Music Reviews

A Year Of Music – December

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Amrit Virdi, Gemma Cockrell, Kit Sinclair and Kiah Tooke

As we leave 2020 behind, Impact has come together to share our reviews of the big albums that were released that year. In this article, we look at albums that were released in December.

December – Shawn Mendes, Bladee, Arctic Monkeys and Taylor Swift

Shawn Mendes – Wonder (Amrit Virdi):

In his fourth studio album, Canadian heartthrob Shawn Mendes made a somewhat lacklustre return to the industry with Wonder. In an attempt to stray away from his image of a boy with a guitar, there are some stellar tracks as Mendes makes use of grand orchestral backing and majestic crescendos, yet certain moments seem somewhat underwhelming as the tracks appear to be the variation of one theme – his love for girlfriend Camila Cabello.

The beautifully produced track grabs your attention instantly

The Intro to the album sets a concept as the listener is set to be “lost in Wonderland’,” and this gracefully flows into the lead single, and arguably the best track on the album, the title single Wonder. The raw and real lyricism surrounding issues of self-doubt paired with Mendes’ powerhouse vocals make it one of my favourite pop tracks of the year as the beautifully produced track grabs your attention instantly.

Mendes has some lighter moments on party track Higher and the catchy, feel-good 305, and it has to be said that the long-awaited collaboration between him and Justin Bieber on Monster is well-produced and provides an insight into the pressures of handling fame at a young age.

Yet the album arguably tries to be too grandiose; there are moments where the repetitive choral backings seem monotonous, and the lyricism, especially on the chorus’, could be developed as the star seems to have opted for the use of one line, or even one word, chorus’ on Always Been You and Dream.

After his previous self-titled record was cohesive and played to the best of Mendes’ song writing abilities, I personally think that Wonder, whilst not the star’s best record, is an important moment in time marking Mendes’ musical and personal journey. With him still being so young, I’m sure that there is much more to come from him and Wonder should not be taken as a representation of his full range of musical talent.

3 stars

Bladee – Good Luck (Gemma Cockrell):

Bladee’s third album of 2020, Good Luck is a collaboration with Berlin-based producer Mechatok. His label Year0001 describe it as “an eight-track project written amidst a sense of “impending doom” last winter, pairing meditative atmospheres with effervescent club arrangements, offering a captivating experience of pop as a spiritual form.” The two artists met through their mutual connections with the London club scene – Mechatok was a member of electronic music collective Bala Club, whereas Bladee is part of Swedish outlet Drain Gang. 

Luck is a metaphysical thing that doesn’t exist

Good Luck is about the duality of life,” Bladee and Mechatok explain in a press release. “When you say ‘good luck’ to someone, you’re kind of implying that there’s a good chance that it might not work out,” Mechatok elaborates. “Luck is a metaphysical thing that doesn’t exist. But everyone speaks of luck and can feel lucky,” Bladee adds.

Bladee freestyled all of the lyrics for the project whilst in the studio, rather than writing them beforehand. He has stated that he feels as if he used to say too much in his music in the past, so now takes the opposing approach of ‘less is more’, which we saw on his April release Exeter, as well as Good Luck. His aim in doing this is to make his music more approachable.

The album has a more pop-leaning sound than Bladee’s previous releases, with electronic club-inspired and dance-infused production. It conforms most closely to the Hyperpop genre, a genre which Bladee has hugely influenced, due to his artistic use of auto tune. Despite his experimentations proving to be divisive amongst fans, it is undeniable that Bladee is making the music that he wants to make, and he is making it for himself.

4 and a half stars

Arctic Monkeys – Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Kit Sinclair):

Arctic Monkeys, giants of the British indie rock scene, hardly require an introduction. Although their newest album released relatively unceremoniously in comparison to their previous offerings, the record is still a treat for devoted fans and casual listeners alike.

Live at the Royal Albert Hall, as the title suggests, is a live recording of a one-off show at the Royal Albert Hall in June 2018, with all proceeds going to War Child UK. And whilst the album contains no new material, the electric atmosphere in the hall more than makes up for it.

The whole band is on top form, rocketing through the classics from their early days

The majority of the setlist is taken from the band’s recent albums, AM and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, but there are enough crowd favourites from early Monkeys’ albums to make the album as close as fans might get to a greatest hits compilation. 

Frontman Alex Turner’s trademark swagger is as present as ever, oozing stage presence even through headphones. But the whole band is on top form, rocketing through the classics from their early days like it was yesterday – even if the live version of Brianstorm isn’t quite as bone-rattling as the original.

What really makes this record, however, is the atmosphere – excited shouts of recognition during a song’s opening, chanting to the famous Do I Wanna Know? riff, and screams halfway through Arabella due, as it turns out, to Turner deftly catching a pair of tights thrown from the audience. While music venues are forced to close their doors, Live at the Royal Albert Hall is an exhilarating, breathless reminder of what it is to experience music live.

“We are the Arctic Monkeys from High Green, baby!” hollers Turner in the first few minutes of the album, to rapturous applause. And if you close your eyes and let yourself be carried by the guitar and the crowd, it almost feels like you’re there, too.

4 and a half stars

Taylor Swift – evermore (Kiah Tooke):

Continuing with her indie-folk inspired sound, Taylor Swift surprises fans a second time with the release of her second album of 2020, evermore – the sister album of preceding album folklore. Whilst evermore holds many similarities with the stripped back country sound of folklore, Swift combines more of her previous album influences, resulting in evermore having a more diverse sound as Swift is unafraid to utilise more of her glossy pop side, last seen in 2017’s Reputation.

evermore encompasses feelings of longing, hope and heartbreak that are woven delicately throughout

Further perfecting her story telling abilities, evermore sees Swift once more showcase her poetic and nuanced lyrics; the devastating bridge of champagne problems, passionate chorus of tolerate it and descriptive narrative of country anthem no body, no crime being a testament to the talent Swift has for painting detailed scenes with her words.

Swift again features a Bon Iver collaboration with the title track evermore, a poignant piano ballad that sees her come full circle to a place of hope and confidence. Echoing this sentiment is long story short, an upbeat timeline of Swift’s feud with American rapper, Kanye West, and other public demonisations that finally ended in her finding comfort with long term partner, Joe Alwyn.

Holding a more developed mature sound, evermore encompasses feelings of longing, hope and heartbreak that are woven delicately throughout the album, never fixating too much on one particular idea. Although evermore holds several parallels with folklore, Swift is careful to make them unique, drawing on different themes and influences.

4 and a half stars

Amrit Virdi, Gemma Cockrell, Kit Sinclair 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-article images courtesy of @shawnmendes, @dg_bladee, @arcticmonkeys and @taylorswift via No changes were made to these images.

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