Best of the Month: December 2020-January 2021
Jazmine Sullivan -- Heaux Tales
R&B star Jazmine Sullivan has been steadily building out a catalog over the late 2000’s and 2010’s with her unique take on neo-soul and tenacity for songwriting. She’s also developed a healthy feature catalog, hopping on songs with living legends like Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Frank Ocean.
However the last few years of the 2010’s have been quiet for Sullivan for no particular reason. Although it seems she’s been happy to hop in the spotlight to do a feature or ghost write some songs, her own discography fell dead silent for 6 years. Until January 6th, 2021 where Sullivan releases her first ever EP, Heaux Tales, which is not only a confirmation that her burning talent is well and alive, but also probably her best project yet.
Heaux Tales is a narrative EP, meditating on Sullivan’s sexuality and conflicting interests between it and her other emotions. At fourteen tracks--really only eight minus the six skits--it’s surprisingly tight, using it’s skits as little primers for the following tracks similar to Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation.
The EP starts with “Bodies”, a reluctant pep talk from Sullivan to herself to wrangle her sexuality and get her life together. It’s here where we first see the brilliance in Sullivan’s use of overdubs, using choral harmonies and adlibs around the vocal melody to build a symphony of call and response. She wears her influences of Beyonce and Erykah Badu on her sleeve yet still shows refinement in how she’s developed her style around her unique voice.
“Pick Up Your Feelings” is the EP’s ‘billboard hit’, channelling early 00’s R&B grooves for a catchy yet confrontational opus. The song calls for a mopey lover to handle his own emotions and get the hell out of Sullivan’s life. He’s caught feelings and Sullivan isn’t ready for that. It’s the raw story of the song and Sullivan’s rich vocal harmonies that are the catalyst for this song’s brilliance, definitely making it a takeaway of the tracklist.
“Ari’s Tale” leads into “Put it Down” and “On It”; two sexually explosive tracks that dig deep into Sullivan’s sexuality. The first of the two has the pop luster of TLC track but the lyricism of Megan the Stallion to join into a catchy, horny banger. “On It” features Dreamville star Ari Lennox where she and Sullivan trade swinging verses asking the man if he really deserves the good p***y. Sullivan doesn't hide anything and lays all her emotions out in her lyrics and performances, even when it gets hot ‘n’ heavy.
“Price Tags” brings on Anderson .Paak to vocalize the conflict between Sullivan and a man falling victim to her incessant spending. While Sullivan shares her desire for opulence and the subsequent horniness she has for the man with the money, .Paak’s verse shows him lamenting her spending that finally pushes him to the limit. Their back & forth dynamic ties together the song’s conflict and definitely lands as the best feature here.
The rest of the record takes a turn as Sullivan digs skeletons out of the closet and confronts the hardships of the heaux-y lifestyle she’s in. “Lost One” is a painful ballad on how Sullivan lost control of herself and broke the trust of lover with another man, losing him. The warm and minimalist instrumentation leave the floor open for Sullivan’s heart-wrenching deliveries like on the chorus:
Just don't have too much fun without me
Don't have too much, don't have too much fun
Please don't forget about me
Try not to love no one
Oh-oh, try not to love no one
“The Other Side” is wishful thinking for stardom as Sullivan fantasizes about life after reaching success. The song’s tight song structure and ethereal production make it the most engineered song on the record and ring like 2010’s R&B heavy hitters like Nelly. The progressively layered mix with strings, synths, boom-bap drums, and Sullivan’s vocals are mixed tightly.
“Girl Like Me” closes out the tracklist with a collaboration with H.E.R. and is a resolving conclusion, calling out the men who have put Sullivan and her in this mental relationship with men. The solo guitar sample that leads the song elevates the personal vocals and minimal rhythm.
Heaux Tales is a nuanced yet well-engineered meditation on sexual independence in the modern age. Jazmine Sullivan’s various angles of her own experiences allow for a release that is wholly real and genuine. Not to mention, Sullivan once again proves that she has one of the most dynamic and unique voices in R&B today.
