First thoughts on their dark second album – heard suitably in pitch black with a bunch of strangers.
First thoughts on their dark second album – heard suitably in pitch black with a bunch of strangers.
In many ways Me – the debut album from NYC singer Empress Of fulfils its title. She recorded it in isolation, self-produced it and wrote it about herself but interestingly she’s not the only predominant character on the record. While Me is entirely about Lorely Rodriguez, she spends much of the record delving into a part relationship using that other person to evoke feelings of claustrophobia and aid the realisation that she wants to be free and alone. “I’m making love to myself, when I’m making love to you…I think I’m the one I need,” she sings on Need Myself. Me, for all its immediate simplicity as a title actually turns out to be a complex exploration of her inner-most turmoils realised by her relationship with someone else.
From Need Myself to To Get By, a desire to be alone is a recurring lyrical theme on the record and like life imitating art, being alone is exactly what she did to create the record. Rodriguez plucked herself from New York and set up in a friend’s house in Mexico to record the album, confronting loneliness and fear for a month in a picturesque but isolated setting. That time left alone results in the album in deeply personal, reflective thought that gives a really dark edge to the set of sprawling, expansive alt-pop songs.
Beginning with the gentle, gushing Everything Is You we seem to descend further and further into Me as we move through the ten songs. The soundscapes get fuller, the lyrics get more personal and her voice gets fuller and takes flight. “Everything I do is because of you,” she sings on the opener making a realisation about a relationship that seems to become more and more claustrophobic as the record goes on.
Predictably, the album is dark. Lead-single Water Water creeps towards you in a demonic way with its trudging beats and elongated vocals. Similarly, Kitty Kat has an industrial weight to it furthered by Rodriguez singing “let me walk away.” Too often do artists get lost inside their heads and have difficulty converting it for the audience, but however dark Me gets she always manages to pair it with an elated instrumental. On the aforementioned Kitty Kat sprawling synths elevate the chorus while the beats on Need Myself are perky and light.
She’s also got quite the knack for electronic pop, crafting a certified banger with How Do You Do It built around an effortless synth-line that Todd Terje would be jealous of. It’s just the reprieve that’s needed to get through the entire record without feeling as if you’ve inherited all of Rodriguez’s fears and instabilities. There’s actually a sense of freedom in her ever-expanding vocal too that comes through particularly on Make Up as she reaches giddy heights singing, “why don’t we make up our own rules and break them when we like.”
She breaks from the theme of relationships at least once for album highlight Standard which talks of life in New York City and the social injustices of New York. The beat sounds icy – the type that could only be conjured by living in an expensive but tiny NYC apartment in the midst of winter. There’s a certain romanticism attached to New York which is often squashed when you actually have to make a living there and you can feel that frustration on Standard.
Interestingly if you follow the tracklist of Me as a chronological order, she yearns for to be alone and then when she actually is, she feels uncomfortable. “I don’t want to feel so alone,” she sings on Threat which is a distinctive change of tune from Need Myself. This continues on Icon as she sings “every minute paces like an hour when I’m just in a room with the lights on.”
On Me, Rodriguez constantly changes what she wants based on whatever situation she’s in which is human instinct – the grass is always greener. It’s that feeling exactly which makes Me never feel completely comfortable but always utterly captivating. For the 10 songs we sit inside her innermost thoughts circled by howling synths and thumping beats that move between full force and a gentler intensity. Step away from the lyrical depth of Me and you’ve got a crisply-produced, incredibly well-conceived pop album that expands throughout. That alone is thrilling but add the lyrical depth to it and it becomes one of the most intriguing projects of the year – an exploration of self that provides more questions than answers. And that’s completely ok.
EIGHT POINT FIVE OUT OF TEN
When Miley Cyrus attempted to break from the Disney mould in 2010 with Can’t Be Tamed nobody could’ve anticipated just how far she’d go. Since then she’s gyrated Robin Thicke and her vagina with a giant styrofoam hand live on stage, stripped off for most magazines and even rapped on a Mike Will Made It track, however, this latest one seems to be the most surprising. Back then it would’ve almost been impossible to anticipate a drug-influenced Miley Cyrus collaboration with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne packaged as a 23 track free album. Actually, two weeks ago it would’ve been impossible to anticipate that but it’s happened and well, it’s not all bad.
