Showing posts with label baroque pop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baroque pop. Show all posts

Thursday, October 10, 2019

video review: 'all mirrors' by angel olsen

Yeah, this one was tough... really wanted to love this album too, I really did, but it just didn't pan out. Eh, it happens.

Anyway, next up is an album that absolutely panned out and that I'm really excited to talk about, so stay tuned!

album review: 'all mirrors' by angel olsen

It feels like I've been struggling to get onboard with Angel Olsen for years now.

And what's frustrating is that it always feels like there's just one or two elements that get in the way of things really clicking. She's a terrific singer, but sometimes she's stuck with production that doesn't flatter her unique timbre or style. The production can often swell with portentous presence and purpose... and wind up dragging if the climax doesn't connect. She's a strong songwriter, but I often run into quibbles of nuance and framing that just don't pay off as strongly as I hoped. And all of this is surrounded by the fact that in the lo-fi, alternative country-adjacent scene, she is surrounded by acts that might not have her unique pipes but can stick the landing a little more strongly.

But there were two things that prompted me to check this album out anyway, the first being that in 2017, she teamed up with Alex Cameron for the song 'Stranger's Kiss', which showed that with a potent groove beneath her and some punchy synths she could ride an absolutely terrific song, one of the best of that year. And I kept thinking about that song when for #2, I heard that her newest album All Mirrors was not just going to be a pivot towards baroque pop with huge, lush string arrangements, but also an embrace of synthesizers. Which... alright, I didn't love how she utilized them on MY WOMAN but maybe there'd be a little more focus and clarity this time, especially given how much the music press has slung critical acclaim at her this year - although given the recent avalanche of critical acclaim at baroque pop acts spanning from Lana Del Rey to Julia Holter to Weyes Blood in the past year, I do take that with a grain of salt. But fine, I still really wanted to like this, so what did we get with All Mirrors?

Friday, September 6, 2019

video review: 'norman fucking rockwell!' by lana del rey

Okay, so I talked way too much about this album... go figure.

Anyway, next up I'm finally talking about Shura, so stay tuned!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

album review: 'norman fucking rockwell!' by lana del rey

So let me give you all a little bit of insider information when it comes to how albums are usually released in the modern era: presuming the album is done or nearly done, a single is released, maybe tries to spur a bit of traction, and if it sticks the countdown opens up to push the album to the public. The window has shortened considerably in comparison with the predictable radio run, which means that if you start seeing an artist pushing more than a few singles before the album drops, or you see the release date change when the single doesn't catch fire... well, that's not a good sign behind the scenes for the artist and any label support they might have.

And I bring this up because of all the acts for which I expected this wouldn't be an issue, Lana Del Rey was on that list. Yeah, my issues with her have been well-documented - see the reviews of Ultraviolence, Honeymoon, and Lust For Life for the lengthy and contentious details - but she routinely sold a ton of albums, never quite matching her debut but still consistent. And with this album, right from the first singles she was releasing she was getting the sort of widespread critical acclaim she hadn't seen properly in years, even from outlets who never gave her the time of day... and yet she started releasing her first singles nearly a year ago, and the album had already been delayed until the end of summer. Hell, up until last week I wasn't even sure it was going to come out, let alone that it would drop and receive the most critical acclaim she's ever seen in her career! And given that I had purposefully avoided any single had released, the most I really knew going in was how her primary collaborator on production was Jack Antonoff, an intriguing choice if only because whenever he toys with backwards-looking Americana he can hit a decent stride, so I was fascinated how that'd play in the writing. So alright, we probably should have gotten this album a year ago, but what did Lana Del Rey deliver with Norman Fucking Rockwell!?

Monday, June 10, 2019

video review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood

Yeah, I expected this one to get messy... it happens.

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood

So I'll admit I find myself a little fascinated by the 'critically acclaimed indie blow-up' story, mostly because I'm curious whether they are genuinely as calculated as they might appear from the sidelines. 

