Review: Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan StevensWhile listening to Carrie & Lowell, the latest album from Sufjan Stevens, I couldn’t help but think of Bon Iver. I know, I know. Sufjan’s been doing this for longer: it’s been a decade since his breakthrough album, Illinois. Throughout all that time he’s just been busy experimenting (arguably more so in his last album, 2010’s The Age of Adz) and shifting styles – so I didn’t expect him to return to his simple, mournful roots in Carrie & Lowell. Named after his recently deceased mother and his stepfather, this might be Sufjan’s most personal record: despite a reliance on the same structure and tricks throughout, it is an evocative record of reflection after loss. The lyrics may be occasionally whimsical and, as before, filled with religious references, but little is obscured. Unlike Justin Vernon’s dense layers, the deceiving simplicity of the songs and Sufjan’s thoughtful coo actually welcomes you to his innermost thoughts, and the result is his purest record yet – and one you can easily get into, whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer. [NB] | 4/5

Review: Kintsugi by Death Cab for Cutie

Kintsugi by Death Cab for CutieYou really can’t help but think this way: Kintsugi, the latest from Death Cab for Cutie, is a break-up record. It’s definitely a break-up record. It’s definitely inspired by the end of the marriage of Ben Gibbard to actress Zooey Deschanel. The thoughts I had when “Black Sun” came out turn out to be true: the relationship’s end informs pretty much all of the tracks, the hints towards the loneliness of Los Angeles and the culture of ingenues and misfits. (Sadly this also means I can’t get the image of Deschanel’s face off my head as I listened to this.) And that – plus the departure of Chris Walla from the band – makes Kintsugi the product of extraordinary timing. The shift’s been happening for a while, but it is a bit more pronounced now: the shift towards endings rather than beginnings, coupled by a slightly darker undercurrent in its sound (never mind the jarring tonal shift in the second half) makes the record feel more groundbreaking than intended. This results in Kintsugi possibly being a break-up record, but not really. I just had an idea of what happened, so I’m here. I don’t know about the rest of you. [NB] | 4/5

Review: Short Movie by Laura Marling

Short Movie by Laura MarlingThe fact that this is 25-year-old Laura Marling’s fifth album should tell you a lot a bit about what kind of artist she is. A listen to any of those four records should fill in the blanks. The English folkie’s always been more mature than her age suggests, and with each album her explorations of growing up, finding your way and figuring things out get this sheen of wisdom. Short Movie continues the trend: the album was made as she found her way through America, pondering whether she should quit music altogether. She didn’t; the result is an unusually charged record that, while noticeably different from predecessor Once I Was An Eagle, builds from it. It’s not exactly the Laura-goes-electric album, but songs like “False Hope” have an undeniable ripple that suggests angst and resistance, and more so than her previous work – but in the lyrics, both a yearning for the old and an acceptance of the new. We’ve always known Laura to go her own way and defy expectations; Short Movie puts this front and center. [NB] | 4/5

Review: To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick LamariTunes inadvertently screwed up the release of Kendrick Lamar’s new LP which drove some of its producers to take to Twitter about this mistake – but make no mistake about it, there were no mistakes that were made in To Pimp a Butterfly. The album is a cocktail of jazz, blues, electronic, funk, rock, and good-to-honest hip-hop mixed and all in sync with the spitfire lyricism of K.Dot that we’ve come to know. In short, it’s orchestrated chaos and the end product is a masterpiece. I haven’t been as impressed with a hip-hop record as when Nas released Life is Good in 2012, or with J.Cole’s Forest Hills Drive last year. I was excited when he announced his new record, but had my share of doubts as well: “what if he doesn’t top himself or equal good kid, m.A.A.d city?” However, after hearing the first song in the album, “Wesley’s Theory”, all doubts were erased. By the time I reached the fifth track “These Walls”, I was already sold on the whole album as a classic, and it’s been getting the critical acclaim that it deserves. I’m sorry that I had my doubts, King Kendrick. [JS] | 5/5

“그렇게 쉽게 깨지진 않을 거야.”

“Glass Bead” by GFriend | Two more rookie groups debuted almost at the same time as GFriend, although they are more similar to Lovelyz than they are with Sonamoo. I only clicked on their video because of a comment saying “the girl in the middle looks like she’s having tea while her leg is up in the air lolz” and it cracked me up. I’m liking GFriend so far, and I didn’t expect myself to. I thought I’d get more into Lovelyz but so far I find their songs a bit meh for me. And this is coming from someone who supported Apink straight from the beginning. Oh well. Maybe they’ll come back with something better. For now, GFriend. [RM]