The fact is Cyrus broke away from the Disney mould a long time ago. Nowadays, nobody expects her to be Hannah Montana on stage nor on record and we’re somewhat not shocked by her nudity and drug-use now. She’s at the point at her career where she’s an actual grown-up evolving sonically just like Madonna did and even Beyonce to a certain extent if you look at Dangerously In Love as compared to her surprise album. Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz though goes from one extreme to the other in a heartbeat. She’s gone from rebellious pop princess to drugged-up alternative singer in a matter of months and the issue is her fans may not be heading down the same path quite as fast, if at all.
First the bad. The 23 track collection just drags on far too long. Cyrus seems to have been influenced by Coyne’s inability to self-edit and instead of cutting the dead-weight and delivering a knockout, she’s let down the golden moments by a few real shockers. Opener Dooo It! is obnoxious and painfully literal almost acting as a foreword to the album that says “I take drugs, I’m grown and if you think I’m going to stick to the same sound you can fuck off.” Thankfully this one is a stylistic outcast on what is mostly a heartfelt record but her desire to ostracise the old-Miley listener continues on Milky Milky Milk and BB Talk, although the latter is one of the more entertaining moments on the album. She also ruins 1 Sun’s ‘80s-inspired energy with a preachy, ill-informed save the earth lecture.
If you pulled out a chisel and chipped away at this record, you’d uncover a gem. Unbelievably, the good actually outweighs the bad and for all its weaknesses, this is actually some of Cyrus’ best work. Her voice is in its best habitat here and the roughness of the production throughout houses her better than some of the crisp, manicured work on Bangerz.
Coyne’s involvement is the weak link for most of it but he does help out on a few moment of brilliance. Karen Don’t Be Sad is beautifully sparse and benefits from Coyne’s comfortability in imperfection while Tangerine is a woozy daydream weighted by Big Sean’s impressive verse. It seems the pair work when they’re mixing said with elated euphoria and avoiding hallucinations that are really hard to connect with. On Evil With A Shadow, the pair take a trip down a rabbit hole that seemingly just keeps going and going with no resolve. It’s clear both of them suffer from getting carried away and it just happens on so many occasions.
Thankfully Coyne isn’t the only collaborator. Bangerz champion Mike Will Made It is back and unsurprisingly contributes most of the best moments of the LP. Most of his inclusions are on tracks about relationships rather than trips or dead pets and it’s really refreshing. Fweaky is the album’s first really intimate, slow-burning number and acts as a companion to a career highlight for Cyrus. Both of them use notions of drug use but compare them to that feeling of euphoria in a relationship. “When I need the fire, you’re always my lighter,” she sings on Lighter grabbing at the heartstrings ‘80s-tinged thundering percussion. Mike Will even manages to tap in on some of the weirder tracks like I Forgive Yiew which feels like 4×4 replaced country with psychedelia.
Oren Yoel who worked on Adore with Cyrus, returns here for a number of great tracks. Like Lighter and Fweaky, his tracks feel as if they’re channeling the comedown when real life realisations rear their ugly head. I Get So Scared is beautifully tender and forthright with Cyrus singing, “I get so scared thinking I’ll never get over you.” It’s a reminder that while she’s great at being weird and OTT, she’s actually a really honest songwriter with a voice that cuts through emotionally. “I get so high because you’re not here smoking my weed,” she sings on Space Boots, once again combining drugs and relationships for a lonely but poignant image.
As for her dead pets – the dog and the blowfish – they both get a song. The Floyd Song (Sunrise), about her dog that died a few days before her tour feels like another Coyne/Cyrus tangent which is let down by its lo-fi production while Pablow The Blowfish’s melody is touching but its lyrics are hard to swallow, particularly when she breaks down towards the end.
