Drenge embrace the weird and uneasy on Strange Creatures

Drenge have made their grand return to the UK rock scene with their latest album Strange Creatures. This latest effort arrives after a relatively quiet few years for the band, whose last full studio album was released back in 2015. After the success of their self-titled debut and its follow-up Undertow, this period of absence has left a very particular itch unscratched for many fans. Known for their dark and blues-inspired grunge sound, the Loveless brothers usually kept their songs concise and direct, delivering memorable riffs and fast-paced action throughout their previous two albums. The usual distorted and heart-racing sound of their prior efforts have been largely left in the past by Drenge, who on this latest album deliver some of their most haunting and intricate work to date.

Some of the longer form and lyric-driven tracks from Undertow are the standout remains of the Drenge that fans had come to love, as their new sound often combines pulsating synthesisers and hyper-realistic lyrics to create an eerie soundscape that is often used by Eoin Loveless to explore deeper lyrical themes than on previous releases. This is not to say that the album has a slow pace overall, as some of the most pop-sounding songs of theirs to date can also be found on Strange Creatures. The two main cases of this are “This Dance” and “Autonomy,” which were both released amongst the flurry of singles that culminated in the build-up to the band’s comeback. The tracks take on more of a New Wave sound, yet still feature a certain edge from Eoin’s songwriting, particularly on “Autonomy,” where he delivers some of his most skeptical and witty commentary on the album. This new approach to writing catchy songs relies on a certain contrast between the upbeat instrumentals and the creeping vocals and backing synths, which make for an excellent addition to the band’s arsenal.

It has to be said that after the album’s introduction from three of the singles, Strange Creatures really does come into its own. “Teenage Love” provides an infectiously stirring track, with flat-out creepy lyrics that fit with the overarching theme of the record. This continues through to “Prom Night,” which is most definitely one of the standout tracks, featuring some of the most visceral and evocative storytelling that Eoin has produced over the course of all three albums. The merging of the classic Drenge guitar sound and some particularly spooky synths has been immaculately pulled off by the Loveless brothers. The shift away from guitar driven songs does not ever feel forced or alien, but more that it was the natural projection for the band’s evolving sound. This can be heard yet again on “No Flesh Road,” which feels alienating and estranged, which are themes that have always been found in Drenge’s own twisted musical stylings.

Without a doubt, the anthem of the album in “Never See The Signs,” which offers all of the aforementioned qualities in one blow. The track has all the catchiness of some of the new-wave elements of the record whilst simultaneously incorporating the dark undertones that give the album an overall eerie feel. The two closing tracks then seem to follow the apparent theme from Drenge’s previous two albums, giving the album a grandiose, almost ballad-like close. “Avalanches” offers a slow and distortion-induced shoegaze trip featuring some reverberated vocals from Eoin that combine with some isolated keys that add to the reflective tone of the track.

This is a nice change of pace that slows down nicely as the album comes to a close on the final song “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” The track definitely stands out as the most ‘out there’ and different from the Drenge of past years. The symphony of chanting vocals, acoustic guitar and prog-type synths is truly different to anything that Drenge fans will be used to, but the experimental sound seems to work for the brothers, with a solid vocal performance yet again, leaving the closing track sounding reminiscent of a Nick Cave song. This could also be said for the new role that Eoin appears to be taking in the band as he takes up the full-time job of a frontman by ditching his guitar during live shows. Although the two may not be correlated, it feels as though this change, or perhaps the maturing of the brothers, has led to a revitalised approach to songwriting, one that sees some of the band’s best written songs to date on the record, along with some of the most captivating vocal performances.

With Strange Creatures, Drenge have created an uncomfortably different yet enthralling soundscape that strays far from their simple two-piece roots. It seems that the band have abandoned the simple guitar and drums grunge combo and have opted for a more complex and moody sound that tends to deliver some haunting moments. It is great to see the Loveless brothers back in action after a four-year absence, and even better to see that they have remained consistent in their delivery of solid records. The disturbing world of Strange Creatures is almost incomparable to their previous studio albums, yet it contains songs of an equally great nature. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 8

FIDLAR Are Sillier Than Ever On “Almost Free”

FIDLAR first properly entered the public consciousness in 2013 with their self-titled debut album. An energetic garage punk affair with lyrics focusing around themes of drug use, depression and general debauchery, FIDLAR’s lyrics have always been on the cringey side but their debut had a level of charm and strong, simple songwriting which made it the soundtrack for angsty teens experimenting with drugs and skateboarding everywhere.

Almost Free has FIDLAR flex their versatility as a band. The group plays with a varied palette of sounds with the band dipping their toes in hip-hop, blues, and even gouse music, amongst other styles. The album also boasts a warm and full production style that contrasts nicely with their earlier lo-fi leaning endeavours.

