Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
Released on Polydor Records
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.
Florence + The Machine records are always a spectacle, theatrical in their scope and unrelenting in their delivery. Dance Fever is no different. Indeed, it might be the culmination of all the big rock ‘n’ roll spectacle moments that have come before from them. Lyrically, it turns inward much more than any previous Machine record, although tonally it seems to address our weird spring moment, this liminal space between pandemic and war and what comes after. Jack Antonoff’s production wrings every last bit of catharsis out of this tone, presenting a record that is deeply rooted in a time and space while transcending both.
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Released on XL Records
I heard three singles from this album and despite thinking that they sounded A LOT like Radiohead I never investigated it any further until the day before this album was released. When I did, I of course finally discovered that The Smile are Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood, plus English jazz drummer extraordinaire Tom Skinner (Sons of Kemet). No offence to the other members of Radiohead, but A Light For Attracting Attention is what The King Of Limbs should have been: equal parts eerie atmospheric keening and gnarled, mutated alt-guitar riffing, paranoid and sketched-out with relentless skittering drum work.
Quelle Chris – DEATHFAME
Released on Mello Music Group
Quelle Chris has become one of the leading voices in keeping hip hop moving forward and DEATHFAME is full of the kind of experimental beatcraft and delivery that he’s become known for. I don’t honestly know if he’s been as wilfully weird elsewhere as he is on this record, though, obscuring himself in places and twisting the tape in an alien fashion in others. It’s all very backpacker – as the exposed bones of “The Sky Is Blue Because The Sunset Is Red” show clearly – but it’s backpacker that’s been spun and warped so long that it’s taken on the guise of a different production language entirely.
Kevin Morby – This Is A Photograph
Released on Dead Oceans
Kevin Morby has been doing a version of Lou Reed crossed with Bob Dylan for a long time now but don’t hold his rough-voiced influences against him. Unlike so many artists who take inspiration in non-traditional singing styles, he’s figured out that you need to emote through it to make a connection with the listener, and This Is A Photograph is an excellent example of this. It also helps that his backing band can rock out as hard as they can quiet down, and that ability to run up and down the dynamic scale to fit the mood serves Morby quite well.
Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter
Released on Daughters of Cain Records
Ethel Cain is…hard to pin down. Part Seventies country singer-songwriter, part soul singer, part shimmering dream pop chanteuse, part rock ‘n’ roll death trip, part forest ghost, part seeker of a Jesus gone wild and strange in the weird parts of America. Disconcerting.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers
Released on Interscope Records
Kung-Fu Kenny Goes To Therapy: do we really need it? I’m inclined to say yes, with a but. The inner workings of the minds of creative people are always fascinating and when Kendrick is on this theme the album is great. He talks a lot about the conversation that needs to be had about generational trauma, personal trauma, and the way that we ignore some people’s misdeeds because we can’t quit their music.
But but but.
The fact that he gets Kodak Black – an unrepentant rapist – to narrate the album seems to undermine every single good point he makes anywhere throughout the album. He talks a good game about abusers, especially the lingering trauma of sexual abuse, but doesn’t really seem to care much about victims unless they’re his own mother. “Auntie Diaries”, ostensibly a song about how he’s grown and become a good LGBT ally, is marred by the fact that he deadnames his cousin, misgenders her continuously throughout (until the end and yeah, yeah, narrative structure, but there are better ways to handle that) and makes himself the hero of two other people’s transition stories. This is above and beyond the basic fact that he learns not to use slurs against LGBT people when his cousin points out that he got mad when a white girl sang along to his song, slurs and all. Really, Kendrick? That’s how you figured it out? Then his girl and his kid cheer him on for breaking the cycle of generational trauma. Whew, great stuff. Star wipe to K. in his crown. I suppose it could be worse. He’s trying, and at least he keeps things real. Lord knows we could have gotten J. Cole on the same tip.
There are great songs on here. The entire first disc, aside from Kodak Black, is absolutely worthy of inclusivity, especially “United In Grief”, which may set the bar a little high for the rest of the album. “We Cry Together” is raw and has some great stuff near the end, if you ignore all the undermining he does of those points elsewhere. “Mother I Sober” would make a better ending for the album than “Mirror”, floating away on the breeze of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. In fact, the real crime of the album (aside from the fumbles at addressing abuse and trauma) is that it’s just too goddamn long. You could cut a number of also-ran songs (like most of the second side except for “Mother I Sober”) and come out with an album about the same length as DAMN. that’s much stronger.
The Black Keys – Dropout Boogie
Released on Easy Eye Sound / Nonesuch Records
El Camino was when they hit the big time, finally, after a decade of slowly growing an audience hungry for raw blues-indebted rock ‘n’ roll. Eleven years later they’re playing catchup, having pulled the usual ‘difficult followup to the breakthrough record’ shenanigans. 2019’s Let’s Rock felt like a return to form, but this is the real deal: self-assured boogie ‘n’ blues, tough and slicked-back. They don’t all land, but when they do, like on the stomping “Burn The Damn Thing Down”, they land with serious impact. It’s not experimental, or artsy, or contrived, but for a summer drinking record you won’t find much better.
Moderat – MORE D4TA
Released on Monkeytown Records
Back from a lengthy hiatus, the German supergroup prove once again that they have very few peers when it comes to slamming moody Euro-electronic pop.
Monophonics – Sage Motel
Released on Colemine Records
Thick and full of soul – psychedelic soul-rock with big drums and and bigger songs. They don’t make enough albums like this anymore.
Pkew Pkew Pkew – Open Bar
Released on Dine Alone Records
Slightly lightweight compared to some other luminaries of the Ontario punk scene, but possessed of a wicked sense of humour and a flair for a good line. The opening track “Let The Bridges We Burn Light The Way” is a keeper.
Say Sue Me – The Last Thing Left ★★★☆ (Damnably)
Obongjayar – Some Nights I Dream Of Doors ★★★☆ (Sept)
Mallrat – Butterfly Blue ★★★☆ (Nettwerk)
Bear’s Den – Blue Hours ★★☆ (Communion)
Yves Jarvis – The Tug ★★★ (ANTI-)
Gospel – The Loser ★★★☆ (Dog Knights)
They Hate Change – Finally, New ★★★ (Jagjaguwar)
Perel – Jesus Was An Alien ★★★☆ (Kompakt)
Spread Joy – II ★★★☆ (Feel It)
Nectar – No Shadow ★★★ (Lauren)
Sister Ray – Communion ★★★ (Royal Mountain)
Sunset Sons – Too Many Humans, Not Enough Souls ★★☆ (AntiFragile)
Rx Nephew – GTA House In The Hills ★★★ (NewBreedTrapper)
Gentle Sinners – These Actions Cannot Be Undone ★★ (Rock Action)