Monday, 30 August 2021

KSI "All Over The Place" (2021)


Taking action on ambition and following his dreams, I've got nothing but respect for KSI choosing to step out of one lane and maneuver into another. Little of what I'd heard before lured me in but the Holiday song was the soundtrack to my own summer vacation and since then I've mulled over this one a fair few times, waiting for something to click. Sadly, I haven't escaped what's most obvious, Olajide is currently more budget than talent. Although he brings expression, thoughts and passion to the fold, he is constantly outpaced by production that is as its titled, all over the place!

The records sixteen songs fracture into a lot of interesting vibes. Strongly inspired by the British music scene, one can hear the classic stylings of the 90s electronic, 00s Garage and R&B with a sprinkling of Grime. The project is mostly packaged with modern aesthetics, taking a predictable yet occasional path into Trap beats wedged between mostly warm, uplifting instrumentals with some colorful Caribbean flavor too.

With KSI revealing how his features are paid for, it adds a sad note as his guests pretty much outshine him at every corner. I'd always figured features were a friendly affair, artists working with friends for the art but it seems in the Rap scene this can be purely business too... or somewhere in between as things are never black and white!

Holiday is still the albums best track. In fact its the one song where KSI shines, getting everything just right. For the most part he does sound like someone attempting to find their voice on the rest of the cuts. Ironically its the more candid and plainly spoken Sleeping With The Enemy that is most endearing. Although his flow is plain jane, the words really hit home, an authentic expression. My conclusion here? I'm really not sure, this record essentially sounds like what it is on paper, someone with a big budget giving a shot at the music game.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Turnstile "Glow On" (2021)


Released just six weeks back, the Turnstile Love Connection EP had me hyped for something special... but when your four best tracks are those already shipped, well it had me initially disappointed. Turnstile, the Hardcore outfit from Baltimore USA, were put on my radar with Space & Time. Their lean and timely infusion of musical sounds normally spun far beyond the Hardcore scene was both a breath of fresh air and a riveting injection of adrenaline to a sound dulled by a lack of progression with time. Working on the same formula as that record, Glow On cushions the musical creativity with subtle use of electronic percussive toms and claps and the irritating cowbell. In the more obvious avenues, dazzling pianos weave between the sharp guitars in moments of melody beyond the rhythmic two-step onslaught.

In its predictable Hardcore persuasion, the band pull the usual tricks with tight and lean power chord shredding, building up to the big groove riffs as the drums cut to the half time and the mosh moments land the songs trajectory. Between its slabs of foot stomping riffage, sprinkles of color and melody intersperse. It often takes the form of Surf Rock, with washy, hazy guitar tones giving off the easy breezy summer vibes. On occasion a heartfelt emotional angle is reached as sung voices get warm and candid, not your usual cut for this aggressive music but they do it so well. Songs like Underwater Boi, Alien Love Call & New Heart mostly cut out the Hardcore, better defining this particular flavor that emerges in fractions on the rest of the album.

A favorite moment for me is not one of brilliance but confusion with Wild Wrld and its uncanny rhythm guitar riff. The bars are distinctly different, sounding like a Metallica outtake from the years of creative struggle around Death Magnetic. Its a mild blemish for a record that spins its formula so well. As I touched on earlier, that initial disappointment wore off. This record is fiery and driven, a band in their moment. For me it looses its edge in the shadow of what came before it, the design a carbon copy yet the feeling is still riveting. After quite a few spins, the best songs still feel like those from the EP. I'm left wondering if I wasn't aware of it, how different would my words on this record would be? I still get crazy excited every time Holiday comes on! What a banging song.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Secret Stairways "Enchantment Of The Ring" (1997)


Following on from the now unearthed demo Drifting..., we have another eight track cassette. Released two years on, Enchantment Of The Ring does little in terms of evolution but gives us another insight into the imagination of this lone musician operating outside of any scene. Conjuring the music of moonlit slumbers and fantastical daydreams, Mathew Davis delivers a string of gentle journeys that peer into the crevasses of alternate realms. Led by mystery evoking tones, his keyboard arrangements tend to linger on steadily looped, calming melodies, slowly brooding into big symphonic swells of lush, cloud swept atmosphere.

