Category Archives: Great Albums

Album Review: Moonshine Freeze (2017) by This Is The Kit

This Is The Kit’s 2015 album Bashed Out in many ways felt like a breakthrough for the band. Not only did it expand their fanbase pretty dramatically, but it also felt like the band’s most consistent and moving release yet. Featuring great tracks like ‘Silver John’ and ‘Bashed Out’, it had a gorgeous melancholy feel to it. Kate Stables’ gentle vocals paired with some dark and cryptic lyrics really made the album a stand out of that year for me.

Fast-forward a couple years and Stables’ is back with This Is The Kit’s fourth full-length release: Moonshine Freeze. The lead singles for the album had me really excited for its release (‘Moonshine Freeze’ showcasing the band’s more playful side, while ‘Bullet Proof’ its darker one) and luckily it doesn’t disappoint.

In many ways, the album feels like a solid progression from Bashed Out, both instrumentally and lyrically. Instrumentally, it explores ideas that the band toyed around with on their last EP Rusty and Got Dusty, featuring a lot of brass and synthesisers. The brass instruments in particular feel like a perfect fit for This Is The Kit’s world, adding a gorgeous extra layer to some of the songs. Particularly fantastic is the beautifully jazzy saxophone solo on the outro to ‘Hotter Colder’. Synths at first might seem like an old choice given Stables’ folky style, but the band more than justify bringing them in. On tracks like ‘Moonshine Freeze’, the synths add an almost alien texture that blends into the band’s off-beat sound well. The title track has a pretty staggering number of instruments featured on it (guitar, synth, drum machine, xylophone, trumpets, among others…) but it still somehow manages to avoid feeling cluttered.

Lyrically, the album feels like a step forward for the band as well. Bashed Out felt a lot darker and more personal than the band’s earlier efforts and Stables continues down this path on Moonshine Freeze. I mean, you just have to look at some of the song titles: ‘Empty No Teeth’, ‘Riddled with Ticks’… There are still some playful-sounding tracks on this release (‘Moonshine Freeze’ and ‘By My Demon Eye’ almost feel like children’s rhymes) but most of the album’s highlights are definitely its darker moments. On ‘Two Pence Piece’, Stables sings cryptically about the aftermath of a violent incident – ‘Blood in my mouth tasting of coin’ – while ‘Show Me So’ seems to reflect on the illness of someone close to her: ‘The taking in of toxins, the vomiting’.

The album’s opener, ‘Bullet Proof’, is another easy highlight. It shows the band at its most stripped back, starting off with a drumbeat, a guitar and Stables’ voice. It might seem gutsy to open the album with such a quiet and tender moment (especially when there are quite a few energetic songs on here, like ‘Moonshine Freeze’) but it does a great job of distilling This Is The Kit’s appeal down to the basics. Like a lot of the songs on Moonshine Freeze, Stables avoids being explicit about what she’s singing about though the references to herself definitely give it a personal feel: ‘There are things to learn here, Kate’.

Moonshine Freeze is a great album and one that I’m sure I’ll return to many times this year. I still slightly prefer the band’s last album (which I feel flowed a bit better) but you still shouldn’t miss out on this one. If you haven’t listened to This Is The Kit before, this album is a really great place to start.

Best Tracks: ‘Bullet Proof’, ‘Moonshine Freeze’, ‘Two Pence Piece’

Album Review: Something To Tell You (2017) by HAIM

You can rely on the Haim sisters to drop the catchiest album of 2017 so far. Something To Tell You doesn’t stray too far from the Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson tinged style of HAIM’s last album – Days Are Gone – but that doesn’t stop it from being great. If the album doesn’t exactly push the band forward, it least shows them continuing to do what they do best.

HAIM are one of the best pop acts around at moment and you only have to give their 2013 debut to see why. Bursting with incredible singles, like ‘The Wire’, ‘Don’t Save Me’ and ‘Falling’ (one of the few songs that I find impossible not to groove to…), to me it was pure pop perfection. Catchy, accessible and a lot of fun. Sure, it didn’t do much that other bands hadn’t done before, but it just captured that 70s/80s pop sound so well. Something To Tell You in many ways feels like Days Are Gone 2.0; the band don’t really progress much from the sound of their debut and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

The reason why it’s a good thing is probably obvious – if you loved the band’s debut as much as I did then you’ll find a lot to love on this new release. Some of the songs on here, like singles ‘Want You Back’ and ‘A Little Of Your Love’ are pure fire and are pretty much guaranteed to be on repeat for the rest of the year. The album’s other main single ‘Right Now’ has received a bit of a polarising reaction – mainly because the studio version is quite a bit weaker than the live version the band released just before it – but it still might be my overall favourite track. I’m just a sucker for a slow build. There are plenty of great deep cuts as well, like ‘Ready For You’, which has a great groove to it (and a second half that reminds me of ‘Faith’ by George Michael), and the thumping title track.

