Nikki Lane – Denim & Diamonds: Review

As it is with many, when the subject of Country music gets brought up, we can immediately become dismissive since its gen-pop style has us express slight disdain from the more honky-tonk country akin to early Kenny Chesney. But, when you remind yourself that ignorance isn’t bliss, it extends to music as a whole. Country’s extensive history, and nature, have given us fantastic stories with whimsical subtexts, stylistic ingenuity bridging blues and roots music, and a plethora of incredible artists not named Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers, or gen-pop hoe-down tonk. Nikki Lane is another one you can add to that list, especially now, with the dynamic Denim & Diamonds. Her writing has had a resounding presence, getting elevated by keying into characteristics of the Roots Rock and Outlaw Country genres. In her own way, Lane is an outlaw in Country, as she stays true to herself and makes her music that kind you can actually rock out to feverishly without overbearing notes.

See, there is something about Country music that gives me some momentary bliss from the overly glitzy and produced instrumentals that start to tire you out because you can’t always be in synthesized trance. The genre has its own within its mass ecosphere, but the nuanced, melodic styles of the past have kept my inner, old soul afloat. Some great, some mediocre, and some bad, digging further into this world has given my ears new dimensions. Nikki Lane is that but with rugged rockadelic sounds that will have your eyes reflecting those diamonds in the rough. With Denim & Diamonds, we get music with clever songwriting that keeps you on your toes, buoyed by wildly creative and fun harmonies and melodies that some weaker instrumentations become ingrained into the final product. But there are a few times where it might be more difficult as the well-intentioned fail to capitalize on better deliveries. “Try Harder” fails to have as significant an impact as the opening “First High.” “Try Harder” is monotonous instrumentally like “Faded,” lacking a spark until the end when we get a wicked guitar semi-solo; fortunately, the album sparks brightly.

“First High” makes a distinguished impact, like the many tracks on Denim & Diamonds. Nikki Lane begins with a reflection on her roots, particularly the first time she fell in love with rock-n-roll and played her first note; however, we’ve heard her grow. Her first album was more rock, and the follow-ups brought in more country, and this one finds perfect synergy between the two. So when “First High” shifts from the melancholic strings (resonant with blues) into this more audaciously deep rock layers, which incorporates pedals, transfixing you into her musical world. Produced by Josh Homme, founder of Queens of the Stone Age, the two create an elegant hybrid that tiptoes around centralized genres expressing her unique identity. We hear it contextually within the production, further building the instrumentations with nuance, especially within the string sections; some of its rhythmic patterns, subtle or unsubtle riffs, or solos beneath a rich orchestration. 

“Good Enough” evokes an old Country soul, incorporating the fiddle as a contrast to its plucky guitar, all underneath the atmospheric coating that oozes the feeling one can describe as home is where the heart is,” vaguely. It’s grounded in reality as it never gets the urge to overdevelop, especially in the strings arrangements. Nikki Lane is tender, focusing on lessons learned through a relationship, which elevated her mental help finding solace in understanding she’s good enough.  “Black Widow” contrasts the style of “Good Enough,” as we hear Lane expressing her true badass self in a thrift store leather jacket and jeans over rustic and anthem-like instrumentations driving through the lyrical connotation given to us in “First High.” It’s a third-person extension of “Born Tough,” a potent country rock anthem that delivers with oomph and a sense of empowerment that gets boasted by its colorful instrumentations. We hear both sides of her–the personable like “Pass It Down” and the more impactfully driven bravado of the others mentioned.

Denim & Diamonds is an amalgamation of Nikki Lane’s musical personality. She gives us temperate Americana and Blues/Roots music that reflects her more personal (diamond) side; the denim is that rough-trade, pick-up-your-bootstraps Country, finding the perfect synergy, despite the ups and downs. Sometimes she finds ways to blend the two into a beautiful blend that tames the senses, especially as you get the chance to feel and hear remarkable storytelling through different contextual moods. You get this naturalistic feeling in most instrumentations–more importantly, in her melodies and songwriting as she finds unique avenues to express the platitude of layers within. Lane inflects sheer individualist bravado, letting herself feel one with the elevated country undertones as it blends with other styles and, at times, becomes the central force driving you home.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Starcrawler – She Said: Review

Starcrawler have a raucous appeal where they sing to varying topics in fascinating ways, like making a love-rock anthem about giving and getting head or sending a message to a patriarchy enforcing this dangly appeal without reinforcing your distinct personality. That track, “Toy Teenager,” criticizes the plastic [Mean Girls] society in High Schools, focusing on visual appearance instead of understanding how the real world works. Mostly lyrically profound, Starcrawler has been able to get past few rock conventions, continuing to deliver headbanging music that will have you lifted with that rebellious spirit. Though it’s no surprise seeing their growth from the hard rock-focused Starcrawler to their third album, She Said, an album that would also mesh in the 80s with pivoting, apparent genre influences in the productions like new wave and post-punk. It builds from the known, shifting between tempos and instrumental effects to establish an almost radiant listen that sometimes falters due to slight ineffective production and limited scope with its approach to its themes.

