My, my! What a week of surprises, expectations and musical mayhem. Between the return of Thomas Cohen, Spookyland’s highly anticipated second release, ANOHNI’s latest project denouncing the mechanics of societal self administered denial and of course, Radiohead’s A Man Shaped Pool, it’s been havoc knowing what to get most worked up about! So take a moment to hear what our writers had to say to get a little more insight into your favourite artists.
Album Title: Beauty Already Beautiful
Label: PIAS America
Moments of: War On Drugs, Bob Dylan
Stand Outs: Gods Eyes, Bulimic, Can’t Own You
Spookyland has been around for a little while. First formed as a solo project by Sydney sider, Marcus Gordon, Spookyland now consists of his brother and guitarist Liam Gordon, bass-player Nic Malouf and drummer Nathan Mansfield. After releasing their first EP Rock and Roll Weakling, Spookyland gained a lot of national and international attention by the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stones and London’s NME, rating the EP 7/10 stating “A promising if not flawless start.” They were damn right. After the release of the EP, Spookyland recently played at SXSW and has now settled back onto home turf for the release of Beauty Already Beautiful.
Beauty Already Beautiful has been eagerly awaited. After releasing the radio-wave dominating track ‘God Eyes’ it was inevitable that Beauty Already Beautiful would not falter. This is a very powerful album that when listening to, you feel the emotive, raw depth within it. With powerful climaxes and heavy distortion, gut wrenching guitar jams that cause the hairs to stand up on your arms. Spookyland have managed to create a sound of their own. A lot of this is credited to front man Marcus Gordon and his unique voice which has been compared to Bob Dylan. it is captivating from that get go.
This beautifully constructed album consists of a lot of experimenting with volumes and textures. Each song develops in its own noteworthy way. Gordon’s voice stirred in with the banging and smashing percussion just keeps exceeding expectations throughout each song. The track, ‘Bulimic’ which reflects social friction, embodies the progressive sound. Starting off very unrefined with violins and slow guitar riffs, the song builds to an intensely attractive three minute orchestrated jam session that leaves you speechless.
An alternative approach to the mountainous build up in ‘Bulimic’ is the more laid-back; folk educed song ‘Can’t Own You’ which takes influence from Lou Reeds, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. ‘Can’t own you’ has a more acoustic core within it, which involves banjos and echoing, electric guitars in the chorus. It takes a lighter entrance in comparison to the deeper, emotive songs on the album. Spookyland has definitely hit the ground running. With their allure of being so fearless and powerful, there is only going up from here for them. Spookyland have definitely made their mark within the music industry, with the album delivering a lot of expressive ideas and just overwhelming talent it should be celebrated.
Album Title: Hopelessness
Label: Secretly Canadian, Rough Trade
Genre: Experimental, Electronic
Moments Of: Bat For Lashes, Antony & The Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright
Stand Out: Drone Bomb Me, 4 Degrees, Execution, Marrow
ANOHNI, formerly known as Antony Hegarty, and leader of Antony and The Johnsons provides us with an eye-opening album of protest. Collaborating with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never ANOHNI’s Hopelessness is an album of current engagement that attempts to prompt critical thinking. Creating a discourse through music the New York artist takes back the musical form as serious outlet for engagement with wider political, societal and environmental conflict in mind.
Hopelessness is truly something special to behold. It’s not too often that protest takes on such an engaging form. As a result, the album doesn’t feel like a badgering of personal views, but an emotional investment that we all share in. With ANOHNI’s ghostly scorn and anguish simply using the electronic beats from Mohawke and OPN as platforms to bounce her poignancy from.
ANOHNI neglects metaphors as there is no obscurity in what she sings about. ‘Drone Bomb Me’ the opener is a confronting and beautiful plea for death. ANOHNI achingly sings “I have a glint in my eye/I think I want to die”, a yearning to join those that have been lost. Drones are addressed again on ‘Crisis’ as she asks “If I killed your father/with a drone bomb/how would you feel?”. Going on to incessantly apologize for her country. The song stresses the need for human empathy and how the fleeting ease of drone bombs reduces the emotional impact and severity of the act of killing.
‘4 Degrees’ is stirringly masochistic towards climate change. With pounding drums ANOHNI wills the burning of animals, trees and ultimately the world. Obviously a reflection on the current inability to work towards environmental stability, delivered with the urgency and threatening manner it deserves. Asking you to join her “it’s only 4 degrees” until we see this world burn. The call-to-arms movement for devastation isn’t just a signifier of mankind’s detrimental effect on the environment. The obvious irony in the song makes it clear that we are all a collective influence. Meaning we have the ability to enforce change together. What ANOHNI aims to emphasise throughout Hopelessness is that we are all in this together, and we all have a part to play. This ideology is at its most apparent on ‘Marrow’ as she lists different countries, exclaiming “We are all Americans now”, claiming that the worlds indiscretions are everyone’s to share as well as that we all have the capacity to administer change.
