Album Reviews: Lontalius, Suuns, Pinegrove, Lion Babe
I’ll Forget 17 by Lontalius[br]I’ll Forget 17 is the debut album from singer-songwriter and New Zealander Eddie Johnston, otherwise known as Lontalius. The album achieves everything one could hope for in terms of accessibility – the ten tracks could be summed up as the perfect kind of background music. This is a versatile collection of songs that you could play in the background while you read. This album would not be out of place flowing through the speaker system of an independent coffee shop, amongst the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Coldplay and Bon Iver.
This record is not diverse enough to have many defects, although to some this could be seen as a fault in itselfJohnston seems to be channeling a more modern take on the singer-songwriter genre, both with meaningful lyrics and the showcasing of his multi-instrumentalist capabilities. The opening tracks ‘A Feeling So Sweet’ and ‘All I Wanna Say’ begin the album with a relaxed tone; Lontalius seems to be going for the sound of the heartbroken and the vulnerable, yet it somehow sounds happy and hopeful. ‘Kick in the Head’, the third track, alters the tempo slightly, but not enough to break the mellow vibes previously laid out. Once again, strings accompany the vocals, but with more of a live, untouched feel to it. After this track, the album as a whole does not veer too far from these sonic roots.Two standout songs from the album are ‘My Dreams Are Dark’ and the Lontalius’ latest single, ‘Glow’. Both tracks sum up the overall sound and are probably the two most accessible for new listeners. This record is not diverse enough to have many defects, although to some this could be seen as a fault in itself, but if you want an album that’s easy listening, makes for a good background sound, and also supports the career of a more unknown artist, then this record is a great choice.In A Nutshell: An album well suited to anyone who feels at home with the coffee-shop soundtrack, I’ll Forget 17 is authentic and warm, with a simple air of effortlessness.Words: Daniel Ryan[br]
Hold/Still by Suuns[br]Suuns are a group who appear to be gaining confidence with each release. Hold/Still is their third studio album and from the very opening track, ‘Fall’, the listener begins a descent into an audio-induced coma (in the best possible way). This is spurred on by repetitive and progressive guitar riffs accompanying Ben Shemie’s haunting vocals.The record opens with a punch and quickly progresses through clever use of said repetition, building up an atmosphere of panic and tension. Use of synth and keyboard play a vital role in many of the tracks, successfully adding to the unnerving impact. ‘Translate’ serves as a prime example of this.Tracks such as ‘Mortise and Tenon’ and ‘Brainwash’ work to balance out the album and prevent it from ever feeling too rushed. ‘Brainwash’ stands out by threatening to take the record in a different direction with its almost tame, upbeat melodies before synth and drums explode and remind us that this is not music for easy ears. A few lines of ‘Careful’ help to define the adventurous and exploratory nature of the album: “I never look back cause there’s nothing to learn from just trying to be more careful”.
There is a dark, slightly ominous theme running through many of the tracks which is so confidently established that it sets it apart from much of Suuns’ previous workSuch a blissful combination of electronic, rock and trance as appears on Hold/Still is also evident in its predecessors, however there is a dark, slightly ominous theme running through many of the tracks which is so confidently established that it sets it apart from much of Suuns’ previous work. This theme is also implied through the track names. Titles such as ‘Resistance’ and ‘Paralyzer’ each suggest a rigid sense of defiance, a desire to advance forwards towards something new, breaking all prior restrictions.Hold/Still is seamlessly paced and woven together to provide a perfect forty-five minute long escape from that crowded bus trip or tedious walk home. The listener willing to free-fall into this verging-on-psychedelic abyss will be pleasantly rewarded. Those who are unwilling to make the plunge are missing out on something refreshingly hypnotic.In A Nutshell: Edgy and experimental, this eerie and subtly aggressive tone is certainly a step in the right direction for Suuns. Those willing to indulge in something quite intense will enjoy the trip.Words: James Holohan[br]
Cardinal by Pinegrove[br]A cardinal in a pine grove — together these names suggest a bright red flicker which lingers and comes alive against its soft muted green backdrop. However, Pinegrove’s debut album feels more like a bird with mottled feathers: well camouflaged and liable not to be noticed. Cardinal speaks of a band in its youth, its members still mimicking their favorite acts, yet to discover a unique sound or voice. Touching on the feelings of isolation and ennui common in suburban adolescence, the album feels more like an emo record than its alt-country billing suggests.First is ‘Old Friends,’ boasting a catchy vocal melody which makes for a strong start, though it quickly becomes clear that it’s the album’s peak. Lyrically, Pinegrove find that as they grow older, they grow apart from old friends and lose touch with past loves. The singer relates their experience of anxiety and depression, of avoiding other people and of missing times gone by. He freely admits his own “solipsistic mood” early on, and though the album never reaches the point of egoism, the group’s refusal to broaden their emotional range makes each song blend with the next in a solution of self-pity.
