Album Review: S/T by LUMP

words fae michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)                                                         rating 7

A successful experimental collaboration between two very distinct musicians is about as rare as spotting a dancing yeti. However, seeing that such a yeti is present in LUMP’s music videos and album art, it appears this fabled occurrence has finally come true.

A musical collaboration between Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect it. Marling takes the lead with vocals, bringing her signature poetic lyrics with her, whereas the instrumentals are mostly written by Lindsay and continue his usual relaxed, electronic compositions.

With first listening, opening track Late to the Flight sounds like Marling’s recent work, with calm guitar and laidback vocals, with only a distant hint of electronic hum. However, there’s still a definite new musical layer added by Lindsay – subtle enough to not be over-powering and ward off traditional Marling fans but enough to assure that this is an experimental collaboration and won’t be just more of the same old. Of course, Marling fans should be well used to a little experimentation as the singer has never shied away from it in her previous work. Regardless, this will be the first album to focus more heavily on modern instrumentals, with Lindsay proving the importance of composing instrumentals with as much care as crafting lyrics.

Marling’s vocal range is allowed full freedom in this album, though her often preferred tenor growl is present in many verses, choruses allow a rare vocal jaunt into the mezzo-soprano. May I be the Light is one such song that plays with hauntingly drawn out croons adding a bright lilt to the song. Lindsay keeps the synth instrumentals reserved to allow Marling’s vocals centre stage. The synths create a night-time feel, with an undercurrent of 80’s Bladerunner score. A growing urgency is added in the choruses with a galloping drum beat and the simple, monotone synth pattern raises in pitch along with Marling’s vocals in the chorus, mirroring her sudden elation.

The first notes of Rolling Thunder are mystical and weirdly wonderful, with hints of Kate Bush. The whole song sounds at odds with itself but in a very purposeful way. It’s intended oddity with the storm of abstractness being part of the charm. The lyrics are filled with odd, evocative imagery. Every line starts with “I’m a” or “We are” or “You” and there are multiple identities explored throughout the song, highlighting how everyone is more complex than just one title. Just like in her previous album Semper Femina, Marling plays with gender, subverting the usual binary constraints in lyrical perspective with repeated lines like “I’m your mother, I’m your father”, refusing to adhere to restricted gender roles in art. The chorus line “I’m a man, of a certain kind. I’m a woman, of a certain space and time” could be critiquing gender identity roles – men being allowed to choose their identity whereas women have their labels thrust upon them depending on when they exist and what they choose to do or wear. Rolling Thunder is the first track on the album to really show off Lindsay’s electronic musical layering skills and introduces listeners to the more playful, LSD-trip sounding songs.

Curse of the Contemporary was the first song released on the album and performs everything this debut intended. Marling’s vocal talent is at full force in this track, exploring the usually ignored higher notes and layering vocals to allow full submersion for the listener. Lindsay’s talents in instrumentals and tempo are also on point. The melody explores uncommon chord patterns in western music, with the verse almost following traditional Japanese melodies. There’s a musical energy brought by the arrangement and layering of instruments, without simply having to rely on loud percussions. The lyrics explore a well-known subject area for Marling, that of living in California from an outsider perspective. The song warns the listener of the escapist, often vain lifestyle in California.

Marling’s lyrics always seem to circle back to a feeling of dissatisfaction. In the running synth bass, 80’s arcade game sounding track Hand Hold Hero, lyrics discuss feeling trapped. “Oh my back to the wall, better that than trip and fall” seems to discuss the musical tendency to stick to what you know and not experiment, in case you fail to please your audience, something which Marling probably feared when writing for this collaboration. Shake your Shelter is again about feeling trapped, using the imagery of a naked crab desperately trying to find a home but feeling bored when stuck in one shell for too long. The lyrics are repeated throughout over a simple instrumental, with a layering effect on Marling’s vocals, which could signify the repetitive, monotonous cycle of life.

The final track – LUMP is a Product – is just an audio credits over music, which is helpful as a reviewer as we now know who to give credit to. However, as just a casual listener, it is a little strange and will likely be skipped on repeated listens, which reduces the total number of actual songs on this album to only six.

The only real critique for this album is that it left you wanting more. More songs and more abstract experimentation of traditional musical form. Lindsay seemed relatively timid throughout the album, only really getting to fully stretch his composing wings is songs like Curse of the Contemporary and Rolling Thunder. Despite this, the pairing or Marling and Lindsay seemed to work surprisingly well, hopefully, they’ll try collaborating again in the future and this time feel confident enough to fully immerse themselves into their new direction.

Album Review: Harry Styles – Self titled

Written by Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

Long before One Direction announced their breakup hiatus, it was obvious that its members were trying to gain genuine credibility to prepare for their inevitable solo careers. Arguably the most successful in this front was Harry Styles, who always felt like the ringleader of the group that insisted it didn’t have a ringleader.

So how did Styles manage to gain such credibility while performing in a boy-band every night? Firstly, let’s not beat around the bush, Styles is gorgeous, and was clearly the group’s most physically attractive member. Secondly, he complemented his natural looks and established a signature fashion sense which saw him frequently named as one of the world’s best-dressed men in fashion magazines like GQ.

However, it was obvious even in One Direction that the biggest stab into credibility for Styles would come when he launched his solo career. It just so happens that his solo career got off to the best possible start – the lead single from his self-titled debut is the album’s undisputed highlight – the six-minute epic Sign Of The Times. The borrowed title would seem to indicate that the Cheshire heartthrob would channel Prince vibes on the first taster of his record but instead it is a glam-rock track dripping in David Bowie and Queen influences. Styles’ vocals are near-impeccable on Sign Of The Times as they are throughout the album, sliding effortlessly between a croon and a falsetto between the track’s huge vocal crescendo.

