ft. Julie Byrne, Japandroids, Elinor Dougall and Kehlani

Julia Byrne brings her ambient folk to the masses in spades, Japandroids stay indie. Elinor Dougall’s energetic disco pop comes under contention while Kehani’s charm flows bright from her latest release, Sweet Sexy Savage

faceless writerratingArtist: Julie Byrne

Album Title: Not Even Happiness

Label: Ba Da Bing

Genre: Folk / Ambient   

Moments Of: Laura Marling / Marissa Nadler / Grouper

Stand Out: Sea as It Glides

Bolstered by melodic guitar work and introspective lyrics, Julie Byrne’s sophomore album Not Even Happiness invokes a strong sense of sadness and melancholy. At times too beholden to its myriad influences, the album is able to succeed through subtle production flourishes that create a palpable atmosphere.

Opener ‘Follow my Voice’ slowly builds with delicate acoustic strumming and elegant strings, each verse’s end punctuated with a quiet pluck of the guitar, Julie’s voice filling in the now empty space to dazzling effect. A similar trick is employed on the wistful ‘All The Land Glimmered Beneath’, a Marissa Nadler indebted rustic folk tune buoyed by gentle finger picking and hazy recorded nature sounds.

Further recorded sound accompanies album standout ‘Sea as It Glides’, a soothing meditative song that floats along with a simple guitar melody and soft synth arpeggios. Ocean waves faintly crash, and like the song title a distant slide guitar glides along the rolling ebb, harmonising with Julie’s heavenly coos during the chorus.

The album suffers when Julie mines her influences too closely, especially on ‘Sleepwalker’ and ‘Interlude’ the former being an oversimplified take on Laura Marling’s already bare bones pastoral folk and the latter a half-hearted attempt at the reverb drenched ambiance of Grouper that feels underdeveloped at one and a half minutes. Not Even Happiness is at its strongest when it divulges from its noticeable touchstones, but as such is still trying to find an identity of its own.

 

faceless writerjapadnoids-ratingArtist: Japandroids

Album Title: Near To The Wild Heart of Life

Label: ANTI-

Genre: Alternative Rock / Indie Rock / Punk

Moments Of: The Replacements / Tom Petty

Stand Out: True Love and A Free Life of Free Will

Japandroids return with their new LP Near To The Wild Heart of Life, a slight expansion of their blistering alt punk anthems. Through broader instrumentation and tighter composition, the Vancouver band successfully updates their signature sound while retaining the qualities that separate them from their peers within the indie rock sphere.

The album bursts through the gate on the triumphant title track, a distillation of everything Japandroids excel at; frenetic drums, sweeping guitar riffs, and stirring communal vocals that propel the song to the heights of their best work. Follow up ‘North East South West’ begins to subtly introduce new elements for the band, namely the acoustic guitar that compliments the primary riff on the track, adding a splintery texture to the band’s hometown love letter.

Leaving subtly behind the band dives head first into power balladry on album standout ‘True Love and a Free Life of Free Will’. Beginning with a simple keyboard melody, the song quickly transitions into a militaristic beat accompanied by acoustic and electric guitar, before erupting at the chorus with monolithic riffs and grandiose synth lines.

If the album does have one fault, it is on the ambitious but underwhelming ‘Arc of Bar’. Stretching to seven plus minutes, the song starts promisingly with glitzy synth stabs and chugging riffs but a lack of progression from these initial elements for six minutes leave the song feeling dull and thin until its inevitable crescendo. This aside, the album firmly reinforces Japandroid’s continued refinement of their sound through subtle experimentation, emphasising the wild beating heart that drives their music.

 

willrating-dougallArtist: Rose Elinor Dougall

Album Title: Stelluar

Label: Vermillion Records

Genre: Indie Pop You Records      

Moments Of: The Pipettes / The Preatures

Stand Out: Colour of Water / Closer

Stellular, is the sophomore album by former Pipettes singer and Mark Ronson-collaborator Rose Elinor Dougall. Although it’s been six years since her first release, her effective and highly adaptable voice are every bit as infectious as her last musical venture.

Album opener ‘Colour of Water’, is a guitar-and-bass driven shimmering slice of dream-rock, with lashings of warm atmospheric keyboards. Advance word that Rose was ripping up the rule book on this release isn’t far from the truth, moments like ‘Strange Warnings’ channel the spirits of sonic rock mixed with psychedelic guitar tones to create a fun and accessible sound.

Tracks like ‘Stellular’ and ‘Closer’ display a link to her sonic past. The uptown funk guides the pair of fun and upbeat rhythmic ballads with Cure sounding basslines. Many tracks on Stellular don’t seem to fall into any specific genre. To call this EP a “mixed bag”  would be an understatement, with the lack of consistency in some of the song structures falling short in the attempt to add complexity and depth to her sound.

At a track listing of twelve songs, it’s clear Rose isn’t short of inspiration. Although it feels like some of the tracks could have been chopped to create a more consistent stylistic journey Rose knows how to channel her innovation into something fun.

 

willkehlani-sweet-sexy-savage-jpgArtist: Kehlani

Album Title: Sweet Sexy Savage

Label: Atlantic

Genre: Pop                      

Moments Of: Nicki Minaj / Beyonce / Fka Twigs

Stand Out: Keep On / CRZY

In a genre dominated by superstars, Kehlani is trying to find her place. The debut album from the Californian who found her fame on Americas got Talent serves up, an intriguing mix of sweet, sexy and savage R&B numbers.

Opening track ‘Intro’ sounds like a disclaimer. The spoken word one-minute speech details vulnerabilities, strengths, flaws and the strong sense of self-awareness that she will surely need in this industry. ‘Keep On’ sets the tone for the album. Stylistically, Kehlani sounds right at home with the fluid poppy ballads that compliment her impressive voice. The influence of artists such as Nicki Minaj and Beyonce remains strong on the poppier tracks such as ‘Distraction’ and ‘CRZY’.

It’s no doubt Sweet Sexy Savage is a personal album. “Trying to forget all the unnecessary thoughts from my head / Man, it was pretty scary,” she sings over deceptively breezy beats in ‘Piece of Mind.’ This statement is likely referring to her hospitalization last year in apparent suicide attempt. The unfortunate toll on her life, although tough, has created a compassionate meditation and ownership of

These issues. Her experiences detailed within the EP maintain the drive and intensity throughout that will keep you hooked for the entirety of your listen.

The deluxe version of sweet sexy savage has a track listing of 19. Apart from the fillers, and clear record label influenced songs Kehlani oozes charm and ambition. She might just be here to stay.

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