This album also stands out as FIDLAR’s most hilarious album to date. When the listener puts on Almost Free they are immediately hit with the group trying to do a cool hip-hop track complete with aggressive, yet cringey vocal delivery and cool dad-rock worthy blues licks. A truly strong start for the band if they were aiming to make their funniest album yet. The problem here is that it’s unlikely the band were trying to make funny music (with the exception of By Myself but we’ll get to that). However, the blend of sounds the band has adopted over the years mixed with the still cringe-ridden lyrics makes a lot of Almost Free just unintentionally funny.

Too Real features lead vocalist Zac Carper giving out hot takes about current American politics and society today with an attitude that can only be described as too woke. The bridge section sees Zac spitting venom about flaws in both left and right leaning politics in a progressively angry tone. After some awkward ranting the chorus hook enters “Was that too fucking real?!” the listener is left thinking No. Not Really.

By Myself, arguably the silliest track on the album starts with Carper on acoustic guitar singing the song’s chorus, solo: “I’m cracking one open with boys, by myself”. Now ignoring the glaring fact that the boys in FIDLAR have based the hook of their song around a long dead meme there seems to be a level of irony built around the track that’s a bit refreshing. By Myself proves that FIDLAR are able to laugh at themselves from time to time and also shows a level of self awareness they’ve never shown before (Carper can even be heard laughing at his own bad joke). However, when the song launches into the verse section and adopts a cheesy house beat the self awareness disappears and we can be treated to FIDLAR running a dead meme song into the ground for just under four minutes.

This is all quite unfortunate as a level self awareness would greatly benefit FIDLAR’s music at this stage in their career because in some ways they seem to have developed into an unironic parody of themselves over the years.

When this album isn’t being edgy it tends to just be downright bland. Tracks such as Can’t You See and Flake have very generic indie aesthetics especially with the former which sounds like a track written by any local Arctic Monkeys influenced band ever.

Almost Free is far from terrible with songs such as Alcohol and Called You Twice been stand out tracks. The band are obviously competent songwriters and skilled musicians but it’s the band’s blend of cliched ‘cool’ blues riffs, generic indie stylings, bad integration of hip-hop and the all round cringefest that is FIDLAR lyricism that really makes Almost Free stand out as FIDLAR’s most unintentionally funny album yet. – Liam Toner (@tonerliam)

The Twilight Sad keep it brilliant with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

Five years is a long time at the best of times. However, in this day and age, five years is like ten years. Back in 2014, we lived in a world where Brexit wasn’t even a thing, David Cameron fucking the pig wasn’t even a thing, and we just lived in the bosom of the shiny-faced moon man that had a hard-on for killing the poor and disabled… and a hard-on for pigs, clearly. So much can change, and as we’ve seen, very little for the better. So, what has five years changed for Scottish post-punk heroes The Twilight Sad? 2014 saw the released of Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, accurately surmising the mood of British and EU citizens respectively.

Back with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, five years hasn’t changed much for the band, but with that, they provide a consistent sound with sonic developments. Slightly more upbeat than NWTBHANWTL, IWBLTATT opens with the rolling synth of [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs], with James Graham’s reverberated vocals dancing over the top. The album, which is easier to type than IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, is poppier than its predecessor. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a cynical assault on a faceless, mainstream sound, this album still has the melancholic feel of its predecessors and The Twilight Sad’s influencers.

Songs like album closer Videograms feels like it’s come straight from the eighties, but with a modern tilt. Think legwarmers with Yeezys, Walkmans with Airpods. The band are influenced heavily by post-punk bands like The Cure, and whilst songs like these remind you of eighties post-punk and shoegaze heroes, they stand shoulder to shoulder with them, rather than in their shadow. The Twilight Sad have simply taken a tried and tested blueprint and put their own sonic twist on it.

IWBLTATT doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises coming straight from NWTBHANWTL, though seeing as NWTBHANWTL was greeted by rave reviews, the smart move would be to follow the same path and offer slight variations. Think of NWTBHANWTL as a vodka lemonade; crisp, refreshing, always enjoyable. IWBLTATT is a vodka lemonade… with lime. It’s what you know, with a refreshing twist, but doesn’t completely change the formula. Please though, do not try to drink this album.

Though do drink in the sonic layers offered by this album. Underneath the vocals are a rock band, underneath that are crystalised synths. Good production can take a bad album and make it a good one, with this, good production has made a good album a great one. Moving from album to album is a gamble for any band, and The Twilight Sad have clearly made a killing by not looking to rock the boat too much. So many bands these days will put all their eggs into a basket of a brand new sound and turn fans off whilst failing to convert new fans.

