Album Reviews: The Avalanches, M. Ward, Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama — Sawayama (Niigata, Japan/U.K.)

By going completely out in both the wild, experimental theatrics and overt pop core that we get in art-pop music now, Rina Sawayama lets loose a record that is constantly satisfying and testing your limits. This two-pronged approach means everything feels like a kick of nostalgia and boundary-pushing, heady music together, constantly rewarding another listen. "XS" exemplifies this in its Britney Spears-like tones, mixed with Sleigh Bells blown-out feedback and brilliant commentary in its lyrics about where our world is heading. The metal riffing of "STFU!" keeps this pop fusion going, with the heavy grunge clashing abrasively against the heavily melodic vocals, to give every drop a real heavy weight, and assuring there's a constant edge. There's a more rhythmically-driven view of this sound on "Paradisin'" where even a more synth-heavy track is able to take on a rock rush in the way it explodes through choruses, and bursts out with joyous sax. The record even tackles galactic heights on "Snakeskin," as it blends weird military beats, modern hip hop vocals and dub step breaks into a moody collage.

Overcoats — The Fight (Remixed) (New York City)

With the right creative minds at work a remix record can really feel wondrous rather than grounds for just one startling single. Overcoats have seemingly struck gold in this respect as their colleagues reimagine their tracks for a club future just starting to seem possible again. Shura's remix of "I'll Be There" brings out the 80s fun in synths and drives a dance high for a perfectly exciting jump of energy, with all the lush vocals to match. The grimy guitars on "Keep The Faith" sees Billy Lemos focusing in more on hooks and moments, as the vocals centre the song, and provide one of many melodic drives the song thrives on. A fully electronic overdrive comes in on GUM and Ginoli's take of "The Fool," immersing you in a deep synthetic crush of tones. Even Caroline Rose's minimalist take on "The Fight" is able to really tie the vocals into something new, as they glow and really take off in their chorus booms.

M. Ward — Think of Spring (Portland, Oregon)

There's a purity to M. Ward's sound and understated guitar playing that just allows you to sink into any song effortlessly. While this doesn't make his latest record a groundbreaking or totally impressive listen, it's charm is pitch-perfect to scratch a vintage crooner itch. This is why the seemingly quiet "I Get Along Without You Very Well" can lull you so easily, as it's subtle melodic shifts and mastery of a warm feeling overpowers its simplicity to create a universal energy. The familiar comfort Ward constantly brings out gives "It's Easy to Remember" this same boost, as each singular hook is so isolated that it lands with utter power, and makes you want to sing along. Whatever your feeling on the echo of "Violets For Your Furs," the shuffling tones of Ward's playing often make you forget how stripped down his arrangements are here. You're brought back in time through "I'm a Fool to Want You" as 60s and 70s singer records feel utterly brought back to life in Ward's effective and pointed writing.

Haviah Mighty — Occasion (Toronto/Brampton)

Deep into her creative heights, Haviah Mighty really shows off her vocal flexibility on the sinister production of "Occasion." The bass is pounding and the beats have a wonderfully cutting edge to them. This all lets Mighty weave back and forth between aggressive verses, and raspy choruses, all while delivering with a relentless speed and character. Meanwhile she's constantly twisting in her own singing harmonies with a fierce reach, before slowing things down to focus in on this more singular tone in her voice. So many of these ideas work together beautifully that the track  never really lets up.

The Avalanches — We Will Always Love You (Melbourne, Australia)

With a 20+ song breadth to their newest release, The Avalanches slow-burn a story and feeling to its full potential. This demands a little patience in early listens through more pensive tracks but all in all leaves the record better for it. After the brooding intros, "We Will Always Love You" ties all the harmonies into one powerful crescendo of hope and sadness, letting a shared experience bind us all. Through another emotionally deep, but ultimately cheery tone, "The Divine Chord" provides a fun pop single for the record, blending a catchy vocal from MGMT, and suave melodic help from Johnny Marr into utter bliss. Their explorative notes find a strange note on "Wherever You Go" as you're basically taken through a club-like filter to explore energies from Jamie XX, Neneh Cherry and CLYSPO, until they boom with bass in the finale. While "Running Red Lights" ties into the feel of many tracks here in its angelic pop tones, the hip hop giants playing off the more dense and shifting drive of "Take Care in Your Dreaming" may very well be the more powerful listen in the end.