Album Reviews

Electronica Album Reviews

Lambchop: Showtunes review – American songwriting the slow and shimmering way

(City Slang)
Kurt Wagner puts a midi keyboard centre stage on Lambchop’s expansive, laid-back latest

Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner can’t play piano. So for Lambchop’s 15th studio album – the third in this Americana artist’s recent experiments in electronics – he transposed music he had written on the guitar on to a midi keyboard. The result is Showtunes, an album whose title suggests razzmatazz but delivers Wagner’s customary laid-back profundity with well placed digital embellishments.

Others have been this way before – Bon Iver and Low are just two guitar acts who have reinvented their work electronically. Yet Showtunes is indelibly a Lambchop album, a set of songs that references the legacy of American songwriting from inside a vat of shimmering treacle. The pace is slow but spacious, giving rise to a pair of instrumental meditations and a seven-minute track, Fuku, whose percussive pops, blithe piano motif and bittersweet brass accretes into a quasi-standard pondering the imperfect nature of love. Drop C uses cut-up found sound in a more staticky way, and Blue Leo essays some disorienting vocal manipulations that are perhaps too reminiscent of the latterday Bon Iver. Showtunes is much stronger, however, when Wagner layers its disparate elements more subtly – leaning into its limpid jazz horns and electronic atmospheres, with just the distant memory of an opera singer punctuating The Last Benedict.

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Fatima Al Qadiri: Medieval Femme review – ancient and otherworldly

This New York-based Kuwaiti artist combines early music with digital dubs to dreamlike effect

A decade into a career at the confluence of digital music and art, the latest album by New York-based Kuwaiti electronic composer Fatima Al Qadiri is full of echoes. Her 2017 EP, Shaneera, was a party-facing tribute to the “evil queens” in Arab culture, thriving in spite of oppression. More recently, her immersive score for Mati Diop’s contemporary ghost story, Atlantics, helped earn the film the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2019.

Medieval Femme, by contrast, hymns some very different Arab women to Shaneera – those of the medieval period – with the otherworldly delicacy honed on Al Qadiri’s soundtrack work. She has often played with perspective (how the west views the east) as well as place (often hyper-real) and time (juxtapositions, anachronisms), but never quite like this. Sheba sounds like early music laced with sighs of sensual longing and the merest scissor snip of 21st-century percussion. The meditative Tasakuba features sorrowful couplets from the seventh-century elegiac poet Al-Khansa. Apart from the more contemporary dystopian digitals of Golden, the feel throughout is ancient and enigmatic. But these lute tones and classical Arabic music figures are rendered digitally; the cloister garden is an interior dream-space.

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Sophia Kennedy: Monsters review – showtunes and sub-bass from sonic shapeshifter

(City Slang)
Unable to categorise the Baltimore-born, Hamburg-bred artist, you are thrown into her disarming, disorientating but oddly relaxing emotional world

For the modern musician, genre-fickleness is no longer the exception but the rule. Switching styles and blending sounds doesn’t simply cater to listeners with depleted attention spans – it can also be a way of evoking and critiquing the chaotic internet culture that left them that way. Baltimore-born, Hamburg-bred artist Sophia Kennedy’s music does both those things, but it also channels a restlessness and nostalgia that has little in common with her peers.

For a start, her sonic references include Tin Pan Alley and vintage showtunes, she complements curious melodic callbacks with ominous electronica, expansive hip-hop, sub-bass, trap beats, twanging guitars and the sound of monkeys screeching. What’s also unusual is that she doesn’t temper this fluctuation with a consistent voice: frequently, it’s a low, stately, Bette Davis-style drawl; sometimes it’s a brittle falsetto; sometimes a taut, mean sprechgesang.

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Leon Vynehall: Rare, Forever review – warped, intense, cerebral

(Ninja Tune)
The DJ-producer’s introspective, genre-defying second album rewards engaged listening

Leon Vynehall’s 2018 album Nothing Is Still was a sleepy sensation. Although the house DJ had produced a couple of track compilations and entrancing singles, such as Midnight on Rainbow Road and It’s Just (House of Dupree), he took a giant step forward with his debut album, pulling jazz, ambient, club and chamber music into its sweeping ambit. Each song matched a chapter in an accompanying novella based on Vynehall’s family history; short films were shot. Played live, it evolved into something more warped, intense and cerebral, and some of that energy survives here.

