VINE (Jen Gloeckner, 2017)

Photo Credit: Spinning Head Records

Photo Credit: Spinning Head Records

Any return to the public with a new project after a long period of time can be a daunting and nerve-racking thing to go through — recorded in her bedroom, "VINE" is Jen Gloeckner's third album and also her first in several years. However, after exploring her earlier material, I make it a firm point to state that Gloeckner has only improved over time, and what a delicious indulgence this album is as a result.

"VINE" is striking yet contemplative. It is harrowingly vibrant yet compassionately subdued. There's a duality to this record that I haven't come across very often, similar to the approach taken with "Silver Eye" by Goldfrapp. But rather than cleanly separate the various atmospheres presented like on that record, "VINE" indulges in the art of distortion, which can be just as powerful as precision-cut cleanliness if not more so.

There's a consistent crackling energy present throughout this 11-track release, and quite honestly it is a coat of many colours. You'd be hard-pressed to not find at least one track that doesn't speak to you. Touches of modern sheen and emotional psychedelia collide in a thunderclap of sonic depth that reinvigorates the senses and hooks you in. It piques your curiosity enough to leave you yearning for more, and before long you'll have gone through each track without even noticing. Despite the vast differences between tracks in terms of atmosphere and emotional conveyance, I find that "VINE" flows much more graciously than some albums that take similar approaches. 

Video Credit: Jen Gloeckner / Spinning Head Records

Opener "Vine" is whimsical yet dystopian. It's a stunning concoction of sounds that continues to evolve as it goes on. In a way, the title track really does encapsulate the evolutionary theme of this record, and I can't praise it enough for doing exactly what an opener should do. Unlike on so many other records, "Vine" sets the stage for the ever-changing show you're about to experience.

A definite standout is the next track, "Firefly (War Dance)". It shimmies along into a building drumbeat, tribal in nature yet future-facing in execution, and backed with a tinge of desert rock influence. It produces a deep, expansive atmosphere that dares to be different, and I honestly can't get enough of it. 

Other standouts include "Blowing Through", with it's torch-song demeanour that just sucks you right in to a time of decadence and wonder, and the upbeat "Prayers", reminiscent of that elusive track from the early 2000s which really spoke to you. The latter provides such a thoughtful nostalgia trip and really takes me back, but at the same time it feels like a song that has grown with me over the years despite being released just this year. Gloeckner's vocal range serves as a hugely definitive standout of this song, steeped in contemplation and presence.

Video Credit: Jen Gloeckner / Spinning Head Records

Video Credit: Jen Gloeckner / Spinning Head Records

"Sold" is another gem here, rumbling through and hooking you along with delicate ivory tickings, electro-layered synths, and soaring vocals that dance like wind over the hills. Also, be sure to consult "Counting Sheep" for a delicious indulgence in dreamlike ethereality, akin to an Enya recording tinged with gentle drumbeats and floaty sonic accents. 

The absolute must-listen track on "VINE" in my opinion, however, has to be "Colors". It is the most raw, organic, and utterly transcendent piece on the entire record, without question. Gloeckner's lower register is at the forefront, caressed by luscious string arrangements and vocal layering. It's simple, powerful, and unlike anything else on the album. To provide an alternative to the electronic sensations present on most other tracks is brave, but to outperform the stunning remainder of "VINE" tenfold with a simpler arrangement? 

That's what I like to call true artistry.

I've sat and meditated on this record's voice and sonic atmosphere for some time now, and I feel more than comfortable in stating that it is truly evolutionary in nature. Not only does it grow on you, it leaves you craving more. To be able to achieve such a thing is rare, and even my favourite artists don't often reach such peaks in their careers. "VINE" is most definitely an evolution of Jen Gloeckner's career as an artist, but it elevates her artistry into the future. It will only be a matter of time before this album is more widely known, and I unbiasedly wish to state right now that it is a pleasure and utter delight to have such a record in my collection. Bravo. No music is ever perfect, and this record is no different — there are tracks that don't speak to me as much — but someone else out there most definitely will love them, and that makes "VINE" a beautiful thing. It evolves according to what people glean from it, and modern plastic pop music can't even consider to come close to achieving such a result. 

 

 

Review materials graciously provided by Spinning Head Records.

Silver Eye (Goldfrapp, 2017)

Photo Credit: Mute, Goldfrapp

Photo Credit: Mute, Goldfrapp

Change is a beautiful and vital — if often misunderstood — aspect of an artist's creative process. No matter how subtle or major an alteration, they continue to evolve and shift thematically through time. Obviously, this is because artists are living human beings and experience personal journeys full of life, death, laughter and countless surprises. But also consider the fact that there are artists out there who dare to be different — even when solely compared to their previous work.

