Album Review: Love is Magic by John Grant


Album: Love is Magic
Artist: John Grant
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Love is Magic,” “Tempest,” “Diet Gum,” and “Is He Strange?
Thoughts:

American expatriate John Grant resides now in Iceland where he makes very weird music.  The synths and disco beats make the album feel straight from the early 80s complete with spoken word segments reminiscent of Laurie Anderson.  The lyrics are crude, angry, deeply personal, and sometimes just plain bizarre.  It took me a few listens to warm up to Love is Magic, but it still doesn’t feel as good as Grant’s earlier work.

Rating: ***

Advertisements

Two Sentence Album Reviews Take Two


Some new albums that don’t exactly contain new content, so I’m reviewing them in bulk.


Album: MassEducation
Artist: St. Vincent
Release Date:  October 12, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Slow Disco,” “Los Ageless,”
Thoughts: A release of Masseduction with everything stripped away except Annie Clarke’s voice and a piano, making her sound more like a chanteuse.  I think I like this version better, although I didn’t really like the original much at all.
Rating: ***


Album: My Way
Artist: Willie Nelson
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Summer Wind,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “One for My Baby (And One More For the Road,” “What is This Thing Called Love?,” and “My Way”
Thoughts: Willie Nelson sings swinging standards in the style of Frank Sinatra.  What’s not to like?
Rating: ***


Album: Piano and a Microphone 1983
Artist: Prince
Release Date:  September 21, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “17 Days,” “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” and “Why the Butterflies”
Thoughts: The first posthumous release from Prince’s music vaults is a glimpse of an artist at work.  Just Prince tooling around on a piano, working on several songs, and being amazingly talented.
Rating: ***1/2

 

Two Sentence Album Reviews


Got a backlog of albums from recent months, so here’s a collection of quick reviews.

 


Album: re:member
ArtistÓlafur Arnalds
Release Date: 24 August 2018
Favorite Tracks: “re:member,” “undir,” and “ekki hugsa”
Thoughts: Piano-based ambient music, reminiscent of Sigur Ros.  Very soothing.
Rating: ****


AlbumMarauder
Artist: Interpol
Release Date: 24 August 2018
Favorite Tracks: “If You Really Love Nothing” and “The Rover”
Thoughts: I’ve liked Interpol’s previous recordings, and this is an acceptable addition to their oeuvre.  But it feels a bit redundant and uninspired
Rating: ***


Album: Negro Swan
Artist: Blood Orange
Release Date: August 24, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Charcoal Baby,” “Holy Will,” “Daenham Dream,” and “Out of Your League”
Thoughts: Dev Hynes fourth album recording as Blood Orange is smooooooooooth.  The music is chill, but the lyrics examine depression and anxiety through an intersectional lens of political consciousness.
Rating: ***


Album: The Now Now
Artist: Gorillaz
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Humility (feat. George Benson),” “Hollywood,”
Thoughts: Damon Albarn’s second band – a “virtual band” at that – is now a veteran band of 20 years.  It features a stripped-down sound with fewer guest artists and I think it benefits from that even as it falls a bit short of Gorillaz best work.
Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Be the Cowboy by Mitski


AlbumBe the Cowboy
Artist: Mitski
Release Date: 17 August 2018
Favorite Tracks: “A Geyser,” “A Pearl,” “Me and My Husband,” “Nobody,” “Washing Machine Heart,” and “Two Slow Dancers.”
Thoughts: Something of a concept album from the point of view of a married woman expressing her angst and ennui underneath a cheerful veneer. I love Mitski’s dynamic vocals and her guitar-playing style. She’s versatile musically too, transitioning through country, disco, and electro-pop without breaking a sweat. Lyrically she has a power with words to express introspection and vulnerability, even if it’s coming from the point of view of a character.
Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Nightstand by Tancred


Album: Nightstand
Artist: Tancred
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Queen of New York
  • Something Else
  • Underwear
  • Reviews

Thoughts:

This album from Tancred, the stage name for a project of Maine’s own Jess Abbott, is a collection of 90s style power pop, somewhere in-between Letters to Cleo and The Breeders.  The lyrics are confessional and intimate.  Abbott alternates rockers with quieter, acoustic tunes.  I prefer the former, but really there’s something for everyone here.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Hell-On by Neko Case


