The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

The 1975 are a band I’ve been aware of for a long time, but have never been too interested in checking out. There’s always been a certain trying-too-hard, eye-roll-inducing quality about them (their second album’s title encapsulates this perfectly) that’s put me off really diving into their stuff.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships ended up being hard to ignore though – due to all the buzz it’s been receiving online – so I decided to give it a go. And it’s a strange one, to say the least. The album is flawed, but it’s often admirably ambitious at the same time. You can tell that the band chucked a lot of ideas into it, and when they work, they often work spectacularly.

‘Love If We Made It’ exemplifies this best. The song is full of tension, featuring abrasive vocals and an ominous, repetitive instrumental on the verses. They act as a recap of the low-lights of the past couple of years (from the Syrian refugee crisis to ‘Thank you Kanye, very cool!’) before the glitzy 80s-infused chorus comes in. And it’s gorgeous – especially when paired the chant of ‘And I’d love it if we made it’. The song just perfectly encapsulates modern times and is the perfect anthem for them.

It’s the main highlight of the first half of the album, which is mostly filled with underwhelming moments. Matty Healy sounds too much like he’s trying to ape Bon Iver’s 22, A Million on intro track ‘The 1975’ and the two singles that follow it – ‘Give Yourself A Try’ and ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ – are just kind of okay. Neither are bad songs, but it’s difficult to get excited about them.

On the other hand, songs like ‘Be My Mistake’, which features the album’s cringiest line (‘You make me hard, but she makes me weak’) and ‘The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme’ are straight-up bad. They don’t really do much other than drag down the album’s batting average.

Outside of a couple of highlights, such as ‘Love It We Made It’ and ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships doesn’t really hit its stride until right near the end… Which is unfortunate. ‘Inside Your Mind’ is a fantastically twisted love ballad, managing to be haunting and romantic at the same time. On it, Matty sings about cracking his girlfriend’s head open to find out what she’s thinking. On ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, the band once again wears their love of 80s pop on their sleeves and it pays off tremendously, featuring a cheesy chorus that they just about pull off.

Album closer ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ ends things on a definite high note. Swapping the 80s pop influence for 90s Britpop, it’s a great overblown alternative rock number – think Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’. It’s grand and climactic like a good closer should be. It’s just a shame that so much of what comes before it doesn’t work half as well.

Best Tracks: ‘Love It If We Made It’, ‘Inside Your Mind’, ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’

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Sunflower Bean @ SWX, Bristol

Sunflower Bean has always been one of those mid-tier bands for me. Both their albums are solid, each featuring a handful of real highlights, but they’ve yet to drop something truly fantastic. That’s not to diss them though – the band members are incredibly young (hint: their latest album is called Twentytwo in Blue) and they’re still finding their groove in some ways.

Opening for them at SWX was Miya Folick, another promising artist. I saw her at the same venue just over a year ago, and it’s remarkable how much she’s reinvented herself in that time. Her first album  Premonitions (released in October) swapped out the indie-rock singer-songwriter style of her early EPs for a poppier sound, with big catchy choruses. While not all of the songs worked for me when listening to the album, they sounded terrific live.

Folick has an absolutely tremendous voice, and it sounded even better live than on her album. Her set built slowly, kicking off with some of the more sombre cuts from Premonitions (such as ‘Thingamajig’) and ending with the more energetic ones (like ‘Freak Out’). While it would’ve been nice to hear a couple of older songs, the set was still stunning, winning me over a little more on her new material. She made for a tough act to follow.

Fortunately, Sunflower Bean was just as – if not more – impressive. While I’m not normally a fan of shorter sets (the band only played for an hour), it led to the performance being tight and filler-free. From opener ‘Burn It’ to the one-song encore, there were no lulls throughout the entire set, which is something I rarely see.

And everything sounded pristine. It’s interesting how some bands can sound fantastic in studio recordings but incredibly underwhelming live (an example of this is Snail Mail, who I caught a few weeks ago). Sunflower Bean is one of those bands that work the opposite way, sounding even better live than they do on their albums. Every track they played was filled with energy, featuring passionate performances and some great impromptu solos.

Highlights include the band’s new track ‘Come For Me’ (from an upcoming EP), during which lead singer Julia Cummings moshed around the audience, and ‘I Was A Fool’, a woozy Fleetwood Mac-inspired cut from their last album. Sunflower Bean closed things out with an encore of ‘Wall Watcher’ from their debut, which was a lot of fun if not a little too brief.

If you get the chance to see them live, go for it. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a fan, I think you’ll be impressed.

Anderson Paak – Oxnard

Anderson Paak’s rise has been slow and steady. After years as an underground artist, he broke through in 2015 with an appearance on Dr. Dre’s Compton, following that with his stellar second album Malibu the next year. His latest album though, Oxnard, feels like his most explicit push for big mainstream success – packed full of potential hits and Paak’s palpable charisma.

