Welcome once again to Review Rundown, where we get ten of our writers to break down an album in around 200 words so you can stuff yourself full of new songs. On our proverbial platter today are records from Lucy Rose, Ionna Gika, PHOTA, Bryce Dessner, Katia & Marielle Labèque, Cities of Mars, Rozi Plain, Shabti, Chinese Football, Skullsmasher, and Low Dose. As you’ll see from our previous revisions of the feature, we always look to offer a smorgasbord of genres, so dive on in and let us know what you think of each band in the comments!
All good music should express a plethora of emotions and often times this can feel honest, raw or even palpable. Lucy Rose‘ fourth album No Words Left is all of those things and more. A bleak, stark, and unabashedly honest exercise in catharsis that has Rose see the light following one of the darkest times in her life and that darkness is tangible.
Rose has gone to great lengths to step out of the twee indie box that defined her formative years. No Words Left is a collection of sparse instrumentation with a focus on her fingerstyle guitar, delicate piano, and deeply affecting vocal. Sure there are touches of strings and bass, but their appearances are so subtle they’d be missed by those swept along in the current. Tracks like “Solo(w)” and “Nobody Comes Round Here Anymore” define the album’s narrative with slightly different approaches. The former has a shimmer throughout that builds an intensity towards the final crescendo as a torrent of strings, piano, and saxophone swirl to drive home the overwhelming suffocation felt by Rose. The latter takes a more simplistic approach going back to the core of the record with a deeply mournful vocal delivering some of the most poignant lyrics of the record.
No Words Left may be bleak, dark, and at times maudlin, but one thing it’s not is boring. The honesty, textures, and pure emotion that culminate in this album are breathtaking and Rose is well on her way to greatness.
Ioanna Gika might be an unknown concept to many, having been a collaborator on many projects over the years from IO Echo to Drums – Gika has carved a path through experimentation and constant change. Newly signed to the revered Sargent House Records, she is set to put her best foot forward with her debut solo effort Thalassa.
Taking from the Greek word for ‘sea’, Thalassa is Gika drawing from her Greek heritage here which seems to influence every facet of this album experience from the keywork in the album art to the tide like ebbs and flows of the music. Juggling genres is what she does so brilliantly, with aspects of folk, art pop, and electronic music all intelligently combined into a record that radiates quality.
With the delicate and deeply ethereal “Out Of Focus” with its layered vocal and clattering instrumentals to the breathlessly brilliant “Swans”, Gika is drawing from everything she knows and loves throughout the runtime of Thalassa. This album isn’t one to ignore, but one you should be spending time with.
Given the combo of talent, this album was never going to be anything other than really, really good. Classical guitarist and composer Bryce Dessner takes on the phenomenal pianist skills of Katia & Marielle Labèque to create a progressive movement titled El Chan. The opening segment of the record also features additional collaborations from producer and sound engineer David Chalmin, the Orchestre de Paris and conductor and composer Matthias Pintscher.
This wealth of contribution means that the first half of El Chan is decidedly thunderous, with an epic concerto that’s movie-like in its narrative. Emotionally, it’s an adrenaline-charged burst of modern classical music worthy of more than one repeat. And mellowing out the album’s emotional structure is the marginally more personal “El Chan” portion, exclusively created by Katia & Marielle Labèque and Bryce Dessner to evoke a more subtle, but no less captivating listening experience.
From start to finish, the album exudes masterful musicianship, and contains enough substance to take the listener willingly for the ride. Classical knowledge isn’t required as far as I’m concerned. El Chan is an album that can be studied heavily, or simply used as rather dramatic background noise. Imagine this as the soundtrack to your morning, though I hope the upbeat chirpy segments are more relevant to you than the sombre ones.
In being so fuzzy and hellishly raw, Mourn retains a kind of punky identity even though it has a lot more going for it than any singular music-related word can describe. It is doomy in places, but ultimately chooses to be whatever it wants to be. Syphoning between being rebelliously fast and deathly slow is a neat trick, and it means that this crusty album also has a knack for the progressive. Being honest, you could, if you wanted to, throw a lot of other genre terms at Mourn, but maybe it’s best to take it at face value.
Emotionally, the record is steadily downbeat with varying degrees of aggression. You might be surprised to discover the recurring melodic breaks and entrancing female vocals added to PHOTA‘s salty, bitter soup. Boldness and exploration swiftly become the name of the game. And many of these wonderfully free-spirited ideas culminate in the title track “Mourn”. Is that the faint sound of violins I hear in the background?
It’s so nice when an album absolves itself of its own rules, and draws in whatever influence it cares to undertake. Mourn is beastly in brains as well as in sound, and within its ravenous catacombs, listeners will obtain a finely full-bodied and unique heavy experience.
If you are looking for some nice stoner/doom, you can’t go wrong with The Horologist. Saturated in the fuzzy atmosphere you can expect with good doom metal, Cities of Mars delivers with brooding riffs and a crushingly heavy tone. There are some really great guitar parts throughout The Horologist. The main riff from “Hydrahead” is a really memorable one that bears a very slight similarity to Mastodon I really vibed with. If anyone ever gets bored with guitar parts in doom metal, I would advise them to check that song out, as the catchy riffs and shredding solo is bound to make them think again.