Opening with hard-hitting bravado, Arrow de Wilde, frontwoman of Starcrawler, starts with a destructive and empowering anthem about leaving your bum of significant other and mowing them over, leaving them, like the song’s title, roadkill–metaphorically. It sets the overall sonic theme creating unique contrasts with its central themes–a reflection on relationships with others and oneself, giving us darkness and hope–it starts shifting based on the quality of the production. Between steel pedals and guitarists, they elevate the less driven drums coasting in inoffensive rhythms. Yet, they kept it interesting by incorporating radical instrumental changes, whether as a closer or in song transitions that shift the apropos mundaneness of “Stranded” in contrast to the new wave-influenced “Broken Angels.” Despite both having great songwriting, the former falter because there isn’t anything interesting done in the production. 

It isn’t so often the genre influences shine through a few layers of sounds. At times, Starcrawler brings forth characteristics we’ve seen evolve through the years–closing on guitar-centric instrumental, no vocals, that plays with ferocious electricity, for one. Additionally, they levy their post-punk/hard rock aurora to set a foundation and grow–with their sardonic and saddening lyricism shedding various emotional perspectives–not all have that oomph to keep me interested. Arrow De Wilde is angry, longing, and contemplative about the effects of change. These emotions strengthen certain songs and downplay others like “Runaway.” 

Depending on its sonic tone, Arrow De Wilde flows with enough consistency that you’re headbanging along. It’s almost as if she didn’t need to take that extra step to stop it from diverting from being stylistically nuanced with 80s rock, even if the songs aren’t consistently hitting. We get Arrow performing fiercely or with broken barriers and softening near-ballad-esque melodies, and it works well. But there is something to them that keeps these ears enthralled, and that’s their synergy. It gets heard like the melodic coating of “Midnight” or the continued new wave stylings of “Jetblack.” It’s a remarkable contrast to the drab sounds of “Thursday.”

There are elements on She Said that work great, but it’s thematically mundane, leaning too much into motifs instead of exploring more like past albums. It’s more prevalent with tracks focusing on aspects of longing; the interest levels wane, like with “Thursday,” which doesn’t do much to extend beyond a standard rock instrumental. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay as consistent as their last album, Devour You, which consistently transitions between topics. We aren’t getting a more jovial-like song like “I Love LA” or artful and kinetic like “Chicken Woman.” However, it’s fun to hear this unique direction, especially as they give us songs that work and keep us headbanging for a while longer.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Pale Waves – Unwanted: Review

Turning back the clock with Unwanted, Pale Waves reinvigorates the sounds that hooked us with My Mind Makes Noises, which felt slightly faint on Where Am I? Instead of reeling towards general rock complexions, Pale Waves ignites their emotions and lets them ride like waves as they shift between chords and effects. The strings are transparent and potent, allowing the drums and synths to be the sandpaper smoothing out the rough edges. It’s gripping at various moments–other times, we’re vain to the sounds that aren’t as triggering and leave us humdrum with esoteric genericism in the pop-punk aesthetic blanketed over the album, and the slight side-turns into acoustics. Though they teeter in this direction, it centers on taste, and it didn’t hit the proper tastebuds; the few missteps can get glossed over by the sheer consistency heard compared to their last album. And that isn’t to say I haven’t had this on repeat–cause I have exponentially, further showing how easy it is to get lost within that realm of sounds.

The realized consistency in Unwanted is as potent as ever, keeping you enshrined in this confined temple of relativity where Heather Baron-Gracie’s captivating melodies and the band’s overall riotous instrument playing keep you glued as it comes from multiple angles. It’s immediate with “Lies” and its tremendous drop, creating an identity toward the emotive tenacity these tracks will deliver. There is angst, and their fiery limits aren’t confined, giving Baron-Gracie the range to evoke emotions fluidly. She doesn’t get invariably angered by situations, sometimes getting lost within existential thoughts that get reflective based on personal social experiences. But it’s when Baron-Gracie truly immerses herself with these feelings, which are reflective amongst the best tracks on the album. “Lies,” “Jealousy,” and “Alone” are some that come with a fierce punch, propelling the straps to grip you into your seat and rocking to these sentiments we are or aren’t focusing on, especially with the latter two. “Jealousy” ferociously captures that essence of jealousy Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” exhumed, just not as vanilla. The melodic strings and gripping drum patterns in the chorus bring out your inner emotional mosher, one where the body speaks on the production’s bravado. 

Unlike “Jealousy,” “Alone” reinforces a disdain for anyone who embodies an overly touchy persona and eagerness beneath that they can’t get beyond simply understanding someone’s preference to be alone. Heather Baron-Gracie exhumes these sentiments with personal integrity that you forget the universal appeal it brings; it’s akin to empowering anthems about being alone and striving, except it’s being alone, so she doesn’t have to deal with varying “repercussions.” Like she said in an interview with Apple Music: 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as brutal as I am on this track. It’s about when you say no to someone and they just don’t leave you alone. So many times—in clubs, in bars, in goddamn Tesco—where someone comes up to you and they’re like, ‘Can I buy you a drink? Can I get your number?’ And you say, ‘Sorry, I’m not interested.’ And they still get all handsy and physical with you. Do you not get the message? Don’t touch me.”

