Natalie McCool - The Great Unknown

It's always nice to hear a refreshing new pop artist. Natalie McCool is the fresh new face on the block, and she brings something new to the table with her debut record The Great Unknown.

The Great Unknown isn't pop in the traditional sense. It's a mix of darkness and the modern, radio pop that most may be familiar with. Natalie McCool doesn't appear to be a sellout, though. The music is pure in every sense, clearly not some of the more fabricated stuff you'd here from time to time. There are plenty of moments when the album's purity comes into play, perhaps not becoming most clear until the final track 'When You Love Somebody.' This track is the most bubblegum pop you'll heard on the record, simple and easygoing as McCool dreamily sings "it's there when you love somebody."

There are plenty of sweet moments on this record like this track. See 'Fortress,' bringing forward the sweet punchy synths of LIGHTS and sweet harmonies you might expect of St. Vincent. It's danceable but its understated, something you'd might slowly sway to on a cloudy day in town. It's definitely not a city song - it's a country song at heart; not stylistically, but intrinsically. It builds with power, elements piling together for one powerful yet fun end. Much is the same about 'Magnet,' the simple lyrics crooned sweetly and with lots of fun. It's more immediately upfront and has more urgency to it, but it's a solid pop song all around.

The Great Unknown has some darkness to it, too. 'Just Let Me Go' changes the scene of the record, dark and brooding with the poetry of Aurora and the spacious understanding of Chelsea Wolfe. It's a slow moving beast, the mystery building slowly, treading across the floor like the "demon [that] burns all our souls" that the song refers too. 'Feel Good' follows up, not as dark but with the same mood to it. It's not the dark, poetic monster that 'Just' was, but its darker vibe helps make it feel a bit more serious.

The are very few weak moments on the record. From the sweet beginning of 'Pins' right to the very end, it's a pretty great and chill record. The only moment that stands out as particularly bad is 'Cardiac Arrest,' where the lyrics don't quite get the message across like they should. Otherwise, the record is a very clear and solid pop record.

The Great Unknown is a great introduction into the music industry for Natalie McCool. There's a clear understanding of her sound and a great control of poetic emotion and pure emotion. This is the start of a strong career - this songwriter's pop rock flair is going to be a driving force for those to come.

Favorite Tracks: Just Let Me Go, Fortress, Magnet, Pins

Least Favorite Track: Cardiac Arrest

Rating: 78 / 100

Sleigh Bells - Jessica Rabbit

Ever wonder what it would sound like if The Naked and Famous collaborated with Nine Inch Nails? Look no further. Sleigh Bells' eclectic fourth album Jessica Rabbit is just that.

Sleigh Bells is a band that doesn't really find itself bound to a genre, as it's caught in between so many. Their music is best described as a rogue noise pop, drawing from industrial and electronica, too. Jessica Rabbit is an album that they finished again and again, never quite being satisfied with the product. The dynamic record draws from trying to fill an empty space with fresh hope, drawing from each band members' different approach to writing.

Right from the start, you'll realize this album is something unique. Disjointed, noisy guitar punches lead 'It's Just Us Now' to its pounding start, massive drums filling the song with confidence as Alexis Krauss' vocals soar high above the instrumental. It's an empowering song to say the least - it'll get your blood flowing for sure. The album's lifeline is its high energy that resonates throughout the record's playtime. The groovy riffs of 'I Can't Stand You Anymore' bring the anthemic vibe to the song, with CHVRCHES-esque synth arpeggios and swells sound in the background. The energy doesn't fade whatsoever - near the end of the record, 'Baptism By Fire' is just as energetic as the beginning of the record was.

It's easy to see the album as an uplifting, optimistic one. That would take away from it's diversity, however; it is true that there is a lot of energy on the record, but there's some darkness sprinkled into its tracklist. The short track 'Loyal For' almost sounds like a Chelsea Wolfe track, the deep synths and dark strings creating an abysmal feeling as Krauss' vocals resonate high above them. It's tense drama makes it almost feel violent. 'Unlimited Dark Paths' also gets off to a dark start, but it's sparkling synths soften up the evilness the track has at its core.

Those are the two spectrums, and of course the two also meet at a middle ground. The single 'I Can Only Stare' may seem positive from an outside view, but looking into its blaring synths and spidery synths, it feels more like a search for hope rather than dwelling in a place where positivity already exists. Krauss' vocals are upbeat, but the instrumental remains dark. 'Throw Me Down The Stairs' also sees more darkness, but also has a more upfront rock vibe to it. It's thick and almost threatening.

If this album is lacking anything, it's more upfrontness. I can't help feel that by the end of the record, it could be using a bit more punchiness to it. It's atmospheric and sweet, but it's not as powerful as the beginning of the record. There was conviction and a strive, but at the end of the record it doesn't quite feel the same. It's not bad, and the energy is still there, but it could just use a bit more to really elevate it.

Sleigh Bells are continuing their crazy journey into left-field power pop with flying colors. Jessica Rabbit is energetic and shows that the band really put their soul into this record before being ready to release it. It's not perfect and may lose some of its conviction by the end, but its energy remains constant and allows the album to feel fresh from start to end, and you can't go wrong with that.

