I am writing this from a hotel room in Hong Kong. It’s cool outside, but it will be cooler in the coming days, or so the weather forecast I’ve been keeping an eye on suggests. As expected there is little to nothing on television, so I am watching the BBC. On the ticker below, a headline scrolls about Pixar co-founder John Lassetter, and how he’s taken a leave after allegations of improper behavior. Specifically, the line was, in quotes, “unwanted hugs”.
This is one of those records where you can’t help but think of the context. Soul of a Woman is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ final album, released a year after her death from pancreatic cancer. A part of me wants to read this album as a jubilant celebration of the soulstress’ life, or perhaps a defiant one, considering how she stopped cancer treatments because it drained her enough to prevent her from singing, her one true love. Well, it’s me reading too much into the circumstances. It’s built like every other Sharon Jones album: her irresistible vocals adding a new dimension to songs that are unnervingly, and unknowingly, deep. Again, she shows off her versatility: a first half that’s swinging and upbeat, a more contemplative second half, closing off with “Call to God”, which she wrote, and performed with her church choir, many decades ago. So there’s your subtext. Sharon looks back at a life well-spent, while having one last celebration. Or maybe it’s all about timing. Still, a strong record, and a very strong way to say goodbye. [NB] | 4/5
This one’s interesting. If you think about it, Low in High School doesn’t really deviate much from the formula of Morrissey’s last record, World Peace Is None Of Your Business. But somehow this new record seems more palatable. Perhaps it’s because the songs are actually much better, the arrangements not having the need to be shocking, and finally jiving with Morrissey’s lyrics, now that he really does have something to say. Or perhaps it’s because we’re all grumpy now – the past few months have made us so. A record for our times? Maybe. This could be him expressing what we’ve all been feeling – outwardly, frustration, if not anger; inwardly, clinging on to a hope that things will be better, if not being quite romantic about it. Or, this could be him playing the role of the Trumps and Dutertes of the world, taking a soapbox and screaming his heart out, proclaiming his word as gospel. (The opening tracks, with its superhero-esque arrangements, reinforce this.) Perhaps that’s Morrissey taking both sides of the equation. Whatever his intentions is, Low in High School is him getting the formula right. Or us finally being able to understand it. [NB] | 3/5
Charlotte Gainsbourg somewhat forged a reputation for being a chameleon, masterfully sinking in to what art demands of her. Musically, that meant easily slotting in to albums produced for her by the likes of Beck and Radiohead‘s Nigel Godrich (as well as her father, Serge Gainsbourg). Rest is a bit of a stark departure, then: Charlotte wrote most of the songs herself, informed by the death of her sister Kate Barry. She still got help from producer SebastiAn, though, but here it’s Charlotte’s vision that looms large: the expanse of his production, influenced by (and evocative of) stark 80s neon imagery, clashes – and then gels – with the intimacy of her (French) lyrics and her voice. The result is an album that both feels big and small at the same time, an album that you get lost in – complete with quirky interlude, courtesy of Paul McCartney – and drill down into at the same time. It’s a rewarding album, too, although you will probably need to learn French for this. Still, that doesn’t matter much. It’s a trip. [NB] | 4/5
Red Velvet was supposed to be one of those K-pop groups that this blog will take a keen interest in, alongside Twice, GFriend and Mamamoo (for obvious reasons). But I have been really frustrated with their last few releases, to the point that I skipped their last mini: The Red Summer is their lowest point, a bunch of shit songs that doesn’t even attempt to capture their quirky pop reputation nor make the most of the group’s vocal chops. Perhaps it’s the low expectations that’s making me happy about Perfect Velvet, their third full-length after The Red, the benchmark to which all of their other work will be compared to. But then it’s an unfair comparison: the sound is clearly a callback to The Velvet, the mini designed to prove they’re not just quirky pop with unintentional sexual references on their songs. Shrewdly, this isn’t all weepy piano ballads: Red Velvet (and their cabal of producers) finally, successfully, merged the group’s two faces, resulting in an album that combines 80s sensibilities (“Look”), some good harmonies (“Kingdom Come”) and their trademark quirky pop, albeit not cloyingly so (“Attaboy”). Sure, it flags towards the end, but it’s enjoyable enough. Is this the album Red Velvet were long supposed to have? Why did it take them so many tries? They did seem stretched throughout the year – maybe we all should have been spared this pain for a fleeting glimpse of, well, perfection. [NB] | 3/5
“Let Go” by I Know Leopard | Is this another Aussie act? Lemme check… yep, yep, it is. From Sydney, in fact. “Let Go” is their newest single, although it’s been out for months, and this is the sort of thing that I just let wash over me, perhaps while I’m in one of those moods I have little idea about, those moods that everybody seems to hate. I am, I realize, a difficult person. This song, on the other hand, just sounds like it, but it’s good. I have little else to say. [NB]