Open Ear Blog

2018's Album Reviews

The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

In a world of pseudo meta-pop, of artists trying to convince us they’re dismantling pop, or recontextualising it for an imagined new generation while dribbling out the same faux-edgy relationships, sex n’ drugs-referencing emoji-pop, The 1975’s third full length is as timely as it is out of step with every current pop act feigning cultural significance. Right-swiping confidently between Brian Eno, Joy Divison, Radiohead, D’Angelo, ’90s/’00s post-rock and ’80s art-rock, ‘A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’ is the cultureshock modern pop needs, and all of a sudden a lot of other modern music feels quite unnecessary. I’m looking forward to playlisting these tracks across a variety of playlists.

Mansur Brown — Shiroi

Having become an integral part of Kamaal Williams’ crew, Mansur Brown here releases his debut album, a borderless collection of Jazz, electronics, and Funk. Prominently featuring Brown’s virtuoso guitar playing there are clear influences from past cosmic-guitar explorers like Eddie Hazel or even Robert Fripp, but it’s the contemporary influences that stand out most. Featuring leading lights Thundercat on bass and Robert Glasper on keys, it’s any wonder that this is an album at the peak of modern Jazz. At its best, like on the beat driven ‘Flip Up’, the reverb-laden guitar trance of ‘Me Up’ or the soulful ‘God Willing’ Brown makes a strong case for being hailed one of the albums of the year.

Jungle — For Ever

Channelling the classic sounds of Soul and Funk but with a contemporary feel thanks to subtly fresh beats the second record from Jungle carries on in a similar vein to its critically-acclaimed predecessor. A little more melancholy than the debut, ‘For Ever’ still has fun but this time it’s as likely to be on a rain soaked street as it is a sun drenched party. ‘Casio’ is stripped back to a simple stomp-clap beat, while ‘Happy Man’ slides in multi layers of vocals on top of crisp beats. From the opener ‘Smile’ onwards, ‘For Ever’ captivates.

Rosalía — El Mal Querer

Based on a 13th century tale of romance gone very wrong, Rosalía’s ‘El Mal Querer’ is a story of damaged love played out in a uniquely contemporary manner. Rooted in Catalan folk but plugged in to Reggaeton, Rihanna, and most explicitly modern R&B, ‘El Mal Querer’ is where Flamenco meets Bass culture. It’s an album of twists and turns, sampling revving engines on ‘De Aquí No Sales’, referencing Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’ on ‘Bagdad’ and dropping a cappella on album closer ‘A Ningún Hombre’. Blurring lines between traditional folk and cutting edge Pop is where Rosalía shines. It’s a sound not to be missed.

Maribou State — Kingdom Of Colours

We’ve spun Maribou State’s previous release, ‘Portraits’, so often we hadn’t realised how much of an ear worm it’d become until we flipped on ‘Kingdom in Colour’. Taking in widescreen, cinematic Electronica in the smoothest of palettes, it’s an album that retains attention in spite of its lack of giddy up. When coupled with the of-the-moment Khruangbin the pace picks up but the highlights come in a pair of precision Pop moments when Holly Walker takes on vocal duties. Add this one to the pantheon of great Electronica albums.

Tirzah — Devotion

Produced by Mica Levi, the debut by Londoner Tirzah feeds off a plethora of musical styles closely associated with the capital’s broad cultural base. Pulling from Grime, 2-step, R&B, Indie Pop, and minimal Bass ‘Devotion’ is an album at once busy with its influences and stripped down in style. Build around a looping 808 beat, ‘Holding On’ is just waiting for the remix treatment before becoming a club staple this winter. Elsewhere ‘Basic Needs’ drapes intimate vocals over minimal 2-step beats. It perfectly captures the compositional skills on show throughout ‘Devotion’ which centres on Tirzah’s vocals yet shines thanks to the quality of its beats.

Ross From Friends — Family Portrait

While slowly developing his Lo-Fi House sound with a mix of EPs and 12” singles, Ross From Friends has attracted a growing fan base. Now with the release of ‘Family Portrait’, his debut album, that Lo-Fi sound has expanded. Bringing in a sense of weight and density to tracks like ‘The Knife’ with its unintelligible, 90s House vocals and ‘Pale Blue Dot’ with its stray electronics and looping beats there’s an impressive sense of melody to each track. The result is catchy hooks and ear worm phrases that will bury themselves deep in your head for days. Don’t miss it.

Kadhja Bonet — Childqueen

Both retro and avant-garde at once, Kadhja Bonet melds alluring, soft vocals with prodigious talent as a multi-instrumentalist playing nearly every sound heard on the record. Some may say is the sound is simply eclectic while others will see a strikingly defiance of genre. What is clear is there is an ethereal quality that has a timeless feel but there’s no shortage of groove or tantalising melody to grab the attention. Whether on the string led title track or the funky ‘Mother Maybe’ there’s a highlight here for you.

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