– Heather Baron-Gracie

: there is an essence of being without becoming overly preachy, especially in the context of rejection songs. There is a balance that never downplays the themes, though not all tracks have gripping production, sometimes feeling like composites of other styles without adding anything distinguishingly new to set itself apart besides any catchiness within the chorus or melodies. 

Fortunately, we’re steering towards a triumphant set of tracks to close the album, especially as they imbue these exhilarating sounds that shift the parameters by allowing some of the simplicity to feed into the depth of the performances or the intricate production that steers you away from current pop-punk tones. “You’re So Vain” and “Reasons To Live” begin to ignite and exhume fumes of creative integrity. It’s pertinent to one’s enjoyment of the album as they slowly shift toward the sounds of Where Am I? except with stronger compositions that keep your ears glued. It caught me by surprise, with the final track finding itself on heavy rotation. Baron-Gracie has noted how negatively emotional Unwanted is and transcends the emotions loosely, like on “Clean,” which gives us some crisp, fun positivity where her sense of love gets explored physically and vocally. You hear and feel it when she sang: “I bang my hеad against the wall/Until I hear your voice/Yеah, I’ve come undone/I’m hooked and I’m withdrawn/And I don’t really care if it’s my fault,” as this composite of metaphorically intense love, and it’s delivered beautifully.

Amongst the wind of radiant consistency, some tracks minimally stunt progression or feel like a sonic retread of others that have done it better, which is the case with the more somber, acoustic-driven “The Hard Way” and “Numb.” They don’t sound like something special at first, as you get predominant lead-ins toward these crazy closers of rock bliss, but those lead-ins aren’t all effective and leave you feeling mum about the last 70 or so seconds of the tracks. “Only Problem” is not like them; it is one of these composites that feels like a poorly constructed throw away that doesn’t retread themes, instead sounding poor in comparison with what follows. These tracks have merit contextually lyrically, but the layering between vocals and production isn’t equally as strong, and that’s what keeps you engaged.

Unwanted is fantastic, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. It delivers what fans want and love and more, and from speaking to a few–post thought collection, which has been potent in our conversations. It keeps their formula intact as we shift in emotional range, becoming reflexive between vocals and instrumentations–we’re in a daze as we align with riotous melodies that make us feel heard during our inner personal jam session. And if you bypass the ineffective tracks, there is more to obtain from the sheer transitions within the pitch, style, and more, which will leave you with a rewarding listening experience.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Beach Bunny – Emotional Creatures: Review

Throughout the band’s growth, Beach Bunny has solidified an identity that delivers electric, fun, and raw music with powerful gravitational pulls; you can’t help but find some songs or albums that hit. That’s how it was with me, and it continues to be with their new album, Emotional Creature. Like past albums, they exhume a youthful (instrumentally) yet mature (songwriting) presence in the Rock scene, building these unique instrumentations with fluidity, continuously immersing into Rock at an authentic level. However, that loses importance with the consistency of the instrumentalists Jon Alvarado, Matt Henkels, Anthony Vaccaro, and frontwoman Lili Trifilio as they steer the ups and downs. Emotional Creatures reflects a new direction that mostly strides because of the aforesaid general positives and evolves naturally with its “Sci-Fi” angle–it echoes as synthesizers are now a prominent instrument. The album gives us an artistic improvement with a flurry of wicked great music in a compact product with great songwriting and melodies, despite a few hiccups.

With Beach Bunny’s recent inclusion of synthesizers, the shift isn’t as robotic; it offers a guide for effects, pedals, etc., instead. It adds nuance to the instrumentations as they bounce between pop and punk rock, weaving different tempos and transitions, which gives Emotional Creatures some smoothness. Though I can’t say similarly about all the songs, Lili Trifilio takes us through these perspectives that root into the core of her emotional journies with the people around her. Boasted by the intricate use of the effects and synths, the expressive force in Lili’s voice delivers that oomph, attracting you toward it. We hear that throughout, with a few occasions of insane synergy that tugs you closer and closer, like “Gone” or “Karaoke.” It’s an effervescent feeling throughout the first half, never becoming unwavering as we continuously transition from “Entropy” to “Weeds.”

Those tracks get supplemented by potent songwriting, which buoys a relationship-centric core that takes varying avenues to tell a story. “Fire Escape” beautifully uses these detailed actions to paint a scene in the context of the track; in this case, Lili Trifilio sings about her and her lover’s journey through New York. It’s a consistency that stands out more frequently than not, especially in the first half. We hear these varying trajectories that are distinct and colorful lyrically. Similarly, “Eventually” sees Lili singing about facing your problems as running from them never makes them disappear. The vocal melodies bring whimsical energy that radiates slight pop-punk nostalgia in its rawest form.