Perhaps that’s because Rare, Forever looks inward. Although it’s as carefully constructed as Nothing Is Still, there is nothing as mellifluous as that record’s Movements (Chapter III). It’s more abstract, fractured, complex and unpredictable, fluttering across the lanes. This is best exemplified by Snakeskin ∞ Has-Been’s skittish rave, with its vertiginous drop and wasp-in-a-jar stabs, disintegrating without warning into the pastoral nocturne of its coda. Rare, Forever rewards engaged listening, though, and intriguingly it’s the classical and jazz influences that are most persuasive, particularly on album bookends Ecce! Ego! and All I See Is You, Velvet Brown, and Mothra’s majestic orchestral techno crescendo.

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Gazelle Twin & NYX: Deep England review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

(NYX Collective Records)
A dramatic reworking of Gazelle Twin’s techno-folk Pastoral album with the NYX choir adds layers of hair-raising chills

Gazelle Twin is the alter ego of Elizabeth Bernholz, a composer, producer and singer who creates unsettling, terrifying and occasional hilarious electronic music. Her stage costume resembles a Morris-dancing Leigh Bowery in Adidas trainers impersonating one of the droogs from Clockwork Orange. This retro-futurist court jester garb suited her remarkable 2018 album Pastoral, a febrile journey into the heart of middle England that mixed thuggish techno, menacing folk chants and lyrics that satirised old Albion and delved into its dark, paganistic roots.

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Metal Album Reviews

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Rock Album Reviews

Six Feet Under: “Nightmares Of The Decomposed” Album Review

Six Feet Under make it very clear that more than 25 years into their career, they remain at the forefront of the death metal. Dynamic, heavy-as-hell, catchy, and uncompromising, it is everything that the band’s longtime faithful have come to expect from these giants. The band members are Chris Barnes (vocals), Jack Owen (rhythm and …

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Behemoth: “And the Forests Dream Eternally” Reissue Review

Behemoth slithered out of Poland and forever changed the black metal scene. After numerous successful albums and multiple monstrous tours, Nergal and company have risen to become quite the powerhouse in a genre that was once very much underground and taboo. Perhaps this album is their gift of sorts to their most loyal fans. And …

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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews

Kat Danser – One Eye Open | Album Review

Kat Danser – One Eye Open


CD: 10 Songs, 38 Minutes

Styles: Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, NOLA Blues, Ensemble Blues

What makes a blues release good as opposed to, say, a painting or a sculpture? In the opinion of yours truly, CD’s are more like books than visual works of art. They have titles (usually), overall themes (sometimes), and each separate track is like a separate chapter. These musical “chapters” don’t have to flow naturally from one to the next, but it’s nice if they do. In terms of books and albums alike, what ensures basic quality is consistency. It’s a lesson that Canada blueswoman Kat Danser has taken to heart. So far, she’s produced solid work that has been favorably reviewed by this magazine (Baptized by the Mud in 2014 and Goin’ Gone in 2019). As for her new offering, One Eye Open? I’ll let you blues fans come to a consensus.

Kat Danser (and I, in my humble capacity) present ten tracks – eight originals and two covers. Several are strong and inspiring. Exhibit A? “Way I Like It Done.” It’s a spicy shuffle combining Chicago-style rhythm with New Orleans-style horns. The lyrical content is Kat’s no-nonsense way of presenting herself to her audience: “I’ve got opinions ‘bout situations that don’t concern me at all. I wish I remembered ‘em just now…I just do what I do, the way I like it done.” Exhibit B? Gus Cannon’s “Lonely and the Dragon,” with a lovely acoustic guitar and horn intro, and Danser’s husky vocals to boot. Imagine her singing it on a late night in the big city, the glare of a streetlight keeping sleep from her as well as her lover. Exhibit C, “Bring It With You When You Come,” invites people to get up and dance. If you fear falling, bop and bounce in your favorite chair.

Remember how I mentioned consistency? After the growling-guitar ballad “Frenchman Street” and the apocalyptic gospel plea of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Get Right, Church,” the album veers into uncharted, unstructured territory. Case in point: the baffling political blues-rock anthem “One Eye Closed.” She doesn’t so much sing as snarl, ticked-off to an absolute T, decrying “kids in cages” and “loaded guns killing off our daughters and sons.” “The world’s gonna end before this song!” As the old saying goes, hell hath no fury, but Kat Danser’s scorn is reserved for the world here.

