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Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 2

31 Dec

There are few double-whammies quite like the one that Foals dealt us this year. They released a career-defining album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 1, in March of this year. The conspicuous “Pt 1” in the title left many wondering when the next part would be released. Little did we know that it would be a mere seven months later, with October’s Everything Not Saved Will be Lost Pt 2.

If Pt 1 produced fantastic hits like “Exits” and “Café d’Athens”, Pt 2 takes it one step further. Here, practically every song is a bonafide hit. The album opens with an atmospheric, one-minute intro called “Red Desert” – a palette of echoing synths that conjures up a mystical Marrakesh adventure, perhaps. But the atmospherics immediately segue into Foals’ best song of the year, “The Runner”. Heady, heavy and more than a little apocalyptic, “The Runner” is probably the best arena rock this year – with a killer chorus to boot (“When I, when I fall down, fall down / then I know to keep on running”).

Rather than just being the star of the first half, “The Runner” is actually the first of four absolute beastly tracks. “Wash Off”, is a powerhouse of drums and guitars that goes from frenetic to downright crazy – before all the layers convalesce into a blissful 30-second ending. “Black Bull” is a maddening, murky blitz that lends total credence to the song title (also: see music video). And finally, “Like Lightning” is almost reminiscent of the Black Keys, with Dan Auerbach-esque vocals and a sluggish, bluesy feel – but a banger nonetheless.

It’s not until the slower-paced “Dreaming Of” that the listener is allowed to catch her breath. After the brief piano interlude (“Ikaria”), we are led into the final stretch of the album, and that’s when things really pick up to an unexpected level.

10,000 Feet” is a dramatic, rock-opera version of the myth of Icarus. “Into the Surf” is a dreamy track that highlights Yannis Philippakis’ vocals and a spindly piano. But Foals have saved the best for last, with the complete masterpiece of an album closer, “Neptune”.

At ten minutes and eighteen seconds, “Neptune” is no radio-friendly hit (unlike most of the rest of the album). From start to finish, it’s Technicolor, multi-faceted and visceral; the swansong at the end of the apocalypse just as humanity finally perishes in an arduous battle. There are simply too many elements of the song to describe in words – you have to hear it with your own two ears – but we’d like to highlight in particular the driving bassline and Philippakis’ vivid vocals.

You may notice that, in the course of this review, we didn’t focus too much on the lyrics. That’s not to say that they are not important or well-written; they are both of these things. It’s just that the force of the instrumentals on this album outweighs everything else.

As Foals themselves have stated, Everything Not Saved Will Not Be Lost is two-piece locket. The two albums, when considered together, paint a picture of a Mad Max-style apocalypse: broken, wild but exciting in its own way. Both albums are great, but it’s with Pt 2 that Foals really stick their landing. And for that reason, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 2 is probably their best album so far – and maybe even one of the best albums of the year.

Lizzo – Cuz I Love You

31 Dec

We have to admit: we kind of slept on Lizzo until early this year. The pop powerhouse – born Melissa Jefferson, stage name Lizzo – has been active for a few years already. Her first two albums, Lizzobangers (2013) and Big Grrl Small World (2015), were followed by a well-received EP entitled Coconut Oil (2016). But it was this year’s album, Cuz I Love You (2019), that broke Lizzo into the mainstream – and thankfully into our playlists.

Eagle-eyed readers will be aware that Lizzo first caught our ears with her lead single “Juice”, just around the time that an interview with Ellen brought her international attention. Happily, though, despite its irresistible beat and playful lyrics, “Juice” isn’t the only great track on the album – far from it, in fact.

At her essence, Lizzo is self-confidence in all aspects – personality, body, relationships and so on. And it’s when that self-confidence takes center-stage on Cuz I Love You that the singer really shines.

Take, for example, “Tempo”, an excellent collaboration with living legend Missy Elliott. “Slow songs, they for skinny hos / Can’t move all of this here to one of those / I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo” the duo declare. Sure, it’s an anthem for body positivity, but don’t overlook the killer beat or Missy’s seamless inclusion. “Exactly How I Feel”, her collab with Gucci Mane, showcases the wholesomeness of her positivity over funky, bouncy beats. “Can’t hold back my tears, that would be a crime / ‘Cause I look pretty cryin’, oh, they ain’t tell you?” she sings in her glass-busting voice, and ironically you can’t help smiling along.

