Algiers – Shook: Review

Atlanta band Algiers isn’t stranger to their perceptive songwriting that balances the heavy impact of their illustrative, albeit archaic, sound palette. Building their craft off post-punk, hip-hop, and Southern gothic literature, they’ve created these inspiring creations that feel more dystopian soul with bolstered emotions. Franklin James Fisher’s somber vocals build tension for these more enigmatic performances, delivering the impact of its aesthetic direction. Shook takes bubbling emotions, resonant with listeners who feel empowered by these bombastic and uproarious instrumentations that let you feel heard and seen, though its pacing suffers. Helping build out the emotion-driven concept are features varying from the well-known, like Zack De La Rocha and Big Rube, to the lesser-known, like Patrick Shirosh. Bringing all these different components together, we see a distinct change from their more naturally delivering angst. They are keener to the world around them and find interconnectivity through lyrics and sound, but poor pacing and mixing choices can detract some from returning.

There’s no denying Algiers’ lyrical fortitude. They’ve translated rich themes through different narrative structures, where we get treated to a more linear story or writing that’s more poetic. It’s when we get more of the latter their music begins to take shape, and you hear an upright construct that defines their style while also maturing in orchestration. We get that frequently on Shook without treading toward being too metaphorically abstract. They have this understanding of what their music needs to divulge the depth of meaning, allowing those eager to love both sides of the aisle – more so than the casual pop fan where a plain Ava Maxx record will levy that need for potent lyricism. Sometimes they coast through, leaving subjects ambiguous to a fault. Though it’s a common occurrence with pop and rock, especially with the ballads – note people playing music or playing an instrument to a pet – for Algiers, this strength has allowed them to speak about through this writing and clearing out the themes resonant bleed into that shook feeling. 

Algiers explores this vast array of themes that carries perspectives on these divides afflicting humanity. Shook gives us songs that reflect on social class divide (“73%”), socio-racial issues (“As It Resounds”), self-love (“Born”), depression, etc., but what’s beneficial is its interconnectivity; it doesn’t allow it to feel bloated, despite a slower pace. Continuously, Algiers finds remarkable ways to connect their features and elevate their talent, though more so after multiple listens and reading lyrics. Some featured artists are musical performances – we hear Franklin James Fisher maintain fluidity with complementary writing and performances. Others are from spoken word artists; Algiers adds music and vocal harmonizations to continue driving their expressive abstract instrumentations and finding balance with soulful, bluesy singing. It has powerful synergy that makes Shook engaging musical expression, where problems don’t outweigh its complex layering, like their heavy incorporation of more electronic elements brings these new dimensions out of their Hip-Hop influenced drum patterns.

What eventually makes Shook a bit lesser than their last two albums is the inconsistency with the mixing that tweaks the album’s pacing, leaving you without much to deconstruct thematically. Though they help bridge these poignant themes together, they feel more scattered than it appears. Some have instrumentations that blare through, leaving performances in the background, making you miss the impact of the first few go-arounds. It feels like they aimed too hard on bridging concepts and an elevated aesthetic that you’re left more in awe of the production. The enigmatic jazzy, worldly chaos of “Out of Style Tragedy” loses balance between both layered vocal performances; similarly, the blending of Franklin James Fisher’s crooning on “Cleansing Your Guilt Here” isn’t as effective. Fortunately, these aren’t significant detriments, as they maintain a sonic consistency that will keep you at least somewhat intrigued. More so, the clean song-to-song transitions allow Shook to move from a classic 80s Post-Punk DIY to a more Electro-Soul-Rock sound without losing your vibe.

There’s a lot about Shook to love, but it fails to truly become this captivating opus that wears its emotions on its sleeve. It does enough to feel different and more expansive than past drops, especially with the amount of featured artists, but if they spent more time fine-tuning the particular choices made. Fortunately, it’s not this lost diatribe of words trying to establish thematic resonance and instead finds their identity through tremendous musical chaos.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Paramore – This Is Why: Review

With Paramore’s last two albums, they swimmingly attempted new sonic styles, like New Wave, Power-Pop, and Dance-Punk. It was consistent, containing many moments where they took the extra step to deliver something refreshing and new, even if minimal. On their new album, This Is Why, there is a shift in tone, sonically, where it starts to get more in tune with the mood exhumed in the songwriting and vocal performances. The music remains refined despite taking fewer chances with the instrumentals, leaving the hype from the first single comes with some solid payoffs, as we see an ongoing maturity within their lyricism and punk sound. But with these off-shoots that feel less inspired, there are a few stumbles within its song-to-song transitions. However, that maturity trumps its consistency problems, leaving way for a loose listen that will strike a chord with many fans from its lyricism and some sick production choices.