Favorite Tracks: It's Just Us Now, Lighting Turns Sawdust Gold, I Can Only Stare

Least Favorite Track: As If

Rating: 80 / 100

Carla dal Forno - You Know What It's Like

When you get experimental, you're expected to get weird, maybe even creepy. You're supposed to go out of the ordinary and make something distinctly different from what may be expected. That's what Carla dal Forno does in her new album, You Know What It's Like.

dal Forno has provided her talents for many acts in the past, but You Know What It's Like is her first solo effort. On her debut, you'd think she'd want to tackle a more accessible field. That's almost the opposite of what she does - her debut is largely an artful experiment, requiring an open mind to indulge fully in and to understand. It's chocked full of interesting moments, but they're all understated to the extreme (no song has a definitive climax; it's all one machine) and requires active listening. In that way, it makes it a brilliant thing. She found a way to get listeners to not lose any attention.

While clocking in at just below half an hour, the album does make use of its short run time. The creepy wobbles of 'Italian Cinema' open the record, its dinky, curious synths providing the accurate summation of the album's sound to come. You Know What It's Like is full of strange, often times scary sounds that provoke that unsettling feeling in its listener. 'DB Rip' builds slowly with dreamy ambience and choirs, the synths washing over dull shores with ominous choirs backing them as the song slowly builds its atmosphere. 'Dragon Breath' is scary from the start, the low drone of the bass followed by the distorted hum of some machine emulating the quiet horrors of a sleeping dragon. It's all subtlety that makes this album so vivid.

The other side of this album is how it builds. When its not creating disturbing atmosphere, it's creating a thoughtful experience. dal Forno sings in a few tracks, her voice singing almost emptily above slowly chugging instrumentals akin to Chelsea Wolfe. The most clear example is closing track 'The Same Reply', slowly churning with pretty piano and industrial drums. There's also 'What You Gonna Do Now', which is really the most accessible song on the record, and that's saying something because it's still an acquired taste. The song features a simple yet effective bassline that repeats under her deathly vocals, an urgent beat building behind her, the song slowly growing with a sort of restless contempt. It's like a look into a foggy iteration of hell. The slow tortured cries of demons form themselves into swelling synths and UFO noises.

Carla dal Forno doesn't mess around. Her debut is serious and sounds like she's lived a lifetime of torture. It's a horror record, but at the same time finds beauty in its simplicity and pain. It's an odd debut, but it solidifies her position in music. Her solid footing just took a strong step forward - this woman is not afraid.

Favorite Tracks: What You Gonna Do Now, The Same Reply, DB Rip

Least Favorite Track: Italian Cinema

Rating: 80 / 100

Emily Jane White - They Moved In Shadow All Together

Darkness always holds some sort of meaning, regardless of what light is shined upon it (or lack thereof, rather). Emily Jane White uses her distinct brand of dreamy, dark folk in her new album They Moved In Shadow All Together to take you on a revealing journey of your inner self. It's a truly cleansing experience to listen to this record.

This album isn't dark folk in the reign of Chelsea Wolfe; this album does not condemn humanity or sound like darkness is swallowing you. It feels more like your running into a pale horizon as the darkness slowly trails behind you, taking memories and dreams with you. It's beautifully put together, beautiful harmonies and slowly trudging instrumentals making the music resonate through your core. The albums also flow gently like a calm sea, 'Pallid Eyes' especially feels like it has a calm sway to it. 'Antechamber' has it's own type of presence, its soaring harmonies contrasting the dark instrumental that has a odd optimism in it. The instrumental moves like a ballet dancer, weaving gracefully in and out and stunning jumps and dives. This album, while slow moving and dark, has a lot of character embedded within it.

Have I mentioned this album is beautiful yet? There are so manny blissful instrumental moments on it that add so much taste to it! The piano performances on the album are fantastic: moments include 'Rupturing' which has a gorgeous ascending piano part that is accompanied by strings to build back in (it reprises itself as a sort of pre-chorus), 'The Black Dove' with a sweet piano intro that leads into a mysteriously and grandly swelling into a truly epic folk song led by confident percussion. The drums on this album are absolutely fantastic, too. Whether it be the slow guiding beat to 'Frozen Garden' or the epic crashes of 'Hands', the percussion on this album was executed incredibly, done with master precision. The instrumentals can also swallow you whole, in the case of the amazingly beautiful cavern that is 'Nightmares On Repeat'.

The lyrics and vocal melodies on this album may the best part of the record. The harmonies are spine tingling and the words chilling. There's not a single lyrical moment to be highlighted, as the entire album is written incredibly. Every word and every line feels so perfectly in place in the scheme of the story this album has that it's almost like you can reach out and hold them. The melodies add movement to this wonderful story, take the haunting melodies of 'Moulding' for example. Absolutely crushing and beautiful.

There's something starkly beautiful in the simplicity of They Moved In Shadow All Together. It hits so close to the heart and feels so real and personal... It sounds like the lovechild of Aurora's music and Chelsea Wolfe's (two artists I can't get enough of), fitting right in between the beauty of both artists' styles. Emily Jane White's new record is a folk masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned. Listen to it. It'll change you.

Favorite Tracks: The Black Dove, Nightmares On Repeat, Hands, Antechamber

Least Favorite Track: The Ledge

Rating: 89 / 100


Top 10 Albums Of 2016 (so far):

  1. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
  2. AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend
  3. Panic! At The Disco - Death Of A Bachelor
  4. Deftones - Gore
  5. Dream Theater - The Astonishing
  6. Foxes - All I Need
  7. Daughter - Not To Disappear
  8. Gojira - Magma
  9. Thrice - To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
  10. Emily Jane White - They Moved In Shadow All Together