Album Reviews: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Laura Jane Grace, Chromeo

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Challengers (Original Score)
New Castle, PA/London, England

Though we typically avoid scores for these reviews, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s submission for the new film “Challengers” may be one of the best electronic albums we’ll see this year, period. While it certainly adds a hilarious amount of style to an already stellar film (which we also wholeheartedly recommend you see), this is easily one of the most infectious records of the year. Considering it’s a mix of European house/techno and 90s/2000s electronica, it’s also an amazing shift of pace for the pair that they’ve effortlessly slipped into.  “Yeah x10” brings all that great 2000s electronic sleaze of bands like LCD Soundsystem, while also bringing touches of CSS, for a track that moves from blown-out bass and shouts to exploring synths at other moments. There’s a vibrant sense of life and bounce in “The Signal” that makes you want to shake your body, get lost in movement and just pump up the volume in its intense club drive that ramps up every few lines. The dark cousin of this track comes on the dense mix of bass and drum of “Brutalizer,” which maintains that momentum, but utterly buries you in its rhythmic ends. The pinnacle of the record lands with the addictive lines of “Challengers: Match Point” which weaves in so many small percussive and synth moments in its runtime that you live for each stop in the song that then launches right back in louder, with more random vocables and with newfound strings in every subsequent return. This is a track you could easily be driven to run a marathon off of, given its sheer production and kineticism alone. Though it is outdone by “Match Point,” the more single-ready track “Compress/Repress” feels like a great summation of the film’s own sexual energy, and while less overtly danceable, has a great driving energy that gives Reznor a chance to actually sing on something upbeat outside of Nine Inch Nails.

Lucius Go Home (Single)

With Marcus Mumford providing a growling vocal bassline and soulful baritone to contrast all their powerful highs, Lucius creates what may be their tenderest ballad yet on “Go Home.” Taking every inch of this track’s slow-moving pace to make their cries seem all the more dire and unanswered, the movement of the song can almost feel venomous at times. Mumford’s two registers provide an echo here, rather than a call and response, as he gives a moment of impassioned urgency and then seems to resign to his pain at other times. The brutal intensity with which Lucius is able to attack each subsequent chorus lets them all feel more devastating than the last, so that by that last shout of “Go Home,” you want to cry.

Laura Jane Grace – Hole in My Head
Fort Benning, GA

After a few years of finding the footing between her work with Against Me! and her own solo projects, Laura Jane Grace has found the sweet spot for her career. With a perfect balance of calmer and more riotous songs, Grace creates a perfectly rounded-out album that manages to be loudest when it seems like it’s otherwise near a whisper. Taking a glorious punk rock charge, “Hole in My Head” sets the record off with a classic angsty run, with Grace meshing the roar of her work in bands with the singular passion and focus one only gets out of their own solo work. “Dysphoria Hoodie” plays a sprawling folk exploration of Grace’s day-to-day life, enveloping  America and the self, trying to find a place to fit in while no place or piece of clothing feels fully safe to them. The grinding guitar runs of “Birds Talk Too” makes for a fun base to let Grace dive into her blazing vocal lines that play on and off tempo, while the harmonies create such a euphoric buzz that you’ll be in a daze by the exact moment you realize the song is already done. There’s an instant traditional folk charm on “Cuffing Season,” that is begging to be chanted at the top people’s lungs at live shows, particularly as Grace goes from a pleasant sing to wails on a dime.

Mary Frances Leahy – Cheerio (Single)

Moving from Celtic roots to Latin swing to some harmonies that even call to a bit of System of a Down, the fiddle work is truly flying on Mary Frances Leahy’s “Cheerio.” Not only does Leahy essentially play her heart out for virtually every second of this song, but she manages to keep it interesting the whole time while basically doing extended solos. Even the scratch breaks between what we could call choruses here keep the tension high. And while some instrumentation here falls into support territory, the percussion always manages to match Leahy’s tenacity throughout the track, and even feels like its forcing her to up the ante later on.

Chromeo Adult Contemporary

With their vintage pop flavour, Chromeo has always been about nostalgia, but they’ve always found a way to make that longing a larger metaphor around love and relationships that makes their music deeper. While their newest record is missing a bit of the hunger and decisive hook-writing they’ve managed in the past, Chromeo still bring a healthy dose of schmaltzy charm to the mix to make the whole record go down easy. There’s a smooth Miami warmth as the duo sway and swoon on “Got It Good,” celebrating romance in all its forms, but wanting to keep that between them and not everyone else. The synth cuts like a knife on “Lost and Found,” as they make a glossy ballad about being in and out of love, and how that can mirror being in and out of step with who you are. Once La Roux steps in on “Replacements” there’s a big punch up in the drive they put behind the track, as the back and forth seems to inspire them to up their own production ante. The fast and funky push of “Friendsnlovers” actually makes for one of the most pleasing listens of the whole record as the pair slap on just the right blend of synth and bass riffing to make you want to dance without getting overly complex.