ANOHNI’s album is heavy on meaning and focused on making her themes stay with you. Don’t let that deter you from listening with thoughts of typical derivative arguments that you constantly hear on the television. This album is a joy to listen to as its inspirational and emotional ethos is delivered with such passion, anger, heartbreak and anguish that it is hard not to become invested. Whether they be as direct as ‘Obama’ or up for interpretation after self-reflection, like on the title track, each song stimulates critical thinking.
Hopelessness doesn’t pander to fantasy, it’s clear with its intentions no matter how bleak the reality of it is. ANOHNI has used this album, her most effective tool of protest, to gain attention using her remarkable voice accompanied by transporting electronics. Instead of giving into the feeling of hopelessness which the album title might suggest, it wills its listeners to affect change, not be affected by it.
Artist James Blake
Album The Colour In Anything
Genre R&B Electronic Pop
Moments Of Mount Kimbie, Gold Panda
Stand Outs; Points, I Need A Forrest Fire, Radio Silence
James Blake’s third studio album, The Colour In Anything, is a seventeen track long journey pushing modern electronic music and his own sound to its extremes. The Colour In Anything retains Blake’s unique and harrowing sound with a decidedly fuller and more robust character. The relationship between tender, raw vocals and ice-cold synths throughout the album encapsulates Blake’s sense of emotional isolation and love lost.
Unlike James Blake’s 2013 album Overgrown, the tracks on The Colour in Anything move away from traditional song structure and chorus heavy tunes evident on his last record. His earlier songs are more conventional in style such as ’Retrograde’ and the title track ‘Overgrown’ are not as common on Blake’s most recent album. This new album is more powerful when played in its entirety rather than listening to single tracks. This harks back to Blake’s first studio album, self-titled James Blake, released in 2011 where songs such as ‘Unluck’ and ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ in unison with the rest of the album created an immensely powerful sound.
James Blake’s unique and commanding synths are ever-present on this album. The grand swooping vocal loops on ‘Points’ are reminiscent of ‘Retrograde’. Auto tune plays a significantly larger part on this album than previously, ‘Put That Away and Talk To Me’ is the greatest example of the way in which Blake uses technology based music to create hugely touching and heart wrenching emotion. At the same time he strips the electronic style away in place for a simple raw sound on the track ‘f.o.r.e.v.e.r.’, just as he did on his first album with the track ‘Give Me My Month’. This way Blake effortlessly switches up musical styles in the heart of an album, showing his confidence in his seamless ability to curate an album.
A notorious lone wolf as a musician, The Colour In Anything has changed this for Blake. Off the back of collaborating on other artists works, such as Beyoncé on her 2016 release ‘Lemonade’ and Frank Ocean on his next album, it is clear that he has embraced collaborative music. With writing credits for The Colour In Anything going to major international artists such as Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Frank Ocean, this album has a new element of external influence that is refreshing. In doing so this seems to let Blake become less precise and particular about each track, resulting in an inherent looseness and experimental nature more so than his previous albums.
Artist Julianna Barwick
Album Title Will
Label Dead Oceans
Genre Ambient, New Age
Moments Of Grouper, Julia Holter
Stand Out Same, Beached, See, Know
Julianna Barwick was raised in Louisiana but is no Brooklyn based. Berwick started in 2006 and has released five albums to date, her latest installment, Will. The album was inspired by the travel-heavy life Barwick has lived so far. This is made evident in which the album was produced, spanning a variety of locations including, New York, North Carolina, Libson and Portugal. Will, consists 9 songs culminating in 38 minutes of her beautiful unique vocals with the occasional instrument to accompaniament.
Will is a reflection of life, a roller coaster of fun, turmoil and unexpected twists. A new element to Barwick’s musical production is Mas Ysa, who provides his rich vocals to ‘Same’ and ‘Someway’. Other contributors that feature with Will are Dutch Cellist, Maarten Vos and percussion by Jamie Ingalls. Barwick is renown for exploring moments of isolation and dark currents, no where is this more evident than her latest work
The opener ‘St. Apolonia’ starts off with quavering vocal loops that create a haunting atmosphere. Like waves crashing upon the shore, her ghost like vocal overlap and echoes over violin and piano.
‘Nebula’ that starts with an organ that starts slowly but builds in tempo and volume. Certainly one of her darker songs and it can certainly incite some discomfort. Barwick’s songs are often formed by layers and loops of her wordless singing, prominently featured within ‘Nebular’ The song heavily depends on the listener to just sit back and take in everything they hear. ‘Same’ follows with a smoother composition. Mas Ysa featuring, that gives the song a different feel to the previous tracks The wailing yet perfect harmonies laced together produce a sense of togetherness and community in our shared isolation.
Finishing off with the seemingly M83 inspired, ‘See, Know’, like ‘Someway’, it brings back the general dark feeling throughout. The keyboard starts us off the same keys on continuum for a whole minute before vocals and soft drumming join. Although the lyrics cannot be comprehended, its soft cooing provides a slow oceanic swirl of all her music mixed together.
Barwick’s music articulates the incredible depth of human condition. It doesn’t express emotions but invokes them. Will has earthly elements that are twisted and layered, creating a dizzying effect. It may be looser and less polished than Barwick’s previous album, Nepenthe but with this comes an even more emotive performance.
