Album Review – High As Hope – Florence + The Machine

 

Florence + The Machine is recognizable for big, bombastic, soaring arrangements.  How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was supposed to be a bit stripped down. High as Hope actually succeeds in that.

That’s not to say that it’s sparse.  Unless you are comparing it Ceremonials. But this is the most restrained album we’ve seen from Florence Welch. And that restraint lends a weight and emotional resonance to the work that was more easily overwhelmed by flourish and bombast on previous Florence + The Machine albums.

I think there are some missed opportunities. It would have been interesting to see if Welch had taken much more of a lead on production, instead of bringing in Emile Haynie, whose style, frankly, is at odds with the more stripped down work that Welch said she was aiming for.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs that I have a playlist for:  Hunger, South London Forever, Big God, Sky Full of Song, Grace, The End of Love, No Choir

Songs I will thumbs down: None

Album Review – Part Of The Light – Ray LaMontagne

 

Part Of The Light is the seventh album by Ray LaMontagne.

After Supernova let him break free from what he evidently felt were the shackles of his folk-rock roots, LaMontagne released the concept album Ouroboros which was acclaimed by music aficionados and kind of ignored by his folk-rock fan base.

Then comes Part Of The Light, an album of self-produced songs, some of which feel like they were leftovers from his last two albums. The album is not cohesive, but more a collection of singles, which isn’t really something we expect from LaMontagne.  And it’s success seems to depend largely on how much you liked his last two albums.

There are some very good songs on this album, but there’s too much that doesn’t fit together for me to say buy it.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have A Playlist For: It’s Always Been You, Such A Simple Thing, No Answer Arrives

Songs I Will Thumbs Down:  As Black As Blood Is Blue, Paper Man

Album Review – Golden Hour – Kasey Musgraves

 

Golden Hour is the third album from Kasey Musgraves.

The strength of Kasey Musgraves has always been that she pretty much plays what she wants to. Some of it’s a little bit country. Some of it’s a little bit pop. There’s even a dance beat or two thrown in for good measure.

She sings about what she wants to sing about, with little regard for what other people will think about it, but she’s pleased when the rest of us like it.  In that respect, she’s the healthiest performer out there right now. And frankly, it’s the reason I like her work.

Her earnest lyrics and varied musical approaches create a strongly written album that feels just a little bit unsure of what it wants to be. But I don’t think that all the songs on the album have to hang on the same wall for it to work.  Or we can just admit that popular music is very broad nowadays and call it pop.  It’s not an insult, regardless of the opinions of the snobbery.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I Have a Playlist For: Slow Burn; Lonely Weekend; Oh, What a World; Happy & Sad; Wonder Woman; High Horse; Golden Hour

Songs I Would Thumbs Down:  Butterflies; Mother

Album Review – Castles – Lissie

Castles is the fourth album from singer-songwriter Lissie.

Castles shows a songwriter with an excellent ear for melody and a singer with a strong voice and a willingness to go all in on a song. It also shows a songwriter who relies a little too heavily on very familiar hooks, and one who can get a little caught up in her own thing, leaving us with an album that lacks harmonic and tonal variety.

That’s not to say that the album is bad. It has strong themes and Lissie’s voice can carry her through a lot of things that would otherwise be missteps. It’s just that this album probably would have been a lot more interesting if the songs hadn’t sounded so much alike for so much of the album.  It just feels like, whether she meant to or not, Lissie went full Lana Del Ray, and got stuck there for too long.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have A Playlist For: Crazy Girl, Castles, Best Days, Boyfriend, Somewhere

Songs I Would Thumbs Down: Love Blows

Album Review – Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe

 

Dirty Computer is the third studio album from Janelle Monáe.  Monáe is enigmatic to many music journalists because she doesn’t fit into a neat genre category for them to define.

Along with the release of the Dirty Computer album, the short film linked above was also released. And, for me, the short film makes the album a lot more accessible, as it anchors the music for me.

