Album Reviews: Miley Cyrus, Elvis Costello, SAAKB
Miley Cyrus — Plastic Hearts (Franklin, TN)
In her post-TV career, Miley Cyrus has constantly rotated between variations on pop, country and rock with ease. Though this leaves a lot of solo pop and rock tracks feeling a little too simple, every guest appearance track delivers and then some. "Plastic Hearts" has this bouncy "Maneater" fun to it, while feeling so harmony driven that it's born more for live performances. Another great Dua Lipa track from 2020 comes through in "Prisoner," which lets their double play and some neon production really push them both to get gritty in their energy. While "Night Crawling" is a hefty dose of 80s nostalgia, it does feel like perfect montage music and a great Vincent Price-esque feature for Billy Idol, that really lets him lash out on a track. The slow booming energy of "Bad Karma" is true gem in this record, with Joan Jett amping up the sensual ferocity here, that counters its very familiar undercurrent. It's hard to say whether "Midnight Sky" or its "Edge of Midnight" Stevie Nicks mashup is the more solid song, there's an utter fun to the mashup that will surely make live shows a ball.
Elvis Costello — Hey Clockface (London, UK)
Despite the trappings of sameness that many of his contemporaries run into, Elvis Costello still manages to feel of the time more often than not. As a more weird dive through his sound, this sees Costello trying to break out of his comfort zone again. "No Flag" warps riffs new and old into this menacing charge, while Costello roars in the blown out bass to make a truly great art-rock track. There's a weirdly floating tone to "Newspaper Pane" that keeps you on your toes as Costello seems to play with a more cinematic focus in his writing. To this end, it feels like you're sucked into a jazz lounge from a noir thriller on "I Do (Zula's Song)" to decent crooner effect, that while nothing new really, is a startling pivot on the record and showcase for Costello's versatility. But he maintains the more unhinged approach with soundscape and trip-hop infused base of "Radio Is Everything" in an attempt to get meta while still intoxicating you.
Ane Brun — How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow (Stockholm, Sweden/Molde, Norway)
For the second time in 2020, Ane Brun delivers a deeply emotional record, this time much more instrumentally minimal. Though it is less sonically whimsical, it delivers a much more intimate counterpoint to her other record from this year. "Closer" lands with the weight of "Mad World" and the tender vocals to make you both hopeful and worried at the same time. "Meet You At the Delta" has a much more Western folk soul to it, and one that she disappears into beautifully. This more acoustic touch of the record makes the subtle background vocal effects on "Gentle Wind of Gratitude" to really stand tall, and the way she swings amongst her larger band arrangements have a grandeur and romance that is truly magical. Similarly, the impact of each piano and string sweep in "Lose My Way" truly transcend here, and the melodic punch she gets out of the keys really feel unreal.
SAAKB — Move Until You're Numb (New Jersey)
Take disco, some synth wave tones, and dashes of The Weeknd and Michael Jackson, and you have the recipe for the latest silky SAAKB single. This track is instantly infectious, with a production that hits you immediately. Every clap makes you want to return one, and the glow of these keyboards is so wonderfully rich in their vintage allure. SAAKB's vocals nail the feel for this sound, and find a perfect pocket to harmonize in a way that compliments the overall track first and their own voice second. It's this classic disco focus on making a track that is a showcase as a whole that really makes this song really grab you immediately.
Tiña — Positive Mental Health Music (London, UK)
With a slow, clangy psych-rock drive, Tiña brings this 60s mish-mash sound that feels like the exact crossroads of five different bands. While the slower pace definitely pushes it to a niche, the sound is hard to beat. "Buddha" is an apt meditation (pun intended) on daily life, with the a killer melodic round to make you want to listen. There's more chipper fun to "I Feel Fine," that while sometimes crude, is able to totally relax you in seconds. They finally hit a more funky and rhythmic chug on "Golden Rope" where they bring an edge to their already colourful sound, and let every breakdown feel like a surprising explosion. They space things out all the more on "It's No Use" to shed the guitar tones for a surprisingly vulnerable and symphonic listen.