Album-art-by-Sprinter-by-Torres Torres – Sprinter

★★★★½

Sprinter, Torres’ second album, is the sound of enlightenment. The peace and understanding of the album wasn’t easily acquired. In fact, it was torturous—a spiritual horror story that required a long look in the mirror, and contending with the hypocrisy that surrounded Torres. In the process of that evolution, Mackenzie Scott has made a bold, brave, and bracing album. Over nine songs and nearly an hour, Scott wrestles with mortality, immortality, and living with the realization that humans may never know anything at all.

From the opening salvo, and with an expanded lineup that includes Portishead’s Adrian Utley and PJ Harvey alums Ian Oliver and Rob Ellis (who also manned the boards), it’s clear this is a revamped version of Torres’ sound. “Strange Helios” girds with a newfound sludginess and confidence, while “New Skin” and “Son, You Are No Island” are melodically opposite showcases for Scott’s ability to stretch and swirl her vocal lines.

In “New Skin,” a guitar line whips into a raging current from a placid stream, and the Georgia-based singer belts out, “If you’ve never known the darkness, then you’re the one who fears the most,” with the fervor of a fundamentalist preacher. “Son, You Are No Island,” equally takes a razor to tradition, targeting the “son” and his delusions of grandeur over menacing and achingly slow fingerpicking and white noise.

The peak of the first half is the tremendous “Sprinter,” though, which marks the moment of release from the build of relentless tension. Over flowing chords and the angelic lilt of Scott’s voice, it’s a musical and lyrical transition into the second, more spiritually satisfied half of the album. Explicitly marking this transition, Scott even coos out a refrain, “There’s freedom to, and freedom from/Freedom to run from everyone.”

If the first half is the sound of being trapped inside something that no longer makes sense, the second half is the view from the outside looking in. But the key to the second half, and to the album as a whole, is that it’s not about making grand pronouncements.

It’s about the little increments of understanding, the individual lines in the sand that we all make for ourselves, our families, and the people who orbit around us.

“Cowboy Guilt” isn’t an expected transition with its geometric glitching guitar line, clanking percussion, and slyly ironic delivery that would have been right at home on St. Vincent’s self-titled album from last year. Scott doesn’t quite make it her own, but it’s a fascinating glimpse at a more art-rock inflected version of her sound. Alternately, “Ferris Wheel,” is a beautifully drawn love song with tumbleweed-slow strumming and trembling atmospherics that imagine a barren, vast desert on the moon, while also establishing the grace of loneliness.

“The Harshest Light” returns to a more sacred subject matter, directly reflecting on a moment of revelation over an inhaling and exhaling progression of honeyed fuzz guitar. But it feels like throat clearing compared to the uncomfortably bare, grandiose folk epic, “The Exchange,” which generously mulls over generations of Scott’s own family tree and her own acceptance and fear of “the aging of her idols.”

Scott’s excellent debut demonstrates her ability to write evocatively about the lost and wounded. In songs like the stunning lullaby “Don’t Run Away, Emilie,” Scott finds comfort, but she’s working at a different level here, expertly bridging both the personal and spiritual plains. Exploring both the burdens of dogmatic uncertainty and her warring awe and frustration with larger forces like identity and, of course, family, Scott refuses to genuflect to easy answers about herself, her faith, or the world. In turn, she has created one of the richest albums about identity, legacy, and self in years.

Torres – Sprinter tracklist:

  1. “Sweet Helios”
  2. “New Skin”
  3. “Son, You Are No Island”
  4. “A Proper Polish Welcome”
  5. “Sprinter”
  6. “Cowboy Guilt”
  7. “Ferris Wheel”
  8. “The Harshest Light”
  9. “The Exchange”
George-Fitzgerald-Fading-Love-Album-Art George FitzGerald – Fading Love

★★★★☆

The London-born, Berlin-dwelling George FitzGerald has wasted no time inserting his personal tribulations into his music. Fading Love doesn’t cater to the honeymooners and fresh-faced youngsters that define a “relationship,” but rather the complete opposite. FitzGerald uses his production and the help of some London-based artists, including Boxed In and Lawrence Hart, to soundtrack the erosion of a relationship. The album’s production is dark and ominous, and while it’s considered electronic, it won’t be played in clubs any time soon as it’s better suited for a dim, still room.

While some songs are vaguely related to relationships, like “Full Circle” and “Shards,” the others are overtly related to heartbreak, like “Knife to My Heart” and “Call It Love (if You Want To).” FitzGerald said this type of music ignores realities, and he wanted to regain his own agency. The vagueness of the song titles, lyrics, and production relates to aspects of a dwindling spark in a relationship—sometimes it’s hard to see what’s really going on, but other times it’s very clear.

