Album Reviews: Strumbellas, Lael Neale, The Staves

Lael Neale — Acquainted with Night (Los Angeles)

While we've undoubtedly hit a saturation point with lo-fi music, there's a spare few like Lael Neale that can find a magic in its timbres. By bringing out the raw character in each instrument's minimal scope, Neale is able to harness a potentially "low-budget" sound into something that adds to their music rather than limits it. You can feel this power in the completely grainy "Blue Vein" that has equal parts fireside ballad and lost radio transmission, to give you a track that feels personal to your ears only.  The keys of "Acquainted with Night" are enchanting as they land on a shimmering quality to boost Neale's vocals into a cosmic place. The beats have a unique punch on "For No One For Now" where Neale herself lets a little echo give her a spectral quality in the ether of her production. Neale also gets a whimsical drive out of her synths on "Third Floor Window" as the simple sway of her chords and vocals create this intimate moment in the record.

The Strumbellas — Greatest Enemy (Lindsay, Ontario)

Introspective, but immensely addictive musically, the Strumbellas tackle wanting to be more without letting you destroy yourself. Sonically the track can see this quiet verses, playing all the voices telling you to stop, right before a swell of positive ideas come in with a veritable choir. The Strumbellas truly hit a euphoric high on these choruses, hitting this angelic boom in these moments unlike much of what they've done before. Amidst all the arena rock they do dissect the war within the self to make the triumph of their message feel all the more necessary.

The Staves — Good Woman (Watford, U.K.)

The sibling groups of modern pop seem to bring a particular harmonic power you can't get anywhere else. With a sense of urgency and united musical heart, the Staves craft a truly enveloping musical landslide on this record you can't ignore once you hear it. The opening "Good Woman" sees the group's vocal layering evolve from a breeze to a full torrent as the song's explosive finale sees each of them add to a chord while hitting their own unique emotional moment. The fractured distortion of "Careful, Kid" provides a great sonic counterbalance to their soothing tones, letting the whole song burst when its tension can't hold their differences anymore. Evolving every bit of beauty you may have heard on their album with yMusic, "Sparks" is a planet-sized wall of harmonies, meshing between instruments and the siblings' intense synergy to create this feeling that is much bigger than any one voice involved. "Devotion" even centres in on a great swing they haven't often explored in their music to fully expand their musical potency as a group.

Kenny Mason — Partments (Atlanta, GA)

As an exploration of life in a small set of walls, Kenny Mason is able to point out where every struggle can find new meaning. The production of the song itself reflects this in the sharp punch and catchy delivery of its guitar and beat, somewhat lo-fi but right on the mark in their necessity and narrative power. Mason's ability to see the strength in limits is inspiring, as he fully recognizes how he can take frustrations and make them into art. More than this, Mason's charming lyrical perspective sees so much beauty, and is able to view small moments in any day as something worthy of a portrait. 

Weather Station — Ignorance (Toronto)

With a kind of instrumental wonder you usually only get out of Broken Social Scene or one of their spinoffs, The Weather Station finds a stellar niche. Complicated but never emotionally lost, this record lands with a fury and a sense of size you'll want to explore more on repeat listens. "Robber" itself dances between all the strings and brass and woodwinds with singer Tamara Hope guiding this intricate battle with their storytelling. There's a much brighter feeling to this movement on "Tried to Tell You" as Hope's emotions all get a different emulation through her arrangements many voices. The more minimalist approach to "Wear" sees these tones getting more individual highlights, as Hope is able to get a little more authority within the mix as well. Similarly, "Subdivisions" mellows out a lot, and finds a sombre Hope weaving a drive into her own life story.