This album does offer an alternative challenge though; picking your highlights. Rarely is an album so well done that you struggle to find your key points, rather appreciating it as one body of work. The only negative is The Twilight Sad’s policy of writing a novel as well as an album. You put a bit of The Twilight Sad on at a gaff, your mate says “This is good, who’s this?”. You’re excited, they’re invested in your musical taste. “Oh, it’s [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] by The Twilight Sad off their album IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME” you reply excitedly. It’s been four hours, they’ve all gone to the club and you’re sat in the dark. It’s twilight, you’re sad. Poignant.

Find your highlights where you want to find them and you can’t go wrong. However, the melancholic synths of Keep It All To Myself are definitely a high water mark on the album. Sunday Day13 is particularly heart-wrenching, mixing delicate and moody synths with lyrics that seem to tell a story of a slowly crumbling relationship. Graham’s repeated questions of “Would you throw me out into the cold, would you throw me out into the road?” hitting you in your gut. The meaning of the lyrics are up to you to interpret, but the darkness of the words do not change.

Whilst IWBLTATT isn’t that far a departure from NWTBHANWTL, it’s a definite evolution and favours punchy pop hooks over the intimacy of its predecessor. Tracks like VTr definitely have the DNA of the eighties’ biggest pop tracks and feels like they could spearhead The Twilight Sad into the upper echelons of the genre, and indeed, music as a whole. Whilst some bands cynically pursue the mainstream AHEMBRINGMEAHEMWIFEBEATERAHEM, others find themselves naturally creating a sound that appeals to everyone; the old faithful and a new breed of fans open to pop hooks and post-punk sensibilities.

Though overwhelmingly, IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME is a perfectly crafted album, and could well see the band soar to new heights, whilst staying squarely on the ground. Whilst, for now, they stand amongst their influences, they could well soar to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. – Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

The 1975 break into the stratosphere on ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

The 1975 are provocative and genius (if a bit pretentious) or overrated, maddening and straight-up wanky, depending on who you ask. One thing that everyone should admit, even those who can’t stand the sight of Matty Healy before he even opens his mouth, is that there’s no band quite like The 1975 in music today.

They released their underwhelming self-titled debut in 2013 and were essentially written off critically – yet this didn’t stop them amassing a huge fanbase. However, rather than giving the critics the middle finger and continuing down the same path, they released their sprawling, near 75-minute sophomore record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it in 2016, a record where bubble-gum pop anthems rubbed shoulders with 6-minute instrumentals.

i like it when you sleep… remarkably won over some of the critics who had so vehemently trashed their debut, and by the end of that record’s touring cycle – The 1975, still one of the most divisive bands in music, had sold out the O2 Arena, Madison Square Garden and headlined Latitude Festival.

This meant that, in a weird way, the pressure was off when it came to making A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. If they were to look at it cynically, as long as there are radio hits (which The 1975 churn out for fun – just look at highlight It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) ), this album will send them into the stratosphere – as they proved on their first record, they don’t need critical acclaim, and already have a huge legion of fans who worship the ground they walk on.

But, rather than playing it safe, Healy and his bandmates (drummer/producer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann) revel in this, and make A Brief Inquiry…their boldest (and best) album yet. How To Draw / Petrichor is the best possible evidence – a reworked B-side from i like it…, the track’s first half is lullaby-esque – with gorgeously glittery piano and xylophone floating in and out of the mix, before Matty’svocals come in, absolutely buried in vocoder. However, then you have the second half – a production masterclass from Healy and George Daniel, an industrial dance beat with skittish beats that genuinely sound like an Aphex Twin track. Seriously, who would have predicted after The 1975’s debut that they would be drawing Aphex Twin comparisons on just their third album?

This Aphex comparison is a segue into a main point of discussion for this record. Matty is a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and in a manner similar to James Murphy’s LCD records, A Brief Inquiry…wears its influences very prominently on its sleeve – the intro track The 1975 – which has appeared in a different iteration on all 3 records – is a perfect example of this. A Brief Inquiry’s version hears Matty singing through a vocoder which sounds like a swarm of Matty robots, in a way that more than pays homage to Bon Iver’s 715 – CR∑∑KS.

Elsewhere on the record, the infectious single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME sounds exactly like a dancehall Drake track, with breezy surface-level lyrics about infidelity. It’s undoubtedly generic and is the kind of track that those who love to hate The 1975 will latch onto, but somehow it’s irresistibly catchy and infectious.

There’s more Bon Iver influence on I Like America & America Likes Me (more like I Like Bon Iver and Bon Iver likes me, eh lads? Eh? Anyone?) where Healy’s voice is once again drenched in vocoder akin to 22, A Million. However, Matty is clever here – he knows he doesn’t have Vernon’s subtlety so substitutes this for his trademark brashness – America is carried by a massive trap beat and Healy’s lyricism is scatterbrain and manic, addressing the gun crisis in the USA (“kids don’t want rifles / they want Supreme”), but the unhinged and rapid-fire delivery and lyricism seems to suggest that Healy is using this rant as a way to deflect from his heroin addiction which saw him go to rehab during the making of this record – particularly as he howls “I’m scared of dying / its fiiiiiiine!” America is unhinged, wild and deranged – but it’s one of the best tracks this band has ever made.