FitzGerald is a newcomer to the London and Berlin house scenes, but like his counterparts Caribou and Disclosure, he has no problem taking electronic music and doing what he wants with it.

While these songs don’t necessarily fit the traditional house mold, they still use the same elements.

FitzGerald uses synths, but instead of playing them at a high-tempo, he slows it down, playing low notes. He also layers synths by putting some background with a more drone feel, and making the others more melodic. Listeners looking for a more relaxed and mellow take on electronic music will find solace in FitzGerald.

Fading Love is the perfect album to play after a breakup. It is slow enough to match your mood, but also has the rises and melodies to slowly help you recover.

George FitzGerald – Fading Love tracklist:

  1. “About Time”
  2. “Full Circle”
  3. “Knife To The Heart”
  4. “Call It Love (If You Want To)”05. “Beginning At The End”
  5. “Shards”
  6. “Your Two Faces”
  7. “Crystalize”
  8. “Frank Is Sleeping”
  9. “The Waiting”
Album-art-for-The-Only-Girl-In-The-Room-by-Heidi-Lynne-Gluck Heidi Lynne Gluck – The Only Girl In The Room

★★★★☆

As a collaborator with the likes of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s and Lily and Madeleine, Heidi Lynne Gluck has cemented her position as a sought-after session musician. On her debut EP, The Only Girl In The Room, Gluck’s honest songwriting, set against roving acoustic melodies, proves her music can stand on its own.

Pondering home, family, and the frustrations of womanhood, Gluck offers up a set of five songs that bring new life to the traditional singer-songwriter genre with their integrity and focus in Gluck’s roots—both musically and lyrically.

Gluck grew up in a small farm town in Manitoba, Canada before settling in the Midwest, and those bucolic roots are reflected in her innate style of music. Her instrumentals are on the mellow side of the spectrum, with an acoustic, folksy tone.

She has lived in rural places, and it shows undoubtedly, yet ­much of the EP centers on feelings of loneliness in environments that are supposed to be comfortable.

In “Where Will They Bury Me,” Gluck paints a picture of expansive “barley covered plains,” and “a cold, snowy grave.” It’s a hauntingly beautiful picture of Middle America that touches on the feeling of being alone in the world, even in all the comforts of home. In “Only Girl In The Room,” Gluck delights in being one of the guys. At the same time, she can’t help feeling alone in a crowd of friends. The tune features a jaunty piano and rollicking beats, a contrast to the lyrics that play along with Gluck’s similarly conflicted feelings.

Gluck tackles objectification in “Target Practice.” Acoustic guitar and piano builds as she sings about being an object in men’s eyes. A steady beat comes in as Gluck sings, “I’m wearing men’s clothes, trying not to look around/I guess you could say this gets me down.” Her voice is clear and frank, although she’s disheartened by the situation. Like Neko Case or Jenny Lewis, Gluck is speaking on a subject not usually found in country or folk music. Her clever metaphors exemplify how it feels to be in her situation: “The sniper’s on the lawn/As the heat surrounds/And stalks me like a target, graveyard­-bound.” Even though she says she’s hiding, it’s as if she feels exposed. “I’m tired of this fight/Hiding to survive,” she sings, a sentiment likely felt by all.

With The Only Girl In The Room, Heidi Lynne Gluck debuts emotional lyrics with a backdrop of expressive instrumentation that will keep toes tapping as listeners remember their own, similar experiences.

Heidi Lynne Gluck – The Only Girl In The Room tracklist:

  1. “The Only Girl In The Room”
  2. “Target Practice”
  3. “One Of Us Should Go”
  4. “Orchids”
  5. “Where Will They Bury Me”
Album-art-for-Your-Good-Fortune-by-Mavis-Staples Mavis Staples – Your Good Fortune

★★★★☆

Chicago-born legend Mavis Staples has a glittering, decades-long career under her belt, and her new EP, Your Good Fortune, proves she shouldn’t stop anytime soon. The EP features two songs written by musician Son Little, and two fresh takes on classics. Son Little adds his combination soul/blues/hip-hop influence in his songwriting and instrumentals, while Staples lends her infamously passionate voice, making the music all her own. With her fresh take on R&B and emotionally-charged vocals, Staples is a rare example of a seasoned artist who is successfully creating relevant, influential music to this day.

Staples has created numerous albums, both solo and as part of The Staple Sisters, since the 1940s. She won a long overdue Grammy in 2011, and produced her last two solo albums with her friend Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco fame). Your Good Fortune mixes things up with the help of Little, but it still stays true to Staples’ roots in gospel and touches on her experiences in equal rights activism.

