music / Columns

The Best Of May 2017: Paramore, Harry Styles, More

August 11, 2017 | Posted by David Hayter
Paramore

After a brief delay (illness) we’re back to discuss the biggest releases of the year so far.

May was set to feature One More Light by Linkin Park and, perhaps unsurprisingly, we were going to give the album a less than favorable review despite the band’s bold intentions. Given the tragic events involving Chester Bennington’s suicide, we thought it would be superfluous to run a critical review of a three month old album. So if your wondering why it is absent and there are only 7 of 8 reviews, you have your answer.

Now let’s get back to discussing new albums and review a month whether some high-profile hype machines faced the music and some old faced changed direction.

Paramore – After Laughter

Genre: Pop

The 411: Paramore’s embrace of Lauper-licious-pop and new-wave shouldn’t shock anyone who has listened to their records. The bombast of old thinly disguised a band obsessed with melody and sentiment, what’s intriguing about After Laughter is not the sonic shift to a lighter, brighter, less busy palette, but the fact that the band are far darker now than they were then. The sugar snaps of the 80s do well to obscure a bottomless well of bitterness and depression. The anxiety of yesteryear feels teenage and foolish by comparison. Hayley Williams is haunted by aging, death, broken relationships, addiction and the diminishing prospect of what is to come. In this light. the optimism of the arrangements feel like a wonderful false smile. The melting façade of a cracked actor coming apart at the seams: at an age where you simple can’t afford to be seen to be falling to pieces. Self-sabotage and the concept of being lost far out strip the foolish romanticism in terms of resonance and, to think, this band used to sarcastically snipe and idealise failed juvenile trysts. After Laughter is the sound of life passing you by. The insight of age is not that this tragedy happens in the wink of a young girls eye, but in gruelling slow motion: this drift from youth and expectation to age and reality occur in the purgatory of plain sight. Paramore are aware of every opportunity and privilege that has passed them by, but why mope and, hell, why rebel? When you can plaster on a fake smile and dance to the beat of progress with a tear in you eye. [8.0]

Perfume Genius – No Shape

Genre: Art-Pop

The 411: Perfume Genius transcends both his peers and his former self on No Shape; an album more bold and more beautiful than anything in oeuvre. Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, has never been a conventional artist. His creations have always been fraught with agony and lurched wildly towards the avant-garde, but on his latest record he has managed to find inner peace without sacrificing any of his music’s strange magnificence. In fact, No Shape is the most coherent and pleasing music Hadreas has ever made. This is in part a thematic repercussion: Perfume Genius is rapturous, he has a found love and is not so much seizing the day, as revelling in every passing second. What makes No Shape so stellar, aside from its subtly deviant sonic palate, is the way this newfound optimism is underwritten by the neurosis and defeatism of old. Celebrations of enduring love are contrasted by the inevitability of death, while the cosy feeling of lying forever in your lover’s arms is underwritten by instrumental panic attacks. In Perfume Genius’s world, even the most glorious of summer days is haunted by a lingering storm cloud. The downpour never actually arrives, but it’s enough to make No Shape a wonderfully uncomfortable listen: a big beaming smile faces the world, while a nervous droplet of sweat rolls down the forehead. [8.5]

Harry Styles (Self-Titled)

Genre: Pop

The 411: Harry Styles is a renaissance man. If his quintessentially British role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk didn’t make it clear, then his eponymous debut LP silences all doubt: while Zayn Malik chased Weeknd inspired modernity, Styles dived headlong into the rock & roll canon. Bowie, Elton, The Beatles, Nilsson and Rod Stewart all loom large. The homages are often transparent (“Sweet Creature”), but Styles also makes efforts to modernize. “Carolina” blends pre and post-psychedelic Beatles with a playfully spliced arrangement reminiscent of Beck – making it, oddly, a study in classic psychedelic that isn’t in the least bit psychedelic. Instead, Styles biggest deviation from sepia tinged pop of old is to Americanise the British canon. Like Elton John and Mick Jagger before him, Styles is seemingly obsessed by the earthiness of American roots music and no mater how Anglofied the sound or how modern the production, a country twang is always lurking around the corner. Sadly, despite a decent stab at INXS swagger (Only Angel), Styles lacks the humor of John and stinky, stanky sex appeal of Jagger and his Americanism end up feeling sadly straight laced. Styles feels a little safe and his songwriting is rarely incisive, but what he lacks in novelty, he makes up for with crispness, confidence and sporadic excellence (“Woman”, “Meet Me In The Hallway”, “From The Dining Table”). Alex Turner needn’t quake in his boots, but everyone should be impressed. Styles is a rock and roll star and, if he can find his own voice with albums to come, he will transcend the revivalists of this world (see Jet) and mark himself out as one of this generation’s most important pop musicians. [7.0]

