Heavy and harsh is the sound of The Horrors newest EP Lout. Following on from 2017’s V, an album that blended the emo-rock aspects of the bands sound with a synthesised drive. They return with an EP that is full of abrasive, distorted and beat driven tracks that returns to the heavier roots of their 2007 debut album Strange House.
Title track “Lout”, which is a word used to describe brutalist men, bursts into action with its heavy syncopated drum beat and industrial metal guitar lines. As lead singer Faris Badwan borders on the lines of screamo and the bands classic emo rock, you can hear the true ferocity that the band have tapped into. The soundscape is alive, continuously grinding and overall just simply exciting to listen to.
Moving into “Org” with sounds that were found on the likes of Poppy’s I Disagree, the band go even more left-field incorporating their synthesised sound into a new blistering form. The glitchy vocals and beats are pounding and it feels like you’re at an underground rave, roof shaking all whilst the guy on stage sees how many effects he can throw onto a sound. There’s even some 100 gecs inspired movements during the second with the off-key switch up. It’s both disturbing and emphatic at the same time.
And on “Whiplash” the band combines elements of both previous tracks to create a harsh and unforgiving goth metal banger. This newfound sound from the band both matches the melodic and stylistic feelings from previous workings, whilst simultaneously pushing the boundaries of how far the heaviness of their sound can go. Upon the announcement of this EP the band said that this would be an insight into the direction of their upcoming album. If it’s anything similar to the quality of this EP then it could well be some the bands most exhilarating work of recent times.
As the years roll on by and our lives change for the better or worse, the one constant through everything seems to be King Gizzard’s relentless output. They’ve seemingly done it all, from a never-ending album with Nonagon Infinity, to a jazz-infused collaboration on Sketches Of Brunswick East. Now the band seem to be taking a step back from seeing how far they can push their sound, to refining sounds that have become familiar to them. This isn’t just any release from the band it’s worth noting, this is both the 2nd and 3rd in a series of albums. 2nd in that it follows on from last years K.G., together making the K.G.L.W double album. And 3rd in the Explorations Intro Microtonal Tuning series, the other two being 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana and K.G. What the band sought to do on K.G. was see how many of their styles they could fit within this microtonal soundscape to create an album that defined the band by being self-titled. Now on the second half of that project the band are drawing influence from themselves, to create a full project that deservedly takes the bands name.
If K.G. was the album that allowed the band to set a statement for their sound, then L.W. is the weird brother that on the surface looks the same, but deep down there’s something much more sinister at work. Straight off the bat the band add a new style and sound to their catalogue with the minimalist funk inspired opener “If Not Now, Then When?”. They speak on familiar themes of climate change, that could be found all over 2019’s Fishing For Fishies, asking again of why action isn’t being taken now, why are we waiting until “the oceans turn to black, When the animals are dead”. It’s worth noting as well that the flow of the songs that was found all over K.G. is felt immediately into this album as well as closer “The Hungry Wolf Of Fate” leads directly into this opener.
On K.G. “Honey” was the band adding a more acoustic driven flavour of microtonal sweetness into the mix. On this album the acoustic tracks make an appearance in the forms of “Static Electricity” and “East West Link”, but this time there’s something much more unnerving about the sound. “Static Electricity” shifts through various movements of spacey synthesiser whirlwinds, intoxicating guitar melodies and phaser smothered solos. This song truly feels like what it must be like to travel down an electric wire into a plug socket, each movement pushing you along, losing yourself into the ether of psychedelic textures around you. It’s the band at their most left-field and therefore most exciting. Seamlessly transitioning into the Turkish folk infused “East West Link” that acts almost of an extension of the former song; a swirling link if you will. It’s in these moments that King Gizzard truly showcase their compositional and production supremacy.
There are of course the moments on that do lean into the more “rock-centric” corner of the bands sound, with the likes of “O.N.E” and “Pleura” not being too dissimilar in aesthetic to “Automation”. It’s fun to listen to but isn’t the most adventurous that King Gizzard can be. That’s not to say however that the ever-changing time signatures, thanks to drummer Michael Cavanagh, aren’t something to truly admired. Which is something that was mentioned on our K.G. review, the flow and movements that he creates to go between songs and even within songs are so seamless that they slip right by you without any trail; dust in the wind. This incredible percussion is also showcased all over the patriarchal teardown “Supreme Ascendancy”. As Ambrose Kenny-Smith hits out agains the Catholic church, “Childhoods tragically ripped from their shaking feet, Conscious yet inadequate”, Cavanagh simultaneously drives the track along whilst drawing you in to its unrelenting groove.