That whimsical energy holds their spaceship afloat, containing engaging reminders about the subtle complexities of both sides. Unfortunately, it can get shortsighted with lingering or repetitive notes, but we get a construct that elevates the stickiness which grips us firmly. Though the repetition can mostly feel subtle, it doesn’t weigh down the quality since Lili Trifilio delivers these varying vocal textures. The final track, “Love Song,” sounds more standard, giving this feeling that it’s just a poorer reflection of “Entropy.” Many catch our ears swiftly, keeping fans of rock music, like myself, looping music that comes with slight nuances to 00s pop-punk/punk-rock, like “Fire Escape.” It stays personable while remarking notions that generalize friction or connectivity in its songwriting, allowing the instrumentations to energize and deliver rawness, specifically with guitar and bass. And it’s a reflection of the consistency heard in the first half of the album.

With tracks like “Weeds” or “Deadweight,” there is a looseness toward sonic depth, but they get enveloped in its writing. Beyond taking their own unique approach to the themes, there is a cleverness to their writing. “Weeds” brings back that nostalgia in the form of age, as Lili Trifilio incorporates a Polly Pocket in a beautifully unique way, singing in the second verse: “Tired of giving, giving, living like a lady in distress/But I don’t need someone to save me/Not your Polly Pocket in your lover’s locket/You can’t hold me down, I’m a bursting bottle rocket.” After “Weeds,” we get a bit disjointed musically; Beach Bunny creates these detailed instrumentations rooted in synths and losing the essence of emotion. You’ll predominantly hear it with “Scream;” the synths guide the vocal performance over some mundane drum patterns–similarly, the instrumental track “Gravity” doesn’t try anything new with synthesizers. It left me feeling empty–there was an opportunity, and they missed it. 

Emotional Creatures continues to showcase Beach Bunny’s talent while expressing new directions. We get some wonderfully mixed rawness/openness from the band as instrumentalists, specifically Lili Trifilio’s dreamy, intimate, and detailed writing and vocals. You get taken to the center of their persona and more as they acquiesce sounds into a clean front-to-back progression, but there are hiccups along the way. As a fan of the band, they deliver tracks I’ll return to frequently, and I hope you do too.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Angel Olsen – Big Time: Review

After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.

Big Time is a powerful emotional experience. Since the last time Angel Olsen spoke to us, she has gone through personal change–from coming out to the loss of her mother–Olsen brings a heavy platter of thoughts that expands on her story. In doing so, Olsen subdues the glitz of overly produced country music, and she takes an extraordinary approach that elevates the emotional gravitas. It grips you from the first song, “All The Good Times;” the drums reel you in with melancholic bravado from Olsen, producing a feel for the direction of Big Time. The album is reminiscent of a traditional style from the 50s/60s/70s era, taking unique paths to actualize them to life. The creativity within the construction of the songs brings elements that enforce its stagey presence. The engineering is crisp, creating a foundation in a smooth crescendo where each section becomes audibly potent in creation, from the brass and horn sections to the percussion and strings.

Adjacently, Angel Olsen beautifully delivers fantastical and starry country ballads creating a subtle balance based on context. One moment she’s reflecting on moments before the loss of a loved one in “This Is How It Works,” another she’s embracing the joy of love from her significant other in “All the Flowers.” She ranges in tone, creating a more somber ballad with the latter and letting the vocals carry the slightly lowly production, unlike the former, where its strength comes on both ends vibrantly. Angel Olsen notes her sensibilities effervescently, aiming at encapsulating conflicting emotions with ease. It’s an album that feels true to itself, never toeing a line of obscurity. She delivers potent and poignant material, increasing the length of our emotional response from listening to the album, and it wouldn’t be right of me if I didn’t say Big Time brings tears, whether metaphorical or literal.

The eponymous track, “Big Time,” offers a flurry of distinguishingly haunting but starry string orchestration, bringing this sense of accepting identity. It’s a sonic consistency that is eloquently heard through some of the softer songs, like “Dream Thing” and “Go Home.” Angel Olsen brings over arching dualities that offer connectivity between artist and listener as her words hit closer to the heart. Olsen sings about identity, love, mistakes, and loneliness, bringing that sense of connectivity through memories and allowing time to act as a concept that prolongs our actions and inactions. She has a way to get your hips swaying slowly, bringing the spirit of an old country-blues bar local performance while reflecting these thematic complexities effectively. It’s something she reflects eloquently through her accompanying short film; it doesn’t lose focus, weaving a story about identity and the fear of taking major leaps reflective of it. It tells the story of an LGBTQI+ couple, one of whom hasn’t come out to their parents, especially when they are ill–eventually, they pass, creating friction from emotions and using time as a means to escape and reflect.