In many ways Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz is exciting. It’s exciting that an artist of her age is willing to take changes and give us something completely off the beaten track, particularly when she is a pop icon. It’s hard to imagine any pop star taking on a song like BB Talk and go on a fuck-filled tangent about cutesy shit and actually pull it off. There’s so much to enjoy here but that’s only if you can stomach it long enough.
Here’s some advice – listen through once, cherry-pick 12 to 14 tracks and make your own Miley Cyrus album. Then you’ll fully be able to sit with the songs and realise that at its core, this album has a really tender heart, beautiful melodies and a voice behind it that’s actually captivating, if not at times infuriating.
Ever since they teased us with a 12-second clip in early June that eventually turned out to be a snippet of What Went Down’s title track, it’s fair to say there’s been a pretty huge amount of anticipation for Foals’ fourth studio record. More intrigue resulted from an interview that front-man Yannis Phillipakis did with triple j, where he suggests that the band were only just beginning to hit their straps as a band and that he expected their best work to come on their seventh or even eight albums. Perhaps this was a soft reference to their somewhat disappointing third album Holy Fire, which was really held up by the brilliance of a few singles; My Number, Late Night and Inhaler.
Regardless, What Went Down is kind of exactly what you’d expect from Foals at this point in time. This latest creative effort seems to channel the varying styles of previous albums and does so in the most satisfying and successful way. It is also manifestly more effective at bringing together the many styles of group than Holy Fire was able to.
As has been the case with their last two LPs, Foals have included an epic ballad titled A Knife In The Ocean. This is a trend that began two albums ago with the shockingly amazing Spanish Sahara, and on this particular record A Knife In The Ocean is testament to the ability of Foals to not only build gripping tension throughout a track, as well as having the ability captivate an audience for an extended period.
What Went Down also includes several tracks that follow what seems to be this growing trend for the group towards a slower, more introspective style of song. Tracks such as these illustrate just how far the band has come since the fiddly and often substance-lacking guitar licks that dominated their first LP Antidotes. Give It All is one such track within this more chiller style, but it is dwarfed by the darkness and emotion of London Thunder. London Thunder is truly a momentous tune both musically and lyrically, and it makes subtle references to the journey the group undertaken as well as their origins, with deeply emotional lyrics like “Come back to London Thunder, the sound of sorrow in my room… and now the tables turn, it’s over, and with my fingers burned I start a new”.
Finally we start to get into the luminous funk that those who’ve been listening since Antidotes have come to expect from Yannis, Jack and co. Night Swimmers throws back to the gorgeously light guitar countermelodies that caught the ears of many back in 2008, whilst also getting into some gritty bass. Similar ideas are explored in the funky Birch Tree, which is also definitely their most audience friendly sing-a-long track, and also is a prime example of how far Yannis’ vocals have come since he was primarily doing a kind-of speak/yell/sing deal on very early tracks like Red Socks Pugie and Two Steps Twice. Several tracks including Lonely Hunter which explores texture through its use of layering include Yannis’ multi-tracking his vocals over themselves in new ways that only scratches the surface of the incredible depth of his ability as an artist.
Those expecting some proper British rock are treated to a couple of tracks that involve some seriously heavy basslines and much more intense vocals. Snake Oil is built around this dirty bass/guitar riff that gets grungier as the track goes along, but it is in the title track though that we get the absolute best of heavier rock side to this incredibly versatile band. What Went Down is proof that Foals are not afraid to keep heavy British rock alive, and its only downfall is that it is really the only harder track of its kind on the album.
Although this is another album from Foals that shows of their unique versatility as a group, there is definitely a slight lacking of continuity between the various tracks on the album. In other words it’s not a record that is necessarily enhanced by being listened to as a whole, and perhaps that’s not what they were aiming for. Despite this, there has definitely been a conscious effort to create an album that is consistently of a higher quality across the whole record, and it’s clear that this goal has been smashed with What Went Down.
