Album Reviews: The Smile, Future Islands, Elliphant
The Smile – Wall of Eyes
Despite its appearance as simply a Radiohead side project, The Smile’s lean into experimental and dense writing has proven to be equally, if not more, satisfying to listen to as of late for some. Refocusing the band members’ unique talents through a more boundless attack on writing, this record delivers musical landscapes with real weight, but some that may take time to grow on you. Once the weird swing and pseudo-bossa nova vibe of “Wall of Eyes” opens into its more demented and string-laden sections, the track gains a haunting, ethereal feeling to it, leaving you mesmerized and unnerved at the same time. While it takes a slow road to its big swoon of emotion, “Teleharmonic” brings the euphoria in the swells of harmony, instrumentation and rhythm as it shifts gears, with Thom Yorke’s impassioned howls and the growing arrangements adding to this magical feeling as it grows and grows. Where “Under Our Pillows” goes to full prog-rock feelings, there’s a more dramatic tension to the riffing on “Read the Room.” With its constantly swinging beats and ghostly production choices, the track has this energy as if everything could either improve or explode at a moment’s notice. The most succinct yet varied composition is easily “Friend of a Friend,” as it drifts you through sonic phases like they’re radio channels, but always letting the strong melodies at its core anchor you back, and never drifting off for so long that it might lose your focus.
Nubya Garcia – Fortify (Single)
Delivering electrifying jazz with an ambitious lean into aesthetics, Nubya Garcia keeps you on your toes with “Fortify.” The pianos sway between unusual chord voicings and eerie watery effects, leaving your mind in a daze long before the sax even comes in. But that smooth playing by Garcia really opens the song up into a mix of a calm and attack, with each few bars switching that stance, and eventually popping into more staccato and fun offkey shenanigans. The most notable points in the song really come out of the more warped production and fills that stretch into unhinged mini-solos, with the track seeming to mutate into something wholly unheard of just before trimming the edges like it never even happened.
Future Islands – People Who Aren’t There Anymore
Greenville, NC/Baltimore, MD
Masters of the powerful groove and airy aesthetics, Future Islands have found the perfect way to subtly but constantly evolve their sound in a way that’s always familiar but consistently satisfying. While obviously, this means that it’s unlikely this album is going to convert the haters, the ecstasy this album will drop for their fans is immense. “King of Sweden” sets off on about as classic of a Future Islands bass run as you can get, but with these sweeps of wondrous keys and growling vocals to lift you to a higher state. There’s a more downbeat drive to “The Tower,” as the track always feels like it’s decaying in the background, just as Sam Herring’s vocals rise higher and looser. “Say Goodbye” delivers the most dance-ready and groovy collision of their core, though perhaps holding back on the delivery and ferocity a little too much. The more sprawling and fast approach to “Peach” lets neon riffs cut in and the heavier tones back off, seeing the band at their most sunny and free.
Shannon and the Clams – The Moon Is in the Wrong Place (Single)
With a relentless bass and drums combo, Shannon and the Clams have you racing like a bat out of hell on their latest single. The desert witch-like timbres rise out and cut through the tenacious tempo of the track, letting the whole thing sound like a lost classic. Just when it feels like it’s peaking, the drums get more chaotic and overpowering, and the track feels almost too tense to handle, letting that next chorus slam with even more epic luster. And with the fat tones and layers of wind instruments they layer in to those later choruses, it’s a textbook example of snowballing done right.
Elliphant – Troll
Keeping pop unpredictable, Elliphant comes out swinging on her latest album, and lets the production really get violent and wild. Unabashedly personal and unhinged, this is a vicious record that manages to say a lot in just over 20 minutes. “Therapy” is kicking on every front, letting each bit of production shake you all the more, while the groaning chorus is every bit as chilling due to that deathly sigh. The heft to the bass and fuzz on “Dust” cuts through the noise, feeling like an unusual midpoint between old MIA and Sleigh Bells, and yet all Elliphant in the lyrical speed-bagging she drops on each verse. The retro electronic production to “Mobs” makes for the most intoxicating listen on the record, shaking your walls and constantly building each section of the track to make that loud chorus drop hit all the harder. This attitude in the music reaches a fever-dream-like high on “Trench” where you feel like you’re going to war with Elliphant, as the production perfectly straddles battlefield emulation and addictive dance music.