Thoughts On… alt-J, Lorde, Marika Hackman, Pixx and Royal Blood

Five more album reviews are here as Indiecisive’s gradual catch-up to the now continues – this time it’s another real mixed back with alt-J, Lorde, Marika Hackman, Pixx and Royal Blood.

Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde blew the pop scene wide open with her debut ‘Pure Heroine’ in 2013, and now she’s back with her highly anticipated sophomore album ‘Melodrama’, lead by the single ‘Green Light’ which I was sceptical about at first but it has massively grown on me. There’s a certain maturity to the sound of this album; while tracks like ‘Homemade Dynamite’ echo her first album’s ‘Tennis Court’, Lorde sounds much more comfortable here on her second LP. There’s pop brilliance to be found on tracks like ‘Sober’, which somewhat echoes her collaboration with Disclosure in rhythmic style.

The album dips slightly after the first three tracks with the much more bland ‘The Louvre’ and the ballad ‘Liability’ which comes across as a touch melodramatic, though perhaps that’s the whole point given the title of the album. Lorde proves she can do a fantastic ballad however – the striking, Kate Bush-esque ‘Writer In The Dark’ later on the album may be the best track presented here.

There’s some interesting sonic experimentation going on through the album, like the bizarre scraping synthesisers on ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’ and the vocal manipulation on ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’. ‘Supercut’ doesn’t have a whole lot to it, but it leads into a reprise of ‘Liability’ which is a huge improvement on the original, adding ambient synthesisers and Bon Iver-esque vocoder effects – it lifts up the ideas behind ‘Liability’ and transforms them from a fairly standard ballad into something rather stunning.

On ‘Melodrama’, it feels as if Lorde wanted to make something experimental, conceptual even, but was held back for risk of not being accessible enough. She remains, however, one of the brightest lights in pop music and she’s avoided what seemed like an inevitable difficult second album after the runaway success of her debut.

7.5/10

Pixx – The Age of Anxiety

Pixx initially piqued my interest with her ‘Fall In’ EP back in 2015 and she’s now released her first full album ‘The Age of Anxiety’. The album is named after W.H. Auden’s 1947 poem about finding identity in an industrial world – it’s an idea that’s likely even more relevant in social-media saturated 2017 and it says a lot about the mood Pixx is trying to convey on this LP.

Running through this debut is an undercurrent of electronic experimentation – cut up samples and drum machines are present on many of the tracks and they blend nicely with Pixx’s organic vocal delivery – fans of Stealing Sheep will find some welcome similarities. The first three tracks of this album, ‘I Bow Down’, ‘Toes’ and ‘Grip’ are all particularly strong, but the quality throughout this album is very consistent and the whole project feels very cohesive. The album has its slightly weaker points when it goes more electronic, but even on tracks like ‘Romance’ and ‘Everything Is Weird in America’ the same charm runs throughout.

Highlights later on in the album include the brilliantly dynamic ‘A Big Cloud to Float Upon’ and the much more ambient, chilled-out ‘Mood Ring Eyes’, which closes the album. Overall Pixx has created a solid set of tracks here, and probably all together one of the stronger debuts of the year so far. She is, without a doubt, one to watch.

8/10

Alt-J – Relaxer

Alt-J have become one of the most highly looked to bands in alternative music, and the hype for their third LP ‘Relaxer’ was built incredibly high with the two leading singles ‘3WW’, a bizarre, slow-burning piece featuring Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell and ‘In Cold Blood’, which sounds like an even bigger version of the alt-J we saw back on their debut ‘An Awesome Wave’. Does the rest of the album live up to these fantastic singles?

The band’s cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’, while brilliantly atmospheric, feels rather self-indulgent and flat after the aforementioned opening tracks, though the energy is quickly brought back in with the truly insane ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’. This track makes you wonder why the band put the Rising Sun cover in the Track 3 slot on the album. It’s loud, it’s unpredictable and it’s like nothing the band have released before. The insanity and unpredictability continue on ‘Deadcrush’ before we slow things right down for the final three tracks of the album.

‘Adeline’ is probably one of the best songs the band have released. Dark and intense, the climax this song builds to is truly terrifying. alt-J certainly haven’t lost their ability to build a mood, and they do the same on ‘Last Year’, an incredibly sad, melancholy song that, though beautiful, takes just that little too long to get going. ‘Pleader’ again just takes that little bit too long to get going and, when it does, its references to the novel ‘How Green Was My Valley’ seem a little too on the nose. The choral arrangements are impressive, but the song itself is lacking that alt-J magic.

‘Relaxer’ seems very much like a transitional record for alt-J – it doesn’t quite have the cohesion that their previous albums had – the gaps between tracks are at times uncomfortably long right when the album is at its most energetic. While it starts out very strongly indeed and contains some of the best tracks of 2017 so far, parts of this album are lacking, particularly towards the end. The more heavily orchestrated sound displayed here points to very bright things in the future for alt-J though, and perhaps this is just a slightly difficult third album.

7/10

Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man

Returning for her second album, now on Sub Pop Records, Marika Hackman set the bar high with the single ‘Boyfriend’, which featured The Big Moon as its backing band. This is a fantastic indie rock track, and the rest of the album absolutely lives up to this phenomenal single. There are some real psychedelic vibes on ‘I’m Not Your Man’, with some big nods to alternative rock masters Warpaint, particularly on ‘So Long’, album closer ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’ and the exceptional ‘Gina’s World’ – the intro on that track even has some slight rings of Nirvana about it; there’s a range of influences displayed on this album.

As well as more upbeat indie rock tracks like ‘My Lover Cindy’ and the excellent ‘Time’s Been Reckless’ (a potential future single, I’d think!) there are also some great slower numbers that show off Marika’s songwriting more, like ‘Cigarette’ and, a personal highlight for me, ‘Apple Tree’, a track that somehow echoes Ennio Morricone’s classic Western soundtracks while keeping up the indie rock aesthetic.

Overall, this is a very strong album from Marika Hackman, and she’s cementing herself as one of the finest indie songwriters out there. If you’re a fan of Warpaint or The Big Moon you’ll certainly find something to love here, and even if you’re not this album is worth a listen.

8/10

 

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

Royal Blood created a real stir with their debut album, bringing a new angle to the White Stripes/Black Keys formula by replacing the solo guitar with a solo bass guitar. What resulted was a brilliantly raucous rock album. The duo are now back with a second full-length LP: ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’.

On this sophomore album the band sound bigger than they did on album one and they have that same confident swagger to their sound, but there isn’t really that much different here. This album shines the most when the band add something to their bass-drums combo – ‘Hole In Your Heart’ and ‘Look Like You Know’ are good examples of this. ‘She’s Creeping’ and ‘Sleep’ are also highlights here, though they stick to the traditional Royal Blood formula.

The question asked on this album is ‘how much more can you do with just bass and drums?’ – the answer is ‘not that much’. If you’re craving more of what Royal Blood did on their debut you’ll certainly find it here, but there’s not enough going on to keep things truly interesting. The band are seriously going to have to rethink their strategy on album three, and they could gain a lot from perhaps hiring a third member to change up their sound.

5.5/10

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