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Album Audit: Arcade Fire, Julia Michaels And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 07/31/2017

Album Audit is a weekly Interns feature, recapping and reviewing the album releases of the week with a cheeky score out of five.

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Album Of The Week

Obnoxious, pretentious, convoluted – Arcade Fire have copped it all as a result of a marketing campaign that was admittedly extremely hard to wrap your head around. It was a full social takeover that basically attempted to critique the capitalist world and marketing partnerships, only to see them unveil the record with a live stream on Apple Music. Yep, we’re as confused as you are but the good news is, the album is far easier to wrap your head around. In fact, sonically, it might be their easiest to devour yet.

Everything Now
is the band’s first record in four years and it continues down the same dance route that Reflektor set us on. It was produced by the band alongside Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and it combines ’70s disco sounds with swelling indie-rock. First single Everything Now is an ABBA-leaning triumph complete with a pan flute and while it’s the most commercial thing they’ve ever released it also makes complete sense as a next step for the band. Signs Of Life goes more Saturday Night Fever and plants the band more firmly on the dancefloor than they’ve ever been.

Of course, Arcade Fire are never going to let you dance without heavy motifs about the future of the world, the current state and, more intimately, notions of love and life. Creature Comfort pairs a stomping beat with a story of one of their fans attempting suicide while listening to Funeral. The aggressive instrumental is harsh but in true Arcade Fire they bring the heart back to it with Win singing, “we’re not nameless,” as the beat dips out.

The biggest mistake you can make going into Everything Now, is assuming Arcade Fire have a solution for the political and social problems they present on the record. They don’t. On songs like Infinite Content, the band critique the endless consumption of media without really addressing the problem or solution, similar to what they do on the title track. The lack of purpose on the record is at times frustrating but Everything Now doesn’t have the answers but it’s a pretty vivid depiction of a climate where we have endless content at our disposal and a head full of it.

That’s why the record is most successful shifts its focus from the world to the personal. Its two finest moments come right at the end in Put Your Money On Me and We Don’t Deserve Love. On the former, Butler delivers his most emotional vocal as he clings onto love over a swelling instrumental in the realms of Intervention or Afterlife. We Don’t Deserve Love, the album’s softest moment, forgets the clutter of infinite content and focusses on repairing the relationship between two people. It’s a beautiful, fragile moment and a reminder that Arcade Fire are always best when they find their humanity among their sweeping capitalist criticisms.

Everything Now is imperfect. It doesn’t have The Suburbs clarity or Reflektor‘s shiny euphoria but it’s a sign of the times. It’s a confusing, sometimes clever attempt, to figure out what the hell is going on and whether or not the constant and immediate stream of information is a good or bad thing. Dig too deep into it and you’ll pull your hair out but without over-analysing, Everything Now has a beating, passionate heart, even if the brain is overheating from information overload. 4

Aminé – Good For You

If you couldn’t already tell from the cover of Good For You, Portland rapper Aminé has a sense of humour. Much like charismatic rappers like André 3000 and Chance The Rapper, he’s great at infusing the personal and political with light and humours. That’s what makes Good For You so enjoyable. It’s intelligent but it’s also moveable and a stack of fun.

On opener Veggies he calls himself “André’s prodigy” and while he doesn’t appear on this album, his witty, romantic tones are all over the record. It’s probably no coincidence that his biggest hit so far Caroline shares the same name as the main character of Outkast’s Roses.

“I wanna throw my hands up high, and forget who I used to be,” he sings on Hero and it’s this celebratory attitude that makes the album a party from start to finish. He managed to get Spice Girl approved by all five Spice Girls and it’s lucky they did approve it because it’s one of the album’s most joyous moments. Elsewhere Wedding Crashers delivers an instantly memorable hook, Blinds sees him puff his chest and dance simultaneously while Slide‘s synth-heavy beat is perky delight.

Throughout the whole thing Aminé is just so likeable whether he’s, “Stuntin’ with my dogs like my first name Cruella” (Yellow) or making a hook out of, “shut the fuck up”. The whole record brims with personality and while his youth shines through, he never sounds particularly naive. It’s enjoyable from start to finish and that’s really all he needed to do with his debut. 4

Vic Mensa – The Autobiography

Vic Mensa could have released this album two years ago and it probably would’ve performed better commercially. Off the back of Down On My Luck and work with Kanye he was one of the most hyped rappers on the planet. And deservedly so. He was, and still is, one of the best rappers and lyricists around. Despite a string of great EPs, the hype has died down a little since then but The Autobiography is a much greater album than he would’ve released two years ago.

As the cover of the record suggests, this has taken Mensa a minute. He’s sweated over every line and you can see why. He’s telling his story, in full, for the first time. He moves from a near-death experience sneaking into Lollapalooza (Memories On 47th St) to mental health issues (Wings) and sobriety (Rollin’ Like A Stoner). This is a dense, heavy record from its subject matters to No I.D.’s weighty beats. There’s so much to devour that by the time he gets spiritual on the beautiful We Could Be Free, you already feel somewhat exhausted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Autobiography wasn’t ever going to be an easy listening but at times it suffers from overthinking. It doesn’t have the same fluidity as Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06 or the redemptive qualities of Jay-Z’s 4:44, two of No I.D.’s most recent successes.

This is a mature, intense album, much like Mensa’s own personality. He’s a smart, vivid lyricist with important, eloquent stories to tell. You can’t help but think though if he gave us the lyrics on those initial screwed up pieces of paper, it would cut to the heart sooner. 3.5

Julia Michaels – Nervous System

Songwriters responsible for huge pop songs sometimes have a hard time crossing over into pop stardom themselves because they don’t have the extroverted personality themselves to carry their own songs. Julia Michaels has nailed the crossover. She’s presented herself as a complex, heart-on-sleeve songwriter that barely needs Selena Gomez or Gwen Stefani credits attached to her name to get people to listen.

Her debut Issues was a clever, detouring pop song that immediately cut to the heart and broke her faster than most probably expected. She’s now delivered a seven-track mini-album that doesn’t reveal more dimensions to Michaels, rather centres around her strengths. Worst In Me teeters on the edge of tears with expertly slinky verses, Just Do It is flirty over a gorgeous, minimal instrumental and closer Don’t Wanna Think is Michaels at her barest, pouring her heart out over a piano. Lines like, “heart break is annoying,” are so unfiltered that it’s like we’re listening to Michaels’ thoughts in real time.

As great as the oversharing, emotional moments are, Michaels’ sounds best when she pairs that lyrical honesty with a more interesting soundscape like on Make It Up To You. It’s a pulsating, danceable tune that shows she’s capable of expanding from the singer/songwriter vibe.

There’s nothing revolutionary on Nervous System but, then again, Issues didn’t sound like anything special on first listen. Michael’s songwriting, particularly when it comes to melody it’s so subtle that it takes a little while for your head to fully embrace it. It’s that appeal that’s likely to make at least three of these songs sleeper hits this year. 3.5