Album Review – Ruins – First Aid Kit

 

Ruins is the fourth album from the band First Aid Kit.

This album shows a clear advancement in the songwriting skills of the Soderberg sisters.  And the album shows a willingness to play with sounds they haven’t touched on previous albums. But the trademark harmonies of their voices remain and remain the center of their sound.

Among the true standouts on this album, Fireworks is a mournful torch song that sounds straight out of fifties rock. Other examples of First Aid Kit touching on new musical territory are the honky-tonk undertones of Postcard and the strong indie rock feel of To Live a Life. And Hem of Her Dress sounds like nothing so much as a Nashville take on a mariachi band.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist For:  It’s a Shame, Fireworks, To Life a Life, Nothing                                                                      Has To Be True

Songs I would Thumbs Down: Distant Star

Album Review – Sangue Cassia – Sinistro

 

Sinistro is a Portuguese doom metal band and Sangue Cassia is their third album.

So, compared to some of the other doom metal bands that I’m aware of, Sinistro is far more ambient.  I think this can, in part, be attributed to lead vocalist Patricia Andrade, who lays powerful, but often lilting vocals down on top of the band’s power riffs. But even then, Sinistro is not afraid of the synth, for example.

I liked their second album, Semente, when I discovered it, but it had trouble sustaining itself for a full album (one 11 minute song ended with 5 minutes of the same riff, in a kind of unrelenting way). Sangue Cassia is an improvement on Semente. Now, I don’t speak Portuguese, so their lyrics might be the most inane thing ever, but when Andrade’s voice is souring over the gutteral thrum of the band, they sound great.

I will warn you, this is a doom metal band, and they live up to the reputation that I feel doom metal should have of having at least a couple extremely long songs. Sangue Cassia has tracks that are 11, 8, and 10 minutes long. But they seem to have overcome their previous issues with how to handle that and these very long songs don’t feel like a slog to me.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Lotus, Vento Sul, Nuvem, Ferida

Songs I would Thumbs down: None

Album Review – Just for Us – Francis and the Lights

 

The latest album from Francis and the Lights is a quiet synthpop album that doesn’t offer anything that grabs the attention, nor anything that repels attention. It’s not a bad album, but it’s utterly generic. In fact, it would make a pretty decent 26 minute ambient track if they cut the vocals.

Of the 10 songs on the album, only 3 are over 3 minutes. Which works way better for a punk rock album that a synthpop album.  I walk away from tracks thinking that they should have been developed more.

All in all, it makes pretty good background music, but I had a hard time really foregrounding this album in my mind. Still, I’ll keep it in my streaming rotation for something unobtrusive to listen to when I just need something in the background.

Recommendation:  Try It

Songs I have a playlist for: None

Songs I would Thumbs down: None

Album Review – Beautiful Trauma – Pink

 

After a 5 year break, Pink returns with the album Beautiful Trauma.

Pink is at her best when she’s singing about things that are personal and raw.  And there is plenty of that on Beautiful Trauma.

At it’s best, Beautiful Trauma is beautifully emotive and raw. At it’s worst, it’s  self-indulgent and colorless.  Still, the good moments are more frequent than the bad, and, frankly, I liked it better than The Truth About Love.

 

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I Have a Playlist for: Beautiful Trauma, What About Us, But We Lost It, Better Life, I Am Here

Songs I will Thumbs Down: Revenge, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

Album Review – Broken Machine – Nothing But Theives

I don’t know why I keep seeing people saying rock is dead.  There’s lots of great new rock out there.  Unless you’re being one of those obnoxious purists who have a very narrow view of rock. Part of keeping rock a living genre is that it takes things from its siblings.  We’re all used to blues-tinged rock and it’s widely accepted. But lately, rock has been borrowing elements of electronica, pop, and even dance music from various parts of the world. That’s the real objection rock fans who complain about the genre dying have. They’re so stuck in the 80s classic rock/power ballad vein that they can’t accept the genre growing.

Nothing But Thieves’ new album, Broken Machine, is an excellent example of rock growing and people grousing about it. Nothing But Thieves has created a lyrically complex, acoustically challenging album with (on the Deluxe version) 15 tracks, though two are acoustic versions of songs earlier on the album.  And in doing so, they have fused the alt-rock sound of their first album with other influences to create a lush soundscape that’s well worth the time investment. Over and over again.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a playlist for: I Was Just A Kid, Amsterdam, Sorry, I’m Not Made By Design, Reset Me

Songs I Will Thumbs Down: none

Album Review – Hopeless Romantic – Michelle Branch

 

On her first album in 14 years, Michelle Branch is stepping towards a rockier, bluesier sound.  She remarked in interviews that she always leaned towards rock, and was pushed by her former record label for a more pop sound. In fact, this is the third full album of material she has written since Hotel Paper, but battles with her previous label kept anything from being released until she moved to Verge for this album, produced by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and Guy Seyffert (SIa, Beck).

The honest truth is that the stylistic variations make the album a little incohesive.  Nods back to her pop days are interspersed with songs that show Carney’s obvious influence.  However, this is album is not as strong as Hotel Paper was. Part of that is the stylistic cohesiveness, and part of that is that fact that the album is part break-up album and part new relationship album.  And the break-up album part is much better than the new relationship album part.

