Daughter – Stereo Mind Games: Review

It’s been seven years since the last time Indie Folk/Rock UK trio Daughter released an album, and that absence has been felt; exponentially so, as I went through listening to Stereo Mind Game. They have returned, bringing visceral orchestrations and vocal performances centered on atmospheric tendencies without diluting the lyrical depth driving its poignancy. Thematically focused on directional emotions deriving from moments you reflect on loved ones you miss or separation of self when balancing who you are, for example, taking you on a smooth and respective retrospective journey of enriching sounds. In some ways, the album covers niche grounds where it blends aspects of alternative rock, shoegaze, and dream pop into a lyrically heavy concoction while leaving out catchy pop conventions so you’re engaged through other avenues. It delivers these profound moments where you can stop but keep it playing on repeat as you get entrenched within the confines of its fantastic production and relatable songwriting that will have you returning again and again through that connectivity.

Softening the listener with a melancholy instrumental as the intro, Stereo Mind Game quickly grabs your ears and pits you against a concurrent run of deep songs where its themes come to life like popping out of a book. We’re hearing Elena Torna, lead singer of Daughter, sing about these moments where you feel sullen, unknowing how the world shifts around you as time passes, and the feeling of displacement while motionless on “Dandelion.” We hear her sing about contrasting emotions that come with loneliness, like the peaceful feeling on “Be On Your Way” or the depressive longing that comes from not seeing certain loved ones on a regular on “Isolation.” It continues to build and build with the production elevating the senses further. Reflections of these themes are resonant through differentiating directions and unique constructions where originality becomes a dominant positive. It allows you to dig deep and listen carefully, getting through these auspicious themes that carry semblance from track to track. It extends beyond this, as there are roots within them that build character depth and growth.

Those positives are also definitively true within the production, as Daughter plays around with varying instrumental connections, weaving new sounds on top of its rock/pop core. Sometimes other musicians incorporate particular notes of influence that are more direct and less fun references, like dream pop notes on “Party” or alternative pop on the final track, “Wish I Could Cross The Sea.” These tracks have more of a finite construct as they weave layers to boast Elena Torna’s emotional depth in her vocals fluidly. The production reacts as this component, which flows with enough balance to keep the performances moving steadily. The synthesizers are a constant that keeps it in tow, getting used sometimes to subvert thoughts of tracks treading toward more remedying acoustics. On “Neptune,” its shift from the acoustic strings to a more broken down direction with simple drum patterns and vibrant synth notes – with “Future Lover,” the synths guide the bridge between more enigmatic drum patterns from the drum machine and some subtle guitars playing in the back.

Stereo Mind Game doesn’t overly play with genres but instead with soundscapes that embolden its inner core to keep it molded well. Sometimes they play with sounds that juxtapose perspective, especially with a given context of the song, like with “Party,” which sees Elena Torna sing about inner growth as she seeks to stay sober from alcohol, using the surroundings of a party to paint astute visuals. Unlike what one thinks of when it comes to parties, the production and performance are more somber in contrast to the colorful and loud, like Torna is leaning against the wall in the living room, alone and reflecting on habits she’s bettering herself from. At its definitive core, the music drives behind the wheel of more dream pop and shoegaze elements beneath centralized indie rock percussion; however, there are varying moments where it takes a dip into deep waters and comes out with something distinctively grand. Within the second half of “Dandelion,” it plays with more pedals, shifting from the apropos, like with “Junkmail,” it blends juxtaposing drum beats from Remi Aguilella, drummer of the band, and the drum machine. 

Daughter has constructed a finely tuned album within a great composite of writing and production where each track gets to breathe and feel entwined within the bigger picture, even when the sonic motifs aren’t as open and eloquently subtle. It has this balance where, as long as the atmospheric sensibilities never deter in zones where it’s most effective. It’s significant how the tracks seamlessly transition between each other, like when you get a more typical but exuberant indie rock production in “Swim Back,” leading into a more tempered and contrasting production in “Junkmail.” Unfortunately, there are little moments where I didn’t find myself vibing, loving so much of this album that it’s easy to get lost in some weak moments. For example, “To Rage” comes off as calming and safe, doing little with the synths and feeling a little hollow compared to what has gotten heard leading to it. As you keep this on replay, it camouflages within the vibe that its placement doesn’t feel like it overcooks what Daughter wants to deliver.

