Album Reviews: Kneecap, Bat for Lashes, Arooj Aftab

Kneecap – Fine Art
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Though their overtly political music has easily attracted controversy, that shouldn’t detract anyone from the musical power of Belfast’s Kneecap. Between a lot of great takes in and out of the music, kinetic production and a rare (and frankly satisfying) taste of Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) in hip hop, Kneecap bring a one-of-a-kind package not to be missed. The mystifying air on “3CAG” lulls you into a dream-like state, letting the flutes, hazy strings and neon vocals wash over you with divine energy. “Fine Art” finds the group swapping between tongues, and warping these same instrumental elements into a protest song debating where society itself draws the line between politics and art. There’s a much sharper sonic blade on “I bhFiacha Linne,” where their whole delivery and production gets violent, for a visceral track about the dark realities of collecting debts. Their most singular sound comes out with Grian Chatten on “Better Way to Live,” as they let the eerie tones flow in and out much varied vocal styles.

Roxanne Can’t Stop This Feeling (Single)

While it takes a minute to build itself up, Roxanne brings a bit of La Roux and Robyn by the time “Can’t Stop This Feeling” is done. With a cutting bass and piano combo, Roxanne is driving a great 80s sound, with a bit of house sprinkled throughout to keep it bumping. The hardy vocals give a nice heft to the overall mix, driving her story forward with it. And with that final soaring electronic run pushing her to run up with the highs, the track closes out on an ever-climbing rush.

Bat for Lashes – The Dream of Delphi
London, England

Natasha Khan has never been easy to pin down musically, with everything from her alt-pop to demented covers as SEXWITCH showing a range few dare to tap into. While the inherent hooks are sparse on this record, Khan makes a personal and unexpected record that will definitely grow on you as you listen more and more. With a spritely and digital charge in its bones, “Letter to My Daughter” has a warmth and wonder to it, with the love bursting through the song slowly overtaking the mix in the strings and beauty of the song. The running piano lines of “At Your Feet” slowly morphs with the vocals and electronic buzzing to create this emotional touchstone for the whole record, swelling and ebbing with the feeling of the moment. There’s a subdued indie charm to “Home” that feels reminiscent of The XX, and has a constant swing and budding sense of adventure that makes it powerfully inviting and thought-provoking. The quirky and off-beat production of “Delphi Dancing” is enchanting in its own right, long before the vocals sway in like a siren call lighting the dark, and at times bring an intense sadness when its piano runs alone.

Robert Adam – Moonlight Magic (Single)

There’s a more sentimental and fearless touch to the lyrics on Robert Adam’s brand of country power pop that stands out from the pack, vulnerable and tender, while excited for everything to come. As naked as that emotion can be, there’s so many fierce layers in the roaring rock and cosmic synths in the mix, that it feels like that special moment of showing your whole self and exploding into your best version as a result, triumphant. Somehow all these hallmarks of different genres fit each other in the production, hitting just the right hue so that they not only coexist but enhance each other by the end.

Arooj Aftab Night Reign
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia/Lahore, Pakistan

Not taking their Grammy as a sign to calm down, Arooj Aftab rides the line between sprawling and quiet on their latest album. Tender but cutting, her new record explores a very specific alley of sound, but paints an entire world within those bounds to dazzle and soothe your soul. The playing is so light and bouncy on “Aey Nehin” that it’s often hard to discern where the guitar ends and the harp begins, but it’s the track’s more textural use of ambient sounds and harmony that take it into a kind of spiritual place. The bass crawl has a demented and unnerving danger to it on “Bolo Na,” with Moor Mother only enhancing that dread in the wandering vocal lines they deliver in the trippy mix. Once the playing starts to take off on “Raat Ki Rani,” there’s a free-flowing rush of melodies that start to gain lives of their own, and every little flourish, whether a hook or dissonant stroke, begins to feel like something living itself. There’s something truly magical to that keyboard tone on “Whiskey,” that immediately transports the song into ethereal places, and allows Aftab to tell a mesmerizing tale of vice and love, and how they can fall into each other.