While not as thematically and stylistically ambitious as MalibuOxnard is a lot easier to digest. It’s a smooth 13-track ride, filled with great moments, some carefully selected guests and just enough variety to keep things interesting. After opening with a couple of so-so tracks – the aimless ‘The Chase’ and ‘Headlow’, which is marred by a cringy blowjob skit – ‘Tints’ really gets the ball rolling. The track is pure pop perfection, featuring a funky bassline and Paak’s bombastic sense of personality. It also has a top-notch Kendrick Lamar feature, who fits into the singer’s world effortlessly.

And things don’t really let up from there. ‘Who R U’ matches some swaggering bars from Paak with a top-notch beat, while ‘Smile/Petty’ acts as a great one-two, approaching relationship troubles from two different angles. ‘Six Summers’ stands among the artist’s best songs; while the political theme is a little unfocused, the track features a gorgeous shift in tone halfway through – moving from pompous to melancholy in an instant.

Oxnard‘s greatest asset is its production – it’s stunning throughout. Every song features its own gorgeous instrumental touches, from the layers of percussion on ‘Tints’ to the saxophone solo on ‘Cheers’. While it generally hovers around funk and rap, the album dips its toe in a lot of different genres – sometimes multiple ones on the same song. And it never feels forced. The production is even strong enough to hold together some of the album’s weakest songs, such as the bonus tracks, ‘Sweet Chick’ and ‘Left To Right’.

The album mellows out in its second half; the pace slows down and the songs take on a woozy, almost psychedelic vibe in some places. It’s also more feature-heavy than the first half, though luckily no one feels out of place. Snoop Dogg and Pusha T in particular steal the show on their respective songs, with the production on their tracks complimenting their usual styles well. While ‘Cheers’ isn’t a particularly exciting closer, it wraps up the album well.

Oxnard comes together as a strong whole, making for a dizzying display of Anderson Paak’s talents. While it might not be quite as satisfying as 2016’s Malibu, it makes for a superb, accessible introduction to the artist’s world.

Best Tracks: ‘Tints’, ‘Six Summers’, Brother’s Keeper’

Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Kurt Vile has a knack for making music you can get lost in. It’s a quality that’s been there since his first album back in 2008, Constant Hitmaker, but he’s just got better at it over time. Now eight albums deep into his career, he’s pretty much perfected it. Bottle It In is the sort of album you can just fall into – like a hazy, reverb-y bath.

Nowhere is this more clear than the song ‘Bassackwards’, perhaps the lushest, most atmospheric track he’s put out. For a ten minute song, it doesn’t progress a whole lot, circling around the chords and swirling electronics for most of its runtime, but it doesn’t need to. It paints a distinct mood – like being half-caught in a daydream – that Vile’s lyrics only emphasis: ‘I was on the beach, but I was thinking about the bay’. Like many of his best songs (think ‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’) it just feels effortless, like it was improvised on the spot, despite the amount of work that obviously went into it.

The song encapsulates Bottle It In as a whole pretty well. Vile takes his time to get where he’s going on the album (and most of the time it doesn’t sound like he knows where he’s going), taking just about every detour he can along the way. For any other artist, this would be a criticism. Bottle It In is a hefty album, clocking in at just under 80 minutes, but it just about works. It’s his most ambitious release, dipping into more styles and moods than any of his past albums. There are short-and-punchy rockers, drone-y ten-minute epics and just about everything in between on here. In many ways, it feels like a cumulation of the seven albums that came before it.

There’s plenty of classic Vile on here such as opener ‘Loading Zones’, which – of all things – is about trying to get free parking. It’s the catchiest track he’s dropped since ‘Pretty Pimpin’ and I particularly love the ‘I park for free’ chants that close out the track. ‘One Trick Ponies’ is a sweet and goofy self-referential song (‘Some are one trick ponies but so am I’) that features some of the album’s strongest lyrics. It’s schmaltzy, but Vile’s vocals sell it. Also great are ‘Yeah Bones’, which features a propulsive rhythm and a great hook, and ‘Check Baby’, a fantastically drawn-out rocker. The song fades out around the eight-minute mark, but there’s the sense it could roll along on its riff forever.

There’s a palpable shift in mood on the album at the halfway point with the 11-minute title track. Along with the equally long closer (‘Skinny Mini’), it’s likely to go down as one Bottle It In’s most divisive tracks. The instrumentation has an almost skeletal feel to it and the lyrics are some of the moodiest, most introspective ones Vile has penned: ‘Don’t tell them that you love them, for your own sake’. The tracks the follow on from it carry its mood. While Vile’s quirks still shine through on the second half of the album, it does have a more melancholy atmosphere overall.