And you know how it goes: an indie act who normally has put in a few albums that are well-received but never quite beloved or super-popular suddenly goes to put out a project, and it seems like without warning a majority of critics have decided this is the one to get onboard with this artist, their time is now, and the critical acclaim is so pronounced it almost seems extraordinary. Normally it's when the act puts out their most accessible project but not always - hell, at some points you find yourself wondering what the hell is so distinctive about this one that will drive folks bananas. And this doesn't tend to happen for the consistent critical darlings or your more widely popular hipster mainstays or even your one-and-done flukes, which often leaves me wondering why the hell it's this album or it's this artist. The criterion feels nebulous, and I kind of feel sorry for the artists who might see their hype balloon for one album before all of it evaporating for their next when the formula doesn't change that much. 

So when we get to Natalie Mering aka. Weyes Blood... look, the signs are there this is happening to her. She's been putting out albums in the underground that split the difference between fuzzed out dream pop and more vintage baroque textures - think the opulence of the pop of the mid-60s before firmer grooves took hold in the latter half of that decade - and I've always thought they were okay enough with decent writing, but nothing that jumped off the page or I found truly riveting, both on the albums or her collaborations. And that seemed to be the critical consensus too, and yet suddenly this becomes the project that has won folks over en masse and is one of the most critically adored projects of 2019, with fans who just will not shut the fuck up about it? I'll admit that it did seem suspicious, but I was open to this potentially being amazing, so okay, intentionally very late to the punch with this, what did we get from Titanic Rising?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

video review: 'aviary' by julia holter

Yeah, this won't be controversial at all... eh, we'll see.

Anyway, I'm finally going after this Mick Jenkins project next, and then probably Daughters, so stay tuned!

album review: 'aviary' by julia holter

It feels like it's been longer since the last Julia Holter album than just three years.

And I know that sounds a bit strange, given that I don't really talk about her much - I discovered her discography late in 2015 before giving her album Have You In My Wilderness a slot on my year-end list, but I'll freely admit that outside of a few choice cuts it's not an album I revisit often... mostly because it's an odd album for me to take in. It's beautifully effervescent, but also layered and complicated and impressively nuanced, which makes for the sort of listening experience that's both light and heavy simultaneously, which actually makes her 2013 album Loud City Song an easier listen just for emotional continuity and a slightly more approachable style. I've typically said that Julia Holter's music is Lana Del Rey done right, but upon more thought I'm not sure that's the most apt comparison - more like Lana Del Rey with more intricacy and density, and I'll admit that's not for everyone.

And if I wanted proof of that, I just had to look at Julia Holter's newest project, a daunting fifteen-song, hour-and-a-half double album that she's described as her most layered and expansive to date, reported inspired by the chaotic screaming reality of the past few years, especially 2018. Which seemed like an interesting choice for Julia Holter - I've never quite considered her music contemporary, and by that I mean connected to current events and ideas, she seemed comfortable with abstraction and loftier themes. But hey, at the very least I had to respect the ambition, so what did we get from Aviary?

Monday, February 26, 2018

video review: 'chime' by dessa

I think I stunned a couple people with the score I gave this one... hell, I even went back to the others I scored the same to check to see if it deserved to be on the same pedestal. But the truth is that I couldn't find a problem with it - every song sent a chill down my spine, the sonic themes meshed perfectly, the emotional throughline was wonderfully balanced, and the writing is top-of-the-line, analytical but never sacrificing the emotional core. This is the album to beat in 2018, and really, it deserves the score.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

Monday, November 27, 2017

video review: 'utopia' by björk

Man, this was a tough review to put together... and honestly, I wish I liked this a lot more... eh, it happens. Next up, let's do something weird - stay tuned!

album review: 'utopia' by bjork

So I've talked about 'breakup albums' before in this series, many of which stand as some of the most evocative and emotional records that an artist can make, delving into a relationship's dissolution in real time and exploring the often complex situation to mine some sort of deeper meaning or closure. But what gets talked about a lot less is what comes after, when the emotions behind the breakup are settled, and while the memory might linger, there are new paths and opportunities going forward. Records that take this sort of direct sequel approach are much rarer, mostly because the emotional dynamic is actually trickier: the breakup provides context for the journey of the album's protagonist, but it can't overshadow the primary emotions running through it, and that's a tough balance to walk, both in lyrics and performance.