As good as the guitar is, the best part about The Horologist to me is the vocals. I’m a really big fan of this style of strained slightly yelled cleaner vocals in this realm of metal as opposed to full-on screams or growls. While I don’t mind them, this just fits so much better in the atmosphere and mood that Cities of Mars set forth. They sit very well in the mix as well, never being over saturated or blocking any of the instruments out. This is a pretty run of the mill doom album with some pretty creative moments really standing out to make it well worth the listen and a revisit down the road.
This album is something that I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to check out on my own. Alternative and folk aren’t usually my cup of tea, so What A Boost isn’t something I’d usually grab myself. But thanks to our PR wizard Inter’s suggestion, I took this album for the feature and I am very happy I did.
What A Boost is a delightfully upbeat album that is sure to put a smile on your face. The soft tone of the vocal style and the deliberate, light touches on the instrumentals are sure to lull you into a good mood or accentuate a chill-out. There is a great range of tempos from slow and methodical to faster paced, more pop-oriented songs. A multitude of electronic beats, percussion, and soft guitar make up the core instrumentals of the album. The vocals definitely take the presence, with the female leads being joined on occasion with a harmonizing male voice throughout.
I haven’t been aware of Rozi Plain until listening to What A Boost, but it was such a joy to listen to that I am inclined to check out more of her catalogue now. If you just want to listen to something pretty and nice that’s easy on your ears, I definitely recommend this.
Sometimes you just have to say ‘fuck subtlety’. I don’t think any genre is as adept at saying this as grindcore. With this 15-song, 13-minute offering, Skullsmasher, which includes Andrew Lee (Ripped to Shreds) among their ranks, is about as unsubtle as possible. Imagine that – an album which has the presentation and feel of a Mortal Kombat fatality lacking subtlety. Put your headphones on, press play, and just get kicked in the ear over and over by an absolutely relentless trip of violence.
There’s honestly not a whole lot of differentiation between songs, but there are standouts. “Nasogastric Gavage” is one of the shortest songs, but has a lightning-fast arpeggiated melody that bores into your head; “Aggressive Vehicular Intimidation” has a genuine groove and catchiness to it; the closer, “Strange Loops”, is a lo-fi nightmare of noise and depraved growls.
Skullsmasher succeed in not reinventing the genre, but using the same old tools to find new, flamboyant ways to paint the walls red. Fans of the genre should enjoy the absolutely abhorrent double vocal assault, firing squad-esque drums, and slicing guitars. Non-fans, well…this won’t change your mind! But if you’re looking for untethered brutality, give it a go.
Oh cool, I was in the mood for rough, grungy, garage punk rock. The Fight Amp trio decided to hook up with vocalist/guitarist Itarya Rosenberg (Legendary Divorce) to form Low Dose, a band that’s just as heavy and fierce as Fight Amp, but offers a little more nuance in structure.
They caught my attention when I came across their single/video for “For Sure” a whole day before the album dropped. It’s catchy – Rosenberg’s vocals are impassioned and project in a way that’s absolutely fit for a too-small live stage with showgoers nipping at the band’s toes up front. Hearty bass packs a punch for the low end, guitars are dirty, drums are diverse, but always spirited and appropriately paced. “Otherworldly Motives” has nicely layered vocals from the Fight Amp boys which certify the song as a headbanger.
Where you see a lot of the nuance I mentioned before is in Low Dose’s slower endeavors. “Low” plods along and builds into a sobering ballad. Bookending the album on the other side is “Legendary Divorce” – yes, named after Rosenberg’s former(?) band. It really hones in on retaining its reserved focus that imbues the song with a sad vibe, but erupts into a proper ending to an album that’s been mostly about ripping shit up with heart.
I actually like this more than Fight Amp! If you like your rock raw and uninhibited by many bells and whistles without losing any of the strength, this is for you. Real good stuff.
Hold on to your hats, here comes Shabti, creating a whirling vortex of thrash, death, and black metal along with a sprinkle of technicality. When I first heard this band, it was the song “Seven Billion Souls” and their proficiency in these subgenres blew me away. The barking vocals slide into a throaty retch at a moment’s notice and the riffs move from moody to melodic at the same rate. There’s no doubt that Shabti has a talented group of musicians that make up the band. Their technical skills are also complemented by their ability to write and construct an album as well.
Trembling And Shorn has only six songs in the tracklist, but each is dynamic, varies in length, and injects a few surprises along the way. The production manages to keep all of these disparate sounds in bounds as well, allowing each trem-picked solo and bass note their due place in the mix. This has been a strong year already for metal, so it would be easy to miss an album like this. Take my advice and give it a spin. The 11-minute closer, “Below Deck” is worth it alone.
Ah, math rock. That eternally effervescent genre of music that puts a smile on my face regardless of my mood. Chinese Football released Continue? Back on March 16, and it keeps finding its way into my ears ever since. The five-song EP is like a breath of fresh spring air in a winter that seems to be all too keen on sticking around. The opener and title track ease us into the album with a lovely ballad that allows the vocals and guitar to be the focus before picking up the pace with “Rafting In The World”. While still not a fast song per se, the addition of the mathy riffs moving back and forth behind the lyrics adds that dynamism that we expect from the genre.
My favorite track here is “Dog’s Diary” a colorful and bright track that feels good from start to finish. The vocals here have strong emo vibes and the guitar work is a genuine star. “Monster” is the closer and is a moodier piece than its predecessors, sending the EP off in fine fashion. There’s no shortage of great releases in 2019 so far, but if you want to add to your math rock collection, I highly recommend Continue?.