Lil Yatchy – Teenage Emoticons

Genre: Rap

The 411: After what seems like a never ending hype train Lil Yatchy’s debut album has arrived and, truth be told, Teenage Emotion isn’t very good, but it is rather interesting. Frustratingly or fittingly, Yatchy’s debut is an apt metaphor for his entire career to date and the divisive aura he exudes. An artefact of sheer excess, this 70-minute listen is implausibly long (few will listen to this LP start-to-finish more than once) and it contains everything that makes Yatchy exciting and insipid. At times he’s every tedious trap rapper you’ve ever heard: threatening to steal your girl while fucking an array of “bitches” (some of which are “yellow”), offering nonsensical rhymes and forced syllable counts as he hammers a one dimensional chorus into your subconscious. Teenage Emotions is painfully conventional, but it’s also wonderful daring: beats loop and droop hypnotically, Yatchy is both colorful and vulnerable as he bends gender and flitters between fay and gangsta caricatures. The trouble is that Lil Yatchy might have a knack for monotone melodies, but he’s not convincing as either a fluid avant garde auteur or as a one dimensional thug. It’d be tempting to suggest Teenage Emotions artful eschews characterization, but that’s not true, this isn’t a game changing hybrid: this is a scatter-brained mess. The wild spray of a semi-automatic fired by a frighten kid – sure he hits some of his targets (and when he does the effects are suitably devastating), but more often than not he misses wildly. Don’t be fooled, Teenage Emotions is enjoyable, but its not half as clever or as interesting as it professes to be. Save yourself 70-minutes, stick to the singles and choice cuts. [5.5]

Dua Lipa (self-titled)

Genre: Pop

The 411: One of the year’s surprise success stories (from a critical point of view, her ascent was assured by a formidable PR machine) is British-Albanian pop star Dua Lipa. Her eponymous debut may tread the line between paint-by-numbers plodders and thrilling living-in-the-moment hits, but this trend chasing LP feels neither transparent nor forced. Lipa might appear like a model hired to imitate youthful rebellion for a Top Shop advert, but her debut manages to crackle and snap with plenty of panache. She’s never quite as bolshy or self-confident as she is on the phenomenal “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)”, but as she fuses softer EDM with tropical house (what else), she manages to supply big tower pop choruses at an impressive clip. Better still, once the obvious singles have been dispensed with, Lipa (who threatens to be characterless) is free to follow in Sia footsteps and show off some genuine range and control. Poise is the word. This album could not fail, but it didn’t have to be this good either. “Be The One” and “New Rules” ensure that Dua Lipa will be the queen of the moment, “Garden” suggests she may endure when fame’s spotlight is focuses elsewhere. [7.0] 

Aldous Harding – Party

Genre: Folk

The 411: Kiwi Aldous Harding has pulled off a near impossible feat. The singer-songwriter has dived into the gloomy territory that exists between rural-Americana and PJ Harvey’s haunting confessional sonics and alighted upon a sound that is wholly singular. She might be standing in the most crowded field imaginable (the sheer number of women making this sort of music is immeasurable and that’s before you consider their male counterparts), but Harding feels utterly distinct. Part of her and, by extension, Party’s brilliance lies in the singer’s ability to suck the air out of the room, not with any sonic contrivance, but with arresting, idiosyncratic phrasing. Her peers are sucked into a mournful game: making pitiless arrangements that strain and suffocate to conjure an artificial portentous weightiness. Harding, on the other hand, is often light and melodious. She just so happens to be a star. Her every fluctuation and intonation both holds and demands attention even as she lingers. Harding croons atop arrangement filled with color, warmth, melody and even (whisper it) vibrancy. Party is therefore a bold departure, it is severe, but not in any conventional sense. Likewise it is ornate, without feeling prissy or posed: freeing the music to flow and dance in the chilly night air. Party is a captivating listen that feels haunting, but without a cobweb insight. This might just be the most important pseudo-gothic release in decade or more. The age of stuffed crows and obsidian death masks is, mercifully, at an end. [8.5]

Girlpool – Powerplant

Genre: Rock

The 411: The Guardian’s Hannah J Davies’ described Girlpool as creating “Grunge Lullabies” and, while it’s never good to steal a turn of phrase from a fellow reviewer, I couldn’t possibly put it better. Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker are a pair of disillusioned angels, when they sing together, their voices are not perfect by any means – Girlpool’s music is full of cracks – but they are ungodly soothing. They whisper and lull the listener to sleep as their guitars entomb your body in a slow-motion landslide of industrial debris. The shifts in tone are dramatic, but not severe. The palette remains much the same throughout (blissed out grunge guitars and plenty of sorrowful staring at their shoes), allowing playful deviations in mood to give the album color. “Corner Store” is a Beatles-esque ditty, designed to catch the listener off guard and break up the despairing dreaminess of it all. Powerplant is utterly charming in its insecurity and perhaps the year’s pillowiest listen. Girlpool know not to overstay their welcome, tracks rarely threaten the three minute mark, it would be tempting to demand a little more dynamism, but when it’s this divine: who’d dare disturb their ashen grey slumbers? [7.5]


Further Listening: Jlin – Black Oragami, Slowdive (self-titled), Juana Molina – Halo, PWR BTTM – Pageant, J Hus – Common Sense, Stevie Parker – The Cure, John Mayer – The Search For Everything

article topics :

Harry Styles, Paramore, David Hayter