5. Death From Above- Outrage Now! 3.5/5 Stars
The latest from rock duo Death From Above, formerly known as Death From Above 1979, “Outrage Now!” is more of the good ol’ abrasive, fast-pace rock the band’s made their ever-changing-name on, and not much else. Distorted bass, frantic drumming, shouting lyrics – Death From Above finds their stride in simplicity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find bands making music as genuine as Outrage Now!, with almost zero regard for trends. The political messages are vague and often share songs with romance. With the exception of the opening song “Nomad,” which is reminiscent of ’80s nerd metal, and “Moonlight,” a notable favorite of mine drawing from operatic influences, the album doesn’t mirror nostalgic blues-y rock as is so popular as of late (I’m looking at you Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, and Queens of the Stone Age).
4. The National- Sleep Well Beast 4/5 Stars
There’s a lot to be said of an album that delivers on the expectations of fans, and simultaneously betrays the band’s signature sound.
Dancing between heart-broken, primarily acoustic ballads and synth-pop laced experimental tracks, The National’s “Sleep Well Beast” is confusing, surprising, and stupendous. The album’s themes will seem familiar to fans; from break-ups to depression, to imagery of New York in winter (no one is saying it’s a “happy” album). From the opening songs, “Nobody Else Will Be There” and “Day I Die,” the listener is treated to new old National. Trailing into “Walk it Back” and “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” however, The National breaks into more experimental, even exciting, material. There’s a guitar solo in “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” for Pete’s sake, and Matt Berninger even breaks out of baritone!
If that wasn’t weird enough, then there are tracks such as “Turtleneck” that could be mistaken for new material from Talking Heads or The B52’s, with bizarre voice inflections and guitar slopped on like guitarist twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner are pompously disregarding the song’s structure. As if ventures like “Turtleneck” weren’t shocking enough in their own right, more alarming still is that they work, flawlessly!
The rest of the album treats the listener to inconsistent melds between the two styles, as either sounds fights for dominance. There are notable wins for the sound of old National too, with “Carin in The Liquor Store” playing like the last call in a New York bar. Then the album closes with title track “Sleep Well Beast,” which delivers a perfect balance between the two.
3. Brand New- Science Fiction 4.5/5 Stars
It would seem appropriate to call “Science Fiction” “much anticipated” if anyone remembered Brand New.
Not to discredit the band’s brilliance over the years, but following the decline of “emo” and the band’s divisive 2009 album “Daisy,” one can be forgiven for having not anticipated the band’s return. But, sure enough, eight years later, Science Fiction – and much to any fan’s delight, not a whole lot has changed.
It is apparent that Jesse Lacey is still struggling with depression, and religion, which were common themes in the band’s last two albums. It is also apparent that the southern influence Brand New introduced in “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” and later toiled with in Daisy, have been solidified into what can be heard in grand songs such as “451” and in a weary twang, such as my personal favorite “Dessert. The band has also yet to sever their ties to their angsty association with more simplistic songs such as “Get It Out,” which is one of only a handful of songs that utilize, however subtly, screaming vocals (and incredibly well, I should add).
Though it is apparent that the band has matured in many regards, they still hold true to some key characteristics such as climactic song structures and haunting acoustic melodies.
2. Vince Staples- The Big Fish Theory 4.5/5 Stars
Trickery. “The Big Fish Theory” has an allure of a hyped-up party album, with deceitful hooks and titles such as “Yeah Right” and “Party People.” Under the playful, bassy club music mask is a darker avant-garde album that explores themes of oppression, depression, love, and loss – all the good stuff. The simplistic production of the album compliments the concealed themes by juxtaposing the two tones flawlessly.
There’s also a good sum of assistance from contributing artists such as Damon Albarn, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and the increasingly impressive Kilo Kish (who made a prominent appearance on Gorillaz’s Humanz earlier this year). Though many songs risk sounding similar, each has its own individuality expressed in gripping moments to keep the album consistently enthralling. Staples’s capability to seamlessly integrate old and new style hip-hop raises the bar for artists who share in the industry.
1. Lorde- Melodrama 5/5 Stars
Lorde’s “Melodrama” is the perfect soundtrack to the summer now past. Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor is the drama queen. She’s not “a drama queen” – she is “THE drama queen” and the key word is ‘queen.’ Melodrama wears the crown with an anthemic stride as it explores desire and regret through young eyes. The erratic changes in tone, from optimism to reminiscent frustration, from complicated electric drive to melancholy acoustics, immerse listeners in a world of ambition and plight. The album finds strides in dreamy moments like “The Louvre,” which somehow sounds like the Fourth of July looks. Lorde’s follow-up to 2013’s “Pure Heroine” bridges melodramatics with maturity in a way that ties listeners of all ages to a specific time and age. The sounds and theme of the album resonate over a wide spectrum, either as a reminder or an embrace of youthful endeavors.