“God knows I’ve tried to be good.”

“God Knows I’ve Tried” by Kelsy Karter | All right, Monday – first day of the second busiest week of my year. (The busiest is next week, but you know how things tend to blend together.) As a bit of a warning, I’ll go on a slight autopilot in the coming days, and complete autopilot next week. We’ll still post stuff – that’s how crazy I can be. But with this song in the background, I don’t think I’d mind that much. Kelsy Karter is born in New Zealand and raised in Los Angeles, and “God Knows I’ve Tried” is her new single – and “rousing” puts it way too simply. This one is powerful and heartfelt and it does not lean too hard on you. And to her, it’s personal, a song about fighting to be herself in a world that asks her not to be – and yet, she manages to make that feel universal and unintrusive. That can be a difficult balance to make, and she pulls it off. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

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Review: My Mind Makes Noises by Pale Waves

My Mind Makes Noises by Pale WavesThe press – and one’s first impressions – of Pale Waves are a contradiction. They’ve been described as, among others, purveyor of “goth pop”; visually, vocalists (and songwriters) Heather Baron-Gracie and Ciara Doran play the part, complete with the eyeliner. Musically, though, they lean more on the pop side. Sure, you can say that the Cure were “goth pop” – and if you approach it that way then yes, they are goth pop – but Pale Waves are glossy pop through and through, with the aural language and the Taylor Swift-esque enunciation at points. If you’re not watching the music videos, things get a bit clearer. My Mind Makes Noises is the debut from the much-touted British quartet, and to its credit their songs are well-crafted. Sometimes it feels like a throwback, even, to when the closest thing you’ll have to controversy is what you look like compared to what you say. But at fourteen tracks this album is bloated, and halfway through you’ve heard all the tricks and are just listening to finish it rather than to enjoy. (And the prerequisite thoughtful acoustic track comes at the very end.) But amidst my short attention span I feel there is potential in Pale Waves. Given enough focus they can, and will, create good pop songs. I just wish I did not have to wait long for it. [NB]3/5

Review: Tender Offerings by First Aid Kit

Tender Offerings by First Aid KitTender Offerings is a four-song EP composed of tracks from the same sessions as First Aid Kit’s last album, Ruins, which they scrapped for one reason or another. Listening to it, you understand why. Ruins continued the Söderberg sisters’ evolution, down the Americana lane, but with edges more polished: more flexible, more marketable, and oddly, somehow still able to hold the vocal harmonies that made them popular in the first place. This EP, on the other hand, feels like a throwback, at least back to their The Lion’s Roar years, which means we get the best of both worlds: this feels a bit polished, yes, but a bit grittier, too. As such, the heartbreak on the songs here feel much more painful, particularly on “Ugly”, which builds across the song and packing a punch only First Aid Kit can deliver. Tender Offerings is not a throwaway EP, but more of a companion piece: as a gauge with which to measure the girls’ evolution as artists, it’s indispensable. And good songs, too, albeit from a slightly alternate universe. [NB]4/5

Review: For Ever by Jungle

For Ever by JungleJungle’s self-titled debut, released four years ago, was a really nice shuffle. It didn’t need to show off its groove cred – you would be hard pressed to find its groove cred unless you squint, come to think of it – but put it on and you will never be able to resist. For Ever, their follow-up, comes after a bit of a journey for the duo – an attempt to create the album in Los Angeles, some relationship whirlwinds, a return to London – and all that informs that music in this record. It feels a little more mature, a little more considered. It feels richer as a result. There’s a wider palette at work here, hitting more points of the day than their previous work, recognizing that it’s not all just happy times. I’ll dare say For Ever feels more vulnerable. And yet, despite all that, you throw this on and you will still never be able to resist. It’s still a groovy record, but not subtle, rather sublime. It’s the evolution we did not know we wanted. [NB]4/5

“We’re gonna fly in the blue sky.”

“Memoria” by GFriend | We’ve had our ears peeled for GFriend’s first official Japanese single; with the music video for it dropped yesterday, we finally have a properly clear stream for it. If anything, “Memoria” makes it clear that the girls are taking the melancholic route. And yet this pushes that narrative further, something. Maybe it’s the decision to blend everything more: there’s no “powerful” Yuju moment, although she is still there to lift the song with her vocal runs. Maybe it’s a sound that’s even dreamier than “Rough”, and a slight departure from the cinematic nature of “Time for the Moon Night”. There are a lot of videos on YouTube where fans lay this song over random anime opening titles – here’s one for friend of the blog Louis – and that says a lot about how, surprisingly effortlessly, the group adopted their sound to Japanese audiences. This year seems to be the year when more than the usual K-pop suspects make the jump across the sea – Mamamoo’s releasing a new “Decalcomanie” next month, too – and I’m happy GFriend’s is distinct. I did just say that, right, hun? [NB]