Within this context notable tracks emerge, Amongst The Waterlillies fondly reminds me of Adrian Von Ziegler with the music being accompanied by the persistent sound of bird and cricket chirps in the background. Not as lush but an interesting idea to hear earlier on. Before it, Finvarra's Chessboard musters up a militant percussive drive led by bright pianos and gleaming strings. Its thematic resonance reminding me of Lord Lovidicus on the Daulu Bûrz-Ishi record.

With a begrudged, crawling bass and snare kick alternation, its opening track rips right into Ethereal and Doom Metal territory with gloomy funeral synths and a hazy distortion guitar weeping its sorrows in the backdrop. Its deeply captivating, with an engulfing sense of impending melancholy. Quite the different vibe from the rest of the songs but shows a remarkable talent perusing their inspiration in multiple directions.

Its final closing song, Onward, To Hy Breasail, peaks my interest as a link between the records opening and songs in the middle. Returning with livened percussion and another gloomy atmosphere, that fantasy magic spirit is woven into the mix as its lead melody glistens a little fairy dust over the despaired mood lingering below it. The bass synth wobbles on with a mesmerizing quality and the whole thing is captivating.

As a record, or demo, its blemishes are in its dilution. Its most fantastical musical moments sway from the path laid out and thus makes shadows for its main theme to reside in, however with these divergent being start end, it does feel like an adventure but its clear the whole thing didn't land consistently with the best musical ideas. Either way, its a wonderful demo to check out from a musician who would of struggled to find an audience for this at the time. RIP Mathew!

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Kataxu "Ancestral Mysteries" (2021)


For a long time Ive wanted to get around to writing on Hunger Of Elements by Kataxu, the one man band from Poland. That record is one of a rare few that walks gracefully in the shadow of Emperor's symphonic majesty, conjuring epics to hold a candle to classic In The Nightside Eclipse. So imagine my excitement and surprise, suddenly after sixteen years of silence, Kataxu returns! Structured with another six tracks, three lengthy metallic tracks either side of three astral symphonic interludes, it seemingly had all the markings of that album I've adored since my youth. Sadly, Ancestral Mysteries doesn't hold up to expectations. With that in mind, maybe I lost the ability to enjoy this for what it is? On closer inspection however, It does seem like the showering of magic its predecessor offered is nowhere to be heard.

With an unrelenting, galloping pace, a constant propelling force has us cruising through ferocious blast beats rattling of the gleam of synths penetrating the pummeling wall of sound. Its a formula I adore, caught somewhere between the cosmic extremes of Darkspace and luminous polish of Dimmu Borgir, the promise of adventure and epic all too good. With each listen, it felt as if the destination was never arrived at, or even conceived. These songs meander with its thick and dense guitars plucking darkly chords that fail to steer the ship with any rhythmic might or adrenaline. Ultimately, they just get washed up in the wall of sound without the power to punch.

With further spins I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the vocals. High in the mix with strained throaty shouts, the texture wasn't inviting and a lot of the musics direction seemed inline with the monologues mutely roared over sparse instrument interludes. This gripe had me thinking about the production and aesthetics. Turning back to Hunger Of Elements, I can see where this went wrong.

That record has a looser production, almost sloppy and haphazard. What it does do however, is let the symphonic aspect leap out at the listener, Its contributions no longer evened out by equality. Not only this but the writing is so much more adventurous. Dark, nightly pianos rapture around the listener and sudden shifts for bright melodies to blossom give the music so much more excitement and adventure.

With those original songs in mind Ancestral Mysteries now sounds narrow and dull. The production softens its instruments into a cushioned wall of sound that sucks the vibrancy out of its guitars and keys. The ideas are there but in lacking a punch to bring the music through, its really hard to feel how it all adds up. Listening closely one can hear the arrangements and potential magic but even that effort doesn't make the music click. I'm left disappointed and undecided, did the writing not hit the mark here or was it the production?