Heaux Tales is a masterful storybook of stories from Jazmine Sullivan whose brilliant songwriting, lyrics, and vocal performances come together on the best EP of 2021 so far and probably one of the best of the year. [Benji O’Connor]
RIYL: H.E.R., Ari Lennox, Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige
Playboi Carti -- Whole Lotta Red
Ever since the 2017 release of Playboi Carti’s breakout single “Magnolia”, fans of the Atlanta rapper praised the floaty trap beats and simple yet catchy lyrics as the two ingredients for success in defining a new sound in the rap game. With Whole Lotta Red being in production for over a year, I believe most people hoped for a consistent collection of earworms that would fill the track list at any party. However, Carti’s initial success with his first two projects eludes him as Whole Lotta Red doesn’t fully grasp its potential as a sophomore album.
Despite the fact that this album didn’t live up to the hype it was getting across social media, I have to praise Carti for not doing the easy thing and producing a Die Lit part two. Although the 2018 debut studio album was an amazing performance of psychedelic trap music, I am glad that Playboi Carti pushed the envelope here and didn’t take the safe road by replicating that same sound. The goth/vampire aesthetic is certainly a new idea from Carti, and I believe brings out some of the best on this album, with tracks such as “Vamp Anthem”. We still get more traditional trap sounds we expect from Carti with songs like “Beno!” and “New N3on”.
A solid collection of features also keeps this album above water, Future and Kanye both give solid performances, and Kid Cudi combines his wavey autotune vocals with Carti’s high pitched vocals and ad-libs on an early standout song “M3tamorphosis”.
In truth, those star tracks are where the praise ends for Whole Lotta Red. In my opinion, this album could have used much more time away from the public, perfecting a few songs and cutting out some filler. I think the release of this album on Christmas was pretty premature, especially considering the rumours that Carti went back and changed a decent chunk of this project after numerous leaks on the internet.
It’s hard to criticize this album with so much pressure on it to be a hit. Carti’s addicting and familiar sound combined with his ability to stack syllables creates a few hits, but I would have liked to see a more complete project. Many tracks don’t mesh well with each other, and Carti’s delivery on some tracks like “Rockstar Made” seem unnatural. As a result, I think the fun factor was lost with this album, and it was that element of energy and enthusiasm that was so prominent on his first two projects.
Overall, Carti does provide fans with sounds and specific tracks they want, but fails to create a positive experience with the album as a whole. Carti’s new voice inflections are refreshing as a whole, but not yet perfected with the backing tracks leaving fans with incomplete sounds. With most tracks being bite-sized and accessible, there is a mixed back of crisp and vibrant songs with some that could have been cut out completely. Whole Lotta Red is certainly fun at times, but a lack of balance between vocals and instrumentals leave more to be desired. [Trey Mead]
Listen To: “Sky”
RIYL: Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi, Mario Judah
Viagra Boys -- Welfare Jazz
Swedish punk outfit Viagra Boys break into 2021 with their sophomore record Welfare Jazz following their debut in 2018 where they first broke into their signature groovy post-punk sound. The former record, Street Worms, made waves in the punk scene for the band’s obtuse songwriting and impressive performances on each track. Their stiff shifting instrumentals laid the backdrop for their wildcard singer Sebastian Murphy whose odd physical appearance and performances held the attention of fans.
Murphy’s scratchy wail contrasting with his rigid deadpan deliveries makes for a modern punk voice so unique and unmistakable. Along with the vocals, the instrumentals are rich with character. The tight rhythm section offers groovy rhythms that run like basic guidelines for the experimental guitars, noisy synths, and no-wave saxophone runs to build dissonant and driving timbre.
So while Viagra Boys fell a little flat on execution on Street Worms, you could see the potential was there. Their ‘thesis statement’ up until now, summing up all their best elements, is their 2018 single “Sports” which is a satirical sports anthem that sees each member of the band flexing their abilities at their best. This viral single and its hilarious music video is where I and many others were first introduced to the band. If you’ve never heard of Viagra Boys before, I highly recommend the music video for “Sports” linked here as a starting point.
So after a year of heavy touring in 2019 and throughout 2020, the band kept alluding to a new album on the horizon. My hopes like anyone else was that the band would deliver more and more of their cynical quirk but deliver a tighter album (better than Street Worms). And I'm glad I can confidently say that this new album Welfare Jazz is everything I hoped it could be.
Right at the beginning, Viagra Boys offer one of their highest energy bangers with “Ain’t Nice”, a post-punk anthem about an asshole screwing up everything and everyone in his life. From the bassline, to the pummeling drums, to the chipping synths, and Murphy’s spastic ad-libs the song is bursting with charisma. I’m particularly happy with saxophonist Oskar Karls’s squawking licks that ring like alarms, not at all unlike a James Chance & the Contortions song.
