Gemma Cockrell, Maia Gibbs, Myron Winter-Brownhill and Phoebe Raine
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 between February and March.
February – Tame Impala:
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush (Maia Gibbs):
The Slow Rush is Tame Impala’s first album since 2015’s Currents. Prog-rock master Kevin Parker has the voice of the Bee Gee, a mind straight out of Space Oddity and the heart of psychedelic pop. The Slow Rush still spools out Parker’s renowned multi-instrumentalist neo-psychedelia, disco funk sound, with soulful melodies. The songs seem micro-managed to perfection, each tune expertly and obsessively considered – to the point where you could understand why it took five years and a pandemic to release this album.
You don’t know whether the credits reading “All music written, performed and mixed by Kevin Parker” comes as a surprise or not – it sure does sound like he had to scour for an army of instrumentalists to fulfil the spacey vibes of the album. Yet maybe the truth is that Kevin Parker is the spacey vibe. Him and The Slow Rush are reminiscent of an era gone-by of art-rock and philosophical seventies recording studios, all with a modern sleekness that is truly individual to Tame Impala.
The album has seen to reach the heights of its cult-status predecessor Current. Debuting at number three on the US Billboard 200, becoming Tame Impala’s highest-charting album in the country to date – with all 12 tracks charting from 2 to 17 on the US Rock charts.
It is lyrically escapist – honestly quite perfect for a 2020 release
The Slow Rush is a detailed composition of a long history of music history spanning the last sixty years. It is lyrically escapist – honestly quite perfect for a 2020 release (despite being released in February where we were all still innocent naïve things). It feels more like one large musical meditation than anything of hard work. All in all, the album is simply unapologetically fun, exotic, and otherworldly – we venture into Kevin Parker’s psychedelic euphoria with open arms.
March – The Weeknd, 5SOS and Dua Lipa:
The Weeknd – After Hours (Myron Winter-Brownhill):
Who is The Weeknd? Who is Abel Tesfaye? Where do we draw the line? Is there a line to draw? Throughout his substantial career, The Weeknd has found great success in his signature style of moody, drug-fuelled RnB. It has taken different forms along the way, with his previous LP, ‘Starboy’ being among his more decadent – glamorous, star-studded, and perhaps a little overstuffed. Four years later, with ‘After Hours’, Abel brings us perhaps the most refined record of his career.
We are taken on a shadowed, hazy journey of overdose, heartbreak, confession, desperation, and self-doubt
Over the course of more than fifty minutes with ‘After Hours’, we are taken on a shadowed, hazy journey of overdose, heartbreak, confession, desperation, and self-doubt. The album’s synth-heavy sound evokes an ‘80s ‘nostalgia’ similar to that being revived elsewhere across popular music, but it manages to stay particular and distinct. The visual aesthetics of the album – its art and accompanying music videos – add to this even more; inviting us into a shimmering, abject night-time realm of bloodstained teeth and decapitated heads under city lights.
After Hours atmosphere is impeccable, thanks to a combination of strong song-writing and production. It is sonically gorgeous, and fits Abel’s vocals perfectly. The opener Alone Again builds its initial swirling, twinkling synths into a cityscape of hums, drones, and hisses. This same aesthetic is captured again and again across the album in interesting ways, making After Hours feel cohesive and interdependent. The title track’s cavernous, pulsing beat feels right at home a few tracks on from his synth-pop smash hit, Blinding Lights.
The album’s subject matter is not much different from the rest of The Weeknd’s discography, being largely about love, but he has consistently proven himself able to approach that most approached of topics in interesting ways. Abel sings about love as something people withdraw from on Scared to Live, and his own emotional unavailability on In Your Eyes. We see his actions bring his lover to ‘cryin’ out behind the smiles’ on Hardest to Love, and his own tragic cries of ‘where are you now when I need you most?’ on the title track, After Hours.
The Weeknd’s heightened world is built out of equal parts pain and excess
After Hours sounds out with a moment of post-high clarity – Until I Bleed Out – signalling the end of an exhausting episode of soaring highs and crushing comedowns, of RnB, dance-pop and electronica. The Weeknd’s heightened world is built out of equal parts pain and excess, and After Hours succeeds in painting an intoxicating picture of it.
5 Seconds of Summer – CALM (Phoebe Raine):
No matter how hard I try to leave 5 Seconds of Summer in my screaming, obsessive, low-rise jean teenage years, they keep coming back with music I can’t help but play at top volume. As I grew up, so did they. Now with their new album CALM, I might just have to bring back the screaming (but maybe not the jeans…).