The next two songs fare a little better, but not by much. “Hey, ‘Trainwre-e-eck’,” Kat jeers. “Pass this station by. You’re hauling heavy, honey, and your baggage car’s on fire.” “Please Don’t Cry” is a love song, pure and simple. It features the word blues, but it’s no Howlin’ Wolf cover. Dig that guitar solo, though, and the spot-on bassline. “Mi Corazon” ends things on another NOLA note, adding Latin flair into the mix.

Joining Ms. Danser (songwriter, vocals, guitar grooves) are producer Steve Dawson on electric, acoustic and pedal-steel guitars; Gary Craig on drums and percussion; Jeremy Holmes on bass, Dominic Conway on tenor sax; Jerry Cook on baritone sax; Malcolm Aiken on trumpet, and Kevin McKendree on piano and organ.

Although One Eye Open boasts some eye-opening material, more consistency across the board would have turned this OK CD into a good and even great one. Here’s hoping Danser achieves it in her next release!

Juraj Schweigert & The Groove Time – Spin-Off | Album Review

Juraj Schweigert & The Groove Time – Spin-Off

songs – 11 time – 51:31

Oh Divine creativity where hath thou been? In the hands of the Slovak harmonica player-singer Juraj Schweigert and his band…Duh! They blend elements of jazz, funk, reggae, bluegrass and who knows what else to deliver a enchanting musical journey. Juraj provides the vocals with all the songs written by himself. the over all musicality is first rate, but it is his command and creativity on the diatonic harmonica that takes the music to another level. His playing is very reminiscent of the Cuban born Canadian resident Carlos del Junco, with blues elements but with more of a diverse approach incorporating various musical influences. Having a deeply soulful and yearning voice emoting on his well crafted songs doesn’t hurt one bit. Add to that sturdy support from a crop of hand picked top of the line backing players. He employs a virtual cornucopia of musical styles including, blues, funk, soul, jazz, reggae, bluegrass to create a diverse and fanciful palate.

The uncanny resemblance to the harmonica styling’s of Carlos del Junco are most evident on the five instrumentals where his creative use of melody is given its’ full airing. I don’t know if this is intentional or by coincidence, but whatever the case, the more of this sound the better for us listeners. The title cut “Spin-Off” is one that joyfully bounces around. His harmonica interacts with banjo and fiddle on “Straight Back” giving off a Gypsy Jazz meets Bluegrass summit meeting feeling. A herky-jerky jazz groove is seen on “Gruvgrass” that owes a debt to many of jazz guitarist Bill Frissell’s performances. “Miss Chief” sets the scene for intrigue on the streets of Paris and evolves into a spy movie motif with the help of vibraphone courtesy of drummer Juraj Rasi.

That is not to take away from the vocal songs. Juraj’s spirited vocalizing is on a par with his harmonica skills. Due to his slight accent an occasional unintelligible word slips by, but no biggie. Harmonica is on most of these tunes as well. The funky “Nobody’s Talkin’” is an energetic lead off track featuring Matej Stubniak’s thumping bass part. “Every Four Seconds” is backed by a reggae beat. The female backing vocals are a bit intrusive as they sound like they were taken from a Doublemint Gum TV commercial.

Zsolt Szitasi’s intense guitar on “Stay With Me” and elsewhere is another highlight of the proceedings. del Junco-like harmonica and mellow guitar stylin’s permeate “She’s Right”. The funk returns helped along by a nifty electric bass riff and horns on “Shoelaced”. The funk continues to back up the smooth and cool vocalizing on “Fix Me Up”.

There is much here to enjoy for the harmonica fan or any lover of creative and well executed music. It’s all here-engaging melodies, inventive harmonica, guitar, organ great singing and well written songs. This is the type of musical experience where something new and interesting jumps up at you with each repeated listening. I could go on and on, but prove me right and snatch this gem up.

Endrick and the Sandwiches – Green Room Rumble | Album Review

Endrick and the Sandwiches – Green Room Rumble

Big in the Garden

10 songs, 37 minutes

Live music is the life blood of the Blues. Distinct to the Blues the live commune between artist and audience, the physical and emotional dialogue of musical sound emanating from musicians cascading over the audience and being reflected back, is so essential. It is also why most live Blues records, sadly unlike some live records in other genres, are pretty universally great. Montreal based psychedelic punk colored Blues and Neo-Soul band Endrick and the Sandwiches live release Green Room Rumble is no exception. A short 37 minute blast of 10 live performances from 2019 and 2020 captures this energetic band breaking down some well worn classic material with vibrancy, fluidity and engagement.

