Album Reviews: March 13, 2018

Belle & Sebastian – How To Solve Our Human Problems – Part 3  (Scotland)

The whimsical Scottish indie-pop of Belle & Sebastian has taken so many shapes over the past few months that it's started to make sense that they've broken up their new record into three EPs. All things considered, this final EP definitely feels like the strongest of the bunch, while it still struggles to stay within the confines of an EP. The band's latest knack for sharp dance grooves comes through on "Poor Boy" as they mix a personal story with a cleverly rhythm-based dance track. Warm guitars keep this groove-driven pop going on "Too Many Tears" while they inject a little more pain into the mix despite their rather euphoric arrangements of brass and harmonies. Belle & Sebastian also cut in with some of their sharpest and most evocative lyricism in ages on "There Is An Everlasting Song" while they play to their more generic tendencies to focus in on what they're saying. "Best Friend" is however their most exciting song in some time, as they blend enough Abba into a funky story to feel like a new Mamma Mia track with a little bit of catchy pop to have you dancing and singing like a maniac.

Shadowhand – Through The Fog (Ottawa)

Though indie bands often get knocked for feeling a little shallow in their early work, Shadowhand manages to mesh sound and writing from the get-go. The trippy atmosphere sets a strong precedence for Shadowhand's sound-crafting on "Through The Fog" as they build up their album with vigor. This energy flows right into "Leaving Alberta" as they quickly prove their writing is right there with it, and create a tension-filled ballad with a cold air about it. Their more bluesy tendencies come out on "Passing Through" without losing their beautiful mastery of tone, for a track that feels wonderfully catchy. Larch stays relaxed and almost Mac DeMarco-like in its shoegaze but keeps the band's dark tones for something that packs the most punch in its mix of emotions.

Shannon & The Clams – Onion  (Oakland, California)

Though Shannon & The Clams have stepped up their game to really perfect their modern doo-wop/rock n' roll combo over the years, it may be some time before it's more than just that. Though the California band tries to stretch themselves a little on this record, they're admittedly just as fun as ever. As derivative as it is, "The Boy" is a loud and burning rock track with tons of surf euphoria and a cheesy fun to its choruses. They immediately subvert this pop however on "It's Gonna Go Away" where they get discordant and loud, and give their band a more sinister edge to give listeners something new. "I Never Wanted Love" takes a 50's like soda-shop pop and reinterprets the lyricism with a little more musical depth for a twist that gives the sound a more modern sensibility and charm. The band's most straightforward fun hoever comes on "Did You Love Me" where the powerhouse vocals create a genre classic instantly, and prove the band is beyond being just a copycat.

Aaron Bergbusch – ImpossibleBeautiful  (Ottawa)

While "Back Up Man" almost seems straightforward in its early little riff, the explosive mix of violin and distorted Latin guitars give the track a fiery energy. Bergbusch's ability to transport you to another world in his music while telling an all too human story gives his music an emotional excitement that's hard to match. The spacey feeling on "Ordinary Life" makes its touches of hip hop vocals and distant emotion feels striking and unique. Though its guitar and old rock energy is a little overdone, the way it's all mixed together is rather interesting. "Time Slips By" does start to feel a little more like a Lindsey Stirling song with a rock vocalist than a truly unique listen, but Bergbusch's lyrics lend a lot more depth to the track to make it his own.

Everything Is Recorded  – Everything is Recorded by Richard Russell (London)

As a head of XL Records for so many years now, Richard Russell not only knows music, but he knows what he likes. Russell ties in all his talents as a producer on this record and guides the powerful voices of Peter Gabriel, Sampha, Ibeyi and even Kamasi Washington's heavy saxophone chops to make a truly powerful snapshot of modern R&B. Though his track "Intro" is definitely that, the mélange of vocal samples really puts the message first on the track while setting a sound framework for the album. "Close But Not Quite" however slides right into some pounding bass and lets its glistening piano and strings say as much as the vocals. One of the most magical listens on the record comes through on "Bloodshot Red Eyes" as it gives a much more ambitious sound to R&B progressions to bring the genre into a strange future. "Be My Friend However" hits the most sharply with its weird cutting