Ladytron – Time’s Arrow: Review

Ladytron’s latest album, Time’s Arrow, is not as expansive, keeping an almost two-dimensional with many synth patterns and the production’s range in guitar and percussion usage. It takes a while for the wheels to get rolling as lead singer Helen Marnie deconstructs innate reflective points with vigor on many songs. Her vocals add dimensions to each song’s atmosphere and psychedelia tones, seeping into these intricate thoughts that have us viewing some layered dimensions of our being, whether impersonal or not. Marnie, along with co-writers Daniel Hunt, Jonny Scott, Mira Aroyo & Vice Cooler, don’t leave you with ambiguity – the verses speak fluidly through its poetic approach, allowing you to visualize their world, interconnected with yours. It values time beyond the centralized generalizations we’ve heard prior – we get another solid effort that could have gone through another round in the think tank but still a serviceable release.

Starting strong, Time’s Arrow begins to keep its pacing steady, leaving you mystified by its ambiance and fluid melodies. Unfortunately, the synthesizers sometimes feel less intriguing and more of an added commodity that takes away from the small details that underlie the production coating. It isn’t until the later half of “Faces,” the second song on the tracklist, it starts to make sense of its direction – time is linear, but there are rifts that take you in unique sidesteps. It’s playing a bit loose with this concept, sonically, veering and making moments last long or short. It’s a straight shot of pure reflective bliss that stumbles to make anything imperatively potent with the sounds. There are some memorable notes within the production, but its consistency of impact is lesser than their last album. 

Sometimes Ladytron’s use of synths can over-sizzle, and other times it’s a little stale, but rarely in between. However, they never take you away from lyricism that’s lavishly poignant and resonant with one’s inner journey with themselves on a few tracks. In “Misery Remember Me,” we hear Ladytron looking back at one’s disdain for reflecting a person they’re not; it has gospel influence boasting the ponderous chorus and elevating its sense of self while letting the synths take a back seat. Not every track has this lyrical astuteness. Sometimes it teeters toward mundaneness with depth-less simplicity on “Faces” or the lackluster chorus of “California.” Fortunately, it is within the mid-point where the album takes chances beneath the abundance of synths caught between a drought and a rainstorm. Overlaying its poetically influenced lyricism are waning tempos with the different synthesizers they are using; in the long run, it took me away from finding much intrigue with “City of Angels” and “Sargasso Sea.” It’s a disappointing variation in production that keeps it from having a powerful opening and closing.

That middle sector of Time’s Arrow is where it starts to come to life. Beginning with “Flight of Angkor,” the tone gets set with a more fruitful array of synths that bring twinkles to your ears instead of confusing you. Continuing till “The Dreamers,” elements of Dream-Pop get incorporated to buoy the smooth cohesion between monochromatic ambiance and starry melodies. We don’t hear an overreliance on keeping you reeled with atmospheric electronic bliss. It lets the vocals breathe through the thick layers of synths, letting the backing vocals shine through. Additionally, we don’t get this small cluster of contrasting and complementing synths and percussion like in the title song; it oddly works at points, but comparatively, it’s a weaker-written song than the others. It doesn’t negate the vocal performances that radiate beneath harrowing synths that fail to make you return more than twice. 

Time’s Arrow sometimes feels like a distant memory, and remembering leaves you with some slight disappointment. It has these uniquely fantastic moments, but surrounding it, are some less-than-attractive synth layers. The synths don’t take away from the atmospheric aesthetic it imbues. It keeps a steady play consistency that can get a new listener to flow with it, but for fans of Ladytron, this was a lesser effort I wish I could like more than I do.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Beabadoobee – Beatopia: Review

Captivating my ears with its core aesthetic for alternative rock that bled deeper than the surface layer, Beabadoobee wowed my ears on her debut, Fake It Flowers. The music had a level of nuance that gave it an identity, weaving together a consistency that never left me feeling that she was tilting toward thin nostalgia, even if the songs themselves aren’t individually strong due to slight repetitiveness. Unfortunately, it’s something that mirrors in her follow-up Beatopia, an album that brings us within her world. With unique melodic pop styles woven with lo-fi, psychedelia, and rock, a shift from her debut. It threads sounds that often take you back to the 90s–00s, shifting sounds that equate constructs we’ve heard at that time, whether from The Sundays or Mazzy Star, except with modern complexions. On Beatopia, there are many times we get something fresh and whimsical, and other times we get that repetitiveness that loses you ever-so-slightly.

Little details are essential, and it struck me first with Beatopia. There are confident quirks, whether track transitions or in chords, that elevate the emotional shifts from Beabadoobee. “Broken Cd” is an emotionally poignant, albeit subtle, pop song that digs at a romantic loss with strings that move and shift like a stream of consciousness; it transitions to an elevated rock banger, “Talk,” with an essence of grunge as a slight coating. It shows a parallel between two eras of Beabadoobee: the younger sullen teen who kept lamenting on a single memory to an older, more free-flowing, partying, with ill-fated romantic flings stumbling with mistakes, instead of moving on. It creates an initial jolt as the sounds contrast each other immensely. It cements a line of dividends where some sonic undertones feel more thematic, creating unique contrasts with the tracklist order, specifically as the second half focuses on more rock-like instrumentations like the remarkable “Fairy Song.”

