Wolf Alice – ‘Blue Weekend’
Wolf Alice‘ new record is an example of how a band can surpass their own expectations, and the listener’s. Introducing themselves to the world with a bomb debut My Love Is Cool, winning a Mercury Prize for the follow-up Visions of a Life, and now perfecting their self-set standard – if Blue Weekend came out last year, it would’ve competed with Phoebe Bridgers‘ Punisher for Best Record – so far this year, it’s in a league of its own. The four-piece of Joel Amey, Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis and stealing the show with her striking songwriting and on-point intonation Ellie Rowsell ended up spending more time on their third album because of guess-what and it paid off.
All songs circle around love, heartbreak and friendship, they are only loosely tied together by topic but they are fastened by Rowsell’s genuine and magnificent lyrics and the whole band’s synchronicity in each of their stylistic variants. Delicious Things is the singer’s affair with fame and an Adam she better missed out on, sliding in and out of another person’s life. Smile is a grunge-y punch in the face for all the misogynists, in staccato word-stacking: “I ain’t ashamed in the fact that I’m sensitive / I believe that it is the perfect adjective / I wear my feelings on my sleeve I suggested it / It serves me better than to swallow in a sedative”, commanding every hetero man to never call an unknown woman any kind of “endearing” name. In sound reminiscent of a Haim ballad, Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love), giving form to thought many heartbroken humans have had before. Play the Greatest Hits would make Kathleen Hanna proud and gives a nod to fans of previous hit Yuk Foo. The many versions of women expressing self-love has become in recent times an upbeat, rap-fest like the equivalent by Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé but Feeling Myself is a seductive slow burner, well… so is self-realisation. On No Hard Feelings, the singer makes peace with a gone-for-good relationship with the right amount of snark at self-pity and the other person’s mistake. Cycling back to opener Beach which drowned feelings in liquor, the last track Beach II accepts and salutes them – “Mother nature’s daughters / And the sun goes down /As it must come up / Consistent like the laughter / Of the girls on the beach / My girls on the beach / Happy ever after”. Blue Weekend delivers brilliance on all fronts. It will be because of its inch more honesty and time, Wolf Alice’s most outstanding work of art. (Anna-Katharina Stich)
Japanese Breakfast – ‘Jubilee’
By now Japanese Breakfast, or singer and musician Michelle Zauner, has made herself a name in the indie pop scene with her first two tearjerkingly beautiful records. Dealing with loss and grieving were the main themes of her musical output. On Jubilee, the artist set herself the incentive to write about joy – which does not always mean the songs are happy. Some, like the dramatic violin-driven Tactics and the tender guitar picking ballad Posing for Cars, show that even in sad moments you can find a way to fight for joy.
Jubilee is the light after a dark night. Bright and poppy without losing touch of the deep intimate reflections on personal emotions Michelle Zauner does with such care on each of her songs. The record is one of growth and of acceptance. Driven by the color yellow and the theme of joy, Michelle Zauner embraces rich pop textures on Be Sweet and the cheeky Savage Good Boy. Ten tracks and each of them sounds like a small liberation from grief, not in the manner of getting over it but in the way of seeing the silver lining beyond all of the pain. (Liv Toerkell)
Greentea Peng – ‘Man Made’
Greentea Peng comes out atop of this pandemic. Born and raised in South London, Aria Wells has released two EPs in the last few years and by collecting recognition over the months indoors, claims her moment at exactly the right time. Her debut album is ambitious in its pursuit to expand minds and its range in musical style.