The instrumentation manages to brighten the thematic dullness, with warm guitars and a country twang, and is poppy enough to enjoy as background musicThe instrumentation manages to brighten the thematic dullness, with warm guitars and a country twang, and is poppy enough to enjoy as background music. Pinegrove’s songwriting works against itself, however, being most often bland and forgettable. There are exceptions: ‘Aphasia’ touches on the speech and language disorder of the same name, an uncommon and intriguing song topic, and draws out an energetic and emotional performance from the singer and his bandmates. ‘Visiting’ switches up its instrumental halfway through, making for a satisfying build up of intensity to end the track.Pinegrove have a lot of growing left to do in order to move out of their musical adolescence, and beyond lyrical themes of the same, but that’s what a debut album is for. Cardinal may not be exceptional in any sense, but it proves that the group can assemble a cohesive project, and will hopefully afford them the opportunity to experiment in their future releases.In A Nutshell: For a debut album, Cardinal is a decent effort, but it lacks both definition and charm.Words: Owen Steinberger[br]
Begin by Lion Babe[br]After one half of Lion Babe, vocalist Jillian Hervey, leant her talents to Disclosure’s bopping ‘Hourglass’, all eyes shifted their focus to the house duo in quiet expectation. Luckily for those who like trendy production and effortlessly soulful vocals, this debut delivers in spades.There is something of a split personality present on Begin, an album that can be divided neatly into slick, dynamic pop tunes and atmospheric tracks oozing late-night narcotic cool. The deep bass groove of ‘Jump Hi’, along with the outrageously bouncy ‘Impossible’ and hit-in-waiting ‘Whole’, deliver thrills aimed square at the mainstream. Featured star power from Pharrell and Childish Gambino add to rather than detract from proceedings as the two at the centre of the mix play it off with style.The other half of the record plays with laid-back hazy atmospherics, ‘Treat Me Like Fire’ being a highlight complete with vinyl crackle. From the opening wash of synths, ‘On The Rocks’ could be a Disclosure out-take, while ‘Where Do We Go’ is vibrant house-disco. Lucas Goodman’s production elevates sometimes uninspired songwriting and gels these two moods into one seamless whole with idiosyncratic touches (“You order fries just to get away” is a brilliantly off-kilter lyric on ‘Stressed Out’). Neo-soul flavours shine on tracks such as ‘Got Body’ and ‘Wonder Woman’, which couldn’t be more Pharrell if it sampled a N.E.R.D track.
From song to song she deftly switches from full-throated growl to airy whisper, a talent nowhere more pronounced than on album closer ‘Little Dreamer’Hervey’s voice is enticing throughout, and recalls a four-to-the-floor Erykah Badu, or a less reticent Jessie Ware. From song to song she deftly switches from full-throated growl to airy whisper, a talent nowhere more pronounced than on album closer ‘Little Dreamer’, an otherwise blandly bluesy track given an almighty lift by Hervey’s heavenly layered “ooh”s. Begin successfully glides from sultry minimalism to hip-popping beats through shameless disco exuberance and dreamy atmospherics. The result is a lot of fun. Slick, trendy and exciting, this is a likeable and fresh debut full of signs of potential, which signals a promising future ahead for Lion Babe.In A Nutshell: This album doesn’t reinvent the pop music wheel as much as play with it, but it’s an exciting start for the dance duo.Words: Adam Lawler