While the rest of The 1975 are perfectly capable musicians, and George Daniel is a production wizard behind many of this record’s best moments. A Brief Inquiry…is dominated by the ever-fascinating Healy. This is especially evident on massive closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), which sounds at some points like a Nickelback track and at other points like an Oasis track – Matty himself even called it “a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’” – it teeters right on the edge of being unbearably cheesy, but Healy’s earnestness manages to pull it off and then some – the bridge’s mantra of “if you can’t survive; just try”is genuinely tear-jerking and inspiring.

However, when discussing Matty, even the most loyal fans of his work will admit that he is prone to talking absolute shite from time to time, and if A Brief Inquiry…is a reflection of his personality, then it reflects this too. Lead single Give Yourself a Try is good but not great, and the idol worship elsewhere on the album is taken too far here as the guitar riff is a rip-off of Joy Division’s Disorder. Elsewhere, Surrounded By Heads and Bodies is entertainingly titled after the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (“Because nobody reads it all the way!”) but that is unfortunately the most interesting thing about the track, as it is a forgettable acoustic track.

These are only small missteps in the album’s near-impeccable 59-minute runtime, and these are more than overshadowed by the band’s best song yet – the monumental Love If If We Made It. Released as a single before the album, the lyrics were released in advance of the track, and with lines as brash as “fucking in a car / shooting heroin” and “poison me, daddy”, even the most devout fans found themselves cringing. However, when the track was properly released it dumbfounded almost everyone who heard it.

It’s been called a millennial ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it simply lists the biggest news headlines and social events of the tumultuous past few years (“a beach of drowning 3 year olds / rest in peace Lil Peep”), Matty doesn’t give an opinion on any of these events and simply states the headlines, but his passion is evident. Particularly on the track’s incredibly moving bridge, where he quotes Trump twice, including the strangest pop lyric of the year “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What brings this cultural melting point of a track together is the powerfully simple chorus when Matty declares “modernity has failed us, but I’d love it if we made it”; it’s an admission that our world is a mess, but what comes through in Matty’s impassioned delivery is a true desire and a plea for humanity and kindness. It’s a protest song of sorts, but as only The 1975, and only Matty Healy could pull off. As unlikely as it may have seemed in 2013, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships makes a very strong case for The 1975 as the band that the world needs in 2018. – andrew barr (@weeandreww)

Get tuned into the radio with Vince Staples on “FM!”

Just over a year on from the critical triumph that was Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples makes a surprise but welcome return with FM!, a fun concept album/EP/mixtape/whatever the fuck it is. While some artists’ side projects between main projects can fade into insignificance, in 22 brief minutes Staples still manages to make a lasting impression.

Although this project is short, Vince packs in the creativity we have come to expect from him. FM! plays out as a radio programme, with a few skits that resemble radio transitions, with the running theme being Vince urging listeners to call in to win tickets to see Kehlani live. With how short the run-time is it is impressive that Staples manages to tie the few tracks included together with a plot making the project feel more cohesive.

As far as the actual musical content the Long-beach rapper delivers, FM! contains some of his catchiest material to date. While the overall themes and sound don’t stray too far from where Big Fish Theory left off, this is not a bad thing at all as we get more of the sharp production we have come to expect from Vince Staples. From opening track Feels Like Summer, Staples continues to demonstrate why he is streets ahead of his competition. One element that is perhaps improved since his last album is the hooks. On this track and throughout the album the choruses pack a punch and refuse to be forgotten.

Thematically, this is familiar territory for Vince, though again this is no weakness as his takes on gang violence are always sincere and compelling. Once again he finds the balance between humour and addressing important issues and it creates a perfect blend of a project that is a fun listen but also a more rewarding listen if you so desire.

As with Big Fish Theory, the highlight of FM! is without a doubt the production. From the sinister bass of Relay with the accompaniment of Vince‘s snarling delivery or the bouncing beat of FUN! that almost sounds out of place but, when paired with Vince, fits perfectly and makes for another stand out moment. With each release, Staples is becoming more and more creative and exciting and even with what could have been a throwaway project, he shows no signs of phoning it in.

For what this project is, it doesn’t leave much to be desired except more of the same from Vince Staples. In fact, the only weak spots on FM! are when Vince is sidelined: Jay Rock, Kehlani and E40 all hold their own but Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga’s interludes underwhelm. On the whole, Vince Staples reminds us of what he is capable of and if this is what he does in his spare time then his next output is one to be excited for. – ethan woodford (@human_dis4ster)

rating 8

Daughters Deliver On “You Won’t Get What You Want”, An Album That Is A Fantastic Pit Of Despair

photo credit: Reid Haithcock

With You Won’t Get What You Want, Daughters may have just released one of the best rock albums in this decade. This album is a catastrophic earthquake of emotion and terror and is ready to destroy everyone who listens to it.

