Category Archives: Music Reviews

SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut

Photo Courtesy of Dais Records

The self-titled debut of the Bay Area band SPICE sounds more like a third or fourth album from an accomplished rock group. The five piece carefully balances post-punk and indie rock while powering through nine cathartic songs with an underlying thread of optimism. Continue reading SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut

The Beths’ sunny new LP, Jump Rope Gazers, is everything you could hope for in a sophomore album

Photo Courtesy of Carpark Records

The Beths rock, and the simplest way to back up that assertion comes in the form of its catchy new album, Jump Rope Gazers.

On the Auckland band’s second full-length, The Beths not only refines the charged indie pop songwriting and production that made its 2018 debut so charming, but also retains the witty lyrics and sun soaked playing that’s made the quartet one of the most exciting groups to emerge from Oceania in recent memory.

It’s difficult to listen to the lyrics of lead singer and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes without being taken by their cleverness. Stokes animates Jump Rope Gazers with a variety of thoughtful lines that explore love and interpersonal relationships, and are fittingly more cheeky than self-serious.

“I keep a flame burning inside/If you need to bum a light,” she offers on the excellent single, “Out Of Sight.” Elsewhere, on the chorus of the album’s closer, “Just Shy of Sure,” she contemplates unrequited love, a major theme throughout the album, most perfectly in the lyrics, “You still want me/I’m the one you adore/But I’m just shy of sure.”

Stokes also uses her conversational tone on the new LP to exorcise feelings of self-doubt, with several of her lyrics functioning as a reassuring balm to listeners feeling the same way. “Like an arrow always missing/I’m always missing,” she sings on the tropical sounding track, “Acrid.” Likewise, on the self-critical anthem, “Do You Want Me Now,” she relates, “I can’t remember if I like myself at all.” Lines such as these add personal depth to an otherwise lighthearted album.

All of Stokes’ lyrical observations are bolstered by catchy guitar melodies, steady bass lines and unobtrusive drumming. When he’s not plucking spacey notes or palm-muting verses, guitarist Jonathan Pearce breaks out into a number of brief but raucous guitar solos such as on the opener, “I’m Not Getting Excited,” or during the bridge of “Acrid.”

The Beths’ rhythm section composed of bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck keep each song tight and lively, and especially shine on the song, “Dying To Believe.” As far as the album’s tracklist and production go, there’s little left to be desired. Every track feels polished and nearly all of them add momentum to the album’s runtime of close to 40 minutes.

The album’s title track, “Jump Rope Gazers,” is arguably the catchiest song on the whole thing. In addition to strong imagery and emotions, the song’s cryptic but intriguing chorus lyrics, “How could this happen/We were jump rope gazers in the middle of the night,” gives it an impressionistic hook that will lead listeners to come up with their own meanings. Of all the title tracks I’ve reviewed for this site, “Jump Rope Gazers” is the most memorable I’ve come across so far.

But not every song on the album rises to the greatness of its title track. Two songs on the back half of Jump Rope Gazers — the choppy “Mars, the God of War,” and the sparse, fingerpicked outlier, “You Are a Beam of Light” — lack the energy of the previous songs and feel slightly less developed. Luckily, the spirited closer, “Just Sure or Shy,” reignites a sense of excitement, ending the record with the oomph absent in two tracks leading up to it.

But, aside from a few sonic experiments gone awry, The Beths’ new LP is everything you could ask for in a sophomore album. It builds upon what worked for the band on its debut and branches out into new styles and musical territory while offering a string of catchy singles.

Early in the album, Stokes sings the succinct lyrics, “It burns me/But I’m smiling through the heat.” And, with its relatable lyrics on love, uncertainty and self doubt floating atop sunny, pop rock instrumentals, Jump Rope Gazers might have you smiling through the heat, as well.

4.5/5

Vile Creature’s ambitious third album, Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, expands the palette of doom metal

Photo Courtesy of Prosthetic Records

Despite being a duo, Vile Creature might be mistaken for a much larger band, especially considering the Ontario group’s lumbering thunderclouds of sound arranged over elaborate song structures.

And, on the band’s third album and Prosthetic Records debut, Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, drummer Vic and guitarist KW balance lightness with heaviness and catchiness with aggression to craft a doom metal album that pushes past the genre’s standard formula.

