We're already four months away till the end of the year, but we're still expecting more albums to be released. Not wanting to sit down and let the releases fly by, we evaluate ten releases over the past month including Tame Impala's rejuvenated take on psychedelic rock with Currents, ShiGGa Shay's long-awaited new album, Dr. Dre's massive comeback, the self-titled debut of Lost Weekend and more!
Shigga Shay | Shigga Shay
To be a rising hip-hop artist, it's painfully important to understand your audience. You can assimilate yourself into American culture and embrace every characteristic, somehow finding a way to imprint your own voice that will get listeners to recognise who you are, amongst the sea of Drake imitators. American hip-hop simply doesn't take kindly to outsiders. Just look at how Iggy Azalea has fared.
Another way is to recognise your audience where you are — which is how a lot of hip-hop artists have been able to thrive for decades. Embrace all the idiosyncrasies of your own culture — colloqualism, organic musical styles, imagery. Hip-hop is from the streets, but that doesn't mean it has to conform to the East Coast or West Coast. Make it authentic. Make it yours. ShiGGa Shay does this... to a certain extent.
For all his attempts establishing a Hokkien word as part of his branding, along with copious amounts of gigs all across the island while heavily promoting singles, ShiGGa Shay has truly embraced all things Singaporean. However, he has also produced an inconsistent studio effort that's still far away from establishing ShiGGa Shay as one of Singapore's most unique voices in hip-hop.
One big highlight about ShiGGa's performance in the album is his experimentation with delivery — whether if it's the reflective storyteller in 'Lonely' and 'Red & Blue' or the no-nonsense aggressor in 'Siala'. He's certainly not settling on a one-dimensional style as a rapper and it shines during certain songs, with 'Everybody' being the biggest highlight.
While his slow-burning approach works wonders on 'Red & Blue', where The Sam Willows' Benjamin Kheng performs a stellar guest spot, 'Afraid to Love' only truly picks up at the last minute, while 'Lonely' manages to narrowly triumph over the maudlin mess that's 'Brothers Forever'.
ShiGGa Shay ends up as an unfocused portrait of ShiGGa the 'artist', missing his mark on crafting a gripping tale of a rapper trying to make it in a society that hasn't warmed itself to hip-hop. But he's getting there.
Standout tracks: 'Siala', 'Everybody', 'Red & Blue'
Verdict: ShiGGa Shay's vastly improving himself as a rapper, but he still has a long way to go.
CURRENTS | TAME IMPALA
Currents presents a striking sonic departure for the band that may either endear or alienate long-time Tame Impala fans. Musical evolution doesn’t always work, but in this case, Kevin Parker’s transition from guitar-driven psychedelia to synth-driven disco is warmly welcomed. The presentation may be different, but the emotional essence of what we love about Tame Impala still pervades every track. Parker bares his soul once again with poignant lyricism, but it's the wonderful contrast between his overriding theme, heartbreak in repetition, with his uplifting arrangement that makes this new sonic direction so enthralling.
Folks may miss wigging out to fuzzy guitars, but the quicker you accept the unfamiliar, the quicker you’ll begin dancing to Parker’s intoxicating grief-fueled grooves. Currents lacks the immediacy of their previous efforts, but the album is an assured grower that gets deeper with each listen. The band’s willingness to stretch boundaries and approach raw wounds from odd angles is admirable, culminating in an uneven but enthralling body of shimmering sorrow, luscious melodies and high fidelity hooks.
Standout tracks: 'Let It Happen', ''Cause I’m A Man', 'New Person, Same Old Mistakes'
Verdict: Takes a bit of getting used to and possesses a couple of fillers, but overall, Currents’ disco-oriented direction proves to be gorgeous journey, grounded by Parker’s heartbreak and songwriting genius.
ABYSS I CHELSEA WOLFE
Abyss chills and challenges, but much like a horror movie, the thrill is in how unsettled you feel. Chelsea Wolfe’s work has always been dark, and her latest effort takes her further down that nightmarish rabbit hole into an immersive, orchestral aural universe. The quiet moments are haunting and compelling in their exploration of demons (both personal and spiritual), but it's the startling stretches where she unleashes her fury that makes the biggest impression.
