The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness (XO) When murky R&B meets slick production, we tend to take notice. At its best it’s a style that has a certain edge while sticking to standard song structures, and this can create unusual and intriguing juxtapositions in the right hands. The Weeknd certainly has those hands, as his crossover success, almost despite himself, shows. His lyrics might revolve around pretty thin allusions to sex and drugs, and the upfront assurance that he’s ‘for real’ may be grating, but the popular and critical success speak for themselves. Unlike other dark R&B albums with a focus on grit and ego, Beauty Behind the Madness does not simply latch Hip Hop beats to sung melodies. Instead it taps into the harder edge of Pop and the more vocal forms of Electronica, filled with bass heavy rumbles and dramatic synth stabs. Tracks such as ‘Real Life’ would make good bedfellows alongside big hitters like CHVRCHES or FKA twigs. Check out ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ to see what we mean.
Ella Eyre – Feline (Virgin) It may come as some surprise that Feline is Ella Eyre’s debut album. Her name will certainly be familiar to anyone who has had their eye on the charts over the past couple of years thanks to featured vocalist duties with Bastille, Wiz Khalifa, and Tinie Tempah. As with the artists she’s worked with, her music is upbeat and focused on leading pre-choruses and big step-up, singalong choruses. The tempo is so upbeat in fact that it’s hard to resist turning the volume higher and higher. That’s what this album is all about in fact; bigger is better appears to be its mantra. That makes the inclusion of a couple of slower acoustic numbers all the more confusing. Check out ‘Together’ if you’re after some fun.
Low - Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop) When a career is as well worn as Low’s, there is a chance that imagination and creativity get either overly comfortable at best, or threadbare at worst. Thankfully, Low have managed to fend these risks off with a combination of old-fashioned, high quality song craft and musicianship that allows them to fit to any task you give them. Low really are like your favourite old Levis; they get better as they age. On Ones and Sixes they apply themselves to steady and thoughtful Indie throughout, but it’s the touches of flavour, as always with Low, that really make their work shine. On ‘No Comprende’ it’s the solidity of the intro that leads into Alan Sparhawk’s mournful vocals before continuing on through the bassline that attracts attention, while on our highlight, ‘What Part of Me’ it’s the slow and drawn out fuzz guitar resonating and contrasting the clear and intimate vocals that really makes the track tick. Check out ‘No Comprende’ here.
Dam-Funk - Invite the Light (Stones Throw) This one is a bit of an epic trip, at 90+ minutes, but it’s at least slimmer than 2009’s Toeachizown at 140+ minutes. What other label than Stone’s Throw would allow so much Funk to escape at one time? Dam-Funk has been building this one for six years, and it shows as every moment bristles with creativity as he pushes his Electro Funk into the next six years at least. Oddly, it’s the moments he hints at the past that are most interesting as Herbie Hancock looms large again and again in here. While Hancock may not have a cameo here, others do including Snoop Dogg and Ariel Pink. The highlight for us, however, is the instrumental Deep House of O.B.E. Check out a close runner up in ‘We Continue’ here.
Foals - What Went Down (Warners) Now Indie Rock Gods, able to command headline slots in pretty much all UK festivals, Foals have upped the Rock in this latest LP and ensured the crowds will continue to love their live slots for a couple of seasons to come. Other changes in their style have been flag posted for a little longer however, as their transition to a more mature and less frenetic sound continues from past albums. The Funk touches are fewer and further between, but the vocals are broader and more affecting. Our highlight, ‘Night Swimmers’ gets the balance between the eager sounds of earlier work with the maturity of later work right, and melds both into the kind of anthem that can only further push the Foals name. Check out the title track here.
Souljazz Orchestra – Resistance (Strut Records) We enjoyed the last Souljazz Orchestra release (reviewed here) so much we couldn’t resist getting in on the latest. While the last outing was flavoured with classic Blue Note style Jazz, this one lets in a bit more Funk and Caribbean rhythms, alongside the typical Afro-Jazz sounds. There’s plenty to capture the imagination in this set, whether it’s the Hammond organ and sax in ‘Bull’s Eye’, the syncopated guitar and Latin horns of ‘Courage’, or the infectious energy of the Afro-Funky ‘Ware-Wa’. Our highlight comes in the shape of the alternating electric piano and horn riffs of ‘Kossa Kossa’. Check out ‘Shock & Awe’ here.
Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down (Matador) Not quite Folk, but mainly acoustic guitar focused and filled with crafted stories needing told, B’lieve I’m Goin Down is an Americana that is solely Kurt Vile’s. Recorded all over the States it’s perhaps prescient that some of that time was spent near the Joshua Tree. That should tell you something about the way these tracks weave somewhat dreamlike patterns while sticking to classic modes of song writing. Unusually for Vile there’s a piano track in ‘Lost My Head There’ that almost hints at old school R&B. Our highlight is ‘Pretty Pimpin’ which reminds us of JJ Cale at his finest in its delivery. Check it out right here.
Farao - Till It’s All Forgotten (Full Time Hobby) Mixing Pop, Electronica, and a Folk sensibility, Kari Jahnsen (who is Farao) has created an enigmatic and captivating debut. We’re not even sure what caught our attention first. Was it her glorious layered vocals, soft and floating and reminding us of Warpaint when they’re insistent and Beach House when they’re not? Or was it the fantastic rhythms and instrumentation, almost all played by Jahnsen, that twist and tumble in form throughout each song? At its best Till It’s All Forgotten is a glorious riot of colour and texture, most obviously in our highlight, ‘Bodies’, with its stop-start rhythms and horn blasts. Wanna hear it?
Jaakko Eino Kalevi - Jaakko Eino Kalevi (Weird World) Self-titled debuts require a certain level of personal confidence in the quality of the finished product. After all, this is the album that will stick out in a long career, unless the plan is to go onto ‘Self-Titled 2’ and beyond. In Jaakko Eino Kalevi’s case that confidence should pay off as this is a beautifully produced and lush sounding first full length release. The soundscapes within juxtapose 80s synths with contemporary electronic touches to create a downtempo Pop that wafts around Sax driven moments of energy. Our highlight, JEK, builds anticipation through the Intro where it’s not clear what direction we’re heading; is it House, Grime, or even Italo Disco? In the end, it’s a track most reminiscent of the Gallic Pop of Air, and a fine one at that. Check out the single ‘Double Talk’ here.