The Strokes – ‘The New Abnormal’

Sounds like … Are you not entertained?

It’s the first Strokes album in seven years, but if we’re honest, the cycle never really changes. Every Strokes release for 15 years has gotten pretty much the same welcome – this isn’t Is This It, why is this hard to listen to, do they all hate each other? People have had trouble digesting Strokes music for a while, maybe because they’re from an era where the idea was that bands were ‘cool’ and you wanted to be their friends, rather than you demanding they pretend that they’re your friends.

The truth is that even if Casablancas saves the really wild shit for The Voidz, modern Strokes albums are still a little messy, odd and long, because those are the kinds of songs they write these days, and The New Abnormal is another that’s a lot to chew on.

But once you get to work, it’s an album full of growers. Bad Decisions and Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus provide the (relatively) short and sweet zip for the listeners that want bangers. Elsewhere, the songs burn slowly and wind through different daydreams, but sharp enough and with enough sugar to keep your interest on the hook. Openers The Adults Are Talking and Selfless will slot right in amongst the prettiest songs in their catalogue. Ode To The Mets is the standout, the Strokes trying their hand at a cinematic epic on their terms, and nailing it perfectly. Apart from maybe Eternal Summer (the outright strangest song on here, late Franz Ferdinand meets shameless 80s astroturf funk), it doesn’t really sound like The Voidz. In fact, one thing that you can say about this album is it really, really sounds like The Strokes, or at least the modern Strokes, sounding a lot more sonically consistent than they have for a long time. These songs all explore different territory, but they all sound like they’re on speaking terms with each other, which you couldn’t say about every Julian Casablancas project of the last decade. The classic Strokes guitar sound, as warm and friendly as the sunlight streaming through a morning window, keeps the texture in check here and keeps the experimental urges on the leash a little. It also helps that Casablancas’ gift for melody flows freely here – no matter where he decides to take you musically, he makes sure it sounds good.

I’ve always thought that away from the clickbait and hot-take industries that are pretty much 90% of the modern music media landscape (and nothing brings out the amateur psychoanalysts like this band), Strokes albums post-First Impressions age pretty well, which things like everyone’s favourite production wunderkind Finneas hailing Comedown Machine confirm. The New Abnormal sticks to that pattern – more messy and weird than the lean, mean classics they started their career with, and not a 10/10 smash like those albums, but still with a lot to like. In the immediate aftermath, it might not survive the heat under the microscope every freshly-released Strokes album has to live under. But like with Comedown Machine, I’m pretty sure it’ll have a lot of fans in five years. They still have more ideas than most bands more than a decade into their careers do, and on The New Abnormal, they sound good having them too. (Austin Maloney)

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Laura Marling – ‘Song For Our Daughter’

Sounds like … sweet-sounding medicine for the soul.

Contrary to some artists at the moment, who are pushing scheduled releases to a date in the near future, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling instead has decided to prematurely drop her new record Song For Our Daughter. Well, how lucky for us. Even on her seventh solo record, the folk artist is not running out of stories to tell. Driven by an ongoing quest for identity and female self-empowerment, the intriguing musician here resumes the pursuit of putting into music, what it means to be an artist and „a woman in this society“. She has begun this journey more than ten years ago with her debut record Alas, I Cannot Swim at the tender age of 18 and she has ever since evolved from an innocent romantic folk musician to a level of profound and established artistry. Every new album since her first record in 2008 has exhibited a step forward, both lyrically and musically. And her newest work is no different in that respect.

Rarely anything has remained of the image of a naive folk songstress, that some might still see in her. Marling’s voice has become rougher, smokier, even angrier over the years. And yet, rage is not a sentiment one usually would associate with her music, least of all in Song For Our Daughter, which to a large extent is a very intimate record. At times one feels taken back to the songs of 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know, when rough acoustic guitars take over control, as in Alexandra, the first of ten pieces. Held Down then is more fuelled by the invigorating pleasantness of Marling’s vocals, which take on choral dimensions and are backed by elements of electric guitars. Along with Blow By Blow, a tender ballad lead by piano and strings, that one shows more opulent arrangements and displays an edge of being more pop-infused than one might suspect. Overall, the sound is typical of Laura Marling, always staging a somewhat sparse, folk-oriented instrumentation that leaves more space for stories than sound. And it shows how well she is still able to create ambient atmospheres of sensitivity, world-weariness and artistic self-awareness. What has not ceased is her passion to tell stories and wrap them into heartfelt songs. As for the non-existent daughter of the artist – for whom these songs are written – these pieces might, in the words of Laura Marling, „at the very least entertain, and at best provide some sense of union“ for all of us who are listening. (Andreas Peters)

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Jackie Lynn – ‘Jacqueline’

Sounds like … A whole dramatic theatre production transcribed into a single piece of music.