Stereo Mind Game is fantastic, for lack of a better term, but where it triumphs is in the synergy and synchronization between vocals and production. It’s like this vast, relaxed, and loudly intimate moment where the music reflects what you’d hear at venues that embolden that bar basement vibe, where one expects nothing but introspective lyrics. It may be a little niche for some, but the music speaks wonders as it pushes beyond their style and expand to new horizons, especially as it sometimes juxtaposes sounds beautifully. Highly recommend the album, even if this is your first time hearing about them, because I can hopefully guarantee this is one great album.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Alvvays – Blue Rev: Review

Alvvays has amassed an intriguing identity that balances the apropos of pop rock with extensive string arrangements that boast starry, spacey, synth-fueled jams that resonate with the soul. As such, they’re weaving this unique blend with characteristics of pop and rock and delivering a vibrant and expansive release in Blue Rev. Their third album has poignant themes over elegant instrumentations that keeps you enthralled, albeit with some minor issues. However, these minor issues don’t take away from this great leap forward in sound and style– Molly Rankin’s vocals and slick rhythmic playing eloquently beneath the other empathetic playing from her fellow bandmates. It keeps you engaged and vibing throughout, layering these colorful tracks that speak further to an evergrowing synergy, despite some turnarounds that don’t sidetrack where they’ve grown from since their last album, Antisocialites, five years ago.

What struck me quickly about Blue Rev is the jubilance that rides through on crisp sonic waves–an emotional coaster where the production is grand and varied. Sometimes you get more indie rock-fueled tracks like “Pharmacist” and “Pressed,” and other times, you’re getting more shoegazey with tracks like “Easy On Your Own?” and “Bored In Bristol;” what’s pertinent is the varying sonic subtexts from its hard-hitting bangers. They use pedal effects, computerized distortions, and more to implement psychedelic undertones to round out the instrumentation with personality–it exhibits that with how easily it reels you. “Easy On Your Own?” and “Very Online Guy” are two tracks that embody that shoegaze aesthetic beautifully, making them stand out significantly, like some of their songs with indie rock sensibilities. Alvvays are going through styles like someone changing wardrobes ten times before heading out into the world for the day; however, of its 14 fits, or songs, on the album, it contains many standouts like the previously mentioned and others that communicate fun within themes of loneliness, love, amongst others. 

Unfortunately, it isn’t all this one acquiescing force you can get lost in since some songs get weakened due to its standard approach to some instrumentations, like the two-dimensional and summery “Velveteen.” It benefits from clever, illustrious songwriting, but the sound isn’t always accompanying the vocal’s oomph. There is a cadence in Rankin’s voice; it offers a clean listen that lets you coast through and grip the essence of Alvvays lyrical depth, despite some of its less-than-appealing instrumentations, like on “Belinda Says.” It’s centered on rudimentary percussion, incorporating lesser bass grooves, leaving you less fulfilled, despite having this spiritual guidance influenced by The Go-Gos. The music speaks closer to Molly Rankin and how she imbues these sonic anecdotes, but it doesn’t so powerfully. Like “Velveteen,” it’s one of two tracks that never acquiesced within its compact space, almost feeling a little empty despite the solid energy from the band.

So you’re there, listening to Blue Rev; you get this feeling that you’re there, front row listening to them perform vigorously, giving it this raw aesthetic that lets them spread their wings. Having gone through a few bandmates and replacements, it becomes a testament to Alvvays’ craft that there isn’t an absence or faulty delineation of a sonic identity as they stay headstrong and keep their jovial playing become part of their center-core. That fun can come from hearing these plucky strings building enthusiastically over each other. And with “Lottery Noises” and “Pomeranian Spinster” have these unique, contrasting tones molded by Molly Rankin’s potently emotive delivery. The former sees Rankins lamenting on a past relationship, relating his presence and sound to that of the lottery machine making noises, indicating she’s taking a gamble with luck. The latter sees a different tone as Rankin comes across with sheer confidence and vigor about how she may be perceived, singing, “I don’t wanna be nice/I don’t want your advice/On the run in my tights/I’m going to get what I want/I don’t care who it hurts.”

Written by Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, what gets brought to the table are an array of unique stories with colorful depictions that mold their emotional deliveries into something grander than expected. Many are visually engaging, taking you through these dailies that offer layered duality to themes getting approached. “Tile By Tile” sees Rankin doing busy-body work, letting her mind wander to the time she dropped the L (love) word on a ride with someone with who she feels this affection, but it’s nonreciprocal. It leaves her feeling like she left a good thing slip and seeing her anxiety shift with specific actions, like when she sings, “Am I still giving off the wrong impression?/I shouldn’t have ever dialed you up,” in the outro. 

“After The Earthquake” plays with the idea of distinct reactions that may happen post-quake–as Molly Rankin told Stereogum, “the approach was based on this Murakami short story collection called After The Quake…The earthquake itself can trigger little epiphanies and make people realize that life is short and [people] make important decisions based on these natural disasters. I thought that it would be interesting to write a song about how there is this earthquake, there are all these different chaotic, really traumatic life events, but the thing that’s actually at the front and center of the song is what is happening with this deteriorating relationship.” It’s telling; the care getting brought to the record as they explore these tangible sounds that take you to a realm of musical harmony. It’s something you start to love as it loops, and the instrumentations begin to feel fresh like it’s the first time.

