Billie Eilish – ‘Happier Than Ever’

Sounds like … a more intimate, personal, and grown superstar.

Billie Eilish’s magnificent career started when she was only 13 years old. Within four years, the young lady got more and more famous until she could call herself a world star before even reaching the age of majority. Two years ago, her acclaimed debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? hit the stores worldwide and blessed her with five Grammys. The new voice of Gen Z was born.  That 13-year-old girl didn’t only become popular because of her catchy songs, but rather because she personified something the pop cultural world – especially the younger generations – had been missing: someone who creates pop music but doesn’t wants to please everybdoy or tries to fit in. Billie just did what she wanted from the first moment on. She dressed how she wanted (wearing wide clothes without showing much of her body), said what she wanted, and made the music she wanted without caring about any criticism. The singer rather criticised other people. That’s how you create a proper teen idol, right?

After the release of her celebrated debut toured around the world, recorded the new James Bond song (as the youngest musician ever) and continued touring until COVID came in the ways of the world. She used the tour-free time to reflect about the past years and how they changed herself as a person and how she can evolve herself and her music. Billie’s self-reflection ended in a personal and musical transformation which she first showed with the infamous internet-breaking cover shooting for VOGUE magazine where the young lady for the first time wore sexy and tight clothes with blonde died hair on her head. She just did the opposite of what people expected of her and proved once again that she doesn’t care about the opinions of others.

Billie didn’t only change her clothing style but also her musical style. The five singles which teased her second album Happier Than Ever already pointed out that the 19-year old’s music got more personal and intimate than on her its predecessor. Your Power, My Future, NDA, Lost Cause and Therefore I Am all deal with topics which are closely related to Billie’s personal life and her experiences during the last few years: the abuse by an older man, the prospect of a new future, the downside of fame and the drawback of relationships. Also, the music itself got more restrained and softer: the harder disco beats that you can find in her former releases like Bad Guy or You Should See Me In A Crown make way to discreet electro beats and gentle acoustic guitar chords. Instead, Billie uses her music as a valve to experiment and once again speak for her generation that grows up in an uncertain world. Oxytocin for example experiments with dark and gloomy synthetic beats that aren’t catchy at all but rather threatening. Not My Responsibility, a track in the middle of the album, which incarnates the whole spirit of the new Billie Eilish. A spoken song with restrained musical elements which focusses on the downsides of being famous, being always criticized about her body and how to cope with that. On the new record the danceable electronic elements make space for more intense, intimate and restrained tracks that focus on the lyrics and the message Billie wants to spread. If there have been any doubts of her songwriting skills this album works as one great argument against any of those. Happier Than Ever feels like a journey through what Billie experienced during her way to the top. She uses the sixteen songs as a therapy for herself, to process her own transformation, creating a transparent diary for the whole word to see. Just a young girl that is trying to cope with the world and tries to deal with the inevitable change. The probably most important message she wants to spread is conveyed perfectly in the album: that she doesn’t care about any critics, only does her own thing and that she is Happier Than Ever with it! Looks like the hype isn’t over at all. Even better: Billie just warmed herself up for a future she’ll be shaping in her own way. (Miriam Wallbaum)

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LUMP – ‘Animal’

Sounds like … lump in rare form.

Lump return with what might well be an early candidate for album of the year. The unlikely duo’s self-titled debut proved a welcome surprise in 2018, but back then no one could have predicted that their mixture of skeletal beats, serpentine melodies and odd production flourishes would mature the way it does here. Animal finds the duo – Singer Songwriter Laura Marling and Tunng mastermind Mike Lindsay – in rare form. Their idiosyncratic blend of Indie-Pop has become just a bit more danceable, their prose just a bit more ominous. First single Animal sets the tone. Over a catchy synth-loop, Marling evokes images of excess and intimacy, her intonation soulful yet distant: “Dance dance/This is your last chance/to break a glass heart/just like you wanted/Animal”.

Indeed, if Marling’s free-form lyricism has a consistent theme, it would be hedonism. Marling sings of the joy of primal highs (We Cannot Resist) and the crushing low that follows (Red Snakes), and while she is never dismissive, she is not mincing words either. This may be the biggest curveball Lump could have thrown in the year of our lord 2021: after two years of collective yearning for human company and human touch and good old skull-fuckery, Lump turn their noses at the idea of excess. At the mount of ancient songs/where you grieve for what is gone/A thousand hands/countless plans/and you Marling intones on Red Snakes, her delivery as earnest as it is soul crushing. What makes the pieces fall in place is the intricate instrumentation (apparently Lindsay was inspired by the movement of the ocean) and Marling’s ingenious and frequently hilarious phrasings (My object of choice/is the oil that forms on the well-strung boys). All the while, Lump cannot un-Lump themselves: there is still the heavy use of filtering and odd processing that turn fairly catchy pop tunes into ambient suites in the blink of an eye. There is still the minimal nature of the beats, which renders the music palpable and unpretentious. And there is Marling’s voice, sly, defeated, aching, and above all, cool as hell. (Nila Heutehaus)

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Durand Jones & The Indications – ‘Private Space’

Sounds like … time travel to 70s soul and disco.

