Album Reviews: September 5, 2017

Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains (California)

After some time away on tour and their other projects, Queens Of The Stone Age recruited Mark Ronson to produce this pop-infused follow up to …Like Clockwork. Summarizing their discography in an interesting way, it also livens up their sound for the first time in a while, whether fans are ready or not. Opening on the groove-driven "Feet Don't Fail Me" they bring heavy synths that hang over the whole track while a vicious hook and rhythms attack and force people to move at the same time. Taking a much more straightforward edge, "The Way You Used To Do" is definitely a lot lighter than normal, but it's the twisted verses, and Joshua Homme's weird polka overtones that keep this rooted in their style. "Fortress" goes onto a much more sprawling and epic leap as they build a mood within their keys and guitar in a way that they touched on before but never followed so deeply and with such emotion. It's "The Evil Has Landed" that steals the show however, blending parts of Homme's Them Crooked Vultures into the sound as well. The stops and starts, weird harmonies and the little vocal "Hit it" elevates beyond the rest of the songs here.

Sean Fu – Boy EP (Ottawa)

Sean Fu's debut EP is a promising recording if a little scatterbrained at times. Aside from his more amateur recording, there's a real lovely sense of melody, structure and most importantly great song writing that make this EP a great reference point for where he's going next. "Contemplation" starts the EP with waves of synths, as light sequencers dance in the background, all made elegant by the disco-infused keyboard line that flies through it all. While falling on the same flow of arpeggios, "Affection" lets heavily echoed vocals ring out in the back, making something calm and dark but at times a little empty. "Boy" while strong in its groove and cheeky pop writing, does tend to sound the least polished, unfortunately making the one-man band side come through in its disconnected sound. Alternatively, even with a similar tone to the sound, the write blending makes the simple tones of "Dirty Woman" fit into its more dance, 70s aesthetic perfectly, grooving along with endless cymbals.

EMA  – Exile In The Outer Ring (South Dakota)

Always known for her sonically ambitious music, EMA actually lands in something a lot more accessible this time around, while at times going to the far reaches. "7 Years" opens the record on a magical float of guitars, with an emotionally complex vocal melody you'll want to listen to again and again. "Breathalyzer" comes in heavy and dark as its synth lines build and build, resulting in a track that's constantly impressing rather than growing dull. "I Wanna Destroy" sounds just as much like Iggy Pop as its name would have you think, with the vocals and keys coming to massive peak by the end of this one. One of the most abrasive on the record, "Aryan Nation" hits the alt-right in is lyrics while blending tones of Nine Inch Nails and the Kills through its tones, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in its screaming vocals.

Bloogy – Clouds (Ottawa)

Mashing dance tones, 8-bit and even a little dub step into the mix, Bloogy makes something that's oddly easy to grab onto from a lot of different fandoms, and it never feels contrived to do it. Hovering on a loud bass hum for "Sit Back" the keys sprinkle out in light touches before a hefty hip hop beat unleashes a video game induced melody for the ages. "Telepathy" blends all its synths into a spooky mood that mystifies throughout the first half of the song, eventually moving to a fast-paced dance rush introduced by a Rick and Morty sample. Switching to more laidback simmering tones and a early 2000s beat, "Clouds" bounces along with wavering keys and a shimmering chiptune line that's all too sweet. Making a hip hop, prog rock and EDM mix from heavily sharp synths and typically 8-bit keyboards, there's something oddly impressive about "Nothing Personal" in how smoothly it all comes together from a notably cheeky production.

Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination (UK)

Taking in a lot of outside work on explorative side-projects over the past few years, Nadine Shah takes a powerful poltical angle on her latest record. Looking at leaders and the devastation in the Middle East as well as herself, the record is a joy in its ability to make something so out there be so easy to get into. "Place Like This" stars the record on a hard and down groove that pushes the song along with intense rhythms, adding chants to the end to create an unstoppable energy. The driving vocal hooks run "Holiday Destination" while a steady kick of psych-rock guitars transport listeners out of their surroundings. "Yes Men" digs deep into the chorus effects of 90s grunge with Shah falling into a deeper end of her vocals, tackling the demented self-aggrandizing side of politics with a commanding belt. At her most pop-infused "Ordinary" blends Blondie-style pop with a dark cool guitar to make something mesmerizing and moving.