After three years Brisbane indie-rockers Last Dinosaurs have finally delivered their sophomore album Wellness. The follow up to Last Dinosaurs 2012 breakthrough effort In A Million Years comes after some serious growth and development for the band, with bass player Sam Gethin-Jones’ departure definitely changing the dynamic of the group. Then came extended radio silence before the re-addition of Michael Sloane, who was their original bassist and directed the music videos for several of the songs on In A Million Years. The guys then spent a decent chunk of time touring overseas before getting back in the studio with Scott Horscroft who had previously worked with the likes of Silverchair and Empire Of The Sun to record Wellness.
The album itself is an incredibly polished and well-rounded piece of work from the boys. For those familiar their debut LP, there isn’t anything on this record to surprise or shock you. If there were to be any criticisms they would only come about because this new album follows a formula not dissimilar to that of In A Million Years. However any such thoughts would be short sighted as it is in the subtle developments of their style and growing polish on an already successful formula that makes this record so good.
The first track that was released, Evie, almost sounds like it could be a variation on I Can’t Decide, with its catchy melody and Lachy Caskey’s guitar licks penetrating through even the densest sections of the track to generate recognisability. It’s hard to overstate how reliant the band is on the prodigious and raw talent of the younger Caskey brother on lead guitar. His sound is already starting to border on iconic, being consistently gorgeous and pleasing in its simplicity.
Take Your Time is one of the tracks on the album that really makes the most of glittering guitar effects, with delay and echoey affected guitar techniques supplementing Caskey’s magnificent exploration of melodic chord structure. Don’t get the idea that the guys are shying away from rougher rock-standard guitar stuff though. Take Your Time is the first track on the album and poignantly signposts what’s to come by exploring a combination of cosmic echo, rock riffs, dominant sections of bass, varying intensities of percussion and Caskey’s full range.
Caskey’s lyric material continues to develop and improve with every effort, but he hasn’t left behind his typically emotion-filled and contemplative lyrics that create such a unique contrast with the generally quite up-beat instrumentals. Karma is one of many tunes where Caskey’s lyrics are relatable yet meaningful, “I don’t want to say goodbye, but I need you in my life”. Always is another track that goes similarly deep, with repeating lyrics like ‘If only you could feel this with me’ that compliment driving instrumentals and an epic, elongated altered harmonics guitar solo.
The guys haven’t lost the raw quality of their early work; with Purist a strong riff-driven track in its purest, catchiest, most Last Dino-est form. Evie and Zero are both in this category as well; just super feel-good, classic up-beat indie rock that we’ve come to love from the guys. Those expecting a follow up on a sonic journey similar to that provided by Satellites on their last LP will be happy to hear that the title track Wellness is just the ticket.
Wurl is one of the most different and contrasting tracks on the album. Drummer Dan Koyama’s superlative skills are often limited by the simplicity of the style that Last Dinosaurs create music within, but on Wurl we really get a chance to see his versatility. The track itself is one of the best examples of how the band has grown, whereas the guys normally stick to the same guitar effects Wurl utilises the largest range of sound sources and timbres of any of their tracks to date.
There isn’t anything ground-breaking about Wellness. Rather it is simply the latest step in the evolution of a band who have consistently been typecast as having huge potential. Wellness is as much about proving that the success of their first album wasn’t a fluke as it is about showing that they’ve grown as a group who are still super young. This LP is proof that Last Dinosaurs are really starting to lock into their touted potential as songwriters, as a means of supplementing their well-documented skillset as a live act.
EIGHT OUT OF TEN
Last Dinosaurs’ Wellness is out Friday, 28th August.
While pop is essentially used to define popular music, there is actually a distinct lack of pure pop albums these days – the type that the Madonnas and Kylies of the world perfected back in the day. In 2015, most artists you’d call popstars are off dabbling in EDM or R&B rather than serving up pure pop. There’s a strong exception to that rule and that’s Taylor Swift who delivered a knockout with last year’s 1989 which traded purely in ‘80s-tinged pop. Now, we have Carly Rae Jepsen – the purveyor of one of pop’s most viral hits, Call Me Maybe. In many ways Jepsen’s third album E•MO•TION is similar to 1989, but somewhat surprisingly, it’s also better.