That’s where Angel Olsen hits her stride. She grabs her strengths and works to endure them longer when evolving. It isn’t Olsen’s first foray into country, weaving elements of Alt-Country/Folk into the aesthetic of 2012’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. However, the difference lies in how components of the genre get used within the production. Its percussion-string heavy style doesn’t speak hoedown like “High & Wind” off Burn Your Fire For No Witness; it’s instead centered on traditionalism, creating room for the vocals to blossom and radiate with ethereal melodies. It’s reminiscent of the early tempos of Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, and others of that era–think “Long, Long Time” by Ronstadt or “Crazy” by Cline. But Angel Olsen can establish her identity depending on the song’s context as they play to the depth of her heart. It’s resonant with the eponymous short film, which brings to light the narrative arc. It captures the essence of the style, elevating it to new heights, delivering Olsen’s best album to date.

Big Time is both transformative and emotionally gripping. It is rare for me to love a country album in its entirety, and this is one of those rare occasions. From its start to end, I was grasping tears while listening to Angel Olsen deliver whimsical melodies. Olsen continuously breaks down walls of vulnerability, specifically musically, but now it’s more potent. Similar to the many, I’m here for it. There are no skips in this emotional journey we take with Angel Olsen, and I hope you take that journey too.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Arcade Fire – We: Review

With pertinent themes with clever and fantastical instrumentals, Arcade Fire continues to coast with dreary and rhythmic melodies and harmonies over uninteresting songwriting that you almost forget Win Butler is singing, but not Régine Chassagne. It’s constructed with linear focus instrumentally, but when it comes to the way subjects are delivered, your level of attention wanes. It’s disappointing; Arcade Fire has driven on more darkened paths, but their lively shift on Everything Now was a misstep; however, finding that happy medium on We hasn’t offered much of a rewarding presence. There are bursts of tangible tracks that keep your interest afloat but isn’t as rewarding as hearing The Suburbs for the first time. But they stumble on hurdles that divert from the aesthetic that works (Dance-Pop), creating a bridge between some complexions of folk and faltering in the construction.

Arcade fire runs with ideas/themes that speak on aspects of society like our attachment to technology, the “American Dream,” and the effect of the socio-political climate through unique POVs. But it’s muddled with obscurities in the verses that sometimes it feels like they are just singing words without context. It’s evident in the transition in the two-part intro, “The Age of Anxiety,” that establishes how open they will continue to be. On the second one, Win Butler sings: 

“Heaven is so cold

I don’t wanna go

Father in heaven’s sleeping

Somebody delete me

Hardy har-har

Chinese throwing star

Lamborghini Countach

Maserati sports car.”

It establishes this death anxiety, but fears he is too warped into a rabbit hole created by life but feels to build on it emotionally through slightly dronish melodies. It’s inconsistent. They juxtapose intended moods on the livelier dance-pop tracks, and that’s the only contrast between the 1s and 2s. So, when they go into more ballad-centric melodies, it loses that spark, for the most part. There is a smooth transition between “The Lightnings” as Win Butler matches the emotional gravitas, but it isn’t the same with both parts of “End of An Empire” and the first half of the second “Age of Anxiety.” It gets partially attributed to the songwriting, which isn’t as consistently linear like the first of the latter or “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid).” 

They’ve never devoided themselves from exploring beyond a reflection, and going through the black mirror, which adds a dual perspective between the themes and the purported “I.” They’ve done it eloquently in past work, like “Modern Man” on The Suburbs, and parallel, without the “I,” on the eponymous track on Neon Bible. They find ways to blend the two, and it’s the least consistent, especially as it doesn’t leave much of an impact. That impact comes when they liven up the instrumentations, offering a variety of unique constructs to stream with the melodies and sometimes good linear storytelling. It’s the one consistent throughout We. Through this teeter-totter of writing between both lead vocalists, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, wherein Régine’s vocal performances shine with incredible consistency and sometimes act like a proper duet-foil for Win. It is heard in abundance throughout.

Régine Chassagne, as a performer, is the standout for the band, as she commands some of the best parts, outweighing Win Butler’s consistency in the first half. When the production switches from a low tempo to something more energetic, like in “Age of Anxiety II” and for a minute in “End of Empire IV (Sagittarius A).” Though it isn’t to say Win is all lows, at times coming with a solid stream of performances that stays with you, like the chorus and third verse of “Age of Anxiety I” and in the last 4 of 5 tracks. Within this roller coaster ride, you get their best near the end, especially the drive between “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” and “Unconditional II (Race and Religion).” Régine Chassagne shines vibrantly on the latter with infectious melodies and solid songwriting. It gets boasted by the cadence in Peter Gabriel’s backing vocals, which allows you to ride a slight high before the eponymous track, where that high keeps you rolling through a beautiful acoustic ballad.

e has a tiring and slightly modest first half before spearheading into these vibrant melodies and sounds that encapsulate their style blended with dance-pop complexions. It left me disappointed as it seemed they could only go up from their last album, though it slightly did; it wasn’t anything profound. Unfortunately, that stays in the second half, as Arcade Fire leaves you on a high note, albeit not as memorable.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Weezer – SZNS: Spring: Review

Weezer’s constant output has never ceased to amaze me, sometimes it lands, and other times they become mostly forgettable duds. They have had moments where, for every three or so mediocre to okay albums, there is one great one, but fans rejoice for new music–I know I do– there are always a few solid songs that stay with you. For the past two decades, they have seemed to pull all their effort in the first half of the decades than the second–this trend makes it easier for others to know when to come back. 2021 has been a great heel turn for them as they’ve explored new avenues musically, and continue to do so on their new EP, SZNS: Spring.