Plagued by sleep paralysis, she confronts the macabre and the monstrous at every turn. You can sense her drowning in this enormous undertow of pitch black water, and it's a distressing thing to listen to. Nevertheless, such disquiet converted into metal savagery is the crux of this album’s power. Wolfe’s descent can be ponderous at times, but mostly it's a tour de force because she’s such an assured musician. It isn’t easy listening, but Abyss is simultaneously terrific and terrifying.
Standout tracks: 'Carrion Flowers', “'ron Moon', 'Abyss'.
Verdict: Probably Chelsea Wolfe’s densest, darkest and most all-consuming work yet - Abyss turns its commitment to anguish into something infinitely compelling.
Lost Weekend | Lost Weekend
Indie pop group Lost Weekend has been around for a while, but this self-titled effort marks as their first full-length effort. While the band flashes a remarkable grasp on jangly melodies and breezy pop choruses, it also showcases their adolescent approach towards romance and uninspiring lyricism.
There's a lot of musing on love, but with its overarching theme of malaise, it makes the moments of red-hot intensity in songs like 'Red is the Colour' or 'Wild Ones' fit in awkwardly, resulting in an overall baffling album. There's also the line in 'Ghosts' where lead singer Rachel laments about not being "the fool who writes songs about you", despite having spent the majority of the album singing about someone else. Other conflicting lines include "Meet me after midnight, we'll spin some tunes and dance all night" or "And when indie bands teach you about love and responsibility, you better listen". The meta touch is appreciated but there's not a lot to learn from here.
Many of the melodies presented in Lost Weekend are immediately likeable and accessible — the guitarwork is especially ace — but overall it's bogged down by its lyrics that progressively become harder to listen to.
Standout tracks: 'What Do You Call It', 'Mornings', 'Sleepyhead'
Verdict: The plural of 'vinyl' is 'vinyl'.
Ivywild | Night Beds
When he released Country Sleep in 2013, Night Beds deservedly received all the praise that earned it a spot as one of the most captivating indie records of that year. His introduction as the vulnerable 21st-century musician, filtered through lush Americana, was promising enough for many listeners to anticipate his next album. With Ivywild, he treads on a bewilderingly risky path. Does he succeed?
It depends on whether you can understand Night Beds, real name Winston Yellen, and his current frame of mind as a musician. It was easy to compare him to Devendra Banhart or Ryan Adams two years ago, but now he's taken cues from luminaries as diverse as Bill Evans, Flying Lotus and even Kanye West to guide his new musical trajectory.
The result is something that isn't too far removed from the new wave of atmospheric R&B, but with his instrumental ambitions and a lengthy album running time (slightly above an hour), Winston crafts a record that could benefit from slight omissions to its hefty tracklist. He attempts pop accessiblilty to a great effect with 'Me Liquor and God' but the momentum dies down with the ensuing track 'Seratonin', with a disappointing lack of immediacy. He does make it up with rich, layered instrumentation, as he does with many other songs like 'On High', 'Tide Teeth' and 'I Give It', but with songwriting that's more effective.
However, there are some songs where its immaculate production cannot obscure weak songwriting, but no way does it compromise the unrestrained intimacy he's best known for.
Standout tracks: 'On High', 'Me Liquor and God', 'I Give It'
Verdict: Ivywild is a flawed but captivating album by an adventurous singer-songwriter finding his voice.
CONTINUUM I THE OBSERVATORY
Change is the only constant with a band like The Observatory. Well, change and quality. Their experimentation isn’t for show, you can really tell that each new iteration comes from Leslie Low’s restless inspiration and the band takes great pains to perfect their evolving craft. The obvious talking point on Continuum is the ingenious incorporation of the Indonesian gamelan (and other traditional instrumentation) alongside their dense, ominous use of typical rock and electronic apparatus. The result is a spellbinding meld of Balinese music with industrial, post-apocalyptic art-rock.
The interplay between the two elements opens up new dimensions on both ends, and it's so intriguing to hear these familiar sounds work in uncommon contexts. But outside the instrumentation, its the composition of the tracks that fascinates us the most, because there’s a definite IDM and minimal techno touch to Continuum mixed in with surprising Afrobeat rhythms (we’re amazed at the gamelan’s versatility) before it all crescendos into The Obs’ distinctive thunder of brood and doom. It all sounds vanguard, which just goes to show, sometimes you have to look back to look forward.
Standout tracks: 'Part 1', 'Part 5 (Mankind)', 'Part 6 (Lasse Marhaug Remix)'
Verdict: Yet another far-out idea by The Observatory given spirit and life by skill and craft, Continuum’s culture clash is richly textured and elegantly composed.