Album: Hell-On
Artist: Neko Case
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hell-On
  • Halls of Sarah
  • Curse Of The I-5 Corridor
  • Sleep All Summer
  • Pitch or Honey

Thoughts:

Looking through my archive I’m surprised that I’ve never reviewed a Neko Case album before as she is one of the great voices of our times, whether on her own or with the New Pornographers and side projects like case/lang/veirs.  Turns out this is Case’s first solo album in five years, and I haven’t been reviewing albums that long.  Hell-On offers what you expect from Neko Case – strong singing, heartfelt and poetic lyrics, and dynamic music that surprises and pleases.  This album also has a lot of guest artists including Beth Ditto, k.d. lang, AC Newman, Kelly Hogan, Doug Gillard, Laura Veirs, Joey Burns, Mark Lanegan, and Eric Bachmann (the last two each share vocals with Case on a pair of stunning duets).  This isn’t Case’s best album (it’s a few notches below Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Middle Cyclone) but a merely good Neko Case album is still a wonder to behold.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Related Posts:

 

Album Review: Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts


 

Album: Wide Awake!
Artist: Parquet Courts
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Violence
  • Before the Water Gets Too High
  • Mardi Gras Beads
  • Almost Had To Start A Fight/In and Out of Patience
  • Tenderness

Thoughts:  The Parquet Courts are an indie rock band from New York City by way of Texas.  Produced by Danger Mouse, the music has a lot of elements of classic punk rock mixed with funk, psychedelia, Everley Brothers-style harmonies, dub reggae, and pub sing-a-longs.  This approach could be generic but the Parquet Courts manage to make a joyful sound that’s even danceable.  Despite the amalgam of retro sounds, the lyrics of this album are “woke” (ast the title implies) focusing on current issues, albeit not through specific references but via moods that are rooted in our times.
Rating: ****

Album Review: Kiss Yr Frenemies by Illuminati Hotties


Album: Kiss Yr Frenemies
Artist: Illuminati Hotties
Release Date: May 11, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • (You’re Better) Than Ever
  • Shape of My Hands
  • Paying off the Happiness

Thoughts:

The Los Angeles-based band lead by Sarah Tudzin plays bubblegum rock songs with an edge, a style they call tenderpunk.  Over the catchy melodies are lyrics with wit and whimsy of the woes of the twentysomething.  My favorite track, the cheerful power pop of “Paying off Happiness” is about being in constant debt.  As the young people say these days, it’s relatable.

Rating: ***

 

Album Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett


AlbumTell Me How You Really Feel
Artist: Courtney Barnett
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Hopefulessness”
  • “Charity”
  • “Need a Little Time”
  • “Nameless, Faceless”
  • “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”
  • “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”

Thoughts:

Australian singer-songwriter Barnett’s second album contains crunching guitars and strong punk melodies over which Barnett’s world-weary voice sings quotidian lyrics of frustration and self-doubt, anger and tenderness, confrontation and ambivalence.  The 90s indie rock sound is aided by the guest appearance of Kim and Kelley Deal on “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence.” But this is not retro music, it’s fully-engaged in the cultural issues of our times, just not in an anthemic, speaking for everyone manner.  If I’d gotten around to making a best albums of 2015 list, Barnett’s debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit would’ve been a shoe-in, and Tell Me How You Really Feel builds and improves on that. I’m grateful to be alive at a time when I can hear an artist like Courtney Barnett coming into her own.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Vessel by Frankie Cosmos


AlbumVessel
Artist: Frankie Cosmos
Release Date: March 30, 2018
Thoughts:

Frankie Cosmos – the stage name of Greta Kline (a perfectly fine popstar name but I suppose she’s trying to distance herself from her famous parents, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) – sings in a sweet voice over power pop arrangements, sounding kind of like Kimya Dawson crossed with 90s bands like Velocity Girl and Belly.  The songs are short and the 18 tracks combined total just over 30 minutes so the album feels over before it really gets started.  The music is pleasant but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Maybe I’ve just gotten too old to relate?

Rating: **