Enter Bjork, one of the most boundary-pushing artists in the past thirty years and easily one of the most challenging - and while I've talked about how it took me a while to come around on her work, the past two years since I reviewed Vulnicura has only deepened my affection for her records and her artistic process. And while I was a tad annoyed that her only creative partner on this project Utopia was Arca - an electronic producer who with every project and collaboration continues to run out his clock in my books - I was very intrigued by where Bjork wanted to take this. For one, she described this record as her 'tinder record', where she was looking to find that new love and passion, but she was also looking to explore and dissect utopian ideals, the Paradisio to Vulnicura's Inferno. Now I did have some reservations - not only was this her longest record at over an hour, utopian ideas tend to be tough to crack or make palatable to our quasi-dystopian world... but on the other hand, Bjork is a genius, her interviews before the record showed she was plenty aware and capable of the difficult task ahead of her, and considering the sonic palette was reportedly calling back to Vespertine - Bjork's second best record after Post - I was really excited for this. So, what did I find in Utopia?

Friday, October 27, 2017

video review: 'ken' by destroyer

I honestly think this might be one of my best reviews - what can I say, Destroyer brings out the poetic side of my writing in a really good way, I dug this.

Next up, some older business I should have covered a good month ago, so stay tuned!

album review: 'ken' by destroyer

It's hard to talk about Dan Bejar's work as Destroyer. Not just for its sheer diversity of tones and sounds that have flipped through a dozen different genres over the decades, but also because getting a grip on his writing... well, most people don't. Hell, even with every listen to his records I don't quite feel I always get his turns of phrase, and I've struggled to articulate why that is. Even on songs where he does get more direct - and there's been less and less of that with his work in the 2010s - the implications and subtext of his work often linger longer than the actual text, sometimes picking up enough of a foundation like in the cinematic swell and grounded themes of Poison Season, but other times... look, I like Kaputt, but that record can get lost in its own slick 80s-inspired sophisti-pop atmosphere, and I often find myself going back to the more grounded but still potent Thief, or Streethawk: A Seduction, or my personal favourite, the melodically stunning Your Blues.

But one tone I've always felt can be hit-and-miss for Dan Bejar was instability, mostly because I've always found him most compelling at his most refined and measured and emotionally expressive, where you can tell the structure reinforces and propels the emotional transcendence that his most poetic lines and delivery can hit. Without that structure, you get records like Trouble In Dreams and This Night, frequently compelling but messy in a way that gives you the suspicious feeling Bejar might be trolling his audience - and even if he swears he's not, it's not a feeling that goes away. Such was my concern with ken, which was reportedly scaling back from the grandiose power of Poison Season for something a little smaller and sleazier, with chill murky tones playing for noir but potentially tilting in over-stylized but conceptually underweight kitsch - in other words, the buzz was not exactly promising. But I wanted to dig into this for myself - Bejar is too good of a writer and too innovative a composer for me to not give this a chance, so what did I find in ken?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

video review: 'choir of the mind' by emily haines and the soft skeleton

So this was... actually way better than I thought it'd be, really happy I got a chance to cover it. 

But now onto our scheduled event, the record I really was anticipating before this pleasant surprise, stay tuned!

Friday, September 22, 2017

album review: 'choir of the mind' by emily haines and the soft skeleton

So I'm a little stunned there was as much interest from my patrons in this project as there is - a primarily piano-driven side project of a Canadian indie pop rock singer who has never really crossed over to the states, with her last album in this side project coming over a decade ago.

