless pace of "Mayday" drives its shrieking sounds and lush string arrangements, and the band really starts to drive the energy as the brass sections pop in. "Chain Link Fence" however goes for cheerful hip hop-infused pop, letting its more bizarre mix of orchestra members create tension in the song. The bass purrs on "Hey!" as they ramp up the grit for a power ballad, while still throwing in some dreamy bridges to keep the song interesting. Moving right past the sombre moods of many album closers, "Getting Back Up" tries to get you inspired again, using its punchy bells and brass swells to close with a bang.