Little has created two songs that respect his musical roots while adding new elements to the mix. Where the title track, “Your Good Fortune,” is a more drawn out R&B piece with gospel-like vocals and a heavy downbeat, “Fight” picks up the pace both musically and vocally. “Talkin’ about Jesus/But treating people dead wrong/Lookin’ for answers/But you’re singing the same song,” she sings, noticeably faster than the previous song, as prominent drums continue the upbeat, though sparse, rhythm. Staples sings honestly about the landscape of today’s society, in which people fight about their beliefs, yet fail to achieve real change. It harkens back to the numerous race issues that explode over social media. People talk about and comment on them, but the incidents keep happening.

Religious references throughout the album recall Staples’ gospel influence, but they don’t sound stale or stuffy.

Staples’ version of “See That My Grace Is Kept Clean” may mention religious themes, but it features a bluesy guitar and beat that will keep heads bopping—it’s a song that even unreligious people can enjoy. Originally created in 1929 by Blind Lemon Jefferson, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” is a classic blues song that has been sung by the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and the Grateful Dead. It’s a song that simply asks for the singer’s grave to be kept clean—to keep the person’s memory (and, presumably, legacy) alive. Here, Staples’ iconic sound is at its best. Deep and emotionally wrought, she gives a voice to others who want to be respected during and after life.

The EP’s themes of faith and equality come together in the last track, “Wish I Had Answered.” The original version of the song has a breezy yet emotional tone, sounding very much like a song from the late-1960s, the era in which it was produced. In her new version, Staples adds depth and intensity to the classic. Her signature gospel undertones are present in the backup vocals and clapping beat. Her voice comes through clear and strong, as if she’s calling out to her listeners to acknowledge the progress made in our society, and to remember the ones that still exist.

Mavis Staples – Your Good Fortune tracklist:

  1. “Your Good Fortune”
  2. “Fight”
  3. “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”
  4. “Wish I Had Answered”
Album-art-for-Begging-Please-by-Samo-Sound-Boy Samo Sound Boy – Begging Please

★★★★☆

Whether or not an artist delivers a strong album, name checking a landmark album as a key influence is an automatic “Catch-22.” Either the artist whiffs, and becomes an example of “what not to do” for future fans looking to mine the material, or they follow through, and pale in comparison to the album. To re-envision that album through an entirely different genre’s lens is equally a bold and risky venture. Samo Sound Boy, who moonlights as one-half of DJ Dodger Stadium, and co-runs the rising LA-based label, Body High, is the rare artist to come out mostly ahead in these circumstances with Begging Please.

Working in a mold similar to that of DJ Dodger Stadium, sustaining and crystallizing the climax into a slow-motion endorphin rush, Begging Please is less melodically thrilling, but staggeringly immediate in its control of tone and mood.

Here, the use of soul samples becomes more than a hook. They become totemic, a key aspect of the dialogue between the music and ongoing narrative. The bank of samples becomes a marker for both the progression of a relationship and the underlying emotional basis for any given track.

“Baby Don’t Stop” begins with a gliding keyboard and cymbals that could begin an Omarion song, but just as in a relationship, that sense of control is ripped away minutes in as the synth juts through the song, and the robotically sensual sample washes everything away. “Feel Something” is even more indelible with its burbling synth and a rhythm section that pares New Jack Swing’s seesawing lurch down to its most elemental, perfectly mimicking those butterflies in the honeymoon period of a relationship.

But there’s just as much power in the evocations of pain as joy on the album. “What Can I Do” revels in the frustration and powerlessness that comes with an inability to repair a gash in a relationship. With each measure of pistoning drums and wailing synths, it swells with desperation, and those samples that used to pulse with energy now wane, curdling and limping. “Begging Please” is even more intense with its vamping keyboards and mid-song break that conjure a biting argument with two synth melodies in concert with each other.

Even with only a two word sample, it’s achingly poetic.

Samo Sound Boy, aka Sam Griesemer, uses Marvin Gaye’s seminal post-breakup album Here, My Dear as both a structural and emotional blueprint for his debut, which chronicles Griesemer’s last relationship. From the bubblegum highs of “Feel Something,” to the crushing resignation of “Begging Please,” the album is a guttural spectrum of raw passion set to music that is more often reserved for moments of lovelorn ecstasy than as a complex map of feelings. Begging Please lives and dies on its own merits, but Here, My Dear’s particulars are relevant to the album at hand.

In the context of that 1978 masterpiece, Gaye had just gone through his own personal apocalypse with a failed marriage, and bared his soul in the studio to make one of the rawest, most caustic and heartbreaking records of his entire career. Like Gaye, Griesemer couldn’t shake the pain of a failed relationship, and set out to make a reflection of his experiences.

