Album Reviews: The Armed, Iris, Hayley Williams

The Armed — Ultrapop (Detroit, MI)

Though metal and punk in their undercurrents, there's also a fusion of noise and ambient pop to the latest The Armed record that makes it feel utterly unique in our music landscape. Definitely a dense and often overpowering experience, those looking for something sonically extreme will be in love. It's fun to find the more dream-like shimmers on "Ultrapop" as the band take a brooding and melodic bounce in their intro, while the waves of blown-out feedback slowly ooze out. They don't hide the rolling barrage of drums and guitars on "All Futures" however, as the full onslaught of their vicious sound tumbles out almost like a surf-rock band filtered through the recent "Doom" games' soundtracks. They push for a more dynamic angle on "An Iteration" with their fuzzier aesthetic focused into climactic choruses for a fiery high, rather than firing at 11 the entire time to the point of dulling the senses. Similarly, the shifting beats of "Bad Selection" makes for a cool use of their brutal drums and warped production, as they create a part-dance-driven and part-earth-shaking sound.

Silla and Rise — Pandemonium (Single) (Ottawa)

Rather than simply overlaying their usual blend of dance music and fierce throat-singing, Silla and Rise find a much more abrasive middle-ground in their latest effort. The layers of the various vocals create this mounting tension, as the voices upon voices all start to become indistinguishable. The whole thing explodes in a flurry of drums and voices that create a kind of endless rush of confusion, though it nevertheless feels danceable too. "Pandemonium" sees the project really finding the apex of their potential, as they find a new boundary between dance and punk that had yet to be pushed. And they way the textures of both the electronics and vocals manage to warp in equal part here just shows how much the members have all tried to avoid complacency in their art.

Hayley Williams — Flowers for Vases/Descansos (Franklin, TN)

Anyone pleasantly enamored with the sonic range of the last Paramore record will find the tones of Hayley Williams latest solo effort another exciting journey. Notably a lot more acoustic guitar-focused than both her recent solo and Paramore efforts, it's a lyrical powerhouse and great personal exploration. The subtle mixes of synths and pianos give the swing of "Asystole" a real magic, as Williams makes her shifting emotions explode in the tracks booming dynamics. While it has a touch of hope, there's a bleak dread to "Over Those Hills" that shows Williams true might as a writer, as it speaks to a sense of infinite longing without release that almost becomes addictive in itself. Harmony and understated melody rule "Find Me Here" as a charming bit of guitar and the intimate hooks of Williams' voice share a warmth, but also a little darkness in its bones too. The hovering strings, sound clips and watery piano of "Descansos" make for an eerie listen, with Williams almost coming across as a ghostly presence in the recording.

Valley — Society (Single) (Toronto)

Without forcing themselves to get too dark tonally, Valley drop a self-aware reflection on making pop while maintaining humanity. The bouncy feel in their music is hard to ignore, and all the while soft-rock, can also be interpreted as a further nod to the cycle of pressure they're riffing on here. Though a few lines do trot into surface-level statements, Valley keep enough of the track personal enough to keep it earnest and fun to listen to. It's also just intriguing to hear an infectious track that is so centred on the subject of writing itself. Hopefully the band can explore other sides of the industry in the future to give listeners a unique dive into the world from within it.

Iris — Love and Other Disasters (Bergen, Norway)

As another magical presence from the world of Scandinavian pop, Iris crafts a record that excels in every sparse to over-the-top angle it takes. An all-enveloping listen, this record is a true gem of the year. There's a simple light quality to "Push, Don't Push" that lets the keyboards and electronic highs feel massive but never too much, in an encouraging thrust of a song. The subdued roll of "Mirri-Mirri" really lets Iris's voice fly with an otherworldly quality, and their softer timbres feel all the stronger. This is why it's so punch to here the sharp punches in the riffs, beats and vocal hooks on "Voodoo Voodoo" with Iris completely flipping into a pop superstar with attitude. Even the 80's synth highs of "To Be Mine (Is to Lose Your Mind)" soar here, as Iris is able to constantly lend their earnest feelings to make each track work, while the quirky fills and moments they inject around the corners really give it a great personal touch.