It should also be obvious why the lack of progression is a bad thing… The issues I had with their debut feel amplified now that the band have repeated them again. One of my main problems are the lyrics which, while not awful, definitely feel a bit too broad and bland. It never feels like HAIM get nitty and gritty and personal with their lyrics, which is a problem. It makes the songs easy to relate to, sure, but I think it also creates a sense of distance between the band and the listener. It never feels like we really get to know any of the band members through these songs.

My other complaint about the album is one that I’ve seen crop up in a few places – particularly in reference to ‘Right Now’. The band released a pretty raw live version of the track before the studio one, and by comparing these two recordings of the song, Something To Tell You’s main problem is immediately obvious: there’s too much going in some of these tracks. While the songs themselves are incredibly solid, a lot of the tracks feel like they had a little too much time spent on them in the mixing room, with random bleeps and bits of vocal distortion hanging around in the background a lot. The album would’ve benefitted a lot from just being stripped back a little bit.

But despite this, Something To Tell You is still pretty fantastic. There are a lot of great songs here (many I didn’t even get around to mentioning like ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ and ‘You Never Knew’) and it’s a great listen from front to back. It’s the sort of album that you can’t resist dancing around your room to.

Best Tracks: ‘Want You Back’, ‘Little Of Your Love’, ‘Right Now’

Album Review: Crack-Up (2017) by Fleet Foxes

There are few albums I’ve been more anticipated for this year than Crack-Up. Coming six years after the band’s last release – the stellar Helplessness Blues – it was difficult to predict what direction the Fleet Foxes would take next; the lead single from the album, ‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’, a sprawling almost 9-minute track, suggested that it would at least be an ambitious direction if nothing else.

Ultimately, Crack-Up feels like a natural progression from Helplessness Blues, with Pecknold’s work growing more complex and experimental both in terms of music and lyrics. The album opener ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’ (I guess you could say he’s gotten more experimental with his song-naming as well…) sets the tone immediately, a gorgeous and complex track. There’s a lot going on in this song, with it passing through a seemingly endless amount of phases, and it can come across as a bit of mess on first listen. The lyrics also aren’t as immediately accessible as those on the band’s older albums, being a lot more cryptic. (Though still gorgeous: ‘I was a child in the ivy then / I never knew you, you knew me’.) It did take a while for the song to really click for me – it’s one of those songs that really demands your attention. But once you wrap your head around it, there’s a lot to love about it.

The following tracks aren’t quite as complex, though they still show the band pushing out into new territory – mainly lyrically. While the band’s last album was very introspective and focused on Peckhold’s doubts and depression, Crack-Up shows Fleet Foxes exploring other subjects such as police shootings (‘Cassius, -’) and gender equality (‘- Naiadas, Cassadies’). Both songs are fantastic; instrumentally they don’t do much that we haven’t seen from Fleet Foxes before – though ‘Cassius, –’ does open with a stuttering synth – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The band are able to achieve a lot with a couple of guitars, a bass and a drum set, as the latter track shows.

‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’ can be seen as the album’s centrepiece and is perhaps the most ambitious track on Crack-Up. Musically, there are enough ideas in it to fill several songs. Like the album’s opener, the track twists and turns, passing through multiple phases – and like that song it took me a few listens to wrap my head around it. The refrains on ‘Third of May’ are particularly gorgeous, as well as the long, drawn-out outro. Lyrically, the track details Robin Peckhold’s friendship with bandmate Skye Skjelset and the distance felt from him in the years between albums. There are also a lot more lyrical threads in this song as well – and Peckhold has even gone so far as to annotate the track line by line himself. ‘Third Of May’ leads smoothly into the much simpler, ‘If You Need To, Keep Time on Me’ – a track which deals with the same central theme but in a much more straightforward manner. It’s one of the quieter moments of Crack-Up and another of my favourites. It shows that despite the album’s general complexity, the band can still put out a song that’s simple and moving.

