New Borns this week are providing new and challenging directions for musicians and listeners alike. Will Fantasia’s genre hopping album translate into a cohesive whole? Will Wild Beasts’ aggressive patriarchal anecdotes be viewed as an endorsement or a satirical take on current gender dynamics? Hologram Teen pushes the boundaries of genre experimentation while Lou Rhodes takes the gentle path with her acoustic poetry.
Album Title The Definition Of…
Label RCA Records
Moments Of Aretha Franklin / Janelle Monae
Stand Out Sleeping With the One I Love / So Blue
When Fantasia Barrino makes music, she breaks the rules. A country song nestled near an R. Kelly tune? Top 40 pop next to 60’s R’n’B? Woozy spoken word vs uplifting gospel? Yep, The Definition Of… has it all. The record risks inducing vertigo with how dramatically it jumps from genre to genre, but with her timeless voice and open energy there’s no doubt Fantasia pulls it off.
The Definition Of… marks Fantasia’s fifth studio album, following 2013’s soulful Side Effects of You. Since winning American Idol back in 2004, Fantasia has been collecting nominations, awards and gold records for her Aretha Franklin-channelling sound. The collection of songs on The Definition Of… reveals an artist that can’t be confined to one sound. Boasting production credits from R. Kelly to J-Roc, The Definition Of… roves from genre to genre, a stunning pallet for a powerful voice.
From the Pharrell-like groove that makes ‘Crazy’ pulse with urgency to the mysterious, contemporary ‘Stay Up’ featuring Stacy Barthe, The Definition Of… has the good sense to stay deceptively sparse. The production throughout the album resists a cluttered pop sound, instead hosting tasteful arrangements from track to track. Fantasia tends to riff around one-liner choruses, letting her strong vocals paired with classy production do more talking than the actual song writing. ‘No Time For It’ is a cruisy club hit that swirls seamlessly into ‘So Blue’, a percussive, sassy song about cheating lovers. The old-school innocence of ‘When I Met You’ mends that blue heart with the pay-off of ‘When I met you I met me too.’ Fantasia even pulls off spoken word in the cricket-filled phone conversation that sets the scene for ‘Wait for You’. Aloe Blacc makes an appearance on the twists and turns of aptly named ‘Roller Coasters’, a solemn yet sultry nod to the ups and downs of fame. Then, just when you think she’s done it all, she throws in an effortless key change. ‘Lonely Legend’ is another curveball…wait, is that sitar? Yes, and it totally works. As does ‘Ugly’; making a striking entrance with close vocals and clean keys. Suddenly the oohs and bluegrass guitar picks up the pace, soaring into a country chorus that would bring a tear of joy to Bonnie Raitt’s eye.
‘Sleeping With the One I Love’ (written and produced by R. Kelly) stands out with its stirring simplicity and has the epic feel of James Brown song. Fantasia goes all out with the vocals, much like she does on the victorious cry of album closer ‘I Made It’. It’s a sentiment that rings true. The Definition Of… is a bold, brave record that runs with the ups, downs and variety of a live show. Telling of Fantasia’s American Idol roots perhaps? Though the album swings from pop to soul to everything in between, it does so elegantly and with no fear. The Definition Of… might just be Fantasia’s most fantastic work yet.
Artist: Wild Beasts
Album Title: Boy King
Label: Domino Records
Genre: Electronic / Synth Rock
Moments Of: Nine Inch Nails / Aphex Twin / Kanye West
Stand Out: Get My Bang / Big Cat / Dreamliner
Wild Beats’ Boy King has an eerie start, perhaps this is the band’s way of prolonging the anticipation for their long awaited fifth album. This time the quartet have managed to steer away from their once dreamier pop to a more dance oriented, aggressive instrumental style. Previously featuring themes of sexuality, love and class warfare, we see a direction towards expressions of hyper-masculinity and sex as an animalistic need. With the song titles such as ‘Get My Bang’ and ‘Big Cat’ the listener can’t help but wonder if Wild Beasts are compensating for something.
It’s evident a considerable amount of time and resources have been spent in the producing stages creating their new experimental synth-heavy sound. Hayden Thorpe’s vocal still feature on the record, however we see less of his Justin Timberlake like falsetto and more of an artificial Auto-Tune sound. This shift towards a more futuristic vision allows for the incorporation of bombastic synth layered by deep bass and drums which creates a more fluid sound.