With these little details, sometimes you may hear subtle mixtures, like taking certain chord progressions from “Maps (Four Track Demo)” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and incorporating them into their guitar riffs. On “Picture of Us,” the initial chord hit me instantly, though that’s no surprise since I listen to “Light and Day” by The Polyphonic Spree a lot–they both have similar progression in chord pitch at a near comparable time. Some pop parallels shift swiftly to create new and radiant sounds, like the lively “Sunny Day” and “Fairy Song.” And its effectiveness makes the shift from pop to rock overtones come with finesse instead of transitioning into more melodic rhythms; it transitions to killer sequences that contrast her emotionally pertinent vocals.

At its core, Beatopia has thematic styles hovering tracks, all of which stem from its melancholy, vibey center, which can assimilate smoothly. It’s heard from the pop-bossa nova-rock hybrid “The Perfect Pair,” which brings the elemental core of her poppy choruses and pushes them to the forefront. And with “Tinkerbell is Overrated,” a plucky acoustic pop soft rock instrumentation starts to grow, and grow, and become a riotous alt-pop-rock banger. They aren’t like “10:36,” which feels like a slight rethread from something that would have fit with the overall sonic landscape of Fake It Flowers because it can be hard to make out the vocal at times. It isn’t like “Talk,” which brings forth distinct contrasts, natural synergy, and parallels while having a genuine transition. It happens again, as “10:36” takes away what could have been a cleaner transition between “Beatopia Cultsong” and “Sunny Day.” 

After “Sunny Day,” there are slight impasses before picking up again with more consistency at “Ripples,” with a detour at “Lovesong.” “Ripples” and “Lovesong” have sounds that acquiesce individually, but the latter isn’t as impactful. “Ripples” brings forth intrigue as we see Beabadoobee emotionally struggle with a long-distance relationship due to touring, adding gravitas to the performance with comparatively uproarious violins. “Lovesong” sometimes comes off slightly hollow in the instrumentation, playing coy as we hear pianos coast over beautifully melancholic strings. It’s effective to a fault, as love songs aren’t always the most captivating. But the collection of tracks that follow have a crisper, hook–line–sinker as it transitions from the melodic, emotionally potent, and soft vocals of pop and then lets it out with the instrumentation.

Beatopia keeps me excited for Beabadoobee and her career moving forward, especially hearing the depth she can create with her co-producers. It’s different, mature, and offers a sense of identity instead of shifting genres every other song. With replay value, there is enough to head back to, especially that second half, as the flurry of great tracks hit you, leaving you satisfied as it comes to a close.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend: Review

Continuing to exhume effervescent arrays of shoe-gaze and punk rock music, Wolf Alice finds themselves underneath blue lights as they deliver a thought provoking and emotionally gripping shoe-gaze and punk rock on Blue Weekend, the follow up to the underwhelming Visions of a Life. Like the namesake of the album, its cognitive approach deals with the emotions of the listeners; particularly those with a depth filled understanding of feeling blue. There are tracks that fully gravitate in an unknown direction, and eventually find themselves coming back full circle as the themes vary, but one sentiment stays true. The songwriting and performances of the band keep Blue Weekend on a steady track as it buoys between shoe-gaze and post-punk overtures, while maintaining their brand of authenticity.

Blue Weekend is unlike some of their previous work. There is a steady incline in the quality of the production where they continue to take elements of dream pop and post punk and further create these spacious and riveting rock tracks. Front woman, Ellie Roswell, brings this kinetic energy to her performances, which takes a slight turn as it become one of the unsung hero of their work; specifically in the way she delivers the emotional veracity based on the construct, like standout “Play The Greatest Hits,” which is fueled with angst and punk flair or the melancholic and, at times, dreamy beach themed sounds on the intro and closer – “The Beach.” 

The production is a little more sonically pellucid, as it doesn’t tend to waver into wrought complexities and stoned one-note productions too much; even though there are minimal moments wherein the simplicity isn’t as engaging, like the intro section of “How Can I Make It Ok?” The same goes for the “Lipstick On The Glass.” They are the weakest links on the album, but never true deterrents with the contextual meshing it brings on both spectrums. It has this slow – minimalist buildup before it becomes these unique instrumentations.