Music changes and evolves constantly. Over the years, artists, bands, record labels, and whole genres will move and sweep along different soundscapes, atmospheres, and whole cultural movements. Before this latest record, the last the world heard of noise-rockers Daughters was in 2010, with their frenetic and electrifying self-titled third album. Daughters are a band that, since their 2003 debut album Canada Songs, have molded and shaped their sound into many different subgenres of rock and metal. Their aforementioned debut album was a blistering eleven minutes of chaotic grindcore. From there, they moved into a longer (albeit not by much) twenty-three minutes of raw and unapologetic mathcore with their second album Hell Songs.

To evolve their sound so rapidly over such a short period is quite an achievement. As such, it can be argued that not many fans or critics alike were really prepared to hear what a new album would sound like after a mammoth eight years. And now we arrive at You Won’t Get What You Want, Daughters’ fourth studio album.

Album opener City Song alludes to the listening experience that is about to be had with this album. A swirling, minimalistic monster, it is a song punctuated by devilish synth-distortion, a spoken word drawl describing an apocalyptic world delivered by vocalist Alexis Marshall and jackhammer-like snare drums, all culminating into a cacophony of noises and instruments that teeter on the edge of losing all control, but are kept back from falling into a chaotic abyss. City Song is in itself a microcosm of the whole album. You Won’t Get What You Want does not have the frenetic energy or brightness of previous Daughters releases; this is an album that revels in the dark, taking joy in recounting all negative aspects of human emotion.

While delving into the darkness of humanity, the band also take a journey through a surprising amount of genres. You Won’t Get What You Want has elements of the noise rock soundscape that the band explored on the previous album, but also stirs into the melting pot a serving of some of the heaviest industrial to come out in years. But, the band do not let up there. Here, the pot is spiced with elements of harsh noise, metal-core, and even blues and shoegaze. There are not many places where this album won’t go to give the listener the most unforgiving experience it can conjure.

After City Songs comes Long Road, No Turns, the third single to come from the album. Drummer Jon Syverson describes the song in a perfectly succinct way: “I feel dizzy listening to it. I feel dizzy playing it”. That dizziness comes from the drastic soundscapes that create this whirring monster of a song. Droning guitars, frenetic, staccato synths, lurching and undulating drum patterns and Alexis’ shouted, emotive drawl echoes over the track, his voice cracking and becoming more and more strained over the track, perfectly encapsulating the ongoing paranoia and hopelessness of the protagonist of the song. As mentioned prior, there is no real escape from this album. Be prepared to go on a horrifying aural journey.

However, that horror doesn’t just come within the brutalising instrumentation and timbres found on the album. In many cases, a sense of unease and nervousness is attained through more surprising avenues. The album allows a respite from its hostility on the song Less Sex. Starting with a racket of noise, the song transforms into a haunting, blues number, accompanied by a blue-inspired vocal performance from Alexis. Bass and synth reverberate at the back of the song, building the tension, until the song explodes into a blur of guitar feedback, sweeping back out to allow the song to build slowly again, ready to deliver its monstrous, wall of sound. These surprising moments are what make this album truly special.

But do not be mistaken by a song like Less Sex as it is clear that this album is ready to assault the ears. The Flammable Man sees the band somewhat return to their metalcore roots, while also updating that often tired sound, managing to make arguably one of the decade’s best metal songs. The last two songs of the album, Ocean Song and Guest House, see the band utilise their instruments with such aplomb, creating wails and noises that did not seem possible from guitars and basses. These no-wave and post-rock epics bookend what is an epic listen, and one that is definitely overwhelming on a first listen.

However, after initially making the plunge into this album, it becomes clear that this is more than a typical industrial or noise rock album. Daughters find so many different avenues on this album to create dismay and despair, yet still keep the listener on their toes. It is debatable whether there is any real downtime on this album, anywhere for the listener to really lose interest. Though this might not be an album for your average music listener, it is certainly one that should be listened to by anyone with an interest in heavy music. With You Won’t Get What You Want, Daughters have created a milestone in rock music. This is an album that will be looked on for years to come as a seminal piece of noise rock, one that will define a generation and influence many that come after it. This album is an apocalyptic whirlwind. Get taken up in the eye of the storm and experience one of the best albums in rock. – Charlie Leach (@YungBuchan)

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IDLES tackle everything from Brexit to gym lads on ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’

Aggressive, political and raw is perhaps the best way to describe UK punk rock five-piece IDLES’ sophomore album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. The follow up to their 2017 debut Brutalism defied all odds for a punk band in 2018, shooting straight to number five on the UK album charts.