You may ask, is SZNS: Spring fantastic? It’s not even close, especially when comparing to previous Weezer albums; however, to say it isn’t another fun experience after Van Weezer wouldn’t be doing it justice. SZNS: Spring is like any run-of-the-mill power-pop/rock project from Weezer that offers melancholic fun with the instrumentations and the songwriting, which oozes middle-age dad levels of fun and relaxation. Ok Human had us singing about audible and reading Grapes of Wrath or a fun time at the Aero movie theater, and that is prominent on SZNS: Spring as Rivers Cuomo weaves a tale of “The two angels descend from heaven down to Earth because they’re tired of being so prim and proper up in heaven,” as per his press release.

SZNS: Spring is a flow of power-pop consistency before steering toward more standard rock complexions. Weezer has an idea of where they are spearheading the story, but the production sometimes is too much or Rivers Cuomo misses the mark melodically. When it comes to Weezer projects of this caliber–which I’ve mentioned prior–it starts to downward crescendo into a mundane burger of basic melodies. “The Sound Of Drums” is the first that didn’t hit as well as the others. Rivers brings melodies we’ve heard done similarly and excellently on past albums, but’s simplicity doesn’t hit as smoothly since the production–sometimes–muddles Rivers singing and leads you to the next two songs, one of which shines like three of the first four songs. 

Starting with “Opening Night,” you hear that sense of dad-Weezer taking form as Rivers sings about Shakespeare and how reading his work makes him happy. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the fun use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerto number 1 in E major, opus 8, RV 269, “Spring (La Primavera)”, I: Allegro (in E major), the track would lose its mysticism since we’ve had funner and better songs about loving books from Weezer–If you take away the sample, then you’re left with another track like “The Sound Of Drums.” It barely keeps the interest leveled high for me to return. There are the songs “Angels On Vacation,” “A Little Bit Of Love,” “The Garden of Eden,” which carry nuances to melodies that make them lovable and fun, especially as they remind you of the fun times listening to OK Human and the array of fun piano melodies and synths.

SZNS: Spring is fun, but for an EP, it wears off quickly, with a more concentrated effort given to the earlier songs than the latter. However, this is Weezer and we get entertaining songs for the moment but forgettable in the long run. It’ll stay in my Weezer playlist full of fun songs, but don’t expect me to return swiftly with desire.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Avril Lavigne – Love Sux: Review

We’ve all had phases in our adolescence where the music we grew to love mirrors the angst inside, and in the early to mid-2000s, pop-punk was that. Avril Lavigne is one of many artists to have made a name within the genre – until 2007 when the infamously juvenile “Girlfriend” made splashes, only for Avril to double-down with “Hello Kitty,” years later; however, I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.

Love Sux doesn’t disassociate sonic complexions as tracks transition, like 2019’s Head Above Water. The album saw Avril Lavigne transition from the soulful and mediocre “Tell Me It’s Over” to a weird Power-Pop/Hip-Hop hybrid with Nicki Minaj on “Dumb Blonde.” It was only ever-so-often that her inner punk seeped out – here, she is hitting strides by delivering upon her strengths. But Avril is a rockstar, and she makes it known with her emotionally rugged vocal performances and righteous production. It’s on bombastic and hypnotic tracks like “Cannonball” and “F.U,” and driven love tracks like “Kiss Me Like The World Is Ending.” “Cannonball” ignites the fire for Avril’s return to Pop-Punk. It parallels her debut’s, Let Go, opening track “Losing Grip.” Both tracks mirror similar sentiments of being better off without an ex, except “Cannonball” does not lament, and instead, she is ready to turn it on, except for a few tracks. 

Avril Lavigne keeps the energy flowing with veracity, especially when we hear her blending tempos and speed. Unfortunately, these balanced transitions don’t mirror with two of her duets: “Bois Lie” featuring Machine Gun Kelly and “Love It When You Hate Me” with Blackbear. MGK’s turn to pop-punk has turned out basic melodies and instrumentations, which reflects in both effort and chemistry with Avril; it can be said about Blackbear, as well. There is little effort, which is sometimes the case with Avril, like with “Bois Lie,” which perpetuates an argument in a relationship. There is little that stands out, and most times, it’s waning on pop and relevancy, considering it is done better with Mark Hoppus on “All I Wanted.” “Bois Lie” has minimal depth, and the emotional delivery is lackluster; fortunately, these tracks could get pushed aside, and you’ll receive an incredible pop-punk album.

