Classic | Excellent | Good | Fair | Poor
British electronica duo hit refresh with a hybrid of signature styles.
To date, London duo Goldfrapp have mainly peddled in two strains of music – ethereal, baroque folktronica (2000 debut Felt Mountain, Seventh Tree and Tales of Us) and slicker, more concentrated club cuts (Black Cherry, Supernature, Head First). Silver Eye is Goldfrapp's most obvious attempt to fuse the two while retaining the band's thematic throughlines – the elemental, nature, mysticism and sexuality.
Lead single "Anymore" boasts the distorted chug and swagger of earlier dancefloor fillers "Strict Machine" and "Ooh La La". It's undeniably sexy, with singer Alison Goldfrapp intoning "I can't wait anymore" in the chorus, yet it doesn't have quite as much oomph as its predecessors. "Anymore" might've signalled a return to more stomping fare, but while there's plenty of Will Gregory's signature loping synths, Goldfrapp's airy vocals and four to the floor beats in tracks such as "Systemagic" and "Everything Is Never Enough", it often feels restrained, as if the dial is set at six or seven.
And yet the album oozes with remix and rug-cutting potential – live, you get the impression it will be cranked to eight or nine. It's an engrossing listen nonetheless, dreamy without ever crossing into dreary (though "Faux Suede Drifter" comes close), from the breathy bombast of "Tigerman" to the Gus Gus-like menace of "Become the One". Why reinvent when you can just recalibrate?
Hairy Atlantans continue their assault on epic seventh album.
Between plentiful examples of follicular extremism, facial tattoos and more impressive chops than a Bowral butcher, Mastodon's place as metal intelligentsia and the best ‘Big Four' heir apparent has been well founded since 2004's conceptual triumph Leviathan. Fusing the riff-monster approach of their past two records with a coherency not seen since 2009's Crack the Skye, Emperor of Sand conceptually examines time and mortality via cancer – and a desert-dwelling Grim Reaper – amid a hail of neck-snapping riffs, making for a sprawling, intelligent album that's still taut and tightly wound.
Their use of space is the key (and the all-timer shred coupling of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher). Amid hectic wall-of-death Southern-power-metal moments, there are dells of acoustic, psyche-y rumination; bright moments augmenting their suffocatingly humid Atlantan heaviness and ferocity with a mixture of delicacy and dizzying technical proficiency across muscly riff-monsters like "Precious Stones" and "Show Yourself". Elsewhere, "Clandestinity" feels like a fucked-up-on-psychedelics Voltron crashing to Earth and getting involved in an Appalachian rafting accident, and "Roots Remain" is a riff-alanche peppered with vistas of sparkling melody that launches into the stratosphere via a terrifying solo and finally tumbles to the ground on a haunting piano line. Seven albums in, the title of best band in metal is Mastodon's for the taking.
Veteran rocker returns with confidence, but plays it safe.
If you're looking for a pub gig in an album, Jon Stevens has delivered. That said, it's the sort of gig you're likely to talk over some of the time – a solid backdrop of classic soul, blues, country and rock that amps up the atmosphere without monopolising your attentions. Co-written with producer David Stewart (Eurythmics), Stevens' voice gives him some edge amongst the at-times cliched material, handling rock ballads ("One Way Street") and blues tunes ("Oh Lord") with equal ease. The skilfully delivered consistency is oddly wearisome at times though. While Starlight is polished and rocking, it's rather predictable.
Brutal, precise fourth offering from metalcore kings.
On Mesmer Northlane offer a graphic meta-personal narrative couched in relentless machine-precise heaviness. Their full range is on display: dark electronic tinges offset sepulchral and soaring vocals and algorithmic riffage on "Savage", the brazen thunder spiral of "Intuition" and the shimmeringly melodic "Fade" show impressive growth. Few bands combine razor-sharp proficiency with spine-shaking heaviness and a generalised, amorphous disaffection the way Northlane do, infusing darkness, despair and (eventual) hope into an exultant musical catharsis. And four albums in, Australia's leading metalcore lights are only getting better at it.
High-octane, sweaty rock & roll from Sydney duo on debut.
