In this weekly segment, we review the most notable albums out each Friday and pick our album of the week. Here are this week’s releases:
Chance the Rapper, The Big Day
Chance the Rapper has one thing to say on his one hour and twenty-minute debut album: he got married. He loves his wife. And God. But mostly his wife. Did he mention he loves his wife? Jokes aside, this joyous energy is the one thing that makes The Big Day a generally pleasant experience. The problem is that it quickly overstays its welcome and becomes a tedious, messy, and all-over-the-place ride. The album’s highlights are mostly scattered in its first half, including the unexpected but sweetly nostalgic collaboration with Death Cab for Cutie on ‘Do You Remember’ (which also features production by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, whose production work on most tracks here sadly remains barely noticeable) or the joyful ‘We Go High’, which features one of Chance’s more memorable performances. However silly, ‘Hot Shower’ is one of the more enjoyable trap moments on the album, which otherwise come off as entirely flavourless and generic, especially on the second half of The Big Day, which has nearly no commendable moments. Even if you scratch beneath the surface, it’s hard to find the clearly impressive ambition Chance demonstrated on his previous mixtapes. It’s definitely his big day, but that’s exactly what makes his follow-up to Coloring Book vastly underwhelming.
Highlights: ‘Do You Remember’, ‘We Go High’, ‘Zanies and Fools’, ‘The Big Day’
Violent Femmes, Hotel Last Resort
No one quite expected the Violent Femmes comeback in 2016 with their first album of new material in 16 years, cheekily titled We Can Do Anything, if only because the band members discovered shortly after making their 1983 acoustic-punk classic they admittedly had little in common besides their love for music. The new album, which unashamedly used the same untarnished formula decades later, felt pretty redundant. It’s an even greater surprise, then, that three years later we’re getting yet another Femmes album, this time titled Hotel Last Resort, and the same pattern can be observed: the band’s familiar approach stays exactly the same, except it lacks much of the sense of vitality that inspired countless indie artists. There’s tongue-in-cheek irony and downright silly humour (‘Another Chorus’, ‘Sleepin’ at the Meetin”), biblical references (‘Adam Was A Man’), and upbeat attempts to recreate, though unsuccessfully, their biggest hits (‘All or Nothing’, ’Not OK’, ’I’m Nothing’). But the most effective track is, in fact, the quietest and most earnest one, called ‘Paris to Sleep’, that ironically sounds like something out of a Neutral Milk Hotel album. Being Greek, the cover of Greek band Pyx Lax’s ‘I’m Not Gonna Cry’ was also a notable highlight, if only for the fact that I never saw it coming. Recommended for hardcore fans only, Hotel Last Resort is otherwise unremarkable but certainly reliable, and an improvement from We Can Do Antyhing.
Highlights: ‘Paris to Sleep’, ‘I’m Nothing’, ‘Hotel Last Resort’, ‘I’m Not Gonna Cry’
Album of the Week: Angie McMahon, Salt
Comparisons can easily be made between singer-songwriter Angie McMahon and the guitar-led folk-blues of Angel Olsen (especially on the empowering and euphoric ‘And I Am a Woman’, which recalls the highs of Olsen’s own ‘Woman’), or the fiercely earnest balladry and vocal style of Sharon Van Etten (see opener ‘Play the Game’, for example, or the brilliantly funny yet poignant ‘Pasta’). And yet she doesn’t quite wear her influences on her sleeve; there’s something about her songwriting that’s uniquely her own, emanating from a genuine need for personal expression rather than any kind of by-the-numbers approach. All that aside, Salt is nothing short of an excellent debut, packed with songs that range from playfully self-aware (‘Slow Mover’, ‘Keeping Time’) to heart-wrenchingly affecting. What truly sells these songs and establishes Angie as a force to be reckoned with is her voice, which alternates between wonderfully understated, as in the Bon Iver-influenced ‘Mood Song’ and powerfully evocative and loud, as when tracks like ‘Push’ or ‘And I Am a Woman’ reach their hair-raising climax. ‘If You Call’ is a perfect closer – at this point, having gotten your full attention and interest with these tight and punchy songs, McMahon has more than earned a contemplative 7-minute acoustic closer. It feels like basking in the warm embrace of the afternoon sun, taking comfort in the hopeful sentiment of her concluding lines: “I’ll tell you something that I’ve learned/ As I’ve been watching people leaving/ All the loving that we’ve earned/ Is gonna keep us breathing.”
Highlights: ‘Pasta’, ‘Play the Game’, ‘Slow Mover’, ‘Keeping Time’, ‘Push’, ‘And I Am a Woman’
Swain, Negative Space
Negative Space sees Swain (formerly known as This Routine is Hell) going further down the path that commenced with their 2016 album The Long Dark Blue, where they reinvented themselves from a hardcore punk band to a grunge-inspired alternative rock band, while still retaining a fresh, exciting approach. The Dutch outfit’s new album may at first glance seem like they’re watering down their sound even further as they strip more and more hard-hitting elements from it, and that may certainly disappoint some fans. But this should be seen as merely another stylistic shift, because the quality of the songwriting remains consistently tight and engaging. This time, their 90s and 00s influences are discernibly more radio-friendly, ranging from the Green Day-reminiscent boredom of ’Same Things’ to the Three Days Grace-infected modern rock of ’Skin on Skin’ and the soft-rock balladry of ‘Uncomfortably Aware’. But none of that is necessarily a bad thing. The lyrics are still affecting and earnestly delivered, and every song has, at the very least, a strong hook. While it may lack the edge that drew in a lot of their fans, it also nails what a lot of bands utilizing the same radio-friendly sound don’t even bother to.
Highlights: ‘Same Things’, ‘Fistful of Hair’, ‘Hit Me Till I Break My Bones’, ‘Strange Light’