Every Friday, ‘The Album Cycle’ reviews a handful of new releases.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Body/Head – No Waves
On Wednesday afternoon, as the whole office began shouting the numbers the NYT’s likelihood-of-winning meter was landing on and our faces reddened with the growing realisation that Trump was going to win the presidency, I took a half-hour break from the panic and bathed in the distorted calm of No Waves, the new album by Body/Head, the duo of Kim Gordon (ex-Sonic Youth) and Bill Nace (ex-A-Bunch-of-Noise-Bands). ‘Sugar Water’ is a surge of pulsating guitar drones, mumbled, groaning free association. ‘The Show is Over’ is harsher and more, um, guitar-y, with an inspired harmonica solo in the middle, which sounds both completely out of place (harmonicas are stuck in one key so are almost always tuneful in some way) and kinda perfect, rooting the feedback and hammered strings with an unmistakable Americanness, which, in the middle of Wednesday’s oncoming upset/disaster/electoral-college-clusterfuck, sounded downright patriotic. – Henry Oliver
Olly Murs – 24 HRS
I didn’t think the world was ready for another Olly Murs album, but with Simon Cowell’s label Syco almost exclusively dropping albums in the pre-Christmas period, here we are. Murs peaked in 2012 with his album Right Place Right Time. Released in the midst of the first great Brit-pop wave since the late-90s, it was a year when One Direction and Little Mix were breaking into the US, Jessie J and Cheryl were reigning queens, and Murs had five of his singles chart in New Zealand. Now here’s 24 HRS, a pop album thick with a sound so past its use-by that it’s borderline festive. With subtle EDM samples here and there, a few songs tease at something new but, for the most part, it’s an unenjoyable listening experience. The album is loaded with contradictions and problematic ideas for his impressionable teenage demographic to absorb – consent (or lack thereof), women as commodities, the male gaze – and it never really recovers. Old fans will find comfort in 24 HRS, but it’s not going to bring in any new fans. – Kate Robertson
Allan Smithy – I See A Palm Tree EP
Sydneysider Matt Amery describes his solo project as “Australiana nostalgia,” which sounds bad but is, in practice, on his debut EP I See A Palm Tree, actually good. Its four songs are frequently and joyfully reminiscent of classic 80s Australian indie pop, in particular the Go-Betweens – take the mix of chiming guitar and plaintive backing vocals on opening track ‘The Streets’ or the verse-chorus tension-and-release dynamics of ‘Air’. But don’t write Allan Smithy off as a mere retro tribute act; the lyrics are smart and topical, more closely aligned to Melbourne pop slackers like Courtney Barnett or The Lucksmiths. “I still live on suburban streets / Where the planes fly low and the food is cheap,” Amery sings at the start of ‘Four-Letter Reason’, “All my friends have gone overseas / everyone’s gone except me.” – Calum Henderson
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Damn, there’s a lot to unpack here, so a quick, pithy paragraph after one-and-a-half listens probably isn’t going to suffice. BUT, I just thought you should know this is out, and that you should listen to it.
Here’s what you need to know: first A Tribe Called Quest album in 18 years; member Phife Dawg died in between its recording and release (thus, their last album); features André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, Elton John, Talib Kweli, Consequence and Busta Rhymes.
First impressions: sounds great, like a step back in time to the mid-90s, but updated enough to avoid irrelevance/ultra-nostalgia; tackles, musically at least, the possibility of aging within rap, which is interestingly fertile ground in the youth-dominated genre/culture (cf. rock music, where nostalgia is a dominant force and some of the biggest acts of yesteryear have found ways to continue to develop their music in non-youthful but artful ways); André 3000 continues his amazing run of guest verses; it’s still a little too long for my tastes/attention-span; it’s very easy to listen to, so is a likely cafe/courtyard bar hit this summer. – HO
Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit
If you’ve ever wondered what happened to all those bands that became internet famous in the 2005-2010 heyday of indie blogs and Hype Machine, Sleigh Bells is a cautionary tale. They made more albums that you never bothered to listen to, each worse than the last, in the hopes that something would catch fire like their first few singles. And, to be fair, Sleigh Bells had one pretty good trick – buzzsaw guitars playing cutting, catchy riffs over drum machines/programmed drums with a singer that can actually sing in a competent, pop kinda way. And while plenty of bands have built incredible discographies out of a single trick, Jessica Rabbit shows (just in case there was ever any doubt) that Sleigh Bells is definitely not one of them. – HO
Lambchop – FLOTUS
It’s been a fucking frantic week. If your nerves aren’t wrecked after the last few days, you’re either ‘economically anxious’, an unfeeling sociopath, or have nerves of steel and should find work as an air traffic controller. But if, like me, you’re still a little frazzled by the whole thing, put FLOTUS on while you drink a cup of mid-strength coffee in the Sunday late-morning sun/gentle spring rain. It’ll be nice. – HO
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.