Music Reviews

A Year of Music – May – June

Gemma Cockrell, Amrit Virdi and Kiah Tooke

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 May and June.

May – Charli XCX, Yung Lean, The 1975 and Creeper:

Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now (Gemma Cockrell):

Charli XCX has been labelled ‘the future of pop music’, amidst the release of an album which is truly a product of its time. Written, recorded, produced and art-directed within a mere few weeks during the COVID-19 lockdown, How I’m Feeling Now captures the period of isolation and uncertainty experienced by the whole world. The only pre-COVID song on the record is Party 4 U, a previously unreleased fan favourite.

The making of the album was an immersive process for her fanbase – they contributed to the lyrics of tracks such as Anthems via Instagram livestreams, an email address was set up for them to send their artwork, and they even named one of the lead singles of the project. This single, titled Claws, has a euphoric EDM sound, produced by Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs – a collaboration which makes perfect sense in the light of Charli’s contributions to the ‘hyperpop’ genre.

Lyrically, the album is mostly an ode to long-term boyfriend Huck Kwong. After previously living long-distance on opposite sides of the country, and struggling to maintain their relationship, Charli quarantined with Kwong in her Los Angeles home. This lockdown enabled them to spend quality time together and strengthened their bond, ultimately saving their relationship, resulting in the recording of songs such as Forever, I Finally Understand, and 7 Years.

Once a mainstream pop star, Charli now specialises in a more underground form of pop music

It is worlds away from 2019’s glossy and boldly-titled record Charli, which boasted a huge guestlist of famous features. How I’m Feeling Now only features Charli’s own voice, but it was designed to be that way – it makes the record feel even more personal. Once a mainstream pop star, Charli now specialises in a more underground form of pop music, working alongside long-term producer and collaborator AG Cook to achieve a club-pop sound with glitchy, pitch-shifted vocals, a reflection of the music made by AG’s own label, PC Music.

It is no surprise that Charli speaks of missing parties during the pandemic, however, the truly special moments come from when she is at her most vulnerable. The result is an album which is a product of the pandemic, that completely captures the experience of life during the COVID-19 period. Once COVID-19 is in the past, it will be an album that will enable listeners to reminisce on what a crazy, unusual year 2020 was.

Yung Lean – Starz (Gemma Cockrell):

Yung Lean grew up in Sweden, a country entirely detached physically from the world of Western rap, with the only method of access being the internet, and with no defined or prominent hip-hop scene of its own. He therefore had to establish and invent his own, by combining these Western internet influences with elements born from his own creativity and imagination.

Soundcloud era of hip-hop – an era which arguably wouldn’t have even existed without him

He rapidly became one of the most interesting and influential figures in the rap scene when his 2013 single Ginseng Strip 2002 went viral. “Yeah, I’m only 23 but there’s like, like, ten?of?me,” he raps on the track Low, an acknowledging nod to his influence on the cloud-rap, Soundcloud era of hip-hop – an era which arguably wouldn’t have even existed without him.

Seven years since becoming a viral sensation, he returns with his fourth full-length album, titled Starz. It is the epitome of his artistic trajectory so far, combining a multitude of characteristics, sonic elements and mannerisms from Lean’s past releases, most notably his 2017 album Stranger, and 2016 mixtape Frost God.

However, whilst the ‘sad boy’ aesthetic originated as a parody at the start of his career, accompanied with witty nonsense lyrics and pop-culture references, now Lean depicts true emotion within his song-writing. Put Me in A Spell, Dance in The Dark, Butterfly Paralysed, and the title track Starz all discuss genuine pain and love in deep sincerity as he wrestles with his demons and strives for inner peace within his life.

Starz sees him strive to create something which he is proud of – something which takes itself seriously

Even though Lean insists his work has never been intentionally funny, Starz sees him strive to create something which he is proud of – something which takes itself seriously. Despite being slightly too long, with a track-list that could have been reduced by removing some filler tracks, the album overall sees Lean pouring a great deal of time and energy into the 16-track project that he describes as ‘his best work’.

The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form (Amrit Virdi):

Taking an experimental and dynamic approach, The 1975 finally returned with their fourth studio album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ in May, a year after its proposed release date, which offers a sound distinct to their prior releases.

