Album Reviews: Leon Bridges, Charlotte Day Wilson, Chinese American Bear
Leon Bridges – Gold-Diggers Sound (Atlanta, GA)
While he's not the first, Leon Bridges has certainly learned enough from his peers to know when to expand his retro sounds to something less immediately identifiable. With a smoky cool and a mystery in its bones, Bridges makes a new kind of classic, while also carving out a stronger voice for himself personally. The mix of grimy beats and a jazzy fog lets "Born Again" stand as a totally performance-driven listen for Bridges, proving a rare dive into something dance-inducing for the artist. The instant groove to "Steam" takes the soul and infectious vocal flow of Bridges' prior work and instills a neon cool to really make it feel more otherworldly. The personality overflowing on "Details" lets its subtle guitar work hold it all together, as the touches of brass and synth just colour in all the margins in Bridges' writing. It all comes to a fun head on "Sho Nuff" with Bridges just oozing cool, and every guitar line slowly adding to the romantic warmth the song is overflowing with.
The Wilderness of Manitoba – The Alchemist (Single) (Toronto)
In a blend of artists like Elliott Smith, Hannah Georgas, The War on Drugs and more, The Wilderness of Manitoba achieve a rollicking but moody folk drive. "The Alchemist" is full of a charged energy behind every guitar line and the walls of harmony, with every step in its construction coming off like it's alive. The band's ability to coax this into a singular, and beastly aesthetic is constantly mesmerizing, as you can easily forget how many people are working in unison here.
Charlotte Day Wilson – Alpha (Toronto)
There's a strange, ethereal quality that some vocalists muster in their music that seems to command a kind of ghostly quality around their voice. With a powerfully finessed production and an all-out performance, Wilson is at the peak of her game in this record. "Strangers" is full of harmonies bouncing between beauty and frightfully airy, and the punchy quality the bass adds to all this really brings the whole track into a heightened state. The kinetic percussion and magical string tones of "I Can Only Whisper" make for a totally overpowering musical experience, while Wilson maintains a dominance in the track to let BADBADNOTGOOD simply add spice to the mix. The massive scale of "Mountains" lets each clap and choral swell feel spiritual, and Wilson channels all this emotion through her devastating performance alone. Though still sombre, there's an easily addictive flow to "Keep Moving" that leaves it the most pop-infused track here, and one that uses this driving quality to inspire others to take that next step forward.
Mauvey – 9 (Single) (Vancouver, B.C./London, U.K./Ghana)
The glowing tones and soaring vocals Mauvey brings to "9" makes for a bouncy and easily-flowing track. The whole production constantly mixes its uplifting and frustrated feelings to make each chorus drop feel all the more important and necessary after the darkness of its story. The dance between Mauvey and the bass is also wondrous to take in, as they both find unique ways to flow in and out of each other's paths to build layers of musical beauty. Plus, Mauvey's freestyling approaches to the music in the bridge leaves so many crisp "ra's" and smoky points that it's easy to come back just for those. The abstract comedy and horror of the video (and the lighting for that matter) also calls to a lot of Hiro Murai's directing, particularly on "Atlanta."
Chinese American Bear – Dumpling (Single) (Brooklyn/Various)
Some groups just have a charm to their sound that leaves other bands at a lost to even meet. With a sonic masterclass in appeal and the writing to make it all feel satisfying, Chinese American Bear leave us all hungry for a full album. "Dumpling" calls to a vintage Americana, with a lot of smoky and cold-tinged guitar tones, all swirling with a modern alt-rock smirk. While the riffs and vocals sound happy and chipper, there's a lot of punk-influenced twists on the production and overall approach to structure here that make the music so fun to listen to. Even on the surface level, each section brings a great hook to have you humming along. It's these complimentary approaches, and a delicious focus on tonal beauty that makes this track one you're going to want to keep on a loop for some time.