King Gizzard are no stranger to metal at this point, whether you’re looking at 2019’s trash outing Infest The Rats Nest or “The Great Chain Of Being” from 2017’s Gumboot Soup. And they take another swing at the sludge metal aspect of this sound in the form of 8 minute closer “K.G.L.W”. This and the opener from K.G. act as bookends for both of the albums, wrapping them neatly together. On this occasion they extend the riff out into its most doom filled form. It’s crunchy, it’s heavy and there’ll certainly be a lot of head banging at concerts. However the track could do with being about half the length. Although it’s a great melody and can act now as almost a theme tune for the band, it almost feels like a slog to get to the end of the album. You can see the band were going for more of a loose jam feel with this track but with only a few melodic changes and riffs to carry the track over its run time it doesn’t match up to some of the other long tracks within the King Gizzard catalogue, of which there are many.
These two albums are clearly not King Gizzard’s most experimental outings, but they’re not trying to be. What they are however are gateways to the wonderful world of The Gizzverse. They showcase almost every aspect of the band’s sound up to this point, whether you’re a diehard Gizz fan or a newcomer to the band eclectic sound, there’s something for everyone here. But one question still remains, who truly is the Lizard Wizard?
25 years into their career Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai return with their 10th studio album, not including various film soundtracks and EP’s, of which their output has also been equally impressive. This far into their career and with such a vast catalogue of sounds you can almost pinpoint the moment you know that you’re listening to a Mogwai album. Whether it be the deep gloomy atmospheres or the outrageously harsh and brutal guitar passages, they’ve honed their sound to be instantly recognisable and ultimately enjoyable. Following on from 2017’s Every Country’s Sun, this new full length studio album sees the outfit delve into familiar territory whilst keeping their ever expanding sound passages open for all to inhabit.
Perhaps at this point in the career it might be fair to say that Mogwai don’t have much left to prove, they’ve certainly shown their worth with every aspect of their catalogue. And when it comes to soundtracks they have lent their dystopian soundtracks to be the backbone of others creative projects. On this album however it feels as if they’re trying to tell a story of their own, through the harsh and uneven sonic landscapes theirs hope to be found in the darkest of places. Opener “To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth” slowly builds through nostalgia filled piano melodies and sparkling guitars, almost as if starting on a journey taking the first steps. And it’s only when the huge symphony of distorted guitars and grinding riffs kicks in at the 2 and a half minute mark that you feel this true sense of inspiration hitting with a wave of confidence. And on “Dry Fantasy” the arpeggiated synthesisers and flowing piano melodies invoke an almost dream like state, as you’re staring out into the morning sun watching the rise. You can feel every element of the song build until it reaches its spacey and evocative heights, capturing you in its warm and resonant feel.
This 70’s sci-fi space sound is one that Mogwai embrace on many occasion on this album. But more often than not it can at times use elements that can seem slightly cheap or even annoying that take away from the intensity of the rest of the sound. On “Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever” the vocoder effect thats layered over the lead guitar line is just too obnoxious so that you can’t focus on any other element of the driving sound. It’s like trying to watch the band play whilst someone is explaining to the entire history of Doctor Who. And on “Fuck Off Money”, another showcase of the band still being able to invent humorous track names, the song opens with the familiar vocoder smothered vocals, which sounds as if Daft Punk had tried to do emo rock, nice in concept but the final result becomes unsavoury. Thankfully however the second half of the track is redeemed be Mogwai doing what they do best, get loud. The huge cacophony of sounds reaches truly euphoric heights as every instrument battles it out to see which can have the lead in this war for power rock supremacy.
This feeling of euphoria is something the band plays into heavily towards the second half of the album. On the grunge infused “Ceiling Granny” the riffs are huge, the searing lead guitars sail into the stratosphere and once every instrument combines together to the chorus’ high rise you feel that this must be what it’s like to have the sun explode in your face. The high end of the mix does occasionally become so overwhelmed with the level of sonic intensity that it can ring out with great levels of white noise, but this is probably to be expected at this point from Mogwai. Then on “Pat Stains” the band moves through various swaying melodies, assuredly adding in various bubbling synthesisers until the climax of the track reaches a blissfuly woven whirlwind of distortion and strings. Once the storm passes you can feel the relief after the chaos as you realise you’ve overcome this great tribulation.
Sitting at just over an hour, the journey this album takes you can at times feel like those long hauls down the motorway, watching the scenery pass by and it all just seems to be the same, rolling hill after rolling hill, never bringing too much stimulation to pass the time. On “Drive The Nail” the band seems to get locked into the one chord punch for a while, to then bring in some glittery synthesisers and whack a distortion pedal on. Except this time the song has as much drive as a Fiat 500, it’ll get you where you want to go, but don’t expect anything breathtaking from it. And although “Midnight Flit” borrows elements of the bands soundtracking portfolio, incorporating gliding strings to sway the track through its movements. After the 4 minute mark however you feel as though you’ve heard all that can be offered already, and instead the track overstays it welcome, never really bringing any more movements or levels of textures.
