Album Reviews May 1, 2017
Gorillaz – Humanz (UK)
If there was any doubt that Damon Albarn could keep the momentum of Gorillaz going after all these years away, this monster of an album will surely dispel any fears in its 20 song runtime. Pulling in as many collaborators as there are songs, Albarn’s masterful production and writing is the constant that drives the album forward, in an album that has no end of sonic diversity despite its heavy hip hop and electronic leanings. Several standouts on the record include “Momentz (feat. De La Soul)” that blends Albarn’s unique production with De La Soul’s off-the-wall rapping for a perfect pairing. All across the record is delightful little intermissions voiced by Rogue One actor Ben Mendelsohn adding a cool narrative to the piece. “Submission (feat. Danny Brown & Kelela)” runs hard on its bass with Kelela driving the melody on top with her elegant vocal lines, and Brown’s section comes in hot while feeling a little predictable. Extremely fun is “Charger (feat. Grace Jones” and “We Got The Power (feat. Jehnny Beth)” that both take the strong energy of their vocalist and give pounding energetic beats to match, with all the rough textures you’d expect.
Plastic Farm – Hope Hypnotic (Ottawa)
Ripping into the mind-bending world of psychedelic music, this latest release from the powerhouse of Michael Watson is a startling production. Fluttering with delay and a myriad of effects so deep it's hard to pinpoint one on its own, "Hope Hypnotic" starts things off dreamy and relentless in its pounding waves of dreamy sounds that never lets up. There's a frantic racing beat to "Eyes Closed" that kicks with an electric essence and a delightful mix of the serenely beautiful natural tones and some warm digital moments. With a touch of Coldplay, "25" bounces with euphoric life energy and tones both welcoming and lightly exotic, with all the bouncy tones the vocal work blends in smoothly as well. Closing on "Musk" envelope takes over in a mysterious way, taking the song in and out of focus to dynamic effect, and the gleaming guitar lines really hit with a fiery intensity. Considering the raw soundcrafting on this release it will be interesting to see this project grow and hit its next release.
Feist – Pleasure (Canada)
While Broken Social Scene member Leslie Feist has grown so much as an artist since her breakthrough on The Reminder, it’s rare to find her music as surprising as it is just generally enchanting. On her latest record however, surprise is the name of the game as she takes several straightforward song structures and pushes the envelope every time to make a sucker punch of a record. The most obvious case comes on the lead-single “Pleasure” which moves from a demented folk track with growling undertones to a blues rock power-track that would make Jack White blush. While less dynamic in its switch, “Lost Dreams” takes a folk body and slowly enriches it with distortion and heavy thumping drums until it swells to its loud close. “I’m Not Running Away” drives forward with riffs and grit that’s all too rare for Feist, playing call-and-answer between the guitars and her voice in a playful way, and the track’s final vocal hooks are so addictive they land one of the iconic moments of the album. Lastly is the powerful “Century” as it stomps forward on a large scale, booming with synths and blooming as it rolls forward.
No Fuss – LP1 (Ottawa)
With all the raw intensity you expect from a duo, No Fuss come out like a roaring flame on this release. Known for their energetic shows, they really hit hard on record and it's great to see such a lengthy release from them. "Up To You" captures the simple fun of good punk music mashing catchy vocals, stop-and-go antics and enough distortion to get bodies moving. "Rat Breath" spins an Aerosmith riff into something off-putting and vicious, and the drums are just unbelievably pounding. They even switch to a descending catchy melody to take out the already short song on a secondary mood that is as surprising as it is fun. Moving to something more driving on "The Endings" they play a lot looser with their vocal harmonies, falling in and out, and the way they go from chugging to a more rollicking sense of rhythm is a killer dynamic combo. On a cheeky note of self-awareness they take things out on "The Love of the Gain" lamenting on the difficulty of getting attention as a band, but still giving it everything for the sheer of it.
Sylvan Esso – What Now (North Carolina)
Few bands blend folk and electronic quite as well as Sylvan Esso, and even fewer do so while diving into both the modern and historical sounds of each genre. On their sophomore release the duo evolves while finding bliss in some great minimalist moments on a less single-charged but nevertheless strong follow up. On “The Glow” they take a guitar glitch and cut it into a surprisingly coherent instrument of its own to make a track that soars in a unique way, changing later to a more beat and keys-driven piece that pushes on. The heaviest dance track on the record comes in the shape of “Radio” with bouncing synth lines, a driving bass line and an ever-growing wave of melody. Sharp key strokes hit hard on “Die Young” throttling the dynamic silence of the verses and letting Amelia Meath’s thick vocals sooth and then invigorate. “Just Dancing” takes a concerning and downbeat opening and grows it on and on until it finally hits a driving beat and bursts into a triumphant and strong finale, overcoming its initial fears.