Album Reviews: January 8, 2018

Eminem –  Revival  (Michigan)

Initial success can only get you so far, at some point you need to make sure you can keep up with the times. Coming with what allegedly may be his last record, Eminem dazzles and disappoints in unequal measures for an album that feels bloated. Beyoncé's vocals soar as the album starts on "Walk On Water," giving a depth to Eminem's otherwise angry rapping, and giving the track a full emotional pallet rather than something too contrasting. Surprisingly, Ed Sheeran's vocals work perfectly on "River" as the two manage to make their rare trips to R&B blend perfectly, and to a point where you may not even notice it's Sheeran singing. "Remind Me" is an interesting track considering its bizarre straddling of mocking and genuine lyrics, but its call and response with its sample of "I Love Rock N' Roll" is actually masterful. While overtly pop, "Need Me" overtakes the trudge of the album's second half to marry the pop and rap tones perfectly for song that feels tragic and uplifting simultaneously.

Twisted Limbs – Punched In The Face (Ottawa)

Proving Ottawa is as strong a haven for lo-fi punk as ever, Twisted Limbs shriek through the feedback on their latest release with style. "Let It Die" takes advantage of its hazy luster to make its emotionally charged playing feel even more drenched in pain, giving their intricate riffs something more. With a much more vicious charge, "Polly's Apologies" blasts with bass and drums, letting the guitar provide the cutting energy the guides it all forward. The sunniest track on the record comes with the burned out "The Idiot" as each crashing stop builds the excitement even higher, and the band's soaring harmonies ramp up the momentum. Wailing aggressively on "Leave Me Alone" there's a suaveness to their ability to screech so emotively, making the darker tones of the track ring all the clearer.

N.E.R.D.  – No One Ever Really Dies  (Virginia)

Pharrell Williams has become one of the biggest singers and producers in the world in recent years, but his breakthrough project N.E.R.D. has maintained its cult status in the hip hop world. Returning after a long hiatus, the group is at the peak of their creativity, using Williams new connections and strengthened vocal talents to perfect effect. There's a wonderful sense of art and attitude that makes "Lemon" so exciting as the catchy lyricism from both Williams and Rihanna drives the song right into its addictive sample loops. Using a bit of Hall & Oates brightness on "Deep Down Body Thurst" the glossy guitars beat fast as the group makes a joyous pop more akin to Bruno Mars. "ESP" has the deepest and most infectious groove of the whole record, instantly mesmerizing you from the second it starts, and making its more experimental second half all the more interesting. This sense of exploration goes even further on "Lightning Fire Magic Prayer" as the band twists their hip hop beats and grooves into different variations until it reaches a moment of spirituality.

Better Living Through Chemistry  – Burn Burn Burn (Ottawa)

Stylish producing is often overlooked these days, as a singular sound  can make the actual work behind a band's sound invisible, as any band would hope. On their latest release however, Better Living Through Chemistry show they have the chops to not just sound good but bring a real mettle to their sound that will make you want to move. Grinding out with a fury, "New Teeth" starts the album on a crunching mix of guitars and chant-like harmonies that manages the hard feat of pulling a raw feeling out of their mix of thrashing and screaming to make it all stirring. "Speechifying (Anthem)" carries that mix of 90s grimy guitar distortion that is instantly invigorating, making their pained lyrics all the more accessible. Hitting hard on the drums while swinging their energy all over the place, "Dead Stars Shine" has a light shanty vibe to its energy as the band manages to bring grit to something that feels traditional at its core. Smoky as they close out their record, "Bearing Witness" finds the band emulating a bit of the Tragically Hip with The Zombies for a track that feels both reflective and hopeful. 

Brockhampton – Saturation III (Texas)

One of the hottest rap groups around right now, Brockhampton's Saturation trilogy has been a revelation on just what you can get out of dynamically charged groups of musicians. Closing out the trilogy, the group comes out swinging with something just as sharp as it is pumping. "Boogie" blasts the album open with a flurry of horns and funk, with a perfect blend of social critique and party vibes to get you hooked within one song. Taking the braggers of  the world to task on "Johnny" their jazzy grooves beautifully suave as they take on tones of A Tribe Called Quest. "Stupid" shows off their rotating cast members elegantly as they somehow manage to not only mix all their own voices but eras of hip hop across one song. They close the album surprisingly on "Team" as they switch to an eerie crawl of guitar before roaring it all to feedback as the album ends.

Jeff Rosenstock –  POST-  (New York)

Making sure no one ignores him at the start of the year, Jeff Rosenstock's record is full of high-energy shredding and blistering riffs that will get you moshing even if you're home alone. After his initial looser releases, Rosenstock has really refined his sound into something ecstatic but focused for a rock that delivers. "Yr Throat" moves on its rollicking drums and subtle layers of melody, creating a song that builds sonically as its energy goes from a boil to an explosion. The guttural bass and feedback on "All This Useless Energy" charges the track powerfully, making each chorus feel like a cathartic release of angst. Short and to the point, "Beating My Head Against the Wall" is fast and cheeky rock, as Rosenstock fills a predictable verse line with real sonic depth. "9.10" takes a complete left-turn for the album as Rosenstock builds a love song out of dreamy synth work for one of the album's most shocking and fun tracks.

The Number Ones – Another Side of the Number Ones  (Dublin, Ireland)

Years down the line from their debut LP, the lo-fi rock of Dublin's The Number Ones is as exciting and dynamic as ever. Lovingly inspired, the band use their familiar structures to try and find something new to say in party guitar music. "Lie To Me" comes off as simple and breakneck fast rock, but the band's stellar sense of harmony and strange chords keep the song consistently bouncy. With some old-school surf grooves, "Long Way To Go" takes the cheesy love song genre and leans into it wholeheartedly for a song you'll sing along to on your first listen. "You're So Happy I Could Cry" is relentlessly catchy and full of clever hooks and vocals, so as long as you can enjoy its lines of inspirations you'll have a great time. Nostalgia rings loudest on "Breaking Loose" where the band harkens back to older rock without feeling as painfully predictable, making for something relaxing but engaging.

Brosandi – Music For an Unknown Galaxy (Ottawa)

Startlingly visual, this ambient Ottawa project makes lush soundscapes that inspire you on a spiritual level. "Intro" lets waves of synth wash over the listener, as the sense of majestic power flows amongst it all, making for a truly ethereal experience. While it frontloads a lot of its most imaginative moments, there's a sense of pensive luster to "Before We Knew" that is oddly romantic, especially as the guitars rip into its fiery finale. On the guitar descent of "After We Knew" Brosandi slowly cascades part after part until the piece reaches a truly emotional peak in its layered take on a single riff. Echoing the eerie synths of Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" for a brooding slow-burn that fades out into something worrying.

Gold/Shade – Waves (Holland)

Dutch producer Gold/Shade's latest effort in his hip hop-inspired ambient music keeps you on your toes, blending experimental fun with the deep grooves of the music that inspires him. "Wave I" starts the record with enveloping bass and intense drops, using strange vocal samples to make the experience a wondrous one. He wrenches everything up on "Wave II" for a booming mix of drums and bass, and his psychedelic sound-crafting turns the track into something you'll be surprised doesn't already have a big name singing over it. Taking a more explorative approach with its floating synths "Wave IV" is a throttling experience as its highs open into massive bass drops that will shake your whole body. The most organic sounds come through on "Wave V" as shrieking vocals soar throughout the song before lush pianos and bizarre samples create a mysterious air within the track.