Review: Everything Is Love by the Carters

Everything is Love by the CartersSurprise. Again. Hip-hop’s (and pop’s, and, really, music’s) power couple return to cap off what turns out to be a trilogy of surprising – both in release and in how it breaks down the barriers and brings them both down from their heights. Everything Is Love is a victory lap, of sorts, between Beyoncé and Jay-Z, a summation of the themes (and thoughts) explored on Lemonade and 4:44 respectively, and a reaffirming of the two’s love for each other amidst all of this, whatever this is. You have a good view of the dynamic – it’s Bey who really gets to show off here, and Jay-Z plays the awestruck guy, like he’s still in remorse – while acknowledging that, through it all, they’ve gone so far to reach the top. It’s an all right record – light, lean, hard but not too hard, even if you think otherwise of trap. I’m just not sure if we need it. Or maybe I can’t really appreciate the message. Everything Is Love‘s intensely personal predecessors had a reason for being, and provided never-revealed insights. This, on the other hand, can feel like a bit of gloating. They’ve shown vulnerabilities, but fuck that, we’re on top. We know we have problems, but fuck that. The surprise release says it all. But again, all right record. [NB]3/5

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Review: Square Up by Blackpink

Square Up by BlackpinkBlackpink is a group powered by image. Well, all K-pop acts are like that, but it seems particularly extra important for these girls, YG’s first girl group after 2NE1, and their next big hope. Across their five singles so far – spread across three releases in a span of four months, before virtually no material for over a year – they’ve established this weird cross between the hard and the posh, with (mostly) bangers performed by girls in designer clothes. (And a kick-ass lead dancer.) Maybe it’s just weird for me, or maybe it’s because, with the exception of “Playing With Fire”, I never understood the hype. Square Up, their first mini, sees them bid for a return to the sphere, after many (unnecessary) delays, and that splits the cross down in two – and, perhaps unintentionally, shows off a problem with Blackpink. “Ddu-du Ddu-du” is all flash, all filler: it’s by-the-numbers “look at us, we swag!” Supposedly “Forever Young” would also be a single; it’s the better song, but can the girls lead with a song that’s uncharacteristically optimistic in a cheesier way than “Stay”? It’s the duality of their image – style icons and 2NE1 successors – that proves to tear Square Up apart. Well, the songs are nice, except for that shit single. But I still don’t have the answer to the question: what is Blackpink supposed to stand for? [NB]3/5

Review: Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal FeverThere simply is nothing revolutionary about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Nothing. But that’s not a shortcoming: if anything, the channeling of past sounds almost exactly makes them exciting. It’s weird. We come in writing these album reviews looking for something even vaguely new, but Hope Downs, like the EPs that preceded it, are tight and fun – and that’s all there is to it. It feels chaotic. You feel sweaty. It doesn’t hit you hard, but then it rumbles on and coyly (yes, I mean this) pulls you in to reveal a beast underneath. All throughout it proceeds to upend your expectations – opening track “An Air Conditioned Man”, for instance, doesn’t quite go all out, and yet does exactly that at the same time – until things hit fever pitch, the songs spiral out of hand (and yet hewed to the templates of the past) and you literally feel sweaty. It’s quite an experience. It will take some getting used to, but what an experience. [NB]4/5

Review: Bon Voyage by Melody’s Echo Chamber

Bon Voyage by Melody's Echo ChamberIf there’s one album you can call “life-affirming”, it’s this one. It’s mostly down to context, really. Anticipation for Melody Prochet’s return was moving fast until a near fatal accident last year led to her whole tour being cancelled, not to mention recuperation. That gives Bon Voyage – her second record, and her first in six years – a tinge of urgency and celebration. It’s not the easiest record to digest – it hasn’t gone all dark; it’s just not structurally conventional – but it’s not wall-to-wall lush psychedelics. Think less Tame Impala, more the Avalanches. With new collaborators by her side – notably the Amazing‘s Fredrik Swahn and Pond’s Nicholas Allbrook – she lends a slightly fairy tale-like nature to the record, not crossing towards the whimsical but feeling a little magical nonetheless. Despite the half-hour length, though, it can get a little tiring – more of a blur, really, as this all blends together – but the light and shade of Bon Voyage makes it somewhat easier to digest. Somehow it just works, like Melody’s been through another plane, gotten back, and manages to tell us all of the fuss in such detail. But you’ll have to get the context to realize it. [NB]3/5

Review: Lost & Found by Jorja Smith

Lost & Found by Jorja SmithThis is just her debut album – there was an EP before, and a couple of singles too, some of which turn up here – but Jorja Smith sounds incredibly confident, assured and fully-formed. With a charisma reminiscent of Sade, but slyly updated to the present, she bridges her delicate slow jams with more modern sensibilities, leading to a timeless record you don’t expect from a 20-year-old. But then that forward motion can get in the way of a good record. Jorja knows what she wants and, at least from the lyrics to the first half of the album, she wants you to comply. It feels like a one-way relationship, although you do stick around. It feels too serious. It gets too much. By the time her breakthrough single “Blue Light” comes on, however, things pick up: the pace changes, you hear her relax, and the album feels much more easier. (And her freestyle rap bit on “Lifeboats” was an interesting surprise.) Jorja’s got a gorgeous, classic voice, but Lost & Found would do best with either a bit of trimming, or a bit of variety. Still, it’s a sign of good things to come. [NB]4/5