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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
New Zealand's best electronic act is back in action. The Naked & Famous are sounding stronger and more confident than ever, their third album Simple Forms reigning as their best works yet.
The band has experimented with different styles of electronic in the past. 2013's In Rolling Waves explored a gentle, if not fragile side of it, building itself up with layers of slowly building, aesthetic field of synths. Their 2010 debut Passive Me, Aggressive You had a poppier, more energetic vibe to it than its successor. Simple Forms combines the best of both of those records into one awesome album.
As soon as it begins, you know The Naked & Famous have really set the bar high. Lead single 'Higher' leads off the record, introducing the record with vocalist Alisa Xayalith singing sweetly before the big instrumental kicks in. Brought in by an electrifying guitar and splashy drums, the track exudes energy and also shows the softer side of the band, the bridge replacing the thick synths with a light wave of synth and piano as Xayalith tones done her voice for a sweet moment. Thick, explosive synths are this album's life force, but sometimes it comes at a cost. 'The Water Beneath You' has even more energetic synths than the song preceding it, yet the chorus almost feels empty with the lack of anything besides the big synth. Where are the drums? The guitar? Anything? It's a solid track, but if it had more to it, it could've been that much better.
Single 'Laid Low' - which we reviewed upon its release - exemplifies the album's energetic side. The big drums give it an anthemic vibe, while the bittersweet cries of "Take me home / I'm learning to live with ghosts" make the chorus personal and giant at the same time. The song's words are enough to motivate you, despite their sadder meaning about needing to be saved. The final explosion of cries at the end of the song give it a sincere, passionate vibe.
On the opposite end, there's songs like 'Backslide', that give anthemic a different side. The immense bass synth bursts like cosmic warfare, the beautiful melodies and harmonies adding to the song's conviction. It's a darker song, exploding with thick bass guitars and synths like some epic symphonic rock song put to electronics. It's uplifting in an convicting way - it makes you feel like wanting to act.
The chemistry between Xayalith and Thom Powers is another critical point on the album. 'My Energy' shows Powers take the lead on a track, with Xayalith acting as support to him, resulting in some great harmonies with big guitars and a grand instrumental taking them even further. The ending is great - the slight increase in pitch resolves the song in a confident, energetic note that gives it an unexpected punch. There's more of a tradeoff in 'Losing Our Control', the slower atmosphere progressing with the gentle swelling of the synth as the duo switch off with each other, both vocals telling their own part in this tragic story. Power's backing vocals in 'Last Vocals' may not be in the foreground, but they still really tie the chorus together and make the song cohesive. The song ends sweetly, a raw recording of them singing in the studio with the song's acoustic guitar track playing along. Moments like this aren't usually done well on records, but this one was perfect.
Simple Forms is The Naked & Famous' best work yet. Combining emotion, energy, and pure musicianship into one cohesive record makes the album truly enjoyable and warming to listen to. It's a masterful blend of electronica, rock, and indie that solidifies this band's position as the top contenders in their genre.
Favorite Tracks: Backslide, Losing Our Control, Laid Low
Least Favorite Track: Rotting
Rating: 90 / 100
There's no one who blends indie rock and electronic pop quite like The Naked & Famous. Their style is unmatchable in its swagger and energy. Their third record Simple Forms is due in October, and serves as the follow up to 2013's In Rolling Waves. Simple Forms seems to be taking a more upbeat direction than the somber tones of its predecessor. The second single from the album 'Laid Low' promises a big album is on the way.
Right from the beginning you know something different is on the way. It has a huge drum beat that serves as a highlight in itself; it's big and upbeat, exactly what the track is going for. The synths build a chill atmosphere as the synth riff brings in the lyrics. The choruses are subdued with reverberating synths with vocalist Alisa Xayalith sounding powerful, begging for saving: "Know that you can take me home / I'm learning to live with ghosts / the limbs I miss the most." The song's climax comes with several vocal lines singing at the same time on top of an explosive instrumental, building up before it concludes.
The song itself is about becoming tired of life, and missing what you had in the past when life's bringing you down. The lines "Laid low by heart ache / I'm trying to stay afloat." The way the song explodes at the end feels compassionate and so final; like you finally got what you've wanted through the story of the song. The lyric video shows a variety of scenes, the main focus is a woman running from a car. Like a deer in headlights she runs from it - that feeling of standing out and being afraid capturing what the song wants to be saved from. A variety of other scenes, including a burning rose, also make up the video, providing metaphors for love and the monotony of life.
The Naked & Famous have a big album in store. The previous single 'Higher' also has a similarly upbeat sound to it - this album's going to be fun. Simple Forms is out in October, but 'Laid Low' will be on repeat for the month to come yet. The hype couldn't be bigger. New Zealand's finest electronic group is about to make 2016 their own.
Rating: 85 / 100
Music has always been and always will be progressive. Through every big movement there is some form of growth, and that growth sprouts from pushing boundaries beyond what one would think is possible. Yet growth and progression is not limited to change. It can be internal. Humans have a distinct desire to change the game and to create something new, if only to make our world greater. A message is all that it needs.
CHVRCHES' sophomore album is a good example of this internal change. Even before it was released, the album has sparked controversy already (see: Lauren Mayberry’s speaking out again misogyny). The trio of electronica masters have burst forward with a brand new album, showing their growth since their debut while still maintaining their core principles as artists.