Endrick Tremblay, the leader of Sandwiches, is a flamboyant and stylized singer. Adding extra white-boy stank to the bravado of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” comical desperation to Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back,” and quizzical Buddy Holly cool to Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover,” Tremblay has a mastery of the stage; a seductive front man with his own style. Adding adept harp and guitar, Tremblay is a real Bluesman as is evidenced by his solo acoustic take on John Lee Hooker’s “Huckle Up.” Why this live record works so well is because the Sandwiches are a great band. Lead guitarist Greg “The Mack” McEvoy pushes the band on with style and finesse. Mandela Coupal Dalgleish on drums and Simon Éthier on bass create a strong and flexible grounding. Elyze Venne-Deshaies adds some saxophone here and there. Anne Lauzière offers her smoky vocals to a duet of “Trouble in Mind” to great slow drag effect. Lauzière along with Marie-Pier Lavallée and Gabrièle Côté Lebreux offer background vocals and percussion here and there.

It’s hard to push covers, especially well worn covers, through with originality, this is the strength of this set. “Mystery Train,” which has few new mysteries to give, gets a hyped up reading. “PT Rider” gets a travelogue jive talking breakdown from the Mac taking lead vocals. Lesser tread material like the obscure Willie Dixon song “Choo Choo” and the Nick Gravenites penned Butterfield Blues Band classic “Born in Chicago” are refreshing surprises played with the same driving enthusiasm of the classics. But, Endrick and the Sandwiches really come alive in an engaging and compelling way on their only original cut “Devil Does.” A driving boogie, Endrick sings as if possessed by the devil spirit of Iggy Pop. The band hits harder and the music flushes with adrenalin and agitation.

Endrick and the Sandwiches are an ever evolving band. Their self titled first studio album has the same grounding in the Blues with some roughed up, sharp to the touch edges. Since the release of this live set, they have released a Neo-Soul blissed out record called Sunny Soul. This is an adventurous band who, like many other younger musicians such as Southern Avenue, Andrew Ali and Eddie 9V, are pushing their music in new, different and reaching ways. Green Room Rumble is a companion piece to the Sandwiches catalogue, a proud statement of the foundations of their music and an artifact of this band’s live trip.

Various Artists – Alligator Records – 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music

Various Artists – Alligator Records – 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music

Alligator Records

58 songs – 232 minutes

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Alligator Records in the pantheon of the blues. Famously founded in 1971 purely to enable founder Bruce Iglauer to record his favourite artist, Hound Dog Taylor, Alligator has grown into one of the most respected record labels in the world, whilst recording a wide range of superb blues and blues-based artists. 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music celebrates the label’s 50th anniversary with a wonderful 3-CD collection of tracks selected from across its vast catalogue, all remastered by Iglauer and Collin Jordan at The Boiler Room in Chicago.

Leaving aside the quality of the music on offer (and pretty much every track is solid gold), it is fascinating to contemplate Alligator’s geographic development from its initial focus on Chicago greats like Koko Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell and Son Seals, to Texas artists including Albert Collins and Long John Hunter, Louisiana legends such as Professor Longhair and C.J. Chenier and West Coast monsters like Little Charlie & The Nightcats, William Clarke and Chris Cain. The East Coast is well-represented through the likes of Bob Margolin, Roomful of Blues, Michael Hill and JJ Grey & Mofro, while Alligator has also recorded artists from outside the USA, such as Australian slide master, Dave Hole, and British iconoclast, Ian Siegel.

Much of Alligator’s output has been guitar-centric and that focus is re-iterated on 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music, with any number of electric guitar geniuses on display, including Gatemouth Brown, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Guitar Shorty, Joe Louis Walker Kenny Neal and Coco Montoya. But the album also highlights the harp skills of Big Walter, Carey Bell, James Cotton and Billy Branch, the piano playing of Marcia Ball, Katie Webster and Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, and the acoustic blues of Cephas & Wiggins and The Siegel-Schwall Band. And this “broad church of the blues” approach is key to Alligator’s continued survival in what is a cut-throat business. The blues-rock of Johnny Winter and Michael Hill’s Blues Mob is balanced against the glorious a capella voices and hand-clapping of Corey Harris and Henry Butler and the blues-eyed soul of Eric Lindell and Curtis Salgado. The muscular power of Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Michael Burks is balanced against the subtlety and grace of Mavis Staples and Janiva Magness.