Spanning five lengthy tracks that add up to 44 minutes, Glory! is composed of sludgy riffs, slow, pounding drums and dual vocals that use both black and death metal style deliveries. Vic perfectly controls the melodies of their black metal howls either alone or accompanied by KW’s deep, commanding voice. KW takes solo vocals on a few parts, but Vic is often looming in the background waiting to interject a shrieked lyric.

The album’s opening song, an 11 minute track called “Harbinger of Nothing,” was previously included on an Adult Swim metal compilation. Because of that, “Harbinger” feels like a self-entity in its structure and polish, more so than any of the later-penned tracks that make up the rest of the record. To start off the album with a high profile song with colossal riffs is an easy choice. But, to follow it with another 11 minute track, “When the Path Is Unclear,” really shows the band’s confidence in its material.

“When the Path Is Unclear” and the shorter, third song, “You Who Has Never Slept,” pad out the middle of Glory! by deploying sludgy, crawling chord progressions and conjuring up a heavy atmosphere. “When the Path Is Unclear” turns it up a notch from “Harbinger” by introducing an even rawer sound with more feedback and including the record’s only chugging guitar part.

“You Who Has Never Slept,” on the other hand, features some inventive drumming with a distinct galloping feel. And toward the end, KW applies a noticeable bend to the song’s guitar chords, creating a cool, quivering effect. With lyrics such as, “Don’t want what’s to come,” these two songs make up the heaviest part of the album and keep it engaging before the experimental finale.

The album’s final two tracks, which make up a suite of sorts, are interconnected by a heavenly choir of voices that take center stage on “Glory! Glory!” and reappear in the middle of heavy guitar riffs on the dynamic closer, “Apathy Took Helm!” It’s an ambitious sonic combination that ultimately sounds amazing and was worth the risk. By alternating saccharine voices with Vic’s anguished singing, the two songs not only contrast the idea of lightness with heaviness but also strive to marry heaven and hell.

Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is the rare doom record that isn’t afraid to throw a dramatic curve at the listener every now and then while staying true to the roots of the genre. Vile Creature takes all of the best parts of metal and repurposes them into a work that feels entirely original.

5/5

Orphnē, the intricate third album from Maud the Moth, shares the mystery of a haunted house

Photo Courtesy of Música Máxica, Nooirax Producciones, La Rubia

Listening to Maud the Moth’s new album, Orphnē, is like walking through a haunted house that slowly reveals its secret history to you. Each of the eight tracks making up the record’s 40 minute runtime draws the listener deeper and deeper into the cobwebbed passageways of its dark jazz and folk music.

The band’s sole member, Amaya López-Carromero, a Spanish singer and pianist who now lives in Edinburgh, leads a full band experience on Orphnē consisting of busy drums, weighty guitars and oft menacing strings. But out of all the instruments on the album, López-Carromero’s crystalline piano finds its way to the forefront as she cements the otherworldly mood of tracks such as “Ecdysis” and “The Mirror Door” with her careful note selection.

Vocally, López-Carromero stretches her somber lyrics on Orphnē to fit into her soaring, folk-inspired melodies. Although it’s sometimes difficult to figure out the words, her velvety singing gives the record a main focal point, guiding the listener along. Throughout the album, she offers clues toward figuring out its hidden messages such as on the song, “The Abattoir,” where she tells the story of a girl who “was always changing faces.”

On the fantastic single, “Finisterrae,” which serves as a short detour into the overgrown grounds behind the ghostly estate, López-Carromero’s lyrics turn uplifting as she sings lines such as, “inside you flowers a garden/And inside the font swims a water bird.” Paúl González’s excellent jazz drumming paired with López-Carromero’s soulful piano melodies make “Finisterrae” the most stirring song on the record and a true highlight.

Elsewhere in Orphnē’s lyrics, López-Carromero uses Greek mythology to evoke certain classical figures such as on the lively jazz song “Mormo and the Well” or her mention of Penelope in the lyrics of “As Above So Below.” Even the album’s title is a reference to a nymph from Hades, as well as being a root for the word “orphan.” These allusions give Orphnē an added layer of depth and a sense of timelessness, with the ancient stories mirroring the suffering and anguish of life in the present day.

Produced by Jaime Gómez Arellano, who has worked with brooding bands such as Ulver, Orphnē is a foreboding record that only allows the daylight briefly into its haunted interior. And even then, it’s a grey, overcast kind of light that offers little to no comfort. With its dark themes and unique musical style, Maud the Moth’s latest album will make you feel like you’re walking up a creaky, wooden stairwell dreading to discover what’s behind the door at the top.

4/5