Having these buildups isn’t that uncommon on Blue Weekend. A lot of the time it works because the songwriting grips you hard through the mixing and engineering of the vocal layers, which elevates the production’s tonal direction more. In turn, within the verses, your ears get eschewed with these vibrant metaphors, elusive Shakespearean quotes, and thoughts about the arrogance of humans, all the while realizing you also just read Vonnegut. It is like how “Play the Greatest Hits,” takes the crazy emotions one gets from hearing their favorite artist’s greatest hits and forgetting your worries as you unabashedly dance around in the kitchen, as Ellie Roswell would sing-scream on the track. Unfortunately it’s one of two tracks that felt like it could have been longer.

Blue Weekend finds itself in a constant mediation in what drives the track’s voice, both figuratively and literally, as the production’s effervescent layering of the instruments overwhelms half of the vocal performances from Ellie Roswell. But it’s to Blue Weekend’s benefit as it constantly grasps you with these captivating instrumentations, leaving you with an urge to flip on repeat and start to process over. This time you get lost in the songwriting and visceral imagery from the band. As you continue on this journey the varying tracks that emote the kind of blue you are feeling at the moment. These flow in unison with other themes on the album, ranging from relationships, motivated depression, and existential crises, amongst others, like on the tracks “Delicious Things,” and “Smile.”

“Delicious Things” broken down instrumentation plays coy with elongated and beautiful patterns on the production. Ellie Roswell writes this beautiful narrative where she feels displaced, the world is upside down, and she is around strange, but familiar, people. She is trying to mask her longing for home. “Smile,” on the other hand, eschews from conceptions as Ellie Roswell delivers a vocal performance that carries with it a rhythmic hip-hop soul from the way she makes the verses flow in a tangent similar to those of the genre. She isn’t singing as much on the verses and saving it for the transitional points like the choruses and bridges where the atmospheric and riveting performance makes you forget what the smile masks.

Blue Weekend is tame compared to past works, but it doesn’t let it become the detractor from creating these bright and clear depth of the songwriting/vocal performance and production. You’ll find yourself discovering tracks that hit you harder than others and that is fine, as the varying themes and structures of the tracks only share one common numerator, a flashing and old blue light overhead flickering that coats the tracks on the album.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee: Review

Michelle Zauner, or better known as Japanese Breakfast, has shown in the past that her talent may have been one-note tonally, and there will be a lack of light. Her first two albums had sonic range from the lo-fi dream rock and pop that encapsulated the emotional direction of her work, and it is on her third release that she slightly redefines herself. Zauner’s debut and follow-up, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds From Another Planet, evoked themes of love and death and moving on, while retaining this inner joy from spiritual connectivity; specifically her debut, which was made in the midst of grieving the loss of her mother in 2014. Hearing the lighter tones and instrumentations on Jubilee leaves me with a sense of glee. It chases the joy in life, despite tumultuously honest viewpoints, and allows that to embolden the themes, while on a juxtaposed journey of self-exploration. 

From the first track (“Paprika”) on, Michelle Zauner lays the groundwork on how the lyrical construct of Jubilee takes throughout the album. These moments shine with visceral imagery from her songwriting, which takes a new life all its own. On “Paprika” Zauner eclipses past generalizing individualism and embraces her status in her own hierarchy of popularity. It is a testament towards artists who brush off a “Yummy” and keep being authentic even as you make music akin to popular styles, like pop music’s recent uptick of 80s New Wave and Disco influences underwritten in the production. It uses the 2006 Japanese Anime film Paprika as a loose inspiration to elevate the dimensions in which we understand artistic and mental control, and she delivers it with confidence. From here – on Jubilee is filled with themes and writing that demonstrates these contrasts through unique perspectives. 

In talking to Apple Music about the music, Michelle Zauner talks with expression about the joy and meaning behind each song. In it she mentions her love of “Kokomo, IN,” as it is her favorite off the album, and one of the lowkey standouts. It feels more inspired by the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” more than she thinks. “Kokomo, IN” uses its loose narrative approach to bring light into the melodic – beach pop ballad. Like the Beach Boys song, the tale about love involves youths with maturity in the way they see life. It continues through contrasts on the song “Posing In Bondage,” by taking a somber and metaphorical approach to the wait-and-see dynamic behind relationships. They both bring stylistic POVs and sounds to tell similar stories except with different amounts of depth, as one speaks more through a fictitious boy and the other is her.

There is no particularly clear direction, sonically, with Jubilee. Despite the melodic synths and strings on the songs, they all have lush pop coatings that give the album a lot of fluidity. Michelle Zauner develops these sounds with her producers and instrumentalists by bringing a sense of confidence based on their propitious within each release. It isn’t hard to stick to your guns and create efficacious elements of these genres she redefines. Though, when she directs the music into more of a mainstream pop sonic construct on “Be Sweet,” it is like fireworks on the fourth of July. It is the only direct pop song, while others have that overlay which makes you think it is, but then the production picks up and you get these different arrays of sounds. It blends with the radiance in her vocal range as it is used in the amplification as backing vocals. It’s catchy and never feels forced as it transitions to the aforementioned “Kokomo, IN.”