Sadly though, the lead single set unbelievably high expectations for the rest of the record, and it cannot live up to the (impeccably high) standards of Sign Of The Times. This track also foreshadowed two of the record’s most prevalent shortcomings. Styles is obviously eager to pay tribute to and show homage to his musical idols, but his self-titled debut sees him mirroring his heroes too closely at times, and many of his lyrics are average at best and drowning in cheap clichés.

Sign Of The Times subscribed to both of these weaknesses, bearing more than a passing influence to Bowie and Queen, while the lyrics came across as quite nondescript and generic. However, while this track exhibits these flaws, the instrumental and the vocals are so irresistible that the flaws don’t drag it down. Styles’ lyrical flaws are less prevalent here too – the track’s almost apocalyptic sentiment manages to grab the attention.

However, these flaws have a far more detrimental effect on many other tracks on the record. Second single Sweet Creature comes off as an ode to The Beatles Blackbird, but the track’s simple instrumentation – a lone acoustic guitar – just comes across as boring, and Styles’ average-at-best lyricism does little to save it. These shortcomings don’t expel every track from good song school though – Ever Since New York is a country-tinged track which bears more than a passing resemblance to many of U2’s works, but the instrumentation and lyrics are so good that even the one-line chorus of “Tell me something I don’t know already” is endlessly enjoyable – and provides one of the record’s highlights, despite the sub-par lyricism. On an even stronger note, the double-punch of Only Angel and Kiwi moves away from the ballads which comprise the majority of this record in favour of two genuine rock songs. These tracks hear Styles embracing the Mick Jagger comparisons he is branded with and writing two Rolling Stones-esque rock songs.

Only Angel’s into is misleading – a gorgeous minute-long piano and choir piece before a snarling guitar lick takes centre stage, which allows the usually humble Styles to exude arrogance when almost bragging about the girl who was the muse for this track. Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Only Angel is that it survives the god-awful “devil in between the sheets” lyric in the second verse, and still comes off as enjoyable.

Directly following Only Angel is slightly edgier cousin Kiwi, which manages to sound even more like the Rolling Stones, which is helped by the fact that former boy-band member and famed Nice Guy Styles makes not-so-subtle lyrical references to cigarettes, alcohol and cocaine. The lyrics here are an improvement, and the chorus consists of a girl telling Styles: “I’m having your baby/ it’s none of your business”. It’s hardly Shakespeare-esque, and is far from profound, but it’s perhaps the most memorable lyric on the album (only rivalled by a certain lyric on closer From The Dining Table) and it matches the track’s fun nature.

These two tracks showcase the best of Styles’ clear tactic to pay obvious homage to his influences but he doesn’t get it this right throughout the album. Penultimate track Woman hears Styles almost impersonate Elton John, and deliver a song with a sexy, seductive swagger but it falls flat on its face and the sickly one-word chorus consisting of only the track’s title and a “La la la la la la” singalong is a strong contender for the record’s worst moment.

It is worth remembering though, that Styles has taken risks with this record and should be commended for it. After his years in One Direction, Styles could easily have made a record full of pop bangers, which is confirmed by Carolina, which has a 60’s tinge but is undoubtedly the album’s poppiest moment, and it provides one of the record’s highlights, with another “La la la” singalong which comes off light years better than Woman’s did. What is frustrating about this record is it feels at times like Styles is trying to prove that he has good taste in music, but gets so caught up in this that he fails to develop his own sound. Both the opening and closing tracks are perhaps the only two indicators of what a Harry Styles song sounds like on this entire record.

Meet Me In The Hallway and From The Dining Table are both sparse, country-tinged ballads, and, Dining Table in particular hears Styles at his most confessional, opening with a lyric about having a wank, before declaring that he’d “never felt less cool”. Hearing these two tracks is frustrating, they are well-written and Styles vocals are fragile and alluring, but they leave the listener wishing that he had developed “his own” sound more on his first solo LP. Sadly however, what seems part and parcel of a truly “Harry Styles” song, at least on this debut, are rushed-sounding, shoddy lyrics. On a record where he pays such homage to his heroes, this LP can leave the listener wishing Styles had imitated his favourite band Frightened Rabbit a bit more closely, and come out with smarter lyricism.

This is not a bad record by any stretch, as the majority of the instrumentals and Styles vocals are vastly enjoyable. However, it remains a frustrating listen, as it hears Styles, credited for his fashion sense, wearing his influences so closely that he fails to develop his own sound on this ironically self-titled debut.

6.5/10


Outstanding piece of work from, what is now hard to believe, the ex one direction member. Highlights are Sign of the Times and Kiwi for me. A very mature feel, and a beautifully produced album.

8/10 – Gregor Farquharson (@gregoratlantic)

While there’s some definite highlights, there’s no denying the grandiose loveliness of Sign of the Times or the glam-rock good times on Carolina, far too often on Styles’ debut does it come off as record so deep-rooted in its influences that the man himself never gets a chance to spread his wings. A solid effort but one that comes off as just a bit disappointing.

4.5/10 – Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

Incredibly catchy and surprisingly slick debut. I’m not much of a fan of slow soppy ballads but the ones on this album resonate with me, which is quite hard to accomplish. Seriously impressed, will be listening to it all year!

8/10 – Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)

Personally I wasn’t too taken by it, although Harry obviously matured with this release, he hasn’t matured enough to break away from some of the tired out stereotypes of the genre he seems so fond of. Sign of the Times is a very strong song, however.

5/10 – Karsten Walter (@karseatheadrest)

A confident and wildly entertaining debut. The songs, whilst not at all complex, showcase Styles‘ voice incredibly well, and they highlight his keen ear for a catchy as hell chorus. Banger central.

8/10 – Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)


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