Like Here, My Dear, Begging Please is hyper-emotional and linear, but entirely uninterested in the details that make up the high and low points of the relationship. Instead, each song is an unadulterated capsule of the joy, sadness, anxiety, and helplessness expressed through the language of house and soul. The album pulses with rising tide climaxes and synth horizons, and it’s loaded with the type of “feel good” samples that have been the engine of the genre for decades, but both the sounds and sample choices are used in colder, sharper, and more poignant fashions. By the end, even familiar, usually comforting musical flourishes (like the triumphant midi horns throughout closer, “You Come For Me”) become daggers with the knowledge that they mark the impending end.

And yet, even though it works so strongly in doses and moments there’s something overwhelming and exhausting about the album in one sitting. Granted, this is the same sensation that accompanies listening to Here, My Dear, but Begging Please is almost too concentrated. Even though there is a clear tonal progression, it’s too pat with the album separated cleanly in half of shades of joy and sadness. That’s partly elided through the closer with its mixture of bittersweetness and melancholy, but once the tide turns from the rise to the fall of the relationship in the course of the album, the album becomes less surprising and wrenching. And, after all that exhilaration and pain has subsided, it doesn’t quite stick in your throat as a whole the way that bad breakup should. It’s all about those random moments.

Samo Sound Boy – Begging Please tracklist

  1. “Introduction”
  2. “Baby Don’t Stop”
  3. “Feel Something”
  4. “The Only Thing”
  5. “Save Wait Time”
  6. “Got It Bad”
  7. “What Can I Do”
  8. “Begging Please”
  9. “Lost It”
  10. “You Come For Me”
Album-art-for-Acute-Feast-by-OOFJ OOFJ – Acute Feast

★★★★☆

“Oofj” is the sound one might make after an initial listen to the new electronic album Acute Feast by OOFJ (short for Orchestra of Jenno). The LA-based Danish/South African duo of Jens Bjørnkjær and Katherine Mills Rymer has an entrancing, eerie, and cinematic sound. Rymer’s voice is simultaneously operatic and sultry, and Bjørnkjær’s instrumentation is frantic yet harmonious. Acute Feast is sexy, evoking imagery of old black and white film through the orchestral strings, but the electronic pulses and rave-like beats add an edge and narrative flow. OOFJ created an aura of seductive nervousness; the rhythms conflict with the sensuality of the vocals that carry the peculiar and story-like album.

Rymer’s high-pitched siren voice guides the album, though the way her singing echoes throughout the album nears creepy because of her pitch and minimalistic lyrics. On “I Forgive You,” she repeats “I forgive you, like I’m supposed to,” to an uncomfortable end. Rymer doesn’t exactly narrate the album, but the flow of Acute Feast has moments that parallel narrative climaxes and resolutions; the beats and vocals provoke listeners’ imaginations with a storyline flowing track-to-track.

Sultry feelings come through explicitly, such as on “Snakehips.” Rymer breathes, “Come on move your snakehips/Come on spin it around/Rub your leg in between/Move your snakehips around/Lose your tongue under mine,” over a synth-heavy beat that flitters in the background. It has a danceable quality that is both upbeat and fun, while slithering and provocative.

All the album’s beats are delicious, particularly “You’re Always Good” and “Wolves.” OOFJ tends to use orchestral instrumentation, manipulated with techno beats. “You’re Always Good” begins with strings before the beat is dominated by electronic production. “Wolves” has a clubbier vibe with a pulsating beat. OOFJ is similar to a less-trappy Purity Ring, a less out-there version of Portishead, or a more experimental CHVRCHES. OOFJ is a bit weird, but not at all off-putting.

The duo is accessible, but still risky and bizarre, which makes listening to Acute Feast very pleasurable.

While each track on the album is engaging, flowing as a whole, it isn’t stick-to-your-ribs sustaining. It leaves listeners hungry for more depth or complexity. OOFJ makes interesting, dark beats with gorgeous vocals; the band knows how to stay simple and flesh out one idea very well. The final track, “Stephen Says,” is primarily acoustic with strings and vocals. It changes the pace of the album beautifully, leaving listeners wishing there were more tracks like it.

Acute Feast is an electrifying album that arouses one’s auditory senses. OOFJ has nailed the scary and seductive balance. The beats and the vocals in unison create a cinematic image that stimulates imagination.

OOFJ – Acute Feast tracklist:

  1. “You’re Always Good”
  2. “I Forgive You”
  3. “Snakehips”
  4. “Don’t Look”
  5. “Cliffdive”
  6. “Cherry”
  7. “Totally”
  8. “Wolves”
  9. “Sailor”
  10. “Stephen Says”
The-Charlatans-Modern-Nature-Album-Art The Charlatans – Modern Nature

★★★★☆

The Charlatans’ twelfth studio album, Modern Nature, enhances the band’s reputation as a consistent British rock band. While the group could have been considered alternative rock in the 1980s and 1990s, Modern Nature sounds more like soft rock—but still with elements of the band’s prior sound.

