Midlake – ‘For The Sake Of Bethel Woods’

Sounds like … a vivid and mildly sonorous renewal.

Things have gotten a bit quiet around Texan folk-rock outfit Midlake ever since their 2013 Antiphon record – and comes as no surprise that the desire to reconnect not only ties itself to the actual event of their fifth album For The Sake Of Bethel Woods, but also places itself at the very heart of their new LP. Immersive, tender, warm and yet mysterious, the new songs represent the finest pieces of a group that was almost written off by many. On their re-emergence they show themselves revived with a particular freshness.

Certainly tinged with the sense of Americana sounds, and yet not keeping shy about their jazzy roots, as the entering of Commune and the subsequent Bethel Woods show. Vigorous, driven and rhythm-centred, the latter one keeps resonating as it smoothly drifts from jazz-focussed beats into psychedelic fuzz-rock terrain. Glistening vibes with a bit more solemnity, while it still carries the soaring chills so typical of these songs. The straightforward Exile meanwhile steps into more psych-funk terrain, progressing with candour and an uncompromising edge. The thought of reunification and community though keeps to be a focal point of the songs. There is a lot of comfort, for instance when listening into heart-warming pieces like Noble, or elsewhere on The End, or even on the closing Of Desire. However, the sentiment of progression, of walking towards a new age appears to contest a general mellow feel, establishing the unique landmark that Midlake have achieved here. (Andreas Peters)

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Charli XCX – ‘Crash’

Sounds like … unapologetic pop hooks with heart and attitude.

Ever since first showing up in the world of pop music almost a decade ago, Charlotte Emma Aitchison constantly moved her alter ego Charli XCX away from the usual patterns of pop and became a leading figure in a progressive pop music that continues to inspire an entire generation of young artists. Hell, and she’s not even 30 yet. Crash underlines her status and delivers unapologetically self-determined pop anthems that are way too catchy to be ignored. While the critically acclaimed first prominent lockdown album of the Covid age – 2020’s how I’m feeling now – saw her reaching new heights on an emotional and artistic level, Crash combines this new skill-set with the straight forward mainstream pop approach of 2019’s Charli. It’s not interested in taking any detours – instead we’re getting directly thrown into this new chapter. “I’m about to crash into the water, gonna take you with me / I’m high voltage, self-destructive, end it all so legendary,” Charli states in the opening title-track while mighty drums, 80s synths clash with a sharp bassline and a funky guitar. In a pop world where inspiration is often only defined by clever references these days you can fail with that task but for producers George Daniel and hyper pop maestro A.G. Cook this is an easy thing to handle.

New Shapes follows a similar direction and works as a summit of the progressive leading heroines of modern pop with Christine And The Queens and Caroline Polachek hopping onto the track. Buzzing British shooting star Rina Sawayama is another feature guest that appears later on the smooth Beg For You which surprises with a beat that clearly references early 00s UK garage hits. Those pop musical nods are well-placed throughout the entire album. Baby got that sweet ‘miami bass’ groove, Yuck follows the contemporary 80s funk pop approach of The Weeknd while Like Lightning is heavy hard-hitting retro pop banger. Well, and the sample of 90s house music classic Show Me Love by Robin S is not even trying to hiding its presence in Used To Know Me. Charli XCX knows about her strengths and the produces she teamed up with give her a proper setting to express her in the stubborn and determined way fans all over the world love her for. Crash is a mainstream pop hit record with attitude, carried by a protagonist that isn’t afraid to take any risks despite the slick sound of this album. Charli XCX is here to stay and any doubt that’s left will easily be washed away by this release. (Norman Fleischer)

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Babeheaven – ‘Sink Into Me’

Sounds like … a soulful 90s dream.