When you displace those two duets, a lot of what Love Sux gives us is a rocking head-banging time – whether she is destroying property on “Bite Me” or “Love Sux” or creating parallel pop-punk ballads (in tempo). Like most pop/rock ballads, we hear elevated piano riffs or slow tempo string arrangements; however, Avril Lavigne keeps you on that steady path before triggering the withheld angst. “Dare To Love Me” takes the former approach while retaining a rock aesthetic to keep the momentum flowing. Avril told us on “Cannonball” that the hunger is there, and without giving us a real taste of varied like “Complicated,” she has enough to keep you going, like mirroring the energy and cadence of “Sk8er boi,” especially with “Love Sux.”

Playing Love Sux without those duets offers a lot of breathing room for the monstrous head-banging to never stops, even when Avril Lavigne slows it down. It adds definition, sonically and lyrically, as we hear Avril singing about varying topics like keeping yourself up during the bad days on “Avalanche” or that emotional bridge that comes within starting a new relationship after being broken-hearted from a past one. Avril is opening the doors to her heart, more so than before, because it comes naturally to her. She isn’t widening her horizons with these different styles, and instead, she keeps it 100. It translates to a benefactor – if you – 86 the other duets: “All I Wanted,” her duet with Mark Hoppus of Blink-182. Mark Hoppus adds that 00s nuanced, with a modern twist – this allows the track to feel fresh amongst a modern wave of the genre we hear today while taking you back to the end of summer moshing at Warped Tour. The production helps; it continues to build energy from both singers over shreds of riotous electric guitar and drums, and that’s a predominant feeling throughout most tracks.

Avril Lavigne is at her best on Love Sux, and it shows. She is hungry, energetic, and thriving as she finds home with a genre she left in the past – it shows as she demolishes every production in her wake. Though the same can’t be said about two of the three duets, putting them into a flow with the other tracks stipends the smooth progression. But I’m a man of simple taste, and it’s easy to push those tracks aside so I can bathe in pure pop punk bliss.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Fur – When You Walk Away

Ever since falling into a typical YouTube rabbit-hole, the transfixing quality that exhumed from “If You Know That I’m Lonely” delivered a band with inherent promise, mainly because of lead singer William Murray’s beautiful vocal textures. His voice is like a blend between the crooning baritone-esque structure of traditional folk and amplificated underground rock bravado; it interplays with the contrasting rock-and-roll nature of the production, giving us different plates to expand our palettes. Fur has had an identity formed since their first foray in music like the previously mentioned single – a few singles and EPs later – on their new album When You Walk Away, they continue to eclipse past a few conventional ticks like an off-brand moment of solidarity where the guitar consistently shreds, even though it isn’t egregiously apparent. 

Sometimes bands can get carried away, mentally, and any minimalist-elongated lick or riff can hinder a song a bit, as it does on “The Fine Line of The Quiet Life.” It isn’t to dissuade the value of the song, but William Murray’s unique vocals barely scratch the audible surface as they let that elongated focus at the end become more of a focal point. It’s never detrimental toward Murray’s performance, except for the brash loudness that pushes Murray’s voice aside – occurring more frequently in the first half, it’s harder to pick apart the lyrics, which is a heavy component of Fur’s music. 

When You Walk Away is expressive in the first half, as William Murray’s drowned-out voice is overlooked by near elegance within the differentiating chord progressions and sonic transitions – like shifting from somber overtones with the bass to rock-n-roll with the percussion and guitar. Fur doesn’t allow you to walk in blindly, as they open and end, When You Walk Away, with namesake songs that also have the split duality. The album has a noticeable pivot that comes at the end of “She’s the Warmest Colour In My Mind.” It doesn’t have abrasive undertones in the strings and has an elegant balance between rock and melancholy. 

They’re in tune with their musical influences, and it’s audibly heard with tracks like “She’s the Warmest Colour In My Mind” – it’s reminiscent of older 80s rock – with subdued production during the chorus, instead of elevated percussion and strings in the verses. When You Walk Away is focused on reflection and what it means to have this perspective imparted onto you – where you become entangled in these thoughts that cause constant doubt.

When You Walk Away split is divided at the seams – you hear a consistent sonic theme keeping you in tangent with the reflections written in the lyrics for Fur. Part 1’s reflection point comes from captivating your ears with a sequence of instrumentations that fits the angst coming from young adults. The band lets their contained chaos fixated on being methodically placed, with quirky sidesteps from the lead guitar, like at the beginning of “Anybody Else But Me.” Similarly, in Part 2, Fur brings a consistent atmosphere – there is a cadence between pensive singing and broken down singled out instrumentations like on “Holding Up The Sun.” The acoustic guitar leads the rest as it progresses, intertwining a final mix of hope as it speaks on addiction and one’s lack of faith. 