Man Made, with its 18 tracks and an hour duration, travels from neo-soul and reggae to jazz and hip hop – Greentea Peng describes it as psychedelic R’n’B, the Wes Wilson-typography of the cover being a small hint. Her musical style as well as fashion puts her right beside the legends of Erykah Badu, M.I.A, and Lauryn Hill. The focus is on self-reflection and how to implement personal lessons into a wider context while staying calm in the whirl of the world. She recorded the record with her band The Seng Seng Family in 432Hz, the natural frequency of the universe, a cosmic number in sacred geometry to lift and energise the mood. The tracks alternate between political awareness: with Free My People featuring Simmy and Kid Cruise, Be Careful, an Arabic flute stressing how powerful our words really are, and Kali V2, a throbbing beat-ode to the Hindu goddess of the destruction of evil and preservation of nature, Kali Ma – and reflections on metropolitan life: such as Make Noise making full use of synth reverb, Mataji Freestyle, Party Hard and Meditation, each track emphasising a different kind of retro vibe. The abundance of sound and lyrics are at no point overwhelming or confusing but merged into one vibrant creation. Stand-out songs for me are the first single Nah It Ain’t The Same: “Inner battles dwell like city kids beneath the poverty line / I’m feeding my senses / Food for thought is money well spent-ed / ‘Cause most of our so-called knowledge is rented, invented / Depends-es on flippant friends-es” and Sinner because of its simple and effective bassline matching with weird drums and turning into a psychedelic rock solo. With Man Made, Greentea Peng manages to show off her multitudes, establish her place in the music world, and most importantly educate and heal us all! (Anna-Katharina Stich)
Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys – ‘Transit Tapes (For Women Who Move Furniture Around)’
Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys invites us into her bedroom with another intimate release. Transit Tapes follows 2019’s Sleeping Tapes and is a collection of equally personal songs. They were still written within the privacy of the bedroom but this time with an eye on the window and a hand on the door, the artist says. From the first song on, Lucy Kruger’s voice is a whisper that hushes each line as if it were a secret – and it is the quietness in which the intensity of the music lies. Sonically, the artist moves a step away from the acoustic and towards the electric making Transit Tapes more daring and a little darker.
On Evening Train, Lucy goes from the stripped back poetry-recital over picked guitar chords to a swelling chorus of reverb. Eager to tap into new territory, A Paper Boat plays off the familiar nocturnal vibe and ends in noisy, almost cacophonic instrumentals contrasting the gentle vocals. A Cellar Door is loaded with brooding tension and A Promised Land lives off shy strings and organ-like arrangements. A Strangers Chest allows even more room for exploration. The longest song on the record shifts from loose and distorted instrumentals to controlled poetry-like verses over guitar. Transit Tapes somehow sound exactly what we expected them to sound like coming from Lucy Kruger. Yet, the album shows that the artist is on her way somewhere else, not quite a departure but a longing for change – or to moving things around in your apartment for momentary release. Listening to utterly intimate collection feels like diving into Lucy’s emotions for twelve songs. Her voice warm and airy like the wind in the curtains on a summer night, so close to the mic that it feels like she is whispering directly into your ear. (Liv Toerkell)
Marina Allen – ‘Candlepower’
Music is such a magical thing, right? While we all may agree on that, artists capable of crafting these unique moments are getting more and more rare, and is it any wonder at the sight of the overwhelming amount of new releases and debuting talents? And yet, time and again, there are figures like Marina Allen who blow your mind by means of a dazzling blend of mythical vocal affection and poetic lyrical worlds. At once untouched and raw, and yet deeply rooted in musical traditions that involves inspirational figures such as Karen Carpenter or Joni Mitchell, her debut Candlepower manages to rekindle the magical flicker of sound, and it sure speaks to the heart in the powerful way only music can.
Oh Louise gives a soothing introduction with tender vocal flights, just surrounded by gentle guitars, before the kick of beats comes in, giving the piece an upbeat and jazzy feel, yet never wearing down the enchanting vocal wonder Allen delivers on here. Original Goodness indeed brings back traditional folk attire, and not just by the virtue of the charming acoustics, but also by the unique power that shimmers through the piece. “’Candlepower’ is like a mantra, a spiritual attitude and perspective; it feels like all of these songs in their own way are directed at one place while each song touches on a different genre”, Marina Allen has said about her collection of songs prior to their release. And well, minimalistic and at times so detached from the here and now, the (only) seven pieces indeed seem to be born from a very vivid and burning core, shedding light into the current shadows of our time. While Sleeper Train is again a quite classical and melodious exercise in folk, Believer pulls out an off-beat, jazzy hybrid fuelled by the spirits of spoken word, while Ophelia returns to the solace of songwriter balladry, only to be engulfed by the sonorous marvel of the final Reunion. This may not be a record for every taste, as the touch is still raw and shows up so many ways in which this artist may go, but for the ones who appreciate such rugged design, Candlepower will have a lot to offer. (Andreas Peters)