Daily Ritual | Daily Ritual
Pushing forward with a blistering set of eight concise tracks, Daily Ritual pull through with an absolute melodic punk rock debut that's alarmingly catchy and wontedly aggressive. With a firm grasp on punk guitar traditions, their power riffs are confrontational, as are the lyrics, coming from a band who proudly brand themselves as "politically charged".
Even as Daily Ritual appear to be staunch believers in the themes prevalent in classic punk rock, as defiant anthems like 'Desperation in a Police State' illustrate, there's also an underlying introspective attitude and an immense bleakness that permeate the record. They recognise a city they deem as broken, but only with a shrug and a sigh. It doesn't inspire change as much as it precisely expresses gloom and doom in eight rousing punk rock anthems. At the end of the record, there's one thing you can take away from it: "The world is f*cked but we don't need to be."
Standout tracks: 'Death and Depression', 'Desperation in a Police State', 'The Wall'.
Verdict: A stellar punk rock album with topics that hit close to home.
COMPTON I DR. DRE
Dr. Dre has spent the best part of the last couple decades playing kingmaker and businessman - but most fans of the gangsta rap legend aren’t too concerned about his headphones - we wanted a new record! Detox turned out to be like the boy who cried wolf for 16 years, but Dre has more than redeemed himself with Compton. Nobody would’ve blamed an OG his stature to sound bloated and wealthy at this stage of his career, but instead he’s returned hungrier than ever. Compton is unexpectedly introspective, sonically ambitious and narratively rewarding.
Time and age has offered Dre the perspective to finally tell his origin story, sans the bravado or bombast of youth, and his sincerity makes for some utterly compelling listening. But while his lyrics and rhyming style stay true to his roots, his production has expanded by adopting a jazz-influenced structure that’s now come to be associated with the new king of Compton, Kendrick Lamar, who pops up here for a few memorable guest spots. Familiar names like Eminem, The Game, Ice Cube, Jill Scott, Snoop Dogg and many others also feature, but star is undoubtedly Dre, who triumphantly cements his legacy here.
Standout tracks: 'Genocide”, 'Talk About It', 'Medicine Man'
Verdict: Totally worth the wait, Compton plays like a soundtrack to Dre’s imaginary biopic, and is the perfect epilogue to his storied career.
BLOOD I LIANNE LA HAVAS
Is Your Love Big Enough was a solid, mightily impressive debut for this English songstress, but Blood is the kind of full-bodied follow-up that leaves its predecessor in the dust. Not only has Lianne La Havas advanced beyond her acoustic upbringing, her foray into neo-soul feels like La Havas is finally finding her true self, growing comfortable in her own skin and voice via this outstanding record. Blood exudes confidence and expresses La Havas’ deep well of influences that go from blues to doo-wop to reggae, all framed in short, deft pop numbers.
'Green and Gold' is a clear stand-out with bright horns and keys, a strong jazz-inspired and arrangements and deeply personal lyrics about her trying to reconcile her London childhood her parents’ Jamaican (mum) and Greek (dad) heritage. Similarly revealing tracks like the sparse “Wonderful” and the Lost In Translation-esque “Tokyo” provide insight into her psyche. But as great as some tracks are, others are let down by tepid songwriting, leading to an album doesn’t quite come together as a cohesive whole.
Standout tracks: 'Green and Gold', 'Wonderful', 'Tokyo'
Verdict: Despite its flaws, Blood is still a marked improvement over La Havas’ debut, with her shift from folk into neo-soul being particularly triumphant.
The People Are Panthers | Pan Gu
It's always easy to dismiss experimental music, and it can be hard to assess the music itself when you're not familiar with atonal, avant-garde works but Pan Gu's latest release is something to play loud and immerse yourself with.
Comprising of The Observatory frontman Leslie Low and Norweigian noise maestro Lesse Marhaug, The People are Panthers is a document of their intense live performances. Don't expect lucid melodies or structure, but instead marvel at the duo's propensity for unnverving industrial textures and guitar-driven drone. Being a live recording, it's barely enjoyable as a coherent album but it's effective enough as how it is presented: no song titles, just two sides to a cassette tape featuring live improvisational noise. Have fun.
Standout tracks: 'Side B'
Verdict: It's not for everyone, but try it out if you feel adventurous.