You can plot the evolution of pop-band 5 Seconds of Summer by how One Direction they feel, starting out with their earlier albums which hinted at a slightly more rock-esque boy band pop, moving to Youngblood with its richer tones and darker themes, and accumulating in CALM, Youngblood’s sexier, more sophisticated brother. To any who doubt the shift, play their old-but-gold classic She Looks So Perfect, an upbeat fun song followed by CALM’s Wildflower, a slower, sultry song peppered with innuendo; you would think they were done by completely different bands.
CALM opens on Red Desert with a strong beat playing throughout and the group-sung chorus lyrics “Red, red desert, heal our blues… what a blessing to feel your love”, it sounds almost spiritual, choir-like. If you close your eyes and listen, you can almost envision a figure with billowing scarves and skirts stood amongst an expanse of desert, a kind of unreachable figure hinted towards in the lyrics.
As the album progresses, you encounter reflection and heartache in Old Me and Easier, whilst the throbbing beats of Teeth feel almost gothic – the music video is certainly much more abstract and creepy than their previous let’s-stand-outside-in-skinny-jeans videos.
The pinnacle of beauty in the song is lead singer Luke’s notes on “highly”
My personal favourite is High, the penultimate track. The soothing pace of the song and the lulling feel of repeating the word “down” make it a lot softer than previous tracks, and the pinnacle of beauty in the song is lead singer Luke’s notes on “highly” (you’ll have to listen to experience the chills I did).
On a more negative note, I felt the album as a whole seemed slightly random, a bit more experimental, sure, but lacking in connection. Best Years is probably what I would call the weakest track musically as it it feels rather samey with other tracks, keeping that steady beat and slightly shouty chorus. But, with lyrics like “I wasted so?much?time on people?that reminded me of you”, my teenage self had to swoon a little. Despite the negatives, what CALM shows is that 5SOS are capable of growing and finding their feet. It gives hope that their future albums will drag me back for more, hopefully with a better overall narrative.
They are no longer youthful rebellious youngbloods, or pop-pleasing sound good feel goods, they are truly themselves
Going on name alone, I would rate this 500 stars, as CALM spells out the initials of the band members, Callum, Ashton, Luke and Michael – a cute and dare I say sleeker twist to album naming- they are no longer youthful rebellious youngbloods, or pop-pleasing sound good feel goods, they are truly themselves.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (Gemma Cockrell)
Dua Lipa enlisted writers and producers such as Jeff Bhasker, Ian Kirkpatrick, Stuart Price, The Monsters & Strangerz, in order to create a nostalgic pop and disco record with influences from dance-pop and electronic music, inspired by the music that she herself enjoyed during her childhood. The result was Future Nostalgia – a modern interpretation of the music she grew up listening to, including Outkast, No Doubt, Prince, Blondie, Jamiroquai and Moloko. It follows logically that the record samples classic 80’s and 90’s tunes – Love Again samples Your Woman by 90’s alt-dance star White Town, whilst Break My Heart interpolates INXS’ hit Need You Tonight.
Feminism and the experience of being a woman in the music industry is a defining element of the record, focused on the empowerment of women, as well as observing and bringing light to the inequalities that women face. “No matter what you do, I’m gonna get it without ya / I know you ain’t used to a female alpha,” Dua sets the scene for the tone of the record on the opening title track, with an undoubtable, confident and asserting tone.
Girls have to grow up and mature much faster than their male peers because of the nature of society
Boys Will Be Boys is a string-driven ballad that tackles sexual harassment, titled after the phrase which is often used to excuse the actions of the male gender. “Boys will be boys / The girls will be women,” she sings, explaining that girls have to grow up and mature much faster than their male peers because of the nature of society. Girls are taught from a young age about the dangers they may face if they are not cautious, whilst boys are able to remain blissfully oblivious to the violence of the world until a later age.
Despite tackling societal and political issues, Future Nostalgia is a bright, bold, and upbeat collection of disco-pop tunes. As Dua confessed herself on Instagram Live, her forte is “dance crying”, and the album provides the perfect dance soundtrack to immerse and lose yourself in, embracing the disco nostalgia and forgetting about your current anxieties and worries about reality.
Gemma Cockrell, Maia Gibbs, Myron Winter-Brownhill and Phoebe Raine
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