Modern Nature is lighter than the band’s earlier work, focusing more on enjoyable listening. The drums are not as overpowering, and the guitar riffs are more melodic and clear. “In The Tall Grass” features bongos and some exquisite keyboard playing—it’s hard to feel down with that combination. Even the song titles, like “Let The Good Times Never Be Ending,” radiate positivity.

While there are a few downtempo songs, the album is still blanketed in classic Charlatans elements.”Need You to Know” is moderately slow, but uses distorted guitar and vocals, and heavy drums. Modern Nature is an expression of the group’s persevering endeavor to produce music that benefits not only the fans, but also themselves.

The Charlatans’ first album came out in 1990, and although the band is still producing music, it’s not the same band it always was.

Rob Collins was the keyboardist from the start in 1986 and played for seven years before he passed away from a car accident in 1996. More recently, the band dealt with the loss of longtime drummer Jon Brookes, who lost a tough battle with brain cancer in 2013.

Modern Nature might be written off as just another light rock album, but the history behind the band should be considered when listening. It’s evident The Charlatans want to stay positive, and producing music that reflects that mentality can only help the band grow and heal from its tribulations. The album feels more cathartic than anything else—it’s a way for the members of the band to honor their former mates. While the members of the band may be aging, and the indie scene in Britain may have regressed from where it was in the 1990s, listeners can hear this group can go through a valley to get to a peak, using music is its guide.

The Charlatans – Modern Nature tracklist:

  1. “Talking In Tones”
  2. “So Oh”
  3. “Come Home Baby”
  4. “Keen Enough”
  5. “In The Tall Grass”
  6. “Emilie”
  7. “Let The Good Times Be Never Ending”
  8. “I Need You To Know”
  9. “Lean In”
  10. “Trouble Understanding”
  11. “Lot To Say”
Album-art-for-Offgrid:Offline-by-Looper Looper – Offgrid:Offline

★★★★☆

Though Looper’s Stuart David may have been a founding member of the remarkably successful Belle and Sebastian, it doesn’t mean his other musical endeavors don’t venture to unknown territories. Looper is the collaboration between David and his wife. Though the duo retains the best characteristics of pop music, like major chords and undeniably catchy melodies, it manages to swap out the usual jangly acoustic guitars for keyboards and samples. Offgrid:Offline is Looper’s first album in nearly thirteen years; way before David even thought of writing this album, he went back to school. David studied literature and writing while his wife focused on animation. They allowed themselves to grow, artistically speaking, before delving into another project. Offgrid:Offline is the product of Looper’s growth, both personally and musically.

Offgrid:Offline is filled with electronic melodies that inch their way into listeners’ minds. They’re sing-along worthy, and though most of these songs are laid-back, they will have even the shyest person at the party up and dancing.

Some songs are reminiscent of the work of Mark Linkous, composed of melancholy lyrics under a poppy song structure, most notably in “Oh, Skinny Legs.” The song finds David in love, hoping things work out this time. Regardless of subject matter, “Oh, Skinny Legs” is infectious. The track is captivating from the second it starts to the moment it ends. It begins with an infectious riff followed by the lyrics, “Oh skinny legs, won’t you hold up/My forehead tingles and my hands won’t work.” David is struggling with what seems to be just simply going about his day. It turns out that he’s actually falling in love, which he exclaims in the song’s bridge. But is he happy or upset about it?

“Farfisa Song” is upbeat and layered with lively drums and an absolutely killer farfisa riff (hence the song title), which David ends up singing along with at the end of the song. Production wise, “Farfisa Song” could have come straight off a Mark Ronson record, minus the celebrity guest appearance. The farfisa itself is something Ronson would surely use in his music. It has that ’60s throwback sound that Ronson made popular with Amy Winehouse in “Valarie.” The track’s lyrics are bare and uncomplicated with a wordless chorus that lets the farfisa shine.

Sometimes, less is more, and David uses this concept to his advantage.

It’s the tone of David’s voice—soft and breathy—that gives Looper its distinct style. He almost whispers the lyrics. There’s quite a contrast between his voice, the loud keyboards, and programmed drumbeats, especially in songs like “Farfisa Song.” Most of the time, though, his voice blends perfectly with mellower songs, like “Waiting for Trains” and “The Lucky Bird.”

