Albums reviews: February 3, 2020

Harry Styles – Fine Line (Redditch, UK)

After leaving One Direction, Harry Styles quickly defined himself as a potent solo artist not afraid to take the singer-songwriter genre meld its future and past into one. And here he manages to make a much more coherent record than his debut outing, but perhaps just lacking that one divine single to send it into everyone's ears. This said tracks like "Golden" masterfully take you across the synthetic and harmony-driven ends of the record, while bringing out just enough punchy moments to make it better on each repeat. After some direct pop, "Cherry" is a breath of fresh air as it swings through bouncy acoustic guitar lines and lets Styles lull you into a sense of comfort. Though "She" really slow-burns its intro, the utter wallop of its later, often distorted, chorus hits just come in so passionately it's impossible not to grin. And there's even a touch of Paul Simon & Led Zeppelin in "Canyon Moon" as Styles seems to be harnessing that kind of spritely California pop for a cheery break in the record.

The Band Whose Name is a Symbol – Berserkir Volume 1 (Ottawa)

The Band Whose Name is a Symbol are truly unrelenting in their output, but their latest EP reminds just how unrelenting they are in their performances. "Gabbro" is constantly churning between what feels like elaborate and layered solos, and this kind of improvised conversation amongst the instruments that by the time it's over you'll have lost track of time. There's more of a sense of place to "From Dusseldorf To Cologne," but it's actually the warmness of the guitars and military drive of the drums that sets its visual qualities out so well. In the foggy tones of "With Respect to the Golden Rule," it can feel like the band is in a kind of zen like state where groove rules and their only concern is how to move on. In this way the album's closer really seems to evolve this feeling rather than start anew, and lets the howls of feedback bring the album to a fiery apex.

Poliça – When We Stay Alive (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Between electronica and a kind of singer art-pop, Poliça carves a neat little niche that evades the pure definition of either genre. This broad sound is a constant wonder and fascinating listen, so long as you're able to hold onto its looser structures in the writing. "Driving" for example is a strangely personal meditation, that while often a dense haze of noise, lets so many instruments and voices take centre stage that it can feel like leapfrog. There's much more direction to "Fold Up," as it uses its waves of feedback and grime to amplify the tension in its story, and let every line echo to ugly death. Almost like a jazz performance stuck in a brief synth loop, "Little Threads" gets trapped in a circle of repetition a tad to one-note for the breadth that the rest of the album reaches. Some of the most interesting plays on sound come in "Steady" as a seemingly country guitar line is digitized, chopped and warped to a new level of expression that lets the vocals really soar and take on new meaning.

Surrender – Surrender (Ottawa)

If you're looking for a local synth-pop gem to start off the year, Surrender bring it to you with a wonderful sense of finesse. The rushing life of "A Lifetime Away" never lets up, making it feel like electronic waves are crashing down on you in its swelling rises. Even in its more relaxed moments like "Hold On," the album has this exciting sense of life bubbling through the drums and riffs. Though it's another thing to hear them send the keyboards to the back on tracks like "Keep Running" and really make the album have a much more voice and sax driven moment. All this said the way they bring an orchestral heft down on "In Phases" really fills things out royally and ends the record on this fiercely broad moment.

Destroyer – Have We Met (Vancouver, British Columbia)

While he was always a great counterpoint within the New Pornographers, Dan Bejar has been carving out arguably more interesting content as Destroyer these days. With a sparse but often cutting sound palette this time around, Bejar doesn't stagnate but creates an album that will definitely take some time to sink into. With the hefty tones slowly taking over on "Crimson Tide" Bejar centres on his vocals and lets the emotion of the song slowly catch up until it's screaming. While you're dancing to "It Just Doesn't Happen" there's an intimacy that Bejar's vocals bring out that will make you feel a little dirty as well. The record also strays into borderline instrumentals, reaching cinematic heights on the likes of "The Television Music Supervisor" as Bejar steps back to let wonder take over. There's also a smooth Miami-like glow to "The Man in Black's Blues" where the album embraces the 80s unabashedly for a surprisingly dark listen.