What’s certain about this album however is that Mogwai can still express so much, whilst saying so little. Whether it be through blistering, swirling soundscapes that transport you into the cosmos, or serene atmospheres that reminisce in that lost love you never had, Mogwai will always be able to soundtrack some aspect of life.
Arizona based Folk, drone and experimental artist Karima Walker returns after 4 years with the follow up to 2017’s magical Hands In Our Names. Walker originally began constructing this album in 2019 when she flew to New York to work with The Blow’s Melissa Dyne, however illness forced Walker back home and the pandemic ensured that travel wasn’t possible. Walker then began to finish the album in her makeshift home studio through various “messy Ableton sessions”. The result is an album that shifts and twirls through swaying ambient landscapes, intertwined with folk ballads that allow Walker’s poetry to blossom in the openness and freedom of this album. “Every morning feels like, waking the dreaming body” she sings on title track “Waking The Dreaming Body ” and this feeling of half consciousness is one that can be felt throughout this album.
The sound manipulation and design is perhaps the most revered aspect of this album, pulling together real world sounds and hazy synthesiser sounds to consistently create truly enticing, warming and sometimes uneasy soundscapes that you truly lose yourself in, fading between two worlds. The start of “Window I” opens with some hauntingly beautiful lo-fi piano, that would be a hip-hop artists dream to sample, the crusty layers and grained sound is so comforting and yet longingly distant. Then the latter half of the track perfectly blends the rolling of ambient sounds and wave noises, fused to create a hazy dreamlike surrounding that slowly fades in and out, just when you think the sound is gone it creeps back in for another roll. And on “Horizon, Harbor Resonance” the track diverts through so many layers and levels of different ambient sounds throughout its 13 minute run time that you’re not quite sure where you came from or where you’re going next, but in this fantasy world that Walker creates it somehow makes sense.
The composition of these tracks are created in two worlds, one where everything flows smoothly and the other where the disjointed is the flowing force that shifts these sounds from movement to movement. On “Window II” the harp plucks may not be as flowing or elegant as fellow contemporary ambient artist Mary Lattimore, but they serve as more of an erratic and glitchy surrounding that amplifies the dream like feeling that Walker sings of. Fluttering about the soundscape, being reversed and played forward in ever changing motion. Whereas closer “For Heddi” feels like the breath of fresh air in the early morning, as the dancing synth melody guides the song along, the deep bass swells take you into the real world with their almost meditative feel.
After being forced to stay at home whilst writing this album the real world of Walker’s surroundings began to play their part in the formation of these songs. She intertwines these within the poetry elements of songs like on opener “Reconstellated” she sings “Sonoran sky plays a movie, Draw a line to the stars inside of me, Write it down, tell your friends, I know where I am but I can’t tell where I started” referencing the desert in Arizona. Even through the poetry of these songs Walker is still as mystifying as ever; never giving clear ground to what’s real and what’s figment.
“Sitting still in the movement of not knowing, where you are, where you were and where you’re going” she sings on “Softer” over the gently plucked guitar movements and this statement perhaps sums up the journey this album takes you on. One things for certain however, this blissful journey that Walker sails you through is one of mystique and wonder and once it’s over, like a dream, you try to recall the details but all you can remember is the wonder you felt along the way.
This album is a debut in two aspects, being the first album from LA based bedroom-pop star Claud Mintz and also being the first release on Phoebe Bridgers‘ newly founded Saddest Factory Records, launched last October. Claud first gained attention for their woozy dream-pop infused “Wish You Were Gay” released back in 2019 followed by their Sideline Star EP released later in the year. Following on from the likes of fellow bedroom-pop stars Clairo and Beabadoobee, who have gained a loyal set of fans thanks to their intimate, yet sonically rewarding pop ballads. They now return with a coming of age album that is infused with heartbreak and yearning to be loved.
The album title refers to a drawing done by Daniel Johnston titled Claud And The Super Monster and this idea of a superhero and monster merged into one is something that Claud inhabits on this album. Everybody’s got the good and the bad within them, but ultimately they’re just trying to do their best. Claud spent most of their adolescence moving from city to city, the inevitable fallout that this had on personal relationships can be felt throughout this album. Over various moods of indie-pop tinged musings Claud tells the story of somebody clinging on to love when ultimately it may be doomed to fail. The opening line of the glittery opener “Overnight” tells this exact tale, “I fell in love like a fool overnight”. Claud has previously said that they “feel love really intensely” and you can hear every ounce of the love that Claud wants to give, especially on intimate moments like on the intoxicatingly catchy “Soft Spot” where they sing “Pull the covers over our short hair, Pretend like the city wasn’t there”. They’re not even afraid to put aside embarrassment and share unpolished anecdotes like on “Pepsi” as they sing “I hate that you told me to masturbate, Instead of comin’ over”.