Durand Jones & the Indications explore different aspects of their musical and creative identity on their third record. Less the 60s retro-soul that we were used to from the previous, Private Space explores 70s disco and RnB inspirations. With a heavier dial on the synth but an overall more restrained instrumentation, the new record highlights the vocals of the two singers. Durand Jones and Aaron Frazer, who also released his solo debut this year, harmonize with the instrumentation and take the listener through the ten songs like a guiding hand.

While the singers shine on the balladry like Aaron’s Falsetto performance on Ride Or Die and Durand’s pitch perfect key change on More Than Ever, the more upbeat tracks like Witchoo and The Way That I Do remind more of the previous works and channel Earth, Wind, and Fire like disco vibes. Witchoo is a bass-driven fusion of funk and soul, the playful synths echoing lyrics. Private Space deals with love and more so with the positive, bright moments of being and falling in love, whether the romantic Ride or Die or the cheeky Sexy Thing. Private Space shows a different side of Durand Jones & the Indications. Yes, they still embrace retro-soul and RnB sounds but have shifted their focus to exploring more restrained approaches. This makes the individual elements of each track shine, like on Sea of Love and Reach Out. Private Space lives off the legacy of the 70s soul greats and would neatly fit into that shelf, but luckily the five-piece is a contemporary band leaving room to explore the sounds of the past in the present. (Liv Toerkell)

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Kasper Bjørke – ‘Sprinkles’

Sounds like … revisiting former dancefloor euphoria like a distant memory.

In his twenty active years in the international music scene Danish producer Kasper Bjørke already proved multiple times that he’s one of electronic music’s most vital and adventurous characters, one that got way more to offer musically than just the regular four-to-the-floor material. Just remember the ambitious The Fifty Eleven Project by the Kasper Bjørke Quartet from 2018 which saw him telling the very personal story of his battle with cancer via haunting ambient and neo-classical compositions. Earlier this year, he released a massive downtempo track called The Beast. The Tree. The Man which was over 20 minutes long. It’s the sort of stuff he does on a regular basis, making every new release an adventure of its own. Compared to such releases his new studio album Sprinkles is a very down-to-earth affair, an almost traditional club album, although Bjørke had to record it like most of his colleagues last year during the global absence of clubs and joint dancefloor experiences. It became a reflective tribute to oldschool house music and cosmic disco vibes with Balearic flavour.

In its press release Sprinkles is described as a reminiscence of a utopian postcard sent from the past and that’s a nice way of putting it. Right from the beginning you sense what this is about – tracks like Isola and Glassy open the album with warm basslines, soft grooves and sweet harp and chime vibes. Sometimes the pendulum swings a bit more into club territory like the 80s-infected Running or the acid house twists in Grace but most of the time the Dane keeps it smooth and gentle. Sprinkles was recorded and produced while spending extensive periods of time in the family’s cabin by a secluded beach and you might sense that in the music was well. Kite really feels like it’s flying on a warm summer breeze while the surprising acoustic guitar interlude Bon Voyage calms the listener down while the waves come crashing in. It’s the steady warm and soulful groove that carries Sprinkles. It’s not a spectacular album; it’s quite grounded, simple and also honest. But those of you who easily fall for these sorts of grooves and tenderer electronic house music vibes are in for a sweet little daydream disco affair that arrives just in time for a world that’s slowly opening up again for more joint dances. (Norman Fleischer)

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Pageants – ‘Sun And Settled Days’

Sounds like … a gentle dose of surf pop sweetness for long hot summer days and nights.

Despite being together as musical and private couple for a decade now Sun And Settled Days is only the second output of Californian indie-rock two-piece Rebecca Coleman and Devin O’Brien, following 2018’s Forever album. Still, you get an idea of all the ups and downs Pageants went through in order to get to this record and the here and now. For O’Brien it meant giving up duties of playing bass in praised indie rock outfit Cherry Glazerr in order to be with Coleman and keep his own band project running. But despite all the personal struggles Sun And Settled Days does indeed sound like the title implies – it’s a just the warm and sweet piece of summery guitar pop you needed in your life to make it through this season and a summer that might feel a bit different but still quite familiar. Lovers of groups like Best Coast, Seapony and Alvvays will definitely embrace these two as their favourite new summer music treasure.

Just Tell Me opens the album as a sweet only two-minute long tune that comes with a truly bewitching chorus. Songs like All Bets Aside and Where Did The Time Go spread a positive warmth while never fully ignoring the bittersweet origins of some of these tracks. The record is packed with stories of personal reflection whether that includes harmony-loving songs like Feeling and Worse or tracks like Please Hurry which comes with a bit more tempo. The spectacular strength of Pageants’ second album is how unspectacular it actually is. It’s a simple formula and the duo doesn’t provide anything quite innovative here – instead they deliver timeless summer anthems that make you forget the long, dark Covid-infected winter days and embrace a certain lightness that’s just too addictive and charming to not actively fall for it. (Norman Fleischer)

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