Gemma Cockrell, Kiah Tooke, Lucinda Dodd, and Adam Goriparthi
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 January.
January – Easy Life, Courteeners, Halsey, Mac Miller and Blossoms:
Easy Life – Junk Food (Gemma Cockrell):
Leicester five-piece Easy Life have had a huge year after being named as one of the BBC Sound Of 2020 artists. The Junk Food EP saw them truly mastering their sound, an undefinable and genre-bending mix of indie, jazz, soul and hip-hop which is entirely unique to them.
The song sees Easy Life at their most vulnerable, and demonstrates their talent and limitless potential
Sangria features the smooth, delicate vocals of fellow BBC Sound of 2020 alumni Arlo Parks, which contrast to but simultaneously complement lead vocalist Murray Matravers’ confident hip-hop inspired flow over the track. The track has a vulnerable and uncertain tone lyrically, similar to the EP’s closing track Spiders, which features harmonious, layered vocals, a slow-paced guitar and piano instrumental, and raw, stripped back vocals about battling feelings of homesickness. The song sees Easy Life at their most vulnerable, and demonstrates their talent and limitless potential.
However, Nice Guys and Earth are both tracks which explore Easy Life’s classic, much-loved pop-leaning sound, with catchy, groovy hooks and funky instrumentals. These were all elements of their breakout single Pockets – their experimentations on the EP do not stray from their roots entirely. Dead Celebrities is another track which demonstrates that Easy Life are still very much humble and true to their roots – it depicts the LA lifestyle that they have witnessed and experienced whilst on their US touring adventures, whilst expressing that living this lifestyle doesn’t match the feelings of contentment found in their East Midlands home.
Easy Life’s witty, tongue-in-cheek song-writing, alongside their versatile, unique and genre-bending sound, ensures that they will continue to find success as their career progresses. With their highly anticipated debut album on the horizon, Junk Food is a clear sign that there is much greatness to come in the future for this Leicester band.
Courteeners – More. Again. Forever. (Gemma Cockrell):
More. Again. Forever. is Manchester indie band Courteeners most ambitious, experimental and adventurous album to date, stepping outside the box to diversify their sound, exploring the genres of psychedelia and glam electro. The record was born from “the worst years” of vocalist Liam Fray’s life, following a journey of self-improvement and rediscovery after ‘excess, addiction’ and an existential funk.
Previous Parties has pulsing beats inspired by the genre of house music
There is an undeniable and irrefutable groove on the album, significantly different to the band’s past work, most notably on album opener Heart Attack, with spoken-word disco and glam-rot electro elements. The title track of the record has aspects and touches of influence from LCD Soundsystem, and Previous Parties has pulsing beats inspired by the genre of house music. Lead single Heavy Jacket’s fusion of distorted guitars and sitar-driven psychedelic pop works effortlessly.
Hanging Off Your Cloud is a track which has been on the band’s live set-list since their winter tour in 2018, with fans eagerly anticipating its release. It was well worth the wait, as the track is a vulnerable, emotional, raw and beautiful orchestral track, resulting in it becoming a stand out on the track-list. Similarly, album closer Is Heaven Even Worth It? also incorporates the orchestra into the instrumental, and sees Fray yet again at his most raw and vulnerable.
A sonically high-energy track, with a message of positivity and optimism, Courteeners have crafted a guaranteed fan-favourite
Take It On The Chin is an example of a track which is reminiscent of Courteeners previous albums. A sonically high-energy track, with a message of positivity and optimism, Courteeners have crafted a guaranteed fan-favourite. The record therefore remains familiar whilst simultaneously experimenting, testing the bands capabilities, fusing piano-ballads, singalong-chorus, radio-friendly bangers, REM inspired mid-tempo jangle and Arctic Monkeys riffing.
Halsey – Manic (Kiah Tooke):
Undoubtedly the most confessional album she has released to date, Ashley Frangipane, better known as Halsey, explores themes of self-discovery, growth and heartbreak through her 2020 album, Manic. With both her preceding albums BADLANDS and hopeless fountain kingdom being concept albums, Manic sees Halsey approach song-writing in a more personal and revealing way than ever before – demonstrated in the label ‘An album made by Ashley for Halsey’.
This album sees Halsey breaking free from her signature electropop sound and incorporating aspects of country, hip hop and alternative rock music
Manic is Halsey’s most commercially successful album to date, debuting at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 and number 6 in the UK. The album on the surface depicts the emotional rollercoaster of growing up and discovering who you are in the modern world. However, Halsey, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, attempts to encompass the feelings of mania and emotional fragility she experiences as a result of this within the album – hence the name Manic. The emotional range can be seen in the angsty rage in the pop anthems You should be sad and Without Me to the melancholic verse of 929 and clementine.
This album sees Halsey breaking free from her signature electropop sound and incorporating aspects of country, hip hop and alternative rock music. This is played into with the interludes dotted throughout the album which allow Halsey to use the musical influence of other big names in the music industry – Dominic Fike, Alanis Morrissette and BTS. This adds depth to the album, making it more sonically diverse than any of Halsey’s previous releases.
Beyond the new musical influences, Manic sees Halsey develop further as a songwriter. The candid poetics of 929 alongside the devastating narrative of More allows Halsey to detail intimate points in her life in a beautifully honest way. The album also hosts several impressive transitions that helps build an overarching narrative for Manic; 3am depicts the aftermath of its preceding song I HATE EVERYBODY, which ends with a voicemail from John Mayer describing the success of Without Me, the subsequent song.