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 20 August 2021

Body Count "Carnivore" (2020)


Somehow this one snuck under my radar in 2020. As an avid Body Count fan, I remember looking forward to its release after the charged, anthemic Bum-Rush single. So glad to have been reminded of its existence! Continuing on with a wonderful resurgence after drifting into obscurity, the group bring another tight, concise set of straight forward songs led by Ice-T's politically charged presence up front. One to follow their own rhythm and influences in the past, the opening title track showcases the band picking up on current trends with a barrage of dense, sludgy Djent riffs crushing in alongside a beastly howl that imminently grabs your attention.

Its not a recurring theme bar No Remorse. Variety, shifts in temperament and tempo have these eleven songs mixing much of the Body Count persona with fresh ideas and excellent collaborations. Another Level has Ice-T finding a keen singing voice for the hook, backed by the rough shouts of Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed. The legend Dave Lombardo pops up to drum on a track too and perhaps most unexpected, Amy Lee lends her voice in a wonderful chemistry with Ice, the two overlap so well.

That track, When I'm Gone, and a few others have very similar lyrical themes to those on Bloodlust. Sadly the recurrences tend to be reflections on societies problems still perpetuating. Reflecting on the loss of Nipsey Hussle is a saddening echo of losses expressed last album. It ties the records together as Ice keeps his anger laser focused on the problems of street life, American inequality and the persistence of racism.

Its a pretty typical affair but very well executed. Lots of heated modern metal with a street spin from Ice's wise words, often throttled with anger! With the excitement still fresh in the air, these songs sound like they may have more legs to last. The production is tight, the guitar solos lively as ever and its wrapped up with one hell of a bonus track! The classic 6 In The Mornin rerecorded with his band. Given how dated and sparse the original is thees days, its quite preferable in metallic form. A mean, solid record, if Body Count keep rolling these out, ill turn up to listen every time!

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Secret Stairways "Drifting..." (1995)


If you've followed this blog for Dungeon Synth and Fantasy music, then today you are in for a treat. The micro-genre's resurgence over the last decade seems to routinely unearth forgotten artists, demo tapes and prototypical material from time gone by. Secret Stairways, a name so fitting for this genre, is one mans symphonic vision. Sadly now diseased, Mathew Davis's work has been shared with the world again, finding a new audience over twenty five years since its creation.

Mathew certainly leans more in the Fantasy direction with a dreamy direction and melodic gleam. His keyboard work here is stunning yet amateurishly produced to suck the cheese out of Korg and Yamaha tones, embellishing them in soft reverbs to create a classy, magical yet fidelity lacking sound that is utterly charming. With no percussion or base in sight, the music is mostly a stream of string arrangements, yearning with beauty and natural wonder, fit for the scenic beauty of secluded forest covered mountains, blossoming with life fed from gushing rivers on a summers eve.

 Each song brings a different temperament with an icy chill breezing in on its closing track to see these scenic moments off into the night. Before it, Dream Of Lorien is a standout, deploying an illusive, mysterious melody on repeat. Shimmering instruments pass by in the dreamy haze of its backdrop. The atmosphere is wonderful, a brief peering into a wonderful imagination with a soft touch of darkness.

As a five track demo it leave one with an appetite for whats next and curiosity for what inspired these musicians at a time of great disconnect, in comparison to the Internet age. Although not strictly Dungeon Synth as it leans in a different direction, this piece of music predates even Depressive Silence. The roots of this music seem to deepen and enrich as time passes and more discoveries are made!

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Tetrarch "Unstable" (2021)

Is the Nu Metal revival on? There is certainly no shortage of acts doing something with the sound twenty years on from the genres hey day. As the music of my youth and formative years, records like this scratch the nostalgic itch along with a frilly rush of adrenaline. That being said, its not creativity or originality but the cliches and tropes being re-spun that's exciting. Tetrarch bring little beyond competency and execution. Practically everything on this sophomore record echos the big names in the genre.

Firstly singer Diamond Rowe has a remarkable closeness to the sadly diseased Chester Beninnington. His inflections, accent, temperament and cadence all hailing back to Hybrid Theory. It is a big component, fronting the songs with poppy hooks and catchy deliveries. Secondly, backing his vocals, the bulk of instrumentation here resembles Korn. However it is not their classic era but specifically The Serenity Of Suffering. The general beefiness of aggression is akin but the electronic creepy melodies that ring out in the backdrop of every song are uncannily alike.