On ‘Mutinies’, he mumbles over a particularly downbeat guitar loop, coming out with some of his most personal lyrics: ‘The mutinies in my head keep staying, I take pills and pills to make them go away’. ‘Come Again’ and ‘Cold Was The Wild’ carry a similarly melancholy feel; the latter in particular is an album standout, featuring some new instrumental twists. The song sounds like it was designed to soundtrack an old-school horror movie, featuring cawing sound effects, background static and some ominous bass guitar slides. It borders on uncomfortable at times.

Out of all the albums Kurt Vile has released, Bottle It In is the most difficult to untangle. Yet, it also feels like his best. It’s a versatile release, featuring tracks that explore sounds that Vile has more-or-less mastered at this stage (‘Bassackwards’) and others that push him into new territory (‘Cold Was The Wind’). It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.

Best Tracks: ‘Bassackwards’, ‘One Trick Ponies’, ‘Skinny Mini’

Roosevelt – Young Romance

You can discover some fantastic bands by turning up for the support acts at gigs. While I’m guilty of skipping them more often than not these days, I’ve found plenty of favourites through showing up early, such as Vacations, Money and – as you can probably guess from this review’s title – Roosevelt. The project of Marius Lauber, Roosevelt constructions slick, danceable synth-pop. After catching him as the support for Glass Animals a couple years back, I quickly jumped on his debut Roosevelt, which was just as good as the live show promised. The album doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before, but what it sets out to do it does incredibly well. The songs are fun with big hooks and feature just enough variation between them for things to stay interesting.

Two years later and we now have Young Romance. The album covers a lot of the same ground as Roosevelt, continuing to blend disco and house with an old school tinge. The mood of the album is somewhat different though. Roosevelt felt like one long night out with friends at the club, whereas Young Romance is more tinged nostalgia and a longing for the past. The brief opener ‘Take Me Back’ comes across as the album’s mission statement; the title can be read in two ways, both as the protagonist’s desire to return to an old relationship (a common lyrical theme throughout the album) and Roosevelt’s interest in the sounds of the past.

‘Take Me Back’ quickly leads on to ‘Under The Sun’, one of the album’s strongest cuts. Though its chorus doesn’t make much sense (‘Tonight I’ll show you everything under the sun’), it doesn’t really have to; the song is catchy, fun and summery, and honestly, that’s all it needs to be. Lyrics have never been Roosevelt’s strong suit, and the ones on Young Romance aim to be broad and relatable. They’re angsty, teenager-ish and a little overblown, as you’d expect given the album’s title. ‘Shadows’ is about being unable to forget a past lover (‘The shadows of our love’), ‘Yr Love’ rekindling an old romance (‘Bring your love back to be’) and ‘Getaway’ trying to run away from the world with a partner (‘We can get away tonight’). Like I said, big and broad. But they mostly work.

The album isn’t as routinely consistent as Roosevelt, nor does it flow as well, but there are some strong tracks on here. Songs like ‘Shadows’ and ‘Losing Touch’ can stand toe-to-toe with Roosevelt’s best songs, featuring killer basslines, thumping drums and the aforementioned catchy hooks. Young Romance doesn’t quite do enough to justify its 50-minute runtime though and there are a few clunkers around the middle (such as ‘Better Days’) that drag things out a bit. The album would have benefitted from having a couple of tracks cut from it, making things just that little bit leaner.

Young Romance is ultimately a fun but middling release. It’s not the sort of album that survives being picked apart too much and works best when you just chuck it on in the background. If you like your indie pop with a thick retro coating, then it’s worth checking out.

Best Tracks: ‘Under The Sun’, ‘Losing Touch’, ‘Shadows’.

Interpol – Marauder

Like so many bands from the early 2000s post-punk revival (think The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party), Interpol have been struggling to remain relevant for a while. The band’s last truly great album – their sophomore effort Antics – was released all the way back in 2004, and since then we’ve received three albums of middling quality. Our Love To Admire felt muddled and unfocused despite some highlights, Interpol was a bit of a depressive slog and El Pintor a retread of past glories.

Unfortunately, the band’s latest effort Marauder isn’t the return to form fans have been waiting for. While Interpol do branch out in new directions on some songs, with the disco stomp of ‘Surveillance’ and the humming electronics on ‘NYSMAW’, it suffers from the same major fault as El Pintor: the band play it too safe. Mostly, it’s just Interpol-by-the-numbers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re a big fan of the band, and songs like ‘If You Really Love Nothing’ and ‘Number 10’ are sure to fit pretty snuggly among Interpol classics in their live shows. But nothing here comes close to hitting the same heights as Turn On The Bright Lights or Antics… Heck, not even El Pintor. Lead single ‘The Rover’ is probably the best of the lot, featuring a propulsive, rollicking rhythm and some characteristically kooky lyrics about the cult leader. The song isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s a lot of fun.

