MØ – ‘Motordrome’
After a whirlwind few years spent dominating the charts and touring in support of a string of high-flying releases, Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen aka MØ took a much-needed break. In her own words, it was time to “recalibrate and recover from the physical and mental exhaustion” she had experienced. No wonder, then, that her third studio album, Motordrome, sounds somewhat like a phoenix rising from the ashes: defiant, mighty and lawless. There is chaotic energy on opening track Kindness and lead single Live To Survive conveys a message of redemption whilst packing MØ’s trademark synth-pop punch. Youth Is Lost is earnest and longing, and probably the track on Motordrome that sounds most similar to the raw mood of 2014’s debut album No Mythologies to Follow.
Elsewhere, New Moon chips in with a chorus that bounces along, imbued with a bubbly spirit that is surely every choreographer’s dream and Brad Pitt winds down the tempo with grooves reminiscent of Retrowave rockers The Midnight, complete with a dreamy guitar solo which is rivalled closely by a similarly electric offering on Hip Bones. Listening to Goosebumps gives you exactly that, standing out as MØ’s most sensational vocal performance on the record, and closing track Punches hits as hard as you’d expect at the end of a collection that’s so dizzyingly energetic. Motordrome is magnificent from start to finish and with it, the artist demonstrates exactly what the pop-world has been missing in her absence. It’s an indulgent (but not overly-so) return to form which proves that the Danish popstar has lost none of her charm and as a result is likely to see MØ re-tighten her grip on the hearts and minds of the pop world. (Dan Cromb)
EELS – ‘Extreme Witchcraft’
I guess we could all use some uplifting, motivational energy in our lives right now after years of trying to adapt to the ongoing pandemic. While a rather musically depressed outcome could probably be expected in the creative realm as a result, it does feel like a fresh breeze of air to see that, somehow, EELS leader Mark Oliver Everett seems to have found exactly that awakening and playfulness while making his fourteenth studio album to date. Examining carefully the magic of life like mortality, the complexity of relationships and getting older, the indie legend is truly glowing and radiating a new found energy and his newly ignited love for buzzy and tongue-in-cheek garage rock on Extreme Witchcraft. After 2020’s heartfelt Earth To Dora, Mark O. Everett lets go of the heaviness to return with a more upfront and inviting record that still opens its door to a whole lot of optimism. Being a true master of nonchalance and thoughtfulness at the same time, E has created a whole set of new songs that beautifully showcase his trademark songwriting that roots deeply in a feeling of genuineness, never drawing on superficiality.
Twenty years after the exceptional release Souljacker, EELS mastermind Mark Oliver Everett co-produced Extreme Witchcraft with PJ Harvey producer and guitarist John Parish, marking the first time the two have recorded together since 2001. It becomes obvious very quickly that the creative spark between the two musicians is still there when diving into the record that kicks off with the energetic Amateur Hour which perfectly sets the mood for most of the tunes that follow in the next 39 minutes. A great deal of the album feels like a celebration of a freewheeling rock sound that is eager to take over the room. E’s bright and versatile handwriting is all over the songs that also occasionally offer more mellow pieces like Stumbling Bee or So Anyway. Melancholy never seems too far away with EELS looking at his back catalogue, but the urge to give in to immediacy and a more guitar based soundscape this time is compelling without a doubt. (Annett Bonkowski)
Tara Nome Doyle – ‘Værmin’
It crawls over your skin. Like a caterpillar, black and furry. Its tiny legs touch you and shoot shivers through your body. You reach out to touch it and its hairy body turns into a fragile moth. Transition and fragility are core themes on Tara Nome Doyle’s new record. Værmin is a love letter to the darkness, to the creatures banned from beauty, the night crawlers, and the outcasts, the snails, and the leeches. She takes an intimate look at the unwanted creatures as a metaphor for unwanted emotions. The album revels in the darkest corners of the human condition without being a sad record. Instead, the Berlin artist composes tender examinations through an almost fantasy-like soundscape.