Opening with the raw and anthemic Colossus, the album really starts as it means to go on. Huge drum beats accompany the dirty, slow riff while the almost 50/50 blend of screaming and melodic vocals from singer Joe Talbot take centre stage. The repeated lyrics of “it goes and it goes and it goes” create an eery and intimidating listen throughout the whole track, making it a strange but equally enjoyable first listen. The track then slows right down, before launching right into a heavy riff and changing tempo to a much faster feel. The track encapsulates what this album is about, and sets the mood perfectly from the get-go.

 

The songwriting displayed on the tracks throughout this album is perhaps what makes it stick out. Poking fun at all aspects of life in modern Britain, the topics tackled by IDLES on this record range from ‘gym lads’ to politics and Brexit.

Never Fight A Man with a Perm is the second track on the record, and perhaps one of the best on the whole album. It’s the lyrics that particularly stand out on this one. Poking fun at those lads obsessed with the gym and going clubbing to pinch girls’ arses, Talbot sings “You look like a walking thyroid / You’re not a man, you’re a gland / You’re one big neck with sausage hands / You are a Topshop tyrant / Even your haircut’s violent / You look like you’re from Love Island”. 

The album continues to produce great tracks as it goes on. The brilliant chorus of Danny Nedelko is a song worthy of fans to mosh along to at gigs. The track is a strong punk track with a deep, political theme: immigrants. Written about a good friend of the group who is a Ukranian immigrant, the opening lyrics of “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant” set the mood for the rest of the track. This is precisely what the band, and the spirit of punk, is all about: giving a big ‘fuck you’ to the system.

It’s safe to say the songwriting and vocal style are among the biggest reasons this album has achieved so much. Samaritans deals with toxic masculinity while Great looks at Brexit and scoffs at some of the more irrational reasons people may have for voting. Lyrics such as “Islam didn’t eat your hamster” and “wombic charm of the union jack, as he cries over the price of a bacon bap” work perfectly in this song. They are funny, while also showing how silly this whole Brexit nonsense is.

IDLES have done superbly in this album. While the instrumentation is perhaps not as strong as other records out there and the style is not for everyone, the meaning behind the tracks is what makes it great. This album has soared to number five in the charts and allowed the Bristol punk rock outfit to play massive sold out shows all over the UK. It’s safe to say they are going to continue to do so. – gregor farquharson (@grgratlntc_)

rating 7

Ghostemane struggles to keep things lively on ‘N/O/I/S/E’

words fae liam toner (@tonerliam)

With songs like Mercury: Retrograde going viral, Ghostemane‘s spooky aesthetic and rapid-fire flow have made him an artist worth keeping tabs on.rating 5

Over the past few years, the Florida rapper has managed to gather a great deal of attention in the modern trap scene, in no small part due to his sound encompassing influences from industrial to hardcore, all the way to Memphis rap which was all wrapped up in a black metal aesthetic.

His aforementioned popular single came from his 2017 album Plagues and although the album would show a lot of potential for the young artist due to his uniquely dark style, Plagues would still leave much to be desired for. Coming into 2018 and with his newest album N / O / I / S / E,  there was a feeling of cautious optimism that all Ghostemane’s talents and unique qualities could come together and result in something truly great.

Unfortunately,  N / O / I / S / E falls flat throughout most of its runtime with there being one element that seems to be holding Ghostemane back, that being songwriting. His tenth release actually features great production, arguably some of his best, but the bare bones of each track aren’t as fully developed as it could be which is quite a shame.

Many of the tracks are short in length and don’t develop into much else after a couple of verses: the track Flesh starts with Ghostemane’s signature dark ambient styled atmospherics and into a hardcore breakdown section. This intro serves the track well, putting things into full swing, but after only about 30 seconds of the young star actually rapping, the track falls silent and then goes back to hardcore breakdown section before the track fizzles out at a measly 1:19. This track could stand out as one of his best if he took more time to flesh out the track (no pun intended) with another couple of verses or a vocal hook but the track finishes almost as soon as it starts and it comes across as such a missed opportunity.

A fundamental flaw with this record is that while Ghostemane’s blend of genres is very well done, it seems he is too stuck to the traditional hip-hop way of songwriting. A hip-hop track can be based around one sample for the whole track and still be amazing. However, with Ghostemane’s shorter song lengths and minimal rapping on each track, each song struggles to go anywhere properly exciting. This can be seen on the track The Singularity which sees Ghostemane dip his toes into a fully industrial/goth style song which bares obvious similarities to some Nine Inch Nails work. The song is based around a simple four on the floor kick drum beat which goes between Ghostemane’s singing and then the same beat but much more pummelling and distorted. The song is very interesting on first listen but ends in just over two minutes and no change is made in the basic melodic idea or the structure of the song. This again leaves the listener with a dissatisfied feeling and it’s this feeling that carries on throughout most of the album as almost all of the tracks suffer from these same flaws.