The second half of the album is slightly weaker than the first – though that’s more to do with how incredibly strong Crack-Up’s opening stretch of songs is. A few songs in the second half, such as ‘Mearcstapa’ and ‘Fool’s Errand’, get lost in the mix of the album a little bit, not particularly standing out. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some incredible moments in the album’s back half; ‘On Another Ocean (January / June)’ recalls Helplessness Blues lyrically, with its first half addressing Peckhold’s feelings of isolation and paranoia, finding himself unable to trust anyone. The second part of the song (the ‘June’ part) then feels slightly like a pep-talk, with Peckhold trying to build himself up again after wallowing in his emotions in the first part.

The track ‘Crack-Up’ closes the album incredibly well. The song’s title can be seen as both personal and political – referring to Pecknold’s feelings towards himself as well America’s current political situation. In one of the album’s most interesting moments, the song closes with the sound of Pecknold running down a flight of stairs. It’s a moment that encapsulates the album – at least lyrically – incredibly well, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. It might represent Pecknold simply wanting to escape from everything, the evidently messed up world, or equally, it might just show that he’s finally ‘cracked up’ – tired of spending so much poring over his feelings, just saying ‘screw it’ in a way.

Crack-Up is a gorgeous and meticulously put-together album. It’s not the sort of album that hits you immediately, and you’ll likely find that it’ll take quite a few listens to even scratch its surface. This lack of accessibility, especially compared to Fleet Foxes’ past releases, may end up isolating some of the band’s more casual listeners, but I’d say that the album is an incredible success. The band have really achieved something incredible here.

Best Tracks: ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’, ‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’, ‘On Another Ocean (January / June)’.

Album Review: The Age of Anxiety (2017) by Pixx

In my book, weird is always good when it comes to music. I can appreciate a bad album that at least tries to do something different more than one that plays it safe. Pixx’s debut, The Age of Anxiety, however, is a great album that tries to do something different – boasting a unique voice and style that’s really easy to love.

Hannah Rogers – or Pixx – has a sound that calls up some of my favourite female artists, such as St Vincent and Björk. Her vocals have an undeniable strangeness to them, frequently sounding androgynous and intentionally stilted. On the track ‘Waterslides’ in particular, her voice almost reminds me of a text to speech program – I promise I mean this in a positive way – moving along at a speedy and almost robotic pace. Her unusual vocal style provides her songs with a certain uniqueness, even if she does bust out a more traditional singing style on other tracks like ‘Mood Ring Eyes’ (which is also fantastic).

Opener, ‘I Bow Down’, sets up Pixx’s sound incredibly well, creating an unnerving yet compelling mood. The track starts off with a repeated piano riff, building slowly, before eventually introducing Hannah Rogers’ almost chanting vocal performance. Through Rogers layering her vocals on top of themselves several times, the track almost conjures an image of a strange cult of clones, chanting the song’s lyrics: ‘I salute your kindness / I bow down to your good will’. This layering happens a lot on the album and it works most of the time. Listening to ‘Toes’, you can hear her singing at least four or five different things at the same time on the chorus. On other tracks, like the really fantastic ‘Grip’, she uses her voice almost like an instrument, adding strange textures to her songs.

There are plenty of fantastic songs on The Age of Anxiety. The aforementioned ‘Grip’ is perhaps the poppiest cut, boasting an incredibly catchy chorus and some fun almost jangly instrumentals. ‘Waterslides’ is another favourite of mine, being the most high-energy track with its bubbly drum machine beat and unusual vocal performance. Though the vocals on this track’s verses are particularly (intentionally) stilted, you definitely feel the emotion and sense of anxiety in them, hiding underneath the surface: ‘Now I’m walking round and round, it’s like a maze, I can’t get out’.

And given the album’s title, it’s not surprising that anxiety is a dominant theme here. On ‘Grip’, Pixx sings about not wanting to feel the need to grab on to everything she sees, while ‘The Girls’ is about the singer wanting to ‘dance like the rest of the girls’. It’s about the desire to perceived as normal – to fit in. The album’s slower songs, like ‘The Girls’ and ‘Mood Ring Eyes’, have a more delicate and emotionally bare feel to them than the more energetic tracks, but I’d argue they’re just as strong. A couple of them do get lost in the mix a little bit like ‘Telescreen’, but that’s mainly because the rest of the album is so strong.

The Age of Anxiety is a great fantastic tightwire act, managing to both be accessible and undeniably weird. While not all the tracks are fantastic, they all have something unique about them – something to make them stand-out. This album isn’t bland or samey by any stretch and surely that alone makes it worth a listen.