Carlos De La Garza’s work is unlike that of Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who brought a sense of whimsy with the colorful After Laughter – tracks “Hard Times” and “Fake Happy” being examples of such. Garza’s work is more nuanced, letting the subtle notes shine. Garza’s mixing has shown us a smooth flourish on past Paramore albums. However, taking hold of the production on their new album, he conducts some light compositions that retread direct familiarity in pop-punk with typical chords riffs, and drum patterns, like the tracks “Figure 8” or “Running Out of Time.” There is a solid equilibrium in the work Garza brings here. He’s delivering an understanding of Paramore’s aesthetic, highlighting the synergizing grooves, creating dynamic duo moments between Hayley Williams’ vocals and Taylor York’s Guitar or Zach Ferro’s drum playing. 

Beginning with “This is Why” and “The News,” they imbue this captivating dance-punk aesthetic, individually adding a distinct combination, like the funk notes in the former or the fun and pragmatic math rock of the latter. Ending with “Crave” and “Think Skull” adds great contrast, where it’s not one enigmatic production boasted by vocals, instead letting their instrumentations boast the emotional density of Hayley Williams’ vocals. Fortunately, we get the best of both in this tremendous wave of three songs that bring forth the best of what the album offers, including the infectious “C’est Comme Ça.” These sequences are like quick highs that get stumbled by some lesser production, with “C’est Comme Ça” being part of the longest streak, containing the infectious “You First.” They build upon a core aesthetic, creating sensibly magnific and moody performances that make these weaker tracks feel more derivative. 

It’s less potent on these weaker tracks, but it’s there, keeping in-tact a consistency for the band, where there are positives in the forgettable. For one, there is less vibrancy and more of a standard fair that gets rooted in straightforward pop-punk, almost feeling like the bare bones parallel for something like “You First.” “Running Out of Time” and “Liar” aren’t as engaging, almost leaving you hanging dry after seemingly taking you to new heights with “The News.” It’s similar to “Liar.” A pleasant ballad that is simply melancholic with the percussion and strings without character, “Liar” feels less engaging than the crisp pop-punk ballad nostalgia of “Crave” or the tenderness within the guitar strings of “Thick Skull.” It’s profound in its delivery that the simplicity has depth radiating from the balance it gives Willaims’ vocals. In doing so, you hear the depth of some of their songwriting – other times, you don’t, and when you don’t, it can then fall on the production to hook you.

“Running Out of Time” plays with Williams’ poor time management skills; however, unlike the lyrics, the melodies or production aren’t as captivating. “Figure 8” is a not-so-dense break-up song slightly like “Big Man, Little Dignity,” which isn’t as profound but catchy – there are some solid moments in the vocal performances. They hide in the lyrical shadows of tracks like “The News” and “Thick Skull;” the former, like “Running Out of Time,” reflects matured angst, letting their relevancy keep up with old fans and new. There is balance between vocals and instrumentations that boasts these emotional layers within the lyrics, giving some nuanced performances more potency, like“C’est Comme Ça.” Paramore brings sheer power with that emotional brevity, leaving space for its instrumentations to breathe fluidly. And It’s within that equilibrium that we’ve seen Paramore shine. Carlos De La Garza’s production work solidly connects the dots, so even the forgetful tracks have an identity within their sound.

Paramore’s new album, This Is Why, isn’t moving the needle for them, but it doesn’t set them back as they continue to deliver great work. Their shift from Power-Pop and New Wave to more Dance-Punk/Post-Punk/Pop-Punk is seamless, transitioning smoother than expected between tracks. Carlos De La Garza finds a clean balance between the vocals and production, allowing them to have emotional density, even when the writing can get subpar. It doesn’t lament too long on these typical sonic motions. However, it doesn’t give me that eager tenacity to return so swiftly, unlike Paramore’s last album, After Laughter.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg: Review

After “Chaise Longue” got released in 2021, it became a viral hit. However, because it is a viral hit doesn’t mean the quality is good, as evident with what they bring to the table on their self-titled debut. “Chaise Longue” comes from various angles; lyrically, it’s fun and innocent with verses containing sexual innuendos that aren’t explicitly dirty; adjacently, the production evokes consistent tones that feel taken from the pages from more basic punk rock bands, like Dirty NIL, who don’t thread the needle with that kind of instrumentation. Fortunately, it is a slight tumble as you cruise through the tracklist that improves on the simplicities of “Chaise Longue,” giving us a variety of melodies and instrumentations that define Wet Leg as a band. Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.

When it comes to debuts, sometimes you have to match the levels of your first hit; if not, find ways to reinvent the wheel by evoking your artistic voice. For Wet Leg, they restructure and create parallels between vocals and production, predominantly focusing on melodies to reel us into great songwriting. Sometimes we’ll get a song about wet dreams or getting high and splurging–while acting fool–at a supermarket. It’s an effervescent consistency that gives us a sense of glee hearing how they can create potent lyricism while staying true to themselves instead of pushing for a more direct approach. As Rhian Teasdale sings on “Too Late Now:” “Now everything is going wrong/I think I changed my mind again/I’m not sure if this is a song/I don’t even know what I’m saying,” it continues to punctuate the kind of aesthetic driving the songwriting. It’s like being hit with an array of bright lights, and your only directive is to be yourself.