With theatrical dynamic shifts and almost orchestral vocal layering, like on the interlude Mosquito, Tara Nome Doyle crawls through eardrums straight to the heart. Moth is an almost classical sounding ballad carried by swelling strings and the interplay of warm keys with the tension of the violin’s strings. Crow also thrives on the steady warmth of the piano but conjures an unsettling brooding vibe by incorporating synth elements. Værmin is a record full of mysteries. It lives in the dark corners of the conscience but relentlessly struggles towards the light. With her intimate vocals Tara Nome Doyle points towards contrasts, the beautiful and the ugly and ultimately asks; what happens if we invite all unwanted creatures? We might find beauty in each and every one of them. (Liv Toerkell)
Pinegrove – ’11:11′
Over the past decade New Jersey-based band Pinegrove managed to create a dedicated following while still sticking to their underground/DIY roots, resulting in something that’s gotten rare these days: a true old-fashioned independent rock band that’s not out for a catchy hook but rather prefers to convince the audience with profound songwriting and a handmade sound that feels like it follows the playbook of the early 21st century high times of that genre and bands like The Weakerthans, Built To Spill, Broken Social Scene or The Shins. Their fifth full-length 11:11 really does feel like it could have been released twenty years ago so former Death Cab For Cutie member Chris Walla feels like a fitting choice for a producer for that latest set of songs by mastermind Evan Stephens Hall. The result of that joint venture are eleven powerful old-fashioned alternative emo rock tunes that transport a raw and unfiltered energy and honesty. Habitat works really great here as the opening highlight. The seven-minute long epic feels like a cathartic opening in which louder and quieter moments go hand in hand while Hall delivers such lovely lyrics like “the wheel froze and it sounded like cymbals.” It’s a stunning teaser for what’s about to follow.
Lead single Alaska works as an uplifting hidden hit single that checks in at the 2-minute mark and really made me think of Maritime, another band of that long gone early 00s era. Iodine takes a more melancholic turn and sees the songwriter in a more reflecting mood. “But nothing I try can abbreviate the time, can alleviate my mind.” This really is a highlight on the album but the quality level remains high. Orange is a bittersweet reflecting waltz that addresses climate change in a very intimate way. It’s the rawness in the sound that makes all those midtempo tracks like Let and Swimming so effective in their ability to create a truly special feeling. And while the sound might be an honest nod to the past, the songs are written for the hear and now, addressing issues like the decline of the United States, the pandemic and that overall feeling of late-capitalistic despair but they are doing it in a partly subtle and lyrical way which generates space for personal interpretation. Pinegrove give that sound a contemporary twist and therefore create a vibe that will speak to fans of the original first indie rock wave in the same way as it might speak to a new generation. Honesty like that should have no expiration date, right? (Norman Fleischer)
Anaïs Mitchell – ‘Anaïs Mitchell’
To release a self-titled album after two decades of publishing music might at first seem a lazy move, but let’s be honest: there is no way Anaïs Mitchell could not pull that off as well. More recently distinguished by her work on folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman and featuring on Big Red Machine’s How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, the folk musician and lyricist is looking back on an already impressive career – the latest self-titled album, her eighth as a solo artist and her first of all-new music in a decade, is marking a new height, even in her terms.
Brooklyn Bridge is a somewhat sentimental entry into the affair, permeated by solemn piano passages and portraying a tableau of her next to a partner in the backseat of a taxi driving across the New York City scenery at night. The adjoining Bright Star builds up a similar intimacy, although with more indie-folkish melodic verve and might easily form the well-crafted core of the record as it manifests the utter poetic forces at work here: “Bright star / When I first laid eyes upon you / I was filled with such a longing / To be with you in the dark”. One easily attributes the ‘ballad’ label to songs these days, but this one really deserves it from beginning to end. The emotional density remains a strong focal point beyond that, as proves Revenant and in particular the captivating On Your Way, a tribute to the late producer and songwriter Felix McTeigue, who died at 46 in 2020. While keeping true to her songwriter folk-rock scaffold, these songs carry a vulnerable core that embrace and overcome one’s vulnerable parts. There is a certain magic listening to Mitchell’s sung stories, because these actually are well-crafted stories sung to us by an artist who not only knows what to tell us, but that the best way to tell it is via the power of sound. (Andreas Peters)