Album Reviews: Vagabon, Madeline Kenney, Ratboys
Madeline Kenney – A New Reality Mind
Seattle, WA/Oakland, CA
While cold can describe a facet of Madeline Kenney’s sound, their music feels like on that is constantly coming more and more alive as you explore it more. With tracks that never seem quite like what you’d expect, this is a journey of a record that will reward the ambitious listener through its off-kilter sounds. The airy moods of “Plain Boring Disaster” can lull you into a dreamy and laidback feeling, but it’s the track’s more roaring and bombastic atmosphere that shows Kenney’s true range of colours as an artist. The rushing momentum of “Superficial Conversation” lets all the ambient tones feel vibrant rather than slow, and gives the song’s more rhythmic punches a real sense of immense scale when they come in throughout the track. There’s a more downbeat push to “Red Emotion” as its synth lines bloom out with a warm but mysterious flow, very slowly revealing the depth of their exact meaning. “The Same Again” is more unhinged and primal in its flourishes and the pounding of the drums, seeing a seemingly muted track actually screaming under the surface.
Lily Seabird – Waste (Single)
With a growl seeming to lie in wait just below the surface, Lily Seabird creates a tense slowburn on “Waste.” When that dam finally breaks from all the reflection and frustration it’s almost a relief, if the deluge of distortion wasn’t such an unbearable weight in itself. The feedback creates a beautiful cloud for Seabird to move her later verses through however, as the fallout from all this pain seems to allow Seabird to truly express themselves. In the grime and melting tones that erupt out of all of this, Seabird drops a truly raw and devastating track, seemingly on a tipping point.
Ratboys – The Window
Bringing a true emotional wave to their perfectly layered song crafting, Ratboys have arranged the songs on their latest record into true beauties. The intensity, ability to hold back and then burn full steam, and an unplaceable something lets this record shine as a diamond of what indie can do. “Making Noise for the Ones You Love” is a rallying cry that sets the record off with anthemic weight and a powerful charge, to make you feel truly awake and raring to go. There’s a cutting pop edge to the riffs and melodies of “Morning Zoo” that shows a band tight and sharp with their writing, particularly as they manage to give more and more sun to the energy of this track, while even incorporating strings into the mix. By this point in the record, switching back to the more simplified punk is exhilarating on “Crossed that Line,” especially with the flurry of riffs and those huge oo’s dropped on every chorus. The majesty and magical hum to “The Window” give the track an ethereal glow, and let the whole track’s fiery build feel enriched in the process.
Alice Merton – Run Away Girl (Single)
Bass pumping and the dance beats flying, Alice Merton is lost at sea on “Run Away Girl.” Rather than creating a straight banger, the booming pop does a better job reflecting the size of Merton’s dire feelings on the track, and the groovy beats are more incidental. Throughout the track, Merton debates the safety of home, the many directions you’re told to go and how to forge your own path in the middle of all that. Just by the end, that chorus gains a much more triumphant charge as Merton seems to be finally breaking free of those strings-turned-anchors, and is making claims to discover themselves.
Vagabon – Sorry I Haven’t Called
Yaoundé, Cameroon/New York City
Since their strong-yet-understated last record, Vagabon seems ready to become a pop darling in all senses of the word. While they certainly maintain their more nuanced ideas while evolving their music forward. “Can I Talk My Shit?” is a fully realized, dreamy pop wonder-scape, with the vocals flying on angelic glides and the production going all out to realize the rest of that hazy space. There’s a much more drum and bass-focused bounce to “Carpenter” that sees more dance direction in the sound, with a joie de vivre that’s tangible in the mix. The full breadth of Vagabon’s new shape musically comes out in “Lexicon,” whether it be the perfectly tight composition choices, the rippling guitar and synth lines that also flow in and out of each other, or the awe-inspiring harmonies that tie it all together. The more subdued flow of “Autobahn” lets the emotion breathe a little more, and the background details come to the forefront with more poignancy amidst a record of busier tracks.