There are some true masters of injecting this humanity into their work via change itself as a malleable entity. Goldfrapp, comprised of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, are a prime example of this meticulous, deeply personal craft in primal action. The duo's new record, "Silver Eye", has been long-awaited by fans and critics for four excruciatingly long years, made more painful by the band's understandable tendency to vanish into the shadows of musical solace once an album era is over.

Honestly, given how sublime and dynamic "Silver Eye" is, I can more than forgive them for the wait. As always, the band refuses to return until they have something worth your time and, in that, being an admirer of the band's music is a lesson in wisdom and patience in regards to human nature. It's really quite fascinating how the relationship between the band and their fans is more like a supportive friendship that brings with it life lessons.

In fact, human nature itself is a prevalent theme throughout this svelte yet effective ten-track record. Never ones to repeat previous sounds, Alison and Will have dissected many of the atmospheres presented in their previous releases in a sort of revisitation and contemplation of their essence. Utopian electronic backdrops and ticklish plucks of mysterious instrumentation are injected from "Felt Mountain". The ragged, deliciously filthy growls and melt-your-face-off synths of "Black Cherry" are resurrected in full form — much to the thrill of many a longtime fan. "Supernature" is in fact reinvigorated through lush, swirling balladry and deep, honey-coated vocalization in the more downtempo tracks on the record, akin to the 2005 album's long-forgotten but immaculate "Let It Take You", which is easily one of their greatest tracks ever released. Still, the DNA from these projects has been twisted and transmogrified into a totally different beast altogether.

A beast that never was, if you will.

Video Credit: Goldfrapp, Mute

But enough strolling down memory lane. The opening four tracks of "Silver Eye" are specially engineered to grab your full attention. "Anymore" is a radio-friendly romp through glistening distortion and raunchy synths, true, but there's a future-facing vibe to it that gives the simplistic yet impactful track an added sense of depth. A fun fact: some of the lyrics just might be recycled material from a never-released track. "All Night Operator: Part 1", a b-side to the band's single "Number 1", featured the astonishingly similar lyrics, "I'll connect you to the other side", and a second part was never released. It could very well be that this album is even more related to the "Supernature" era than we might think. In fact, I'm surprised nobody else has caught this striking similarity. Compare the lyrics to "Anymore" to "All Night Operator" and see for yourself.

Then, the band brings out the big guns. Enter "Systemagic" — an incredible electro-tribal romp that I can only describe as a beautiful explosion that I'm sure my speakers had an electro-orgasm presenting. Easily my favourite track on the album, it screams, shimmies and refuses to relent. This is Goldfrapp's most powerful and stomping track since "Train", "Slippage" or even "Strict Machine", I daresay. If there's one track you check out from this album, make it "Systemagic". Will Gregory, do give yourself a round of applause, as it's one of your best yet.

I'm almost wanting to beg you to hear it, really.

Video Credit: Goldie Locks (YouTube), BBC Radio 6 Music, Goldfrapp

Other highlights include the beautifully wild, growling "Tigerman" — which is like a Kate Bush recording sucked into the vacuum of space and chased with interstellar drums — and the gender-focused electric stomper "Become The One", complete with clever lyric delivery and tribal electro-instrumentation. Following up is the decadent "Faux Suede Drifter", which caresses the eardrums with some of Alison Goldfrapp's most unique and innocently beautiful vocal treatments in years. The lyrics presented illustrate it as one of her most deeply personal and soulful tracks in recent memory — possibly since "Let It Take You" back in 2005. 

"Zodiac Black" is a must-listen, very much akin to the dark, alien future of Rare's 2000 video game Perfect Dark — a distinctive and warbling dystopian sound I've longed for the band to revisit since their remix of Lady Gaga's "Judas" several years ago. Again, some of Alison's best vocals are presented in the thundering soundscape of this track. "Beast That Never Was", with a thoughtful emphasis on space and sonic structure, is a very special track that wouldn't feel out of place if instrumentally recorded for a mid-nineties Donkey Kong Country game. It feels like the one-off of the album — it has a certain presence that I can't identify in any other track.

"Everything Is Never Enough" just might have been lifted (or to some, rescued) from the "Head First" era of 2010, and it's a breath of fresh air I didn't know I wanted following the beautiful yet similar downtempo whirling of the previous three tracks on the record. Injected with a unique blend of dystopian optimism and retro throwback, it's a wonderfully detailed piece. It's ever-changing, feeling out-of-place and then right at home as it goes along. Following up is "Moon In Your Mouth", a blissfully addictive piece that I can only hope receives an extended version with an extra chorus. Majestic lyrics such as "Every moment is a luxury" offer a decadent glimpse into Alison Goldfrapp's humanity and reflectivity. The delivery and synth-addled soundscape almost makes one want to reach out and provide the solace this beautiful woman's voice hungers for. It's just incredible.