Despite being based on reality rather than the fiction of her previous releases, Halsey’s authenticity throughout Manic make it a compelling listen that encompasses a variety of pop music influences, proving that beautiful things can be created from the worst experiences.
Mac Miller – Circles (Lucinda Dodd):
Mac Miller’s posthumous 12-track album Circles was released in January after his tragic death in unclear circumstances in September 2018. In a heart-rending Instagram post Miller’s family announced that “it was important to Malcolm for the world to hear [Circles].” They also revealed how producer Jon Brion had “dedicated himself to finishing Circles based on his time and conversations with Malcolm.”
The combination of Mac Miller’s tragic death and his emotive lyricism gives the album a strong melancholic feel
Circles fuses genres including lo-fi, R&B and indie folk, yet still manages to be a cohesive piece of work. The combination of Mac Miller’s tragic death and his emotive lyricism gives the album a strong melancholic feel. The sentiment is enhanced by chilling lyrics such as “well this is what it looks like right before you fall” and “there’s a whole lot more for me waiting on the other side”. This, along with the spellbinding rhythms, makes Circles a captivating album in which listeners may find themselves getting languidly lost. Soothing sounds and Miller’s relaxed rap, spoken word and singing style are dreamy to the ear and contrast with Miller’s fast-paced hip-hop sound from his earlier discography. There are still hints of his older style though, such as on the track Blue World.
Technically, it’s Miller’s strongest album. Throughout his career, Miller experimented with Hip-Hop, Contemporary Soul and Jazz. Circles sees Miller’s sound and innovation at an all-time high, as it’s perfectly sombre, clean and hypnotic. Brion’s influence is also evident, partly by the absence of Jazz.
Listeners are met with a Miller who appears to be experiencing internal anguish, desperate for peace of mind
The album provides insight into Miller’s intricate mind. The songs often come across as a stream of consciousness as Miller works through his depression. Listeners are met with a Miller who appears to be experiencing internal anguish, desperate for peace of mind. He expresses on the lead single Good News how he’s “so tired of being so tired” and questions “why I gotta build something beautiful just to set it on fire?” Like its companion album, Swimming, Circles explores themes including depression, love and loneliness. It’s Miller’s most sophisticated and textured album.
Tracks such as Woods and I Can See are beautifully devastating, bringing desolating insight into Mac Miller’s headspace around the time of his death. He confesses: “I need somebody to save me”. Although most of the album concentrates on his struggles, there are hints of optimism on tracks such as Hand Me Downs where he alludes to wanting a child.
Circles is a tough listen for fans. However, it perfectly encapsulates Miller’s talent and diversity. It acts as a poignant goodbye from Mac Miller to his fans, as Mac says himself on Circles: “until the day we have to meet again”.
Blossoms – Foolish Loving Spaces (Adam Goriparthi):
Blossoms are a timeless band: the indie group’s current look is straight from the ‘70s – daring flares and silky, long hair. They utilise the same party-vibes as ‘80s groups and their mischief & nonchalance mimics ‘90s Britpop. This combination has ‘blossomed’ into none other than their third album, Foolish Loving Spaces.
The lack of the trying to be ‘cool’ is so refreshing in an age of overnight pop hits
Foolish Loving Spaces refines frontman Tom Ogden’s song-writing (there is light-hearted simplicity to some of the lyrics) while also embracing groovy vibes (The Keeper) and chill tunes (My Swimming Brain). A lot of fun can be found here as the band are yet again creating music they genuinely enjoy – the lack of the trying to be ‘cool’ is so refreshing in an age of overnight pop hits.
Musically and lyrically, this album represents the balance between ambition and trust – having confidence and aspirations but also knowing when to trust people. Ogden chooses to impart relatable, touching stories of love and heartbreak.
Album opener If You Think This Is Real Life bursts with addictive, funky energy. The chorus is mildly repetitive but sometimes simple is better. Ogden flips between regret and the idea that everything works out in the end. Fleshed out by an undemanding and joyous riff, there is warmth from the start. This is cemented by the funky vibes found on Your Girlfriend and The Keeper.
The velvety My Swimming Brain adds a softer aspect to the album – a song that really reminds me of summer. The keyboard hook backing Sunday Was A Friend of Mine contrasts nicely with the more energetic Oh No (I Think I’m In Love) – an ABBA-like song that reminds you of how it feels to know you’re in love.
Pensive and introspective, it chooses to reflect: on love? Or on the music?
This is followed by Romance, Eh?. Arguably, the song can lean too far into a soppy ‘70s atmosphere at times. Nonetheless, it flips the album from celebratory tunes to chilling nostalgia. My Vacant Days and Falling For Someone are gentle and soothing – they encourage us to dream big and love hard. Like Gravity sombrely concludes an optimistic album. Pensive and introspective, it chooses to reflect: on love? Or on the music? It is a powerful way to end an album of fun.
Despite worries that Blossoms peaked with their eponymous debut album (and a lacklustre second album), Foolish Loving Spaces shows us their classic, ‘no-cares’ energy is back again. Admittedly, Ogden’s declaration of love becomes a little tedious at times (“I’ve never been so sure about it – can you tell?”) and experimenting with their sound a bit more wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nevertheless, Blossoms are back with an ambitious album – and it’s a lot of fun! Prepare to go to new places… and loving spaces.
Gemma Cockrell, Kiah Tooke, Lucinda Dodd and Adam Goriparthi
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