Perhaps one of Claud’s strongest assets that is explored on this album is their ability to turn experiences into unapologetically catchy melodies. You only need to hear the chorus line of “In Or In -Between” once to have it stuck in your head for days. Even on softer moments like “This Town” the serenity of Claud’s vocals reign supreme above every other aspect of the track. Bathed in psychedelic infused textures, there’s a certain natural cool to Claud’s vocal stylings, never straining too hard but always hitting the sweet spot of momentary bliss, the like of which can be felt all over “Soft Spot”. And she even invokes some of the tendencies of pop’s super queen Taylor Swift on “Jordan”, through its country tinged ballad flow, it wouldn’t feel out of place on Swift’s Red album.
It’s not just the modern pop greats that Claud leans on for influence though. There’s also hints of early 2000’s pop-punk on the misogynist put-down “That’s Mr. Bitch To You”. And on “Guard Down” they infuse elements of post-disco, with the obnoxiously gratifying back and forth groove. There can be moments however where the influence and genre fusing can become slightly off-putting. Unfortunately this is found during the second verse of “Guard Down” where Claud’s faux-rap interlude takes you away from the sweet tendencies the rest of the track offers and almost borders on the line of parody. It’s clear that Claud was obviously just having fun whilst making these tracks, but that sometimes comes at the cost of losing the rawness of the songs sound.
As this album progresses you can at times feel Claud get too fixed into her comfort zone of short indie-centric, flanger-infused ballads. On penultimate track “Rocks At Your Window”, the melody and guitar passage is oozing in raw longing, however as this song is just about to reach a potentially powerful climax it fades out. There’s a glimpse of where the track could have gone on the first chorus, but instead it’s exchanged for a short fade out of swirling synthesisers. And on “Pepsi” the 80’s inspired bass line and synth pop soundscapes never really bring the song to any new grounds that can’t be heard elsewhere on the album. Claud’s vocal don’t even feel as inspired here, that hint of understated prowess just feels slightly missing. But this album does end on a strong conclusion however with “Falling With The Rain”, a track that features Shelly, a band compromised of Claud them self, Clairo and former Toast bandmate Josh Mehling. The power pop groove breathes new life into the end of the album and Claud’s natural flair returns with her juxtaposing lyrics of “In my head, I hang on by a thread” that backed with a swirl of uplifting and dance hall worth instrumentation. The super monster metaphor still runs true.
For a first outing Claud has certainly set the bar high for whatever may come next, a bare bones album full of honesty and unpolished tales of a life of love. But for now lets just enjoy the pop-centric grooves that Claud has brought us and try and find the super monster within ourselves as we listen.
Northampton’s prodigal son returns with his second album, prominently titled with Slowthai’s real first name, TYRON is a story of two tales. Whilst his debut album, Nothing Great About Britain soared him to greater heights than perhaps he could have predicted, fuelled by political message and its depiction of modern day Britain for what it really is, this second album takes a more introspective journey into the mind of Tryon Frampton.
This time last year there was controversy surrounding Slowthai after being inebriated and making crude remarks towards comedian Katherine Jenkins at the NME awards, later apologising after a joke went too far. Jenkins herself even went on to say that she fully accepted his apology and didn’t feel under threat. This however lead to a tyranny of backlash, people feeling that the true Slowthai had been revealed. It may seem as though some of the anger felt around this situation continued onto this album, however the likes of “CANCELLED” where Skepta and Slowthai bounce back and forth listing accolades that mean they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon “Twenty awards on the mantelpiece, Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury” were plights of ammunition that had already been stocked up. He did released reactionary single “ENEMY” shortly after the controversy but says that “got all the anger about the event out of his system“.
The first half of this album however is still drenched in this reactionary rage; all track titles being written in capitals. From the haunting soundscape of opener “45 SMOKE” to the siren induced “WOT” as Slowthai sings of absurdist childlike insults “In the rave, drop a eccy with your mum”. This opening half is Slowthai swaggering about, still declaring his worth. On the hypnotising “MAZZA”, which is Slowthai’s way of saying ADHD, a condition the rapper suffers with, he’s trying to break down his newly found fast paced lifestyle. But this front that Slowthai is trying to put on soon breaks down. As the nostalgia induced sound of “PLAY WITH FIRE” sweeps in you can hear him starting to pull back the curtain on his mentality. “I wish I pressed skip, everything is negative, It gets hectic, strеssin’, if you’re from the place I livе” he declares as the verse opens, slowly descending into an almost therapeutic spoken word passage towards the end of the song.