There are many tracks that bloom with radiant light in the effervescent vocal performances from Zuauner, even when the songs don’t have bounce. There are a lot of great moments and off moments, like on “Savage Good Boy,” which has her becoming one of those rich and less exaggerated villainous businessmen we’ve read about in articles. She turns this manic story of villainy into an eclectic mess, like the electronic opening to poppy middle and closing on a wicked guitar riff. The subtleties in the string arrangements on some songs never feel fully authentic, but when it’s a focus we get brighter spots in the music. It allows for her to run free and deliver interesting and emotionally grand moments. The closing track, “Posing for Cars,” is led by a beautifully emotional performance by Zauner, as she sings this ode to her husband. It then shifts into this monstrous and focused guitar solo that speaks more words than you could imagine. 

Jubilee is a whirlwind of emotions, stemming from a creative mind and the inspirations around her, like her husband. Michelle Zauner, or Japanese Breakfast, brings a new light to her artistry and in an inspired direction. There is this beauty behind the many instruments that align the production and it keeps it tighter than before. It is definitely one of my favorite records of the year.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Olivia Rodrigo – Sour: Review

When “Driver’s License” first hit, it took a while for me to embrace its brilliance. It felt like an auspicious push by her record and fanbase, as it was hard to believe that she wouldn’t turn out another phenomenal hit. As the weeks eagerly passed since, Olivia Rodrigo kept pushing the limits, delivering and performing hit after hit after hit; and the momentum hasn’t stopped – as evidenced by the amount of hype behind her debut album Sour. It doesn’t feel like any debut I’ve heard in a while, particularly because it does not feel like one. Olivia Rodrigo has a keen ear as a musician and singer-songwriter as if she has been in the industry for years. And that is what spread throughout Sour, as it is engulfed by illustrious pop and indie rock anthems and ballads that all intertwine into one long and thoroughly written introspective piece about maturity, adolescence, and love, despite falling short due to some ballads feeling redundant.

Sour doesn’t like to mince words. As a Disney star, sometimes there are limits to where you can take aspects of your artistry. There is an image that the company wants from some of their heavy hitters, fortunately for Olivia it didn’t happen till the momentous reception to her follow up to “Drivers License,” which takes the extreme by making love extreme with the word fucking prior to the word. She opens Sour with two tracks, “brutal” and “traitor,” that quintessentially provides backstory to the themes and directions Olivia will take on the album as you let it play. 

“Brutal,” is this crazily audacious punk-garage rock anthem that takes mold from this generational trauma that befalls people from the stresses of stardom. Her vocals take an exceptional leap from “good 4 u,” which just feels like the angsty version of “Drivers License.” It brings a different edge, as opposed to “brutal,” which is reminiscent of the uproarious stylistic vocal performances that made artists like Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette have a different footing and push into stardom-their own way. 

“Traitor,” is the complete opposite of “brutal.” It takes a different approach to “Driver’s License,” where instead of recalling how her ex would play coy and flirt on the side with his ex-Disney star sidepiece and how Olivia let herself become mistaken, further believing that there was some chance. The melancholic melodies weave a constant push-back for her emotions, in the way she beautifully exuberates confidence in her feelings, letting the vocal performance tell us all. It is unlike the other ballad-like tracks as there is more instrumental depth.

As it continues tracks like “Driver’s License” and “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” come and deliver with vibrant moments of nuance, like the piano bedroom pop ballad that is usually missing now from some other prominent artist. “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is similar to “Drivers License,” but like the Saturday Night Live skit, this song feels more like a girl singing to herself with a piano in her room since it doesn’t focus too much on using effects to elevate the backing vocals. It continues on “enough for you,” as the piano plays second fiddle to Olivia’s lyricism, which is at its most relative. It details how Olivia tried to do things like read and learn about things that made her ex seem like an intellectual savant – compared to her and this growing fear he’d find her boring in the long run. 

Unfortunately Sour is a lot of the feeling Olivia brings to songs about her ex, but the subject becomes oversaturated by the time it reaches the end. There are a lot of bright spots and other times  It makes you start wondering when she will fully leave the bedroom and deliver a more bombastic indie rock record. Though there has been a lot of praise, a lot of the songs hit more in one aspect as opposed to the other, whether instrumentally or lyrically. So while Olivia Rodrigo immerses in the music with main producer Dan Nigro, known for writing and producing some songs on Conan Grey’s self-titled debut and Carolina Polatchek’s last album Pang, a few tracks don’t quite hit a run. What he brings is this vibrant array of acoustic guitar riffs that don’t overshadow the underlying subtleties from the other instruments used in some songs and using it as a guiding force, like on “enough for you.” 

