Review: Sacred Hearts Club by Foster the People

Sacred Hearts Club by Foster the PeopleAfter listening to Sacred Hearts Club, the third album from Foster the People, I start wondering if Mark Foster has run out of ideas. Now, don’t get me wrong – this does not suggest stasis. The album sees the band change direction a bit, towards the sort of pop that gets mindless listens but fails to really work its way through you – you know, like his earlier work. Those were simple songs, but somehow they worked harder than they should, and tracks like “Pumped Up Kicks” (from their debut) and “Coming of Age” (from its follow-up) feel satisfying. None of the tracks in Sacred Hearts Club do. It plods on. It’s hazy. It’s forgettable. It’s worrying in the sense that this seems to be the direction they want to be. It’s like, I don’t know, Maroon 5 going pop – it made sense but then it ruins their brand entirely. Sure, it was replaced by a different brand, and it worked, but nothing remains the same. I’m not sure Foster the People is ready for such a gear shift. Mark Foster is no Adam Levine. And their music had this charm that could not be easily suplemented, or supplanted, by poppier production. Nope, this is a worrying misstep. [NB]2/5

Review: Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey

Lust for Life by Lana Del ReyI’ve always had some difficulty with Lana Del Rey. Across her albums, with some really minor tweaks, she’s stuck to the same sound – and while that was enchanting at the beginning, it got a bit tiresome towards the end. I could not slot Honeymoon into any of my segues, although I may have been too harsh with my review of that record. Lust for Life, her latest, mostly sticks with the formula, but with a few quite significant exceptions. One, the entry of collaborators. Two, especially in the second half, a surprisingly embrace of Americana – her work with Stevie Nicks and Sean Lennon actually work for how expand without intruding. Three, a less introspective approach to songwriting – Lust for Life utilizes Lana’s insistence on nostalgia to comment on the current state of affairs, which at least feels more substantial than Honeymoon. (The album art, 50s schlock verging on The Sound of Music memories, suggests as much.) But, ultimately, Lana will have to really move the needle forward. I have the urge to say “too little too late” on this record. Now it’s all clicked into place? It should have a long time ago, when she still had the attention of more people. [NB]3/5

Review: Biyaheng Langit by Davey Langit

Biyaheng Langit by Davey LangitI wasn’t watching the first season of Pinoy Dream Academy, that ABS-CBN reality show that gave us Yeng Constantino. That meant I never quite heard of Davey Langit until a few years later, when he was steadily building a reputation as a songwriter with shrewd decisions and a keen ear. The opening track to his new album, Biyaheng Langit, felt like a long-delayed statement of intent. “Can I call him the Filipino Ed Sheeran?” was my first thought. But this is more of the “Sing”-era Sheeran than the “A Team”-era one – a good sense of pop preventing his songs from sinking into shlock. The album remains enjoyable even if you’ve heard a good chunk of the songs here before – I heard “Selfie Song” a few years ago; it was a different time them – but at the end I was hoping Davey had other tricks up his sleeve. Perhaps it’s a problem of sequencing. The album’s middle bit sagged; is there such a thing as too many songs about love? He does them well, but it felt like a cage stopping him from flying. “Idjay”, a potted biography, worked because it was not about the same old. “Bata”, same thing – the themes may be familiar but the implementation is interesting. That’s the quality that redeems the album: even “Huling Awit ng Pag-Ibig”, which has love song written all over it, works because Davey knows when to change things up sonically. (Or, again, sequencing: it’s a piano-driven ballad after a string of upbeat songs.) If anything, that keen ear will keep you hanging on. [NB]4/5

Review: Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast

Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese BreakfastThere’s something interesting about Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner, both in the way initially disparate themes are approached, and also, well, how it sounds ultimately. For her second album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, things are taken to the next level: an interesting tug between her dreamy tendencies and her shoegazer ones. It meanders and yet it keeps you on your toes – an quirky, perhaps, result considering initial plans for the album being a concept piece set in space. Name and a few lyrical nods aside, it feels very much grounded, playing with that feeling of isolation we get in modern times. Also interesting: despite the shoegazer sound Michelle comes in clear – I’m pretty sure the temptation to fuzz up the vocal was there (it is a space-themed album, initially, after all) but instead she cuts clear, providing what I’ll call a glimpse of hope after all the cacophony. [NB]4/5

Review: Ultralife by Oh Wonder

Ultralife by Oh WonderOh Wonder debuted with a relatively minimal sound on their eponymous debut, but for their follow-up, they went in the opposite direction. Ultralife sounds, well, ultra. It sounds big. Not grand, sweeping, orchestral big – wisely, because you do not want to lose Josephine Vander Gucht’s fragile, alluring vocal in the mix – but big enough to actually be in a delicate position. With this direction Oh Wonder risks crossing over towards the typical indie pop sound that they have wisely avoided on their first release. In some spots on Ultralife, they did, especially towards the end. But perhaps that’s also because they go big, relentless, on every track. No shade, but some texture. The decision to adopt the best of 70s pop – layered pianos, a sound big enough but not very Wall of Sound – makes that balance a bit effortless. But I would have appreciated a bit of quiet like in their first album. Maybe they’d get the mix right on a third album. [NB]3/5