“Toad” is another banger that continues a theme of hypermasculinity woven throughout this record. Murphy’s lyrics on Welfare Jazz satirically mock toxic masculinity, specifically making fun of commitment issue-riddled machismo on this song.
Well, I don't need no woman tellin' me
When to go bed and when to brush my teeth
Girl, if you ain't my mother, please don't try to be
Girl, you can't change this old hound dog
All the while, Thor Sjödén’s skittering drum beat keeps the blood pumping through the whole song and the added group vocals add a nice layer of depth too.
“Into The Sun” is a mellow, slow burner that sees a narrator as a pathetic man, begging for his lover to take him back. This song shows a softer side of the band that first caught me off guard because of how much a tonal shift it is from their normal sound but I definitely learned to hear the band’s appreciation for their slower dance pop ballads.
Jump to “Creatures”, which is their true-blue synth-punk banger that takes as much LCD Soundsystem as it does Talking Heads. The song features a catchy synthline and cute bell chimes that make this song probably the most accessible Viagra Boys song to date. Also Karls’s plays his most soothing sax performance in a short solo here that adds to this funky, dark landscape the lyrics portray.
“Six Shooter” is a straightforward krautrocking banger with a simplistic and hypnotic bassline that carries the whole jam. Keyboardist Martin Ehrencrona is in full effect here, completely letting loose with every keyboard effect he can imagine from subtle synth embellishments to noisy synths and garage rock pianos. The whole thing swells and explodes to create an unlikely but beautiful mashup of krautrock and dance-punk with some no wave sprinkled in.
Following is “Secret Canine Agent” which continues on an odd Viagra Boys in-joke from “This Old Dog” and even their debut album about animals secretly spying on us(?). Uhh, I have no idea what it means but the song is a short and sweet rocker that sees the band at their most dissonant on the whole record.
“I Feel Alive” is a jaunty saloon waltz that teases Murphy's interest in country singing (which is continued in the last bit of the album on “To The Country” and the closer. “I Feel Alive” is definitely a bit of a tonal shock with its odd combo of clean pianos and twangy riffs with Murphy’s raspy delivery but it lands well.
“Girls & Boys” features this call & response sequence between Murphy and… Murphy where his deadpan voice offers the themes of the song to the ‘hypermasculine’ Murphy voice that screams back in anger at the other voice. Definitely one of their most exciting songs here and one of their catchiest too.
The album takes an odd choice for the ending with a cover duet between Murphy and Amy Taylor of the Aussie rock band Amyl and the Sniffers of the John Prine ballad “In Spite Of Ourselves”. Each of the singers’ goofy but sincere deliveries transform the cover into a continuation of the hypermasculine critique in the rest of the album. The band creatively works in the dark, scary sounds seen in the rest of the album into the rendition, making a goofy but sincere end to the record.
Welfare Jazz sees Viagra Boys expanding in all directions, crossing genre boundaries to make some truly creative and memorable post-punk. The band’s musical chemistry and tenacity for quirk culminate into one of the most forward-thinking punk records I’ve heard in awhile and (of course) the band’s best album yet. [Benji O’Connor]
RIYL: IDLES, shame, Parquet Courts
Aaron Watson -- American Soul
[BIG Label Records]
Oh, Aaron Watson, how you make me wish it was a COVID-less summertime. His American Soul album has the upbeat attitude that’s a stark contrast to the more typical somber country music we see in the winter time. That’s not to say his whole album is an upbeat joyride, there are more serious selections, namely his song “American Soul”. But what’s more interesting about the album American Soul is how it reminds me so much of past country music.
If you’ve been around country music for a while, you’re going to be reminded of Toby Keith, Eric Paslay, Tim McGraw, and others with this album. You might have a case of deja vu when listening to particular songs like “Silverado Saturday Night”, “Boots”, “Out Of My Misery”, and “Whisper My Name”. I certainly did. When I heard the album for the first time, it returned me to a time when we were maskless and there was normalcy. The nostalgia was bittersweet but inspiring in a way. It served as a reminder that life is going to better again and that we don’t have to be so pessimistic and hopeless. Watson even confronts this in the song he named this album after, “American Soul”.
