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.
The National make their return…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Okovi – Zola Jesus
Zola Jesus’ new album is stunning. For a start, her breathtaking control over her sound, which often sounds like she’s using mere tools of the studio to battle nothing less than the elements themselves, sounds even more assured than Ahnoni’s similarly primordial Hopelessness from last year. Indeed, much of her lyricism seems to be concerned with basal materials: blood, ash, water. Even more interesting is the fundamentally uplifting sentiment of the same lyrics, encouraging self-love, perseverance and optimism, even in dark personal turmoil. ‘Siphon’ acts as a motivational intervention in the thought process of a suicide, whilst ‘Exhumed’ pleads that you ‘don’t let it hold you down’.
But it’s the voice that stands proud above all else. Like an operatic songstress atop Mt. Sinai, Zola Jesus finds magnificence in her beautiful wail, and comes into her own as a true artist. Shaping her voice around the beautiful arrangements, she makes certain that every spectral moment on Okovi cuts deep. Verily, she succeeds.
Antisocalites – Alvvays
It seems to be becoming increasingly difficult in indie rock to write songs that actually jump out at you. Alvvays have proved that a melody still has the power to jump out and violently hug you whilst you playfully scramble to catch your breath. Indeed, breathless is a good way to describe the wistful 33-minute runtime of Antisocialites, which packs a tremendous amount of energy into its tight space, both musically and lyrically: heartbreak and resignation to a burnout have never sounded so excitable.
Highlight: ‘Lollipop (Ode to Jim)’
Sleep Well Beast – The National
Their twitchiest album yet, and a much grittier affair than their dreamy, liquidated Trouble Will Find Me, Sleep Well Beast finds The National still doing what they do best. Although it’s arguable that this is the weakest of their albums since the early stretch of their career (largely down to Matt Berninger’s much less complex lyrical fascinations), the group’s penchant for finding new avenues within their songs seemingly mid-performance is undiluted here. Feverish with quiet agitation and anxious production choices, Beast finds the group as uneasy as ever, and the album is a work less of extended dread than immediate unrest. Is it a mental discord or a sociological uneasiness? Possibly more likely is that Berninger is drawing parallels between the two, although this is not made abundantly clear in his opaque lyrics.
Perhaps the largest drawback of the album is the dampening of drummer Bryan Devendorf’s raw talent; the album’s percussion is either far more straightforward (the clattering ‘Turtleneck’) or electronic and chilly, meaning that his breathless, precise stick work is placed on the back burner, leaving the energy at the door in places.
Highlight: ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’
DUD OF THE WEEK: Mountain Moves – Deerhoof
I have to admit that experimental pop is rarely my thing when it leans heavily towards the experimental side: I think it’s far better to make pop songs that sound weird and unexpected than to simply twist shapes and sounds and see what happens. Precisely the latter seems to have happened here, with Deerhoof’s directionless mess, Mountain Moves.
It should be a bracing exercise, and it sometimes is: the combination of spindly pop and zany noise is intermittently interesting, if not particularly gripping. The album’s best moments, though, are where it truly focusses on one particular songwriting strain and sticks with it, allowing for a more controlled malleability in the sound. Album highlight ‘Ay That’s Me’ is a perfect example, a lithe pop song that sticks and immediately jumps out amongst a muddy tracklist.
Highlight: ‘Ay That’s Me’