Monthly Album Round-Up (March)

It’s been a little quiet here – nothing from me apart from this Cloud review, and a dual album review by our valued contributor Georgina. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been listening to anything! To make up for the silence, here’s a round-up of the music we listened to this March. Do check out our Best New Music playlist on Spotify for even more great new tracks! First up now is our album of the month…

 

Nap Eyes – I’m Bad Now

I had a conversation with Nap Eyes’ Nigel Chapman at last year’s End of the Road Festival in which we touched on many of the topics covered on I’m Bad Now. It is an existentialist album, as the opening track ‘Every Time the Feeling’ makes clear (“Oh I don’t know what’s worse / The meaninglessness or the negative meaning”). On most tracks, Chapman addresses himself, in a continuing self-interrogation. But unlike some strands of existentialism, Chapman’s doubts are focused on the external worlds: they concern the question of how we relate ourselves to the others around us. It’s a difficult question and the lyrics on I’m Bad Now are full of doubt. “You always try to be nice, but is it really the right way?” Nigel asks on the jagged ‘Roses’.

 Despite the uncertainty, the picture that emerges is one that values kindness and tolerance over justice and judgment (and I hope that in framing it that way, I’ve brought out the dilemma here; of course, everyone values kindness and tolerance, but at what cost?). In the interview, Nigel said: “When is it really good to morally judge people, either yourself or others? I certainly believe in morality and goodness and humanity, but as far as our own ability to nail it I’m sceptical. That’s my rebellion.” There are certainly religious undertones here (Jesus was a rebel in exactly this way), and it is easy to imagine Chapman addressing a god when he asks “if there’s a right road, would you kindly show me?” on ‘Judgment’. But of course, these are questions we have to struggle with ourselves, and redemption comes from outside, not from above. This is illustrated on ‘You Like to Joke Around With Me’, on which Chapman sings: “Last night my friends surprised me / Gestures of kindness I’d never expect”. And, on the importance of understanding: “But tuning yourself to catch another’s wavelength / Sure can make a difference in this world”. Again, this is not a platitude: tuning yourself to another’s wavelength also means letting go of your own values and seeing the world through someone else’s principles, and respecting that as much as possible.

The road to enlightenment, if it is to be had at all, is slow and frustrating. I’m Bad Now finishes not with a bang, but with the gently rocking ‘Boats Appear’. “Takes time to understand things / And the more you know the more you know you don’t know / I was just wondering why I handle things the way I do / You know, so slow”. I don’t like using the word ‘honest’ to describe a piece of music, but I think this is one of the rare cases where it wholly applies.

Amaya Laucirica – Rituals / Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

These are two albums that to some extent suffer from the same defect: they start of fine, but end of feeling a bit same-y. Amaya Laucirica’s songs are beautiful medium tempo dreams, like a brighter Beach House with an entirely different sort of vocal pallette. It’s all very pretty, but like a colourful pointillistic painting, there’s no point in having ten of them in a row. Fortunately, there are two excellent tracks on Rituals, the heartbreaking ‘All Our Time’ and the melancholy dance-y ‘More Than This’, which add much needed variety. The problem with Quit the Curse is similar: the sound pallette Anna Burch uses is the same throughout the album, and it’s not always an equally interesting one. The first three or four tracks feature enough fine melodies to set up the expectations, but rather than continuing this trend the next song ‘Belle Isle’ is very slow-going. After that, it’s more of the same. And unfortunately, more of the same good can easily become boring.

Frankie Cosmos – Vessel

This Is Not a Drill’s Brock Kingsley has a good take on this one. His identification of Greta Kline’s lyrics as solipsistic is spot on. As I wrote of her previous album Next Thing, “Frankie Cosmos’ music is like a complete world”. Vessel continues this theme, although compared to Next Thing, it feels less self-contained, as if a narrow line between that world and this world is slowly opening. ‘Being Alive’, especially, feels like a break-out, both musically with its unsubtle drums, and lyrically with Kline’s admission that her “vocabulary’s limited” – and if her mind-world is composed through language, then surely an admissions of those limits is an admission of an outside.

At 18 tracks in 33 minutes, Vessel often feels unpolished. This is of cours part of the charm, and demo-like ‘The End’ is one of my favourite (and oh so sad) tracks. I also find, however, that there are quite a few songs or song-snippets I care less about, which makes Vessel somewhat of a singles-album. The album is also more serious than Kline’s previous work, either as Frankie Cosmos or under different monikers. And that means it misses part of what was so charming about her music. It’s a slightly unfair criticism, perhaps, and Vessel is as amazing as anything Greta Kline does, but maybe not as amazing as everything she’s done.

Superorganism – Superorganism

This was a bit of a disappointment, really. ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ was an absolutely fun single, but Superorganism does not live up to it. Sure, there’s something to the combination of outright weird electronic sounds and samples with Orono Noguchi’s detached voice, but that doesn’t automatically make a great song. At its best moments – the intro of ‘It’s All Good’, ‘Sprorgnsm’, the singles – Superorganism reminds me of Plastic Beach, but it lacks that album’s coherence. I appreciate the experimental attitude, but this is too haphazard for me.

Gwenno – Le Kov

The most obvious thing that’s special about Gwenno’s Le Kov is that it’s entirely in Cornish! It’s a great boost for an underrepresented language, and interesting soundwise. Its rolling ‘r’s remind me of Polish. But Le Kov is not a gimmick; it starts with the trippy ‘Hy a Skoellyas Lyf a Dhagrow’, inspired by Broadcast, and ends with the nostalgic ‘Koweth Ker’. ‘Mysterious’ is an easy word to apply, but for someone who doesn’t speak the language – which will be most of us, I think – it is apt. It does make it hard to write something about Le Kov, apart from what it sounds like. And that you should hear for yourself.

 

Lucy Dacus – Historian

I’m late to the party here. I’ve only been listening to Historian for a few days, and had barely registrered Lucy Dacus’ name before that. But she’s obviously amazing. ‘Night Shift’ is an intelligent song with a thrilling progression, and ‘Addictions’ a full-bodied kicker. The later tracks I still have to digest, but already I can hear many surprising melodic twists and clever and moving lyrics. The sound pallette is folk-plus, as it were, with a heavy electric guitar and occassional brass supporting Dacus’ singer-songwriter base. Historian alternately reminds me of Julia Jacklin and Sharon Van Etten, although both those singers have a slightly more interesting voice than Lucy Dacus, and all three have a tendency to become a little repetitive. I haven’t heard enough of Historian in enough detail to know if that will happen here too, but even if it does, it’s an amazing album and certainly one of the best of the year.

We’ll be back next month with another monthly music-round up! Radio programming starts again at the end of this month so check back soon for a schedule for our spring season. 

-- Beautiful Freaks, April 4, 2018