This then leads to the mood and feel of the second half of the album, reflective and self doubting. This mood is even set by the all lower case letters on the track titles, the vail has been pulled back. Throughout the next seven tracks Slowthai gets his most introspective, gritting his teeth through the trauma. “No one I can lean on so I’m limping with a walking stick, People keep talking shit I cut through the thick of it” he raps with a more laid back feel on “focus”. Through this inwards look you see an artist who is trying to come to terms with the position he’s in, no matter what he does he will be judged for it, whether it be holding up a fake decapitated head of Boris Johnson on live television (although this stunt was definitely trying to induce a reaction) or simply releasing a song that attacks cancel culture, the haters will always be there.
But from realising the problem he tries to turn things around, shifting his perspective from the negative, self pitying to the positive, being grateful for what we have. The true pinnacle of this album comes in the form of “nhs”, similarly to his debut album this song very much captures a moment and feeling within British life. Broken down the lyrics reflect on the way as a society we always want that bit more, but one thing doesn’t come without the other, and focusing too much on the negative is “gonna make you depressed”. Aptly titled, this ode to Britain’s health care system is trying to understand why something so precious to us is only truly appreciated when we’re in desperate need of it, still some don’t give it the appreciation it deserves “Jack the lad, only happy when they clap (NHS)”.
There of course has to be mention of the production of this album, though the tracks shift through varying moods and soundscapes there’s always a consistency in its diversity that ties everything seamlessly together. Mainly fronted by Kews Darko, who produces a large majority of Slowthai’s discography, there are appearances from the likes of hip-hop mastermind Kenny Beats on “terms” and SAMO on “MAZZA”. An aspect that stands out are some of Slowthai’s most melancholic soundscapes that appear on the latter half, from the acoustic driven “push” featuring some truly dreamy chorus vocals from Deb Never to the crooning “feel away” that is drenched in nostalgia. James Blake’s ASMR induced vocals not only compliment the slower grit of Slowthai’s vocals but bring a real sense of serenity to the album at this late stage. With the rolling piano line and ambient soundscapes it’s hard not to be encapsulated by each level of emotion that every contributor to this track puts in.
Originally this album was intended to be Slowthai’s third album, with another politically charged outing set for his second, he’s not stepping away from that style though rather saying that “When the time’s right I’ll be there, but now’s not the time” . Instead what we got was an album created during a time where people needed reassurance, and Slowthai is here to give it to them. The technical self-titling of this album serves as a perfect summary of the core of this album, it’s every part, every part of Tyron Frampton, it’s loud, it’s in your face, you’re never quite sure when he’s being serious or just creating a character for himself, but deep within is the intricate musings of a young man trying to take in the chaotic world around him.
Contrary to the album’s title, this is not the first time that keyboardist May Kershaw, saxophonist Lewis Evans, guitarist Luke Mark, drummer Charlie Wayne bassist Tyler Hyde and violinist Georgia Ellery have performed together. However, it is in-fact the first time they have performed under this particular name. It is important to mention this before anyone moans about them appearing out of nowhere or being ‘industry plants’. Nevertheless, BCNR have made a name for themselves as part of the South London gig scene over the last two years, joining the ranks of Squid, Black Midi and Goat Girl and relentlessly working despite the obvious COVID restrictions.
Instrumentally it would be easy to lazily pile them in as Slint worship (Which is referenced on “Science Fair” since music journalists refused to shut the fuck up about comparisons towards them.) but the outcome tends more to veer towards acts like Duster, Low or even the later material from The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. This of course is only a framework for trying to define what they soundlike because they’ve already formed their own sound without needing to adhear to any lazy Pitchfork worship.
In keeping with being unconventional, the opener is a five minute organic jam, full of lingering repetition yet accessible beats and sharp melodies. In a live scenario you could only imagine how much this would hype an audience up before the collective takes the stage. It’s a reminder of that quote from Howard Moon of The Mighty Boosh that goes; “You hate jazz?, you fear jazz with its lack of rules.” This is exactly what he was on about.
Frontman Issac Wood’s delivery on many of these tracks comes across as wobbly, aggressive and unhinged. You can feel a sense of dread and anxiety coursing through the phrasing of these narratives, ranging from mildly sorrowful on “Athens, France” to roaring full blown melt downs later on in the record. “Track X” and “Science Fair” are the most narratively sound and perhaps as a result bring the highest sense of individual identity. Ironic considering that the unpredictability of where these songs take you can make it hard to appreciate what role each member will play, which often requires multiple listens to achieve full appreciation.