E•MO•TION could have easily been your usual Max Martin, Dr. Luke pop affair. In fact, Martin wrote for the album but didn’t make it on the final tracklisting. Instead, the album gathers together an unusual, erring-on-alternative list of musicians including Dev Hynes, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid, who worked on HAIM and Sky Ferreira’s last LPs. They sit alongside usual hitmakers like Sia, Greg Kurstin and Shellback but together they have churned out a cohesive effort of polished pop-songs that manage to tick radio’s commercial boxes as well as appeal to more leftward leaning fans.
While Call Me Maybe sold 15 million copies, E•MO•TION doesn’t ever feel like an attempt to recreate it. It doesn’t try to disown it, but Jepsen seems to want to deliver more – a great album from beginning to end. Opening with the howling saxophone of Run Away With Me, the album serves up twelve near-perfect pop tunes one after the other – some with huge choruses, other relying on gentler, more hushed moments.
Nothing sounds like what we’re hearing on the radio right now even though the ridiculously catchy melodies may trick you into thinking it’s generic. Even first single I Really Like You brings a little more human to its commercial appeal with big, pounding drums and a repetitive chorus that emulates the endearing annoyances of Call Me Maybe.
While I Really Like You is the obvious hit here, it’s not the most likeable. The record has no shortage of golden tunes, striking as one of those albums that could easily have seven or eight singles if Jepsen had the star-power of Swift or Katy Perry. Sia’s contributions Making The Most Of The Night and Boy Problems are euphoric, girly tunes that, unlike many Sia-penned hits, manage to distance themselves from sounding like the songwriter. Both of the tracks are laden with funky guitar licks and ‘80s programmed drums – effortlessly melodic, but interestingly so. On top of that you have second single Run Away With Me which easily has the most anthemic chorus on the album, chanting with rushing energy.
The more unexpected, odd moments are the ones that are likely to hook you to E•MO•TION as a full body of work. Hynes is no stranger to pop, having produced for the original Sugababes MKS, Kylie Minogue and Solange Knowles, so it’s no surprise that he delivers a knockout here. All That is the LP’s subtlest moment, slowing the tempo right down and allowing Jepsen to sit right back on the beat. It’s here that we get to really hear the tone of her voice for the first time, maybe in her career, as she delivers a sweet, sultry performance.
Vampire Weekend’s Batmanglij is less known for his commercial work (although he did contribute to Charli XCX’s Sukcer) and his production on Warm Blood is suitably weird and warped. It’s also one of the album’s highlights with drunk synths and pitched-down vocals, turning Jepsen into an electronic disco-queen. “Warm blood feels good, I can’t control it anymore,” she sings in the chorus, creating an aptly warm, comfortable atmosphere. It may be the oddest track on the album but it’s also the one that plays to Jepsen’s strengths the best. It capitalises on her giddy lovelorn lyrics and softens her girlish voice while simultaneously making her cool.
When dissecting the record, the choice of producers is a main focus but that doesn’t mean that Jepsen is merely a robot on the album. She’s spoken openly about how she wanted to make E•MO•TION a cooler, more credible record and she chased down a lot of the producers like Dev Hynes, who she was attracted to after Solange’s Losing You. It doesn’t feel like Jepsen has lost herself in the search for credibility, rather she’s found a better way to relay her tales of boy-crushes and butterfly-ridden romances. None of the dorky charm of Call Me Maybe is lost on this record – on Let’s Get Lost she sings “Baby let’s get lost/I like that you’re driving slow/Keepin’ my fingers crossed/That maybe you’ll take the long way home.” It’s the same kind of what-could-be dreaming that made Call Me Maybe so daggy and adorable.
Over 100 songs were reportedly worked on for this album, eventually whittled down to 12, and yet E•MO•TION is a good example of keeping a pop album on track. When making commercial records, everyone from Rihanna to Madonna have made the mistake of cramming as many genres into 45 minutes as possible but here Jepsen sticks to her guns, revolving around that ‘80s pop sound and barely ever deviating. It’s a consistently tight album that never serves up a dud, never allowing you the chance to come down from your sugar high and doubt Jepsen’s comeback.