The Manchester-based band open the album with a paramount statement from activist Greta Thunberg, who offered a necessary and timely warning about the dangers of climate change. Followed by screamo-rock track People, you expect the album to closely resemble rock-based protest music, yet the indie quartet continue to surprise their fans as what in fact follows is a genre-bending body of work, including elements of indie, country, pop and electronic garage music, and frontman Matty Healy revels in how ‘’indulgent and long’’ the  record is.

The intricate production and sonic-focus is evident in glitchy, eclectic and crescendo-like instrumentation tracks such as I Think There’s Something You Should Know, and the inclusion of orchestral strings in The End (Music For Cars) brings the ‘Music For Cars’ era to a defined close, as the absence of lyrics allows the majestic and movie-like instrumentation to shine.

Similarly, the absence of lyrics in Having No Head and Shiny Collarbone allow for the band to experiment in production heavy garage music, contrasting distinctly to the country collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers in Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America and the motive piano ballad Don’t Worry, a sombre end to the album and the era along with pop track Guys.

It is no doubt an emphatic statement that there is much more to come from the band

Whilst the band’s need to experiment and break the boundaries of their indie genre may make the record lack cohesion, it is no doubt an emphatic statement that there is much more to come from the band in the future as they continually evolve.

Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void (Kiah Tooke):

Southampton punk band Creeper made their highly anticipated return in July with the release of their second album, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void. Theatrically ending the previous album cycle of Eternity, In Your Arms, singer Will Gould echoed David Bowie’s words when ending the Ziggy Stardust era with ‘Not only is it the last show of this album campaign, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do’. After complete silence from the band for a whole year, their latest release marked a departure from their signature punk rock sound, to a more polished sound infused with Hollywood inspired glam rock and horror punk, a rebirth for the band overall.

Playing on their gothic image, the album opens with a dramatic spoken word poem

Strong lead singles Annabelle and Born Cold introduced the new style Creeper were experimenting with, both incorporating a sound more typical of rock and roll accompanied with lyrics stylised in their distinctive horror punk style. Playing on their gothic image, the album opens with a dramatic spoken word poem, Hallelujah, with other storyline spoken word parts being littered throughout the album in Celestial Violence and Holy War.

Contrasting the theatrical melodramatics that lies at the heart of the album, more laidback and stripped songs Four Years Ago and All My Friends diversify the album’s sound, proving that Creeper can produce both high energy anthems alongside more vulnerable pieces.

Ambitious and creative, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void introduces a more daring side of Creeper, unafraid to stray from the sound of previous releases. Carefully crafted using a wide scope of musical influences, the album demonstrates the band’s versatility and dedication to releasing unique pieces.

June – Phoebe Bridgers:

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher (Kiah Tooke):

The follow up to her 2017 debut album, Stranger in the Alps, LA singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers returns in 2020 with Punisher, an 11-track blend of emo-folk and indie rock that sees Bridgers’ song writing at its strongest and most candid. Littered with brutally honest anecdotes and bleak mediations on life, Bridgers soft double tracked vocals bring to life the darker parts of her world in a beautifully comforting and melancholic way.

Punisher never ceases to convey a highly detailed self-awareness in its serene melodies and soft guitar riffs

From discussing psychological construct of a saviour complex to the poetic apocalyptic narrative of I Know The End, Punisher never ceases to convey a highly detailed self-awareness in its serene melodies and soft guitar riffs. Bridgers’ lyrics range from the deadpan honesty of ‘We hate Tears in Heaven / But it’s sad that his baby died’ in Moon Song to the dreamlike recount of ‘The doctor put her hands over my liver / She told me my resentments getting smaller’ in Garden Song.

The title track Punisher refers to Bridgers’ favourite artist, Elliot Smith, whose influence can be seen in her similar darkly authentic song writing style and nods to his lyrics hidden throughout the album. The term ‘punisher’ has been coined to mean someone who doesn’t know when to stop talking; the lyrics to Punisher relate a scenario where Smith was alive to meet Bridgers and she became a ‘punisher’, in her words, ‘It’s like weird, fucked-up fan fiction’.

Punisher gained widespread critical acclaim for the LA singer, even being nominated for best alternative music album at the 63rd annual Grammy awards. Bridgers’ mastery in creating beautifully haunting scenes and imagery produce the effect of an emotional purge, warranting her gained recognition in the alternative music scene.

Gemma Cockrell, Amrit Virdi and Kiah Tooke

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

In articles images courtesy of @charli_xcx, @yunglean2001, @the1975, @creepercult, and @_fake_nudes_ via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

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