Offgrid:Offline also contains some spoken word tracks, where David seems to be reading passages from a novel, perhaps work he’s written, like on the album’s title track, “Offgrid:Offline.” David’s voiceover is set above a lovely composition containing sparse piano, subtle percussion, and a yawning cello. These elements don’t muddle David’s prose, but make the listener lean in closer to their speakers, grasping each word.

“Images of a Shipwreck” has similar aspects, like narration and piano. The elements that make this song different are the bright acoustic guitar arrangement and a fuzzy, almost static track that sort of disappears when the guitar and piano really kick in. David’s passion for music and literature (he’s written three novels) stand out in these songs. Spoken word has the ability to throw off some listeners, but these are songs that shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re inventive and incredibly well done.

Offgrid:Offline shows brilliant musicianship, separating Looper from the norm. After David and his wife completed their educational pursuits, they decided to move out to the country, inspired by the peace and quiet, which is delicately reflected in the album and explains everything that Offgrid:Offline is.

Looper – Offgrid:Offline tracklist:

  1. “Intro (Down The Lane)”
  2. “What If…?”
  3. “Waiting For Trains”
  4. “Oh, Skinny Legs”
  5. “Offgrid:Offline”
  6. “Farfisa Song”
  7. “I’m A Photograph”
  8. “Images Of The Shipwreck”
  9. “The Lucky Bird”
  10. “Outro (TipToe Home)”
Album-art-for-The-Past-We-Leave-Behind-by-Pale-Blue Pale Blue – The Past We Leave Behind

★★★★☆

Pale Blue is the new solo project of Mike Simonetti of the label Italians Do It Better. For Pale Blue’s powerful debut, The Past We Leave Behind, Simonetti has collaborated with Elizabeth Wight, the sole vocalist on the album. The duo’s music resonates long after it’s over—the product of a beautiful collaboration. Wight’s ghostly voice is surrounded by Simonetti’s beats, taking listeners to another realm entirely. The Past We Leave Behind may be an experiment, but it’s so well executed that it doesn’t sound like one.

The album combines more ambient and chillwave sounds with house beats and cryptic lyrics. Simonetti has a background in more experimental pop, which glimmers throughout the album. On “Dusk In Parts,” the initial beat shifts to a more abstract synth and piano driven melody, and is then enhanced by Wight’s faint chant-like howls. The production of the album would stand well on its own, but is elevated by Wight’s contributions.

With some electronic music, an album can seem to repeat the same ideas over and over again, but this is not the case with The Past We Leave Behind. Each track on this album has a clear concept, and as the album moves from one track to the next, the mood shifts effortlessly; the songs complement each other so wonderfully that the transitions feel smooth even when the sonic differences between tracks are stark.

“Tougher” features an anxious beat with lyrics, “If you’re looking for love, honey, I’m tougher than the rest,” repeated multiple times amidst an abstract narrative. Once the track comes to a close and the following track, “Myself,” begins, listeners can breathe easier with the slowed, soothing pace of the new, more uplifting rhythm.

There are some outright ambient tracks on the album, such as “Rain” and “Scars,” that work beautifully with the thumps of the techno tracks on The Past We Leave Behind. One gets lost in these songs only to be grounded moments later by the heavy bass of another song.

Simonetti expertly manipulates the tracks and narrative flow of the album.

Lyrically, The Past We Leave Behind is interesting, and Wright’s singing is unreal. She has a beautiful, yet eerie voice that sounds ominous when paired with Simonetti’s echoing beats. Most of the lyrics are about loss and starting anew, hence the album title, The Past We Leave Behind.

There is a consistent theme of water/waves throughout the album, that continues the idea of cyclical/continuous loss and rebirth. The name “Pale Blue” comes from Pale Blue Dot, the term used to describe Earth as it was photographed by the Voyager 1 Space probe in 1990. There is a conversation happening between tracks on the album about permanence, or lack thereof, and growth out of loss.

The Past We Leave Behind sounds like a young Kate Bush or Annie Lennox, combined with a more techo-inclined M83. It is a wonderfully engaging album—it surprises us when we least expect it, and often provokes a serious, introspective emotion that isn’t the common reaction to a dancier house beat.

Pale Blue – The Past We Leave Behind tracklist:

  1. “The Past We Leave Behind”
  2. “The Scars”
  3. “Distance to the Waves”
  4. “Mia”
  5. “Tougher”
  6. “Myself”
  7. “The Scars (reprise)”
  8. “Dusk in Parts”
  9. “The Math”
  10. “Rain”
  11. “The Eye”
  12. “Embrace”
  13. “One Last Thing”
Album-art-for-Undertow-by-Drenge Drenge – Undertow

★★★★☆

Drenge’s Undertow is only its second release, having released a self-titled album in the summer of 2013, and yet the album is exceptionally executed. Carefully formulated with heavy, echo-y guitars and powerful, non-stop drumming, Undertow is on its way to be a huge success for Drenge because of its dynamic and emotionally honest songs. Undertow is, quite simply, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll. There aren’t any flashy tricks or gimmicks to muddy the songs. Drenge seems to know exactly what kind of band it wants to be. Maybe it’s a sibling thing, but Drenge members Eoin and Rory Loveless hear each other through and through; they’re expert communicators and collaborators.