Thirdly in brief stints, and notably on the opening track, the percussive element shifts gear with rhythmic riffs that sound practically lifted out of the Slipknot discography. Take A Look Inside's opening riffs also stink of Gojira. Pointing out the supposed "plagiarism" is too look past the competency though. This is a well written set of lean Pop Metal song structures with a seriously beefy and hard hitting exterior. Track after track pummels with pain and anger, occasionally frothing with rage. To its credit, some excellent electric lead solos get weaved in the mix. High octane, fast and vibrant they sound of the back of whats been done in this region over the last ten years.

 Lyrically blunt, its plain lyrics dive into the deep end of that self loathing, endlessly frustrated and emotionally tormented teenage angst. Everything is self indulged pain with a lack of resolution, words that would of consumed me in my youth but these days feel meaningless with a lack of resolution offered. Its quite remarkable to me just how naked and to the point it captures that approach from twenty years back. My quarrel with them is that besides offering respite and catharsis through connection, it can also be somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy to circle the problem.

If you love Nu Metal then this is a wonderful bit of fun. My enjoyment here is an extension of what I already adore considering there is little new on offer. It should be said, some of these un-original themes and lyrics are delivered with a wonderful shot of adrenaline, no thanks to Rowe's singing. It does however makes me wonder as to where this band could go from here? These songs are well written, it works as is. There is no hiding from the shadow they live in though. I have no idea where this revival is going but if it blows up, I could see Tetrarch riding the wave!

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Howling Giant "The Space Between Worlds" (2019)

Following up on a dazzling four track instrumental EP Alteration, it became swiftly apparent the band are side stepping from their core sound. As part of a growing trend in Metal that is already tiring me, the excitement wore off quickly. Initially spurred on by Ghost, this revivalist sound heard here reminds me of other fond discoveries, Green Lung, Beastmaker and a touch of Baroness vocally. Rather than riding the cusp of whats extreme or current, these songs look back to decades past by to pull together solid fundamentals of songwriting and classic riffage yet for all its excellence, the spark doesn't light a fire for most of the nine tracks found here.

 Ghosts In The Well peaks my interest, stalling the albums starting momentum and general temperament. Its acoustic strum sing along a cold and cautious tone of subtle sombreness. Its a rooted, cultural vibe standing in contrast to the swaths of loose and rumbling groove overdriven riffs that roar through every track. Its brief but welcome as the records aesthetic gets stretched on repeated listens. The soft chime of organs beneath every riff dulls the power of rhythmic guitar ideas, cushioning them into a common corner where one song to the next gets a little bland.

Cybermancer And The Doomsday Express may spice things up with hurried tempos and saw-wave synths but it feels like another idea entirely strung into the mix as its lyrics stand in direct contrast to the rest of the record. They in contrast, continually conjures images of mystic implied rural life from decades gone by and re-imagined, a romanticism of woods, wizards and witches. The vocals do deliver the theme so well, soaring with clarity and conjuring a creativity to resonate of the instrumentals below. Its a keen performance at the front to sell this nostalgic metal ride.

The groove riff that concludes Everlight, its fantastic guitar solos and the creaking Post-Rock build up makes for one wonderful song where the stars align but for much of the record that doesn't happen for me. I don't want to knock the record, My own exposure to this movement has this one feeling a little underwhelming despite clearly being a well written and performed album. To any Metalhead who yet to catch this sound though, it would be a great introduction worthy of checking out.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 16 August 2021

Nas "King's Disease II" (2021)

 With less than a year elapsed, legendary New York rapper Nas returns with a second installment of King's Disease. These fifteen new tracks are clearly less married to the original theme, much to its merit. Initially I feared this might be left overs and b-sides from the original sessions but rejoice, this second chapter has a fine artist re-invigorated, finding stride and inspiration with whatever topics he approaches.

Reflecting on what didn't work with King's Disease, it becomes apparent that the production aids Nas greatly here. Too often do nineties rappers try to abridge current aesthetics with clunky beats, awkward hooks and impersonating flows. Still working with Hit-Boy on the beats, this time the relationship births a selection of instrumentals that could slide sweetly back into that glorious era, practically unchecked.

