In any conversation about new music that I am listening to, I am often asked “Is it any good?” So having expanded my horizons on this blog, I’ve decided to answer that question by reviewing four new albums released every month that interest or intrigue me, by listening to them from start to finish at least twice. Then I will write-up a short paragraph or two about the album and artist. A quick music review will be exactly that, I don’t have the patience to write a long format informed impression. My hope is to at least give you an inkling as to whether or not you might like to explore it further yourself. Enjoy.
Black Satellite are duo Larissa Vale and Kyle Hawken and I recently compared them to aspects of Garbage’s crossover heavy sound. So if you’re into alternative rock or even metal, Black Satellite’s amazing debut album Endless is for you. It is aggressive and innovative. In a word, I’m stunned. It’s like they brought their showsmanship from their live shows to the studio, refined it and truly captured the moment on this album.
With a little digging, I soon discovered these New York native’s alternative rock roots run deep and also extend across influences from Alice in Chains to Yo-Yo Ma. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear vocalist Larissa Vale’s voice soar skyward with conviction and Kyle Hawken’s brilliant guitar riffs saturate every track on Endless. If I sound like a giddy teenager its because I really believe Larissa’s and Kyle’s unique sound and songwriting have hit all the right notes here. The album grabs your attention quite early, in fact its opening track Affliction builds and boils over to what we can expect from the rest of the album. Blind and Valkyrie are strong standouts, but my favourite tracks are My Resolve and Calamity. The album’s most surprising song is Still I Remember, an example of the absolute trust and rapport Vale and Hawken’s have with each other as collaborators, an accumulation of six years of some of their most honest and difficult experiences.
Lana Del Rey
Lust For Life (Interscope Records)
This month one of the most anticipated album of this year (alongside Lorde’s Melodrama) has come to fruition with the release of Lust For Life. Del Rey has been baiting us for the last few months with a sneak peak at what was in store come July with her first single Love, a departure of the doom and gloom of ill-fated romance, tragedy and betrayal in her previous singles. She quickly followed up with what would be the title track’s single Lust for Life and we even got a sneak peek at songs such as Summer Bummer and Coachella-Woodstock In My Mind. Just these songs alone told us we were in store for a very different album, one filled with more light rather than the darker tones of Born to Die (2012) and Ultraviolence (2014).
A day or so before its official release, someone illegally leaked her album online to her disgust. Lana Del Rey reacted on Twitter in true Del Rey style targeting the offender. (The illegal upload was quickly removed without too much damage.) Del Rey had every reason to be protective of this body of work because Lust For Life might actually be her best release to date. With a slight shift away from the melancholy of her previous releases, Del Rey offers us what many critics are calling ‘purposeful pop’, peppered with social commentary, and an affirmation of basic human values which include love.
I have to put up my hand here by saying I am a full-fledged supporter of Del Rey going back to her rocky start when it seemed every critic loved to hate her, especially after her purported disastrous Saturday Night Live performance of Video Games in 2012. That said, Lust for Life is worthwhile for any new listener to buy into Del Rey’s world of escapism. Staying true to herself, each songs still contain the breathy vocal style I have come to love about her. Furthermore she stays true to the stylistic consistency and atmospheric approach to her previous releases. With enough standout material here on an album 16 tracks long, I am still mesmerized by Love, but I have embraced In My Feelings and Get Free as my favourite tracks (so far).
Something To Tell You (Columbia Records)
Looking at the shelve notes of Days Are Gone (2013) and now their brand new sophomore album, I’ve noticed that the Haim sisters have collaborated once again with their primary producer Ariel Rechtshaid and created a near exact copy of their debut album with just enough new bling to keep you interested. Four years in between albums hasn’t diminished Haim’s enthusiasm or abilities. In fact, Something To Tell You, maybe a little more superior than their debut, which by the way spawned six singles and brought the girls instant fame, but its definitely not ground-breaking. It still has that 80’s and 90’s vibe and their preference for playing pop rock (soft rock), which I don’t mind but I wont be going out of my way to crank up the volume. I can easily do that with Black Satellite’s Endless.
I really like Haim but I do hope I don’t tire of them. Maybe for next time, I’d like to dare Haim to record something outside their comfort zone and embrace an edgier scratchy sound. It’s definitely not beyond them. After all they’re not afraid of incorporating varying musical influences like R&B in their studio sound. Nonetheless, there is a lot that I like about Something To Tell You, even if they are exploring break-up theme songs, which seem like a dim a dozen at the moment. But it is the harmonies of this sister act is what everyone (I assume) loves about them, especially lead vocalist, guitarist Danielle’s infectious voice.
Low Blows (EMI)
Songwriting as a form of therapy is how Meg Mac deals with her emotions. She seems to let it all out, whether it is behind the keys of her piano or in front of a microphone. I am reminded of the genius that is Fiona Apple when I listen to Meg Mac. Like Fiona Apple, Meg Mac appears to have an old soul and deft touch for songwriting as a cathartic release. “A lot of the songs are very personal to me or from my point of view and about how I feel…If I’m struggling with something, or feeling something strongly, I’ll write about it.”
Oddly, Low Blows isn’t an album for everyone. I wouldn’t say it is an acquired taste, but it feels and sounds like soul and pop gospel album with elements of alternative R&B. Built around the piano and her incredible voice, Meg Mac’s debut album is nonetheless thrilling to listen to. Interesting there are a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that help heighten the drama that unfolds, something intentionally thought out by this clever Melbourne based soulstress. The albums title track Low Blows, Grace Gold and Brooklyn Apartments are my pick as standouts.
Photo Credit: The header image is a collage of all four albums that I have reviewed above. They are courtesy of Black Satellite, Interscope Records, Columbia Records and EMI. I make use of them under the rationale of fair use because no free equivalent seems to exist and they serve as the primary means of visual identification at the top of my article dedicated to the reviews in question. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip embedded here.