Blue Rev is an exquisite time from front to back–some few hiccups here and there that didn’t agree with the rest, but there is a consistency to the depth of Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley’s writing that keeps your ears glued at those moments. It left me with glee and enough to influence multiple spins, which I hope reflects with you as you go through this album a few times.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Hatchie – Giving The World Away: Review

Under the twinkling guise of its starry production, Giving the World Away by Hatchie takes us on an emotionally draining listen that keeps a consistent tone, which gets lost along the way. Hatchie’s musical core has linear brevity with whimsical guitar strings and vibrant percussion, which reminded me of listening to Familiars by The Antlers and Lovelife by Lush on those late nights gazing at glow-in-the-dark plastic stars on the ceiling. Unfortunately, these fleeting moments skip a beat with the production. You spend a few moments taking in the Dream-Pop/Shoegaze aesthetic and focusing on her lyrics that the bad meshes with the good. It becomes hard to discern what you like and what you don’t upon your first listens. This inconsistency is prominent in production that has a Dream-Pop core, But Giving the World Away is a decent sophomore effort from Hatchie, crafting these introspective lyrics to match the atmosphere.

Atmosphere has a heavy focus on Giving the World Away. It incorporates elements that reflect psychedelic and rock aspects of a Dream-Pop/Shoegaze aesthetic at its core. Once set, we get these various shifts that keep the nuance of the aesthetic while trying something new. Lead singles “This Enchanted” and “Quicksand” beautifully encompass this by incorporating elements of dance music, mystifying the effects of the instruments in synchronization with an energetic drumbeat in the percussion. They counter each other’s style; the former reflects the shoegaze-like rock elements, while the latter takes a more dreamy-electronic approach–there is some flip-flop, especially in its quality. 

The tracks with elements of shoegaze excel because of the level of ingenuity compared to the dryer dream-pop-like tracks. With something as simple as “Twin,” you hear the difference when you hear the eponymous track or “The Rhythm.” The former goes on a wild journey, playing with the percussion on many fronts, while the latter takes a slower tempo approach, with uproariously psychedelic percussion. These twists and turns are never reluctant and give you enough of a punch to swift you away with ever-changing production. It hits you from the beginning with “Lights On,” which is jubilant and danceable, mirroring “This Enchanted,” which follows it. In brisk moments you find yourself dancing on your own in the confinement of modest darkness. 

You’ll notice that there are two sides to Giving the World Away: ones with overly dreamy tones and nuanced shoegaze-pop. They get jumbled with some linear consistency, albeit not all positive. The tracks tend to lose themselves in the vortex of the atmosphere, shifting into an unduly colorful space. It isn’t to discredit the songwriting and its depth; the production is what befuddles my attention, as tracks like “The Key” and “Till We Run Out Of Air” have these heavy emotional vocals from Hatchie and its production fails to match. Unfortunately, other dream-pop-like tracks aren’t as interesting. I could say there is a balance between the two, but it’s moot when one outweighs the other. They fade into a void that keeps small increments of the music, but you forget it’s playing until a more creative front reopens and you remember who the artist is.

Unlike albums I’ve mentioned earlier, Giving the World Away’s inconsistency wanes hard on the final product. So, while “The Key” and “Till We Run Out Of Air” have great vocals, the production makes these tracks forgettable, blending into blandness. It doesn’t benefit from poor pacing, as tracks tend to run long like “Twin” and “Take My Hand,” even if it only extends a melodic retread of the chorus. As a whole, Giving the World Away stumbles and fades into an abyss where the sonic shades can’t offer proper visuals of what we are ingesting. Many times, you’re lost hearing mundane melodic vocals or drab production that drowns out other aspects of a song. It leaves you with hollow spaces that could have gotten filled with tracks that had more shoegaze/rock sensibilities.

Giving the World Away treads toward forgetfulness, leaving some good tracks that embolden styles it takes for influence. Hatchie brings great melodies for steady flows; however, along with some production, it isn’t enough for an okay album. I’d recommend the few tracks I positively highlight, but it isn’t worth diving into because there is little reward. One minute you’re listening to “This Enchanted,” and next, you hear faint choruses coming in and out before reaching “The Rhythm,” continuing the unique production on tracks with that shoegaze aesthetic. These moments fill you with life and energy while the others are lifeless drones of pop that barely offer anything interesting. 

Rating: 5 out of 10.