Album Reviews: Taylor Swift, English Teacher, Jessica Pratt

Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Department
West Reading, PA

While Taylor Swift’s move into more folky, producer-influenced pop has slowed things down and reduced the overt pop of her music, she still found room to keep her music varied. However, there’s a samey quality and lack of satisfying mixing that would make the choruses and more subdued moments pop that just leave this as a record by Swift where a lot of effort was put into certain details and others were utter oversights. Though it never seems to want to properly expand its dynamic range, the lush 80s production and melancholic push of “Fortnight” is a slow-burning run through frustrating times that stands above a lot of the record. While Swift maintains the same overall mood on “Down Bad,” the lack of range and shifting melodic ground becomes a lot more apparent on “Down Bad,” leaving you wanting more from the otherwise strong and decisive vocal rhythms. Swift at least pushes through more emotional weight on “But Daddy I love Him,” letting the track hit more sprawling bursts and ecstatic highs, only hampered by some more flat mixing. When it gets moving, “Florida!!!” gets some stomping fury to it, and Florence Welch does a lot to really wrench up the energy on this track, which also finds Swift pushing out her most intense vocal performances of the record on this one track.

Glitterfox Xalbadorren Heriotzean (Single)
Portland, OR

Taking their usual Fleetwood Mac-meets-disco energy and throwing in some of their Basque heritage, Glitterfox shifts things into the unexpected on their latest single. “Xalbadorren Heriotzean” bears all that traditional melodic charm, while letting the raspy vocals fly and massive scale of the band shine. Mixing in accordions and some more electronic drums add to a kind of vintage charm, while Solange Igoa makes the whole listen go down as naturally as any of the band’s usual jams.

English Teacher – This Could Be Texas
Leeds, England

When a band manages to find that perfect blend of grimy and beautiful, it’s a refreshing feeling. English Teacher hit the ground running on their new LP, delivering bottomless technical talent, sonic wonder and memorable writing that sends an already strong package over the top. The swaying pianos and strings of “Albatross” set off the record in a dazzling cloud of dreamy melodies and soundscapes, showcasing a band able to craft entire worlds in mere moments that can swallow your heart. “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab” takes a more angular, punk angle, taking dives into the ethereal for its spacey-yet-pissed-off choruses to give an unforgettable one-two punch of contrasting dynamics that let Lily Fontaine play endlessly. Their knack for cranking up the sonic depth takes a more menacing leap on the fierce riffing of “R&B,” which gains a deranged level of morphing over its runtime, until it’s down a wormhole by its final moments that scream out KEXP’s name louder than any band before them. Weaving in prog levels of speed and riff-weaving to their sound, “Nearly Daffodils” is a trippy and ambitious rush of a song, that somehow manages to paint with so many colours at such a breakneck pace, while never losing its emotional punch.

Pomme – weird (Single)
Décines-Charpieu, France

Taking things to a tender and intimate place to reflect on changing times, Pomme tries to make sense of it all on “weird”. With the guitars circling like sunlight coming through a curtained window, the track plays out like a stream of consciousness at times, almost evolving into a mantra as it moves on. In this spirit, it almost feels as if the harmonies of the track reflect the worry and later the strength between Pomme’s inner and outer voices, slowly finding that place can agree. The subdued beauty of this track merges a darker sense of danger with this calm to get through it, and in a short minute manages to take you through the dark and provide a little comfort along the way.

Jessica Pratt Here in the Pitch
San Francisco

For singers like Jessica Pratt, the trick to moving forward comes in more subtle and textural details than complete career reinventions. By creating a world for her slow-jams to breathe and create feeling in, Pratt crafts an album that taps into something special while always feeling like a reinvention. There’s a smoky mystique in the air on “Life Is” that lets Pratt dance through the dark like a soul lost on the other side of the radio, letting her arrangements feel like a ghostly band playing their romantic tunes from the afterlife. While this affectation sits all over the record, Pratt comes to the foreground in the dreamy, vintage sheen of “Better Hate,” rolling her voice through so many intonations rather than just intensities, to lend a hypnotic hue to the song’s energy. Through the silky strums of “World on a String,” Pratt morphs her voice several times over again, enhancing the magic emotion of the song along with its theremin to an otherworldly level of charming and likewise, the charmed. “The Last Year” strips things back to let Pratt woo you with simple but timeless melodies and harmonies that instantly get you singing along, and sends the album out on a smile-inducing note.