Album Title A Moon Shaped Pool
Label XL Recording
Genre Rock , Electro Rock
Moments Of Radiohead – they are one of the kind
Stand Out Daydreaming, Decks Dark, Identikit
Do I really need to introduce Radiohead? For more than 20 years and with nine albums to their credit, we can say that the Oxford quintet managed to raise themselves to one of the major elements of the music industry. Last week, Radiohead kept everyone confused and buzzing while the English group completely removed all of their media on Sunday before their consecutive release of two singles ‘Burn the Witch’ on Tuesday and ‘Daydreaming’ on Thursday, days before announcing a new album for the following Sunday.
Throughout their career, Radiohead, led by the iconic Thom Yorke, managed to surprise, amaze and renew. In other words, every album release create a musical event by itself. The rule does not change today with the release of A Moon Shaped Pool, the ninth album to date. Although expected by many fans, the release was a surprise and what a surprise! Upon the first first listen, we find ourselves, again, filled with wonderment. Songs, filled with a tone of wistful magic are sprinkled throughout the masterful, A Moon Shaped Pool.
5 years after The King of Limbs, the most electro Radiohead album to date. The band returns and renews once again with this album. Much more acoustic and clean, A Moon Shaped Pool emphasizes the use of pianos, choirs and violins that are already present within the universe of Radiohead’s anthology. There is, however, more to be found here, giving the listener the impression that this album and its artists are much less tortured than their previous work. Radiohead’s song offers, us once again, a compilation of sonic beauty.
While ‘Burn the witch’ opens with hostilities, with a rhythm of a string section that announces a warning against authority. Following on is their second single, ‘Daydreaming’. Reminding us of the fragility that the group developed since its inception. A true ballad accompanied by a wonder piano melody, with lyrics to melt the heart.
Ultimately, A Man Shaped Pool is a great success and perhaps the most ambitious and approachable album since Ok Computer (often considered as the first masterpiece of the group), fans will not be disappointed.
Artist Thomas Cohen
Album Title Bloom Forever
Label Stolen Recordings
Genre Alt pop
Moments Of Suede, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd
Stand Out Country Home
At just 25, Thomas Cohen has already seen a lifetime of experiences. Some positive; fronting the post-punk London band S.C.U.M. and now being the father of two young boys. While some devastating, like the sudden loss of his wife, Peaches Geldof, to a heroin overdose. The young widowed father expresses grief, resilience, and hope in his first solo album, Bloom Forever, drawing from a pallet of 70’s style production and brave lyrical moments.
Much like his life, Bloom Forever is split starkly into before and after Peaches. It is arranged chronologically, the opening songs written when she was alive and around the time their sons were born. The personal, however, easily transcends to a universal experience as Cohen attempts to make sense of love and loss under the harsh glow of the spotlight.
The first moments of the album before the woozy, dark vocals kick in are immediately captivating. A spacey synth line and jazzy drums in ‘Honeymoon’ make their way leisurely from chorus to chorus and to a saxophone solo. The swagger of Cohen’s front-man, Days, shine through in the over enunciated vocal delivery. ‘Bloom Forever’, the title track inspired by Cohen’s youngest son, has a sunny, 70’s feel achieved with warpy guitar, an over-driven solo, relaxed bass and a steady groove. By third track ‘Morning Fall’, it’s clear the album is committed to being a haunting apparition of the past. The song mirrors the old school production that introduced the album, psychedelic-rock elements in the swirling keyboard sounds and guitar solos. So far the album is languid, leaving room for wandering solos and rhythm changes. ‘Hazey Shades’ plays to a discernible hook popping out of the psychedelic feel, interjected by a majestic drum fill that trickles down to finish with Casio vibe chords.
Then suddenly the old-school glow of spacey synth sounds evaporate with ‘Country Home’, the most honest and striking song on the album. Cohen delivers a ghostly cry of “Sleeping alone, no strength to go on”. The production revolves around a jazzy bass line and delicate piano chords, the lyrics exploring every shade on the spectrum between anger and acceptance.
When he was ready to make music again, Cohen took his songs to Iceland where he finished writing and recording the album he had been working on for about four years. Songs like ‘Ain’t Gonna Be No Rain’ take the album in a direction propelled by determination. The songs parallel his life, with ‘New Morning Comes’ being equal parts elevating and devastating. The chorus is punctuated by tambourine and is distinctly artful, but as Cohen searches for someone to hold his hand as “the sea becomes the storm” a feeling of melancholy sinks in. ‘Only Us’ offers the album’s most impressive vocal performance, with sliding melodies that find their way between sparse lyrics and even sparser production to pause for a moment of quiet in otherwise reeling, spinning feel of the album. Cohen bids us goodbye for now with closing track ‘Mother Mary’, one of the more candid songs and one that holds grief and shakes it with both hands.
Embroidered with tasteful musicianship, Bloom Forever explores the interplay between light and shade in music and in life. Thomas Cohen’s honesty propels the album, but resilience, creativity and hope are common threads that hold the work together.