Dan Nigro mixes Sour to have cohesion when it transitions from song to song, creating a short rollercoaster ride. The tip of the ride comes from standouts “DeJa Vu,” which is a fun psychedelic pop that embraces the drum and synthesizer and maximizes it to a bombastic overtone. It takes over as the drop hits after the first chorus and emboldens the rest of the track. However, It’s a disappointment that the two producers Dan Nigro brought to co-produce two tracks, ended up being some of the ones with weaker production. Jam City co-produces “jealousy, jealousy,” and it seems like the only real contributions are boring drum patterns and off putting modulations to her vocals.

Sour delivers at a level of expectancy and goes above and beyond that as well. From the opening track and on, the different styles that she approaches succeed with virtuoso. Olivia Rodrigo didn’t hold back and it is great to hear as we await what she brings to us in the future. For now I’m going to kick back and listen to “Deja Vu,” on repeat.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

girl in red – if i could make it go quiet: review

Within the slightly dominant (indie)world of bedroom/dream pop, there have been many great artists emerging and creating these clean breaths of fresh air as they expand on their sound. Norwegian indie pop rock artist, Girl in red, is one of those artists. From her early days of complex (thematically) bedroom pop to her the ever-expanding array of different sonic directions, this vibrant cohesion between her vocals and instrumentations are at center stage on her new release if i could make it go quiet. This indie rock album is full of emotional depth and bombastically vibrant rock and pop instrumentals, as we are given unique perspective on mental health and relationships.

We all know how difficult 2020 has been, and because of it there has been a slightly bigger focus on mental health, especially amongst the upper echelon. But even behind the celebrity-like coating, we share these wrought problems. Musicians and other artists have shown their emotions through it with new releases, from Folklore to How I’m Feeling, there has been an expression of their lives, physically and mentally throughout the pandemic. Girl In red never shies away from making music that captures the intricacies behind the social stigma behind the idea of mental health and that is what lets the album shine and stand apart from many artists doing similarly.  

Girl in red has taken emotional moments/events that came about in her life, during the pandemic, and has created these songs that break apart the effects it has on her being – oft times taking different approaches to the overall projection, like on “You Stupid Bitch,” which sees her talking to herself in third person. She breaks apart these hallucinations she’s been having about love and connectivity, and further showing the importance of self-love. Her writing takes a constant step up, though it wasn’t ever something she struggled with. The production with Norweigan instrumentalist Mattias Tellez, shows a continuous growth, even if you aren’t always getting a lush array of new bedroom pop.

If I could make it go quiet doesn’t completely deter from dream/bedroom pop-overtones that have been a focal point of her sound since the beginning. Starting with the illustrious rock anthem “Serotonin,” it sets a mood for the production notes of the tracks we’ll get. It carries an amplification of the electric guitar to empower the vocal performance of Girl in red, which then balances with some indie-pop vocalizations on other songs, like on “I’ll Call You Mine.” But the detachment from some oversimplified electronic (non guitar) notes, takes center stage like how “Serotonin” does as the opening song and reeling you further into the music.

“Serotonin,” has an extra layering of rock subtexts by co-producer/writer Finneas O’Connell. Its namesake is the kind of natural chemical that balances out the imbalance within mood and the lack of is one of many potential reasons for one’s depression. The way she delivers the chorus takes an uproarious approach with her rock anthem projecting vocal mixing, which continues on subsequent tracks in different ways, specifically in the songs “Did You Come” and “Rue.” 

The instrumental landscape has a focal point of the electric guitar that adds a second emotional coating to Girl in red’s vocal performance. Her vocals evoke a similar style to it, with a rough-patch overlay, which in some songs sounds like she is singing from afar. It’s the way she has been able to keep certain moody-melodic transitions smoothly from song to song. The moments of deviation from a rock – core allows her to fully dive into the roots of her emotional being and seeing it fleshed out through the various sonic contexts of the songs. At times we hear these nuances to garage rock with the way the instrumental and vocals are mixed. It switches between that and the polished work on songs like “Midnight Love.” It can deter you slightly; even though the transitions are remarkable with the way it uses the vocal performances to key in sonic transitions.

Songs like “hornylovesickmess” and “.” evoke keynotes in the transitional delivery from verse to chorus, eventually closing with a bedroom-dream pop overlay on the outro. This example only notes the complexities between the song-to-song transitions. “Midnight Love” is what follows “hornylovesickmess” and it starts with a melancholic vocal textures, which aligns more with the preceding song’s outro and it ends with a uproarious rock instrumental that aligns more with the rock sound of “You Stupid Bitch.”

The further the album progresses, the more the curtains open as she distinguishes these stories with the burgeoning emotions from the events in her life. At times the content of the song is reflective with the tonal mood of the instrumentation, like the vibrant-pop rock instrumental of “Apartment 402,” which shows a contrasting glee from the dark and broken aspect of the apartment. This apartment has allowed her to feel certain ways and lead to a kind of happiness that equates to a kind of solace if she were to die in her comfort zone. The way she dives into her subconscious allows for a beautiful cohesion of sounds in her music and as it starts with “Serotonin,” she solidifies it with “Apartment 402,” as it maintains a lingering thought in our mind.

