Review: Love Yourself: Her by BTS

Love Yourself: Her by BTSBTS is that K-pop group you initially dismiss because male K-pop groups really tend to sound alike. But then they start to stick out, partly because they do have good songs, and partly because people seem to like them for they’re cool. It’s not undeserved praise: the group’s origins stemmed more from the hip-hop scene than most, and while they have mellowed (relatively) as time passed on, there’s still strong musicality in their work. Love Yourself: Her comes at an interesting time, with the group really picking up recognition outside Korea (although, let’s be honest, it’s mostly down to their ultra-devoted fans waging a social media campaign). Suddenly the world’s ears are on them, and they have to prove themselves. The result: well, it’s an all right album, although it focused too much on their more mellow side, with “DNA” a summer-y hit that will not feel out of place on American radio. But then, perhaps it’s the expectation that makes one think that way. If you’re one of the Army then you will think otherwise. [NB]3/5

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Review: Concrete and Gold by Foo Fighters

Concrete and Gold by Foo FightersSo, um, what can the Foo Fighters get wrong? The better question is, how will the Foo Fighters get anything wrong? The answer isn’t necessarily “because they’re a brilliant band, that’s why” – although then that sounds mean. Dave Grohl and his gang are reliable. They’ve gotten their formula right, and while it doesn’t really excite anyone much anymore – “oh hey, they have a new single! Yeah, good to know” – you’ll know it’ll at least be solid. Concrete and Gold is that. Solid. But then, unlike their previous more recent efforts, it doesn’t really quite get it all together. It plods along more – and I’m trying not to be cynical here. It’s, well, fine, but, you know, what is this for again? What else am I getting here? And why is nothing sticking, especially when you expect it to do so, somehow? [NB]2/5

Review: Antisocialites by Alvvays

Antisocialites by AlvvaysWell, this one was fun. Sure, Alvvays don’t really trade exclusively on fun. In fact, teir songs always have this tinge of melancholy – an acknowledgement that things aren’t really going as well as they should be – but, well, keep your head up, soldier on. Antisocialites is the second album from the Toronto band, and if one thing stands out, it’s that it’s so tight. Every single song is, well, fun. The hooks land just right, the songs build up nicely, and there seems to be something new with Molly Rankin’s vocal – it feels more awash in reverb. If anything Antisocialites aims more keenly towards the jangle pop template it previously set, feeling more retro than its predecessor. But I’m very much willing to take it, because it feels even more affecting this time. The melodies soar, and the album is, again, fun. [NB]4/5

Review: Sleep Well Beast by the National

Sleep Well Beast by the NationalWe’ve turned to the National for being, well, moody: Matt Berninger’s baritone, sometimes (perceived to be) droning but often emotive nonetheless, powering a rumbly backdrop. We’ve come to expect nothing less from their seventh album, Sleep Well Beast, but then they pull a surprise on us: they try new things. A lot of new things. Things kick in suddenly, and often, and you get climaxes you don’t expect. We should’ve gotten the hint from “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”, which sounds as glitchy as the title suggests, not yielding to the National’s sweeping trademark. And that’s what the album is. There is no yielding, despite the “disruptive” new elements. It still sounds like a National record. You learn to enjoy, or perhaps live with, those little details. It’s like, “you know, fuck this, we’re still doing what we’re doing.” The lyrics say as much, even. [NB]4/5

Review: Hearts That Strain from Jake Bugg

Hearts That Strain from Jake BuggWell, this one wasn’t quite what I expected. I knew Jake Bugg can be the folk troubadour – the signs were there in all his records, even the ill-informed On My One. That made Hearts That Strain an interesting, albeit weird, listen. The British singer always had that edge in his songs, a bit of cheekiness just to even out the his earnest tendencies. Here, though, it’s all smoothed out, Jake Bugg in full-on serious mode. I have to get used to it. The transition’s been easy, and halfway through the record everything seems normal. But the problem with Jake’s records remain: it’s still boring, and it brings nothing new to the table. I wouldn’t say the new style made it worse, but it certainly highlighted my problems with his last three records. But at least it’s some change of pace. That last album was still… you know, weird. [NB]3/5