Songs with a hint of venom in them like Best You Ever, Heartbreak Now, and Knock Yourself Out are vigorous and enjoyable. But the album is peppered with songs that are just a little flat, a little pablum like Fault Line, Carry Me Home, and Hopeless Romantic that make the whole thing feel overlong.

Recommendation: Stream It

Song that I have a playlist for: Best You Ever,  Heartbreak Now, Knock Yourself Out, Shadow

Songs I will thumbs down: Fault Line, Hopeless Romantic, Carry Me Home

 

Album Review – Rainbow – Kesha

Something I had long suspected, though it wasn’t apparent on the inane electro-pop that dominated her first two albums, is that Kesha Rose Sebert can sing and pretty well. That has certainly been proven true on her latest effort, Rainbow.

After a 4 year hiatus, with the concomitant drama surrounding her relationship with producer Dr. Luke in the intervening years, Kesha has released both her best album and her first album that is filled with works that feel genuine and true to a real person, instead of an overdone persona.

Kesha executive produced the album herself, working with other production luminaries such as Ryan Lewis, Ben Folds, and even her mother, master Nashville songwriter Pebe Sebert, which results in an eclectic album that touches on funk, punk, rockabilly, and alt-country. For all that it sounds disjointed, with only a couple exceptions, it is a surprisingly cohesive album tied together on the strength of Kesha’s voice.

I will say that people who only want to hear the heretofore standard synth/electro-pop dance hits that Kesha has produced under the direction of her former producer won’t find a ton of stuff on this album. There are nods in that direction ( Hymn, Learn to Let Go, Boots), but this album is much wider than that, and travels far enough afield that people who only really care about the dance music are likely to be disappointed.   There is a lot of acoustic music (6 tracks). and the rest is rock or rockability leaning.

With 14 tracks, the honest truth is that most people are going to consider something on this album as filler. And there are songs that I consider less successful than others (Boots, Boogie Feet) , but there isn’t any song on this album that I think is bad. And given that there are only two songs on the album over 4 minutes, everyone should have the patience to just wait through the songs that don’t thrill them as much.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I have a Playlist for: Bastards, Let ‘Em Talk, Finding You, Rainbow, Godzilla

Tracks I would Thumbs Down: None

 

Album Review – A Face Like Mine – Peter Bradley Adams

A Face Like Mine is Peter Bradley Adams sixth studio album.  A quiet, reflective demeanor fills this album, even on the most driven songs on the album.

There’s an enveloping nature to this album filled with soft edges and delving stories.  While it takes several listens to feel the full extent of the songs on the album, when you pay attention, there are deep and surprisingly detailed stories to find.

This album is right on the dividing line for me. People who love Americana, or really like Peter Bradley Adams would be well advised to buy this album. It might take some time to grow on the rest of his possible audience. It’s not that they album is inaccessible, but rather than it takes some reflection to really appreciate.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist For: Lorrain, A Face Like Mine, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

Songs I will Thumbsdown: None

Album Review – Life Love Flesh Blood – Imelda May

On her fifth studio album, Imelda May has taken a turn away from the blistering rockabilly that has been her calling card. Under sure guidance from T-Bone Burnett and his team, May has made an album of dusky Americana peppered with torch song jazz, British soul, and touches of blues.

Her 2015 divorce clearly influenced the album, with songs of heartbreak and rebuke, but there is also a sense of passion for love and life.  This album showcases May’s wonderful voice and amazing stylistic range that people only familiar with her albums would have been unaware of.  However, people who remember her work with longtime May booster Jeff Beck, and the long list of other luminaries (eg Lou Rawls, Jools Holland, and Tom Jones) will not be surprised.

While only time will tell for sure, this album seems to mark a turn into a more varied style, with a deeper sense of self and connection that one might get from the wild rockabilly of her previous albums. It certainly gives much greater play to her great vocal range and flexibility.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I Have a playlist for: Call Me, Black Tears, Sixth Sense, How Bad Can a Good Girl Be

Tracks that I will Thumbs Down: The Girl I Used to Be

 

Album Review – Crawl Space – Tei Shi

Crawl Space is the first studio album from Tei Shi, the pseudonym for Valerie Teischer, an artist from Argentina by way of Brooklyn.

An impressive debut, Crawl Space is a mix of R&B and electronic infected pop music that stands out from the crowd.  Filled with the hooks and catchy melodies we’ve come to expect in the modern pop album, Crawl Space provides a mix of hypnotic pop ballads and slinky almost dance numbers, with a couple more straightforward pop tunes. While I’ve seen her compared to Charlie XCX and Mø, listeners of Läpsley and even Sara Barielles would also find her work comfortable.

Standout songs include the opening “Keep Running”, the groove heavy “Creep”,  and the languidly hypnotic “Sleepy”. And if they ever release “Say You Do” as a single, it should challenge the current radio dominance of ballads from groups like Fifth Harmony.

Recommendation: Buy it

Songs I have a playlist for: Keep Running, Creep, How Far, Say You Do, Lift Me, Como Si, Sleepy

Songs I would Thumbs Down: Year 3K