One minute you might be lulled with a pretty guitar line or alluring violin section, the next it might feel like someone’s stabbed you in the gums with a screwdriver. Wood’s lyrics often feel like someone writing fragments of thoughts on the iPhone notes app before forgetting what they were actually thinking about. Like watching a David Lynch film, trying to always find clear meanings in each sentiment will ultimately frustrate anyone trying to read between the lines with notions such as; “Now all that I became must die before the forum thread, the cursed vultures feed and spread the seeded daily bread.”
Fans who’ve been following BCNR for a while may understandably be disappointed that two of the six tracks on here are reworked versions of previous singles, however there are polishes and vocal inflections that at times can change the songs overall delivery. On ‘Sunglasses’ for example, the warm, fuzzy intro chords leaning into the earworm melody is far more effective the the single version in the context of listening to this record in its entirety. Harrison sounds more like he’s accepting his fate of becoming a boring cunt like the father of his partner rather than screaming in denial. Even the line “The absolute pinnacle of British engineering, I am so ignorant now”, oozes with melodic allure rather than a sardonic quip. As the cacophony of instruments blend into a breakdown and tempo change, his character morphs into the very same normie that he feared he would turn into, all whilst failing at any attempts to hide his insecurities. Think of that sunglasses emoji, but with tears streaming down its face.
8 minute closer ‘Opus’ is by far the most theatrical of offerings on here. It finds its balance between sounding like a sadcore indie offering in the softer sections and a mariachi band set on fire in the louder parts. The result is a bleak, tumultuous journey where our character reaches the end of his relationship. Evans saxophone work here is flawless, building up tension in the slower sections as it becomes a fiery release between each verse. With Harrison’s final, broken vocals with the lines “What we built must fall from the rising flames”, the sentiment that nothing is built to last comes to its conclusion. The final melody in particular resonates and sticks to your very core.
Rather than trying to guess what Black Country, New Road will do next, it’s probably best to enjoy this meandering experience without any predictions. For The First Time is a phenomenal debut that will hopefully secure the group’s future for years to come.
Tamara Lindeman has embraced the motion of becoming a front woman, and The Weather Station’s sound is all the brighter for it. This is the fourth album from folk singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman and co. under The Weather Station moniker, following on from 2017’s self titled The Weather Station. With over 10 years under their belt the Canadian outfit have shifted and changed a fair bit in that time, coming from their simple guitar lead folk beginnings they now return with an album that’s as full of grandeur as it is heartbreak.
Throughout this album Lindeman wears the weight of the world on her shoulders, quite literally on “Wear” as she sings “I tried to wear the world like some kinda garment”, questioning her own comfort in the world. It can be hard sometimes to differentiate whether she sings of heartbreak in her personal life or of the world around her, but this only adds to the depth that is felt within Lindeman’s words. On “Seperated” she sings of the way in which the world communicated with each other through social media, and the vast divide in opinions that leads to great levels on disparity. “Separated by all the arguments you lose, Separated by all the things you thought you knew”. Taken out of context however you would assume she is referencing lost love.
That’s not to say however there aren’t some true moments of heartbreak sewn within. “Loss” revels in the realisation that accepting pain is often easier than trying to tell yourself that it’s not there. “Loss is loss, Is Loss” she assuredly repeats on the chorus; repetition as of hope to remember. Then closer “Subdivisions” breathes through its piano ballad verses and excruciatingly beautiful chorus deliveries to sing of a journey of escape, only to come to the revelation that maybe it was all a mistake. “What if I misjudged, In the wildest of emotion, Did I take this way too far?” Lindeman sings as the song closes out, and this question is left open to ponder with nothing left to say.
Taking from that notion however she looks to nature to find the beauty that still thrives throughout the world. “You know it just kills me when I, See some bird fly” she remarks on “Parking Lot”, revelling in the notion of the way society must be perceived by nature and the parallel beauty and sadness of knowing that they can do nothing against the destruction we cause. On “Atlantic” she muses in the notion of trying to turn yourself away from the tragedies of the modern day “Thinking I should get all this dying off of my mind, I should really know better than to read the headlines”. Of course we all need breaks at times when looking out into the travesties that happen on a daily basis, sometimes however it feels we can’t escape them and Lindeman invokes this feeling as she closes out the songs with “Oh tell me, why can’t I just cover my eyes?”; she can’t escape the ignorance.