Its not a set path, tracks like 40 Side, EPMD 2 & YKTV throw a modern spice in the mix with aggressive trap percussion to break up the soulful 90s vibes. Sadly Eminem and other features on these cuts feel underwhelming in the shadow of the albums superior tracks. It lends Lauryn Hill a spotlight to shine again with an aged voice, rapping with a laser focused verse from one legend to another. A beautiful moment.

Lastly, there is Nas himself, sounding free, loose, in flow and speaking his mind with a candid honesty underwritten by good intentions and propelled by an unshakable talent. He brings the instrumentals to life with words and story's, turning the beats into songs that last. Coupling his verses with hooks and words between, the frameworks for themes are set wonderfully, leaving a lasting sense of wholeness.

There is much wisdom and warmth to be heard in his lyrics. Always gushing from that timeless flow and crafty wordings. On occasions his descriptive and associative raps conjure a little spirit from the Mafioso Rap era once again. These two notable aspects overlap heavily on the dynamite track Death Row East, an insightful song illuminating details around the East Coast West Coat beef. An era that ended so tragically.

This second chapter has offered up far more than a fresh crop of tracks to enjoy. Its lyrics impact and land with intent to carry. Much of this album feels classic, something to enjoy over and over for years to come. No record is perfect though, there are definitely favorites to pick over others. A little trim would have served it nicely but the majority has a wonderful artist finding their stride again as if it never went away.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Hiatus Kaiyote "Mood Valiant" (2021)


Six years out from Choose Your Weapon, the Australian outfit Hiatus Kaiyote return with twelve classy cuts of modern, creative Jazz Rock to move, sooth and groove the soul! In my mind their tone, composure and aesthetics have barely budged yet something seems seductively easy and relaxing on Mood Valiant. With an emphasis on soulful vibes and vivacious singing from Nai Palm, the music often swoons and croons into eruptions of energy guided by lively percussion rhythmic power. As such the music comes with moments, gentle rivers of warm persuasion suddenly surging with its meaning as a bend in the stream swerves, relinquishing itself to the current. Not all of the record fits this stride, towards its conclusion a couple of songs linger in moody places, drifting through dreary moods, flailing a brush of color on route.

The chemistry is wonderful as one might expect from this group. Its Nai's words that frequently arises as a poetic peak to the crafty instrumentals. With lyrics being a weak point for me, her repeated hooks dig their claws in chiming of the music with thought provoking sentiments and questions to give context to the musical direction. My favorite moments often came with the mustering surges mentioned before. Another niche observation that came with my preferences were keen druming grooves finding a sweet snare kick groove to bring some passages near to a Jazz Hop equivalent. Ultimately Mood Valiant is a very stylish record, modernizing some older values with courage and passion and forging a warm environment to slip into in the process.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Arcanist "Poseidonis" (2021)

Fortune or chance, whatever your fancy, had me stumble onto this record that speaks to a particular niche I've been into as of late. Perhaps it is more likely this luck was bestowed by internet algorithms figuring out our inner workings from the mass of data our listening habits feed it. Akin to Old Sorcery and Jim Kirkwood, this French artist Arcanist steps right into a sweet spot, close to the middle of a cross section between the gloomy Dungeon Synth but more so psychedelic 70s Electronica. The latter here being described as "Berlin School" is something I will have to research into further.

For me, this record feels shrouded by its own mystique. Slow, brooding and atmospheric, the excitement of its animated crescendos feel sparse and rare. Their magnificence often eclipsing the magic of its soothing build ups which conjure a majestic calmness through luscious interweaving electronic instruments offering both texture and melody to engross with. Distilled in unsettled atmospheres of creeping mischief, its synth tones and keyboard notes echo a little in the vein of Progressive Rock, most notably a similarity to Contact and the nightly chill of Oscillotron.