50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music contains tracks from Alligator’s earliest releases (Big Walter and Cary Bell’s stunning harp duet “Have Mercy” is worth the price of admission by itself) up to modern stars like Toronzo Cannon, Selwyn Birchwood, The Cash Box Kings and The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling.

It’s quite astonishing that Alligator has survived as long as it has done, given the changes in the music industry over the last 50 years, but long may it continue. The label has released over 350 albums of great music, from established acts to up-and-coming wannabes and soon-to-be stars. It’s also easy to forget how often Alligator has breathed new life into careers that had stalled, giving much-deserving artists a whole new audience. Albert Collins is perhaps the obvious example, but so are Lonnie Mack, Roy Buchanan and Luther Allison.

50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music is a superb collection of modern blues and blues-based songs, beautiful remastered. And it’s also unmissable for any fan of modern blues music.

Various Artists – Blues Alive in the Valley: Lockdown Sessions

Various Artists – Blues Alive in the Valley: Lockdown Sessions

Hudson Valley Blues Society

23 songs – 101 minutes

Despite joining the ranks of the Blues Foundation a little more than a year ago, the Hudson Valley Blues Society — based an hour or so north of Manhattan –have been busy beavers during the coronavirus shutdown. Originally planning to celebrate their second anniversary party and jams prior to entering a band in the 2021 International Blues Challenge, their world spun to a halt, and they shifted gears. This beefy CD is the result.

Spanning two CDs and 101 minutes, it’s a major achievement — and even more so when you learn that the HVBS board of directors recruited 23 Upstate artists – ranging from local talent to some of the biggest names in the industry – all of whom contributed an original song to the project.

All of the artists involved – including Dion, Professor Louie and the Crowmatix, Vaneese Thomas, Alexis P. Suter, Taz Cru and others – retain rights to their material while the non-profit’s using all funds they raise to support their burgeoning operation.

Aided by guitarist Joe Menza, Dion opens the action with “Kicking Child,” updating a tune he first recorded in 1965 after having been a chart-topper with The Belmonts. The Johnny Feds Band’s “Axe to Grind,” a searing, six-string powered promise of revenge, is up next before Phil Buttà — a New York Blues Hall of Famer — delivers the quiet ballad, “True to You,” and Professor Louie – a Grammy winning keyboard player/producer with The Band – heats things up with the classy, stop-time “Passion in My Life.”

The Menza Madison Band’s blues-rocker, “Preacherman,” precedes the Robert Hill Band’s “Slide on Rye,” a tune that earned the front man first place in a six-string competition co-sponsored by Guitar Player magazine. HVBS president Paul Toscano teams with Tom “The Suit” Forst for “Turn Up the Heat” before Vaneese Thomas takes you to church with the passionate “Mean World.”

Union Stockyard & Transit Company delivers “US Funk,” a free-form instrumental, before keyboard player Dave Keyes – best known for his work with Poppa Chubby – soars with “It’s 7 O’Clock Somewhere,” a tune he dedicates to frontline healthcare workers. Local favorite Willa Vincitore’s “Mama Needs Some Company” adds fuel to the fire before Petey Hop closes the first disc with “Oh Lord,” a stripped-down plea for heavenly assistance.

The second set opens on a bright note as melismatic vocalist Chris Raabe goes solo and dazzles on fingerpicked guitar through “Pity Party” before yielding to the four-piece ensemble Cross Purpose for “He’d Already Told Me So.” Forst returns with full band format for the haunting, propulsive “Late Night Train” then yields Chris Bergson Band, a regional favorite for decades, for the horn-fueled and classy “Fall Changes.”

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers reinvent ‘60s the rock-country blues hybrid with “How Many Roads” next. Then vocalist Alexis P. Suter puts her baritone pipes to work in the emotion-packed “Empty Promises.” Then things get funky again with Wyld Blue’s “Jackpot 14” before Jaxx Cafe suffers through a confession about being a love bandit in “Getting Even.”

Fronting one of the hardest working bands on the national circuit, Tas Cru teams with his longtime drummer, Sonny Rock, for the hard-rocking “Kinda Mess” before two more tunes — The Full Stop Blues Band’s swinging “May May” and the Roadhouse Roosters’ Delta-flavored “The Train” – conclude the action.

