The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.
Kesha’s new LP and the Downtown Boys’ first major-label album arrive this week…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK (SORT OF): You – Dodie
I’m cheating with this; I’ll admit that. You is most decidedly an EP, and barely cracks a quarter of an hour, despite spanning six tracks (for comparison, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here has five). But, frankly, I needed this EP after a two-week long dry spell. Last week brought no exciting releases, and the week previous proved a colossal disappointment, for the most part. This week was no different, and so it’s with joy that I welcome Dodie’s second EP, an understated collection bursting with potential.
I don’t like to use the word ‘aesthetic’ very much. The appropriation of the term by YouTube personalities and young hipsters has rendered it cloying to even read. But Dodie Clark’s control, and more importantly, her definition, of her particular ‘aesthetic’ is admirable, especially considering how young her music is (and, indeed, feels). She slips comfortably into her sound, whether she’s cheekily aping the indie-folk sound (‘In the Middle’, ‘You’) or swimming in more atmospheric waters (‘Secret for the Mad’, ‘6/10’).
‘Comfort’ might just as readily be used in criticism levelled at the EP: Clark barely steps out of her comfort zone into more tantalising areas (which, as a testament to her skill as a songwriter, she seems perfectly capable of doing). Indeed, the most exciting prospect of the EP is that Clark made the effort to include the stunning ‘Instrumental’, a beautiful, Newsom-esque composition that sits comfortably, almost secretively, in the middle of the EP. But the winding, but nevertheless focussed, melody of ‘Secret for the Mad’ would suggest that her ear for more expansive songwriting is starting to develop. Combined with her absolute control over style, Clark’s potential is just waiting to get out. For now, You is a joyous, tight collection, subdued but ultimately rewarding.
Highlight: ‘Would You Be So Kind’
Cost of Living – Downtown Boys
Even at a seemingly economical 34 minutes, Downtown Boys’ major-label debut still feels too long for a punk album. Ideas that work across a minute’s worth of time are instead stretched to fit three, with varying results. Indeed, the most exciting moments on the album are ones where the sheer bombast of some element of the song wakes the listener up again, a quality that becomes less and less apparent as the album wears on. By the tail-end, it’s understandable if many feel numb to their familiar flavour of political punk. Ultimately, the dourness and cacophony of most of the album misses what makes opening highlight ‘A Wall’ so great, and its success has one extremely simple reason: it’s in a major key.
Highlight: ‘A Wall’
Cage Tropical – Frankie Rose
Dream-pop will forever be a pet hate of mine, given how often artists lose themselves in mopey instrumentals. It’s hard for an artist to keep the focus on their voices, and everything folds in on itself in a sea of reverb-soaked instrumentals. For the first half of Cage Tropical, this much is true, with the exception of uptempo ‘Trouble’. On the second half, Frankie Rose at least finds some fizz and cuts through her instrumentals with faster tempos (always a winner with this kind of sound) and some harsher vocal performances.
Highlight: ‘Game to Play’
Rainbow – Kesha
Kesha’s comeback album receives the ‘comeback’ label not because of a particularly long hiatus, but because of what has surrounded her since her previous effort. Embroiled in a lawsuit against her former producer Dr Luke, wherein she alleged assault on his part, returning with anything resembling her pedestrian electro-pop sound might well have been a futile effort on her part. What we do get, however, is a competent, ballsy album that casually genre-hops to an almost infuriating degree. Between sombre numbers (‘Praying’, ‘Bastards’, ‘Finding You’, all of which lie at various points on a spectrum of successful songwriting), she hits country (‘Hunt You Down’) and some crunching rock music (‘Boogie Feet’, ‘Let ‘Em Talk’), but lets the album sag a little in the middle. It feels slightly indulgent at 14 tracks, and is noticeably less interesting the closer to the middle the record is. That, coupled with the suffocating, compressed production, dashes this album’s chances at feeling like a genuine milestone for her, but the lasting feeling is one of genuine delight at Kesha’s spirit, if nothing else.
DUD OF THE WEEK: Popular Manipulations – The Districts
It’s so dispiriting when an exciting, upcoming artist throws away something that really meant a lot within their sound. For The Districts, Rob Grote’s gravelled voice, aged beyond his own years, was part-and-parcel of the group’s sepia-toned garage Americana, thrown away on their new LP to be replaced by a New Romantic, Brandon Flowers-esque croon. Quite simply, it doesn’t work, even when the music (‘Salt’) has a glossy strut to it that seems, on paper, to fit the aesthetics of the frontman.
Elsewhere, the relationship between music and lyrics is just as strained. Aside from the overblown production (again, not staying true to their earlier work), the dynamic song structures, interesting though they may be, become cancelled out when mashed together with the kind of repetitive lyrical structures employed here. Grote favours recurrence in his prose, and the album suffers as a result (how many times can one chorus-verse combination be used again and again?).