When You Walk Away is intimate and vast in its approach to storytelling, giving us one cohesive journey from start to finish. It’s a reflection of life and music, as William Murray integrates ideas about love and existentialism. Whether the band is reeling in the differentiating atmospheric tones between the heavier rock elements with esoteric ballads that sometimes hit, except in here, where Murray’s intricate and direct like on “What I Am” – a thematic extension to “Anybody Else But Me” – the underlying difference coming from the levels of the vocal layers. Fortunately, it’s a happenstance that a lot of the songs elevate everyone’s strength. 
There is never a moment where When You Walk Away starts to shift you away – Fur is in tune with their sound, never relying on being like someone else with more pop. It’s heard throughout, especially within the plethora of songs in the middle, like “The Fine Line of The Quiet Life” and “No Good For You,” where it immediately shoots you to the peak. There are a few questionable moments within, but the tracklisting gives it a perfect transition between the two sides of the coin. Though they may not be the best songs because of minor problems, there is no denying When You Walk Away opens on an extremely high note.

When You Walk Away is a solid debut for Fur, delivering fans a blend of sounds that hit both spectrums. Unfortunately, I wish the first half was a little better mixed, but the infectious array of instrumental layers makes up for it. It’s a definite recommendation for fans, especially the curious semi-fan that knows a few of their 2017/2018 singles. They are relatable and bring a triad of marvelously plated components that make one of the better rock albums of the year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Limp Bizkit – Still Sucks: Review

It wasn’t until Woodstock 99: Love, Peace, & Rage that I was able to hop out of my shell and embrace who I am, or rather, who many of us are, a Limp Bizkit fan. Can you blame me (them)? They exemplified the personification of young white male rage from the angst-filled young adults looking to unwind in chaotic ways. And with the kind of topsy-turvy world we’ve been in for the last year and a half, sometimes seeing these artists/bands come back from long hiatuses has been an ethereal experience – it’s uncanny, fun, and surprising – all three personify Limp Bizkit’s new album, Still Sucks. Still Sucks is a cheeky nu-metal rap album that broadens the scopes of Fred Durst’s vocal performances while still giving us that “YEAAAH” Fred Durst we’ve come to love and appreciate, albeit being far from a great album.

Due to the heightened publicity that stemmed from the Woodstock 99 documentary, it allowed Limp Bizkit to promote it their way. Starting with the illustrious Lollapalooza, Fred Durst created an Instagram account and took on a new persona as he took us through a journey where the hypnotic “Dad Vibes” was unleashed onto the world. Donning a grey wig, dockers, and an older-tweed blazer before donning the puffy jacket, Fred is back to his old way – focusing on the tongue-in-cheek lyricism that evokes participation from the audience and amplifies the unquantifiable energy that resonates within our souls. 

But Limp Bizkit knows one thing: the connection between their audience and the mentality. Due to it, a lot of the childish and comically-straight forward nu-metal has given them their own identity, only bolstered by DJ Lethal with his infectious vinyl scratches commanding the lead like on “Dirty Rotten Bizkit,” though it doesn’t take away from what the band does – bringing infectious energy on heightened bombastic songs, like on “Barnacle.” These types of songs bring out enjoyment from casuals who like some gritty righteousness and fuckery.

Still Sucks emboldens an artistic direction that quickly runs in not-so-rampant directions. There is that Bizkit-ness oozing out the seams, but Fred Durst lies to himself with odd acoustic ballads. You hear him break down the parameters of his life today, weighing on heavy subjects, and it’s where the album loses you. Two songs (“Don’t Change” and “Empty Hole”) are centered on an acoustic base for the strings, as Fred Durst laments on themes of change and love. And unironically, Limp Bizkit closes the album with their most pop sound song in some time, “Goodbye” – it weaves tender guitar riffs with subtle bass strings as the antithesis of who they are. Like Durst’s soul, it comes from a well-meaning place since he speaks on pushing away depressive thoughts and lifting your serotonin levels.

Unfortunately, Fred Durst isn’t the best vocalist – his melodies are rough, and they tend to be equivocal to stale fingernails on the chalkboard. Durst comes from the heart, and it’s something to admire, but it doesn’t work. However, it isn’t constant, and he flips the script on “You Bring Out The Worst In Me” – his melodies switch from somber to uproarious, giving fans crazy energy they’ve almost always delivered. And Wes Boreland delivers ethereal guitar riffs that shift with the tone, become the consistent highlight in these songs.

Outside of this not-so-new and always off-brand approach by Limp Bizkit has pulled them from delivering a phenomenal album from start to finish. Unfortunately, they never pick their pants up from the bootstraps and give it their all. But when they do, we are given the fun and madness that comes in the form of “Dirty Rotten Bizkit” and “Snacky Poo,” as Fred Durst gives it his best in the flow and lyricism. The former blends this elegant synergy between vocalists and instrumentalists, especially, DJ Lethal who makes it a focal point for the vinyl scratches to amplify the backing for the rest of the instruments.

Still Sucks doesn’t always suck, and sometimes you have to let loose and enjoy things as they are given – that is how Limp Bizkit rolls. Fan or not, it fits how we feel about the shift from warm to cold – we just want to let loose, warm up, and break things. Despite the score, Limp Bizkit’s new album is a thrill as Fred Durst brings dad vibes to the masses!

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.