The listener is lured into Undertow with an eerie and almost primal introduction that leads into “Running Wild,” which tackles the fear associated with getting older, concepts that may in fact scare the twenty-something Loveless brothers. The instrumentation of the track represents this fear as well. The lead guitar seems to stalk the listener, to warn them of letting their adolescent years slip away.

In “We Can Do What We Want,” the influence of blues music is clear, but is by no means a standard blues song. Instead of slowed-down, showoff-y licks, the guitar dashes its way through, which resembles The Ramones more so than Buddy Guy. The lyrics can be quite tongue twisters, with lines like, “Balaclava on my boyfriend’s head, like he said/We’ve got to get away from living like the way we’ve been bred/Won’t know what’s hit them like a bat on the back of the head,” which Loveless sings without a breath in between.

The guitars, vocals, and drums seem to be racing each other to be faster and louder. Still, they complement each other and the song’s theme of not giving a fuck.

Drenge recruited producer Ross Orton for Undertow, and compared to Drenge’s debut album, the production quality is like day and night. Instead of sounding like separate entities, all the elements of Drenge’s songs now feel like fully thought out ideas, where all the instruments agree with one another. One issue Orton wasn’t able to work through is properly mixing the vocals. They are often masked by the sometimes too powerful guitars, and the effects utilized can be overused, which is a shame seeing as the elder Loveless’ vocals are sharp and unparalleled. Regardless, Undertow is a step forward for Drenge.

It’s hard not to notice the incredible drumming on Undertow, especially in songs like “Standing in the Cold” and “Side By Side.” The younger Loveless is certainly a knowledgeable and skilled drummer. His work ethic is obvious; he’s one of those musicians that practices for hours everyday. Loveless’ writing is engaging and unpredictable, and his tone is solid and defined. In a world of bland drumming, with drummers like John Bonham and Keith Moon far from recent memory, it is refreshing to see someone like Loveless, a young and ambitious musician, challenge his peers.

Undertow will surely be the factor that launches a very long and victorious career for Drenge. It’s a killer album with simplistic and natural qualities that are sometimes hard to find in the midst of samples, electronic drums, and Pro-Tooled-to-hell radio rock. The band has already played Letterman and are booked up with European tour dates for the spring. Drenge has some mighty good prospects on its horizon.

Drenge – Undertow tracklist:

  1. “Introduction”
  2. “Running Wild”
  3. “Never Awake”
  4. “We Can Do What We Want”
  5. “Favourite Son”
  6. “The Snake”
  7. “Side By Side”
  8. “The Woods”
  9. “Undertow”
  10. “Standing In The Cold”
  11. “Have You Forgotten My Name?”
Album-art-for-New-Glow-by-Matt-and-Kim Matt and Kim – New Glow

★★★★☆

Matt and Kim combines the talents of keyboardist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino, who came together in 2004 to create an indie-pop band that borrows elements from hip-hop and electronic music, creating a sound all its own.

The band’s new album, New Glow, doesn’t disappoint. With a host of danceable songs and summertime jams featuring lighthearted lyrics and stimulating beats, Johnson and Schifino have produced a fourth album that will hook listeners to dance along and never stop listening.

“Hey Now” kicks the album off with a burst of sound, signaling the immediate desire to dance. Prominent horns and repetitive back-up vocals, along with clapping during the chorus, make for an upbeat and lively track, likely to be a popular party song. Mixing a clear rimshot beat with occasional electronic elements, it’s the type of melody that’s easy to get addicted to. The energetic tune of the song supports the optimistic lyrics about a frustrating, yet loyal relationship. “Sometimes you make me loose my mind,” Johnson sings, “But if you died, I’d die right by your side.” The song, while louder in nature, harkens back to the catchiness of the band’s popular song “Daylight” from its 2012 album Lightning. Its captivating quality overshadows the album’s other songs, which aren’t quite as lively.

Johnson and Schifino have often focused on the highlights of their youth—going out, having fun, and being reckless—in their songwriting.

