The latest from Florence Welch feels utterly refreshing.
Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever(London, U.K.)
The grandiosity and rich beauty that Florence Welch brings to her music has been missing in our landscape as of late, and her latest return feels utterly refreshing. Though this is more of a mix of her best sounds than a true step forward, Welch thrives in showing off her strengths here. The chugging drive of “King” takes its time luring you into the mix, so by the time it drops you into the soaring vocals and booming pianos halfway through, you’re ready to scream along with Welch and just dance. Despite its rushing and bouncy beat, “Free” is essentially an anthem to finding your one moment of happiness against a bleak and punishing world, making its high-energy belting feel like a protest that is truly satisfying. As she swaps to a clapped and a cappella-heavy choice on “Heaven Is Here,” Welch shows a more spritely approach to her sounds and vocal work, stripping it down to the raw materials with a powerful and short sting. The album rounds out in a full dance swing on “My Love” with a true punchy swagger to it, with Welch bringing out a sense of confidence despite asking for advice on where her overpowering love can actually go.
Early Spirit – The Hollow Tree (Vancouver, British Columbia)
There’s a great charm to the instrumental runs of “Above the Clouds” as the strings and guitars dance against each other for a track places with the distance between its instruments with real tension. This releases to a more glossy and excited tone on “Screen Door” as the strings and harmonies harness that feeling of calm and comfort into a music experience, while the popping drums seem to represent that harsher elements they sing about. The grind in the riff on “Trou Noir” shakes up the record’s sound, allowing for a more rustic kick on the record, as they swap focus to a French-language song more centred around strife than simple pleasures. The guitars have this unstoppable power to them on “Irreversible Trend” seemingly capturing the power of the feelings in the story here, as they never seem to slow down.
Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (Belleville, NJ)
Sharon Van Etten has carved out her dark niche in the industry, and while it means we know what to expect from her, the ways she keeps reinventing herself show that she’s never gotten comfortable. Alternating between the slow and quiet Van Etten, and synth-happy/pop-fuelled tracks, what this record can’t tie together, it at least goes all in on those singular moments. Through an almost oppressive level of silence in “Darkness Fades,” Van Etten brings in the light with her band, as she tries to fight her way through struggle with hope, and reflecting that serenely through the music itself. There’s a great hook to the vocals in “I’ll Try” that makes the pop core to the track all the more addictive, especially as the song blooms into this mighty synth beast that feels so atypical to what we usually get from Van Etten. “Headspace” tries to merge these two sides of Van Etten, morphing all her brooding darkness into blown out feedback and wailing keyboards until her voice is a ghost in the mix. There’s a real attack to the rhythm on “Mistakes” that sets it apart on the record from the start, as Van Etten lets her morose lyrical energy vulcanize the dance base of the song into a classic upset party jam, where that sense of worry makes the grooves all the more enchanting.
Sunday Riot Club – Lost in Paradise(Single) (Ottawa)
On their most acoustic approach to a track as of late, Sunday Riot Club use their grimy aesthetics very sparingly on “Lost in Paradise.” With the crunchy guitars and a fiery leads turned down, the essence of the band is there, though simmered down in the name of variety. Whatever your preference on that aspect, this does a great job of highlighting the quality of the harmonies this band can knock out. Refocusing an 80s era hair metal vocal refrain in this way works bizarrely well, making the chorus pop in a totally different way than these vocals usually do. The solo itself is able to flourish here as it stands out perfectly in the mix, though without much of a ramp up in the mix to highlight it. A little more dynamic range between the sections would really take the track over the top however, but thy nail so much here that it’s a small detail to harp on.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (Compton, California)
In a less concentrated matter, Kendrick Lamar is still able to deliver some absolutely stellar tracks with stunning lyrical work, vicious production and a drive only he can muster. Though the more controversial nature of some tracks on this album can be a bit of a put off, and the amount of self-awareness that Lamar injects into this discussion has left the record frustrating in terms of how clunkily it handles its more delicate subject matter. Truly embracing the jazz side of his sound right down to the composition now, “United in Grief” showcases a flurry of instrumentation, approaches and Lamar’s flexibility as a rapper, all through a poetic journey of a track. The off-kilter beats of “Die Hard” is an instant delight, with Lamar letting his featured vocalists shine here for a track that is just a constant ride of one grin-inducing vocal after another. After its experimental opening, “Father Time” features one of Lamar’s most elegant productions, though one that doesn’t quite take that next musical step to lock it in as iconic. On a pop high, “Mirror” closes things out with a truly guttural beat and synth combo, feeling both catchy and at times frightening in its sound.
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