Best Tracks: ‘I Bow Down’, ‘Grip’, ‘Waterslides’.

Album Review: RELAXER (2017) by Alt-J

I can confidently say that RELAXER is one of the oddest albums I’ve heard this year. Though, to be honest, odd is what I’ve come to expect from Alt-J; for a band so downright bizarre – they used turning a crisp packet inside out and licking it as a sexual simile on their last album – it’s weird to think that they’re in the BBC Radio 1 territory of popularity.

Too their credit though, despite hitting the big time with their first album, the band have refused to make their sound more normal or commercial, with each subsequent release being odder than the last. On RELAXER, their third album, this strangeness is their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. On some tracks it works incredibly well, and on others, well… It just causes the songs to sound like an absolute mess.

‘3WW’, the opener, is the album’s high-point and perhaps the best song Alt-J have put out in their career so far. The band sings about a young man leaving home for the first time, and having his first sexual experience with two women. The song is slow-going at first, but features some gorgeous instrumentation and really lovely lyrics. The chorus is particular is fantastic, with Joe Newman singing of how ‘I love you’ have become ‘three worn words’ through their overuse in today’s society. It’s a slow and patient opener, but it definitely rewards the listener.

‘In Cold Blood’ is another highlight – though a lot more abstract than ‘3WW’. It’s hard to tell what the song is about entirely – the hook is literally ‘Pool, summer, summer, pool, pool, summer’ – but it’s got a sense of hyperactive energy that’s impossible not to love. It reminds me of some of best songs from the band’s debut, like ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Fitzpleasure’, and acts as a nice change of pace among RELAXER’s slower songs.

Two other songs that stand out from the album are ‘Adeline’ and ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. Like ‘3WW’, these are a slow and delicate songs. On ‘Adeline’, the band sing about a Tasmanian devil falling in love with a woman he watches swimming. It’s completely bizarre, but the band really sell it, with Newman’s vocal delivery being full of emotion and resignation – the devil knowing he can never be with this woman: ‘Ooh, I wish you well’. ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ is the band’s stab at a more folky song – being adapted from an actual traditional song. It’s filled with lush instrumentation as well as some surprisingly serious lyrics.

Despite these highlights, I felt like the band hit a few new lows on RELAXER in terms of quality. As well as featuring some of the band’s best tracks, it also features some of their worst ones… ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ in particular. This song is especially awful, feeling incredibly thrown together with its lyrics about a sex hotel that can’t be described as anything other than nonsense. The vocals are also pretty grating. It doesn’t sit well among the album’s more delicate tracks, following the gorgeous ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, and feels like it’s there to just fill up the tracklist. With RELAXER only being eight songs long, this song’s inclusion feels like a particularly glaring mistake.

There were also a few other tracks I wasn’t too fussed about. ‘Deadcrush’ is about, well, the band’s dead crushes and again has a very thrown together feel to it. It’s not quite as bad as ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it earns its place on the tracklist. The two closing tracks ‘Last Year’ and ‘Pleader’, while pretty, both feel slightly too drawn out. And ‘Pleader’ just doesn’t seem like a good fit for the album and for me doesn’t work well as a closer. This track, along with ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’, created the sense that this album was just kind of thrown together. They didn’t have enough ideas to fill out a full album and so this just put out whatever they had lying around.

RELAXER, despite some highs, is a disappointing album. When I saw the band had opted to release a forty minute, eight track album, I hoped that it meant that this would be a more focused release than their previous ones. Instead, it’s pretty much all over the place. It’s definitely worth checking out RELAXER’s highlights – ‘3WW’ and ‘Adeline’ in particularly – but as an album it doesn’t work that well for me.

Best Tracks: ‘3WW’, ‘In Cold Blood’, ‘Adeline’.

Album Review: The Witch (2017) by Pumarosa

Pumarosa is a band I’ve been watching for a while, waiting almost vulture-like for them to drop an album. The Witch delivers on what I hoped their debut would be; featuring long atmospheric tracks, like their incredible debut single ‘Priestess’, as well as showing the band experimenting further with the sound shown on their early singles and EP. Basically it’s a great album filled with great tracks.

