Review: Human by Rag’n’Bone Man

Human by Rag'n'Bone ManFor a few months “Human”, the breakthrough single of British singer-songwriter Rag’n’Bone Man, was quite ubiquitous – at least in certain places – and for good reason. It felt real. It felt sincere. It was familiar but it seemingly did not rely on all the tropes of the “deep-voiced, all-knowing blues man from southern America” stereotype. It was refreshing despite the constant rotation, so I was admittedly looking forward to the rest of the album. Surprisingly, Human is disappointing, in that it leaned heavily on said tropes. Well, not as much lean as not really move the needle a bit. Rory Graham can deliver a mean sentiment, and there are well-timed flourishes to drill down the “upheaval” angle of many epic-sounding anthems, but throughout most of the album you can see the signposts from a mile away. There are some flourishes of his past as a rapper – after samey tracks, “Ego” managed to be as refreshing as “Human” – but it seems he was forced to stick to a formula that gave him notice. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad listen, but you do tend to forget about it. [NB]3/5

Review: Worth by TheSunManager

Worth by TheSunManagerWorth marks a point of transition for TheSunManager: April Hernandez’s project moves towards a band set-up, and the credits for the album gets a bunch of other names, too. You can hear it on the first offing: the sound is richer, more layered, somehow much warmer than on her EP, which was buoyed mostly by her guitar and her voice. But this isn’t to suggest that it’s all change on the record: after the shock of the first couple of tracks everything settles down, and by the second half of the album it actually feels familiar, peaking with “Other Side”, a quaint sing-along that punches above its weight and provides perhaps the most cathartic part of the record: the recurring chorus of “you’re enough for me” is a satisfying anchor to the record. And that is what TheSunManager does best: despite the short runtimes (Worth only has eight tracks; her EP ran for five) there is this quality I can’t quite pin down. It’s optimistic but not to the point of being cloying; it’s realistic but hopeful. Well, there, perhaps I did just pin it down. | 4/5

“We may choose to die, love, or we may never stop listening.”

“Never Stop Listening” by Trapdoor Social | Well, this one’s rousing. Set aside the angle of this video being powered by a trip to the site of the much-contested Dakota Access Pipeline, of how it came from a trip there by the band to help the protesters out. “Never Stop Listening” – this song from LA duo-turned-quintet Trapdoor Social – is pretty rousing. I would do it a disservice if I limit it to this one issue alone: it’s perhaps a song that we need for these times. It’s not one of those songs where the earnestness is incredibly heavy-handed: I can hear this in many settings and you wouldn’t feel gross about it. And then you dig deep about the band being into all these causes (and touring in a solar-powered trailer, even) and you realize this is all par for the course. If you’re in Cincinnati, you might get a glimpse of them. But I am half a world away, so we have this song, which is pretty good. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

Things without words #24: Difficult, open-ended, and possibly fascinating

“5 (Valentin Liechti)” by UFO | Three things. One, I will be the first to admit that this is a pretty difficult album to make sense of. Two, the song I’m embedding does little to give a taste of the album – it’s really one of those things where you have to listen to everything. Three, I know I am publishing this the day after Valentine’s Day, when everybody feels lovey-dovey out of obligation – what will they make of this? (Shalla and I didn’t get involved this year, considering we just came from Taipei last week.) The band is called UFO: they’re another one of those Swiss acts that find their way on the blog, and they’re releasing a new album, III, in a week and a half. The lazy will call this an experimental record; they’re playing up the improvisation angle here. The band invited five guest musicians for one mostly improvised recording session, KL each, then invited six sound artists to make something out of the sessions (thus the Valentin Liechti subtitle); supposedly they’re making sense of the link between documentation and performance in these times. Well, to me, it is a record that you really listen to, and one that makes sense after a while – but it will depend on what you’re thinking at that moment. Me, I was thinking of how to slot this in the day after Valentine’s Day. So… horror date stories? Waking up to a person you didn’t expect to wake up to? Maybe a dystopian story of romantic bliss? Up to you. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

“I’m not falling for it.”

“Telephone” by Salt Petal | Now, some surf dance. I guess that makes sense, considering the cold snap we unexpectedly endured in Taipei. After surprisingly single-digit temperatures, we need some sun, yes? Salt Petal’s “Telephone” does its business efficiently: it comes in, allures and endures, and never lets up for the four minutes they’re allotted. The five-piece came together after a trip to Buenos Aires – you can see the Latin American influences here; it’s playful and classy and yet not obvious. This track is off their upcoming release, Rare Hearts, which drops on 28 April. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)