When a pop album is this good – full of big hooks, delicious licks and euphoric melodies – there’s no need for snobbery. Jepsen has been very smart in covering all angles, playing both to the radio and the alternative “high-brow” listener. It feels like a guilty pleasure but there should be no guilt in devouring this. E•MO•TION is not only the best pop album of the year but in the upper-echelon of releases this year and the best part is none of us were expecting it.
E•MO•TION is out Friday, 21st August.
Julio Bashmore broke almost three years ago with Battle For Middle You, following it up with Au Seve. At the time, it was a pre-Disclosure climate whereby the club scene was starting to come to terms with the re-emergence of ‘90s house music and the mainstream’s fascination with EDM was only growing.
In 2015, Bashmore is releasing his debut album in a very different climate. Disclosure have had a massive album with Settle, tropical deep house is the charts’ chosen genre right now and artists from Mary J. Blige to Drake have had a go at the deep house thing. It’s almost as if this was Bashmore’s plan – to wait until the hype around him had died down and the genre he championed was in tatters before dropping a near-perfect dance record that reminded everyone how good he was years ago.
Knockin’ Boots isn’t Settle. It doesn’t have a huge single like Latch, it features no big names and it probably won’t get in reach of the top of the charts but that doesn’t mean it’s any less brilliant. Knockin’ Boots is great because it’s come at a time when the genre it champions has grown tired. It reminds us that this kind of ‘90s-borrowing house music’s best quality is that it’s euphoric, romantic and feel-good.
From the records opening moment, Bashmore makes it clear that it’s going to be all those three things. “We danced and danced until we fell in love” is the mantra he sets for the album, sampling The Jones Girls’ Dance Turned Into A Romance. It sets a steady beat that rarely lets up for the whole album – a throbbing, bass-heavy, club-ready stomp. From there we enter into Holding On – a retro sounding track featuring the vocals of Rocnation-signed singer Sam Dew. It’s an infectiously joyous tune that takes cues from disco with a swirling, orchestral synth-line.
One of the greatest things about Knockin’ Boots is that it bleeds colour. Every song has charismatic elements whether it be the cheeky bass-line of For Your Love or phone ring of Bark. Everytime the smile fades he adds something in to make it that bit more memorable. It’s a tactic that works on nearly every track.
There are a number of tracks here that would work well on radio if Bashmore desired, which he probably doesn’t. Since bursting onto the scene he’s worked with Jessie Ware, helping him to hone his pop sensibilities and work with soulful, melodic vocalists. Let Me Be Your Weakness with London singer BIXBY is the album’s biggest pop moment with a big, soulful chorus – the type that British (and to a lesser extent Australian) radio craves.
It doesn’t ever sound like he’s trying to make hits on Knockin’ Boots though. No song sounds like it could be plucked to be the single nor does Bashmore let a more-known vocalist take the reigns and outshine him. This is his album and every track has Bashmore stamped on it. While he’s grown since Battle For Middle You and embraced the use of a vocalists there are moments on the album where he goes back to his roots. What’s Mine Is Mine is an instrumental banger that clangs with a metal-sounding beat and Bark borrows from Jersey club to work up a frenetic pace. These moments never feel out of place on the record, melding perfectly with the more accessible, soulful numbers.
Euphoria is the common thread on Knockin’ Boots and whether he’s churning out club numbers or soulful jams he makes sure that comes across. On Rhythm Of Old he uses spirituality and gospel influences to bring that feeling while on She Ain’t he uses a disco-ball turning, sped-up funk track. The whole thing is feel-good, but never explicitly so. This isn’t “put your hands in the air,” type dance music, it’s subtler than that. He’s worked on carefully flavouring each song so that you could spend the entire album feeling giddy in the stomach and falling in love. It’s appropriate that he ends the album with You & Me built around the simple feelings of a relationship – the type that make you never want to be apart from someone.
