How to collect pop music from down under, part six: the hip-hop course

It was inevitable that hip-hop would be bubbling under in Australia, as it had around the world. As with most music movements down under, hip-hop there also took a nudge from its popularity in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1980s. But here, it took just a little bit longer. We’ve talked for the past few weeks about how the development of Australian music centered around bands performing in local venues, and how they grew after some sort of national infrastructure – critical support on radio and TV – was locked into place. Well, that infrastructure got complacent for a while – then again, the 80s were big for many of these bands – and hip-hop barely got a look-in, even by the time the 1990s came in and tastes were starting to shift all over.

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Review: RBB by Red Velvet

RBB by Red VelvetThe night Red Velvet dropped RBB and begun their promotional stretch, I was getting a lot of text messages from Shalla. “Irene is a goddess!” she said. (I agree; this is her in 4K for proof.) I wasn’t keen on the title song; I thought it was too much vocal theatrics and was a really muddled pop track. But then I have to be reminded that, one, Red Velvet operate on two modes, and for this record they’re definitely on their Velvet phase; and two, judging from recent decisions to release English versions of their singles, they’re somewhat being groomed as an answer to the global not-really-dominance of Blackpink. Also, after two years of frustration at the girls seemingly running out of ideas – complete with “RBB” being a callback to their last single “Bad Boy” – I have just… accepted it, I guess? Red Velvet has completed their pivot towards 90s-flavored pop; the “Dumb Dumb” era is clearly a thing of the past. It also helps that, once again, the non-singles are better, synthesizing the concept, the new direction, and the girls’ tested vocal chops. But, again, this is K-pop; you also fight with the visuals, and even if “RBB” is objectively a middling song, you watch the music video – or any live performance, 4K or otherwise – and you get all this impact coming down on you. That’s one metric, and on that front, this is another typically strong comeback. If only that was my metric. [NB]3/5

Review: The Pains of Growing by Alessia Cara

The Pains of Growing by Alessia CaraAlessia Cara’s debut, 2015’s Know-It-All, was confident and showed promise, but ultimately suffered a bit from its somewhat generic sound. Alessia’s got an interesting voice, and her delivery is strong, but you just knew she could do better. The Pains of Growing moves things further, thankfully: it’s a reintroduction of sorts to the 22-year-old Canadian, not that she needed one. What the record proves is how Alessia works best when everything else around her keeps up with her: the more sparse songs fall flat, but when she pursues a variant of the classic Motown sound (only a few things scream maturity better than the Motown sound) she shines, the layers highlighting her delivery and giving stress to what she has to say. My particular highlight is “Comfortable”, what essentially is a song about contentment that you wouldn’t expect from someone at her age. I honestly thought I had Alessia figured out, but The Pains of Growing is such a treat; I’m glad to say hello again. [NB]4/5

Review: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by the 1975

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by the 1975When I reviewed the 1975’s last album I was quite frustrated, with how it tried to bring together its poppy sensibilities with an experimental streak. I found it jarring. In hindsight I was perhaps too harsh on the album, but then, two years later, it’s now clear just what the gang are planning to do. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships sees the British band elevated from just another indie band coming out of the UK to an unlikely leader of the post-millennial pop movement, stripping your social media feed of most of its banality and getting to the heart of the matter. Or at least that’s how it feels. It’s weird how I enjoyed this album more than I expected to, despite the even wider stylistic scope making for an even more manic, whiplash-inducing album. (Is it the 80s channelling of the last two tracks?) Matt Healy here finally perfects his somewhat omniscient presence, commenting seemingly on anything and everything – and yet distilling those hot takes into the essentials. Sure, the album could still do with some tightening up (it’s 58 minutes long; the length makes the gimmicks feel more gimmicky than the band intended) but A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is a step up for the 1975. That said – and this is all me – I feel too old for this record. That might be getting in the way, ultimately. [NB]3/5

“Make the drive to Jefferson – and don’t stop!”

“The Spot” by Your Smith | I’ve decided to park what I was supposed to feature today for next week – I am letting it boil – so instead here’s a song I only heard yesterday. Or did I? Caroline Smith came from Minneapolis, after all. I listen to a lot of the Current; you put two and two together. Anyway, she performs as Your Smith – but only recently – and this is one song of hers, something that feels both familiar and fresh at the same time. Interesting how pretty much everybody in the comments were going “Sheryl Crow!” particularly connecting this to “All I Wanna Do”; I did not get that reference, even if that song was all over my childhood, somewhat. Someone also compared her to something from 1979. So, old references. Not bad. We can always go far with a throwback. [NB]