Sure, there are some inconsistencies here — the talent level varies, and sound levels are problematic on a couple of cuts — but there’s a heaping helping of positive spins that make this project a keeper. Available through the HVBS website (address above), and well worth the price.

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Pop Album Reviews

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime review – wild, virtuosic Tuareg blues

The Nigerian guitarist and band sizzle on a deeply satisfying album that pays unusual homage to his early career

It seems fitting that the first album on Matador (and his sixth in total) from the Nigerian guitarist Mdou Moctar should not come only in the usual formats – CD, vinyl and download – but also preloaded on to a limited-edition Nokia 6120, as a decade ago it was via Bluetooth mobile swaps that his music originally spread across the Sahara. Since then, he has starred in a Tuareg-language remake of the film Purple Rain and been a fierce critic of France’s colonial legacy. But it’s still as a musician that Moctar is at his most expressive, his brand of hypnotic desert blues infused with field recordings and virtuoso instrumental work.

Indeed, the most immediate songs here are those where his fluid soloing takes centre stage, as on album opener Chismiten. Even better is the seven-minute title track, a lament for the continued exploitation of his continent and its peoples that explodes into wild, Hendrix/Van Halen-inspired pyrotechnics for its lengthy coda. It’s made all the more thrilling by the fact that while Moctar is busy conjuring extraordinary sounds from his guitar, the rest of his band keep upping the song’s tempo. Pleasingly, he is no less affecting on his more gentle, acoustic material, as on stripped-back recent single Tala Tannam.

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Olivia Rodrigo: Sour review – the perfect soundtrack to a first breakup

The record-breaking 18-year-old follows her smash hit Drivers License with an impressive debut album of pop-punk screamers and delicate balladry

Keen not to be defined by January’s record-breaking ballad Drivers License, 18-year-old Disney-actor-turned-singer Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opens with a surprise. “I want it to be, like, messy,” she blurts at the start of Brutal, a galloping, guitar-drenched pop-punk screamer in which the star of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series rages about problems at work (“who am I if not exploited?”) and on the road (“I can’t even parallel park”). Track two, Traitor, mirrors that song’s anger (“you betrayed me”, she sings, as if swallowing her emotions) but drops the tempo, encasing it in warm organ and delicate acoustic guitar.

Sonically, this opening salvo sets the dual moods for an assured debut, with ripe teenage emotions bubbling beneath both frantic early-00s Avril Lavigne cosplay (the pogoing, smeared mascara anthem Good 4 U) and, on the spectral Enough for You, delicate balladry that makes good use of Rodrigo’s Taylor Swift-esque lyrical precision. Somewhere in between lies the excellent Deja Vu, a lyrically astute kiss-off that recalls Lorde via whispered vocals and blown-out electronics.

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Twenty One Pilots: Scaled and Icy review – genre-hoppers find their happy place

(Fueled by Ramen)
The Ohio duo’s sixth album takes their usual mix of rock, rap and synth-pop but adds more upbeat lyrics

In 2019, Twenty One Pilots became the first act in US history to have every song on two separate albums certified gold, for 2013’s Vessel and 2015’s Blurryface. It’s an achievement suggestive of a groundbreaking cultural phenomenon, or at least a really great band. In reality, the Ohio duo specialise in an easily digestible but generally unremarkable slurry of rock, rap and synth-pop, their melodies appealing but hardly unforgettable. Aside from their voguish mix-and-match approach to genre, it is only their lyrics that offer any real clue to their huge popularity: the band’s frank dissection of mental-health struggles and emo-style vulnerability (“But now I’m insecure / And I care what people think,” goes their biggest hit, Stressed Out) is a mode that is both evergreen and all the rage.

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Olivia Rodrigo: Sour review – cathartic rage at teenage heartbreak

The 18-year-old songwriter makes good on her record-breaking debut single with a first album that metabolises anger, jealousy and bewilderment into pop euphoria

Even in a world where streaming’s rise means chart records are broken all the time, the debut single by Disney star Olivia Rodrigo is an anomaly. Upon the release of Drivers License in January, it had the biggest first week for any song ever on Spotify – then hit the 100m streams mark faster than any other track on the platform had before. It debuted at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for eight weeks – only the seventh song ever to do so. In the UK, it topped the charts for nine weeks and broke the record for the highest single-day streams ever for a non-Christmas song.

Related: ‘We have to nurture each other’: how Olivia Rodrigo and Gen Z reinvented the power ballad

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