Dream Wife – Dream Wife

Following a string of impressive singles, Dream Wife’s debut album is here. Boasting a strong alt-rock sound with a feminist edge, the style the band go for isn’t entirely fresh but they pull it off incredibly well. Fronted by Rakel Mjöll and her violent vocals (with Alice Go on guitar and Bella Podpadec on bass), at their best, they deliver up fantastic punchy anthems full of aggression and energy.

When the songs land here, they really do. The aforementioned impressive singles – ‘Let’s Make Out’, ‘Somebody’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ – open up the album in a long line. All of these tracks have the same verse-chorus pop song structure, but there’s just about enough variation between them for the songs to stand out from each other. ‘Let’s Make Out’ starts things off on a huge high-note; I love Mjöll’s screaming, raw delivery of the song’s title on the chorus. ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ is similarly high-energy, with plenty of shouting again and even some peppy hand clapping. ‘Somebody’ and ‘Fire’ are both gentler in tone, but no less solid. The lyrics on these songs aren’t anything remarkable, but they’re fun and memorable.

Unfortunately, the album seems to lose its footing after these opening tracks. While the rest of the album is far from bad, nothing really matches up to those first four songs. We get a number of slower, less poppy tracks, such as ‘Kids’ and ‘Love Without Reason’. Both of these songs shift away from screaming vocals, opting for a more tender sound… But Mjöll’s voice doesn’t work half as well when she’s speaking softly. It’s way more suited to big, melodramatic songs about heartbreak than quiet ones about friendship, like ‘Kids’ (even if it has the most lyrical depth out of any song on Dream Wife.) In comparison, ‘Love Without Reason’ falters largely because of its lack of lyrical depth, pretty much jumping between a one-line verse and a one-line chorus for the entirety of the song. It just feels underbaked.

The songs in the second half in which the band return to their energetic punk-rock sound work better. ‘Taste’ and ‘F.U.U.’ are both solid, fun songs, featuring huge choruses… But they’re held back by the fact that the band have done the whole ‘quiet verse and loud chorus’ structure better before, making it hard for them to stand out. They’re fine, they’re fun – but there’s not much more to them than that. And in a way, that’s how I kinda feel about Dream Wife as a whole. It’s a really enjoyable rock album with tons of attitude, but you’ll probably get everything out of it on the first listen. I just can’t see myself coming back to it much.

Best Tracks: ‘Let’s Make Out’, ‘Somebody’, ‘Hey Heartbreaker’.

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Tune-Yards – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life

I first got into Tune-Yards a few years ago after hearing their song ‘Bizness‘ on a TV show (Transparent, if you’re curious). I don’t normally look up songs I hear on the TV, but I found myself really drawn to the track; it had a certain playfulness to it that loved, with singer Merrill Garbus’s sampling her own voice and playing it like an instrument. I found this same playfulness and inventiveness running through all three of Tune-Yards’ albums when I checked them out, and I quickly began to really love them. They’re a band that fills their songs with hand claps, laser sound effects and weird vocals – like Garbus imitating siren – giving them a sound that’s really unlike anything else.

This playfulness leaks into the Garbus’s lyrics a lot as well, even as she deals with big political and social issues. Their songs have dealt with everything from cultural appropriation (‘Gangsta’) to taxes and droughts (‘Water Fountain’), with Garbus approaching these topics in unique and off-kilter ways. This juxtaposition between Tune-Yards’ fun feel and the serious issues their songs address is a large part of what’s made the band so impressive to me in the past. 

Following up 2014’s Nikki Nack, Tune-Yards new album I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life doesn’t abandon these two defining features of their music – it’s still playful and it still deals with heavy issues. Purely musically, it might be the most impressive album that the duo, Garbus and Brenner, have put out yet. It takes their sound in a number of new directions – in particular, a more dance music inspired one. Tune-Yards pull off this new, more danceable sound pretty effortless and I Can Feel You Creep definitely feels like the poppiest they’ve ever been.

‘Heart Attack’ and ‘Look At Your Hands’ make the strongest arguments for a dancier Tune-Yards, with both songs having an immediate appeal to them. ‘Heart Attack’ balances fun and darkness perfectly (I love Garbus’ ‘heart attack-tack-tack’ delivery on choruses) and builds to a fantastic climax. It features Tune-Yards’ usual instrumental ticks, including handclaps and some solid bass work from Brenner, as well as few new sounds, including a very 80s sounding synth. ‘Look At Your Hands’ similarly balances Tune-Yards childlike characteristics (the lyrics punctuated with Garbus’ la-ing) with some very retro instrumentation, shown most clearly by the drum loop that opens the song. There’s even a really nice synth solo – again, very 80s – that comes in towards the end.

Though these two songs were the clear highlights for me, there are plenty of other musically interesting moments in the tracklist, such as the creeping ‘Coast to Coast’ and ‘Colonizer’ with its manic finish. It’s only really towards the end of the album that I think the instrumentation on I Can Feel You Creep becomes a bit lacklustre; songs like ‘Who Are You’, ‘Private Life’ and ‘Free’ come across as underbaked to me. They don’t feel like fully finished songs, rather ideas that still needed a bit more development.

