Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas Album Review

Warner Bros. Records – 2020

London born singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas returns after nearly five years with the follow up to 2015’s ‘Blood’. Making a name for herself after her high profile collaborations, first being a back up singer for Paloma Faith on her Faith tour. And then then featuring heavily on Prince’s 2014 album ‘Art Official Age’, La Havas has now returned with an album thats every part her. Building from deeply intimate emotions and thoughts, to retrospective musings on her love life and the longing of it.

There are huge moments of grandeur laced throughout this album. Opener ‘Bittersweet’ dances through elements of soul and R&B, with the staccato piano hits and a driving groove as La Havras’ voice powers through the mix with her hugely powerful bellows of ‘Bittersweet summer rain, I’m born again’. And the track ‘Weird Fishes’ that glides through woozy synthesisers, swaying harmonies and its pounding bass line. Breaking down into an intimate vocal chorus, until a huge medley of rising synths, pounding beats and La Havas’ soaring vocals slowly build to its euphoric heights. A common aspect throughout this album being La Havas’ dynamic and punchy vocal performance, wether it be to the roaring heights of the most lively moments, or when she’s more hushed and intimate. In every occasion they still showcase the incredible range and emotion put into them.

These moments of a more intimate sound also allow La Havas’ songwriting to become more intimate. ‘Courage’ drifts through melodic guitar lines, hushed vocals and eventually adds just a flavour of violins. But delve into the lyrics and La Havas’ is speaking about the feeling of realising you’re alone, and admitting it to yourself. “Courage, save me somehow, This is the only way out, So lonely now, Love is the only way down”. It’s through these deeply personal stories that her storytelling ability really comes into its own. Many themes explored are that of love and passion, and the song ‘Can’t Fight’ is a harmonious marriage of this storytelling and the catchy melodies La Havas creates. With one of the most infectious riffs on the album, the track bounds through its driving beat, to a chorus that you’ll have stuck in your head. Eventually climaxing on the synth and string rise as La Havas proclaims ‘I can’t fight away this love!’. And after this climax she only sings ‘This love’ as if she’s given in and allowed herself to be love by another.

Throughout there’s also a variety of different instrumentation involved to make each track stand out, whilst also feeling similar to the rest of the album. One of the more psychedelic landscapes used is on the track ‘Read My Mind’ as the track sways between its phased guitars and oscillating synths, to then bringing in the hushed chorus chants. It reminds of some of the eerie psych landscapes that Crumb created on their debut album last year ‘Jinx’. There’s also the pounding moments of hip-hop influence on ‘Please Don’t Make Me Cry’ with its sampled crackling drums. And then there’s even elements of folk on the closer ‘Sour Flower’ with its flowing picked guitars in the first half.

For all the passionately crafted songs on this album there are a few moments where the sound gets a bit lack lustre and isn’t as memorable as it could be. ‘Seven Times’ features a more latino guitar groove but gets stuck at points on the phrase ‘All night, all day, all night and day, I cry and pray, all night, all day’ and although the repitition is used to emphasise the point, it gets slightly boring after hearing it for nearly a minute straight as the track slowly fades out. And the track ‘Green Papaya’ feels like more of a vague musing over its loose plucked guitar and swerving melodies, never really reaching the levels of prowess as many of the other tracks do.

Lianne La Havas aptly named this album after herself, and its every bit of her within it. There’s huge amounts of soul, passion and groove that marks a new start for her. As she stated on Twitter ‘THE ALBUM I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO MAKE IS OUT TODAY!’ and the music within reinforces that statement. When it wants to go big, it does. But it also knows when to reign it in, just to catch you off-guard at the next turn.

Khruangbin – Mordechai Album Review

Dead Oceans – 2020

Khruangbin have become the go to summer festival band. The perfect soundtrack to a heat filled day with their laid back guitar riffs, inoculating bass lines and hazy soundscapes. They established this feat on 2018’s sophomore album ‘Con Todo El Mundo’ which gained critical acclaim for its blend of Asian surf-rock, Persian funk and Jamaican dub. They also showcased how well their signature sound works as backing material on collaborative EP ‘Texas Sun’ which saw them team up with fellow Texas native soul singer Leon Bridges earlier in the year. And now with the release of ‘Mordechai’ it seemed Khruangbin were ready to take their crown as lords and lady of the summertime ball. And then summer got cancelled. Similarly to the summer of 2020 this album builds those expectations of excitement and feel-good moments, just to fall flat on its promises.

