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.
Arcade Fire and Passion Pit, both 00’s indie darlings, make their returns, whilst freshfaced new artist Declan McKenna offers up his debut…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Tremendous Sea of Love – Passion Pit
More clearly now than ever before, Passion Pit is the work of a singular mind, harnessed for personal ends here in a way that sometimes feels genuinely overwhelming. On the album’s stunning centrepiece, ‘Somewhere Up There’, Michael Angelakos, attempts to put into song the feeling of a panic attack (in three movements, no less!) and the result is beguiling, and quite beautiful. Yet, knowing the underlying subtext of the composition brings into focus the simmering paranoia beneath the surface, ever-present but only creeping in the distance. Elsewhere, the compositional side to Angelakos is given even more freedom, particularly with the instrumentals in the title track and (most of) ‘For Sondra (It Means the World to Me)’, both of which are fragile, but have a strong, beating heart beneath them.
Perhaps the main criticism of the record is that in the poppier moments, particularly on ‘Hey K’, the mixing sometimes takes away from the impact of the songwriting, simply because a balance is not struck by the mixing engineer that accommodates the busy-ness of the instrumentals. That being said, it’s also quite invigorating sometimes for there to be an unhinged chaos to the fizzing synths and percussion, and one that makes this another extremely enjoyable work from Passion Pit.
Highlight: ‘Somewhere Up There’
What Do You Think About the Car? – Declan McKenna
It’s pretty impressive how clear-cut McKenna’s identity is as a songwriter already, considering that he’s actually a month younger than I am at 18 years old. But, speaking as a fellow 18-year-old, I can honestly say there’s little about McKenna’s new album that specifically speaks to my experiences. There are some amusing barbs to some entitled adversaries of his, imitating the witty style of early Alex Turner. But, coupled with the ragged indie-pop sound that clicks so well with the current British zeitgeist that it sounds like anyone could have made it, What Do You Think is less memorable, though perhaps more fun, than it ought to be.
A Black Mile to the Surface – Manchester Orchestra
The lyrics on Black Mile sure do mean… something. It’s hard to tell precisely how the disparate threads of grandiose poetry actually fit together, but I’m sure there is a rational explanation. Between talking about fatherhood, suicide, love and domestic horror, Andy Hull seems to be making reference to something big; it’s just not clear what. That image isn’t exactly helped by the music, enjoyable though it is: its grandeur and operatic sense of scale carries a lot of weight, but becomes laborious over 50 minutes, particularly with such poor production that makes everything murky and grotesque.
Highlight: ‘The Gold’
DUD OF THE WEEK: Everything Now – Arcade Fire
One reviewer recently commented on Everything Now by saying it was the first Arcade Fire album not to feel like a grand statement. In fact, the entire problem with the group’s fifth LP is that a grand statement is exactly what it feels like, and Arcade Fire have simply failed to deliver on it. It should be blatantly obvious from Win Butler’s heavy-handed, transparent lyricism that Everything Now deals with excess and overload (‘You want everything now’). But the complexities of their earlier work have dwindled and all-but-disappeared here: there are no anxieties or dualities in the expression of these ideas, only familiar criticisms of constantly wanting more, interspersed with some sappy and unimportant love songs that contribute nothing to the album.
All of my reservations about the musical side of Reflektor are here too, but are more consistently underwhelming and clumsy with most of the songs playing like bad Bee Gees knock-offs as covered by bad Arcade Fire knock-offs. Odd moments of inspiration then give way to repetitive, unimaginative chord structures that wouldn’t be half-bad if the melodies weren’t tailor-made to fit such awful lyrics. Arcade Fire’s fall from grace has been swift, but painful nonetheless, and this is now strike two. Strike three and… well you know the rest.
Highlight: ‘Infinite Content’ (both parts)