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AM | Domino
AM BY ARCTIC Monkeys succeeds at getting the most out of a minimalist sound. This overarching simplicity helps tie the album together, creating a strong unity amongst the songs on this album. One of the most notable developments of the Arctic Monkeys is their increasing use of harmonies to add texture and escape the more garage rock sound they’re known for. With traditional hip-hop beats bleating out from under a layer or two of guitar and romantic but gritty lyrics, the album redefines the barriers between genres. This is best exemplified in the song “Arabella,” with guitar tones breaking their way into what would surely make a modern hip-hop hit.
In typical Arctic Monkeys fashion, the band doesn’t shy away from slower, more melodic songs. “No. 1 Party Anthem” may be the apex of the album, combining Alex Turner’s often arcane yet poetic writing style with a lyrical melody that captures the listener’s attention while maintaining a sad mood.
Of course, it could not be an Artic Monkey’s album without a few classic rock songs. “R U Mine?” and “Snap Out of It” are two excellent examples of songs that seem like they could have come from a time when rock music was synonymous with pop. The former, grungy overdriven song reminiscent of ‘90s punk rock, and the latter a true rock and roll song with driving bass, well-placed sparse guitar chords, and very catchy harmonies. In general, the variation of sounds produced in this album is its most defining characteristic.
This album offers something for everyone; the placement of songs throughout the course of the listening experience creates a fluid and enjoyable album from start to finish. Starting with the powerful, “Do I Wanna Know?” and finishing with the beautifully sad “I Wanna Be Yours” ensures a memorable experience for the listener. Ultimately, no matter how you cut or decompose this album, it’s simply and perfectly good.
—Simon Monis and James Lewicki
Elder Sister Plum
People Like Us | Independent
ELDER SISTER PLUM’S debut album People Like Us sounds heartfelt but overly simplistic. The vocals are soft and highly reminiscent of Feist. While the album has occasional moments of lyrical intrigue, much of the wording is cliché. Lead singer Tanya Semple softly coos, “Your mouth is hot like fire,” in the latter part of “Colour Blind,” which is a shame because the song starts off with what might be the album’s lyrical high point, “There’s poison in my pores, acrylic colour cutting in the corners of my mind.” This is a lyrical trend throughout the album. The songs start off creatively and artistically, but by the end they resemble a teenager’s diary more than the work of a professional.
Semple must be given some credit for knowing how to paint a sexual picture. In the opening line of “Platonic Lover,” she urges the listener to “drink from my waterfall.” I haven’t been that surprised by an opening lyric since David Bowie sang, “Inside every teenage girl there’s a fountain.”
Musically, the songs tend to start with an acoustic guitar that could be mistaken for any song performed at a local pub. In fact, as I write this I can hear a similar note progression by the group of students who have the annoying habit of drinking tequila and playing guitar on my neighbour’s porch at 11 a.m.
The first three songs on the album don’t increase much in complexity, but the fourth song on the album does have some musical merit. “The Hempen Jig” features some pleasing cello and electric guitar. It is an interesting modern take on a traditional song.
“Your Name” is another gem that makes this average album worth the listen. It opens with a slow drumbeat and continues into lovely harmony and piano work. The opening guitar of “Grand Escape” also manages to grab the listener’s attention.
Disappointingly, the end of the album slips back into the unremarkable sound of the start. While Semple’s softer songs make for fine background music, it’s her more complicated songs that hold the listener. I would be interested in hearing a faster album that doesn’t shy away from a more electric sound, while still maintaining the traditional structure that so suits Semple’s voice.
Show Me Your Fears | Independent
THIS IS THE first we’ve heard from veteran University of Ottawa musicians Pony Girl—formerly Hot Shot Casino—since they released a sampler of this new project last year. Show Me Your Fears pulls from an eclectic and deep variety of musical antiquities, and I don’t throw that around lightly.
This record feels like going through an old, dusty vinyl collection. Those forgotten sounds of ‘70s folk, jazz, and funk are reborn throughout the 35-minute, eight-track collection. But there is the flavour, the nuances, the spices of modernity that place Pony Girl among the best of what Canadian indie has to offer right now.
That being said, this is a complimentary record. Taken alone, most of these tracks are lacking the power of an entire collection. If you are the kind of person who likes to download music by the track off iTunes, this isn’t the record for you. If you enjoy fishing through your parents’ old, dog-eared vinyl sleeves and don’t mind flipping to side B in the middle of a record, this is definitely an album for you.
Show Me Your Fears is soft, heavy, and full of incredible dynamics. The group’s live sound is represented beautifully throughout the recording and it’s well worth the effort to find a copy.
Nine Inch Nails
Hesitation Marks | Columbia
NINE INCH NAILS’ new album Hesitation Marks is an unsettling work of art. While it lacks some of the edge of NIN’s earlier works—the bitterness that seeped out of The Downward Spiral is more restrained here—it is still great on its own merits.
The album creeps into existence with “Eater of Dreams,” unnerving the listener before bursting into the mesmerizing duo of “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted.” What follows is a descent into the mind of a tormented individual, filled with darkly catchy beats and moody soundscapes.
Trent Reznor sings about isolation and angst without seeming trapped in adolescence. The chilling poetry of his lyrics feels as potent as ever. In a digital world where online communications are both bringing people together and isolating them, Reznor’s work is increasingly relevant; the paranoid “Satellite” especially hits a nerve.
There are several standout tracks, but their impact increases exponentially in the context of the rest of the album. The songs have a slow-burning intensity; this is a record on which new details are revealed with each additional listen, making it all the more compelling.
Negative Space | Head in the Sand
LES JUPES’ NEGATIVE Space moves you from toe tapping and head bobbing to connecting with lyrics that actually make you think and feel. Since the vocals weren’t edited to the point where you can’t feel the vocalists’ emotions, the whole album has a raw and uncut feel.
Lead vocalist Michael P. Falk’s voice is soothing and refreshing, while the female vocals add a much-needed sweet touch to make each one more enjoyable than the last. Negative Space had me on an enjoyable music ride. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it, but I was glad that I decided to give it a shot.