Album Reviews: September 26 2017

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Choir Of The Mind (Toronto)

Between her work in Metric, and her work on the latest Broken Social Scene record, it's amazing Emily Haines even had time for a solo record this year. Advancing her solo work more than ever, this new record finds Haines taking her piano ballads into deeper into the electronica that has made Metric so gripping over the years. "Planets" starts the record with a swooning wave of vocals, all guided by Haines' piano work, with the darker lyricism giving context for everything by the end. The album's sucker punch comes on "Fatal Gift" which seems to start on a similar yet menacing piano line that slowly infuses background sequencers until the track drops into a full-blown dance beat. "Minefield of Memory" brings in a lot more of bizarre writing and elements that tend to disappear on half the album, making mantra-like chants with a powerful build. With a hint of jazz, "Statuette" mixes different percussion and instrumentation from the rest of the album to make a smooth and mystifying song worthy of Tom Waits.

Marshall Art & Cory Johnson – Timeline EP  (Ottawa)

Like a love letter to music and video games, Marshall Art and Cory Johnson make something for fans of both on this EP. Weaving amazing melodies with stirring sounds, and amazingly fun artwork that makes a Gorillaz homage seem tasteful, this is a lovely EP for fans of chiptune. "Fairy Fountain" starts with a fascinatingly heavy take on the classic Zelda harp music, layering distortion and dense production for a track that feels just as bright while saying so much more. With a desolate city at night tone, "But You're Still Hungry" beeps along on a hardy beat as its guitar starts to build to its fiery and pained climax. "Towns 1 (Hello World)" sounds exactly like the midpoint between a classic town theme and exciting indie rock, looping themes while being able to explore emotions around them excitingly. Paying clear homage to Black Sabbaths' "Iron Man" while making a battle theme, "MGLV: The Easiest Enemy" is a rush of exhilarating writing and hard hitting rock, making for a boss battle that we'd really love to play.  

Sløtface  – Try Not To Freak Out (Norway)

While pop-punk can be a mixed bag when it tries too hard to lean on either genre, there's something magical when it's done earnestly. Coming out of Norway, Sløtface brings something deceptively catchy on their latest release, that will either grab you or at least keep you dancing.  "Magazine" starts the album on a politically charged thrash on a feminist kick, as they look at all the issues in the music industry these days compared to the days of Patti Smith. Throwing layers of grime on their guitars for "Pitted" they groove deeply on the bass, as the vocals float around and add more edge than they first seem to suggest. "Sun Bleached" goes from Waxahatchee to Nirvana like flipping a switch as they take moody distortion and release each chorus like an explosion. With smooth beats and heavy hitting dynamics that keep things intensely unpredictable, "Night Guilt" mixes clever writing with surprisingly visual lyricism about money and death.

The Souljazz Orchestra – Under Burning Skies  (Ottawa)

At almost two decades into their career, there's a serene glow to everything The Souljazz Orchestra makes these days that makes their music stand out whether it grips you or not. Mixing in more new electronic elements than ever, they simultaneously travel forwards and backwards in time on this record. Hitting a hardy groove on "Dog Eat Dog" the saxes and booming bass are already enough of an amazing combo on their own before the vocals even come in. Blending in tones of 90's hip hop on their funk beats, "Lufunki" somehow finds the intersection of Salt N' Pepa and The Budos Band, as they bring menacing melodies out of the brass section. Taking a much more laidback beat and  a lo-fi tone, "Under Burning Skies" makes you want to get up and dance without any worries. The sense of conflict and political unrest can be heard from the mere rush of drums and weird bass on "Holla Holla" with the trumpets saying even more than the lyrics ever could.

Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (Los Angeles)

Ariel Pink has been doing his bizarre art-rock for so long at this point that his albums have a certain immaculate nature to their sound at this point. How much you think he really evolves this time around may differ but even on this record his ability to fully explore a sound is exciting. "Time To Meet Your God" while initially almost annoying in its repetition, slowly starts peeling back the layers of effects to make a dense and bizarrely surreal sound that gets even weirder in its ambient second half. Sounding like sunny rock and a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack, "Feels Like Heaven" carries dense and shining instrumentation through its happy, and ethereal moods. With more of a Black Lips-like desert groove, "Dedicated to Bobby Jameson" starts on simple dark rock roots before its choruses burst with keyboard magic. Like a Kinks song on acid, "Bubblegum Dreams" sounds like a classic 60s pop-rock track that's been filtered through the mind of a mad man in the best possible way. Whether or not Ariel Pink is necessarily moving forward, he's honing his craft to a perfection regardless.