Music Reviews

A Year Of Music – April

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Lucinda Dodd and Gemma Cockrell

As 2020 comes to a wrap, Impact has come together to share our reviews of the big albums that were released this year. In this article, we look at albums that were released in April.

April – Rina Sawayama, Bladee and Purity Ring:

Rina Sawayama – Sawayama (Lucinda Dodd):

Y2K inspired pop, nu-metal, dance and rock? All on one album? It can’t work? Surely?

Well, actually, it can! Rina Sawayama’s eponymous debut album transgresses genre boundaries – creating a truly unique, bold and engrossing sound. All whilst taking its listeners along Rina’s personal journey to self-love and acceptance.

SAWAYAMA starts with force. The first tracks (Dynasty, XS and STFU!) have relentless instrumentals with powerful meanings. Rina doesn’t hesitate to get political. XS gives her take on our mass-consumerist society. The Cambridge graduate explores our unceasing need for “just a little bit more”, questioning “where did it go awry?”.

STFU! – the lead single – is similarly audacious. Blending metal and 2000s pop, Rina creates a fiery song, unleashing her pent-up anger towards the microaggressions she faces as a Japanese-British woman. The robust electric guitar instrumental can only be done justice when blasted at full volume.

Both Dynasty and Akasaka Sad explore intergenerational depression: “the pain in my veins is hereditary”. Akasaka Sad sees Rina pay homage to her Japanese heritage, singing in Japanese and English. Instrumentally, this song is substandard, with an over-repetitive trip-hop chorus. The album’s closing song, Snakeskin, also falls into this same, slightly jarring trap. However, lyrically, it’s a strong ending, as Rina uses the metaphor of a snakeskin to reveal how she’s shedding the trauma identified on earlier tracks.

Rina Sawayama’s eponymous debut album transgresses genre boundaries – creating a truly unique, bold and engrossing sound

Love Me 4 Me creates a salient moment on the album as Rina accepts herself for who she is, posing an indispensable question: “If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else?”. Who’s Gonna Save U Now? also sees Rina’s confidence grow. The rock song, which is produced to sound like you’re in a stadium, teases listeners, as SAWAYAMA was released in the depth of the UK’s lockdown, when fans were desperate for the return of live music.

Evening out the more intense moments are more subdued (but no weaker) songs like Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys) – a dance club track, which strives to make its listeners feel like “THAT b****”. Moreover, Chosen Family – a heartfelt ballad for the LGBTQ+ community – is about creating your own family if unaccepted by your biological one. Rina proclaims: “We don’t need to be related to relate”. It also shows off Rina’s vocal range, revealing a more angelic quality to her voice.

SAWAYAMA’S sublime instrumentals and compelling story of growth have had it named “album of the year” by none other than Elton John. The innovative concoction of musical styles and Rina’s powerhouse vocals gives it a distinct quality which leaves you craving more.

Bladee – EXETER (Gemma Cockrell):

Released in April in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, EXETER provides an experience which removes the listener from reality, building an alternative universe and transferring them into a utopian dreamland, almost like a warped nostalgic video-game.

Bladee has always been an enigmatic artist. His sound has evolved since his debut album Eversince in 2016 – he was once an artist who was renowned for his icy industrial rap sound, and his dark, ‘sad boy’, elusive aesthetic. Now, his music is more melodic, and exudes blissful, elative, positive energy. The only element that remains consistent is the heavily auto-tuned vocals.

EXETER, produced in its entirety by fellow Sweden-native Gud, sees Bladee strip his lyrics down to the minimal extreme, with most songs, including MIRROR (HYMN), MERRY-GO-ROUND, OPEN SYMBOLS (PLAY) BE IN YOUR MIND and EVERY MOMENT SPECIAL, only featuring two or three repeated phrases. On one hand, this can become monotonous and begin to feel hollow, however, with repeated listens, it only adds to the trance-like state that the album puts the listener into. The decision to have repetitive lyrics makes particular sense on the track MERRY-GO-ROUND, as the song lyrically examines the cyclical nature of life.

Fellow Drain Gang member Ecco2k appears as a guest on the tracks WONDERLAND and LOVESTORY, with his smooth, sweet, angelic vocals a perfect fit for the dreamy, ethereal sound of the album. Tracks such as RAIN3OW STAR (LOVE IS ALL) and DNA RAIN are highlights of the project, with crinkly, glitchy distortion, and catchy, upbeat flows, which serve as a reminder of Bladee’s intense and essential influence on the ‘hyperpop’ movement.

EXETER provides an experience which removes the listener from reality, building an alternative universe and transferring them into a utopian dreamland

Bladee has always been a controversial artist, with a sound people are either infatuated with, or deem entirely unlistenable. EXETER’s minimalism has even which proven to be controversial amongst die-hard Bladee fans, however, the minimalism is redeemed by the project’s beautiful ability to remove the listener from reality and relocate them in a new, superior, utopian universe.

Purity Ring – WOMB (Gemma Cockrell):

Canadian electronic-pop duo Purity Ring, consisting of Megan James (vocals) and Colin Riddick (multi-instrumentalist, producer), released their first album after a five-year hiatus, titled WOMB. It follows on logically from their 2012 debut Shrine, as it lyrically depicts the same fascinations with bodily viscera, with references to blood, guts and bone, as well as hints of religious imagery, including explorations into themes of the devil and afterlife. 

WOMB depicts the tale of a singular character, a young girl, who is undertaking the transition from childhood to adulthood, embracing her new body alongside her newfound role. The lyrical themes of cannibalism and drowning are symbolic of this, along with the corporeal imagery that has always been an aspect of Purity Ring’s music.

WOMB sees the duo return to these eerie, macabre themes from their debut, enveloping them in a mask of hypnotic, smooth, mesmerising electronica. Sonically, through both the instrumentals and vocals, it captures the beauty in the youthful purity innocence of childhood, merging this with the raw, twisted and unsettling imagery, marrying the concepts of gore and intimacy and light and dark, a dichotomic duality that is captured perfectly by the album’s title.

Sonically, through both the instrumentals and vocals, it captures the beauty in the youthful purity innocence of childhood

Many fans have complained that WOMB is too reminiscent of their 2012 sound, with too little experimentations or signs of updating their sound in order to remain relevant and exciting eight years on. However, others are simply relieved to see them return to their roots, after 2015’s Another Eternity left many disappointed as it drifted away from what made their debut so popular.

Even though some tracks feel slightly stuck in the past, serving as shadows of the duo’s work on Shrines, that don’t seem to express many signs of moving forward with the times, WOMB sees Purity Ring staying within their comfort zone, but it is a comfort zone which works best for them, and they are entirely aware of this.

Lucinda Dodd and Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Akshay Chauhan via Unsplash. No changes were made to this image. Image license can be found here

In-article images courtesy of @rinasonline@dg_bladee, and @purityring.via No changes made to these images. 

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