However, it’s in its lyrics that the album falters most for me. As always with Tune-Yards’ albums, I Can Feel You Creep is heavily concerned with social issues – Garbus stated in an interview that the album primarily deals with her own whiteness – but the way that it explores them is a lot less nuanced and interesting than the way the band’s past releases did. While I definitely think it’s admirable for Garbus to discuss her own white privilege and potential appropriation of other cultures (Tune-Yards has always been very heavily influenced by African music), it doesn’t make for a compelling listen. Again, these themes are nothing new for Tune-Yards, but on older songs like ‘Gangsta’ there was a certain cleverness and sense of character to the lyrics that made them shine… Most of the time on this new album, however, Tune-Yards plays things pretty straight.

Almost every song on I Can Feel You Creep is concerned with issues of whiteness; ‘ABC 123’ sees Garbus confronting her own white centrality, ‘Now As Then’ focuses on her guilt for appropriating music from other cultures and on ‘Colonizer’ she addresses the privileges of being a white woman: ‘I comb my white woman’s hair with a comb made especially, generally for me’. While there’s a sense of creativity to the band’s instrumentation as always, the lyrics definitely feel lacking this time around. Garbus brings up some interesting and important topics but it rarely feels like she has anything worthwhile to say about them.

Luckily, a lot of the tracks (at least in the album’s first half) are able to get by on the strength of their instrumentals, and there are a few where the lyrics do work as well. As I mentioned before, ‘Heart Attack’ and ‘Look At Your Hands’ are great; Garbus keeps the lyrics vague and almost childlike on these songs (especially on ‘Look At Your Hands’), giving them an interesting angle on the topics they address. ‘Colonizer’ is also fantastic. There’s a great sense of synergy between the instrumentation and lyrics, with the song building to a powerful and purposefully uncomfortable climax.

But overall, I Can Feel You Creep is a lot less consistent than Tune-Yards’ past albums. It feels like the band took one step forward and two steps back, taking their sound in an interesting new direction while losing some of their lyrical creativity at the same time. Despite this, there’s still a lot to love here and definitely still worth checking out if you’re a Tune-Yards fan.

Best Tracks: ‘Heart Attack’, ‘Colonizer’, ‘Look At Your Hands’.

 

Shame – Songs of Praise

There are no moments of praise on Shame’s debut album. What might be mistaken as a collection of softly sung hymns based on its tongue-in-cheek cover, is, in fact, a whole lot more – blending post-punk and rock, ugliness and anger.

Shame have made a name for themselves over the past few years through their infamous live shows (which may involve the lead singer stripping down to his underwear), leaving Songs of Praise with a lot to live up to. Luckily the band don’t disappoint; the album is a versatile one, with each song having a distinct feel to it. From the Q&A style ‘Concrete’ to the punchy and incoherent ‘Donk’, Shame do a good job of keeping things interesting. They also take influence from a wide variety of bands, with The Fall, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Stone Roses among other (including some modern bands) shining through their songs at times. While they label themselves as post-punk, they do toy with other genres too.

Because of this, the album rarely feels repetitive and the songs definitely hit more often than they miss. Probably my favourite moment in the tracklist is ‘The Lick’. Backed by a slow and sinister bass riff (that sounds like the audio equivalent of a dark alley), Charlie Steen rambles on in a stream-of-consciousness style. Starting off talking about a trip to the gynaecologist, he quickly wanders onto a number of other topics, with the song including a pretty funny rant about the NME. Shame have stated that an earlier version of the song clocked in at just under eight minutes, and it’s not hard to see why.

‘Concrete’ is another highlight. The call and response structure of the song does a good job of summing what the band is about, focusing on the anxiety and worry that young people feel about today’s society. The verses are a barrage of existential questions (‘Do you alone? Do you feel replaced?’) which the singer shows his desire to break free from on the chorus: ‘No more questions’. ‘Gold Hole’ also stands out, showing Shame at their most compelling unpleasant, with it focusing on a woman’s affair with an older man (‘She knows it’s wrong, but she feels so good in Louis Vuitton‘). It’s a great bit of commentary on consumerism that walks a fine line between being clever and nauseating.

Closer ‘Angie’ is the album’s most anthemic moment, resembling 90s Brit-pop (reminding me of Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’) more than post-punk. Unlike most of the tracks on Songs of Praise, ‘Angie’ avoids social commentary instead of being a love song – though a twisted one. The protagonist sings about his love for a woman who hung herself, leading to lyrics that dance between romantic and disturbing. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And at almost seven minutes, it feels grand in the way that the best album closers do.

Although their debut is heavily indebted to old-school post-punk, Shame still seem to have carved out their own sound – each track bursting with its own sense of character. While Songs of Praise isn’t perfect, it feels like they achieved what they and set out to do on it. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next.

Best Tracks: ‘Concrete’, ‘The Lick’, ‘Angie’.