Review: Troubadour Tales, Chapter 1 by Johnoy Danao

Troubadour Tales, Chapter 1 by Johnoy DanaoThis is going to be a weird review, because my comments won’t really be about the music Johnoy Danao makes. We all know what he does best: songs that ooze sincerity and pack nice turns of phrase – the non-cheesy kind of kilig, if we’re going to be pedestrian about it. On Troubador Tales, Chapter 1 – his first release with OC Records – he continues the template, but this time adds more layers to it, layers of the fading, scratchy kind. (Vocal group Baihana pops up on two tracks, which does wonders.) It’s the good kind of rusty old, the sort of thing we liked from Ryan Adams until those allegations surfaced. (Can we still make that comparison?) However, this release is definitely just part one of perhaps three or four; after these three tracks, I imagine there will be more, with a full album getting a physical release soon. Not a complaint: it’s nice to hear new material from him after a few years away. But just as I was being wrapped in a warm blanket at the end of “Ang Panata”, surprise key change included, it’s over. It’s like having the rug pulled from under your feet. I was in the middle of the build-up, and there’s nothing more? Well, I want more. [NB]4/5

Review: Self is Universe by Ourselves the Elves

Self is Universe by Ourselves the ElvesHere’s my perception: Ourselves the Elves have always felt elusive. In my harried life, juggling so many things, they’re a band I always hear of, then forget, then hear of again. They’ve been around since 2011, and have released two EPs. People in the know love them. I have yet to listen to them. That’s a handicap easily overcome with their first full-length record, Self is Universe. The record also tells you a lot about the unusual yet compelling dynamic of the band’s music. It sounds like 80s lo-fi, but it doesn’t. It sounds like shoegaze, but it doesn’t. It sounds like that brief moment in the 90s when jangly pop was coming back, but it doesn’t. The album may be a bit too long but they’d be forgiven for finally having all this space to stretch and, more importantly, to flit around vibes without effort. But where Ourselves the Elves excel is capturing this certain mindset, one you wouldn’t necessarily have but one you totally understand once you give the record a chance to set in. Self is Universe claws through uncertainties and differences to find that common thing, at least momentarily – and they do so in a way that makes even this clueless outsider welcome. Ultimately, it always feels nice to know that, for under an hour, you’re part of the club. [NB]4/5

Review: Lux Prima by Karen O and Danger Mouse

Lux Prima by Karen O and Danger MouseKaren O and Danger Mouse have been prolific collaborators across the years: the former has worked with the likes of Ezra Koenig and Michael Kiwanuka if she’s not fronting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, while the latter is one-half of both Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, apart from his long production list. It was inevitable they’d meet, although we kept that possibility in the realms of fantasy festivals. But, well, here it is, and it’s as glorious and messy as we expected it to be. Lux Prima sees the two find an intersection in the cinematic side of the 60s: Danger Mouse’s music has leaned towards that many times, while Karen’s got the vocals for that. The record finds itself so deeply immersed in that sound that it can feel like just a study in textures rather than an effort to make pop songs, which is not a criticism, but can be a frustration. Everything is sprawling, but not too much, things punctuated by some smart funky turns in production, but most especially Karen’s voice, which adapts well to whatever is thrown at her. But I shall not complain, for this might not happen again. When two frequent collaborators finally come together, the result will be tasty no matter what. [NB]3/5

Review: White Wind by Mamamoo

White Wind by MamamooMamamoo’s last four minis – including this one, White Wind – is part of a sprawling concept: four releases highlighting, but not really highlighting, its four members. It ultimately saw the group grapple with the need to transition to a more mature image, after establishing themselves as purveyors of a retro pop sound, and finding themselves with a reputation for hyperactive personalities and a more nuanced musical sensibility. Of course, an initiative that broad wouldn’t always go well: we got some shining moments (and a big glimmer of hope in the third release, the wonderfully consistent Blue;S) and a lot of filler. I’ll admit to this album raising my hopes both because its immediate predecessor seems to have found its mojo back, and also because it’s the album designated to my bias, Wheein. (“25” is a song she co-wrote.) Alas, this record went the way of Red Moon: muffled and mumbled, not really knowing where to go. Single “Gogobebe” is the group’s most forgettable ever, and I do not say that lightly. It ends up just swallowing that modern pop template without going the extra mile; it’s no “Egotistic”, but it surprisingly reminded me of SoRi’s “I’m Ready”, and that, to me, is a worry. The rest of the songs also stumble, although “Waggy”, the designated crazy song of the album, surprisingly sounds sinister, and better for it. But maybe this is me suffering from Mamamoo fatigue: four albums in a little over a year is a feat not even Red Velvet attempted. Well, that worked out for them in some roundabout way. I’m not sure Mamamoo – or us MooMoos – come out of this with a better understanding of where they’re headed. All I know is, I hope the girls get their rest. [NB]2/5

Review: Fatigue by Assembly Generals

Fatigue by Assembly GeneralsThe new album from hip-hop collective Assembly Generals is so powerfully quiet it really takes a while for you to realize it. I think it’s that steady beat that characterizes most of the album. The metronome effect lulls you into a sense of security: ah, it’s all right, this is steady, this is all right. But it’s the little details that eventually fight their way through the template laid down so nicely and effortlessly. Again, it’s that military imagery they’re promoting: the members of one unit working together, but with a dash of class that, one again, lulls you: Switch Toledo and Peaceful Gemini’s interplay, particularly, but also the production, which does not go too far – a temptation many tend to make. Might as well. Fatigue illustrates that pummeling down we all get these days, the sense that everything is overwhelming and we shouldn’t really be fighting all these wars, even if many say we should never back down. It is a record of protest songs, but not entirely: throughout the album you can sense the sputtering and the running on fumes that nobody in this demographic wants to admit outwardly, but everybody is definitely feeling. It’s in the complete change of pace of closer “Tilted Room”, which is not a surrender but an acknowledgment of differences and a statement of defiance. Told you, sense of security. But it tells you a lot without you knowing it. [NB]4/5