Watson begins the “American Soul” song by focusing on older men at the diner. It produces a warm memory of that group of older guys we all had at our favorite local restaurants back home. It’s the guys that arrived at the diner at the crack of dawn and sat around a few tables for so long that you wondered if they had changed their mailing address to the restaurant’s address. They were loud and proud as they spun stories from their childhood that were so unbelievable that it was a miracle they survived. They spoke so fondly of the past, yet when the present and future came along in conversation, they spoke ill. This is the pessimistic group Watson starts with to discuss the “American Soul”:
“All the old men at the diner
Tellin’ tales too tall to tell
They’re all braggin’ about the good ol’ days
And how this country has gone to hell”
This fits, but not just the older men or older people in general. I’d bet that Watson began this song in such a pessimistic way to reflect on the current American soul. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve only heard about how this country “has gone to hell” for months now? Watson could just rehash what we’ve heard, but he doesn’t:
“But as for me, I believe We got a heartland full of hope
We’re comin’ back around
‘Cause you can’t hold down the American Soul”
Watson delivers hope. The song showers us with memories of “grandma laughin’”, “grandpa’s funny jokes”, “a Fourth of July picnic”, and “those Yankees in the playoffs”. The lyrics depict the small details we once took for granted. “American Dream” is a reminder that brighter days are ahead. If it were up to me, this song would be the summer hit for late night radio. We could use some more optimistic messaging.
In shedding the pessimism of the American soul in “American Soul, there’s “Silverado Saturday Night”, which I’d wager is the current frontrunner for country’s 2021 summer hit. The tune kicks things into high-gear immediately and Watson sweeps you off your feet to take you on a trip fueled by vivid lyrics. You can close your eyes and see a romantic night unfold on a road-trip adventure. Freedom, elation, and the feeling of not having a worry in the world or a place to be oozes out of his song:
“Got money to burn like gas in the tank
Got the perfect spot down by the bank
Got my old Zebco with a ten pound line
So kick off your boots, now it’s time to shine”
Count me in. Before the summer is over, you’ll be happy that you know “Silverado Saturday Night” by heart (hopefully).
This album isn’t just two songs and filler. It gets better. Watson has pieces that fit specific occasions and feelings. Want something to yell with your friends? “Long Live Cowboys” will certainly work. It shares the energy of “How Do You Like Me Now?!” by Toby Keith. Want something for how you feel going down the highway with your partner? “Boots” has you covered. But it isn’t the only song for these kinds of moments in this album. “Out of My Misery” and “Stay” feel destined for these kind of drives but at night. And if you want a song for a late night drive to do some deep thinking, “Whisper My Name” is there to be sung.
If I had to choose a 2021 album that is supposed to get me excited for a COVID-less summer night, Aaron Watson’s American Soul might be it. The feeling of freedom, living, and hope combine to create a 10-piece selection for all the occasions I’ll need on a summer night. [Brandon Talton]
RIYL: Toby Keith, Eric Paslay, Tim McGrew, George Strait, Kenny Chesney
Liturgy -- ORIGIN OF THE ALIMONIES
Dark ambient orchestral black metal opera. No one’s saying it’s easy to get into. But if you can breach the barriers that this esoteric genre inherently constructs around itself, the rewards are rich. Of course, the risk you run into is music elitists who create albums that are inaccessible simply for the clout of inaccessibility. But with Origin of the Alimonies, Liturgy does no such thing. This album has the emotion and vibrancy of orchestral composition while weaving in the rawness of black metal and the immersion of ambient music. But it’s not just a jigsaw puzzle of arbitrary genres, it’s its own cohesive exercise in passion, aggression, and theology.
First grabbing public attention with 2011’s Aesthetica, Liturgy is far from a conventional black metal band. Their eclectic sound, which has been dubbed “transcendental black metal” is owed almost entirely to the brilliant mind of frontwoman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. Her writing style makes good use of her degrees in jazz studies, classical composition, and philosophy; and with each successive album they’ve released, listeners have gotten to explore the intricacies of her personal theological beliefs more and more. The band’s marriage of black metal with sacramental worship music has been criticized by some as pretentious, and has indeed infuriated black metal purists everywhere. But Liturgy has always been fiercely individualistic, and it is this uniqueness that has earned them both praise and vitriol over the years. After H.A.Q.Q. (widely considered the band’s master work) dropped in 2019, fans were eager for another dose of Hunt-Hendrix’s complex philosophy. With Origin of the Alimonies, they got it in the form of a functional three-act opera.
