• By: Owen Maxwell

Album Reviews: January 28, 2019

Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (New York City)

After bringing a sense of weirdness and real heart to singer-songwriter music and folk, Sharon Van Etten is boldly walking into pop. While there's a lot of sonic exploration on this record, it's still the depth of Etten's own emotions that really make this record work. The desperation sends chills through the sonics of "I Told You Everything" and turns Etten's story into a surreal expansion of itself. Etten hits one of her darkest and most rock-driven moments on "No One's Easy To Love" as she embraces more grimy ends of her writing while the real venom is in her lyricism. The lo-fi background of "Jupiter 4" creates haunting base for Etten to play with and gives the drums a true playground to lend their own textures more creatively than just filling the beats. While Etten nails a sense of a memorable pop single on "Seventeen," it's the growing feeling of chaos and tonal ferocity that makes it such a standout on the record, especially in her frantic screams.

Duava  – GRAIN (Ottawa)

There's so much raw talent coming out of the Bandcamp world that it barely shocks me anymore to stumble on polished music like Duava. Even early tracks on this record like "Alone On Earth" take all their simple instrumental notes and blend them into infectious hooks that never let up. "As I Do" however is so brutally dramatic it will undoubtedly catch you off guard and hit you on a deeper emotional note. "I Know You Cry" is a much more decisive track as Duava starts to up their flow and vocal reach as a whole, but their lyricism tends to sound a little too Top 40 (as good as that could be for them professionally). Despite this, there's so much upbeat life and a sense of production brilliance to "Memos" that it's a wonder that some songs on this album can leave you waiting.

Toro Y Moi – Outer Peace (Oakland, California)

While Toro Y Moi has expanded wholeheartedly into funk on this latest outing, there's a desire to explore hip hop and his ambient tones as well. Though this results in a split record, he makes the most of each side to make them work on their own. As the record breaks out on "Fading" there's a liveliness in every rhythm that could easily have a dance floor shaking while staying entrancing for repeat listens. "Pleasure" leans into this grooving energy however and lets you dive into 70s and 80s tones for a track that's all about having fun. In its floating, dreamy atmosphere, "Miss Me" is more atmosphere than song, and this leaves ABRA to guide it as much as she can muster. With creeping sonics and a powerfully driving electronic-funk sound, "Freelance" is a refreshingly fun release of frustration with Chaz Bundick really making his dance music wonderfully weird.

Antoine R.   A Wall  (Ottawa)

In their own kind of jazz-electronica, Antoine R. is able to turn simple sounds into a surprisingly emotive bit of ambient music. Songs like "A Wall" go from a jam with droning synths to a growing sense of urgency and nearly enters a full pop boom at times. Despite its floating voice-clips there's a much more traditional structure to "Un Homme Qui Dort" as it touches on vaporwave while emulating 70s pop with a smirk. Even "Fear Of" sounds like a beautiful bed for a much more lively hip hop track and stands on its own as a touch of instrumental wonder. "Anastasia And The Faith" on the other hand simply lets its piano line warp to evolve into a hopeless drone.

Pedro The Lion – Phoenix (Seattle)

Though he isn't so much for fancy presentation, Pedro the Lion lets his solid song writing speak for itself. While so much of the record glides on guitars, "Sunrise" sets things off with a ominous synth haze that pulls you into something otherworldly. Just as it fades however, "Yellow Bike" thumps away with its drums as Pedro (David Bazan) reflects on the life that he left behind. Bazan hits his most pensive on "Circle K" as his drums dance around him to create this sense of losing oneself in thought. From the outset, "My Phoenix" grinds with so much dissonance that it lets out so much of the album's melancholy in one giant moment.

Sunflower Bean – King Of The Dudes (New York City)

Despite a Fleetwood Mac-like effort last year from Sunflower Bean that was warm and magical, they're going for outright seventies rock this time around. For something much more vicious and Joan Jett, this EP seems to be focused on giving some life to their live shows. Just as singer Julia Cumming shouts down toxic masculine ideals on "King Of The Dudes," the rock is familiar but fun. Sunflower Bean find their own voice within these recognizable timbres on "Come For Me" while bringing enough dance energy to be refreshingly closer to Lady Gaga. As they start playing with retro rock on "Fear City," Sunflower Bean mix up a staccato rhythmic approach with a biting story of growing up. Large and in charge, "The Big One" follows many of the band's previous shredders, while getting absolutely warped in its final moments.

Bedtime Badlands – Meditations (Ottawa)

The serene quality that people can explore in projects these days (especially with the artist-driven worlds of Bandcamp) allow such rich soundscapes to emerge. In this evolving record, Bedtime Badlands slowly expands note-by-note into an ether that begs to be given another look. "Meditation I" floats out with this kind of organ-like harmony as each note falls over another with a airy quality. However there's something much more frigid to "Meditation II" as it gains a much more electronic air and background tones that really make the whole piece more stable than its free-flowing predecessor. In the album's shortest moment,  "Meditation IV" filters you into a dark and watery side of the sound, as you feel the other textures that surround many of the record's main chords. In a rare melodic break, "Meditation V" actually starts to dance with a vibrant bit of synth that sets you up for the last, hearty moments of the album.

Mother Mother – Dance and Cry (Vancouver)

Whether it was bright pop or angular rock, Mother Mother have switched up so many times that their latest effort seems to reflecting on all of this. Though this results in an incoherent and sometimes redundant record, it's still fun enough to have their fans singing along. "Dance & Cry" sees the Vancouver band bring a wonderfully ugly set of tones to transform a fun track into something vicious. Mother Mother's penchant for layering vocals shines bright on "Good At Loving You" where they dazzle listeners in the flow between lines. This is flipped on "Biting On A Rose" where they end up reshaping their writing while reflecting on facades. 

Tiny Cars   The Truth About Snake Oil  (Ottawa)

The sharp kick of the drums on "The Truth About Snake Oil" makes it easy to get drawn into Tiny Cars' funk. All the pointed bass playing and sass of the sax makes for a combo that is all to ecstatic and lively before guitar even factors in. "Baroness Green" takes a much more smooth approach, but this itself is only to set the floor for a rushing track that glides as much as it bites in other ways. The slow sway of "Theme For Irene" lends tones of Jazz to an otherwise bluesy crawl, as Tiny Cars take a moment to deliver something much more tender in their performances. With a hefty hand of attitude back, "Down Under" searches their smoky production and delivers something nasty and fun.

Audiobooks – Now! (In A Minute) (London, England)

After producing records for years, David Wrench is now making some of his most interesting music ever with Evangeline Ling. By mixing the production finesse that comes from years in the industry with the raw creativity, energy and ambition to try a bit of everything, the band create music that sounds exciting and memorable all at the same time. With a shuffle, "Mother Hen" drops you through their record's cold club world, and pulls you through lyrics that breathe with a sense of poetry. This hits a groaning high in the pumping rhythms of "Hot Salt" as they beg you to get caught in the beat. "Dance Your Life Away" is consistently cutting with its hooks and Ling's vocals grow so explosive by the end of the track that you'll want to dance your life away with her. With a spirit of dance-punk, "Spooky Algorithms" stays primitive and fun to make something hazy but driving.

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