Girl in red has always shown her strengths in minimalist detail and expands her tonal melodies to empower the thematic meaning within these cohesion of songs. That is what makes If I could make it go quiet a loud centerpiece that reaches into the core of many who relay their own connectivity and will create more intrigue for the newcomers. 

Rating: 8 out of 10.

London Grammar – California Soil: Review

Many indie/dream-pop artists evoke these glossy – sparkly – electronic overtones in the music, but London Grammar bleeds into the complexities behind their melancholy strings and minimalist percussion and electronic subtleties to build atmospheric overtures. This never falls into a repetitively basic tonal (poppy) trend, which makes them a unique presence in this “genre’s” stratosphere; however when it didn’t fully hit on their sophomore release, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, the experiences since then has allowed Hannah Reid, lead singer/songwriter, to reflect further and create these spacious and luminous – electronic-dream pop cohesion with the rest of London Grammar (i.e. the instrumentalists, outside of Hannah) on California Soil.

The new album by London Grammar switches up base constructs of simple production cues, with a mixture of piano and varying electronic sounds taking more centerstage, like the vibrant snares on “Lord It’s A Feeling.” As a whole it doesn’t rely much on an expansive synth base to overlay instrumentations. It’s what separates it from their last album, where a slight boredom arose from the lack of musical depth and engagement. But California Soil fixes that with the way it evokes its tonal and emotional notes in smooth transitions that the album rarely loses touch on what it is. 

London Grammar stylistic approach is similar to that of Beach House and Florence Welch, wherein the emphasis is put into the vocal delivery and parallel production. It is what drives the emotional force that has you feeling what she does, down to the core of her heart. And this is what makes California Soil such a profound deviation from the wrought sound from others; even though the deviation is more subtle than it appears. Part of that deviation comes from the way Hannah Reid flexes her vocal range on each song, which mirrors the tone behind the way she perceives each thematic inspiration, like on the title track, which centers around nature and landscape – comforting images with deeper meaning. 

A lot of these stories derive from the emotional complexities of the experiences and emotions had from them since the release of their last album. Like it, it has a constant motion with flipping pros and cons of relationships, mostly cons, and the overall emotional tear it can cause; for example on “All My Love,” a song in which Hannah Reid delivers this soft-spoken and powerful performance that sounds like a broken soul singing and playing guitar to herself in her room. But this is all part of a mixture of different sonic constructs that lets the little things pop out, like the minimalist – melancholic strings and percussion and spacey additions from the electronic instruments/effects. 

California Soil goes beyond the dream-pop textures. The electronic-instruments create a coating, which makes the music range in pop style, while staying consistent in tone. When it shifts into tracks that breathe an essence of a pop trend that evokes the kind of mood for those who like sad dancing. This style usually has a repetitive production pattern, specifically in the percussion, where most times it never feels like anything new. Their last album teetered on this consistently, that you try to stay with it for the vocal performances instead of the boring production that is a part of that trend.

California Soil doesn’t fully disregard this, but shifts the sonic construction to have an overall cohesion of sound behind the lyrics from Hannah Reid. These tracks with the sad dance-style have a solid constant that keeps them in a different spectrum from the ones who are vibrant and poppy for airplay. But instead these tracks become more nuanced like on “How Does It Feel,” where the upbeat portions aren’t trying to be glamorous through an overall happy-sad production approach. 

“Baby It’s You,” does so similarly, with an eloquent construction of instruments that keeps you engaged, except for the times it shifts into the chorus and her repetitively hollow lyrics become apparent, but the production makes up for it by keeping the flow interesting. This is the same essence behind “Lose Your Mind,” which has co-production from house musician George FitzGerald, to give it that soft-sparkly cover to the rest of the production. 

California Soil is adventurous, from a POV of the kind of sonic standard they have imparted on themselves, but doesn’t go off the beaten path to deliver a spread of obscurity. It’s not an everyday kind of album where you can just pop it on. But when it calls for it, the album has a lot of depth that you’ll always be left in awe by the lack of pure exposure amongst the masses. It isn’t that they aren’t popular, it is that this brand of indie-pop isn’t as big as other variations out there. And here’s hoping California Soil gives them another boost internationally.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Peach Tree Rascals – Camp Nowhere: Review

An elegant array of synchronized melodies and harmonies, the occasional rap-verse, and silky production are some of the best ways to describe the overall construct that envelops the musical collective, Peach Tree Rascals. After blowing up on Tik Tok, from excessive use of their standout single “Mariposa,” they come forth with their debut, full of modern pop songs with some unique twists, Camp Nowhere. Built upon the sonic concepts and beautiful vocal ranges, the heavy focus on pop music allows them to build vague overtures to keep it in that realm, while staying true to their character. Camp Nowhere has consistent momentum, despite losing itself in the sound by feeling slightly repetitive; however there are a number of elegant songs that keep a rhythm, albeit nothing popping out as anything really special outside of the production.