The opening track ‘Big Cat’, let’s you know Wild Beasts are back with considerable wrath. Wild Beast’s presence is cemented by the solid drum and bass while the synth seems to be more sporadic. Wild Beasts use the representation of an animal to convey the typical high sex drive and uncontrollable animalistic desire of man. Even Thorpe himself has acknowledged this album comprises of mostly “Fuck songs”.
His soft falsetto is present as he sings “Because I gotta be on top” and “Big cat top on the food chain”. Thorpe is positioned as the protagonist, “the big cat”, while his lover is the submissive house cat. Here the interplay between his female and male character is a little unsettling. The way in which he choses to dominate and hold power over his lover leaves an uncomfortable feeling.
‘Get My Bang’, arguably the strongest dance track on the album, has a scrawly synth and powerful heavy drum and bass. Thorpe and Fleming’s vocals seem to engage in a kick to kick vocal mode of delivery, allowing the listener to hear the distinct contrast between Thorpe’s more angelic vocals and Fleming’s dark and dirty timbre. The contrasting of soft and dark allows one to appreciate the true grime and greasiness of the track.
Other memorable tracks include ‘Ponytail’ with its indistinct backing vocals which is amplified when it’s compared against the softer guitar and drumming on the bridge. The album finishes with ‘Dreamliner’, Thorpe’s softer side in terms of vocals and emotional fragility is finally heard. It’s very interesting Wild Beasts chose to end on this song, as most of the album is filled with bravado and oomph. Perhaps ‘Dreamliner’ acts to explain the downfall that hyper-masculinity bullishness can have on relationships.
Artist The Lulu Raes
Album Title All Our Parents Are Divorced EP
Label Verge Records
Genre Indie Pop
Moments Of The Kooks / The Strokes / She & Him
Stand Out Burnout
The last few days have been intense for music. Frank Ocean debuted his latest parlour trick leading us back home to lose ourselves in releases from Montaigne, Hellions and Gang of Youths. Beneath the almost impenetrable noise lurks the latest release from local band The Lulu Raes and their All Our Parents Are Divorced EP. Sadly, we feel it suffers from a combination of bad luck and poor production and ultimately fails to break new ground among its fierce competition.
Raes are a five piece band making waves out of Sydney with their fantastic live sets at Groovin The Moo, Blurst Of Times, Secret Garden, Lost Paradise and Festival Of The Sun. It’s a proper shame that their excellent energy and juicy pop hooks don’t carry into the release; there are good ideas here that fall flat, the production quality jumps dramatically from track to track and the overall result is muddy and leaves much to be desired.
The opener ‘Never Leave’ has a very classic indie pop opener which you can totally get behind, but those tantalising vocal lines hide too far behind the overwhelming maximalism of the instrumentation and end up getting lost. ‘Infinite Paradise’ does away with some of those fears, the vocals shine here and you’re given a proper taste of what these boys are capable of when everything goes according to plan. It’s fun, it’s catchy and is a great example of the heights Raes can reach.
‘My Mid 20’s’ opens like a pre-teen Pink Floyd and reads like the soundtrack to a manic pixie dream girl biography. It’s fun, but there’s no momentum in the overall sound and much like the protagonist of (500) Days Of Summer, you end up at the beginning again without having really learned anything, or gone anywhere at all. ‘Change My Tune’ is definitely the highlight for us here, at least out of the new material we’re given. It’s more defined in its sound and it’s not trying to reach too high. It’s quick, it’s a killer dance track and oozes pop from every line. We close on a high note with ‘Burnout’ which gives us a lot of hope for their eventual LP with a solid arrangement of classic acoustic guitar, 80’s dance strings and layered mantra-like vocal lines.
Overall it’s hard to be overly critical of an endeavour that sets off to bring joy and enthusiasm to the masses. There are, however, very specific improvements that could be made that would be easy to implement and that would create a much higher quality result. More attention to the production and sound design for starters, and even the inclusion of some live material so the listener can get a sense of just how good these kids are live. Anything to give a context to an otherwise stark release. Nonetheless we’re looking forward to watching Raes grow over the coming years as we can definitely see amazing potential in this release.