It actually takes a great deal of sonic know-how, songwriting nous and unwavering confidence to make the two-piece garage-rock thing work – and Polish Club have it all. Compelling chord changes elevate these short, punchy songs above mere racket, while a certain vulnerability in their articulate lyrics adds another layer of intrigue. Don't get the wrong idea though: this is Motor City-influenced blues-punk which also features that peculiarly Australian strain of slightly skewed, ironic aggression that is also heard in Royal Headache. An exciting, wild noise, yet one supported by genuine imagination and ingenuity.
Machinery obscures personality on single-take curio.
"Recorded two days ago in one take," boasted Belgian indie-rockers, producers, remixers and DJs Soulwax in February of this, their DEEWEE studio recording of the songs they began playing live on tour last year, using the exact same setup, musicians and machinery they had on the road. It's an impressive feat, and gearheads might goggle at the list of equipment used, but there's a mechanical, metallic quality to these tracks, and neither the Dewaele brothers' coolly impersonal vocals nor the presence of five other musicians do much in the way of humanising them. Wry lyrics occasionally come close, but overall it's an experiment lacking in soul.
Third album from Sydney post-rockers hits the mark.
So big is the shadow cast by post-rock's leading exponents – Explosions in the Sky, Mono et al – that many bands in the genre struggle to escape it. Over the course of 10 years, Sydney's sleepmakeswaves have gradually forged their own identity, and it all comes to fruition here. Inspired by the beautiful but harsh landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctica – a metaphor of sorts for the personal turmoil experienced by various members over the past few years – Made of Breath Only is expansive and dynamic, crashing guitars and propulsive rhythms butting up alongside piano and electronics to craft a sonic soundscape you can lose yourself in.
The joke wears thin on hair metallers' fourth album.
For a while there Steel Panther were a great idea. An antidote to political correctness, they ripped the piss out of Eighties hair metal while simultaneously paying loving tribute to the genre, complete with shock-tactic lyrics and killer musicianship. Sadly, the laughs ran out a few albums ago. So now when frontman Michael Starr sings of banging a hot midget at Niagara Falls, or croons "That's when you came in and blew me... away" over the kind of soft-metal ballad that would once have topped the charts, it's a little like hearing your drunk mate tell the same sexist joke for the 100th time. Boring.
Chart-dominating rapper-singer lets his playful side show on sprawling 'playlist' LP.
Drake calls his superb new More Life a "playlist," not an album or even a mixtape, yet that might be why it sounds so expressive, so emotional, so quintessentially Drakean. When you get right down to it, Aubrey Graham is a playlist – a true pop visionary who's always a fan at heart, an omnivore with a raging appetite for his next favourite sound. More Life is his finest longform collection in years, cheerfully indulgent at 22 tracks and 82 minutes, a masterful tour of all the grooves in his head, from U.K. grime ("No Long Talk") to Caribbean dancehall ("Blem") to South African house ("Get It Together") to Earth, Wind & Fire ("Glow"). Yet the more expansive he gets, the more himself he sounds – and the further he roams around the globe, the deeper he taps into the heart of Drakeness.
But even though More Life is Drake at his most receptive to the outside world, it also feels far more personal than his lackluster official 2016 album, Views, even though that was virtually all Drake all the time. And it's more playful than brand-buffing rap mixtapes like If You're Reading This It's Too Late or his Future collabo What a Time to Be Alive. He generously includes solo tracks for artists like Sampha and Skepta, providing killer showcases for London newcomers like Giggs and Jorja Smith as well as Atlanta gods like 2 Chainz and Young Thug, who shines in totally different modes in "Sacrifice" and "Ice Melts."
More Life might flaunt his internationalist outlook, building on the success of "One Dance" last summer. But needless to say, wherever he goes, he's still stuck being Drake, which means he's still fixated on why that girl won't text him back. (Wait – she's getting married? And she didn't even send him an invitation?) No matter how much he vents about his haters, they're not really what fires him up. That would be girls, obviously – including Jennifer Lopez. ("I drunk text J. Lo/Old number, so it bounce back" – damn, it just doesn't get Draker than that.) "Teenage Fever" is a near-perfect electro-swoon groove, where Drake sings the chorus of Lopez's first Nineties single, "If You Had My Love," as if he's feeling every word. The fact that Drake can find so much emotional resonance in one of the Nineties' most abysmal hits is just another tribute to his brilliance.
