Review: Kid Kruschev by Sleigh Bells

Kid Kruschev by Sleigh BellsWhen I reviewed Jessica Rabbit, Sleigh Bells’ most recent full-length, I thought they were getting close to a more cohesive sound, one less reliant on their reputation for harsh juxtapositions. It looks like they got there, or really close to it, with Kid Kruschev. Or perhaps it’s because they decided to forego a full-length; this EP runs only seven tracks and a slim 21 minutes, and that somehow works wonders in distilling the duo’s sound. Or perhaps it’s because their sound only works in small doses? That’s unfair – again, they’ve been moving towards this direction. And Kid Kruschev‘s decisions – particularly to make their trademark juxtapositions in a different way, perhaps a more harmonious way, like clashing those harsh guitars with glowing 80s-esque piano – work towards that end. You know it’s still a Sleigh Bells record – Alexis Krauss still sounds so potent – but at the same time it feels mellow, if not quiet. But a quiet record this isn’t. Just listen to the lyrics – it manages to feel more visceral, more, well, disquieting. A different attack, then. [NB] | 4/5

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Review: Soberhaul by MilesExperience

Soberhaul by MilesExperience“I am listening to this in November, right?” Not that it’s a bad thing – the sun was shining harshly outside when I listened – but I wasn’t sure if MilesExperience should have kicked off their new album with “Sunshine”: a competent song, but one that painted them to that corner that says “feel-good drinking songs”. Not to mention it is November, not summer. (And I like horn sections.) But it’s a misstep that doesn’t look like one. Soberhaul sees the band more confident: after the tentative Again & Against, the band has shaken off their nerves and delivered a pretty strong album. It could have been stronger, though: the reliance on instrumental interludes scupper most of the momentum generated by the songs, which sound quite tight. That crutch could have overpowered “Pagkakataon (Wag Kang Titigil)”, but thankfully, that song – my highlight – builds up at the right time and swells into a climax and a resolution at the same time. A part of me is grinning, seeing MilesExperience did their homework and managed to, at least, start putting themselves apart from the other “sexy pogi rock” acts defining this generation of Filipino alternative. Just a few more steps, then. [NB]4/5

Review: Reputation by Taylor Swift

Reputation by Taylor SwiftThe transition is over. Yes, 1989 was Taylor Swift’s all-out pop record, but we wrongly assumed that would be the end of it. Nope, there were more depths to plumb, and Reputation sees her go deeper into the urban pop milieu she’s been playing with (and for) these past few years. The move seems apt: her previous records have been statements, but this is the first time she’s knowingly made it so. The record is brash, in-your-face… but it doesn’t exactly work the way it should. “…Ready For It?” ushers in the album’s forgettable first half, which makes it a failure. She ends up doing a retread of everything we’ve heard before, from her and others, with a dash of “I can do this too!” – but it was all unremarkable (although it did succeed in making “Look What You Made Me Do” tolerable). “Gorgeous” kicks off the second half where, it seems, Taylor understands what she wants to do sonically: a little hint of 1989-esque glitter with a bit more aggression, as she planned. And then everything becomes tolerable, even the still-misjudged forays towards face-off mode. And then you remember her pretty good songwriting, finally getting a chance to breathe after all that wham-bam. (The main hook to “Dress”, I thought, is actually brilliant.) In the end, it really is just another Taylor Swift album, with the extra dose of drama – whether it be her romances, her marketing strategy or the sheer ridiculousness of her concepts these days – and its resulting disjointed feeling, which the fans will embrace anyway. I wonder why she needed to make that statement. [NB]3/5

Review: Play by Super Junior

Play by Super JuniorBad pun alert: Super Junior are now one of the seniors of K-pop, a boy group who managed to maintain longevity despite the mandatory two-year military stint its members have gone through (or are currently going through) through solo records and television appearances. They’re not new to this: their last two albums were also recorded through a bit of line-up flux. But Play comes after a particularly long hiatus from the group – two years – and while eight members recorded, only seven appear on the cover. (And only six will promote, as Siwon’s taking a back seat due to a controversy involving his family’s dog.) By now it’s become a bit about the stories in between rather than the songs, which is both weird and not unexpected. That also meant the record takes a bit of a calmer approach, not dissimilar to Devil; there’s a groovier, swingier approach, one befitting their, ehrm, senior status. Play is a comfortable record, though – K-pop’s general tendency to have awkwardly-sequenced albums notwithstanding – and while you don’t expect them to change thing sup at this point – they’ve been around twelve years, they deserve a bit of a lie-in, and also, all those stories in between – you don’t begrudge them. ELFs will be happy to see them back; the rest who enjoy stuff like this wouldn’t mind. [NB]3/5

Review: The Thrill of It All by Sam Smith

The Thrill of It All by Sam SmithFirst off, there isn’t really much to be excited about on The Thrill of It All, the sophomore release from Sam Smith. In fact he’s ditched most of the (relatively) clubbier stuff that kicked off his ascent, and doubled down on being the male Adele, his transcendent-at-times vocal and some relatively sparse production powering through almost the whole record. It should make for a drab album, but somehow Sam manages to engage, relatively. Again, like Adele. You can’t deny their vocal chops; you can’t deny they have good songs; but you just can’t have all of that constantly. I was looking for texture, but then, I found myself forgiving Sam. Somehow, for all of its schmaltz, it’s a comforting album. It’s not that he doesn’t step out of his comfort zone: for every weepy “Too Good For Goodbye” there’s a track like “Pray”, this weird Timbaland-assisted thing where promising production gives way to more gospel choirs. But that song sees Sam grapple with a trip to Iraq and his faith, a theme that runs through the record, particularly in “Him”, both a plea to the powers-that-be above and a declaration of love for another man. Perhaps The Thrill of It All will connect if you pay attention to what he says. Too bad he doesn’t exactly demand it, because it can be so comfortable. [NB]3/5