Artist: Hologram Teen
Album Title: Marsangst
Label: Happy Robots Records
Genre: Motorick Pop
Moments Of: Wave Racer / Stereo lab / Yello
Stand Out: Marsangst / Hex these Rules
Hologram Teen, for the uninitiated among you, released her kooky and infectious Deep Distance at the tail end of last year. Fast forward to 2016 and the release of Marsangst has Lhote experimenting masterfully with different production techniques that have created the propulsive sound that is Hologram Teen. The track, ‘Marsangst’ opens with a warm and fuzzy 80’s keyboard tone that remains constant throughout, merging with an ear-thumping rubbery base that creates a fun yet nostalgic techno ballad. Hologram Teen compliments Lhote as a keyboard player as her ability to mix danceable tunes with weird sounds and psychedelic spoken word samples craft a soundtrack to a world you probably haven’t been too.
The sleek and punchy ‘Hex These Rules’ will prove a festival favorite as it mixes the shape-shifting funk with a more honed EDM sound. Admittedly, this fanfare will have you dancing to the “Dark horror movie soundtrack” Lhote so often labels the music as. The morphing soundboard that is this song ends off with an evolution into the playful world of Nintendo Game Boy with its hard hitting 90’s computer like sound that some will find highly forgettable. ‘Scratches en Série’ title speaks for itself as its filled with consistent record scratching that works well and compliments the jumpy beat. The track is Lhotes strongest moment for potential collaboration as the slick 90’s like beat would make for a fun and accessible hip-hop tune. EP closer ‘Franmaster Glash’ fails to show high production value and gives more of a bland bedroom laboratory feel that fails to reach any sought of crescendo.
In its entirety, Hologram Teen is very likable but only for those who want to expand their musical horizon. It’s clear how much fun Lhote is having producing these tracks as they paint her as a somewhat versatile producer attempting to mix in all these complex grooves and rhythms within this wonky but unique genre.
Artist: Lou Rhodes
Album Title: Theyesandeye
Label: Nude Records
Moments of: Angus & Julia Stone / Cat Power
Stand Outs: All The Birds
Lou Rhodes’ fourth studio album theyesandeye is a sonically stripped back album. But for those not born this millennium, you might remember Rhodes from the nineties electronic duo Lamb. Theyesandeye is a world away from her trip hop roots, yet having produced music as a solo artist for almost a decade, Lou Rhodes has grown into a powerful singer songwriter in her own right.
As half of Lamb, an electronic duo formed in 1994 from Manchester, England, Lou Rhodes has had her finger on the pulse of contemporary music for over two decades. Known for their drum and bass, trip hop vibes, Lamb’s sound was the epitome of the 90’s alternative music scene. However since 2007 Rhodes has pursued a solo career featuring an entirely different sound. Straying far away from her electronic foundations, Rhodes has found solace in a new direction.
A world away from her drum and bass roots, Rhode’s current music is an acoustic anthem to self-acceptance. Rhodes’ first three albums have been highly praised by critics, so much so that her 2007 album Beloved One was shortlisted for a Mercury Prize. Since 2007 Rhodes has continued her less electronic style, continually developing in self-confidence and forms of expression to where it has blossomed into this raw acoustic sound.
This album breaks little new ground in terms of musicality. Although Rhodes is a seasoned musician, theyesandeye feels more like debut album or a slightly underdeveloped product of a young singer songwriter. Perhaps this is part of Rhodes’ journey in moving away from her time with Lamb and transforming her sound.
One of the most interesting, and perplexing songs on the album is Rhodes’ cover of The XX’s massive hit 2012 song Angels. While a decent cover of the song, it appears to bring nothing new to the track. With so much experience creating music it seems odd in the way Angels is a straight, unadulterated acoustic cover of the song. It is not similar enough to draw comparisons between her own background in nineties electronic music and contemporary electronic music, yet it is not different enough to shed new light on an extremely popular song. This seems to cloudy the overall direction of the album.
Overall theyesandeye is a strong acoustic album in itself. Yet it does little to advance or explore Rhodes’ sheet talent and overwhelmingly beautiful voice.