Okay, let's back up. For those of you who don't know, Emily Haines is the frontwoman of Metric, an indie pop group that had a remarkable amount of success around the turn of the decade before hitting a snag with their 2015 record Pagans In Vegas - which really did deserve more attention than it got, because I think the satire went over too many heads. But it didn't produce the same singles and Canadian indie success, so I'm not really surprised Emily Haines wanted to step back towards solo work, especially as she already contributed to the Broken Social Scene album released earlier this year. Now I went back to listen to that last Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton record, and... well, it was alright enough. If you put it up against the piano-driven indie acts of the mid-2000s, I could see this standing out a bit thanks to the trip hop elements around the edges, but I was never wowed by the writing and you do need that to be on point if you're playing in this solo style. Never quite experimental or dark enough beyond some clever turns of phrase, it had the feel of a side project, and thus it's not surprising that Metric was the breakout act here. But hey, a few of my patrons wanted me to cover this, so what the hell: how is Choir Of The Mind?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

video review: 'lust for life' by lana del rey

So this... yeah, not terrible. Not exactly good either, but Lana Del Rey is getting better, I'll give props where due.

And yet for a group that's not getting better... well, stay tuned!

Friday, July 28, 2017

album review: 'lust for life' by lana del rey

I really don't know why I keep giving Lana Del Rey second chances.

Because that is how it feels, at least from my point of view - ever since she won me over early with 'Video Games' I've been willing to listen to her overlong, dreary, melodramatic projects with the vague hope that somewhere she'd manage to recapture some of that magic and emotive presence. I listened through Born To Die's uneven stumbling, I suffered through Ultraviolence's insufferable baby-voiced crooning, I struggled through the more polished gleam of Honeymoon, all with the vague hope that if unable to make anything with dramatic pathos she'd at least make the melodrama compelling. Keep in mind that it's not like I couldn't find other singers in her mold that could pull off this sort of baroque pop - Julia Holter is my go-to example but take just a half-step towards folk or country or indie rock and you'll find dozens of them, many who are more compelling singers and songwriters - but I keep hoping that she'd pull it off, there's always the trace of that potential there.

And believe it or not, I had hopes that Lust For Life would be the record that gets there. The lead-off single 'Love' was by far one of her best singles, and if she could deliver more tracks in that vein that could tap into sentiments that felt more fully realized or borderline populist, she could have something here. Of course, this was also a record where she was bringing many more producers on board - along with guest appearances from A$AP Rocky and Stevie Nicks and The Weeknd, which could make sense, and Playboi Carti, which absolutely did not - and it was also by far her longest record, which considering the pace and tempo would almost certainly lead to things dragging... but hey, the hope was still there, so what did I find on Lust For Life?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

video review: 'crack-up' by fleet foxes

Warned you all this'd be controversial, and I wasn't kidding. Ah well, the music industry cycle moves fast, people will get over it.

As for what's next... honestly, no clue, so stay tuned!

album review: 'crack up' by fleet foxes

I'm surprised I haven't gotten more requests for this record.

Okay, there's a part of me that isn't that surprised - indie folk always falls into a weird category when it comes to how much people want me to cover it, but Fleet Foxes is a fascinating case in their own right. For one, I wouldn't quite define them as straightforward folk music, given how much they pulled on sunny 60s pop, alternative country, and some of the hollower Celtic elements that enriched their vocal harmonies on their first two records. And while the impressionistic lyrics could make for a complicated listening experience to decode, a lot of people were just content to let the words and richly organic instrumentation wash over them, from a star-making self-titled debut to the darker yet no less compelling Helplessness Blues a few years later.

And yet there's a part of me that feels like Fleet Foxes might have been forgotten a bit - between the years between records in an increasingly quick hype cycle, even in the indie scene, to say nothing of the rise of one-time drummer for the group Josh Tillman to dominance under the moniker Father John Misty, it might have been easy for Fleet Foxes to get forgotten, especially given as their very earnest and heartfelt brand of folk was later copied ad nauseum in the early 2010s by far less complex or interesting acts. And yet six years after Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes are back after an extended hiatus, minus Tillman and on a new label with their longest record to date. And if only to soak in those harmonies, I really wanted to check this out, so what did I find on Crack Up?