At its core, though, Wet Leg is creating a bridge between us and their music as the topics are relative aspects of our youths. For the most part, it works, and it’s easy to hear where it doesn’t. A definitive difference that shows its discernible quality is their youthful angsty songwriting which feels maligned when likened to more melodically driven songs. One of these differences comes from tonal shifts in the production; they juxtapose each other poorly, which causes a slight stoppage in the consistency. “Chaise Longue” is one of two that initially caused me to tune out a few seconds after playing; the other is “Oh No,” an explosive rock track that does little to make you feel that angsty annoyance of being home alone, though the lyrics don’t help either. It’s unlike “Ur Mom” or “Too Late Now,” which shows and uses a progression of sound or melodies as it goes on to round it out. They also play it more tongue-in-cheek with a lot of emotional depth where you can see yourself in their shoes.

Beneath the hiccups are strings of melodically driven pop-rock that entices a consistent return, considering they have great consistency. It’s ever so rare that these kinds of tracks have cross-appeal, where their authenticity stays keyed in making these infectious melodies without having to cut corners lyrically. They find a happy medium, where they make improper structures–sometimes venting, sometimes having fun–sound as refreshing as ever. I mean, their biggest song has them singing, jokingly, about the d or making a Mean Girls reference as Rhian Teasdale then sings about a chaise longue. She comes at most of these songs with cadence, and energy, painting luscious pictures through words. Though, none of it is possible without the vibrant range of riffs from Hester Chambers: Wet Leg’s lead guitarist. Beyond being the crux of the production, its guitar-heavy approach allows them to wane between emotional layers, like on “Ur Mom,” which plays over the last minute. It can come vibrantly like on “Piece of Shit” or “Convincing” or even full of character, like on “Angelica.”

Ultimately, Wet Leg reminds us that MGK is naive; guitar rock never left, and one of many bands reminding us of that. As far as debuts, it’s a thrill ride that offers some surprises and oh-so luscious melodies that I can’t help but have tracks like “Too Late Now” on heavy repeat.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The Magnetic Black Country, New Road Brings Their All on For the First Time: Review

Black Country, New Road has been an interesting band in the punk scene, since they don’t visually represent the aesthetic. But the music they make is as archaic as some of the bands of yester. It has these intricacies that lead you into a world of complete astoundment. Mostly because the blending of these two sounds are usually rare. However, this was previously seen on the Viagra Boys album, Welfare Jazz, released earlier in January and they made it work as well as pretty well. Though Black Country, New Road is not them and they bring different life to the blending of post-punk and jazz on their debut album For the First Time allowing for it to triumphantly claim its way as one of the best albums of 2021… so far.

For the First Time details a relationship through memories that, at times, are obscure from the conventional. They lay the groundwork early as the opening track “Instrumental,” is a piece from the 7-person ensemble. Black Country, New Road brings a chaotic element to the horn work one minute in, playing off with veracity.

Similarly, this is evident in parts of “Opus,” where they let it rely on orchestrating symmetry in both sound and story telling to great effect. But it doesn’t falter like the slightly middling “Science Fair,” where it takes a slight chaotic turn and makes it a deterrent. The isolated grunge-like guitars in the opening breaks from the stigmatic keys and percussion. It adds to something that didn’t really need it. Like when a directors cut lengthens a shot for “artistic purposes.” After that initial hump, the song carries enough equilibrium to merit listening to the rest of it though.

Fortunately the songwriting throughout the album is one of the best things about For the First Time. The unique framework behind the progression of the story allows the telling of the memories to play off the chaotic nature of “Instrumental.” But at the same time it allows itself to delve deeper into the post-punk genre with melodic notes and beautifully complex writing from Isaac Wood.

It’s on the rest of the album where the cadence is heard from the violins and keys, as Saxophonist Lewis Evans relies on the subtleties. You can hear that eloquence on tracks “Opus” and “Athens, Greece.”

Georgia Ellery’s violin work on “Track X,” comes to mind. The central focus is this rustic and aggressively somber notes that speaks a story all its own, adding to the words from Isaac Wood. It’s the shortest of the bunch and completely memorable, unlike “Sunglasses,” where the first minute and a half feels like an unwarranted sound check. But the rest of the 7 or so minutes fuses great rustic Sax notes and guitar strings and melancholic moods for a Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde kind of transition.

If you need more evidence, they drop the line “Leave Kanye out of this,” as to show indication that sunglasses are a metaphor for a defense mechanism we use on multiple occasions. In a way resonate of a time when Kanye was in a dark place after his mothers death and he used music/fashion to hide the demons. Coincidentally he made shutter shades a thing again. It stands out due to the historical/mental health related themes within the whole song.

It’s astounding how masterfully produced and mixed For the First Time is for a debut album. It brings Black Country, New Road center stage as one of the few rock bands to keep an eye on for the future as their ceiling is still higher. The way they are blending the two genres work in more ways than none as opposed to feeling completely mundane and inconsistent, which is to its benefit as tracks usually eclipse 5 minutes. You should definitely give it a chance, especially if you are instrumentally curious.

Rating: 8 out of 10.