For us, September presented a treasure trove of comebacks and follow-up albums that we were ecstatic to listen to, but our evaluation for each record vary wildly — from astonishment to slight disappointments. Truly, it's hard to judge an album without looking back at a band's legacy, whether if it's remembering New Order's breathtaking body of work that spawned legions of copycats, or holding CHVRCHES against their universally-loved first album.
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MUSIC COMPLETE | NEW ORDER
Following the 2005 release of Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, Music Complete is the first album that Manchester group New Order have put out in a decade. While this marks the return of keyboardist Gillian Gibert, the bittersweet reunion album is the first for the group since founding bassist Peter Hook (aka Hooky) was replaced by former Bad Lieutenant member Tom Chapman.
Much like their last album, Music Complete is a look back to New Order’s dance roots but they prove that they are not existing in a vacuum by collaborating with musicians La Roux, Iggy Pop and Brandon Flowers to present a new dimension of sound.
Kicking off with the up-and-at-them first single ‘Restless’, Music Complete begins on a strong energetic note with the type of radio friendly pop number that's more of a homage to the band’s past than a nod to the future. ‘Plastic’, on the other hand, seems like a continuation (or leftover track) of the electronic experimentation that was never quite completed with Waiting for the Sirens’ Call. There is no doubt that its catchy beats and lyrics will be what their fans will love to hear, but there is little to no deviation from the New Order’s song formula.
However, that is not to say that the album is not without its musical merits.
By incorporating guest collaborators, New Order has pushed themselves to explore beyond their comfort zone. And it’s on those tracks that the listeners feel that they are finally hearing something fresh. The courageous Iggy Pop’s spoken word driven ‘Stray Dog’ weaves an ethereal sonic backdrop with strings, synth and sounds to deliver a gritty noir inspired monologue.
Likewise on ‘Tutti Frutti’, where Gillian Gilbert delivers a memorable keyboard heavy number that complements Elly Jackson’s backing vocals. The playful keyboards, a feature that has been solely missed, elevates Jackson’s brooding words and gives a lift on an otherwise uninspired track. While on ‘Superheated’, Brandon Flowers of The Killers and Bernard Sumner's vocals harmonises perfectly in the ‘80s inspired synth pop ballad.
Verdict: A solid New Order album chockful of renowned collaborators that is sure to endure them to a younger audience, but fails in adding on the band’s musical legacy.
Standout tracks: ‘Stray Dog’, ‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Superheated’
LA DI DA DI I BATTLES
Every new Battles album feels like an adventure into the unknown because they really are one of the few bands that truly lives up their experimental math-rock tag.
Mirrored and Gloss Drop were, in their own rights, boundlessly creative and considerable in their technical achievements — but La Di Da Di is where we find the band truly at the peak of their powers. Their new record, released on Warp, is fantastically weird and tremendous in its virtuosity, going joyously into new sounds and new territory with nary a care. Their musical ideas seem to come from parallel dimensions and thankfully, they’re also one of the few bands competent enough to actually build upon such strange blueprints.
This time though, it's all anchored by amazing beats and an uncanny sense melody, making La Di Da Di somehow more accessible amidst increased experimentation. Inspired variations portal you from one track to another, but as we said, it's all cohesive, and oh so enjoyable. Time signatures mutate constantly, but Battles are adroitly methodical with their propulsion. Disarming repetition and funky momentum meets instrumental impulse and odd angles, leading all sorts of pleasant swerves and surprises. It seems like Tyondai Braxton is barely missed at all because this shift away from vocals seems to be a resounding success. We already can’t wait to see what their next iteration has in store.
Verdict: Catchy and infectious aren’t words you’d attribute to math-rock, but yes — Battles in their infinite wisdom, have made a math-rock album you can dance to.
Standout tracks: “The Yabba”, “FF Bada”, “Non-Violence”
EVERY OPEN EYE | CHVRCHES
CHVRCHES are aptly named – their brand of synth-pop is anthemic, soaring, and sometimes capable of lifting you to transcendence. At the same time, CHVRCHES are best when, like the angular V in their name, they hone their hooks to a point, carrying threats within lyrics further sharpened with the clarity of Lauren Mayberry’s voice.