Camp Nowhere is a blend of vibrant, and at times broken down, instrumentations that leave imprints in the mind from the transitions that blend those instrumentations with the harmonies. But that isn’t always the case. Around the middle of the road, it can become slightly forgettable – in a sense of forgetting where on the tracklist you are currently. It is a testament to the similarities in the execution that allows for the songs to have one compact cohesion, which works more frequently than not. To the common listener it will take you on whirlwinds of pop-bliss, with its overall approach to the synchronization of the sounds. Where it doesn’t work is that the mystifying sounds lose you and there is no sense of a definitive distinction in tracks, except for “Oh Honey! (I Love You).” It closes the album with a primarily simple string arrangement that begins to grow in volume and complexity as the ballad begins to build momentum with the percussion notes in the verses. 

There was a higher standard implemented by their opening track “OOZ,” which is where the production truly shines as it breathes off the authenticity behind the pop-rock landscape. That is where the group excels in, and where they show flashes of a lot on their debut, Camp Nowhere.

For the most part, though, the production is something Peach Tree Rascals love to play around with some simple archetypal sonic layers, like in the percussion, but from there they work in fleshing out the different sequences. But that usually camouflages in rhythm-melodies, that the forgettability becomes a slight issue, albeit the songs flowing swimmingly. Some songs get lost in the mix and you start to think they flow as one long construction, though you could blame the constant array of acoustic guitars that feel repetitive at times. However, this makes Camp Nowhere keep its intrigue for some to go back and listen to each track individually and absorb the lush sounds; some of which have these beautiful subtleties, especially in two of the tracks that suffer to find distinction and blend in too much, “JoJo” and “papá.”

“JoJo,” is a trap-pop hybrid that builds up the trap-like percussion pattern and the auto-tune/vocal reverbs on the harmonies teases you a song that ends up being a slower love jam. The other track “papá,” is another slow jam, that has more reliance on the melodies to keep a smooth consistency. It is what stands out the most, unlike “JoJo,” which is viceversa. It doesn’t benefit both tracks that they start as quickly as it ends and the transition out doesn’t have a lasting impact. 

The songwriting has a beautiful cadence that wraps around nuanced trends in the harmonizations and melodies like on the aforementioned “Oh Honey! (I Love You).” The sweet analogies and the simple, yet catchy flows of the rap verses boosts the constructs of the sounds, but they aren’t always the most refreshing aspects of the album. Fortunately the melodies remedy that with their infectious catchiness and emotional vibrance.

Camp Nowhere is a vibrant debut project from Peach Tree Rascals that continues their upward trend in dynamic, albeit the simple orchestrations, pop ballads and shifty melodies that surprise you in various twists and turns. It’s a solid release from the collective who have shown a higher ceiling waiting for them to grow into, especially as they start to experiment a little bit beyond the acoustic strings.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Green to Gold – The Antler: Review

Following a quiet seven years, The Antlers have made a return with their new album Green To Gold. At the time, the problem I had with their previous album, Familiars, was the length of tracks, some of which didn’t have any rewarding payoff at the end. Though it was not much of a hindrance with it’s array of unique dream-pop overtones taking the driver’s seat after a dance with chamber-pop on the remarkable Burst Apart. Green to Gold, however, is a slightly new direction for the duo from Brooklyn. It brings the aspects of the dream pop sounds and blends it with a progression of the alternative rock style of their past to create this array of beautiful cohesion from start to finish.

Opening with a pure and elegantly arranged orchestration of sounds on the song, “Strawflower,” which takes certain influence in the patterns more resonate with the undercoats of jazz music with the alternative rock overtones, like the more rhythmic upward bass with slower patterns and electric guitar with pedal effects. It sets up a tempo for what to expect as it progresses. Balancing sonic styles with the lively atmosphere and looming dark piano keys contrasting, leaving room open for the contextual mood it wants to set forth. What is ultimately delivered is tonal shifts that evoke hope and longing, amongst other themes in various ways, but as cohesive constant. 

The production Green to Gold is dreamy and atmospheric, deriving from chamber and dream-pop like subtexts in the guitar riffs; and the percussion plays into being simple – vibrant undertones to keep a fluid rock-like rhythm, while also allowing room for the varying orchestration of instruments to progress the pop-vocal dynamic. This has been a strength for The Antlers, specifically Peter Silberman’s vocals. It’s raspy and atmospheric melodies, sounding at times defeated, bring forth the themes/content within the songwriting.

Within the context of the songs, The Antlers dive into their themes and stories with an array of rock songs, where the story flows like an elegant night café rendition, but with better production value. There is an ongoing concept about certain thoughts we have that eclipse the change we sometimes never see for ourselves going forward. This is told through the story of man’s existential journey through stagnant memories over the years, but with smooth thematic transitions.

