Album Reviews: November 22, 2017

Angel Olsen – Phases (North Carolina)

Angel Olsen is truly one of the last refuges of the singer-songwriter genre that plays with heartstrings as actively as she does her own guitar strings. Her latest release compiles a handful of unreleased material and previous B-sides to showcase Olsen's changes as a songwriter, but also reveals why much of this material was kept off her main records. The dark sadness of "Fly On Your Wall" is all to palpable through Olsen's deeply pained vocals, taking listeners away in its lush chorus. "Special" strips this massive production away for a long and emotional burnout much like "Sister" on Olsen's last record. While not overtly pop, "Sans" straightforward lyrics and delivery give it a strangely hypnotic feeling, as Olsen doesn't hold anything from the raw words. Lovingly tender, "For You" is a deceptively simple track that excels in the form where something like "Tougher Than The Rest" doesn't offer enough.

Nightshades – Nightshades (Ottawa)

Even with their many releases over the past few years, local rock outfit Nightshades is finally releasing a self-titled record. While it may seem like an arbitrary choice, the record feels like their most distinct to date and one that feels most appropriate to hold their name as well. Beating away and shredding on "Broken Bag," the album is a growling surf-track with tons of grit and a soft vocal delivery that makes it feel oddly entrancing. "Nothing's What It Seems" is a constant build of fuzz and hazy production that makes each of its angry choruses all the more abrasive and fun. At their most menacing, "Wasting Time" finds the band with much more witchy tones, just as they mix in their most classy pop hooks into the booming chorus. With the grinding fury of a band like Deap Vally and a unique blend of pop chops, "Dexy" is a fast and grinding track that burns from head to toe.

Sleigh Bells – Kid Krushchev (Brooklyn)

In a search to do something different, Sleigh Bells has decided to record smaller albums to see what spontaneity brings them. Exploring their sound more than anything else on this smaller release, the band finds themselves with some sonic wonders as well as some unsatisfying stepping stones along the way.  Album opener "Blue Trash Mattress" slowly moves its ethereal tones to something more raw and crunchy, as it starts the album with a moody darkness. The most brash and very Sleigh Bells track of the record is "Favourite Transgressions" which finds Alexis Krauss screaming and harmonizing with herself over the stop and go beats. The most enchanting track however is "Rainmaker" as its mesmerizing percussion immediately whisks you away, and its build of commanding vocal lines takes it even higher. One of the few failed experiments on the record however is the unfortunately titled "Show Me The Door" where weird electronic overtones clash more than they mix with the band's loud style.

Wotts  – III (Ottawa)

Showing Ottawa's hip hop scene is going to be front-page news any day now, the Wotts collective brings an absolutely stellar release, with one of Ottawa's best album covers of the year as well. Mixing the grimy guitar lines and satisfyingly organic beatbox hook, "Right Now" is a lush but moody track that has as much mystery to it as truth in its words, and the clever Legend of Zelda samples are divine. Rolling its bass over a dirty riff, "Shameless" grows more and more haunting throughout, while feeling a little disconnected as a piece. "Can't Change" time warps hook after hook for a track about love and life that is so catchy you can get lost in it whether or not you listen to hip hop. Raw and weird in the best way possible, "Somerset" is a quick and funky little track about city life that has some of the album's most exciting moments thanks to the more ambitious delivery throughout.

Empire of The Sun  – On Our Way Home (Australia)

Offering more than a simple single but not quite a full EP, this latest release from the Aussie fantasy electronica band is a surprisingly intriguing package considering it's 50% remixes. Making up for a lack of variety, the albums unique songs land well and even its remixes bring enough shades of their sound to be worthy of a release. Their widest sound comes on the titular "On Our Way Home" as they craft magical walls of sound while their vocals seem to echo forever, all above a groovy, 70s sound. Switching to more dance overtones, "Way To Go" takes a deep rhythm and lets itself soar on great bass and shining pop production. "Way To Go – Gomez & Tritter Remix" is one of the albums standouts, offering a complex, and fleshed out arrangement for not only a remix but the album in general. Through dreamy, echoing harmonies, "Two Leaves" rounds out the release with huge string arrangements and a retro feel. While a tad corny, they lean into this song as much as any weird magical tone they bring in their music.