MusicNovember 18, 2016

The Album Cycle: New releases reviewed from Bic Runga, Tove Lo, The Japanese House & More


Every Friday, ‘The Album Cycle’ reviews a handful of new releases.


Bic Runga – Close Your Eyes

Last night, Bic Runga was honored with the ‘Legacy Award’ at the New Zealand Music Awards. Today, she released her fifth album, Close Your Eyes, and, as shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, it’s excellent. So, while I have a fundamental issue with artists still in the prime of their creative careers receiving lifetime achievement-type awards, I realise that that’s my cross to bare. Made up of ten covers and two originals, Close Your Eyes is a grab bag of genre, emotion and sound. Kanye West’s ‘Wolves’ keeps much of the vibe of the original, transforming the instrumentation with the deep, fuzzy pulses traded for sprightly drums and a warm organ. (Though if you’d hoped to hear Bic sing “You left your fridge open / Somebody just took a sandwich”, you’ll be sorely disappointed.) Nick Drake’s ‘Things Behind the Sun’ is stripped of its deathly melancholy and injected with a dose of autumn sunshine. And The Mint Chick’s ‘Life Will Get Better Some Day’ is taken from an ironic/depressive dirge (one of my favourite ironic/depressive dirges mind you) into a song that you could sing to your kids to tell them that although they might be crying now, there a good times just around the corner. But, I must say, the highlight of the album is title-track (and original composition) ‘Close Your Eyes’ with its Stereolab-esque layers of voices and organs. Need I recommend more? – Henry Oliver


Tove Lo – Lady Wood

Disregarding the slowly eroding assumed wisdom that albums about sex should be somewhat coy, Lady Wood might be the best full-length example of heavy, unmodulated lust since Miguel’s Wildheart, complete with an 31-minute short film / mood piece that I am absolutely not prepared to risk watching at my desk. The musical reference points are mostly pretty obvious – post-Balearic percussive synths; post-dubstep ominous-ish sub rumbles; big claps on the three – but as a whole it’s carried by Lo’s lyrics and her generally very excellent delivery. ‘Cool Girl’ slaps, obviously, but there’s no shortage of hits here; skip the Wiz Khalifa contributions on the otherwise incredible ‘Influence’ and everything on overcooked Joe Janiak collab ‘Vibes’, but rest assured that pretty much everything else goes very hard. – Matthew McAuley

D∆WN – Redemption

D∆WN (aka Dawn Richard) concludes the trilogy of 2013’s Goldenheart and last year’s Blackheart with Redemption. She’s always been one of R&B’s most Europhile artists ever since her work as third of trio Diddy Dirty Money’s Last Train To Paris, but she leavens the gleaming electronics and fizzy strings with more nods to the American South – audacious centrepiece LA references both to her home state of Louisiana as well as adopted home Los Angeles, and the track’s last minute is a delirious trumpet solo from New Orleans jazz musician Trombone Shorty. The woozy guitar of ‘Hey Nikki’ echoes Blackheart’s ‘Billie Jean’ in treating Prince’s subject as a mythological figure equal to the Greek and Norse reference points of her D&D&R&B (seriously, I can’t believe she hadn’t named a song ‘Valhalla’ until now), Wide Sargasso Sea-ing her into subject not object. A Björk-esque world to get lost in from a master at the top of her game. – Stevie Kaye

Hannah Peel – Awake But Always Dreaming

While Hannah Peel’s album about her grandmother slipping into dementia might be less strictly high-concept than, say, the Caretaker’s Alzheimers-echoing An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, it pulls a balancing act between fragments of song and sonics not seen since Kate Bush’s The Ninth Wave (y’know, the amazing collage-y second side of Hounds Of Love). From the Julia Holter-gone-Scando synthpop of ‘All That Matters’ to ‘Octavia”s evocation of analogue electronic pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram (see also her side project Mary Casio) to the nine minutes of ‘Foreverest’ that somehow evolves from early Piano Magic “twee industrial” to a microhouse miniature in the style of Ada and Ellen Allien to the murmuring voices underpinning the haunting folk of ‘Conversations’, Awake But Always Dreaming never stumbles. – SK

The Japanese House – Swim Against the Tide

After literal decades of boring dudes in ugly pants doing their best to messily shit on the various legacies of their various Rock Heroes, pastiche in music has a justifiably pretty bad rap. On her third EP, young Londoner Amber Bain poses an interesting question: what if it was actually good though? Swim Against The Tide sees her happily eschewing the idea of genre monogamy as virtuous, instead cherry-picking sounds and signifiers from pretty much wherever – standout ‘Good Side In’, as a somehow nowhere-near-representative example, is a slow-burner that builds from folksy finger-picked guitars and druidic harmonies to a soaring chorus closer to Sincerely Yours favourites jj. I could write another thousand boring-ass words on the skill it takes to make art that’s this reverential without seeing it outweighed by its influences, but all you really need to know is this: these songs are incredibly good. Listen to them. – MM

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