We’re back once again with our thirty-sixth episode of Review Rundown, and we here at EIN are excited to unleash these ten reviews for your listening and reading pleasure. Attacking synthwave to artpop, math rock to prog, this episode is sure to delight. Today we’ve got reviews for albums from ELIS NOA, Seba Kaapstad, Com Truise, Biffy Clyro, Dizzy Mystics, Papir, Narco Debut, Aaron West & the Roaring Twenties, Courtney Swain, and Maps. Let us know what you think of the artists in the comments section and please check out previous editions of Review Rundown here.
On with the show!
Biffy Clyro – Balance, Not Symmetry
Keeping a band together is hard, doing it whilst keeping the band on an upward trajectory for over two harder still. But Scotland’s Biffy Clyro have done just that. Over seven full-lengths, the band have trodden old ground, carved new paths and conquered the world cementing their legacy as British legends. That said, the band’s output of recent times has been lacking the intensity of earlier works with a noted focus on more commercialised arena rock. This isn’t a bad thing; commercial viability is the key to success on a worldwide scale.
Seemingly from nowhere, the Scots announced the release of their latest offering Balance, Not Symmetry, a soundtrack for an as of yet unreleased movie of the same name. Whilst we’d only be guessing on the compatibility of this soundtrack within confines the movie at this point, the album itself is impressive. Featuring some of the most expressively emotive works from the band to date. This collection of tracks ranges from the experimentally intense title track to the deeply existential “Fever Dream”. Balance, Not Symmetry soundtracks some of the most deeply human stages of grief as we come to terms with the loss of a loved one. It’s not an easy undertaking but the band have nailed it, and then some.
Despite seeing the brilliant band name scattered around the internet, I’d never taken the plunge on Com Truise. The time is now and Persuasion System would be a leap of faith into a world of analogue synths, pulsing beats, and hypnotising electronics. Synthwave is all the rage right now and those bedroom projects are everywhere. They flick between 80s emulations, modernistic futurescapes, and forced nostalgia trips that border on the tedious.
Fortunately for Com Truise none of these things are true, Persuasion System is something else. Whilst the tones on show here are recognisable the compositions here are fresh. The pulsing beats have an air of lamentation bolstered by the waves of texture that serve to fatten up these songs. The melancholic vibe of “Gaussian” is crushing, tides of swelling synths underpinned by distant piano chimes are breathtaking. It is a shame that the intervals such as the aforementioned “Gaussian” and album closer “Departure” often pack a far more emotional punch than the main acts. There is however an air of invited self-reflection throughout this album’s 33-minute run time. Find somewhere quiet and let it envelop you – take a swim in the neon sea.
Dizzy Mystics offer folk-soaked progressive math rock with Wanderlost. These guys have taken the math rock sound and given it a bit of a Canadiana vibe. Adding in some mandolin and acoustic percussive instruments gives the sound a whole other style. The songs are catchy and super fun with hooks galore!
To me, Wanderlost sounds like Fall of Troy or Protest the Hero with added folk elements minus the harsh vocals. I could be way off, but that’s where my brain goes. My favourite aspect of Dizzy Mystics is the fact that every song is just teeming with character. They have a distinct sound to them meaning they are neither bland nor generic.
Stand out tracks to me are “Shindigjig” and “Wanderlost”. The first of the two gets the album off to a catchy upbeat start while the latter gives a long-winded journey to see us out. The title track really shows off their prog rock chops with the dizzying (see what I did there?!) instrumentation blended with technicality within.
Definitely give this record a spin or two. This is not just my bias towards my Canadian folk either!
That bass and those drums though! The shining stars on VI are for sure the rhythm section. Which is not to say that the guitars and soundscapes are bad or anything because they are far from that. But from the way these songs were crafted, it’s the other two instruments that are holding down the fort.
As a fellow player of the bass, I tend to gravitate towards a band with a solid low section. Papir offers songs that are built from the bass and drums up. The guitars do their thing on top of the structure and what they do is bring an already amazing song to a point near perfection. VI has only four tracks and they are groove filled, post-rock-laden, jam band jamming songs. Each experience starts off low and slow, building in intensity over time.
Each song is named by its appropriate Roman numeration. The tracks which caress my ear holes the best are “VI.II” and “VI.IV”. These average around the ten-minute mark, giving them a lot of time to groove, grow in intensity, and show off their technical chops.
If you’re in the mood for some instrumental goodness then look no further than Papir’s VI. It’s 40 minutes well spent.
I have a question for you, reader. What do you get if you take the ‘tried-and-true’ swancore method, but actually do it well and don’t make it generic? The answer is Narco Debut. With their first LP, Strange & Ever-Changing Depths, they have been able to use this formula and create a fun and inviting sound that really surprised me and gave some heart-warming moments throughout.
There is more to this album than meets the ear. Yes, it has the same tropes you could expect: the high-pitched vocals, fluttery guitars, and the like. What this album does differently, however, is not only the arrangement, but the passion. I can feel it pulling my heart-strings in each track. There is real emotion, and I don’t believe it is just put there because that’s what they think should be there. It is there because it needs to be. There is more nuance instead of just trying to show off. “High Beam Composure” and “Dandelion Kid” show that less can be more. They are slightly slower tracks, yet they still have energy in them that doesn’t stray from the overall tone of the album. The vocals have a touch of Coheed and Cambria in them, which is always a win in my book.
