Album Reviews: November 19, 2018

St. Vincent – MassEducation (Austin, TX)

So many artists will put out acoustic collections or sparing bonus versions of their tracks, but so often these tracks can subtract too much. Rather than aesthetically strip her music down, St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) has used an acoustic instrument set to make something complete new out of her original recordings. Rather than kick, "Slow Disco" reveals a new since of melancholy and lets a more reserved approach contextualize the piece in a new light. There's a surprisingly dark tension to "Savior" however as it becomes a much more malevolent piece, made all the more bizarre with Clark's piano recording sound. Even without its effects, "Sugarboy" has this expansive tone to it and become more like a musical with piano at the centre rather tha synth. While later tracks like "Pills" can feel a touch strange in its new light, heavy singles like "Los Ageless" will take your breath away with their newfound dynamics and a weight behind every chorus that still hits hard.

Expanda Fuzz – Cotton Candy Jet Engine (Ottawa)

As a local powerhouse of hazy, The Jesus Mary Chain-like pop, Expanda Fuzz is exploring their dark sound even further. With a deep mix of instrumentation and hypnotic effects, this latest record is the dreamy album you've been holding out for. "The Ghoul In The Clean White Shirt" grinds with a hefty riff that sees everything else in the track feel glossy and ethereal. A bit of the distorted sheen is shed for "Ghost and Flowers" where Expanda Fuzz focus in on a bright energy and simple but effective Heroes-era Bowie like guitar lines for something really refreshing. There's a much more modern pop clap on a track like "At War With Summer" that see the band really playing with surprisingly addictive progressions though losing a little of their immersive tones. They sink right back in on "Your Sonic Halo" however for a song full of sharp percussion and a heightened sense of rhythm that makes every call-out fun.

MØ – Forever Neverland (Denmark)

With four years and mainstream success (notably from Major Lazer's "Lean On") MØ (aka Karen Marie Ørsted Andersen) has made an interesting transition between indie and pop, while ostensibly still being on her sophomore record. As she takes a much more party-oriented approach on this LP, Andersen keeps her writing weird and punchy.  Touching on some light LCD Soundsystem-like synths, "Way Down" is easily the grittiest dance track of the record, and one that moves you as much with its grooves and catchy hooks as with the fun editing of Andersen's cackle in the bridge. "Nostalgia" is an addictive listen as it blends its off-kilter beat, weird production and warping composition for a track that is sonically mesmerizing and emotionally powerful. If you want some easy but deep pop, "Sun In Our Eyes" easily fits the bill with Diplo behind the scenes to make something that is fun but not so shallow that you'll forget about it. Bass morphs throughout "Imaginary Friend" in a track that constantly sets up classic pop ideas, only to flip them back on you in the next minute.

PolarChips – Mid Era (Ottawa)

In a strange way, tracks like "Road Trippin'" lands halfway between Pokémon route music and something closer to folk, and becomes a wonderfully interesting aesthetic update to these concepts as a result. "The Gang" is a much more fleshed out song on the whole however, delivering epic energy and a sense of thematic momentum that is exciting and fresh. Though "Nature" itself flows with wondrous arrangements, it carries a much more atmospheric tone and floats as a heavenly ballad as a result. The beats make "Swing" a truly fun listen, with its style-driven hooks really letting PolarChips play around with genre.

Greta Van Fleet – Anthem Of The Peaceful Army (Frankenmuth, MI)

It's easy for people to write off Greta Van Fleet as a glorified Led Zeppelin cover band, but they're evolving into a truly exciting act that captures classic rock and says something of its own. Though there are definitely textural points to compare here, this is a strong release that sees the band really setting their own course. Notably they really only nod to any influence wholeheartedly in the lyrics of something like "Age Of Man" where Josh Kiszka delivers explosive shouts over some truly out there writing for the band. They tap into their own singles a little bit on "The Cold Wind" but thanks to some moody retooling and top-notch percussion, they definitely aren't repeating themselves. They hit their single-power for the album on "When The Curtain Falls," as they strike the crossroads of viciously infectious rock with a hint of nostalgia and a chorus you will cry out with glee. "The New Day" on the other hand is one of the rare studio-focused songs by the band that explores a much more heady sound and atypical rhythms to show where Greta Van Fleet might go next.