"Passionfruit" is the pick of the litter, a Nana Rogues production with a vintage disco throb as Drake croons about a special lady who's "passionate from miles away/Passive with the things you say." He gallantly tells her, "You got issues that I won't mention for now." (Of course he won't – he'd have to stop brooding about his own.) "Glow" is a duet with Kanye West (a friendly gesture, if not quite a keeper of a song); "Since Way Back" brings in PartyNextDoor for an R&B shout out to both R. Kelly and Jacques Derrida ("everything these days is textual"). "Portland" features Travis Scott and Migos' Quavo at top strength.
One of the most surprisingly effective guests: Drake's mom, who leaves a voicemail at the end of "Can't Have Everything," after Drake rattles off a long list of ways the world has pissed him of, giving him a bad case of "all that Drake hysteria." After Drake airs his grievances against Meek Mill and others – "tried to serve me a cheesesteak, gave them back a clean plate" – his mom steps to the mike and clears her throat, warning, "You know, hon, I'm a bit concerned about this negative tone that I'm hearing in your voice this days." The woman has a point, and Drake knows it, but that maternal own is more than just a great punch line – it's a masterful flourish from an artist who always sounds most inspired when he remembers to look beyond his own head. On More Life, he's wearing less and going out more – and it does his music a world of good.
Melbourne singer wide awake and kicking in Guyville.
Over three years and a clutch of EPs and singles, we've learned that Ali Barter is a girl with a suitable axe to grind whether in eloquent feminist op-ed webzine pieces or in front of an overdriven amp. The Melbourne songwriter's long-playing debut bolsters both lines of attack, an unapologetic "not the girl you wanted me to be" to the tune of a belching synth-guitar-scape handed down from the Nineties grunge-pop wave. There's ethereal romance in the neon cloud of "Tokyo" and elsewhere, but it's in the withering gender politics of "Cigarette" and "Girlie Bits", where "battle lines" rhymes with "panty lines", that her own turf gloriously unfurls.
Third album from heart-on-sleeve indie rockers.
Sorority Noise frontman Cam Boucher is not one to hide behind metaphors: "I've been feeling suicidal," he sings on "A Portrait Of" before adding, "I was thinking 'bout how great it would be if I could make the tightness in my chest go away." The spectre of death and depression hangs heavily over the Connecticut quartet's third album, as Boucher deals with the passing of close friends and mental health issues over a sound that recalls the bare-knuckled, if slightly less memorable, indie rock of Modern Baseball. Raw and close to the bone.
Melbourne rocker delivers catchy debut influenced by classics.
It would require a concerted effort to dislike this album. Wright Smith's infectious brand of rock – a clean, classic sound with some indie vibes thrown in – seems to have a groove for every toe to tap, a melodic hook for every ear. "I Don't Wanna Know" has a touch of the Beatles circa Revolver, while "Where Do All Your Friends Go While You're Sleeping" blasts the expressive scope wide open. There's some experimentation of the stadium-filling-guitars type (the expansive title track) and the slightly psychedelic ("Her technicolour fingernails are scratching on my mind"), but it's still effortless, rewarding listening.
Behemoth frontman trades the Beast for the blues.
As Me and That Man, Behemoth frontman Nergal, along with guitarist John Porter, swaps Polish death metal for storied Southern blues-folk. Like Behemoth, Songs of Love and Death is lyrically macabre and grim, focusing on Hell, Satan, death, blood, etc. Yet when paired with bluesy riffs, stomping rhythms and the odd country twang, it almost feels comical, not menacing. Nergal's typically violent howls give way to deep gravelly vocals (think Nick Cave meets Mark Lanegan), while track titles like "Nightride" and "On the Road" cement the swampy road trip feel evoked throughout. It's hardly challenging, but that's what makes it so fun.
Miami rapper dips into a deeper consciousness on ninth album.