If you, like myself, can sense the oversaturation of swancore in recent years, give this album a go. It may retain some of the same tropes, but there is much more within this album that is worthy of a listen or ten.
Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell has had a long, fun ride in the music industry. Hailing from his main outfit The Wonder Years, he wanted a departure from his pop-punk to tell a story that he felt wouldn’t fit as well within his main band. Thus, Aaron West & the Roaring Twenties was born, and it was a sad, tragic tale he told with them. Less of a band and more of an ensemble, the multi-instrument group have given us another morose yet emotional album with Routine Maintenance.
After their first album, We Don’t Have Each Other, the only way to go was up. Routine Maintenance seems to have a much more upbeat tone to it, while still maintaining some of the more heartbreaking tracks to it. “Just Sign the Papers” is a heartbreaking tale that hits home for so many people. Campbell’s rough vocals show a sign of desperation and longing that nearly brings a tear to the eye.
What makes this album so special is how in touch it is with reality and what really goes on in people’s everyday lives that most of us will never know of. While some may have been in the fictional Aaron West’s shoes, there is still a side to this story so relatable to those who have never dealt with some of the issues portrayed. This is an amazing follow-up for We Don’t Have Each Other, and one of the most emotional releases this year. Have some tissues ready.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I was very late to the game when it came to Bent Knee. I discovered them when I saw them with Leprous and Haken last winter.
When I saw that Courtney Swain from Bent Knee was releasing a solo album, I was totally excited for it. And after hearing Between Blood and Ocean a handful of times, I can confidently say that I love it! It’s a little more stripped down than Bent Knee, but that’s not a bad thing. Courtney covers all the vocal and keyboards throughout the record, but there is also bass, guitar, and drums featured as well from guest musicians.
Between Blood and Ocean is both gorgeous and playful. There are some intensely emotional moments, and then some funny and quirky spots as well. “Sweet Snow” was Swain‘s first video, which is hauntingly beautiful and a perfect example of how the record is. What really grabs me about “Snowflakes” and “Hekla” are they both build up from practically nothing and end so powerful and energetic.
Between Blood and Oceans is a must for any Bent Knee fan, or really just any fan of great music!
Let’s talk Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. We’ll get my initial review out of the way with just a simple ‘wow’. I did not know Maps existed before I grabbed this record to review and I sure am glad the music gods pushed me into choosing this. Maps is comprised of James Chapman from Northampton, that’s it. So how does this record sound so huge? Great question. First you add some real drums, then a whole lot of strings and a brass section.
James Chapman brought his crew out for his fourth record. As I was first listening, I initially got a Cigarettes After Sex vibe, so I was immediately drawn in. It was the abundance of strings and horns that kept making me feel that I can fly. I knew before even checking the credits that these weren’t synth strings or horns, and I appreciate that Chapman chose to use real instruments.
This project is way more than the electronic genre that is slapped on it. The whole record is perfect, but the strongest section is right in the middle from “Wildfire” to “Sophia”. And yes I know Maps is James Chapman’s project, but I can’t get enough of strings, horns and choir. It’s a simply beautiful journey through ten songs!
Neo-soul is absolutely alive this year, and we might have been gifted with the best of the year with Seba Kaapstad. They are similar in style to bands like Hiatus Kaiyote, yet with more focus on the instrumentation than the aforementioned, creating what I feel is a more encompassing sound. Listening on great headphones, the sound is incredibly rich; however, it works just as well when blasting it by the pool.
Seba Kaapstad released their first record Tagore’s in 2016 and began work immediately on their next album. Bringing producer and percussionist Pheel into the fold for Thina was a great choice, as you can feel so many more layers in this new album than its predecessor. The core group are joined by a host of other instrumentation to really flesh out the music.
Both albums strike a fine balance between neo-soul and experimental backing music, and the results are incredibly fresh takes on the genre, which sounds so bloody good. However, Thina sounds so much better from a production level compared to Tagore’s, and it’s so much easier to pick favourites from.
I am in love with “Don’t”, a track which flirts with purely instrumentals as much as it does the beautiful singing by Zoe Modiga. It’s written so well and features gorgeous piano and string work. The striking opening track “Thina” is an explosive way to open the album. Using two dialects through the song gives a certain gravitas to each. Later in the album, we’re also treated to guest vocalists, and the duet of the voices work perfectly. This album is a masterpiece – please spin it this summer.
Thanks to my better half, I’ve been diving into female vocalists more this last year, yet none have caught my attention like ELIS NOA. My electronic tastes vary wildly, but of most interest of late has been of the minimal variety, which the group applies in abundance. The dialled back percussion and gorgeous glitchy layers frame the vocals, highlighting their depth and range. It is another sonic journey we implore you to take on.
Hailing from Vienna, Austria, the four-piece collective are striving to push the boundaries of pop and, in my opinion, are succeeding. The simplicity, but also the delicacy of the backing music gives me the shivers, and I only have praise for the songwriting. In track two, “Into You”, which blows me away each time, the casual addition of a muted piano sound creates an effect larger than you could ever expect. Playing off of the downtempo beats and thick, synthy bass which engulfs the mix, it stands out and will stick with you.
“Good Boy” does break the mould a little more, with raucous vocals and thumping percussion driving a much more passionate song. This mix is needed, yet it leaves you wanting more songs from ELIS NOA, not quite sated with the four tracks on offer. The slew of songs the group are releasing hopefully does point towards an upcoming album, and I’d love to see them spread their wings further. Make sure to listen to their High EP on top of Love Letters too.