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This ultimately makes the album a bit of a slog due to these criticisms being apparent on nearly every song. The instrumental tracks Intro.Desolation, Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and My Heart of Glass all suffer as well, with the latter being based around a simple guitar riff that seems to build up tension in its repetition only for the tension to blend into more industrial noise which leaves the album on an anti-climactic end. However, this is quite a fitting end for an album that left this impression track after track.

Overall N / O / I / S / E proves to be a disappointing release that could have been so much more. This tends to be a common theme through most of Ghostemane’s work and it’s genuinely a bit sad because he really does have a unique and interesting sound going for him – sadly, he fails to deliver something truly special or consistent.

 

 

Album Review: iridescence by Brockhampton

words fae owen yule (@OwenYule)

During the recording process of iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON talisman Kevin Abstract rating 8noted that the group felt like they were back in their Saturation I days, yet, so much has changed. No longer are the group creating their music from a home studio in California; no longer are the group broadcasting out with the eye of the music world; no longer are the group working as independent artists; perhaps most significant of all, no longer are the group operating as an 18-man collective.

It goes without question then that iridescence marks a substantial transition in the boy band’s career and so, it comes as no surprise that said changes are reflected in the content of the music. In spite of all success and triumph that BROCKHAMPTON have earned since the release of SATURATION I, Iridescence relays feelings of anger at the world: soundscapes of aggression are facilitated by bombastic drums that often play in syncopation and at varied tempos, giving the LP an intense and abrasive quality. This aggression is perhaps at its most resounding on BERLIN, where each bass note thumps like an uppercut to the chin with the support and reinforcement of growling muscle cars. Nonetheless, this ferocity is only fully actualised by the vocal performances of the group, specifically, Merlyn and Joba who both give their best performances for Brockhampton to date. On WHERE THE CASH AT, Merlyn gives a performance with a cadence that accentuates the rapacious desire evident in the track title, while Joba’s rapping on J’OUVERT escalates in volume perpetually through the verse before culminating in maniacal screams.

Although the album frequently indulges in forceful noise, it succeeds in interpolating feelings of vulnerability and sweet balladry singing. This is a juxtaposition which at this point is well refined by the boyband. One moment they are seething and the next, romantic. The contrast is not only a testament to the myriad of talent in the group but also their versatility.

Halfway through the album DISTRICT evolves in to a slow finger-picked sprawl of melody so dreamy that we almost forget the track was once grimy and whiplash-inducing with its bass; momentarily before transitioning in to the short and soothing THUG LIFE, the album opens with a track that utilises a power drill sound effect to reinforce its abrasive aesthetic; SAN MARCOS marks one of the boybands most melodic and soulful tracks in their discography as it helps bring the album to a close in its latter stages. This contrast in tones is reflective of the group’s measurement in extremes. When it comes to their ideology there is no half-stepping and emotions all across the spectrum are fleshed out and brought to fruition wether it’s positivity or turmoil.

But if there’s a singular resounding force that comes through the lyrical qualities of iridescence, it’s honesty. As a rapper, Abstract works in a similar vein to Kanye West – a rapper that he has openly spoken off with ardour – in that his use of complex wordplay and flows are negligible or even non-existent. Instead, his appeal is derived from the honesty and heart in his lyrics that throughout this album continue to explore his inner conflict in addition to attempts to normalise homosexuality within hip-hop culture. However, in terms of rapping procedure, Dom McLennan continues to shine as the groups most poetic. On this LP he reaffirms his status as the groups most lyrical member with a plethora of verses throughout the album that showcases his technical skill. But again, in spite of all complexity, his raps come from a visceral place and never come across as masturbatory. On the albums closer Fabric, Dom tells us that he ponders how he can “change the world that I move through” and with such poignant explorations of mental health issues throughout the album, it’s hard to argue with the legitimacy of his sentiment.

The album hits are at its most moving in its latter stages, most notably with the long-awaited CDQ of the previously live performed,  TONYA. It is a track that is somber yet grandiose, it is a dissection into the psyche of the group, a step into the spiraling staircase of wallow and self-doubt, a summation of the hurt and anguish weighing on BROCKHAMPTON. With that being said, however, the album closes with FABRIC echoing the mantra that “these are the best days of our lives” and maybe that’s what Abstract referred to when he called back to the Saturation I days. That feelings of enthusiasm and hope are not only alive but reminiscent of those during the formation of the group’s breakout album. That feeling of hope and enthusiasm are here for the boybands future… a future that we can’t wait to see unfold.

 

Mitski is full of paradoxes on glorious return “Be The Cowboy”

From the outset of Be The Cowboy, Mitski warns us she is volatile. The first single to be released from the album, Geyser, uses this natural force to set the tone for what is to come. The beauty of the geyser is its coexistence of power and powerlessness – that inevitable surge of strength is made all the more violent by its unpredictability.

