Review: RBB by Red Velvet

RBB by Red VelvetThe night Red Velvet dropped RBB and begun their promotional stretch, I was getting a lot of text messages from Shalla. “Irene is a goddess!” she said. (I agree; this is her in 4K for proof.) I wasn’t keen on the title song; I thought it was too much vocal theatrics and was a really muddled pop track. But then I have to be reminded that, one, Red Velvet operate on two modes, and for this record they’re definitely on their Velvet phase; and two, judging from recent decisions to release English versions of their singles, they’re somewhat being groomed as an answer to the global not-really-dominance of Blackpink. Also, after two years of frustration at the girls seemingly running out of ideas – complete with “RBB” being a callback to their last single “Bad Boy” – I have just… accepted it, I guess? Red Velvet has completed their pivot towards 90s-flavored pop; the “Dumb Dumb” era is clearly a thing of the past. It also helps that, once again, the non-singles are better, synthesizing the concept, the new direction, and the girls’ tested vocal chops. But, again, this is K-pop; you also fight with the visuals, and even if “RBB” is objectively a middling song, you watch the music video – or any live performance, 4K or otherwise – and you get all this impact coming down on you. That’s one metric, and on that front, this is another typically strong comeback. If only that was my metric. [NB]3/5

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Review: The Pains of Growing by Alessia Cara

The Pains of Growing by Alessia CaraAlessia Cara’s debut, 2015’s Know-It-All, was confident and showed promise, but ultimately suffered a bit from its somewhat generic sound. Alessia’s got an interesting voice, and her delivery is strong, but you just knew she could do better. The Pains of Growing moves things further, thankfully: it’s a reintroduction of sorts to the 22-year-old Canadian, not that she needed one. What the record proves is how Alessia works best when everything else around her keeps up with her: the more sparse songs fall flat, but when she pursues a variant of the classic Motown sound (only a few things scream maturity better than the Motown sound) she shines, the layers highlighting her delivery and giving stress to what she has to say. My particular highlight is “Comfortable”, what essentially is a song about contentment that you wouldn’t expect from someone at her age. I honestly thought I had Alessia figured out, but The Pains of Growing is such a treat; I’m glad to say hello again. [NB]4/5

Review: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by the 1975

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by the 1975When I reviewed the 1975’s last album I was quite frustrated, with how it tried to bring together its poppy sensibilities with an experimental streak. I found it jarring. In hindsight I was perhaps too harsh on the album, but then, two years later, it’s now clear just what the gang are planning to do. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships sees the British band elevated from just another indie band coming out of the UK to an unlikely leader of the post-millennial pop movement, stripping your social media feed of most of its banality and getting to the heart of the matter. Or at least that’s how it feels. It’s weird how I enjoyed this album more than I expected to, despite the even wider stylistic scope making for an even more manic, whiplash-inducing album. (Is it the 80s channelling of the last two tracks?) Matt Healy here finally perfects his somewhat omniscient presence, commenting seemingly on anything and everything – and yet distilling those hot takes into the essentials. Sure, the album could still do with some tightening up (it’s 58 minutes long; the length makes the gimmicks feel more gimmicky than the band intended) but A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is a step up for the 1975. That said – and this is all me – I feel too old for this record. That might be getting in the way, ultimately. [NB]3/5

Review: Blue;S by Mamamoo

Blue;S by MamamooI’ve long accepted that Mamamoo won’t return to the retro-flavored sound that established them years ago, but their recent releases have been frustrating. In their pursuit of pop trends, their last couple of releases – part of a four-mini project that was supposed to run the whole year – have seen their members’ talents a bit squandered, bearing the weight of the visual concept. (Red Moon, I am looking at you with disappointment.) Now comes Blue;S, the third installment in said project, and it’s… encouraging? It’s definitely the most consistent album they’ve released since Melting, although only one of its tracks – the single “Wind Flower” – gets close to channeling that full-length’s retro charms. The mini does not attempt to shake off Mamamoo’s newfound preference for the epic, but it does tone it down a bit; the mini actually sounds wispy. But the group (and the producers behind them) smartly take a step back and bring the focus back on the vocals, the very thing that got them recognized better than most. Oh, the harmonies. I have missed them. It no longer sounds like they’re showing off at each other’s expense, but rather, working together. This moment may not last, but it’s a comforting one nonetheless. [NB] | 4/5

Review: Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! by Art Brut

Wham! Bang! Pow! Let's Rock Out! by Art BrutArt Brut’s one of those bands that were of their time when they came out – that mix of post-punk vitality and a delivery that most definitely is a nod, or two, towards the Fall – but now feel a little adrift considering what else is going on around them. It’s not to say that they haven’t moved on with the times: they really couldn’t, and they really shouldn’t. Art Brut’s most interesting angle is really the heights their past songs have aimed for, and while Wham! Band! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! – their first album in seven years – doesn’t quite go that far, choosing instead for more relateable stories with their added quirks, they still have the power that reminds us of the good old times. The record zips nicely (and fast) and it somewhat revives the charm of their early albums, when everything still seemed within reach. Or at least that’s how it felt. [NB]4/5