Some dance records are alienating because they’re steeped in nostalgia for a dance scene passed by that you don’t quite understand or because they’re trying to be complicated for the sake of it. The production and soundscapes of Knockin’ Beats are textured and finessed but at large they’re easy to listen to. Bashmore has tipped his hat to ‘90s house, nailed the feeling and put his own stamp on it while delivering a record that’s damn fun to listen to.
When New York City duo Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow aka MS MR released their debut album Secondhand Rapture they had time to test the water. They had already released an EP, had a blogosphere hit with Hurricane and were building hype as newcomers. The album featured a collection of previously released tracks and already felt familiar straight off the bat. With album number two – it’s a totally different game.
How Does It Feel is a totally new set of songs and places MS MR as an established act rather than a new acts trying to prove themselves. Unfortunately, as a band you really never stop trying to prove yourself unless you’re 73 and have played Wembley over 15 times. As such, How Does It Feel has to set MS MR up as band that can go the distance and create a whole new set of highlights. For the most part, album number two does that. It’s a confident pop record with plenty of big choruses ready to be devoured by the masses. What’s even more encouraging is you can tell that their sounds evolving.
From the album cover to the opening ten seconds it’s clear that the duo had disco in mind while formulating this record. Instead of ditching their old sound in search of Nile Rodgers, they lightly pepper each track with a certain disco-feel. In that way, it’s a small disco ball that turns on How Does It Feel, but it’s there nonetheless. Album opener Painted opens with a flurry of dancefloor ready keys before eventually descending back into the dark, looming sound that was the signature of their debut. The album doesn’t enter as explicitly back into the disco world again apart for on the shiny Reckless which boasts one of the effortlessly groovy choruses of the set.
When they’re not taking it the dancefloor, the pair are casting a dark shadow with tunes that weigh heavy on the heart. Plapinger’s voice is naturally dense and raspy. It lends itself easily to darker songs and that’s the common mode of the album. On the title track she sings “How does it feel with my teeth in your heart?” They deliver a message like that while still maintaining their pop sensibilities. This album rarely enters into ballad territory, rather taking its heartbreak to the dancefloor.
On Criminals, her “hearts getting dark” yet that’s translated into the most euphoric pop moment of the record. Recently CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry discussed with Radio 1 that their heavy lyrics would be too much coupled with equally heartbreaking instrumentals so they juxtapose the two. It’s the exact same situation here and for the most part they get the light and shade right. They nail it on Criminals with a howling, sparkly instrumental. In contrast the heavy-beated Leave Me Alone is exhausting.
The relationship Plapinger depicts throughout is one that’s rotting at the core. She closes the album singing, “Everyone keeps asking if we’re ok/The truth is we’re not but I don’t know what to say.” It’s somewhat gut-wrenching that you don’t get the resolve that would’ve complimented the album’s darkest moments but that’s a little idealistic – changing the course of her relationship for the sake of a musical happy-ending. The whole time she toys with the idea of whether she should stay or go. On Tripolar she sings, “It’s the terrible truth that hurts – should I even stay?” We never really get the answer to that question but as frustrating it is, it’s that tension that really suits dense sound of the album.
So how does it feel? Well, considering how dark and depressing the lyrical content is, it actually doesn’t feel to bad. If somebody handed the lyrics to you and asked you to guess the music, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a cold, piano-driven affair. That wouldn’t be half as interesting as How Does It Feel. It’s a record with a strong, pop-heart that no doubt be a firm festival favourite over the next few months. The downs of life are so much more palatable when you’re able to dance through them and MS MR understand that.
Tame Impala go pop. Tame Impala do disco. Tame Impala are sexist. Tame Impala channel Bee Gees on drugs. We’ve been warned hundreds of times since Kevin Parker started speaking about Currents that it was going to be different. But, before we go any further, we need to put this in perspective. Currents is many things, one of those is different but it’s not a monumental shift. We’re not talking The Black Eyed Peas adopting Fergie or The Beatles discovering LSD, instead frontman Kevin Parker is growing up and the sound of Tame Impala is effortlessly moving with him.
