Album Reviews: Jehnny Beth, Vagabon, Krista Hartman and more
Jehnny Beth — To Love Is To Live (Poitiers/Paris, France)
Ever since Savages, there's been a raw intensity in Jehnny Beth's performances that was too shocking to ignore. And firing on her own again, her music is a raw and often pounding listen to assault the senses while saying something important. Though "I Am" starts this on a sombre and quiet tone, it proves Beth's own colossal scope with its ramp-up of orchestral tones and a ramp up of percussion to keep it going. "Innocence" is a demented and warped listen, as Beth takes you into a dark, electronic world to show you what she sees. With "Peaky Blinders"' Cillian Murphy spouting out heartbreaking poetry, "A Place Above" highlights just how heavy the emotion of Beth's compositions are, however simple they may be instrumentally. This makes the fury and weight of "I'm the Man" so exhilarating when it's all at full blast, while it makes the commentary feel that much stronger with the back-to-back sequencing. And like an electronic infection on punk, "How Could You" roars with a degrading anger that seems to play to dance and mosh energy with equal hands to throttle you around.
Krista Hartman — I'm Your Garden (Ottawa)
With a mix of 90s solo-rock and a bright sense of pop, Krista Hartman's latest release is a breath of fresh air. Her energy and use of melody straddles a line between Sixpence None The Richer and Alanis Morissette for a dazzling, summer listen that can brighten up your day. The song's guitars shine with a mix of warmth and shimmering psychedelia, feeling like the sun nourishing the metaphorical garden of the narrative. The hooks swing with a lively rhythm, as Hartman herself dances between crisp vocals and exciting yelps to keep the song from feeling too simple. The way Hartman is able to straddle a sense of fear and frustration within all this really helps make the song work on ever repeat listen too.
Katie Von Schleicher — Consummation (Brooklyn)
Take chaos, a strong pop sensibility and the ability to use an acoustic guitar as a navigation tool, and you can find the magic in Katie Von Schleicher. With music that often feels like a journey through a sonic world, this record transports you and makes you want to rock out with weirdly flowing energy. From a linear beginning "You Remind Me" soon sways between electronic hums, nondescript instrumental cries and a melodic growth that really evolves as the song's warm narrative does. Similarly, "Wheel" itself takes a quick guitar-rock ballad and makes every pre-chorus, hook and riff feel like a more explosive take on every note that comes before it, especially as the distortion slams your ear like a brick. Through its ethereal walls of synth and bleeps in the distance, "Messenger" is like a majestic travel through watery depths, and can even sound like riding a submarine. And with a more punk attitude driving "Can You Help?" there's an infectious heft to Von Schleicher's asymmetrical use of hooks and phrasing, which leaves it unforgettable.
Justine Sletten — All Bad (Saskatchewan)
A blend between radio pop, stage-sized productions and smooth guitar jams gives Justine Sletten's music an instantly infectious feeling. This track is finely polished, but also mixes enough weird hip hop beats amongst its country-tinged guitar lines to feel like a fresh modern fusion. Sletten rejects the party loving energy of most singers her age, and tries to make a song that fits the wonder she sees in a more wholesome love. It's that sense of magic that elevates a story we might have heard already, and lets it feel like one you can dance to, and more importantly relate to.
Vagabon — Vagabon (New York City)
All at once you're caught in a trance hearing Vagabon's music, with a haunting voice and an acoustic approach that makes it all stick. Whether you're touched by the stories, the tones or just something in the heart of each song, this album can cut through the noise expertly. With a swell of instruments and a groovy drum line, the vocals that guide "Full Moon in Gemini" is a truly transcendental one. The lo-fi contrast in the digital nature of "Wits About You" just makes all the explosive choruses fell more exciting, and the sense of dynamics here is fierce amongst all the harmony and sweeping keys. Strangely the inclusion of brass in a more dance-driven track seems like a totally natural fit on "Please Don't Leave the Table" as Vagabon slips between genres like a chameleon. "Every Woman" show the utter vulnerability in their writing, stripping everything away for a song that is personal and mystifying in one moment.