Claire Boucher is a master of controlled eccentricity. Her pastel-coloured hair, decidedly macabre artwork and dreamy, diffuse music marked her out as a unique prospect from the start. 2012’s Visions showed her at the peak of her lasting powers, but then came news of an album’s worth of material thrown away after her single ‘Go’ got less than ecstatic reviews. She maintains that scrapping her album had nothing to do with fan’s reaction to ‘Go’, it was that the music simply wasn’t good enough. Art Angels effortlessly proves this, and she remains resolutely unapologetic.
‘Flesh Without Blood’ is the album’s first single and reads like a love song, but with a twist suggesting it’s for both fans and critics alike: “It’s nice that you say you like me / But only conditionally”. This song is a pure pop night-time cruise, and the emotional directness of pop is a sweet ingredient much-appreciated in her new music, especially when used as a wounded backhand to false followers.
Seeing pop through the eyes of a Garage Band visionary is never dull; ‘California’ is an interestingly textured, extremely catchy romp given the Grimes spin with lyrics that lie in stark contrast to the country spring of the music. Elsewhere there is a sense of a creative struggle; the structure and accessibility of pop don’t quite mesh with her airy delivery on tracks like ‘Easily’ and ‘Pin’, and the title track is electro-funk startlingly generic enough that it’s believable that it was purely an exercise intended to flex production muscles.
However, these points are probably all moot considering how Grimes handles every aspect of this remarkable album as an experiment, and there are moments that explore the genius in their madness. ‘Venus Fly’ laughs in the face of structure and boasts a robotic drop Janelle Monae would blink affirmative to, and ‘Kill V. Maim’ is so lovably unhinged that being a gender-switching vampire version of Al Pacino sounds like the least strange thing you could imagine when engrossed in the world of Art Angels.
In A Nutshell: Grimes takes her fairy-pop game to the next level on an insane and involving must-listen.
– Adam Lawler
Ellie Goulding’s vocal style is put to some misuse on the opening track to her album of the same name, ‘Intro (Delirium)’. The airiness that segues into track two is an almost-two-minute waste of time. It would have been much more dynamic and apt to simply open the album with the energy of ‘Aftertaste’.
If an artist’s selling point isn’t vocal virtuosity, something else needs to be brought to the table. Sadly, Delirium seems to have brought half the music industry to the table. The abundance of powerhouse producers on the album is impressive but not necessarily conducive to making a memorable record. Though it is undoubtedly polished with top-notch production values, Goulding’s distinctive fairy-like voice is lost in this as every track blends together— it is increasingly difficult to tell the songs apart.
The guitar intro of ‘On My Mind’ shows some potential by creating a different vibe from the previous four tracks. Goulding has even tweeted saying that it is the most important track to her. But any potential is short-lived; its successor, ‘Around U’, is saccharine and would be more age-appropriate as a high school teen pop song than that from an album of a 28-year-old already-successful pop star. Goulding’s ‘Love Me Like You Do’ from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack is probably one of Delirium’s best moments. The trouble is, she loved it so much that she ripped off her own song — the chorus of ‘Something in the Way You Move’ is almost indiscernible from that of the former, if you aren’t paying attention.
Goulding has a lovely voice and is a proven hit-maker. Unfortunately, every song on Delirium makes a stab at being a hit and all the duty-free alcohol on the shelf couldn’t make anyone dance for the entire album. It would have been more effective to give the club bangers a rest to really show off Goulding’s voice with a softer and/or slower song or two.
In A Nutshell: If you are an Ellie Goulding fan, Delirium is the perfect pre-drinks soundtrack, but if you’ve never listened to her, don’t start now — you’ll be subjected to more Ellie than you’ll even realise in da club.
– Amanda Cheng
Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings / Kurt Cobain
Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings is the much hyped sonic companion to Brett Morgen’s documentary, Montage of Heck, released earlier this year. While the film distinguished itself from other ventures in condensing the life of Kurt Cobain as an unfiltered portrait of the deceased Nirvana frontman, the accompanying soundtrack isn’t as trailblazing.
Available in a standard 13 track format of solely musical demos and a deluxe behemoth of 31 scraps ranging from the bizarre to the sleep-inducing, it’s unclear what Morgen hopes to gain from making these dregs of Cobain’s musical endeavours publicly available. The obvious answer would be to soak up some extra pocket money from the fleeting presence of Cobain’s ghost, as even the most hard-core fans will be disappointed with this scrambled compilation.
Unearthed from a musty box of old cassette tapes, this collection acts as an uncomfortable sideshow to the cult of Cobain, adding an attempt to humanise the icon to the myth. The potential ‘insights’ offered by the slim pickings among these home recordings are uninspiring at best and voyeuristic at worst. Between anguished yodelling, exercises in fingerpicking and 32 seconds of mind-numbing screams, there’s very little of value among Morgen’s findings.
Demos of ‘Been A Son’, ‘Sappy’ and an unsettling cover of The Beatles’ classic ‘And I Love Her’ provide welcome breaks in an endless tirade of distorted nonsense, cartoon voices and, most bafflingly, fart noises. While some early recordings allow the listener to trace Nirvana’s roots from Cobain’s fumbling to their raw Pixies’ inspired sound, similar nuggets of the frontman’s formative genius are already available on 2004’s With The Lights Out box set.
Overall, the title of album is a stretch for this mixed bag of scraps. Rather than illuminating some hidden fragment of the long-departed Cobain, Morgen’s compilation sounds like a desperate bid to squeeze the last dollar from the Nirvana machine. If anything, listening to the album in its entirety will force you to revisit Nirvana’s entire back catalogue to wash out your ears.
In A Nutshell: The exploitation of the Cobain myth has entered the realm of absurdity with this unnecessary addition to the posthumous money making industry.
– Eva Griffin
Paper Maché Dream Balloon / King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Paper Maché Dream Balloon comes as a bit of a surprise. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s most recent record, Quarters! featured longer, tighter songwriting, a more acute reliance on production values and more heavily synthesised sounds.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have opted for a thoroughly different approach to this album as this record is devoid of any histrionics. They make use of a much more limited body of instruments and feature shorter, more digestible songs. Semi-acoustic guitars, flutes, harmonica and sitar dominate the airwaves on Paper Maché Dream Balloon.
The more rustic feel of these instruments are complemented by crisp snare sounds, playful shakers and adventurous fills creating a musical experience of Magical Mystery Tour’s ilk. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s reverence for the The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour becomes immediately apparent from the art style they’ve opted for the album cover.
The brisk tempo of Paper Maché Dream Balloon unifies the album, as songs seamlessly fall into one another, as if the songs themselves are just an extension of one the album’s cavernous fills. The eponymous ‘Paper Maché Dream Balloon’ and ‘Most of What I Like’ evokes the playfulness that we have come to associate with the Beatles post-India, while tracks like ‘The Bitter Boogie’ and ‘N.G.R.I.’ (Bloodstain) display a certain reverence for The Kinks and the Yardbirds, as the sound vacillates between twelve-bar blues and psychedelic pop.
The familiarity of this record is at first endearing and innocuous, however by the end of the album the listener is left wanting. There is a homogeneity to this record which hampers as much as it adds to the experience. Although largely playful and fun in tone, Paper Maché Dream Balloon is nowhere near as gratifying or as rewarding as any of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s earlier records nor of the greats they seek to emulate.
In A Nutshell: Despite predominantly being painted with the one colour, Paper Maché Dream Balloon is as fun as it is familiar.
– Harry Ó Cléirigh