Album reviews: Kathleen Edwards, Kiesza, Helena Deland

Kathleen Edwards  — Total Freedom (Ottawa)

Following a time away from her music career, Kathleen Edwards latest music is charged with creative rawness and deeply personal stories. Her alt-country sound allows her to play out seemingly autobiographical tales with a bit of genre mystique to keep things feeling entrancing to some while powerfully insightful to her diehards.  "Glenfern" exemplifies this with a shimmering sound in its bones, while the tales of old shows and how music has left her worn seem to line up hauntingly with many interviews she's given recently on the subject. The sense of wonder that decorates simple guitars here with something cosmic allows "Birds on a Feeder" to feel like a moment in time you'd want to truly capture. The grit is a lot more overt on "Options Open" as Edwards seems to cheekily take jabs at her own choices while shedding a light on the realities of the way we all tend to hold on to certain passing thoughts in life. "Ashes to Ashes" brings out the sense of space on the record in full, letting a sense of personal size feel truly immense in such a sparse song.


Helena Deland — Someone New (Vancouver/Montreal)

With her voice-driven ballads growing more moody with every album, Helena Deland's music has been exciting to follow over recent years. As her latest peak at a new album shows a breadth of arrangements that we've never quite gotten so forcefully before, it's a fun to see her meeting pop and heavy tone-pieces as one. The slow folk-chant like approach of "Someone New" feels like it could easily drone forever. And the sense of tension Deland is able to bring out of a simple guitar line is startling here, and lets her drums feel deeply satisfying when they finally kick in with fury. This sense of unease never leaves the song in its catchy drive however, and leaves it as a layered rush of emotion again and again. As you tumble through the various harmonies of "Lylz," the density of the song can feel immense at times. Though this also makes great use of a move to more infectious grooves to create a sound that no one else is tapping into right now.

Kiesza — Crave (Calgary/Toronto)

After her own break for recovery from a car accident, Kiesza is roaring in her latest dance release. With the booming pop and a euphoric zest for life between the lyrics and production of this record, it looks like Kiesza is ready to dominate the stage again. "All of the Feelings" bridges 80s nostalgia with a deep sense of heart and endless hooks with a power that's so reminiscent of recent Carly Rae Jepsen work that it wouldn't be surprising to read there's a shared creative personality between them. "Crave" hits a similar high, while Kiesza drives it with a stomp and so many fun scaling vocal moments that you'll want to jump ahead of every chorus.  Even the darkness in the dance swing of "Love Me With Your Lie" feels seductive, as Kiesza seems to acknowledge and debate the importance of deceptions in certain tender moments. Meanwhile the party excitement in the range of voices and sounds of "Dance With Your Best Friend" is a fun trip, with abrasive tones of recent Charli XCX that show Kiesza is really getting wild in her updated sound.

Sylvan Esso — Rooftop Dancing (single) (Durham, North Carolina)

One of the things so appealing about Sylvan Esso is that they manage to reinvent both electronic and folk vocal round music constantly without ever feeling stale. Their own stripped-down sounding release from their upcoming record feels inherently rooted to a natural feeling and one that someone would just make trying to express themselves in a raw moment. The subtle way they manage to take all these clean sounds within their production and build a wave of melody from one voice is brilliant and taps into both wells of their inspiration in such unusual ways. The sheer sense of fun, a moment of emotional high and a celebration of life in its simple pleasures really give this son a range energy you can take out of it from listen to listen. 

Westerman — Your Hero Is Not Dead (London, UK)

In a more genre-ambivalent world lives the texture exploration of Westerman. Mixing instrument effects and way instruments can be manipulated into much more bizarre sounds than they offer on the surface, Westerman's music is a fun trip into the unknown. The chug of "Drawbridge" quickly moves into colorful keys, while a seemingly innocent hum begins to dominate the entire recording and lead each instrument to burn out in a growingly loud fight. The simple shifting rhythms of "The Line" allows its sparse and grimy tones to stay lively, amidst a lot of spaced out delivery. Like an art-rock remake of Laura Branigan's "Gloria," "Think I'll Stay" is often just as danceable as it is heavy, and it allows for enough different reads to be fun on repeat listens. And the experimental use of drifting sounds and echoing harmonies in "Paper Dogs" is mesmerizing, especially as it takes on ghostly qualities at times.