Alex Cameron – ‘Oxy Music’
Music about drug addiction sounds nothing like you might expect it to. The alternative pop album by Alex Cameron Oxy Music is bright and upbeat while tackling these serious issues with a dose of cheeky humor and lighthearted pop grooves. Prescription Refill rides on a steady new-wave-reminiscent drum with smooth 80s synth melodies. “I will fix that addiction honey”, the artist sings. Over course of the record, he dives deep into various aspects of addiction and the opioid crisis in the States showcasing his story-telling skill.
On Hold The Line Alex Cameron sings of the ignorance of parents in the face of their children’s addictions “Mama said do not touch that junk”. Oxy Music revives off-kilter new-wave pop with smooth contemporary production and on Breakdown that results in a melancholic ballad about losing loved ones to addiction. While musically, Alex Cameron proves that he understands the craft, the real highlight of the album are the lyrics. Each song tells a different story within the overarching theme of Oxy Music – the struggles of addiction. The record peaks on the final song, rightfully the title track. Featuring Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods, the song embodies the wry lyrics of the previous songs on the collaboration and sounds like it was recorded in the 80s. Clocking in at 6 minutes it is the longest one on the album. “If you want some fun my son, only need one bullet in the gun”, Alex Cameron croons over warm piano melodies arriving at a cynical ending and pointing out the circularity of addiction. (Liv Toerkell)
Jenny Hval – ‘Classic Objects’
Jenny Hval’s debut on 4AD dials back on melodic eccentricity but not on excellence. On Classic Objects the Norwegian songwriter combines more accessible arrangements with the deconstructive lyricism she’s known for. The eight tracks move between simple, profound and complex observations with ease and prove Hval’s commitment to change and challenge herself.
The opener Year of Love is the best representation for the record as a whole. Starting as a light-hearted pop song about love turning into a contemplation of patriarchy and her role in it – always taking the challenging route to dive deeper. The melting of daily life, memory, and self-consciousness turn into a personal analysis of the themes in the musician’s life as on the following track American Coffee: “What is a home but the place you’ll be dying? / What’s far away but places to lose yourself?” There are many places to lose yourself on Classic Objects and they seem constructed and natural at the same time. The best example being Jupiter whirling from a straightforward narrative into a contemplation of language and ending on synth chaos with spoken word elements. On Freedom, Hval wishes for a world where art is free and the depth of life is more appreciated which links to Björk’s Hunter: “I thought I could organise freedom / How Scandinavian of me”. The most interesting part of this album is how the lyrics are the centrepiece but stay in the background like something watching from behind the curtains until a pair of eyes in the audience notices. Classic Objects is a wonderful starting point for people to newly discover Jenny Hval’s work because it is as convenient as it is chasmic. (Anna-Katharina Stich)
Team Me – ‘Something In The Making’
In the haze of ongoing releases and the constantly coming and going groups over the past decade even the most dedicated indie music lover tends to sometimes forget about certain groups until they slip right back into your memory at the right time. It’s easy to label Norway’s Team Me as one of those late blooming sweet side notes of the indie guitar movement from around 15 years ago but then they return with their first new album in eight years and you get instantly reminded that the psychedelic pop collective has always been more than meets the eye. The group’s two previous studio albums – 2011’s To The Treetops! and Blind As Night from 2014 – were tremendous easily overlooked masterpieces, loaded with music that it was as ambitious as it was addictive. Big hooks, even bigger instrumentation and gestures that should have actually qualified Team Me for huge arena shows rather than cosy indie club gigs – the Norwegian missing link between Arcade Fire, Passion Pit, Mew and MGMT really left a mark in my heart (and the ones of a loyal global fanbase), I simply forgot about it. But just as times couldn’t be any more desperate the group resurfaces with a record that feels like a mighty beam of hope in a time of darkness – Something in the Making is a testament of strength and determination and takes their qualities into an exciting new chapter.
“A five hour flight into the light, buckle up we leave tonight,” band leader Marius Drogsås Hagen declares in the warm opening track and immediately you’re drawn back into the band’s trippy microcosm where opulent choirs, playful pianos, big guitar walls and psychedelic sound textures love to walk hand in hand with pop harmonies. Song For A Drummer follows the tradition of previous band evergreens like Show Me and King & Curse. As the times got a bit bleaker since their first coming (and we all got a bit older) the sound of Team Me appears to be leaning more to a romanticized place of escapism. “Every little dream is a river running back to you,” Hagen sings with dignity in the heart-warming Every Little Dream and it’s kind of hard to not get emotionally moved by a cinematic anthem like this or the equally brilliant Into The Wild which might start like a tender folky piece but quickly moves into something way bigger. The Norwegian collective is still pretty good when it comes to the structure of their sound where every layer is carefully placed upon the other. However, they aren’t hiding their prog rock love as well like in the mighty Green Crystal Rain On A Star which might start with a playful groove but ends with a few surprising noisy guitar moments. There’s a lot to be discovered on Something In The Making, mostly the tremendous level of musical quality this band is able to pull of. Nostalgia might play a little part in the fascination for this sound (fair enough) but the songwriting is still pretty spot on and Team Me are still as wonderful as they were ten years ago. If there’s a place in your heart that still allows your inner indie kid to remain youthful and hopeful – this is the record that should be played there. (Norman Fleischer)
The Districts – ‘Great American Painting’
To call an album Great American Painting, just as The Districts have chosen for their fifth full-length LP sure does have a quite dramatic and massive touch to it, but if you are to address everything that is going down in the world, a mythical reference like that would make a lot of sense, right? Born out of two months that lead singer Rob Grote spent in a cabin in Washington State in the midst of the pandemic, the new record is a stunning snapshot of America in between idealistic longing and social disruption in the 2020s. “What is the great american painting”, this record asks. And the answer is sure in between the poles of breathtaking beauty and the frustration about a society in division, between thriving hope and fateful despair.
The Districts have a talent for forceful entrances and so Revival Psalm begins with hasted rock riffs, integrating Rob Grote’s fierce vocal force into a committing rhythm. No Blood is no less pressured and heading forward and is by far one of the most addicting pieces of Great American Painting. Sparkled guitar play and heavy distortion couple up with frantic rhythms and emotional musings on forces of arms. The personal meets the political in a quite aesthetic way, as Grote confesses: “With ‘No Blood’ I wanted to write about the many people who live their lives based on caring for others and how that will always prevail – no matter how many guns are brandished by the evil people of the world”. However noisy the whole affair turns out to be, there is room for more quiet tones, such as Outlaw Love, a kind of love song “about that moment when all illusions crumble”. In the end, there is a lot of space in between the paced strokes that Great American Painting is made of, a space for reflection as well as for wistful longing. (Andreas Peters)
Atalhos – ‘A Tentação do Fracasso’
The duo Atalhos from Brazil release their fourth record A Tentação do Fracasso. Translated to the “temptation of failure” it does not describe the successful merge of dream pop melodies with smooth vocals that the Duo deliver once more. The round letters of the Brazilian Portuguese melt into steady rhythms on the title track are interlaced by playful guitar melodies peaking in a solo allowing freedom of expression to the guitarist while the vocals take a step back.
Between 80s soft rock influences and contemporary dream pop, the Duo layer synths with dynamic ebbing of reverbed guitar tracks. the upbeat melodies give the music on the record an airy feeling. A Tentação do Fracasso’ is the type of album that you want to listen to going downhill on a bike on a sunny day. The songs drift by so easily that you barely notice that you have already listened to the entire record. That’s the power of Atalhos music – it transports the listener into another world entirely one that is sweet enough that you might want to stay. (Liv Toerkell)