Its two part, seventeen minute epic, The Death Of Malygris, bursts this welcoming temperament apart as we plunge into the horrors of nightly creatures. Woven percussion and dense buzzing baselines usher in nightlife Synthwave vibes, vaguely reminiscent of Dead With The Dead but vastly more artistic. Its a wonderful execution of elements that play out an eventful journey leading into to big thematic theatrics with its densely orchestrated introduction to the second half. Here, a brief crossover between the records opening vibes. It then dismantles itself into an eerie Black Ambient horrorshow.

Its final track leaves me unsatisfied, a curious experiment in tonality and melody, shifting from one distinct arrangement style to another, neither of which ever feel comfortable. It fizzles out to the fading embers of an airplane engine drone that ends quietly. As a whole, its a stunning adventure but one that ends with the adventurer lured deceptively, lost forever in endless caverns of ruin. On paper an intriguing way to journey a record yet for me it never quite works? A small quarrel, Poseidonis is remarkably wonderful album, a nightly, mysterious and esoteric journey forged through the fantastic tonal ideas of an era long gone by.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Wampyric Solitude "The Splendor Of Loneliness" (2021)


So distant now from its curious origins and sparks of individual majesty, The Splendor Of Loneliness has me checking out from this artist as a clear downward trajectory continues. It is never fun to be critical but this record has been bloated with lengthy and repetitious loops of grating low-fi. Its ideas are obvious but the execution misses the mark too often. Its opening track holds its own, the sparse percussion and esoteric gong strikes from the deep push along a slow whirl of shadowy synths. Devoid of uplift, it stares into the cold, lonely abandon that lays before it.

The music has a chemistry between instruments that overcomes its deliberate distortion and wavering fidelity. The issue is, this approach to tonality swiftly falls apart with tracks like Crypt Of Vampyric Darkness, Eternally I Hate, Enthroned Amongst The Eldritch Shadows and A Putrid Stench From The Grave Of Hope. They all push minimalism on repetition with uncomfortable synth tones that miss the sinister, imposing or demonic presence they likely aim for, sadly faltering to become an irritant for the ears. Singular notes, or small groupings of, lethargically drone sluggishly, cycling incessantly with little sense of building up tension or atmosphere.

For me, it doesn't even work as mood setting background music. Ironically its two shortest songs have flashes of magic. Grave Syndrome ushers in a creepy yet charming sinister energy as its brooding acoustic guitar gets mustered into action as a devious baseline propels it along. Ultimately, I had very little to take away from this experience given I didn't vibe with the aesthetic. I do think a lot of this musicianship rests on a blades edge. Tricky to pull of the chemistry but step wrong and its game over.

Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Vince Staples "Vince Staples" (2021)

What is the significance of a self title record? It tends to signal something of importance, often a debut naming or musical statement of intent. For Vince on his forth outing, its a reflection of self, affirming his artistic stride with a concise record. Its a lyrical ride reflecting his intellect, making mockery of braggadocio and show boating, while shining a light on the influences, pressures and hypocrisies of his upbringing and environment. Of course this is all wrapped up in controversy as he shifts the perspective from himself and packages the outlook in the crooked lines of ugly lines and verses. At twenty two minutes its another very concise album, same length as FM!. There is little room for anything that's not sharp and pointed. Its song titles often hint at an intersection between his characters and the reflection he shines on them.

These ten numbers run fast, no song surpassing the three minute mark. This flow gives power to its subdued instrumentals, led by sparse percussive beats. They rattle pacy, tight hi-hats and groove of the deep 808 kicks with sharp swift snare strikes between. Its all packaged with fast attack and minimal decay for quite the flat tonality, a bland aesthetic that masterfully resonates of its backing instruments and samples that bring in the flavor. It is as mentioned a subdued experience, a tricky chemistry to get right. Its cousin would be those classic G-Funk vibes yet a sleepy alternative, arriving with the bombast stripped out. The loops can linger on a couple of ambiguous elements, shy of potent melody and forging atmosphere through the obscurity of its dreamy arrangements. A lot of the record feels like a hazy memory, much to its charm.

