Review Roundup: February 2018

With so much new music coming out all the time, it’s impossible to keep up – but fear not! Here at OTwo Music we’ve paused to reflect on the projects that have been flooding our feeds, and have given you this handy guide to some of February’s most significant releases. The last month has gifted us plenty of great records, and a few duds too. Here we look back at some major comebacks, hyped soundtrack albums, and a couple of exciting Irish debuts! Justin Timberlake – Man of the WoodsWhat we said: This baffling, clumsy rebrand from Timberlake will have you wishing he’d bring sexy back. Read the full review here. MGMT – Little Dark AgeWhat we said: A fresh, forward sound from a band you might have forgotten about, and you’ll be sure to have a nice little boogie. Read the full review here. Franz Ferdinand – Always AscendingWhat we said: A lack of energy and meaningful lyrics for most of Always Ascending sees Franz Ferdinand hinder potential hits and tarnish their good name. Read the full review here. Rejjie Snow – Dear AnnieWhat we said: Fresh, cohesive, and endlessly enjoyable; one of the most accomplished debuts from an Irish artist in a minute. Read the full review here. Rhye – BloodPristine, minimalist arrangements overlaid with delicate and graceful countertenor vocals. What Rhye do, they do well. The problem is, they keep doing it. Across this collection, singer Milosh stays in his comfort zone of gentle melancholia, that he first showcased on debut Woman. There is little variety in his vocal performance: he rarely sings outside of his head voice, and even dynamically he is reluctant to push it. It’s an unfortunate criticism to have to make, but naturally, a lot of the songs end up sounding the same. His lyrics – when you can make them out – are never so striking as to truly emotionally affect. Save for a handful of highlights – ‘Song for You’, ‘Stay Safe’, the almost danceable ‘Phoenix’ – the songs, while pleasant on the ear, are pretty unremarkable. When there’s so much good alt-R&B out there, little about Blood demands your time. Various Artists – Black Panther: The AlbumCurated by Kendrick Lamar, a.k.a. The Best Rapper Alive™, along with his TDE label head Anthony Tiffith, the Black Panther soundtrack has all of the ambition fitting for a Marvel superhero. With its themes of mass black empowerment, it boasts both enormous star power (Future, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott) and less-known international names (Yugen Blakrok, Babes Wodumo, Sjava). The only major mishit is the tedious Weeknd vehicle ‘Pray for Me’, with its phoned-in vocals. Don’t expect the depth of a Kendrick Lamar solo project, and you’ll find a mix of thrilling posse cuts and interesting, unfamiliar sounds. Ravyn Lenae – Crush EPThis five-track collection is a thrilling slice of slinky R&B and neo soul from a rising star. Lenae is associated with Chicago collective Zero Fatigue, whose roster includes Smino and Monte Booker, but her right hand man here is Steve Lacy, of the Internet, who produces. With warm bass, Lacy crafts gentle, irresistible grooves, and the two vocalists’ voices complement each other to great effect. There’s only one downside: it’s a little sickening to realise that they’re both only 19. Various Artists – Fifty Shades Freed (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)Do you like (reasonably) famous people, surrounded by knock offs of other famous people? Do you like glossy, overproduced pop genericisms? Uninspired and unnecessary covers of hits from decades past? Do you like lyrics that are, ooh, just a little bit naughty, like “Your lips are made of ecstasy” or “I wanna jack it, smack it”? Jarring changes in tone between tracks? Consecutive songs called ‘Cross Your Mind’ and ‘Change Your Mind’? How about a minimally reworked version of a smash hit from just three years ago? Do you like MOR? And do you like lots of it? Like, 19 tracks worth? Boy, do I have the record for you. American Pleasure Club – A Whole Fucking Lifetime of ThisFormerly known as Teen Suicide, the band has shed the questionable moniker. Here they cycle through a variety of sounds. There’s lo-fi and pop-punk approximations. The vocal processing on ‘Eating Cherries’ sounds like SoundCloud guys like Ryan Hemsworth, with whom singer Sam Ray has previously collaborated under his Ricky Eat Acid project. ‘Just a Mistake’ is a foray into what resembles D&B. There’s a pretty nifty Frank Ocean sample. Some tracks are just Ray and his guitar. There is nostalgia, loneliness, longing and love, and Ray packs so much expression into his voice. A gorgeous collection of songs, and you’re unlikely to hear a more beautiful couplet than ‘This Is Heaven & I’d Die for It’ and ‘All the Lonely Nights in Your Life’ for some time. Everything Is Recorded – Everything Is Recorded by Richard RussellThis is the debut solo LP from XL Recordings owner and ‘the man who discovered Adele’, Richard Russell. Russell remains largely in the background here, giving the limelight to his large cast of guests. Star player Sampha appears on several tracks, including the gorgeous Curtis Mayfield-sampling ‘Close but Not Quite’ and the moving, understated ‘Show Love’, which also features a silky-smooth input from Syd. Infinite’s falsetto vocal on the shimmering ‘Bloodshot Red Eyes’ is equally impressive. However, all of Russell’s moving parts mean that songs can sound cluttered and clunky, as is the case for ‘Mountains of Gold’. ‘Be My Friend’, with its relentless vocal loop, is just a four-to-the-floor beat away from being a run-of-the-mill pop house track. Furthermore, Russell’s repeated attempts to shoehorn in one particular spoken sample (“It is possible to be alone and not live alone”) clumsily disrupt the mood. Everything Is Recorded has some great tracks, but as a whole it’s rather patchy. Wyvern Lingo – Wyvern LingoThe Bray trio’s description of their sound as “alternative pop influenced by rock and R&B” certainly fits this debut album. There are guitar riffs, and three-part harmonies, but there are also polished beats and big pop choruses. The opening trio of pre-released tracks ‘Out of My Hands’, ‘I Love You, Sadie’ and ‘Maybe It’s My Nature’ are all crackers. ‘Crawl’ is an irresistible earworm. The songs move seamlessly between the personal and political. Wyvern Lingo’s best tool is the strength and chemistry of their voices, as seen clearly on the stark, moving ‘Used’, which opens with a full minute of raw vocals. For the most part, their singing is strong enough to carry less exciting songs. Only ‘Dark Cloud’ doesn’t get a pass; it just never ignites. It’s not a perfect record, but a strong debut from an act full of promise.