Up Tops with Nat, part one: Kali Uchis

“Loner” by Kali Uchis | Last weekend I was in Cebu for a work trip, which also meant a chance to hang with Nat (you know her from this one) who promptly made me stay up early in the morning (we met at one and split at five) up the Tops Lookout. In between the usual deep-ish conversations we were discussing some of her new favorites, which were of a different genre. How to feel old: talk about artists kids these days like. Then again, the first time I heard of Kali Uchis is from her, never mind that she appeared on the new Gorillaz album and had one of her songs on the American Horror Story soundtrack. That song is “Sycamore Tree”, which sounds necessarily creepy, because she went for a child-like voice at the beginning, but the Colombian singer does channel a bit of Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse – without the anthemic tendencies – elsewhere. Take “Loner”, which does fit in to my sensibilities. And yet I, inevitably, missed her entirely. [NB]

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Review: Damned Devotion by Joan as Police Woman

Damned Devotion by Joan as Police WomanFor her sixth solo record, Joan As Police Woman strips down, somewhat. The Classic saw her make a trip to soul town, and in Damned Devotion she replaces that with a slightly more intense, if not visceral, sound that relies on the percussion – not its loudness, but its ability to dictate the tempo. That provides a good counterbalance to Joan Wasser’s slinky vocal: smooth and husky enough to sound just AOR enough, but possessing a bite that, alongside her lyrics, portray strength and a little bit of zing. Damned Devotion satisfies: it’s not really the boring record it initially felt like, at least not after its predecessor’s up and up feel. Here, she embraces the duality of her music (again, arguably). It’s that conflict between sounds that take center stage, and you don’t quite know where she’ll go with it – but you’re along for the ride anyway. [NB]4/5

Review: Little Dark Age by MGMT

Little Dark Age by MGMTWhen I reviewed MGMT’s third, eponymous album, I described it as “a reboot of sorts”. Well, put up against Little Dark Age, that description is wrong. This is the reboot – definitely a reboot. It’s not the direction I expected them to take: it seemed they were content with being their weird little selves, at least musically. Now, we have an album that’s more or less streamlined synthpop – there’s a hint of their off-kilter nature running underneath, but for the most part, the record is streamlined synthpop. Perhaps inevitably, it’s a mixed record: for every track that channels the 80s (“Me and Michael”, “She Works Out Too Much”) there’s a track that feels like MGMT are busy catching up with the trend they perhaps accidentally founded, and not really knowing what to do with it. But at least we have a record that rewards the less devoted of listeners, that does not turn them away with what has turned out to be a genuine expression of creativity. Perhaps I shouldn’t call this a reboot, but rather a much-needed reckoning. [NB]3/5

Review: Always Ascending by Franz Ferdinand

Always Ascending by Franz FerdinandRemember when Franz Ferdinand sounded, in a way, revolutionary? You really couldn’t resist them. But then their past few albums have been serviceable, to say the least; I find myself going back to their earlier albums still. Always Ascending is some sort of bid from the Scottish group to return to that sound, albeit in a more organic fashion, in the words of frontman Alex Kapranos. For the most part, they – sans guitarist Nick McCarthy – get it right: you get a sense of that old energy coursing through the record, particularly on second single “Feel The Love Go”. And yet it doesn’t quite capture it fully. Perhaps that is to be expected: it’s been fourteen years since their debut, after all, and a lot of things would change in between. Perhaps it’s me and my rose-tinted glasses (or is it earphones?) still referencing their earlier stuff, or at least some of the sheen of their last album, 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. In the end, Always Ascending is… serviceable? There is more of a spark, and that’s fun, but I find it difficult to scrub their heyday out. [NB]3/5

“It’s not impossible for us to have it all.”

“Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be)” by Rina Sawayama | All right, so it’s a song released on Valentine’s Day that the singer herself says is here because she hates Valentine’s Day. Also, here on my side of the world it’s all over: it’s the 15th. Also, yes, I know I’m writing about this partly because I have not scheduled anything for today, and partly because Rina Sawayama is one of those artists who have been on my radar for months now, only for me to hold on to for a while, for no reason. I have read about her on Monocle: another one of those globe-crossing artists they love, definitely of Japanese origin but growing up in the UK, her music as nomadic – and appealing to the young ones; a hint to an accidental theme week for next week – as that sounds. This one’s slinky, appealing, and for once, I got why I rushed to write this, even if I usually don’t. [NB]