Unfortunately, Every Open Eye seems to lose some of the spikiness that made CHVRCHES so interesting on their first record, which boasted astonishing tracks like ‘Gun’ and ‘Lies’. The urgency propelling ‘Keep You On My Side’ captures some of that edge, but for the most part, the Glaswegian trio prefer the dancefloor to the battlefield. The calls for choruses so cheesy I'm surprised they weren't donated to Fall Out Boy – ‘Make Them Gold’ is the worst offender here – along with the build, build, build then DROP! dynamic of the EDM-lite that dominates the radio these days.
‘Clearest Blue’ is CHVRCHES’ foray into the latter, and it’s masterfully done: this is a song that will send anticipation and adrenaline coursing through whoever hears it live. But when Mayberry whispers “Shaped by the clearest blue” over the pounding climax, her voice too airy and too inconclusive, it’s almost something of a letdown.
Mayberry’s crisp, crystalline voice is one of CHVRCHES’ strongest sonic features, a prime reason why the band doesn’t just launch dance parties: they incite singalongs. On Every Open Eye, she doesn’t go for much vocal experimentation, but when she does, as on the peppy, shouty chorus ‘Empty Threat,’ it pays refreshing dividends.
Many a band fears the sophomore slump. Every Open Eye is not a crushing disappointment – you can immediately tell it’s a CHVRCHES album, which is a good step for a second album, where bands are most at risk of losing their identities. But CHVRCHES don’t present us anything new, either.
Standout Tracks: ‘Keep You On My Side,’ ‘Clearest Blue,’ ‘Empty Threat’
Verdict: A tamer, largely unremarkable sophomore effort. The songs will bang live, though.
HONEYMOON I LANA DEL REY
Now that indie elitists have finally gotten over Lana Del Rey’s ~authenticity~, we’re finally able to focus on the important stuff: her music.
Born To Die wasn’t her first album but it was her breakout record, so in the public eye it was her debut or all intents and purposes. It was there where she introduced her vampy, deep-toned, noir vision to mixed reaction. Ultraviolence actually improved upon her gloom-romantic sound rather significantly but its here, during Honeymoon, that we see Lana Del Rey hone her smoky cabaret craft to its apex.
Despite all the criticism surrounding the substance of her retro affections and weak live performances, Lana Del Rey is legitimately an artist that’s improving, and that’s rare to see in pop music.
This record is Lana Del Rey in her most concentrated form, which should please fans and infuriate detractors. Honeymoon is an intoxicating slice of melancholy pop mastery where her disillusioned lyricism is clearly inspired by the myth of California and the emptiness of celebrity. She makes allusions to Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, she writes lyrical homages to The Eagles, Chet Baker, David Bowie and Billie Holiday — acknowledging her reference points openly and subverting them into her own gauzy embrace via some haunting production choices and her cooing, femme fatale vocals.
In her opening meta line (one of many) she croons, “We both know it’s not fashionable to love me”. Well, Honeymoon may change some people’s minds on that.
Verdict: By hitting upon themes of artifice and self-reflection, Elizabeth Woolridge is finally able to fully flesh out her Lana Del Rey character to its fullest, lushest, most dramatic sonic potential.
Standout tracks: “Honeymoon”, “Freak”, “The Blackest Night”
WORLD SERIES VOL. 11 I MOSLEM PRIEST
Released via Trax Couture, a boutique label run by House of Trax’s Rushmore, World Series Vol. 11 finds the London-based imprint looking all to the way to our side of the world to scoop up one of Kuala Lumpur’s freshest producers. Moslem Priest (aka Farhan Yassin) has long been seen as Malaysia’s answer to Fade To Mind by this region’s bass heads, and if you think that comparison is too lofty, all you need to do head over to his SoundCloud for ample proof. This dude has been crazy prolific over the last couple of years, putting out numerous remixes, mixes and tons of originals.
That being said, World Series Vol. 11 is clearly Moslem Priest’s best work yet. The EP does deviate from Trax Couture’s ballroom meets ghettotech meets footwork repertoire, but all that shows is the massive faith the label has placed in this songkok-topped badman. The five track EP is highlighted by lead single “Can I Get A”, which is a whirring, percussive, sub-bass workout that’s absolute in its dystopian immersiveness. The rest similarly show off his chasmal but muscular sound, forward-thinking in its approach while still staying true his tell-tale grime and dubstep (the Pinch kind, not Skrillex) influences. He revels in his signature metallic sparseness, and though these tracks aren’t what you’d call dancey, it's definitely meant for club speakers.