Most of all, Dirty Computer is an anthem album for the dispossessed and downtrodden, for the outcast and the ostracized. Every song is about trying to live as a person someone is in a country that doesn’t want people to live as they are, whether that be as an LGBTQ person, a minority person, a woman, a man who isn’t “a man’s man”, a non-binary person – whatever.  I can feel the collective freakout building from the rigid “this is what America is supposed to be” crown.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I Have a Playlist For: Crazy, Classic, Life; Screwed, Django Jane, Pynk, Make Me Feel, Don’t Judge Me, Americans

Songs I will Thumbs Down: None

Album Review – Chime – Dessa

Chime is the third full-length album by Dessa, who is a member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree out of Minneapolis.

The first thing you notice about Chime is how it sucks you in.  It’s easy to ride the sounds in this album and easier to get sucked into the lyrics. There are twin currents of melancholy and anger running under this album. Melancholy over a world that should be, anger at this shit that it is.

There is a lot less rap on this album, than previously. But the tracks built around rapping are solid. The best work, however, is her full-bore dive into singing.  On the whole, this is a fully absorbing album that I heartily recommend to everyone.

Recommendation:  Buy It

Tracks I have a Playlist for: Ride, Velodrome, Good Grief, Boy Crazy, Jumprope, Half of You, Say When, 5 out of 6

Songs I will Thumbs Down: Shrimp

Album Review – By The Way, I Forgive You – Brandi Carlile

By The Way, I Forgive You is the sixth studio album from Brandi Carlile.  Carlile is known for Americana that is carefully balanced between pop and country, though on her later albums, she falls to one side or the other more and more often.  That trend continues on this latest album.

Her last album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, fell more on the pop side, and this one leans more country, which makes sense given her Nashville production team for the album.

Despite flashes, By The Way, I Forgive You falls short of being Carlile’s best work. Between the Nashville production and the rock orchestration on several songs, the album is a not entirely sure what it wants to be. People will find some genuinely lovely songs here, but there will be a lot of disagreement on what they are, depending on what side of the Americana spectrum they fall.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have a Playlist For: Party of One, Most Of All, Whatever You Do, The Mother

Songs I Will Thumbs Down: The Joke, Sugartooth

Album Review – Eurus – The Oh Hellos

The Oh Hellos are back with the second in a series of 4 EPs they plan on releasing with what looks like a frenetic pace.

Eurus, named after the Roman god of the east wind, follows the same format as Nolos, with a number of longer connected songs, bridged by very short pieces. It is essentially 1 19:28 minute song broken up into 7 movements.

Like their early work, the Oh Hellos can go from quiet to frenetic in the space of 1 bar. It has the familiar indie-folk feel that fans of earlier albums will know.

If there is a problem with Eurus, it’s that it feels like the band is reworking the same field – following the same path – over and over. They do it very well, but I’d like them to feel a little less prescriptive and predictable.

 

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I have a playlist for: Oh Sleeper

Songs I would thumbs down: None

Album Review – Blood -Rhye

 

Blood is filled with gorgeous soft soundscapes. It’s 30 minutes of soft-pop, immaculate and as minimalist as Rhye can make it.

The problem is that it also feels like it’s 30 minutes of loop. There is so little dynamic or rhythmic variation that the whole album feels the same. It is far too easy to let the album just slide into the background and sit underneath your consciousness without actually taking any of it in.

Ultimately, Blood feels like it’s packaged in a thick cotton batting that you can’t take off. It leaves me with a sense of being muffled.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have a Playlist for: Count to Five, Stay Safe

Songs I would Thumbs Down: none

Album Review – This Is Not the End – MILCK

 

I sat with this EP for a long time assessing it. There are some really powerful songs on it – anthems for the modern women’s movement. And there are some songs that kind of fade into the background as pale reflections of their stronger counterparts.

I Don’t Belong To You and Quiet carry the weight of this EP. Quiet was performed at the DC Women’s March and has echoed and resonated throughout that movement since. I Don’t Belong To You is a push back against male entitlement and expectations that carries a perfect angry edge to boost it.

The rest of the album is not as impressive. There is a very Beth Orton-like cover of Ooh Child, that is okay. The rest of the album tends to fall into the background, and it takes an active listening effort to foreground it. It’s not that any of the songs are bad. But there is so little to differentiate them.

Recommendation: Stream It (You’ll probably want to buy the two best                                                                                    singles; I do)

Songs I Have a Playlist For: I Don’t Belong To You, Quiet

Songs I Will Thumbs Down: Black Sheep, Undercover