The band have a sound, and they know how to use it. Hazy psychedelic funk jams that are the perfect soundtrack to any of life’s more docile moments. On ‘Mordechai’ they take the risk of diversifying this sound in the way of adding vocals on almost every track, a rare occurrence in the bands sonic palette. Most of the time these may just be varying harmony layers to build up the tracks atmosphere, like on opener ‘First Class’ where the layers slowly ascend to create a blissful wall of sound which evokes the sense of flying from which the song takes its name. There’s also the funk heavy lead single ‘Time (You and I)’ which features some romantically fuelled punchy chorus lines of “That’s life, If we had more time, We could live forever, Just you and I, We could be together”. The addition of vocals don’t always add more substance to the tracks however. ‘Connaissais de Face’ features samples from what seem like a cheesy 80’s rom-com. Although the song does have a nice groove to it, the samples just seem too over the top for the song to fit in with the laid back approach throughout the rest of the album; taking you out of the moment.

The more direct moments of this album do shine through with surf-rock heavy ‘So We Won’t Forget’ brings about one of the most uplifting guitar riffs on the album and one of the best uses of their newfound vocal facility. And ‘Pelota’ which features one of the tightest grooves on the album. With hand claps a plenty and a bouncy bass line it sparks new life into the album that at this point in the track-list seems to be fading out to a hazy blur. The band also predominately sing in Spanish, which isn’t unusual for them given lead singer Laura Lee’s Mexican heritage, adding a flair of samba to their already culturally diverse sound; making it just that bit more entrancing.

The downfall of this album though comes from its inability to find its footing about what it wants to be, with more often than not the songs becoming lost within themselves as they slowly jam out to nothing. The hazy feel clouds over until it’s hard to see any structure. There’s a lot of moments that feel like the band don’t know where to take a song, and instead just allow it to float along with no real goal in sight. One of the worst offenders is the aptly titled ‘One To Remember’, which sadly doesn’t really leave that much to remember at all. The groove is loose and the guitar line seems to be wandering off in any direction it wants until they fade it out with a delay swirl. ‘Father Bird, Mother Bird’ feels like every Khruangbin song we’ve heard before boiled down to the bare minimum of having a glittery guitar line, poignant bass and soothing beats, without any of the real drive or meaning behind them. And even on songs where the flow is a bit tighter like ‘Shida’ and ‘Dearest Alfred’ the songs just aren’t memorable enough to pack that punch of previous albums.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Khruangbin with their psychedelic genre-blending grooves, and the ability to carry a song with only instrumentals whilst still keeping it interesting. But here it just feels like much of the same, but they’ve lost the map on the road trip they were supposed to be taking you on. Sitting down to choose between albums to soundtrack a summers morning, I would just go back to the vibrant heights of past albums. Perhaps without the suns heat beating down on a crowded festival tent and a half drunk overpriced pint in one hand these songs don’t capture the magic they were intended to. And for now we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if they would.

Moses Sumney – Græ Album Review

Jagjaguwar – 2020

Indie favourite American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney returns with one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2020. The follow up 2017’s critically acclaimed ‘Aromanticism’ lets Sumney showcase every aspect of his musical talent. Fusing elements of soul, jazz and pop, ‘Græ’ sees Sumney embrace the deepest parts of his being to create a genre-defying ‘græ area’ of music. Released over 2 parts, with the first coming in February to allow listeners to digest its compact track-list and and now the second. Coming together to create the full ‘Græ’ experience.