Admittedly, after initially listening to the three singles the band released (’Never Ending Circles’, ‘Leaving A Trace’, and ‘Clearest Blue’), I was somewhat put off by what I was to expect from this album. They were undoubtedly CHVRCHES songs, but they seemed to missing something that was present in The Bones Of What You Believe. It did not become apparent just what was missing until the songs were put into the context of the album. They lacked a story telling element. While there was never a clear narrative in Bones, everything added up. It made a statement that, when isolated to a single piece of music, may be unclear, but there still exists a sense of what the end result may be. While that is somewhat absent from Every Open Eye, it does not necessarily detract from it. Rather, it gives CHVRCHES a chance to work on specific meanings rather than summing up ideas as a whole. Even then, that statement is not entirely true - Every Open Eye does have some core concepts.
One of the more cleverly disguised secrets mixed into this album is the change of sound. It is a secret in that the album is definitively a CHVRCHES album, yet it starkly contrasts its predecessor. Bones had a dark vibe to it, almost to an otherwordly level. Even the cheeriest songs on Bones had something dark hidden within it (’Gun’ and ‘The Mother We Share’ come to mind). Every Eye Open is somewhat more straightforward, in that sense. Not every track has something dark behind it.
Differences do not end at the feeling of the album. There is an austere progression in their sonic landscapes as well. While Bones felt reminiscent and new all at the same time, Every Open Eye feels very familiar... yet still new. Perhaps the most similar song to their debut record is ‘Keep You On My Side’ - it could have come straight from the demo sessions of the album, if not for its slightly stronger EDM influence! The influences are definitely stronger on this one, though. ‘Down Side Of Me’ is almost CHVRCHES’s take on a Naked & Famous song. ‘High Enough To Carry You’ sounds like it came straight out of the 80′s (or straight out of a YouTube troll video, à la Rick Astley). On the subject of this song, this is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. Martin Doherty takes the reigns for lead vocals on this track, and absolutely takes it over! Hopefully they emphasize his voice more on future records, as well. ‘Bury It’ is the poppiest song on the record, with a huge metallic background and an absolutely massive chorus. ‘Afterglow’, the final track on the album, is perhaps one of the band’s most beautiful tracks. It finds power in minimalism and simplicity, featuring nothing but a building, huge atmosphere and Lauren Mayberry’s enchanting vocals. It almost feels like it took inspiration from Muse, who’s latest album Drones ended with the track of the same name, which was nothing more than a layered a cappella (and a single synth note to conclude it), in a similar fashion to how Mayberry takes this track mostly solo. It was without a doubt the best way - and possibly the only way - to end this album with a substantial conclusion.
Every Open Eye is a testament to progression. It represents how CHVRCHES have mastered their craft and can still find ways to expand upon it. It also is a statement on how humans desire change, too. One individual can make a huge difference in the world, but not unless the world can watch. Change occurs when every eye is open, and appeals to every open eye. Progress makes us human. Evolution makes us living. And CHVRCHES make us feel alive.
Favorite Tracks: Afterglow, High Enough To Carry You, Bury It
Least Favorite Tracks: Leave A Trace, Clearest Blue
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
My Top 10 of 2015:
It’s not very often a new voice appears on the scene that demands such attention it can create a cult. Here we have Halsey, who’s debut LP has done exactly that. She seemingly appeared out of thin air, with her powerful voice garnering enough attention to already be demanding playtime on radios everywhere. After a powerful EP entitled Room 93 (containing ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Ghost’, found on the deluxe edition of the album) released late last year, Halsey has brought out her best for an eccentric and challenging debut: BADLANDS.
According to Halsey, the name of the album is derived from the state of her mind as she wrote the album; fair enough, considering the themes presented in the album. Containing everything from rebellion to love, this album covers a lot of ground thematically. Lyrically, this album is nothing short of fantastic. The chorus of the opening track, ‘Castle’ embodies rising up against the machine: “I'm headed straight for the castle / They wanna make me their queen / And there's an old man sitting on the throne that's saying that I probably shouldn't be so mean”. Lyrics should arrest your interest, making you delve into them, extracting meaning from them, keen on absorbing the next word. Halsey does great at this, with almost every track being able to capture your interest and hold it captive while it puts you in a trance you can’t escape. Her lyrics are also clever and relatable, especially the bridge of ‘Colors’, where she speaks of a mistaken love: ‘You were red and you liked me 'cause I was blue / You touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky / And you decided purple just wasn't for you.” The songs are written with a lot of emotion and thought, and it does not go unappreciated.
Her sound in general is unique in its own right - think of it as The Naked & Famous meets Nirvana. Keeping the synths heavy and brooding while harkening back to rebellious styles like Nirvana is what Halsey does best. It’s undeniable that there’s just something about her voice that is so enchanting - is it the subtly raspiness to it? How introspective it is? Melody plays a big part in it too, each song having a memorable hook and backed up by having equally memorable lyrics. ‘Castle’ and ‘New Americana’ have particularly capturing lyrics and melodies that you just can’t get out of your mind. It isn’t all just power and catchy choruses, however. There’s a lot of little moments to be remembered, too. ‘Haunting’ begins with a little a cappella intro, almost in the style of CHVRCHES’ ‘The Mother We Share’. The instrumental of ‘Gasoline’ harkens back to ‘Hurricane’ when she sings the line, “Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?” There, the little synth hook from ‘Hurricane’ plays - a small, but clever and cute moment. It’s these little inclusions that keep the album alive. No two songs sound the same, as well. You have a synth-rock track in ‘Roman Holiday’, but find yourself listening to the creepy, symphonic track ‘Control’ later on.
Halsey’s debut is one of the strongest first albums all year. It explores every nook and cranny it possibly could, while still holding together one progressive album that is relatable and fun all the same. I saw her live back in June when she opened for Metric and Imagine Dragons - even before she had a full length EP her shows were already massive. The attention she has garnered is very much deserved, and to be expected from such a massive debut.
Favorite Tracks: Castle, Colors, New Americana, Control
Least Favorite Tracks: Strange Love, Drive