Review: Damned Devotion by Joan as Police Woman

Damned Devotion by Joan as Police WomanFor her sixth solo record, Joan As Police Woman strips down, somewhat. The Classic saw her make a trip to soul town, and in Damned Devotion she replaces that with a slightly more intense, if not visceral, sound that relies on the percussion – not its loudness, but its ability to dictate the tempo. That provides a good counterbalance to Joan Wasser’s slinky vocal: smooth and husky enough to sound just AOR enough, but possessing a bite that, alongside her lyrics, portray strength and a little bit of zing. Damned Devotion satisfies: it’s not really the boring record it initially felt like, at least not after its predecessor’s up and up feel. Here, she embraces the duality of her music (again, arguably). It’s that conflict between sounds that take center stage, and you don’t quite know where she’ll go with it – but you’re along for the ride anyway. [NB]4/5

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Review: Little Dark Age by MGMT

Little Dark Age by MGMTWhen I reviewed MGMT’s third, eponymous album, I described it as “a reboot of sorts”. Well, put up against Little Dark Age, that description is wrong. This is the reboot – definitely a reboot. It’s not the direction I expected them to take: it seemed they were content with being their weird little selves, at least musically. Now, we have an album that’s more or less streamlined synthpop – there’s a hint of their off-kilter nature running underneath, but for the most part, the record is streamlined synthpop. Perhaps inevitably, it’s a mixed record: for every track that channels the 80s (“Me and Michael”, “She Works Out Too Much”) there’s a track that feels like MGMT are busy catching up with the trend they perhaps accidentally founded, and not really knowing what to do with it. But at least we have a record that rewards the less devoted of listeners, that does not turn them away with what has turned out to be a genuine expression of creativity. Perhaps I shouldn’t call this a reboot, but rather a much-needed reckoning. [NB]3/5

Review: Always Ascending by Franz Ferdinand

Always Ascending by Franz FerdinandRemember when Franz Ferdinand sounded, in a way, revolutionary? You really couldn’t resist them. But then their past few albums have been serviceable, to say the least; I find myself going back to their earlier albums still. Always Ascending is some sort of bid from the Scottish group to return to that sound, albeit in a more organic fashion, in the words of frontman Alex Kapranos. For the most part, they – sans guitarist Nick McCarthy – get it right: you get a sense of that old energy coursing through the record, particularly on second single “Feel The Love Go”. And yet it doesn’t quite capture it fully. Perhaps that is to be expected: it’s been fourteen years since their debut, after all, and a lot of things would change in between. Perhaps it’s me and my rose-tinted glasses (or is it earphones?) still referencing their earlier stuff, or at least some of the sheen of their last album, 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. In the end, Always Ascending is… serviceable? There is more of a spark, and that’s fun, but I find it difficult to scrub their heyday out. [NB]3/5

Review: Microshift by Hookworms

Microshift by HookwormsHookworms’ third album Microshift comes with that usual narrative of upheaval. For this one, they’ve had to pretty much start all over, after a flood wrecked the studio of their frontman Matt Johnston – and, perhaps more importantly, took most of their back catalogue with it, too. Here’s where you expect a band who’s primarily traded in muddled psychedelic sounds to turn inward and be a bit more brooding, but no – Microshift is actually jubilant. It’s a weird, fun record, this: a shift towards synths does not diminish the band’s tendencies, but somehow highlights them, focuses them, making for something far more accessible than their previous work. And easier to dance to, in the case of the sprawling, intense “Ullsworth”, definitely the high point of the album. It struggles with keeping the energy up in the long run though, but still, it’s a weird, fun record. [NB]4/5

Review: Man of the Woods by Justin Timberlake

Man of the Woods by Justin TimberlakeI’ll admit to being a little wary of Man of the Woods. I mean, after the two 20/20 Experience albums – the last half being quite a chore – I wasn’t sure if I’m willing to trust Justin Timberlake with my ears ever again. This isn’t some anti-pop sentiment cool people (not that I am) are ought to do. He did good songs. He’s just trying too hard and fumbling these days. Man of the Woods continues that, er, tradition. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is the title. It feels homey – an allusion to how Justin merged the worlds of country and modern soul in this record? – but instead I think of a man who got lost in the forest and dealt with it by choosing to live there rather than be found. The album does not sound fresh, although he tries so hard. It feels like a retread, a redo of his hyper-indulgent tendencies. It’s not horrible, but I must admit to automatically tuning out about a third of the way through, the record already feeling a bit too much, me coping by relegating it to background noise. It’s heavy in expectation, the sort that’s shoved down on you. Be proud of me. I can’t, Justin. [NB]2/5