‘Dragonfly’, the opener is a smooth yet almost anthemic track, building slowly around a great metaphor. It’s not my favourite song on the album, but it makes for a great introduction to Pumarosa’s sound – described by the band as ‘Industrial Spiritual’. It bounces between delicate and roaring, led by singer Isabel’s incredibly captivating voice. The slow build used on ‘Dragonfly’ is a template for many of the songs on The Witch, and that’s not really a bad thing. ‘Priestess’ is the best example of this. When a song that’s seven and a half minutes long feels like a lot, lot less, you know the band are doing something right. Building from a humming synth and a repeated bass note, the track grows into one of the most danceable – and chantable – songs I’ve heard in a long time. It’s masterfully suspenseful, building up the audience’s anticipation before paying off tremendously.

While ‘Priestess’ is easily the album’s centrepiece, there are some other great long songs on here as well. The title track has a similar spiritual, almost tribal vibe, with Isabel singing of her ‘monkey hands’ and ‘building a fire’. The lyrics, I think, hold the song back slightly – being generally quite weak – but Isabel’s delivery of them helps it remain compelling. It definitely helps when a lead singer puts enthusiasm and personality into every word, and she does just that. ‘Lions’ Den’ is an even better track, putting even more emphasis on Isabel’s voice. The song starts off slow and stripped back, before exploding into a wall of sound around halfway through. However, it’s singer’s bitter, angry vocal delivery that makes the song so damn compelling.

Among these long, typically Pumarosa songs, there are also a few shorter tracks that show the band try on a few different styles. ‘Honey’ is a gloriously anthemic song about consumerism and global warming, chanting about how pointless so many of things we’re invested in are: ‘Events come and go / Like the waves of a fever’. Another favourite of mine on the album is ‘Barefoot’, which is perhaps the most stripped back the band gets, being built around a guitar and a punchy drum machine beat. Isabel’s Kate Bush-like delivery is again a large part of what makes this song so enjoyable, with her crooning vocals making it easy to connect with the story she’ll telling.

If there’s one noticeable dip on the album, it comes at the end. The last two tracks, ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Snake’, while not bad, are really just fine in my eyes. ‘Snake’ in particular is underwhelming as a closer, lacking the energy that so many of The Witch‘s best tracks do. And, unlike ‘Priestess’ or ‘Lions’ Den’, it feels unnecessarily long. It’s as though the band were aiming for a grand finish but missed the mark. Despite this blip, I highly recommend taking a look at this album. These last couple of songs aren’t bad – it’s more that the high quality of the rest of the album makes them look so. There’s a lot to love here.

Best Tracks: ‘Priestess’, ‘Lions’ Den’, ‘Barefoot’.

Album Review: Routines (2017) by Hoops

Routines is just one of those albums with a sound that I find impossible not to love. The music Hoops makes is the sort of stuff you just want to chill out to – to just lay back and think about things a little bit. It’s got great riffs, smooth drum machine beats, chilled out, almost psychedelic, vocals… Basically it’s right up my alley.

I’ve listened to quite few underwhelming debuts this year, and I’d say that Routines is the first one that’s really exceeded my expectations. One album in and it feels like the band have already got their sound nailed. And this is why it succeeds so well; Hoops’ debut is an album that feels very assured. The band know what sort of music they want to make and they don’t feel the need to try and act big or flashy to try and grab the audience’s attention. The whole album flows as smoothly as anything else I’ve listened to this year, with each of the songs flowing into the next effortlessly.

And yet, thankfully, each of them feels distinctive within the band’s defined ambient music-esque sound. ‘Bengals’ is a gorgeous instrumental track led by a great drum machine beat, ‘Burden’ features perhaps the catchiest hooks on the album (‘No, I don’t wanna be a burden’) and ‘Worry’ is brought to life by some very twinkling synth notes. In many ways, it reminds me of a Beach House album; when I listened to at first, all the songs bordered on same-y slightly, but repeatedly listens revealed how distinct they really are.

Another thing I loved about this album was the brevity of the tracks. Most tracks on Routines hover around the three-minute mark and, in the hands of another band, probably would’ve been stretched out longer than they needed to. ‘Rules’ is a gorgeously layered, punchy track that clocks in at just over two minutes; like many other songs on the album, it shows the band get in, say what they want to say, and then get out again. And given psychedelic music’s love for indulgence, that’s pretty refreshing.

Hoops’ debut is very much recommended. The more I’ve listened to it over the past couple of weeks, the more its grown on me. I wouldn’t say the band do anything mind-blowingly creative here, but the songs on Routines are really well put together and really enjoyable. And sometimes that’s all that good music needs to be.

Best Tracks: ‘Rules’, ‘Burden’, Worry’.