Fever Ray – ‘Plunge’
Expect the unexpected. Karin Dreijer’s second solo album in eight years is a true surprise – not just in terms of its rushed release.
Although it was just a question of time before Karin Dreijer would reactivate her alter ego Fever Ray following the end of The Knife two years ago, the result of that comeback is not like we expected it, especially since the 8-hour warning ahead of its release was clearly too short to be ready for it. Of course, Plunge doesn’t sound like her quite dark and mesmerizing 2009 debut. Yes, the atmospheric Fever Ray is still sensible in songs like Must’n Hurry, Red Trails and the single To The Moon And Back but in its entirety Plunge feels like the artist’s ongoing radicalization from introspection towards protest. Although it also feels like a continuation of The Knife’s final 2014 LP Shaking The Habitual, both in terms of sounds and themes, it’s a bit more accessible than it.
Right from the straight forward start with Wanna Sip Dreijer makes no secret out of her attempt to deliver a furious and feministic pop record that’s progressive-sounding and forward thinking. She demands ‘free abortions, clear water, destroy nuclears’ in This Country before summing her struggle up with the words ‘This country makes it hard to fuck’. Plunge is looking for the limelight while her debut album preferred the darkness, it’s got a raw and adventurous appeal and is not interested in quick and predictable pleasing. This is a tender call to arms, tempting, raw, sensual and full of reasons to simply discover it over the next weeks and months. And that’s even more than we could have hoped for. (Norman Fleischer)
John Maus – ‘Screen Memories’
Apocalyptic cheekiness from synth pop’s academic mastermind: John Maus delivers the perfect album for our times.
It’s not the worst of excusements for an extended break from music: After delivering one of 2011s best records, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, John Maus duck for cover, being busy by gaining the doctors degree in political philosophy and building custom made synthesizers on his ‘Funny Farm’ in Minnesota. Actually, this little retrospect perfectly sums up the existence of the artist John Maus, somewhere between lecture hall und stage. His return with Screen Memories is a triumphant one and who would’ve questioned that?
Opener The Combine mixes Moroder, the X-Files and sacral organs with dystopian lyrics of a combine that’s ‘gonna dust us all to nothing’. Teenage Witch glitches 80s pop references into excessive synth experimentalism, New Order fuels Touchdown and every now and then, post-punk is intertwined with Can and Neu!. Maus’ version of synth pop is one that’s both musically extremely educated and willing to give in into chaos, the unpredictable and abysmal. The result is as entertaining as challenging. A John Maus signature move we’ve been waiting too long for. (Henning Grabow)
Julien Baker – ‘Turn Out The Lights’
You barely witness so much talent in such a young age. The 21 year old songwriter continues to emancipate herself.
Less has always been more in the musical world of Julien Baker. Her 2015 debut Sprained Ankle was the perfect example of how to simplify your sound and therefore give it more emotional weight. Thank god, her Matador Records debut follows similar patterns and doesn’t fall for a tempting ‘bigger is better’ strategy. Baker still refuses to use a proper rhythm section and lets her voice and the sparse instrumentation, mostly her guitar, all the space they need to unfold their magic. The result is an honest album that wears its heart on its sleeve, just like the main protagonist.
‘Happy is kind of a fleeting and transient emotion’ states Baker in the album’s press release and that sums up the vibe on Turn Out The Lights pretty good. Songs like Appointments and the title-track deliver tender and delicate starts before the louder outbreaks at the end deliver just the emotional twist it needs to showcase the sensitive character of the artist. For Julien Baker the aspect of hope only goes along with a desolate feeling of despair, a valley of pain you have to cross before it eventually gets better, at least for a brief moment. A line like ‘The harder I siwm the faster I sink’ in the desolate Sour Breath represents that emotion pretty good. This is not an easy album, but on the other hand life ain’t a smooth ride anyway. Julien Baker delivers the perfect soundtrack for those bumpy paths we all have to cross every now and then. (Norman Fleischer)
Strange Hellos – ‘Chromatic’
Buckle up: The Norwegian newcomers have released their debut album Chromatic, and it’s jammed with some of the best guitar-pop released all year.
Chromatic opens with the (almost) title track, a little dabble of ambient noise, but this is the band feinting. Because the second that track ends, a drumbeat whirls into life and the album roars into The Prime, a fuzz-rock rocket, equipped with a pearl of a chorus.
That sets the tone for the whole record (pleasingly ten songs long, the perfect classic album number), because what Strange Hellos do is write glorious pop songs, vocalist Birgitta Aldia Hole backed by wall-of-noise guitar power, and they do it extremely well. Tracks like Monumental and We Are Trouble surf their way through their melodies at top speed (‘Is it true that you’ll stay, till the end and then for one week?’ from We Are Trouble is one of the best simple/genius lyrics you’ll hear all year). Broken Teenage Heart and Is It Me? mix melancholy with pure pop sunshine. By the time you make it through this record, you’ll be punchdrunk from having been hit with so many five-star chorus. There’s nothing really high-concept or pretentious about Strange Hellos. They just write guitar-pop that’s worth its weight in gold. (Austin Maloney)
Sue The Night – ‘Wanderland’
The Dutch songwriter strikes the perfect balance by teetering between melancholic and upbeat, giving listeners the type of tracks to play off their mood.
Dutch singer Suus de Groot boils her music down to indie pop, but the singer-songwriter that the band centers around is hardly boxable. There’s this 60s revival flare, coupled with a dose of atmospheric rock, backed by classic instrumentals, while the lead adds in most of the sparkly pop aspect herself. It manages to change from soothing and crooning to defiant and powerful not just between tracks but even as the songs play through.
Sue The Night originally put out Wanderland a few months back, but since the release was primarily isolated to the Netherlands, we’re not pegging ourselves as latecomers just quite yet. The rerelease marks the band’s emergence onto the international circuit, as their upcoming tour makes its way out of their home country. The album received the praise it deserved in the Netherlands, and with its many faces, it’s bound to do the same as it hits the international scene. (Sasha Chebil)