Initially I found the record a little dull but that is the misleading nature of the beast. Its livelier beats get going from Taking Trips onwards, which would peak my attention. As Vince's lyrics set in, I found the keenest of his musings in the opening with some his critiques and perspectives coming back around again later on, always sharp though. On another level these songs play like flipped bangers with the essence of that ripped out. His steady and soft spoken word delivery a breeze to follow on these sleepy tracks. Giving attention to the craftiness of his lyrics, these lines could play like killer hooks yet its all played down into this style that suits him to well. Being a sucker for a little bombast and bravado its what this album does right that perhaps makes it a little harder to get stuck in my mind, however it does play like the kind of record to experience as one thing, because it lacks any weak points, a very clear vision well executed.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 2 August 2021

Billie Eilish "Happier Than Ever" (2021)

Just a reminder, Billie is still a teenager. This is remarkable within the context of a wonderfully mature and wise record that sees the young star navigate fame and fortune with a rarefied grace. Her lyrics here are a treasure to embrace. I hope she can continue in this well handled direction, were too many that have come before end up ravished by the spotlight, media and unfair pressures of fame. For two siblings making quirky music together from their bedroom, to then be catapulted to the peak of stardom, this is quite the force to reckon with. The music too moves with this mature navigation of choppy waters. Stripping back youthful experiments with noise and ASMR, the ship is now steered in a direction reminiscent of many classic singer songwriters that glowed in the spotlight of decades forgotten to this generation.

Billie's voice has flourished from intimate wordings and quirky whispers to classy undressings of emotion through power and strength. Vulnerable, yet in control and laying all bare to be heard by those who listen. Having frequently been at the attention of a news cycle set on critiquing her presentation of self, the topics of the record get wrapped up in a critical awareness of this pressure which she replies to with unshakeable truth through reason. For young people growing up, these messages are so on point. The mesmerizing transient drone of Not My Responsibility sets an intense focus for Billie to talk truth of all the commentary on her clothes, appearance and sexuality, illuminating that the problem lies with those who choose to speculate and judge themselves.

Getting Older and My Future deliver such a charming maturity and positivity from a young person navigating the waves. "Cause I'm in love with my future, can't wait to meet her", wonderful lyrics, its so nice to hear warm outlook on ones life and aging. The classic taste of airy reverberated synths, soft inviting pianos, gentle guitar strumming and crafty grooving baselines somehow nestle sweetly between their "traditional" sound with tracks like Oxytocin, I Didn't Change My Number and Overheated, these songs being more rooted in the style that defined her breakout.

Billie may take the spotlight but Finneas deserves much praise for masterfully expanded the albums pallet to sound as if a group of top session musicians had been brought in to gloss up the electronic aesthetic of his When We Fall Asleep Where We Go instrumentation. The record navigates both ends of the spectrum and all in between as its run time offers up a fair helping of variety. Billie too overlaps her playful whisperings and glowing traditional singing to keep things healthily interesting. Their chemistry is sublime, offering up an engrossing engagement from subdued instrumentals that embrace sparsity and slow tempos to give keen power to the minimal melodies and aesthetics left to be heard. Most the instruments arrive soft, ambient and incidentally with flourishes of energy coming from snappy percussion forging interesting grooves.

With every listen I've felt a fizzle in the end starting at NDA, a quite remarkable lyrical tale and musing that doesn't seem to hit the stride instrumentally, the bite of the words just don't resonate for some unknown reason. It tempo shifts up at the end, transitioning into Therefore I Am, which quite honestly felt all too much like a rehash the debut records vibe. Then the title track, gets off to a wonderful start but suffers growing pains agressing up into a sing along grunge blowout that lacked the right melody or lyric to give it the vibe it clearly strides for. No album is perfect and not every track resonates quite like some of Billie's words which are as stated, quite remarkable for the pitfalls she is successfully navigating.

Your Power makes a personal favorite for me. With a soft gush of Ethereal wind, the two usher in a heartwarming guitar and voice song reminiscent of Mazzy Star. Its lyrical content feels intentionally offset from the melancholy vibes the song ushers forth. I doubt Happier Than Ever will have quite the impact its predecessor had however between the two we simply have more fantastic songs to enjoy and plenty more to look forward too it seems. The one thing I hope people take away from this one is the lyrics. So much to be learned from someone else's experience here.

Rating: 8/10