Rick Ross' ninth album finds the Miami kingpin in a reflective mood. Musically, he's drifting through a mid-career malaise. The beats he uses are the same worn poles of yacht-rap luxury and trap bangers that he's relied on since his 2010 watermark Teflon Don. Lyrically, he's still capable of speaking truth to power with remarkable clarity. His unexpected shots at Cash Money Records paterfamilias Birdman on "Idols Become Rivals," and how he compares him to a pedophile priest, may have the Internet chattering. But more impressive is how he balances his accusations of Birdman's licentious treatment towards his artists within an analysis about the fake watches, leased Benzes and overpaid video vixens that populate rap's glamorous façade. Elsewhere, Ross shouts out Mutulu Shakur on "Santorini Reece," then adds, "White man love me when I get my bling on/But you hate me buying real estate and foreign land."
He stuffs his rhymes with stray notes about his tough upbringing, and remembers on "Game Ain't Based on Sympathy" about growing up on welfare: "I thank God my kids ain't gotta see that cheese," he says. Rozay's newfound social conscience is welcome growth from the days when he bragged about knowing the real Manuel Noriega, but he's only woke to a certain point: Rather You Than Me also includes the self-explanatory "She on My Dick," and on "I Think She Like Me" he drawls, "If a pussy dry, call her Beetlejuice."
Seventh album fails to reclaim past glories.
They may have practically invented shoegaze, but on their first LP since 1998, the Jesus and Mary Chain have been stoned and dethroned: so many bands have mastered their distortion-meets-Phil Spector pop shtick in the interim that JAMC now sound like a just-passable knock-off of themselves. Although never revered for insightful lyrics, Damage and Joy hits new lows: hearing a 55-year-old Jim Reid sing about fast drugs and fast women ("I can't find a hole/to put my erection") isn't pretty. "War on Peace" channels some old-school JAMC cool, but much here would benefit from being obscured by thick distortion.
Experimental pop star commits to avant-pop partnership.
Charli XCX was already an alternative-leaning pop star when she broke with the punky rant "I Love It" with Icona Pop and dropped Sucker, an EDM-Devo reinvention of the quirkiest, most Bow Wow Wow-ing early Eighties New Wave. But in the past year and a half, this hook monster with legitimate Top 10 hits under her belt has taken a neon night drive into the avant-garde. For her 2016 EP Vroom Vroom, her recent single "After the Afterparty" and this 10-song, 37-minute "mixtape," Charli has teamed with the constellation of artists surrounding London digital-only label PC Music. The output from these acts, including producers A.G. Cook, Sophie and Danny L Harle, is a chirping and blipping simulacrum of pop music that sounds like an arch joke about consumerism. PC Music deal in the sleekest digital farts and twinkles, melodies like J-Pop performed on a glitching Game Boy and vocals manipulated into alien avatars. The real calling card of these productions is "hyper-reality," an audio effect that sounds like watching a hi-definition TV with motion smoothing on. It's a technique that's usually reserved for cutting edge noise musicians like Oneohtrix Point Never, techno theorists like Fatima Al Qadiri and weirdo cassette labels like Orange Milk Records. Charli XCX is going from dueting with Iggy Azalea on "Fancy" to being the carnival barker of a virtual reality funhouse populated by a gaggle of SoundCloud post-modernists.
The jury is still out on whether she is lost in the experimental Matrix or actually the earliest adopter of pop's next futuresex lovesound. But Angel makes this pioneering human-hologram marriage seem far more natural and cohesive than on Vroom. The beats aren't as abrasive, her vocals are distended in ways that are disorienting but not jarring. Most of the songs are about those moments before a relationship goes to the next level: These are still classic pop songs mostly about sex and cars, but the sexual yearning in the lyrics is compounding the nostalgic yearning of the music. The sounds are full of cosmic synths, vintage techno noises and 808 booms that sound rendered in CGI. On "ILY2" and "Emotions" the drones start to suffocate, creating the same combination of wistful, erotic and isolated that made the synth-heavy Drive soundrack a success. And the album houses no better statement on sex, alienation and capitalism than a naughty synth-pop song from the perspective of a pin-up poster ("Babygirl"). A combination of chilly noises and hot lyrics ("Cold like ice, petrified/Loving what you’re doing to me," she sings in "White Roses"), these robot sex anthems are storming into 2017 like pop music's dirty Blade Runner reboot.