Before we start, quick disclaimer: because this album is so deeply rooted in classical composition, a subject that I studied for years, I’ll sometimes use this part of my background to better articulate my feelings about the album. Apologies in advance, as this review is gonna end up sounding pretentious and condescending as hell. But don’t you worry your pretty little head about it – this is for your own good.
The opera begins subtly, with a lone flute theme that is so dissonant it’s almost atonal, yet bold enough to latch on to the ear. Classical music fans will note right away that this piece is a Theme and Variations, with each successive iteration of the main motif introducing new instrumentation or melodic movement. This theme that makes up “The Separation of HAQQ from HAEL” is so fluid and immersive that the sudden cacophony of black metal riffage near the end is all the more jarring. However, as quickly as it arrived, the wall of sound dissipates into the Baroque dissonance of “OIOION’s Birth.” Another Theme and Variations piece, the first movement of Act I is entirely orchestral ambience, punctuated by unexpected audio glitches, as though the music is rebelling against itself. This nerve-racking exercise keeps you on your toes, building tension until the album’s first true black metal song, “Lonely OIOION.” This song is classic Liturgy, featuring searing guitars interlaid with angelic harp melodies, vocals distorted to hell and back, and drums as chaotic as anything from the “true kvlt” era of black metal. This unrelenting barrage coupled with the ceremonial organ conjures the image of a demon in a cathedral, truly illustrating the reverential power of the song’s subject. As sweeping, regal-sounding strings close OIOION’s story, Act I is finished.
Act II begins with “The Fall of SIHEYMN,” which announces itself with a forlorn horn solo, mirroring the understatement of “OIOION’s Birth.” However, unlike Act I’s first movement, this track is not satisfied with being confined to the orchestra. At around the halfway mark, the drum and guitarwork go absolutely berserk, creating a menacing atmosphere reminiscent of Imperial Triumphant. Easily one of my favorites, this song is a hair’s breadth away from unbound chaos, but it still manages to be enrapturing from start to finish.
If things weren’t weird enough, the main course of Act II is a trap song. If nothing else, this album sticks it to black metal “true kvlt” elitists, and that’s more apparent on “SIHEYMN’s Lament” than anywhere else. This song begins with a catchy piano theme accompanied by some danceable horn and harp lines that wouldn’t sound all that out of place on the Hamilton soundtrack. The accompanying trap beats are jarring, yes, but Hunt-Hendrix’s vocal effects honestly tie it all together. The beats alone would have been enough to permanently brand this song into the minds of all who heard it, but this track also includes some of the most conventional and downright badass orchestral sections of the whole album – eat your heart out, John Williams. This march-like fanfare transitions seamlessly into yet another unexpected stylistic change – djent. Act II ends on this note, much more brazenly than Act I, giving the listener at least a little bit of prep time before for the bombastic album interlude.
Enter “Apparition of the Eternal Church.” This track’s nail-biter of a piano intro lets you know you’re in for something big, and damn does it deliver. On this song, Hunt-Hendrix takes the “wall of sound” trope that has become a staple of black metal and builds it up like the Tower of Babylon. She yet again displays her expertise at keeping a song as deconstructed and abstract as possible while still giving it a clear direction. We also see the return of the Theme and Variations compositional style, this one stretched over fifteen awe-inspiring minutes. It’s interesting to note that the glitchiness that occurs on the rest of the album doesn’t appear once in this song, perhaps indicating that those glitches are storytelling elements in the chronicle of Hunt-Hendrix’s theology. Liturgy pulls out all the stops on this ritualistic interlude, creating a sonic landscape that is blindingly bright, impossibly intricate, and as ornate as La Sagrada Familia.
The final act of this opera takes place during “The Armistice.” Hunt-Hendrix’s screams here are certainly brutal, but coupled with the Edvard Grieg-esque string melodies, they take on a contemplative, almost prayerful character. This liturgical temperament remains in the strings through the rest of the album, giving the lead violin lines a strong sense of finality. As the cymbal crashes get bigger and faster while the choir sings higher and higher, you can visualize the image of a conductor cueing the orchestra, sweat dripping from their brow as they passionately lead the orchestra to the end of a magnificent symphony. And as the ethereal harp melody closes out the album, you can feel a sense of light and purity descend on you, peacefully.
