“How do I look now? Am I a beauty?”

“Girlhood” by the Preatures | Proof that I am woefully out of the loop lately: I missed this. The Preatures – my other favorite Aussie band, but then again there are many – have returned with a track that focuses squarely on their revving sound, but still has that romp through rock history that they did the first time. But listening to this right now, as I write this, makes me harried. I have lots of work to do and I am rushing this to post because I actually scheduled nothing. Again. Here we go. Again. How do I look now? Am I clearly harangued? [NB]

Review: Harry Styles by Harry Styles

Harry Styles by Harry StylesIf you heard one of the songs from this album by chance, and you had no inkling it’s Harry Styles, you’d probably like it. I had that experience; I was picked up from the airport last weekend and my brother had “Meet Me in the Hallway” playing, and half-sleepy me had no idea. I’m not saying you’ll instantly dislike this album when you find out it’s that guy from One Direction. It’s just that the label carries so much weight. 1D were not always frothy music, by all means – they have been flirting with classic rock across their four albums – but hearing the group’s breakout go solo with a record carrying a sound that should ooze authenticity results in a bit of dissonance. He can carry the 70s rock influences – most of the songs on his eponymous solo debut are actually enjoyable, and if you don’t listen closely, even the duds do their jobs on a long drive – but he fails to make them his own, dawg, to quote Randy Jackson. (Different reality show, I know.) Remember when everyone thought of David Bowie when “Sign of the Times” was released? Perhaps it’s the baggage – you imagine Harry being that guy from 1D. But no, this isn’t a bad album. It’s good, but he’s just not there yet. It’s a challenge, this thing Harry is doing to himself. He’ll have to push more to really convince us he can embrace these influences. [NB]3/5

Review: Don’t Look Back by Lola Amour

Don't Look Back by Lola AmourLola Amour is an eight-piece jazzy thing that started shooting up in prominence after winning a slot at this year’s Wanderland – and now they’ve released a four-track EP, Don’t Look Back. All right, it’s three tracks and one 90-second interlude at the end, so momentum-wise it does not feel enough; it feels like they’re still holding back. But this is an EP, and that is pointless nitpicking. That said, there’s something budding in the band’s sound. It’s nice that we have kids who aren’t going for your typical indie-pop sound; that alone is inspiring. The songs are tight and there are some good little surprises sprinkled throughout. And I am a sucker for horns; you all know that. I’m hoping to hear them break out of this introduction in future releases, that they forge their way forward with a sound and a sensibility that’s a little more like their own. But again, that perhaps is also nitpicking. It is a good introduction, and all I’m supposed to give out now is hope. [NB]3/5

Review: Signal by Twice

Signal by TwiceWell, here we are again, undertaking the foolish duty of reviewing a Twice mini – that creature that, no matter what you say about it, will be successful anyway. Not that this review ever wanted to take down one of the biggest K-pop groups today. However, the template has been so predictable you wonder why we even bother to do this: a mediocre release (“Cheer Up” is catchy but nothing beats “Like Ooh-Ahh”; everything else was gently downhill) followed by months of dominating every bit of Korean entertainment one consumes. Signal does attempt to move things along: it finally sees the group’s big boss Park Jin-young produce a song for them, and also sees contributions from former Wonder Girl Yenny, as well as Jihyo and Chaeyoung writing “Eye Eye Eyes”. I hear some reggae, and the title track bring the relatively cutesy girls to the world of trap, awkwardly. (It’s terrible because it jars completely with everything the group hasn done before.) But then, Signal is exactly what you expect it to be: it’s a Twice album. It’s forgettable, but it’s completely irrelevant to its success. It’s the default reaction. It’s getting really boring. When I reviewed their last mini Twicecoaster: Lane 1 I argued that they’re hitting diminishing returns. I stand by it. [NB]2/5

Review: After Laughter by Paramore

After Laughter by ParamoreFirst things first: Hayley Williams can sell the hell out of anything. No matter how in flux the Paramore line-up is, as long as she’s there, you can be sure she’ll do a good job. Their last album, released in 2013, had its moments despite the Farro brothers leaving – in fact, its best moments are when they let their hair down and have fun. The same is the case with After Laughter, but with a more obvious shift in sound: gone is the pop-punk they’ve made their name with, replaced with a clear new wave sheen, following the tactic of “more indie” bands like Two Door Cinema Club. The band also saw more changes in their line-up – they’re still a three-piece, but Zac Farro returned on drumming duties – so it’s another chance to reassess their sound and have fun with it. Clearly, they do. “Hard Times” may cause whiplash with its colorful sound, but they sell it – Hayley sells it – and succeed. Yes, the whole album being about, well, hard times may be too easy a theme considering how almost everything feels sunny. The theme gets too heavy too – it clearly wears them down by the middle of the album, and it sinks into old times, but with more gloom and less bang. But, man, Hayley Williams can sell the hell out of anything. If she goes, it’s a different story altogether. [NB]3/5