Review: Bottle It In by Kurt Vile

Bottle It In by Kurt VileI acknowledge that I am not the best person to talk to when it comes to albums that really take their time – and yet I’m reviewing Bottle It In, perhaps Kurt Vile’s most meandering album ever. Yes, he’s had this reputation, but here he really gets lost in his thoughts, with a sprawling 80-minute opus of slow builds and even slower builds. To be fair, that is the beauty of the record: the ever-intricate manners in which Kurt gets to where he has to go, or at least supposed to. Somewhere along the way it seems he even loses track of himself, staying in the in-between for extended stretches until he realizes he has to move on, and move on he does, whether you’re still alert enough to tag along or not. That’s the allure of Bottle It In, but again, I’m a guy who tends to get bored, and here I felt like I was exerting more effort. Possibly an issue of sequencing again, because the first third of the record was engaging (with single “Backasswards” both a high point and a signpost of things to come) and the rest, well, there were some interesting things going on, but when one runs away with things, fully engrossed, everyone else take a while to catch up. And then it ends with a track simply called “Bottle Back” and it’s over. [NB]3/5


Review: Love Is Magic by John Grant

Love Is Magic by John GrantIn this age of overly indulgent albums comes John Grant’s Love Is Magic. All right, yes, I am suggesting that this album crosses that line a bit too often for comfort, and I’m the guy who enjoyed the excursions on his previous album. Where it all seemed quirky on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, it feels a bit too much on Love Is Magic – or is it the curse of the long album in the age of Spotify once again? The lyrical idiosyncrasies (particularly on full display in album opened “Metamorphosis”, which starts off tenderly before going wildly off-track) are fun, but by the halfway point of the album, and yet another five-minute long track, it feels like you’ve been assaulted to submission and are just enjoying the view for what it’s worth. There is still a method to John’s madness, to the blips that’s a bit reminiscent of 8-bit Tron, but you’ll struggle to get there – or perhaps it’s just me. For what it’s worth, it all settles down and the album’s last two tracks, “The Common Snipe” and “Touch and Go”, strips back and lets the themes breathe a bit more. There it goes a bit full circle. [NB]3/5

Review: Wanderer by Cat Power

Wanderer by Cat PowerYou tend to forget it’s been six years since Cat Power released an album, but then that’s testament to how, even if she isn’t a high-rotation artist in most places, her songs are timeless and sublime. 2012’s Sun saw the artist otherwise known as Chan Marshall move the needle forward with forays into electronica and an altogether slightly more forceful sound. Six years later, Wanderer both manages to stay on that lane and move back to her earlier sound – sparse, powered mostly by her guitar playing and her husky yet velvety vocals. It feels more grounded thematically, too: the record sees Chan pull back to what matters to her the most, from the family-focused “Horizon” to the random reworking of Rihanna‘s “Stay” – not the whole song, mind you – halfway through the album. And then there’s “Woman”, where she enlists Lana Del Rey to do backing vocals for her, resulting in something that should sound creepy but isn’t. It should sound all over the place, but really, it isn’t. It feels fresh and familiar at the same time, and it’s the sort of thing you don’t expect Cat Power to pull off, but somehow still does. [NB]4/5

Review: Malibu Nights by LANY

Malibu Nights by LANYIf I’m being honest, I’m kind of afraid of writing this album review, knowing fully well that LANY has a big following in the Philippines – perhaps the biggest anywhere, frankly – and that I gave their eponymous last album a pretty negative review. I’m a fragile ego; I don’t want to be seen as a hater. That said, Malibu Nights is thankfully an improvement on what came before, primarily because it’s tighter and feels more essential. They trimmed the fat. It flows a bit better. I can imagine myself tolerating the whole album on a long drive – but only if someone else is driving. I’m afraid LANY will never really be my thing. I get how kids these days like their pop chilled and yet ever-so-slightly groovy, and if that’s your thing, LANY will provide – although what they provide is frankly identikit and uninspiring. (I say this as a guy who enjoyed Troye Sivan’s new album.) Maybe soon they’ll kick things up a notch and stop being complacent. But then, kids love them. Where’s the incentive to be more interesting? [NB]3/5

Review: The Midnight Emotion by One Click Straight

The Midnight Emotion by One Click StraightAfter years of dithering I ended up listening to One Click Straight only two months ago, where I expressed admiration for how their neon-hued rock fits in to pretty much any point of the day. After listening to their debut album The Midnight Emotion I realize I could have also described them as a band clearly inspired by the 1975 – although that would have meant I was having a bad day and was not having any of it. This album is tricky. I still enjoyed it; it still pretty much fits into any part of the day, although reading the album title means your head locks into the image of being up awake, deep into the night, in a slightly humid bedroom at some gritty urban district in Manila. But for the most part The Midnight Emotion seems content with what it has going. There were a few surprises – “Velvet” and “Honey” break up the monotony of the record’s first half, but not enough to bring me back to the fold. The album feels too committed to the (very) specific image it’s conjured to the point that it’s not quite willing to move things forward. Perhaps it’s a disappointment if you listen to it as a whole album: as a collection of songs in a queue with many others, the aims are admirable. Still, it is a strong first effort, and I hope for a stronger, more focused, perhaps more inclusive follow-up. [NB]3/5