But there are of course more layers to Lizzo. On the eponymous opening track, she talks about a man that she can’t quite forget: a memory that shatters her otherwise perfect poise. “Got me standing in the rain, gotta get my hair pressed again / I would do it for you all, my friend, ready baby? Will you be my man?” she wonders, before breaking out into an earth-shattering, introspective wail: “I’m crying ‘cause I love you”.

If there’s one negative to this album, it’s that it is too short yet not tight enough. There are some flatter songs on the album, which naturally stand out on the short ~34 min runtime. On the whole, though, Cuz I Love You is a great entry into the annals of this decade’s pop music. Lizzo is on her way to becoming a pop star (Doing SNL! Those red-carpet looks! Twitter friendship with Obama!) and there’s so much more that we can expect from her in the future.

Burna Boy – African Giant

23 Dec

This is undoubtedly the catchiest album that I’ve heard all year. Burna Boy just has that ear for it that you cannot replicate. This is an album that puts you in undeniable motion.

The combination of African sounds and the Nigerian patois that run through it mix cleanly with the just-as-prominent modern pop and rap sounds to make something at once of the future and deeply connected to its roots.

In particular, “Anybody” and “Wetin Man Go Do” pull all of the pieces together perfectly. It’s a sound that’s excitingly novel in all that it brings to the table and again, it’s just very catchy.

It’s a fun album. “Killin Dem” is compulsive and “Omo” is infectious. This is, more than anything, the reason to try it out. “Secret” has the kind of chorus that sticks in your ears long after you’ve pressed pause.

It is hopefully also the sign of Burna Boy’s emergence. This is an album with impressive features. Unfortunately, neither Future nor YG show up that well. Both are just out of place on this and that dissonance is hard to break from. Jorja Smith is excellent though. “Gum Body” has a great verse from her as well as a stand-out chorus and an absolutely wonderful little sax lick in the middle. Similarly, “Secret” has a fantastic chorus and the features help an already great track stand out.

The album does lose pace somewhere around the middle and a few sounds drag for too long, but this is still the most enjoyable album that I’ve heard all year. Also, it has a fascinating aside about colonialism in Nigeria and that kind of thing automatically bumps an album up a rung.

Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel

23 Dec

Fontaines D.C. are a punk band from Dublin, Ireland, whose five members met over a common love for Irish poets. On their debut album, Dogrel, every piece of that one-sentence biography rings loud, clear and omnipresent.

Dogrel does for Dublin what the Arctic Monkeys’ debut did for Sheffield: pulling back the curtain for a laddish, working-class look at a beloved hometown. Run through Dogrel from top to bottom, and you almost feel as though you’re right there in Dublin with the boys.  

There are so many great elements to the album that it’s frankly unbelievable to think that this is a debut. The most striking element is, of course, the high-energy instruments. Fontaines D.C. never take more than a few seconds to catch the listener’s attention, whether it’s the driving riffs on “Sha Sha Sha” or the wall-of-bass on “Hurricane Laughter”.

Another stand-out element is singer Grian Chatten’s vocals, blaring out blustering one-liners (“My childhood was small / Oh, but I’m gonna be big!”) in an unmistakable, irreverent and totally unapologetic Irish accent. In many songs, it’s this phrasing itself that takes center-stage. “If you’re a Rock Star, Porn Star, Superstar / Doesn’t matter what you are, get yourself a good car, get outta here,” Chatten proclaims on “Boys in the Better Land” – every word pronounced more authentically Irish than anything you’ve ever heard.

And of course, there’s the matter of the lyrics themselves – slice-of-life, working-class beat poetry about Dublin life. On “Liberty Belle”: “You know I love that violence that you get around here / That kind of ready-steady violence, that violent ‘How do you do?’”. On “Too Real”: “The winter evening settles down, the bruised and beat up open sky, six o’clock / The city in its final dress, and now a gusty shower wraps the grimy scraps”. With Dogrel, the lads tip their hats to Yeats, Joyce et al in talking about their city – all set to cheeky punk rock. (Unsurprisingly, the album takes its name from doggerel, a jagged style of spoken-word poetry.)

Finally – and this is the most impressive one – the greatest part of Dogrel is that it is chock-full of hits from top to bottom. There are honestly decades-old bands that haven’t mastered the ability to combine authenticity, killer tunes and timeless lyrics into one package, and Fontaines D.C. did it on their first try.

Dogrel is perhaps the best debut of the year, and we highly recommend you give it a listen.