16 months on from the release of their debut album, Home For Now, London-based group Babeheaven has once again expertly melded elements of Pop, RnB, Indie and Electronica, to create latest album, Sink Into Me. There are many things to like about their newest project. Lyrics are evocative, tracks are textured and rich, feeling complete from start to finish, the co-producers, Jamie Travis and Simon Byrt have architected a vividly ethereal universe with meticulous attention to detail. Nancy Andersen’s stunning vocals are truly a highlight. Her distinctive sirenic voice never feels forced or overblown, but always soulful, clear, and with conviction. She holds a quiet power that’s needed when dealing with the subject matter which Sink Into Me does.

During the past two years, it seems everyone has lost someone, or knows somebody who has. Nancy Andersen is no exception, losing two close friends, and consequently, tracks such as Erase Me, The Hours and Fading explore themes of loss, mourning, love, and growth, with a sense of mature contemplation. There is an appearance from Brooklyn-based rapper, Navy Blue on Make Me Wanna and the collaboration of Andersen’s vocals, punctuated by the precise delivery of the rapper’s introspective, spoken verse, is only made better by the bed of RnB-inspired beats and unobtrusive grooves, upon which it sits. Sink Into Me is a showcase of Babeheaven’s continued development. In every aspect, the album feels full – not trying too hard, nor lacking in any way. At the forefront, however, their love for music, and the enjoyment they find in working together, is very much apparent, and that only makes their album, and them, even more likeable. (Elana Shapiro)

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Rosalía – ‘MOTOMAMI’

Sounds like … Spanish-Latin future pop. 

Naked with a motorcycle helmet and black wings, the Spanish singer poses on the cover of her third album. Motomami is what Rosalía calls her most playful musical effort so far. On the record she explores her roots in Flamenco, Reggaeton, and classical vocal performances. Sung exclusively in Spanish, the record still manages to connect all over the world. Like that Rosalía invited The Weeknd for a song and uses elements from Soulja Boy’s music on the Cuban Salsa inspired DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA.

Drawing from the Latin American influences, the opening track SAOKO is heavily influenced by old-school Reggaeton beats while also incorporating off-kilter avant-jazz elements. LA FAMA, featuring The Weeknd is a sensual bachata exploring the dark sides of fame. HENTAI showcases the vocal skill of the singer. The restrained piano ballad lets Rosalia’s theatrical vocals shine. BULERÍAS balances the singer’s roots in Flamenco with percussive elements and an equally captivating vocal performance. The title track is a one-minute-long electronic Avant pop weirdness. Referring to the two parts the singer divides the record in – the Moto as the experimental and strong part of the record and the Mami as the nurturing, vulnerable part. Yet, the record encompasses more characters than two and leaves something to explore for about anyone. Motomami is an experimental pop record drawing from several different influences united by the creative power of an artist who knows what she wants. (Liv Toerkell)

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John Tejada – ‘Sleepwalker’

Sounds like … dark and redolent tension.

The narrative of transfixed releases continues for John Tejada. In title as well as mood, Sleepwalker is a perpetuation of his latest LP in February 2021 Year of the Living Dead – we are not merely zombies trying to cope but we haunt the daily grind with one eye closed, still hoping for the liberation of the semi-conscious state that ruled the world for the past years. This time not on Kompakt release but his own label Palette, it is a twisted and outstanding addition to his own catalogue.

From previous album Sheltered to this time opener Shattered, from Panacea to Skull Music or from Anchorite to simply Isolate, Tejada has honed the vocabulary of the pandemic and dialled down, not in quality but in embellishment. There is an introverted comfort and more minimalistic approach to Sleepwalker while staying captivating. Good electronic music tends emphasise not on number of elements but their coalescence. There is an intriguing but steady nature to the change of bpm, the clicking, rattling, clipping and drum variables – all together probably falling somewhere in between dub and minimal techno. Sleepwalker is best presented as a whole and in relation to its predecessor because it moves from overexcitement to honest appreciation – instead of a night full of hope that leaves expectations unfulfilled it is a techno party where everyone is by themselves and truly appreciates and is mindful of the moving bodies in close range. (Anna-Katharina Stich)

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