From the minute this album starts you can hear the confidence and emotion pouring out at every seem. The jazz-centric fanfare of “Robber” sets the tone for the whole album, evocative in understated embellishments of emotion. There’s something subtly cool about the instrumentation used in this album, always used as a spacey and flowing backing force for Lindeman’s vibrant storytelling, never becoming to reaching or overpowering. “Parking Lot” feels like it could be a cut straight off of The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream as the rolling piano line dances and drives the track along backed with waving violin melodies and a driving groove. There are moments where the stringed sections swoon with pure grace and emotive drive, like on “Separated” that builds to an almost unsettling climax, to be gently backed down by Lindeman’s crooning falsetto. There can be other moments where the instrumentation gets a bit too loose and unmemorable. “Wear” has all the grandiose in its chorus of other cuts on this album but doesn’t offer too much in the way of variety and some of the background flairs feel a bit too last minute.
But perhaps the most understated, yet continually powerful sonic element of this album is Lindeman’s effortlessly cool vocal performance. She never tries to reach out too far beyond her reach, and yet you can hear every last bit of emotion as she narrates this tale of earthly ignorance. She’s not hear to sing her heart out to the heavens, but to give her perspective of a broken world, and well if you want to listen then that’s up to you. At moments her vocals can become buried in the soundscape, becoming intertwined in the backing melodies, however this only makes you appreciate the grander moments even more.
A triumphant and heartbreaking collection of groove filled, challenging and naturally free-flowing songs is the end result of what Lindeman and co. have created here. Not only defining their sound and voice, but refining what The Weather Station can be on a grander and ever expanding scale.
The pace at which Arlo Parks has gained acclaim has been truly inspirational. A poet first and foremost, she released her Super Sad Generation and Sophie EP’s in 2019 and gained attention of many critics for her combination of cleverly woven, intimately spoken lyrical passages and her dreamy, R&B infused sound. Then last year the attention only seemed to gain on this modern heartbreak storyteller. From cover Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” with Phoebe Bridgers, to featuring on Glass Animals’ latest album Dreamland and to finally having a documentary made about her on BBC. This attention is faithfully deserved as Parks has acted as almost a shining light in the darkness that surrounds the present days. Now she emerges with a debut album that is packed with a collection of personal and often meditative stories that flourish in Parks’ warm touch.
As a poet one of Parks’ natural strengths is of course vibrant storytelling and this comes into full fruition all over this album, these aren’t just songs of love and hope, but transport you to the place and time that these stories have evolved from. On “Caroline” she sings of watching an “artsy couple” fighting at the bus stop, only to have the man’s girlfriend leave, wishing she would realise he “did it all for her”. Through her soulful, dreamy voice and rich descriptions of emotions “Strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage”, Parks not only places you in that moment but allows the tenderness of it to wash right over you. Most of these stories come from Parks’ adolescence or early adulthood, but no matter the story she is telling you feel instantly transported into her psyche and can feel the weight of every situation or moment she sings of.
Parks excels in inspiration from experience. On opener and title track “Collapsed In Sunbeams” she says “We’re all learning to trust our bodies, making peace with our own distortions. You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me” as the simple arpeggios and gleaming synthesisers welcome you into the album, letting you know that this journey is open for all. For all her lyrical bravado there are moments that do read more like inspiring wall art. On “Green Eyes”, which features guitar work from Clairo, she exclaims “Some of these folks wanna make you cry, But you gotta trust how you feel Inside, And Shine”. The sentiment is well intended and fully meant by Parks, but feels slightly underwhelming for someone of her descriptive caliber.
She’s at her best when she creates folds her work into dreamy soundscapes that ooze with sentimental depth. One of the first songs released from this album, and one we named as one of the best songs of last year, “Black Dog” is so packed with nostalgia and love that it’s hard to not feel truly captivated at every moment. The stripped back feel of just the slow strummed guitar and the simple reverbed piano line create a truly haunting and yet endlessly emotional soundscape. Parks’ sings of best friend and how she tried to understand her depression, and you can hear the true beauty and sadness behind her voice as she sings each line, with each vocal fading into the soundscape trying to find some sort of resolve. And on “Eugene”, a realisation that platonic love might not be romantic, the flickering guitars, harmonies and dancing melodies of the chorus are a testament to Parks’ natural vocal flair. The intimacy in her hushed tone as she apologises in the chorus is so serene and piled with warmth that you could get lost in it for days on end.
There are of course moments on the album that don’t quite live up to the blissfulness of many tracks on this album. The sun drenched guitars and squashed drum beat of “Just Go” just feel a bit too plain and dried out to really give any backing to Parks vocals. And on “Bluish” the minimalist electronic beat and downplayed piano melody never quite reach the heights of some of its predecessors. This late on in the album it almost feels like there’s a slowing down of inspiration, that almost the clouds started to return over the sunlight that beamed out over the first leg of the tracklist. There is of course the moody and gritty “For Violet” where the dark days are also coming from Parks herself as she sings “It feels like nothing’s changing, And I can’t do this, can’t do this” over the Portishead-esque ambient synth pad. A slight atmospheric shift that does offer some new ground for Parks’ haunting vocals to glide across, but perhaps a little too late.