Currents comes five years after the West Australian’s debut LP Innerspeaker so should it really be a surprise that the record depicts an evolving band? If there’s one big change at the heart of Currents, it’s the changes in Parker’s life that have stopped him singing in metaphors and revealed an introspective, personal songwriter. “They say people don’t change but that’s bullshit, they do,” he sings on the album’s hallmark moment Yes, I’m Changing. It’s a heart-tug of a lyric that would have been a shock on the two preceding LPs but within the context of this one it sounds completely natural.
Yes, I’m Changing is the song that’s going to divide people. It echoes the Bee Gees more tender moments with a distinct clarity both lyrically and musically and as such detours into alt-rock fans most dreaded territory – pop. The song explains the aftermath of a relationship with a relaxed peacefulness. It’s immediately followed by Eventually – another song about that same relationship with Melody Prochet of Melody’s Echo Chamber. Interestingly these two songs are both the most precise and open of the album in terms of feelings. “But I know that I’ll be happier and I know you will too,” Parker sings, letting his relationship go with an elated optimism.
That same optimism runs through the whole record and brings with it an honest beauty. There are some complex ideas being explored here but when it comes down to it, Parker always traces it back to a core ethos – Let It Happen. The seven-minute epic album opener perfectly predicts the album with a relaxed gentleness and flair for experimentation. There’s electronic elements, RnB hooks and classic rock n’ roll influences that are all scattered through the album but find themselves sharing a space on Let It Happen.
The band’s RnB vibes first poked their head-out on Feels Like We Only Go Backwards but they return here with a far more prominent role. ‘Cause I’m A Man is an after-dark jam with a discreet sensuality to it. Tempo-wise Love Paranoia also sits in that lane, acting as an almost counterpart to the band’s Like A Version cover of Outkast’s Prototype. Parker’s falsetto has become a weapon and when he sings, “girl, I’m sorry,” he’s as convincingly smooth as Miguel.
The electronic moments are also more explicit too. The album’s weirdest track Past Life channels experimental Brian Eno but familiarises it with a floating, staple Tame Impala chorus. The Moment is also peppered with lightly-pulsating beats while Gossip warps with the kind of synth-work that would make Nosaj Thing envious.
That doesn’t mean that the job of the psych-guitar is made redundant. The guitar hook of The Less I Know The Better is the album’s sweet spot and probably one of the most, if not the most, triumphant part of the album. It’s that song that most people will find hard to dislike no matter what they think about the band’s “new” sound.
Diehard fans of Lonerism won’t be completely at a loss with Currents. The murky, gritty haze returns on Reality In Motion but with a much more acute feel for pop vocal melodies. The track could easily be an entry point for old fans trying to connect with the new music. If you trace back from her, you’re likely to find the psychedelic synths and crunching guitars are still there – they’re just not the main character anymore.
If Lonerism was about personal introversion then Currents is about interaction. He’s aware of how people will react to the album on closer New Person, Same Old Mistakes (“I can just hear them now, How could you let us down?”) and on Disciples he details the degradation of a friendship. This is still weed-infused music but it’s no longer atmospheric and spacey. This is real shit and surely as far as songwriting goes it’s a massive goal-score for Parker to connect on a level of honesty.
It’s never easy to follow-up an album that garnered worldwide critical praise and transformed the band to a festival mainstage player but the greatest thing about Currents is Parker sounds undeterred. He’s taken a newfound confidence and found the guts to explore musical influences that he would’ve once though too alienating for Tame Impala fans. Couple that with emotional complexity and you’ve got an album that’s heartwarming, exciting and challenging. You may get the shift in sound straight away or it might take you a while to come around but once you do you’ll recognise there’s far more to explore here than any other Tame Impala album. Better yet it sounds like they’re only moving forward and that’s exciting when a songwriter with as many ideas as Parker is in the driver’s seat.
NINE OUT OF TEN