Which, and I can’t stress this enough, is really fucking weird for a black metal album.
But such is the life of a Liturgy fan. This album sets itself apart from overdone black metal tropes in many ways, but it also successfully diverges from the trite elements of orchestral metal. Devin Townsend, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Nightwish – they all come from the same basic formula as Liturgy, but the difference is that they produce the hell out of their music until it sounds cold and impersonal. In contrast, Liturgy’s tone is warm and bright, and the mix on Origins is so intimate that you can hear the horn players breathing and keys being played. These little details let the listener know that Hunt-Hendrix’s philosophy isn’t meant to be overtly divine in nature, because that would render it inaccessible. It is meant to be profoundly human, and thus it is critical that the flaws of life on Earth be represented in the album’s mix.
Either that, or someone forgot to pay the mix engineer.
All in all, this album is a trip of celestial proportions, engaging mind, body, and spirit all at the same time. It blends together a cluster of seemingly unrelated genres and ideas, but through the chaos, a searing light emerges. To sum it all up, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s hodgepodge of harrowing haunted house hysteria is horrifyingly hostile, but maintains a hypnotic habitat of holiness – truly a hailstorm of head-spinning hullaballoo.
RIYL: Deafheaven, Swans, Imperial Triumphant, Oranssi Pazuzu
Shame -- Drunk Tank Pink
Post-punk freshmen ‘shame’ return with Drunk Tank Pink, the long-awaited follow-up to their 2018 debut Songs of Praise which initially grabbed so much of the attention of the indie scene. That record snagged the attention of music fans for its interesting combination of grungy nineties rock, with 70s dad rock and ‘Wire-y’ jagged songwriting.
However, while the first album did some interesting things, it failed to execute on delivering an enjoyable album. Many of the album’s riffs and motifs just fell flat due to indistinctive songwriting and a particularly muddy mix. So while the band showed a promising proclivity for experimentation, they showed their lack of experience in the final mixes.
But, leading up to the release of the second album, the album’s promotional singles showed promise. “Alphabet”, released in September last year showed the band’s greatly improved tenacity for melody writing and the mix of the song was levels of quality better than anything on Song Of Praise. The other leading single and music video “Water In The Well” was an intensely groovy cut that showed influences from post-punk all over the map and explosive, cohesive performances from the whole band.
The overall improved sheen of the songs is greatly thanks to the production of James Ford, who gained his experience from his extensive work producing the discographies of Florence + the Machine and the Arctic Monkeys. And Ford’s work on the Drunk Tank Pink greatly elevates the band’s sound, allowing its cleanest and dirtiest sounds to meld together beautifully.
While the production is several pegs above where it was on the debut, there are still a few incongruencies in their writing that drags down the uniqueness of some of the songs. Notably “Harsh Degrees” in the last chunk of the record feels a little too much like the preceding cut and smooth transition between the tracks seems less seamless and more so unintentionally forgettable. “Nigel Hitter” plays with some of the lightest dance punk rhythms of the album but gets tedious in its runtime which could’ve been cut down just a bit.
So while the homogenous sound of the record partly weighs it down, it mostly serves the record, especially in its more dynamic and elaborate tracks. “Born In Luton” is a shifting rocker that cleverly moves between pummeling, tortured verses and a comparably lamenting chorus. The band’s seamless dance between complex time signature shifts is exciting and the layered guitar work transcends the band’s sound. Definitely resonates like some early Modest Mouse.
“Human, for a Minute” shows a never-before-seen side of the band where the band’s tenderness comes out in spades. It’s intimate saunter breaks into a Strokes-like guitar passage in the outro. “Station Wagon” is the record’s resident slow-burner that festers like a beast over its six-and-a-half minute runtime. The dramatic pianos, shuddering guitars, and cataclysmic drums lead singer Charlie Steen’s prose lyrics into an explosive and satisfying ending to the record.
The lyrics of Drunk Tank Pink relate in themes of dissatisfaction with smalltown stagnation, conformity, and with oneself (I sure hope the boys of Shame are ok, I’m here if you need to talk ;]. Songs like “Great Dog” and “March Day” shake the bars of one’s own cell, screaming for freedom from the expectations of people around you. The latter is a favorite mine and plays with funky Gang Of Four-esque guitar motifs.