To come from releasing her first single “Cola” in 2018 to the release of this album feels like a true testament to Parks natural and rejoiceful aura. She sings of love and hope but crafts these sentiments through lyrical exuberance to become bigger and more inspiring than they might seem at first glance. The future truly is in Parks’ hands.
It’s always enticing to listen to an album and wonder how it will play out in a live setting. That’s been the case for many albums released over the past year, but at least those bands played shows before the pandemic hit. In fact they’ve only ever played one live show, in a disused industrial freezer, so naturally this collection of songs will be fresh to about every audience member when the times comes. Born out of childhood friends needing a new get up in life, TV Priest aren’t just the latest in the new wave of post-punk bands to emerge from South London, they’re something more. Their lyrics still speak and focus mainly on the failings of the conservative government and the disparity of life in modern Britain. But unlike their contemporaries they offer up a conversation “It’s about the meshing of information strands. It is supposed to be a snapshot of a time and place” says lead singer Charlie Drinkwater“. And this can be heard in the likes of “This Island” where Drinkwater sings “Well I found singularity, I found it at the bottom of the mail online comments section”. Through grinding riffs and snarling vocals TV Priest have set about to deliver a sermon of understanding.
Perhaps the standout element of this album is Drinkwater’s storytelling charm and weave. Consistently he not only captures the emotion of a time and people, but displays the absurdity found within the mundane and everyday. On “Decorations” he’s breaking down the idea of ‘personal progression’, all these small victories that he describes like “A certain medal on a certain chest, A nought and a cross and a Sunday best” are supposed to take you “Through to the next round” as he puts it. The conversation that Drinkwater is trying to create is clear. Let’s look at the world and question it together rather than dying on a hill for our own beliefs. “I thought we were getting closer, but we’re further apart” he declares on “Slideshow”, which has certainly been the case over the last decade or so, stoked by politics, Brexit, racial injustice and somehow the pandemic. This is not Drinkwater abstaining from the conversation, his views clearly match those of other contemporary punk frontmen, but through his lyricism he’s wit-fully documented a moment in time. Of course no one’s safe from his intentful gaze, not even Prince Louis who’s “On a throne of his own, a bovril biscuit, a cup of milk, not saving lives but not taking ones either” he remarks on “Powers Of Ten”.
Being a document of the there would inevitably be a mention of the pandemic. On “Journal Of A Plague” year Drinkwater lays down the general collective emotions and tellings of the year, “Hey buddy, Normalize this, you better dig that pit” he sings over the somewhat understated instrumental. Much like a journal Drinkwater offers small insights and records of what transpired within the year, rather than commenting on the impact they had.
This wouldn’t be a punk album of course without some chugging riffs and screeching guitars to soundtrack Drinkwater’s musings. And there are moments where these axe wielded flurries reach truly euphoric heights. Although closer “Saintless” might not follow the formula instrumentally than the rest of the album, adding in embellishments of acoustic guitar and bedroom pop synthesisers, it leaves you feeling almost hopeful for what’s to come. As each layer is slowly added you can feel the intensity and emotional outpour slowly building until it erupts into an impassioned chorus cry of “We’re no saints, but that’s okay, would you have it any other way?”. Surrounded by a cacophony of whirring guitars and pounding drums, it’s truly an explosive ending that caps off this journey with a topping of grandeur.
This vehement sound does appear on occasion on the likes of “This Island” and “Slideshow”. But too often does this album get lost in the ‘1,2’ beats, with a rolling bass line placed on top, that after a while of the same motion gets a bit too comfortable in its current gear, unwilling to switch it up. And there’s almost a sense of the song wanting to burst out into a fury of anger or flailing guitars, but it never quite reaches it. The like of which can be seen on “Fathers And Sons” as the palm muted strums and rumbling four note bass line carry the song through verse and chorus, but are overarched with a feeling on tepidness, as if they don’t want to become to chaotic. There’s definitely the emotional intensity packed and ready to blow, but its never quite unlocked.
They may not be miles apart sonically or contextually from contemporaries IDLES, Shame or Fontaines D.C. (Drinkwater funnily enough designed their latest album cover), but what TV Priest bring to this new wave of punk is a sense of perseverance. Whether it be from their own story of reformation, or though the stories they tell of a struggling world, not to shame it, but analyse it and see where we can all move forward together.