The soulful side of Sumney’s sound kick off the album with the graceful ‘Cut Me’. With its lazy Sunday morning horn and Herbie Hancock-esque bass line its a slow introduction into Sumney’s expansive sound. It progresses through different movements of harmonies and spaced out synthesisers to ease you into the album, a teaser of what is to come. And the laid back approach continues into the track ‘In Bloom’. The most ‘chill-indie’ track on the album, with the instrumentation basking in the style of a Rex Orange County song. It’s perhaps the least progressive and sonically cautious track on the album, compared with some of the later experimentation and sonic palettes.

This album is laced with power and grandiose, and this comes through in full strength on the 4 track run of ‘Virile’, ‘Conveyor’, ‘Gagarin’ and ‘Colouour’. The almost movie soundtrack-like feel of ‘Virile’ exploring themes of toxic masculinity through the hard hitting beats and chord punches and potent lyrics. “You wanna fit right in, Amp up the masculine, You’ve got the wrong idea, son”. It showcases the power that Sumney can bring to his songwriting, expanding away from his soulful beginnings, and allows his high octane vocal performance to shine through. It then transitions into the glitchy beats of ‘Conveyor’, which moves through phases of scatty horn hits and spacey guitar chords. It has a robust marching movement to it, as Sumney is about to embark on a journey of introspection. It’s also a platform for showcasing some of the vibrant production on this album. The harmonies of vocals and instruments flourish with each other without crowding one another out. The more jazzy side of Sumney’s sound comes out on ‘Gagarin’ and ‘Colouour’. With Gagarin’s lounge room on a spaceship vibe, gently playing over the robotic pitched down vocals, it moves the album into a new otherworldly direction, topped by layers of deep chanting harmonies. Then to the fanfare horns and saxophone flourishes on ‘Colouour’, which then transitions back to the earlier space-driven aesthetic. Although this track is exploratory in soundscape it doesn’t progress greatly over its 3 minute run, compared to earlier musical crusades.

I’ve talked about it already, and will again but Sumney’s soulful voice is the true driving force of this album. He displays resounding control over the way his voices moves from song to song and can shift from the passioned calling of the falsetto vocals to the modest front of his baritone. Like the romanced induced track ‘Neither/ Nor’ which shifts from a passioned singer-songwriter like vocal tone to Sumney’s signature falsetto. It’s got the power filled harmonies of a Weyes Blood track, with the almost Mariah Carey like high hitting chorus punches, all whilst allowing the latino guitars to groove the track along. And the track ‘Me In 20 Years’ encompasses some big gospel energy. Through the driving chorus lines of “And I wonder how I’ll sleep at night, With a cavity right by my side, And nothing left to hold but pride of mine” Sumney’s vocal power resonates with a haunting performance that seeps in raw passion and longing.

The 20 track run can at times seem dense and daunting with so much sonic exploration packed in. But there are moments that allow you to breath through, whilst still bringing more depth to the album. These come in the form of the interlude tracks like ‘boxes’, ‘jill/ jack’ and ‘also also also and and and and’. Bringing in sampled voices of stories, about the black experience, masculinity or lost love. Allowing the stories told within the songs surrounding them to become real, almost as if you’re hearing a different persons perspective on them.

An album full of beauty and honesty, which is shown in full colours on the final quarter of the album. The instruments may be at times sparser, but the passion within them is stronger than ever. Truthful with emotion and passion of life; from the raw and honest ‘Keeps Me Alive’ to the grateful on ‘Lucky Me’ Sumney showcases his storytelling prowess. Guided by his ever passionate voice, he allows the stories to be told without always needing the grand big instrument backing; only bringing it in to expand on an emotion. Like the slow string build in ‘Lucky Me’, allowing the line “So go on pretend, so go on again” to become prominent in it’s placing. And the penultimate bow out ‘Bless Me’ only builds on this. “So bless me before you go, you’re going nowhere with me”. This sound of letting it go, to allow yourself and the other person to be free become almost gospel-like as this line is repeated whilst bringing in greater levels of harmonies to reach an almost euphoric climax.

The journey and experimentation of sound within this album is to be marvelled at with no aspect of the sonic spectrum left untouched. There’s so much energy, passion and raw talent that it deserves to not just be categorised within a predetermined genre, but one of its own. A new Græ area of music that at the moment Sumney is the only inhabitant of.