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.
Hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces and indie artist Waxahatchee make their return, whilst upcoming British producer Mura Masa stakes a full-length claim…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee
It’s massively uplifting to hear the progression Waxahatchee has gone through since the last album. Whereas Ivy Tripp lacked energy and grit, Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting here has both in spades, and, indeed more. For her, Out in the Storm is an emotional detox, a cleansing of a confining relationship.
She uses directness as an essential tool in her lyricism; she is fuelled by anger, but it seems to be rightly so. The subject of these songs has kept her restricted, probably without even knowing it, and as she elegantly condemns his faults, she also finds herself eventually breaking out of it. Whether or not this is a happy ending depends on ones reading of the album. Indeed, its title would suggest her being forced into the great unknown as a result of this breakup but, given the pain her other half caused her (illustrated with heartbreaking apathy), this might seem like the ultimate act of self-reconciliation.
All this sounds pretty heavy on paper, but thankfully Crutchfield embraces wistfulness. Her music is instantly more appealing with rugged indie rhythms, and she crucially doesn’t miss out on some beautiful balladry either (‘Recite Remorse’, ‘A Little More’).
Not only that, but she manages to imbue prosaic lyrical complexities with a pop joie-de-vivre (‘I got lost in your rendition of reality/All my offering/Rendered boring hyperbole’) and a vigourous desire to not be defined by the man’s actions anymore. Simple turns of phrase can break hearts (‘And I die a little more’) or reignite them (‘Does it make you feel good/To blend in with the wall?’) It’s liberating, and as a self-portrait of a woman breaking free of second-hand inhibitions, Out in the Storm cements her place as an indie rock poet of the finest calibre.
Highlight: ‘Recite Remorse’
Mura Masa – Mura Masa
As enticing as Mura Masa’s guestlist may sound, it is clear who he wants to be the star of the show. At 13 tracks long, his debut, self-titled LP is hugely suggestive of a state of self-indulgence that many modern producers find themselves in. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing: his production style is always admirable, even when the songwriting is not. The guest-less tracks feature him giving some competent vocal performances, and when the guests do seem to have a considerable influence on the songwriting (NAO’s fizzing melodic bounce on ‘Firefly’ or Desiigner’s fiendish ear for a hook on ‘All Around the World’) the tracks elevate themselves. But sometimes it can feel constricted, a rush to get to be the ‘next big thing’, with Alex Crossan lumping on pretty gross basslines and overstuffed rhythm sections.showbox apk download
Quazarz – Shabazz Palaces
DUD OF THE WEEK: Quazarz vs The Jealous Machines – On the first part of the duo’s dual release this week, there is some attempt at creating a narrative within the album, although this proves difficult when rapper Ishmael Butler applies his fundamental ideal of pure impulse to the lyricism. Certainly, there is something admirable and aesthetically interesting about his flow, brisk and twisty as it is. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually enjoy this album, since the production’s monotonous drone takes away the chance for an engaging hook or any memorable moments, save for a precious few moments on the tail-end of the album.
Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star – This is more like it; on the second part, Shabazz Palaces find a bit more life in their sound (although not so much as to take away from the smoky atmosphere on the first piece) by embracing more obvious rhythms and bringing some melodic tones to their hooks and instrumentation. Indeed, the best parts of the first half are expanded upon here, with the space-age sounds and soul/funk-influenced production serving Butler’s vocals better.
Overall – As a project, there’s a lot to be desired with the first half, and it remains depressing that the second album would have worked just as nicely on its own (originally, Born on a Gangster Star was to be the sole release). Even worse, the albums do not necessarily compliment each other. Instead Gangster Star is left to salvage the project from the arcane Jealous Machines.
Highlight: ‘Late Night Phone Calls’
It’s surprising, given the ethos of Sheer Mag’s debut, that they show so much restraint. Given that we have never been offered such respite from many other 70s revival bands currently operating, Sheer Mag’s approach to songwriting, one that puts dynamic and cohesiveness above blind crash-bang-wallop rock’n’roll. But, and this is where they share a quality with their other 70s revivalists, they wear their influences on their sleeve so readily that they begin to fade into the background when real attention isn’t paid. It’s a shame, since lead singer Tina Halliday’s performances are such genuine powerhouses of vocalising.
Highlight: ‘Rank and File’