The duo brings that theme back on New Glow with instrumentals that are different enough to sound fresh, but clearly express Matt and Kim’s signature sound. The upbeat tempos and mixture of sounds emphasize the band’s love of partying. In “Can You Blame Me,” a bright, flutelike sound weaves in and out, creating a surprisingly spirited sound. The sound of the album echoes that of fellow indie-poppers Passion Pit, while remaining true to its hip-hop influence, similar to the experimental nature of Sleigh Bells.

The track “Hoodie On” follows that hip-hop vibe, except this time the band is pointing to the culture and perhaps poking fun at it. With a solid downbeat and plenty of electronic noises, the lyrics will prompt smiles. “I don’t dress up for much, just a hoodie on/I look like a king with a hoodie on/You can’t do much; it goes on and on/I wrote this song with a hoodie on,” Johnson sings. The beat and exaggerated lyrics contrast to create a clever song about a culture the band loves. While it’s more hard-hitting than “Can You Blame Me,” listeners really get a feel for the band’s different musical inspirations.

New Glow follows the footsteps of Matt and Kim’s other albums with its danceable beats, infectious tunes, and lyrics about being young and living life to the fullest.

Schifino and Johnson have made it clear that they have fun with their music and want listeners to have fun, too. The duo has created a boisterous new album that will likely make listeners want to follow the advice of the album and party all night long.

Matt and Kim – New Glow tracklist:

  1. “Hey Now”
  2. “Stirred Up”
  3. “Can You Blame Me”
  4. “Hoodie On”
  5. “Make a Mess”
  6. “Killin Me”
  7. “World is Ending”
  8. “Get It”
  9. “Not Alone”
  10. “I See Ya”
Album-art-for-Ivy-Tripp-by-Waxahatchee Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

★★★★☆

Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee, a lo-fi pop, Tumblr-darling from Alabama, whose curious name is after a creek adjacent to her hometown. From her whispered, sleeper hit American Weekend, to the gripping and emotional narrative of Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield knows how to tell a story.

Ivy Tripp is Crutchfield’s third Waxahatchee album, and is based off a term she invented to substitute for a lack of direction. She no longer feels timid and hesitant—Ivy Tripp is a celebration of confidence, acceptance, and the process of moving on; the album’s crisp sound helps add to her optimistic clarity and happy atmosphere.

In a press release, Crutchfield said, “[Ivy Tripp is] just being cognizant in moments of deep confusion or sadness, and learning to really feel emotions and grow from that.”

The record opens with the song “Breathless,” showcasing Crutchfield’s adept ability at composing solemn, self-critical songs. The keyboard, perhaps, is an homage to the lo-fi heartbreaker “Noccalua” from American Weekend. The distinction between the two is that now Crutchfield has perfected the studio-polished sound of her own music.

Cerulean Salt felt a little uneasy in its production and sound; it removed the personal feel that made Waxahatchee’s music vulnerable. Some musicians make the mistake of allowing grainy, amateur recording to become a part of their musical aesthetic. Waxahatchee tip-toed around this point, choosing to step back and perfect the individual sound before moving forward. “Breathless” demonstrates the return to more reflective, intimate pieces that Crutchfield does best.

Ivy Tripp is a fully realized version of Waxahatchee. The polished, shiny facets represent the parts of Crutchfield’s personality that have grown and changed over time.

Crutchfield has a talent for capturing the hesitant, tentative quality sometimes present throughout our 20s. Ivy Tripp sounds like an uncertain graduate feeling empty without classes to attend, a community college bound high schooler watching distant classmates move onto prestigious universities, or a bratty toddler running away from home for the first time. Trial and repeated error is a major theme of Crutchfield’s music.

An album about failure is expected to be downcast. Other online-famous bands such as Pill Friends, Starry Cat, and Crutchfield’s former project P.S. Eliot, perfected bummer-pop. On the Internet, especially in this Tumblr subgenre, it is expected that sad people make even sadder music. However, Crutchfield manages to convey the same bleak emotions felt while creating upbeat, introspective pop music. It’s innovative and new—Waxahatchee discusses the darkest subjects with a joyous sound.

Confidence develops internally and organically—it can’t be spurred by any particular moment or person. Regardless, there are moments when someone might reach out to us and we allow ourselves to be feel better. Flaws are what make us sympathetic, relatable, and ultimately, lovable. Ivy Tripp is like a warm cup of tea, a cigarette, or a warm hug from a friend; Crutchfield can’t immediately make listeners feel better, but with Ivy Tripp, she will give it her best shot.

Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp tracklist:

  1. “Breathless”
  2. “Under a Rock”
  3. “Poison”
  4. “La Loose”
  5. “Stale by Noon”
  6. “The Dirt”
  7. “Blue”
  8. “Air”
  9. “<“
  10. “Grey Hair”
  11. “Summer of Love”
  12. “Half Moon”
  13. “Bonfire”