‘If You Really Love Nothing’ is similarly strong, featuring some of the album’s strongest lyrics and some haunting, floating vocals from Paul Banks. I’m also a fan of ‘Mountain Child’, which builds up nicely. Starting out with a lone guitar line, the track picks up more and more energy the further it goes along, eventually finishing out with a great climax. ‘It Probably Matters’ acts as a serviceable closer, featuring some nice reflective lyrics.

However, I’d be lying if I said the album didn’t falter in a few places. Many of the songs on the Marauder feel overly repetitive (even the ones I’m a fan of), circling around the same chords for a few minutes before the ending. They feel like they’re missing a sense of progression or propulsion (‘Mountain Child’ being one of the few exceptions). Because of this, the album starts the blend together a little halfway through, with everything becoming a little too samey. The two interludes attempt to break things up, but neither add anything substantial to the album.

Marauder just seems to lack any strong sense of identity. It’s unlikely to be anyone’s least favourite Interpol album, sure, but it’s even more unlikely to be anyone’s favourite. If you’re a fan of the band, it’s worth a couple listens, but there’s nothing here that they haven’t done better on past releases.

Best Tracks: ‘The Rover’, ‘Mountain Child’, ‘Number 10’.

Dirty Projectors – Lamp-Lit Prose

It’s only been a little over a year since Dirty Projectors dropped their last album, 2017’s self-titled release, yet David Longstreth’s project is back again. It’s not difficult to see why such a quick turnaround way opted for; Dirty Projectors was met with mixed reception, due to the huge shift in sound it presented, swapping out colourful indie rock for downbeat R&B, as well as its uncomfortably personal lyrics. Charting the deterioration of Longstreth’s romantic relationship with former band member Amber Coffman, the album didn’t really hold back when it came to emotional ugliness.

Personally, I thought the album was Dirty Projectors’ strongest effort to date. While it was far from being perfect, the album’s strong points more than outweighed its weak ones. The production was absolutely fantastic in places and the lyrics – while a little cringey at times – felt a lot more honest and powerful than the ones on the project’s older albums. My opinion was everyone’s opinion though and, when examining the direction Longstreth has taken on this new album, it’s not hard to see that he took some of those criticisms to heart.

On Lamp-Lit Prose, Dirty Projectors takes an almost complete U-turn. Moody electronic R&B beats are traded off for colourful live instrumentation, bitter break-up lyrics for ones about new love and Longstreth’s singular, isolated vocals for a range of guest stars. It’s a return to Dirty Projector’s old sound, basically – which is both a good and bad thing. While the album is a lot less gutsy and ambitious than Dirty Projectors, it’s also a lot more fun to listen to… I mean, I’ve pretty much had it on repeat since it came out.

Lead single ‘Break-Thru’ is an easy standout. It took me a few listens to get into the track (at first sounding a bit like an overstuffed mess; Longstreth leaves no breathing space in the song, piling on layer after layer of instrumentation) but it’s since grown on me. It’s a sweet and catchy love song with a killer central guitar riff and some characteristcally goofy Longstreth lyrics, with everyone from Federico Fellini to Julian Casablancas getting name-dropped. It’s a real earworm.

The album’s other two singles are similarly solid. On ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, Longstreth addresses politics and consumerism while still managing to pull together a catchy hook, while ‘I Feel Energy’ is an all-out jam with an almost gospel edge to it. Both songs have a classic Dirty Projectors vibe to them and honestly wouldn’t have felt out of the place on one of the band’s few albums preceding their self-titled one.

And despite Dirty Projectors essentially being a solo project now, their sound has never been so rich. These tracks are filled to the brim with gorgeous instrumentation, with some trumpet flourishes here and a bit of harmonica there. The rich range of instruments featured allows even the album’s musically weaker songs to shine. Additionally, Longstreth’s vocals, while still very much an acquired taste, have never sounded better. I particularly love his falsetto freak-out at the end of ‘I Feel Energy’.

‘Blue Bird’ is the only the song I really dislike, with its nursery rhyme-like melody and lyrics that veer too far into sappy territory. Luckily, the album’s weaker moments like this one don’t detract from the overall experience too much, thanks to it only being a brisk ten tracks long, clocking in at just under forty minutes.  Lamp-Lit Prose isn’t trying to be something big and dramatic like Dirty Projectors, it knows what it is: a fun and quirky indie rock album.

While I’m still not totally sold on the band’s stylistic U-turn with this album, Lamp-Lit Prose is hard to dislike. It’s not particularly adventurous and it can be argued that it doesn’t do anything that the band haven’t done better on past releases, but it’s still a lot of fun. And maybe that’s all some albums need to be.

Best Tracks: ‘Break-Thru’, ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, ‘I Feel Energy’.