Jacqueline is the second record, the musician Haley Fohr is releasing under the alter ego of Jackie Lynn. The LP continues the story of Jackie following the self-titled debut. From late nights at clubs to intimate friendships, we get to experience it all through different days in Jackie Lynn’s life. Musically the tale told through Jackie’s lens is about as rich in facets as the story, from pulsing electronica to mellower pieces of music, there is everything to be found on Jacqueline. Driven by eagerness for revenge, Jackie is ‘a lady of the road’. On the opening track Casino Queen we dive straight into a night out in her life. The colorful disco-tinged music makes you want to throw on the sparkly dress that has been lying in the back of your closet, forgotten and dance it all out in flashing lights of a night club.

Shugar Water shows a softer side of the artist. On the more stripped back track, her unique androgynous timbre gives the groovy track some extra flavor. From the experimental seven-minute epic Odessa to the funky bass and percussions of Diamond Glue, Jacqueline is one versatile lady. Lenexa, even takes some atmospheric and ambient turns while Short Black Dress sounds like a noir style opera piece. Overall Jackie Lynn conjures a vibe reminding of underground discos between gloomy darkness and extravagant colors. From start to end, it is a musical ride that you leave almost like leaving a whole theater performance. (Liv Toerkell)

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Laurie – ‘Scientist Of Man’

Sounds like … a candid rediscovery of a genuine guitar sound.

After his fellows of the Austrian indie collective Polkov have scattered in all directions, its chief mastermind and lyricist Laurenz Jandl has created a new hub for his creative output. Going by the simple and yet intriguing moniker of
, the talented Viennese has crafted a set of songs on his very first solo output Scientist Of Man, which as much arouse feelings of indie rock nostalgia as they exhibit his talent to craft melodious and atmospheric sound architectures. Classic influences like Tom Petty or R.E.M. overtly shine through the clear designs of the pieces. And yet, there is far more than pure retro-mania to the whole affair. The music is straightforward, even vintage, but the message is clear, candid and always right on point.

On Philly, the first track off the album, atmospheric guitar pickings and stately piano arrangements ground the song along with an ever-present baseline. Jandl’s voice almost seems to vanish behind such immersing textures, but when it is present, it is more than powerful. Graceful and kind of meditative, he glides over the lines about watching a hurried city, while remaining at safe distance from it all. Things get a bit more intense in tracks like Everything Must Go. More hurried, with a significant sense of vigour and clean electric guitars, Laurie succeeds to balance the essence of a rock-driven power ballad and the sentimental emotional worlds presented on the word level of the song. While tracks like this make up the dominant sound impressions of Scientist Of Man, the virtues of Jandl’s vocal skills reach their peak on songs such as the brilliant acoustic guitar ballad Why Cry. Here, the wall of sound that usually backs the vulnerable voice is teared down to a necessary minimum, creating a deep sensitivity. The atmospheres Laurie manages to create on the whole range from nostalgia, melancholy to sincerity. Here, on his first achievement one can experience an artist who has studied and struggled with his idols. Scientist Of Man is the result of that confrontation, and it takes the shape of an artwork full of elegant simplicity. (Andreas Peters)

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Active Child – ‘In Another Life’

Sounds like … fragile yet symphonic pop observations on this weird thing called life.

When Patrick Grossi and his alter ego Active Child first showed up on the musical map ten years ago he was quite quickly labelled as yet another bedroom producer from the short-lived chillwave movement. And while his early works like the debut EP Curtis Lane and the 2011 full-length You Are All I See had their chillwaving moments (however you might define them in retrospect) it was quite clear that Grossi had way more to offer. Just like his fellow colleague Tom Krell (aka How To Dress Well), Active Child presented a more experimental and vanguard approach to the R&B genre, extending its boundaries while simultaneously blending in with plenty of other musical worlds. The artistic quality of Grossi’s approach to pop has always been extremely high and in retrospect you really have to wonder why he never reached the same level of popularity that James Blake had. In Another Life is the artist’s third full-length and his first one in five years, following a relatively long break. In the years since 2015’s Mercy Grossi became a father which makes him questioning the cycles of life in general and a lot of this existential exploration of his own self resulted in pretty wonderful pieces of music.

In Another Life opens with the record’s title-track that immediately reintroduces us to Active Child‘s signature sounds. Gentle strings and Grossi’s tender voice welcome the listener back as he keeps the track quite minimalist before a lush beat sets things in motion. Of course, the artist’s most loved instrument, the harp, makes a return as well. This new album feels more reduced as its predecessor and also puts the organic elements in focus, delivering incredible string instrumentations on songs like the single Weightless. Pat Grossi really steps up his game again here. There are also quite intimate moments like the song Color Me which almost completely relies on his falsetto and the harp. The epic six-minute long Brighter Day arrives the outstanding highlight towards the last third of the album. It’s an almost cinematic call to love each other, carried by a wave of strings, choir vocals and a pretty stunning soundscape in general. Especially on a song like this you’ll realize how far Grossi has come over the past decade and how much more his experimental pop symphonies got to offer. In Another Life shows a way too underrated artist at the peak of his game, delivering a sensual yet very determined record that shows this existential thing called life in cinemascope, just as it sometimes need to be seen in order to keep your sanity. (Norman Fleischer)

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