It is a turbulent thing to be a young woman; sometimes chaotic, often vulnerable. On this album, Mitski’s voice can express this clearly, mostly without the distortion that marked her previous two albums and sounding more defiant than ever – but always just on the cusp of losing control. “I’m a geyser,” she sings, “feel it bubbling from below.” So when the emotion does come, bright or dark, we cannot say we weren’t warned.  

The premise behind the album’s title is Mitski’s desire to embody the power of a cowboy – the unapologetic white male figure who behaves with complete authority and no consequence. In this spirit, each short track on the album is brief but explosive, making its mark before swaggering off into the sunset. In interviews, however, Mitski has made it clear that this choice is more pragmatic than artistic. A notably different concept from, for example, a 13-minute Father John Misty think-piece on self – she wastes no time in order to fight against marginalisation and make her voice heard. What we are left with is succinct, but loses nothing in musical or lyrical complexity, marked by the same hard-hitting mixture of vulnerability and strength that defined her 2014 breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek and 2016’s compelling Puberty 2.

Cracks in the cowboy façade are not weaknesses but highlights, as our protagonist lets us glimpse the excruciation of trying to craft an image and maintain control when the game is rigged against you. On country-tinged Lonesome Love, our cowboy berates and praises herself in equal measure, casually delivering the album’s best line with “nobody butters me up like you / and nobody fucks me like me.” On Pink in the Night, she captures the anxiety of a perfectionist losing control: “I know I’ve kissed you before, but I didn’t do it right / can I try again,” repeating the latter phrase until the song ends, a geyser trying in vain to stem the emotion which can’t help but erupt.


In calms between storms, we are treated to theatrical little vignettes such as the fond and reminiscent Old Friend, or the Broadway-ish Me And My Husband, where our protagonist considers the deceptive calm of domesticity and the warring desires to be both everything to everyone and nothing to no one: “I’ll steal a few breaths from the world for a minute / and then I’ll be nothing forever.

Be The Cowboy is teeming with such paradoxes. A Pearl is dazzling, exposing the powerless terror of pushing someone away by being too distant: “I’m sorry I don’t want your touch / it’s not that I don’t want you,” before the music swells and Mitski admits the impossibility of letting go of a love so tempestuous. Such moments of vulnerability expose the cost of cowboy-ism; it is hard to wreak your own havoc without catching a couple of blows.

Remember My Name is the record’s angriest song, but also the most defeated, expressing the typically female exhaustion that comes with wringing yourself out for a lover; a friend; an audience: “I need somebody to remember my name / after all that I can do for them is done.Washing Machine Heart could be the prelude to this emptiness, its insistent beat backdropping an infatuation both mundane and all-consuming: “will you kiss me already / and toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart/baby, bang it up inside.

Nobody is a glorious centrepiece – birthed out of the excruciating solitude of a Christmas spent alone in Malaysia, the chorus is twistedly jubilant, repeating the empty pronoun until there’s nothing left to do but sing along. Mitski recently toured with Lorde, and it would fit that Nobody is a banger whose ideology is firmly in sync with the spirit of Melodrama: taking the sad, messy, tender parts of existence (particularly young female existence) and making them danceable. At times it borders on satirical – those upbeat disco guitars have no place backing such melancholy, and there is something delicious about the absurdity of a cheesy pop clap at the end of the repeated “still nobody wants me.” It is a neat little triumph that laughs at the double bind of a soul unable to control its outbreaks of emotion, but at the mercy of the impulse to make the pain marketable.

As the album nears its close, Blue Light seems to recall the opener of her 2012 debut Lush, ‘Liquid Smooth’ – a piano ballad expressing the theatrical desperation of young loneliness (‘what am I to do with all this beauty?’) expressing all the anxiety of a young woman plagued by the pressure to gather her rosebuds while she may. Be The Cowboy’s version is shorter, simpler, yet all the more manic with its urgent guitars: “I’m going crazy / I’m walking round the house naked,” distilling the turbulence of young female emotion in few words.

Mitski has a chameleon skill for seeing the same issue from polarised angles. Where the ephemerality of youth and love is desperate on Blue Light, the song hasn’t even reached two minutes in length before we are swept into the introspective Two Slow Dancers, a vignette of an old couple dancing with sad resignation to very same passing of time that was cause for a tailspin only one track earlier. It is a surprising lull with which to close the album, a slow but spirited surrender to those forces which can no longer be fought against.

Mitski’s latest is an album of paradoxes. In fourteen short songs, she asks us to understand (or at least gaze upon – she doesn’t want our pity) what it is to be both too naïve and too old, too distant and too close, too restrained and too chaotic. This is her best work yet, establishing herself as an artist who contains multitudes. Be The Cowboy gives us a lucky glimpse of just 30 minutes of them. – lizzie mccreadie (@franzgaffka)

rating 9