Sometimes, the eccentric lyricism is completely past my comprehension like on the aforementioned “Water In The Well”, inarguably the band’s most polished hit to date. The jangly guitar riffs, bro-ey background chants, textured percussion, and non-linear drums fills make for a fantastic earworm of track. It's here more than anywhere else on the record that Steen’s colorful deliveries shine in full force, bringing a whole extra layer of color to the tracks.
But hands-down, my favorite track here is the multi-faceted epic “Snow Day” which sees the band travel through various song fragments that all tie into this narrative of someone on the edge of suicide. The various stages see the narrator contemplating different sects of emotions from discomfort and anger to fantasy and bliss. Each section of the track mirrors the lyrics with modulating time signatures, confrontational guitar tones, and epic drum fills finally breaking into a beautiful outro with the narrator on the brink of death. The songwriting, performances, and poetry on this song are shame at their absolute best yet and lands as my favorite song of 2021 so far.
So Drunk Tank Pink still shows some weaknesses in songwriting that were there on the debut but overall displayed significant improvements there and everywhere else. Every part from the mix to the band’s chemistry to the colorful songwriting and biting lyrics are significantly better than on Songs of Praise. Aside from development, the band also shows themselves to be developing, exciting post-punk with this record, creating a wide variety of explosive highs and howling lows.
Drunk Tank Pink is a promising follow sophomore record from new age punks Shame who show a greater tenacity for production, songwriting, and performances on this record. [Benji O’Connor]
RIYL: IDLES, Viagra Boys, Parquet Courts
Miley Cyrus -- Plastic Hearts
For a decade, Miley Cyrus has re-invented herself several times in her personal and professional life. In 2010 she broke away from Hannah Montanta with her album Can’t Be Tamed, came in like a “wrecking ball” in 2013 with Bangerz, and mellowed out with her collaboration with The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz in 2015. Miley went from Disney star to raunchy pop star to psychedelic hippie all in the span of five years. More than all of that drama, Miley has had to deal with three breakups, her house burning down in 2018, and a vocal fold injury in 2019. Life has been a massive bitch to Miley Cyrus.
But not 2020. Not this year. “In Loving Memory of All My Exes, Eat Shit” is a mantra she adopted for the culmination of all of the shit she has been through, and the power she has gained from it. From the ashes, comes Plastic Hearts, her new 80’s rock album filled with late night sites and cocaine to go with it. It was slowly released from August to late November, and the wait has been worth it.
Midnight Sky was the first single released of the album, and it sets the mood. Immediately the instrumentation has a weird Stranger Things meets late-night drive feel as the bass pounds Miley’s harsh, leathery tone forward. She clearly states in the chorus:
I was born to run, I don't belong to anyone, oh no
I don't need to be loved by you
This is Miley, choose to accept it or not. Despite the initial “throwback” vibe of the album, this showcases Miley’s skills over the course of her venture into pop music. Never Be Me is a somber look into the acceptance of herself, where Miley’s lyrical writing really shines:
Dry your tears now, don't you cry
I'm by your side, at least for a while
I know I do this every time
I walk the line, yeah, I play with fire
The way she uses the similar rhyming of the words dry, cry, side, only to separate herself with the word while really shows her skill when it comes to lyric writing.
However, the highlights of the album belong to the collaborations. Joan Jett, Dua Lipa, and Stevie Nicks all appear on this album and holy hell do they put on a show. Dua Lipa provides some sweet, mellow vocal flavor to Midnight Sky’s sister, Prisoner, which takes the reflective drive from the latter and turns into a club anthem. Miley Cyrus was born to duet with Joan Jett. It was very difficult to tell the two apart on the album because they meshed together vocally so well. Many fans have commented that Midnight Sky has a similar musical contour to Stevie Nicks’s Edge of Seventeen. Miley’s response? Fuck it, let’s do a mashup of the two and ask Stevie to collab on it. Perfect.
Miley’s voice and fearlessness of her sexuality, sex life, and drug use has acted as a beacon for many who have struggled with finding their own individuality and direction. But these different facets of Miley have been given a purpose- to encourage others to find theirs, and stick their middle fingers up with her. [David D’Ardenne]
RIYL: Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Dua Lipa, Cherry Bomb