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.
Here come the girls: Ibeyi release their sophomore LP, Wolf Alice come screaming back to life, and Miley Cyrus and Shania Twain prove they have more in common than people know…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Relatives in Descent – Protomartyr
This isn’t contrived anger or manufactured outrage: this is sharp, biting critique dressed in its finest post-punk attire. We seem far too quick to label any angry music from the past 8 months as some sort of attack on Trump’s America; conversely, it seems many artists are finding it too easy to feign rage to sell records. But Protomartyr are the real deal, and not just because they are infinitely smarter than most artists trying to tackle the clockwork orange in the White House – it’s because they resist making the context too specific.
Relatives in Descent is about far more than just the current balance of power: it’s about the balance of power as it has been for decades. It’s about older generations leaving behind broken worlds for their children (‘My Children’), the hyper-holisticism of society’s intersecting pathways (‘Half Sister’), the dangers of toxic masculinity (‘Male Plague’) and the anxieties created by small groups of people sitting in rooms deciding our futures (‘Up the Tower’). The reason that works is because those fears are universal, and span as far back as societal angst itself.
The group’s sound is just as unfaltering, playing on the noise rock work of Iceage with a similar understanding of the power in fusing experimentalism with achingly melancholy pop structures. The only difference is that those two ideas are married so closely here that they seem intertwined. On the deeply sad ‘Night-Blooming Cereus’, woozy synths sit amongst a depressing soundscape of spare guitars and Joe Casey’s droning voice, and ‘Don’t Go To Anacita’, whilst bracing and breathless, uses markedly world-weary chord inversions that continue the melancholy suggested across the record.
Highlight: ‘Windsor Hum’
Younger Now – Miley Cyrus
The wholesomeness of Cyrus’ new image is to be admired, as is the sincerity of the material on this record (if, indeed, it is sincere and not just some cynical rebrand). But it’s hard to deny that Younger Now is also spineless as a result. It doesn’t help, of course, that Miley Cyrus voice has about the gentleness of a backfiring tractor when heaped onto the kind of milquetoast country-pop that pervades Younger Now, but the songwriting itself has an almost offensive dullness.
I say ‘almost’ because, of course, it’s not a maliciously bad album. It is, by its very nature, nondescript. It’s like a child making up a song about mud: of course it’s bad, but it’s harmless too, and it was never going to be good anyway.
Now – Shania Twain
I won’t lie by saying I didn’t enjoy huge stretches of Shania Twain’s admittedly, and probably deliberately, dramatic comeback album. The opening set of tracks felt like a slog, but once Twain learns to let go of the seriousness of those first few songs, particularly on the more heavily genre-influenced ‘Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl’ and ‘More Fun’, everything becomes… well, more fun.
Highlight: ‘Let’s Kiss and Make Up’
Visions of a Life – Wolf Alice
Far too often on Visions of a Life, Wolf Alice find themselves stuck in a rut. What made them feel so revolutionary on My Love Is Cool was the diversity of their material, ranging from that animalistic alternative sound to a more tender pop side, all under the glittery umbrella of being ‘the others’, the ‘them’, the ‘they’. On their second album, they simply resort to shock tactics: seemingly sending a song one direction then flying off the tracks in another, too harshly using a quiet-loud dynamic, and sacrificing attention to craft for anything that gels together well. Moments of inspiration fly through the albums narrow purview, but it’s an uneven affair.
DUD OF THE WEEK: Ash – Ibeyi
Through a garbled narrative echoing into the hollow remains of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Ibeyi’s Ash ends up being a series of sonic mistakes and thematic failings. The sister duo’s hokey reliance on autotune, which they make no point in hiding, simply distracts from any substance in their vocal performances, and their sense of texture extends mainly to cheap synth sounds that remind the listener of the last time their pipes started playing up.
Equally sad is how much this misshapen sonic disaster muffles what could have been a better album, although the lyrical content actually here doesn’t exactly do the themes any favours either. The duo sample Michelle Obama’s speech on women in America on ‘No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms’, but to what end? In place of real explorations of female empowerment comes empty platitudes on beauty in nature that hints at themes better examined in other feminist pieces.
Highlight: ‘I Wanna Be Like You’