Album Reviews for October 21, 2019
Caroline Polachek — Pang (New York City)
As she moves in a different direction from her material in Chairlift, Caroline Polachek has gotten wonderfully more eccentric and intimate in her recordings. This results in a smooth but constantly unhinged listen, where the vocals shift from outright pop to zany overdone emoting will either make you fall in or out of love. This is at its softest on "Pang" as Polachek's flickering synth-pop only really accents all its longing and frustration fully in the long drawn breaths she throws into every PANG. Polachek's wondrous range flies through "Go As a Dream," as perhaps one of the most serene and instrumentally crisp listens of the record, with a great modern-Enya energy to it. The real grooves come out however on "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings" as you'll be dancing hard right as Polachek drops a gasp so startling it really only serves to make repeat listens all the more satisfying. The rounds that build around "Door" seem play to its them of never-ending struggle (or bliss depending on how you look at it). Overall however, with the crafty vocals that Polachek releases across the track, it is a total auditory wonder to hear as each repeating section overlaps endlessly.
CHLSY — Easy Keeper (Nashville, TN)
With a smoky approach and a little twang, CHLSY crawls towards listeners with a sense of danger. This approach brings a kind of tension to "Cowboy" as every silky hook is contrasted by their harsher meaning. And the way that CHLSY constantly builds momentum in her own layered vocals and the slowly mounting arrangements makes for a fierce listen. Though there's still a radio-friendly tone to this new recording, it's a dark and more focused shift from "All Night." This said the earlier excited bounce in "All Night" is full of a kind electricity that makes you want to take the night by the horns. And the way CHLSY seems to change genres so naturally only suggests she'll have grown even more by the next time we hear her.
Danny Brown — U Know What I'm Sayin? (Detroit, MI)
The dirty genre-stepping of his last record made it seem like Danny Brown was about to dive fully into an idea and run with it. However with this new kind of shadowy, echoing sound we find him with on this record, it seems like he's found a little light again. The glow to "Change Up" really gets you ready for the more experimental tones of the album, as Brown sheds his screechy styling to show he's grown up. This is why the demented chords in "3 Tearz" feel wonderfully unpredictable as he calls on the punchy lyrics of Run the Jewels to make a track reminiscent of 36 Chambers-era Wu-Tang. "Savage Nomad" however is full of the wacky humour Brown has dripped out in his videos, where he merges character and wit into a song that emulates as much of him through the production as it does in his lines. Just when it feels like the album had peaked, "Shine" sees Brown riding a pop-wave for his most infectious choruses before he seems to follow the bass so relentlessly you'll get dizzy following his flow.
Alexis Neon — Seven Windows EP (Ottawa, ON)
Like a ray of sun that's just starting to fade, Alexis Neon shines with a kind of relaxing energy that we could all use more of. With its focused sound, this is by far a local standout for the year. Surprisingly, some of the most notable sounds of the record come out on "Understand You" where all the guitars tumble into the vocals like peanut butter and jelly, perfectly complimentary. Though "Sink Into It" hits its own serene high as the synths overtake the song and create these dense waves of euphoria within what initially seems like a monotone set of chords. The title track "Seven Windows" is more of mood piece, ripped right out of a sombre closing credits, full of smoky jazz glow and a bit of '80s noir seductiveness. And with the more bleak feel behind "Hush" there's a sense Alexis Neon are ready to take their sound anywhere, while making you feel a whole range of deep emotions.
Big Thief — Two Hands (Brooklyn, NY)
With such a short break between albums this year, it's wonderful to see Big Thief create a record so tender but so full of life. Like a lullaby, "Rock and Sing" shows a hopefulness in a band I'd so long seen as a go-to for rough times, that it is almost shocking to hear. This turns to nearly crying levels of excitement on "Forgotten Eyes" where Adrianne Lenker rides the warm guitars into a song full of pain, triumph and mystery for the band's most energizing track in some time. Though "Those Girls" takes things back down, there's a much more loving tone in the mix, and the jazzy chords Big Thief is mixing in shows promise for evolution in a band that is just about to hit a saturation point on their own sound. And boy is that satisfying to hear. Strangely this also makes the stripped sound of "Wolf" work all the better, as the band's sharply-constructed melodies come out with Lenker's story into a piece of musical poetry that's deeply affecting.
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