Verdict: Built on fractured rhythms and cavernous bass, Moslem Priest’s contribution to Trax Couture plunges you many leagues deep and stays several steps ahead of his competition.
Standout tracks: “Can I Get A”, “Top Off Tool”
The Light in You | Mercury Rev
If you haven’t heard, American psychedelic rock band Mercury Rev will be returning to our shores for the inaugural Neon Lights Festival. So you can imagine our excitement now that their latest album The Light in You is finally out after a long seven-year wait.
In that time, the main songwriting duo, vocalist and guitarist Jonathan Donahue and guitarist Sean Mackowiak aka Grasshopper have gone native, immersing themselves back into their hometown of Kingston, New York. Reeling from their own personal demons, their hiatus have afforded them the luxury of time to present the new incarnation of Mercury Rev’s revised sound.
Their first effort entirely self-produced, recorded and referential, with the absence of regular producer and ex-bassist Dave Fridmann, seems to reflect an underlying musical narrative of a lost individual coming back into the light. Much like Donahue and Grasshopper’s own journey on this album, opening track ‘The Queen of Swans’ is an expansive number, featuring a fuller sound complete with orchestral arrangement of bagpipes and strings which features Donahue’s familiarly calming vocals.
The band returns to their old ethereal sonic grounds with ‘Amelie’ and ‘You You’ve Gone With So Little For So Long’ which doesn’t just rehash old styles, but rather showcases the maturation of Donahue and Grasshopper as musicians with fully fleshed out, elaborate soundscapes.
Sadly, the album stagnates after that and doesn’t pick up musically till ‘Are You Ready?’. It is at this point on that Donahue and co decides to get more experimental. ‘Sunflower’ is a refreshing dose of air at this point, meshing funk elements through innovative trumpets and jolts listeners to life. ‘Rainy Day Record’ ends off the record on an uplifting dancey beat that will be stuck in your head.
Though The Light in You does mark a triumphant return for Mercury Rev, we sadly won't go as far in our praises as Grasshopper, who proudly describes it as “entering a world, like drugs without taking drugs”.
Verdict: A masterful return to form by Mercury Rev, this transitionary album holds enough promise to make us excited for the next one. Just not another seven-year please.
Standout tracks: ‘The Queen of Swans’, ‘You’ve Gone With So Little For So Long’, ‘Sunflower’
RODEO | TRAVIS SCOTT
There's no questioning that trap music has lasted longer than critics have cared to admit, but it has almost always existed within hit singles.
For a renegade producer and rapper like Travis Scott, he has elevated trap to new artistic heights — even if it might've been a truly unconscious effort with Rodeo. A concept album, it's a watershed moment for the 24-year-old rapper/producer. He just doesn't always hit the mark.
By all accounts, Travis Scott is an adept producer. Having been picked up by hip-hop (trailblazer) Kanye West for his own label, Travis' restrained perceptiveness in the studio contrasts with his youthful abandon on the live stage, often inciting moshpits and struggling with incensed security guards. His musical palette is by no means jaw-droppingly eclectic, but having shared similarities in ambition with his mentor, his acute ear steers clear of unnecessary maximalism — Travi$ is recklessly tasteful, carrying himself with precise clarity and a surprising dose of ingenuity. Well, in most fields anyway.
Travis squeezes in as many ideas as he can without overstuffing the overall package, whether if its the heartbreaking duality of 'Oh My Dis Side' (which can switch from club banger to 3am post-party tune almost immediately), the instrumental brilliance of '90210', the comical hot-headedness of 'Piss On Your Grave' or the sublime shifts in melody on 'Flying High'. Travis has publicly distanced himself from the trap label but there's no doubt it has manifested itself into the entirety of Rodeo, injecting equal amounts of tension and excitment into tales depicting a lifestyle many people dream of, but one that Travi$ often questions himself of living.
But where Travis falls tragically short is his inability to make a presence on most tracks — his verses sailt through without making an impact. He doesn't rely on guest spots but, more often than not, he gets overpowered by them. His personality shines far brighter in his production than his MC skills. Whether that could suggest a possible act of self-effacing in the name of art, he still manages to string together an engaging album from start to finish. It's just not the defining statement of Travis the rapper it should've been.
Verdict: While Travis still has a long way to go to be a standout MC, he manages to present one of the most compelling hip-hop albums of the year.
Standout tracks: "Oh My Dis Side (feat. Quavo)", "90210", "Pray For Love"