“Solstice,” focuses on a story about a summer fling, where it came and went with some lasting memories, but it doubles as this notion that one can have those dark thoughts or demons within and still find ways to keep you positivity up and your mental status balanced. It’s like a glimmer of hope for individual change and the following song “Stubborn Man,” beautifully contrasts this by being the existential quandary of “should I continue to poop, or get off the pot.”

Like Familiars, some songs start to trend up into longer orchestrations, but it blends in a way where it doesn’t linger on a “thought.” The title track, “Green to Gold,” is seven minutes long, but it never starts to feel like it wrought experience waiting for it to end like on the song “Revisited,” off Familiars. It isn’t like “Green to Gold,” simply because the trumpet-closer feels like an idea without depth, as oppose to “Green to Gold,” having a smooth and definitive end. “Green to Gold” is about transition, using seasonal change to tell the everlong process one can go to, to better oneself mentally. The production is uncanny on the surface, as much about the instrumentations doesn’t seem to be ever changing, but the subtle changes are there in the vocal pitches and the soft-dreamy guitar riffs.

Green to Gold’s instrumentations are reminiscent of the work they’ve done in the past, but with the depth filled in an uncanny way. The broken down instrumentations add a lot to the projection of Silberman’s vocals and the writing has a distinct cadence that you just get lost in the dream as flower pedals sway softly in the wind over spring flowers. It stays on that flow as Green to Gold cycles back from the closer, “Equinox,” a lively and hopeful instrumental that shows us a light at the end of our tunnel.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Pale Waves – Who Am I?: Review

In 2018 UK Gothic/Emo – Synth Rock band Pale Waves made noise on the rock charts with their eclectic instrumentations and overtly catchy – albeit depressive lyrics that could make those in the dumps elevate their serotonin through dancing and singing. Their debut My Mind Makes Noises had an arrangement of lush – noisy rock music and with lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s unique songwriting and melodies elevated their attention in the music world. But their follow up Who Am I? takes a step back from relying on synth melodies and delivers tracks that are tamer in instrumentation, but still carries that relativity to keep fans coming back for more.

Who Am I? has recurring undertones of 90s garage/grunge rock, but when it intertwines with the goth-like lyricism makes it feel like a time capsule of something out of the very late 90s. In ways it is very similar to the kind of emo-rock artists like Avril Lavigne was releasing at the time, the only difference is that Pale Waves usually have more to say in their words and instruments.  

Tracks like “Fall to Pieces,” shows a perfect meshing of the alternating 90s/00s punk infusions with a little modernization from slight echo modulation. They keep up the aesthetic with a very 90s music video. Unlike My Mind Makes Noises, there is no hyper stylization in the aesthetic and though it causes some stepbacks it doesn’t always hinder Who Am I? 

Pale Waves continues a streak of eloquent melodies and hypnotic instrumentations that lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie and the rest of the band delivers. Even if it doesn’t have the audacious dreamy mysticism that made the first album such a synth-powerhouse, it tries to deliver through grittier and unflinching instrumentations. But that doesn’t mean the album is devoid of these moments, as tracks “Easy,” and “She’s My Religion,” are reminiscent of the kind of sound from their debut. 

Unfortunately Who Am I? let’s most of its tracks pass by swiftly where at times you feel like this one huge orchestration, though the first half is full of tracks about relationships and heartbreak. But as the album starts to dive into the second half of tracks, the themes and writing begins to hollow out.  

This is not the case for the standout “You Don’t Own Me,” a monstrous thrasher of a hard rock anthem for a band that rarely delivers notes on that front. Heather Baron-Gracie’s songwriting is at its strongest here with the dynamic as it tackles themes of mental health and the perception behind the notion – “You have a pretty face, you should smile.” 

A lot of the themes Pale Waves work with deal with mental health – as told by a goth, it helps get over the simplistic choruses on the album. Though the instrumentation shift during the choruses allows for Heather’s melodies to take center stage, you tend to forget the simplicity. It was My Mind Makes Noises biggest crutch, as it keeps you remembering the catchiness.

However, the writing of her verses is always strong and Who Am I? for the most is broken down to let Heather flex. But nobody is purely perfect in one area, as evident with the track “Tomorrow” which falters into the kind of hokey “universal empowerment track for the fans” category. . It’s cringe empowerment-like verbiage that doesn’t feel like a lot of thought was put into the execution. It isn’t like the elegant and simple “She’s My Religion,” the excellent anthem about same sex love. But for some they will find enjoyment, and it’s a cool of the band to use the mainframe of it as a way to speak to them through each song. It is slightly disheartening since the instrumentation feels wasted, with it’s pure rock core deriving from Ciara Doran’s drumming and Huge Silvani’s electric riffs. 

For the things that Who Am I? lacks there is a good amount of tracks to keep you zooming anytime you sit through it. Pale Waves take a step back in their sonic progression as the dreamy synth rock seems like the direction where they can challenge themselves past certain limitations as artists. 

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.