Album Reviews: March 17, 2017

Aidan Saunders – Almost Nothing

Alt folk gets thrown around so often that it rarely hits the spot when describing an artist. Aidan Saunders might just be the next big artist Ottawa scene in quite some time, and this new release of his is such a touching and well refined gem that it’s eerie to think how long he’ll take to get attention. There’s brutal melancholy on the wrenching opening track “Stranger” where Saunders croons to an oncoming break up, with his instrumentation slowly driving up the intensity. “Lethe” finds a defined sense of sound so rare for a debut, allowing the listener to get lost in the unique yet familiar melodies and the unbelievably entrancing tones that Saunders places on them. Although the slow-burning of “Temporary Places” feels stripped back of this polish, it’s no less emotional, and the sonic texturing of “Almost Nothing” even takes this mood to a beautiful middle ground. Considering Saunders recorded much of the instrumentation here himself, you can expect big things from him.

Slow Motion Tape Echo  – Rotundra

Simultaneously introspective and roaring, this new release from the Ottawa instrumental project is one with a lot to prove. Between pensive moments and full on rock outs, “Pink Guitars” and “I Love My Family” say a lot for the opening tracks of an 18 song album. Throughout these many tracks things range from deep bass grooves, chugging drive music and exploding song-long solos, all with their own unique emotion. Songs like the metal-infused “Tuned” grind along with aggressive sludge, while there’s a more mysterious and narrative style of composition to tracks like “The Adventure.” Later parts of the album will dazzle solo fans as guitars fly through sonic explorations however brief or long as needed, but never afraid to try and push the envelope. Only a little sparse on a focus, which it more than makes up for by shear length and its clear sense of variety, the record is one that keeps on giving from start to finish.

Flagship – The Electric Man

The right mix of smooth and gritty can be a dynamic force when used together. Between the two of them the North Carolina duo really put a lot of sound, for a sonic sweep usually reserved for much larger bands. Lead single “Mexican Jackpot” mixes relaxing guitars, ambient drones and a crashing chorus for a song that soothes as much as it rocks. Drumlines on “Midnight” give a sprawling feel that carries the song to soaring and shimmering chorus thanks to its clever use effects and technique. They craft more intimate and commentary-laden music as well on songs like “Burn It Up” where they contemplate the hypocrisies of humanity, with their harmonies giving their choruses an almost gospel quality to them. They even manage a cosmic quality for the dreamy “China Star Man” where they infuse the right amount of echo and sustain to launch listeners to the stars. On their closing track “It’ll All Work Out” there’s a distinctly Beach House-tinge to the track bringing a calming yet stirring tone, while a mix of indie attitude lets the song end the album in a grand but tasteful way.

Tennis – Yours Conditionally

There’s something about the raw emotional potential of married bands that can produce magical music not only telling of the euphoria of love but its darkness as well. On their fourth record, the couple duo really carves out a concise record that speaks to their experiences. Between the nostalgic sounds of tracks like “My Emotions Are Blinding” and “In The Morning I’ll Be Better” it’s rather satisfying how Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore manage to shatter the similarly nostalgic views of romance, and give a touchingly personal album. While not always charting new territory sonically, even within their own sounds, the retro sound makes the emotional impact of songs like “Please Don’t Ruin This For Me” all the more devastating, falling into the wonderfully evocative world of bright sounding, but sadly themed pop. Where Yours Conditionally feels too familiar it more than compensates for with biting heartbreak and the harsh realities of real love, saying truths you might not want to hear on songs you definitely will.

Laura Marling – Semper Femina

Laura Marling has never been one to fall into the simplicity that so many singer-songwriters seem to fall into due to their solo tags. From a brooding intro with startling bass on “Soothing” where she talks about her need for healing, to a surprising soft rock on “Wild Fire” contrasted by her troubled story of being lied to, elevated by her velvet vocals and no-punch-pulled delivery. Her complex and mysterious writing is at its sharpest on “Don’t Pass Me By” where elusive guitar lines and cinematically powerful string arrangements find Marling reaching new heights as a composer. Her intimate moments are still there on tracks like “Wild Once” and “Nouel” finding her exploring modern femininity and her own life with little more than her guitar and  voice, with just as much effect as her layered tracks offer, if not more at times. Marling has always been a few cuts above her contemporary folk solo artists but her latest record shows she’s one of the most honest and heartfelt artists of our generation, and knows how to say that with and without her words.