Album Reviews May 18, 2017

Girlpool – Powerplant (Los Angeles)

It's incredibly rare to find records that are gripping and intricate while also being not immediately accessible, so when an album does that with an undeniable understanding of pop it pays to be patient with it. Blending sounds of the 90s with a much more modern set of sensibilities and tools they crash through what's expected from their sound and even their prior releases. "123" slow-burns from a dreary down-tempo track to a crashing finale that turns cries to yells for something that feel like it overcomes its sadness. Switching to hefty drive on "Kiss and Burn" they make for some swift rock that finds itself endlessly fun thanks to their organic ability to weave in melodies on the fly. Hitting a noticeable stride on "Soup" they craft a much denser and emotionally heavy track that finds vocals and instruments crossing with each other intermittently as the song goes from light to heavy on the fly. Taking more dynamic risks, "She Goes By" even plays with the drums to great effect and building a stirring amount of tension.

Moonfruits – Ste-Quequepart (Ottawa)

True folk music barely exists anymore in its raw form but every so often a band gets about as close as one can imagine without feeling stale. Mixing in a lot of pop vision on raw instrumentals this French-language record does rustic right. "Ste-Quequepart" blends a slow and pensive wave of strings and vocals with a catchy, harmony-filled chorus, mixed with some crashing moments to liven it all up. Bringing a bouncing sound "Le Maire" has clamps and stomps with a quirky handful of twisting melodies along with immediately addictive refrains that beg for chants from first listen. Going for a spoken-word trudge, "La Légende de Roustabout" has an intense weight to its mood despite the stripped-back sound and lower energy. Presenting such a serious and narrative side of the band makes for a notably strong track that stands out on the album sharply. The brutal sadness of "Francoeur" aches from every ounce of its vocals and guitar, and while the voice cracks can sound like bad takes they seem to reflect this emotion also.

Harry Styles – Harry Styles (England)

Few people probably would have anticipated in the midst of One Direction's hype that years later we'd be touting the strong records the members were putting out on their own but in 2017 we're learning to expect the unexpected a lot more. Making the pop-heavy but artistically strong record that hits the right spot more often than not, Styles is setting up his solo career amazingly. "Meet Me In The Hallway" plays like a moody 70s rock song with a bouncy indie side to it, and the soaring vocals and classic sounding guitars don't hurt either. It's on "Sign of the Times" however that it truly feels like Harry Styles is making music as a grown-up, for grown-ups, with a palpable emotion, eclectic tones and slides in the sound and a bombastic yet brilliant chorus that eschews parts Harrison, McCartney and even some Elton John for a track that really blows the doors open on the rest of the record. Feeling distinctly like something Gin Wigmore or even the late Amy Winehouse may have put out "Carolina" is a satisfying rhythm and blues-pop throwback with a touch of the distortion and grit that makes Jack White and his Third Man Records recordings rip so well to make a another cool shocker from Styles. "Only Angel" definitely comes in very indulgent but shifts to a Huey Lewis and The News, with a bunch of other 80s touches and an unceasing barrage of catchy melodies for something fun and silly, but nonetheless strong.

Hero Is Not Strong – Caverns of Timorous (Ottawa)

There's something oddly intriguing about music for video games that doesn't actually belong to a game, but local creative project Hero Is Not Strong manages to straddle the soundtrack and instrumental music grounds on this latest release. Between fuzzy synth riffs a pummeling drum and bass line, "The Clockwork King's Farewell" is a bright but heavy track that would suit as an overworld theme in most games. With both Reggae and hip hop influence, "Merchant of Gozzo" thumps with uneven thrust, as its slowly breaking melodies and quirky tempo make it a unique beast on the album. "Side Quest" drops like an 8-bit dance club track, with a throttling bass line, classic drum line and the sunny yet distorted synths. In very final fashion "Roll and Crawl (Credits)" feels like a true ending in its mood while hitting every last fun sound it can from over-driven bass, bit-crushed drums and even a flickering synth line for an awesome closing track.

Don Bryant – Don't Give Up On Love (Memphis)

Studio legend Don Bryant (of Hi Records fame) has had a long and prestigious career and in his latest solo effort he pulls no punches in showcasing his vast talents. From a bombastic opening, "A Nickel and A Nail" blasts to life with organs, vocals and sassy horns. The heavy sound Bryant gets from his band, mixed with his headstrong delivery make for a rock-solid combination. Moving to a groovy funk, "Something About You" kicks up a classic mix of licks and fat horn sounds, with the uncontrollable emotion behind the vocals and frankly the rest of the band making it even more enveloping in its excitement. "I Got To Know" moves to a doo-wop shuffle, with an intense sense of fun and brash dynamics, hitting all the right notes both melodically and compositionally the track escapes the expected pitfalls of such an old genre thanks to its free-flowing energy. With shimmering guitars and a driving organ, "One Ain't Enough" takes a blues run and throws a more rolling bass on it to take out predictability.