Best tracks: “Big”, “Boys in the Better Land”, “Sha Sha Sha”

Raphael Saadiq – Jimmy Lee

13 Dec

This album is not shy about its strengths. Right from the strong but sincere “Sinners Prayer” and its bluesy groove, you know that you’re getting into something good. By the time you get into the Prince-like “The World Is Drunk” and excellent neo-R&B of “Something Keeps Calling”, there’s no doubt left.

It finishes with fully the same strength. “Glory To The Veins” is the standout track with a dark, pulsating beat and Saadiq shows expert restraint with his voice here. For all of that though, it just grooves. “Rikers Island” moves well and the redux adds some needed profundity in an album which, while very heartfelt, is not quite original in its lyrics.

However, the album itself is just a little muddied. There are great moments in there, like the chorus of “Something Keeps Calling” or the little bit of playful piano in “Glory To The Veins”, but the whole fades a little easily, a fault exacerbated by the weak middle.

It’s still no doubt a very good, if not quite great, album. There are faults, but if you’re looking to see present-day R&B at its best, this is where you should start.

The Black Keys – "Let's Rock"

9 Dec

In a world dominated by global pop sensations (see: Ariana Grande, K-pop), it can often seem like rock and roll is about to doze off at the wheel. Sure, you have the occasional saviors, like Royal Blood or the more derivative Greta van Fleet, but there aren’t too many active and prolific rock and roll artists today.

Except, of course, for the Black Keys.

The Black Keys, comprising of Dan Auerbach on guitar / vocals and Patrick Carney on drums, is as lean and mean as they come. Their songs are – and have always been – loud, effortless, rollicking, and whatever-is-the-opposite-of-pretentious. They are, simply put, a good time through and through.

What’s more, this sound has largely been dependable over the band’s extensive history. The band’s first five albums – The Big Come Up (2002), thickfreakness (2003), Rubber Factory (2004), Magic Potion (2006) and Attack & Release (2008) – were released in quick succession and to moderate fanfare. But it was soon after that they really started to take off. Brothers (2010) and El Camino (2011) would top the charts of any best-of-decade blues rock albums, spawning still-ubiquitous hits such as “Tighten Up”, “Howlin’ for You” and “Lonely Boy”. While Turn Blue (2014) could be considered a slight step down, it was still a great rock album – and that’s our point. There are few, if any, other artists today with such a long-standing, consistent and beloved rock discography.

And all that back-story brings us to the ninth Black Key album “Let’s Rock!” (2019). Coming after a scary five-year gap (“Will they ever get back together?” wondered fans everywhere), the album is sturdy, no-nonsense and catchy as all hell.

It’s also, reliably, packed to the brim with top-notch bluesy hits. “Shine a Little Light” opens the album with about twenty seconds of anticipation, before kicking into high gear with a hard-hitting riff. By the time Auerbach gets to the swashbuckling chorus (“If evil lays its hands on me, shine a little light on my soul / Show me things I cannot see, shine a little light on my soul”), you know what you’re getting for the rest of the album – good old-fashioned rock and roll fun.

And it’s pretty much non-stop from there. “Eagle Birds” is bluesy perfection, equally appropriate for an exuberant road-trip or a raucous dance party. “Lo / Hi” could, and probably will, soundtrack an advertisement for a Cadillac, or a leather jacket, or a motorcycle (or maybe all of those things) – pure swagger and confidence from head to toe. “Go” is an instant rock classic, with a single-word chorus (yep, the word is “go”) that perhaps no other band could really pull off.

In between these hard-rock hits, a few songs provide some welcome contrast. “Walk Across the Water” features gentler vocals with laidback, Hendrix-like riffs – a catch of breath in the otherwise relentless first half. “Sit Around and Miss You” is rockabilly meets Revolver-era Beatles, with warm riffs, old-timey “oohs” and “aahs”, and simple-as-they-get vocals.

Bottom line: “Let’s Rock” is straightforward, old-fashioned, and just plain fun. If you’re looking for something deep or ground-breaking, you’d best look elsewhere. If not – you’re in the right place.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

8 Dec

It’s immediately apparent that this is the album after the death of Nick Cave’s son. The melancholy is beautiful and everywhere. It’s much more of an ambient album than is standard for him and, if anything, benefits from the move outside. It does however also suffer a little from what becomes a slightly unvarying sound as a result though.

However, the grief comes through poignantly throughout. In particular, the retelling of the Buddhist parable of the house that knows no death in “Hollywood” is heart-rending. It’s a touching, beautiful album and one that you will not leave unmoved.

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