Video Credit: Mute, Goldfrapp

Video Credit: Mute, Goldfrapp

"Ocean" is the closing track for "Silver Eye", and with the band's focus on the harmonies and connections between humanity and nature it feels like a fitting conclusion. But don't expect another one of "the slow-eys" as the band term them; this is a daring leap back into the explosive personality of earlier tracks in the record, yet it feels completely separate and one-of-a-kind. With angry, raw and beautifully vicious opening vocals which were recorded in one take that was impossible to repeat, "Ocean" roars into life like a great wave that sucks the shore dry before pounding back with strength unfurled tenfold. The chorus is one of the most impressive in the band's entire repertoire thanks to Alison Goldfrapp's vocals amidst a backdrop of shimmering synths akin to TRON: Legacy-era Daft Punk meets "Tomorrow's Harvest" - era Boards of Canada (the latter being recently discovered Alison and influencing the production of the record). Will Gregory has never been more on-point, precise and masterful at his craft. I can almost picture strobe lighting and wind tunnels encapsulating figures in ever-trailing fabrics when hearing this closer. This is how you end an album. 

Photo Credit: Mute, Goldfrapp

Photo Credit: Mute, Goldfrapp

"Silver Eye" is a beast of a record that dares to be different in a way that's unique from other Goldfrapp records — and yes, I highly suggest listening to it all in one sitting to gain a better understanding of the method behind this beautiful madness. Each track is a unique entity possessing a different heartbeat, and in fact when strung together into a project such as this, they all meld together quite (system)magically. While previous record "Tales Of Us" has a special place in my heart and is still a record I play on vinyl regularly, "Silver Eye" is just too damn fascinating and multi-faceted to leave aside for long. As much as I am an admirer of this band and their journey, I'm not letting it impact my overall opinion on the record itself as a separate, non-related work.

And you know what? It's amazing. "Silver Eye", named in honour of the moon, is a deeply reflective and sharp project that dares to contemplate the stars, seas and very air we breathe amidst a swirling sea of synths and crackling electricity. Combining Alison Goldfrapp's beautifully fragile vocals with Will Gregory's meticulous attention to sonic detail makes perfect sense. "Silver Eye" is mechanical, transformative, and all-in-all one hell of a return from a tragically-forgotten duo of musical geniuses.

And that's a term I do not use lightly.

Young Mopes (Louise Burns, 2017)

Photo Credit: Light Organ Records

Photo Credit: Light Organ Records

Louise Burns is known for her lush voice that shifts effortlessly between shimmering subtleness and fiery angst, but her records themselves boast highly-layered atmospheres that bathe the listener in sonic brilliance. Her long-awaited 2017 release, "Young Mopes", continues this trend but adds a dash of spice and moody grunge that makes for one hell of a sonic journey.

It was worth the wait, and without question is a worthy successor to her spellbinding 2013 release, "The Midnight Mass."

I'm almost tempted to compare this album to Stevie Nicks' "The Wild Heart", as both followed a brilliant record before them, but didn't do away with the formula that made those previous albums so great. Of course, with "Young Mopes", there's a deeper emphasis on changing with the times but maintaining the soul of Louise's first two albums. That shimmering, retro-esque atmosphere is Louise herself. This presence of multi-layered vocals, echoing guitar plucks, and a tinge of folk merged with retro synthpop conveys the complexities and sheer depth of Burns' lyrics and personal journey, reflected upon each track. To be able to maintain one's personality and humanity in this ever-changing world of device-dependent plasticity is a triumph in itself.

Some fantastic tracks from "Young Mopes" include the opener, "Who's The Madman", which romps along with folky, catchy guitar chords that build into a lush soundscape of beautifully presented vocal treatments and echo effects. It's like something that would fit into the soundtrack of Thelma & Louise. Deeply reflective lyrics ("Who's the madman who make-believes that everything's all right") make it, like most of Burns' tracks, a fantastic thought-provoker.

"Storms" is an absolute favourite of mine on the album. A straining yet determined electric acoustic guitar grinds out a haunting melody, leading into some fantastic drum effects and evocative, almost mockingly presented vocals by Burns. It has a pace and rhythm that keeps you hooked, and frankly it's a real thrill to listen to. The chorus, reminiscent of a series of waves or drops on a rollercoaster, is particularly exciting and works very well. I'd love to hear more tracks like this from Louise and company.

Video Credit: Stereogum, Light Organ Records. Directed by Exquisite Corps (Justin Gradin + Ben Jacques).

Another huge standout is the haunting "Moonlight Shadow", which in my opinion really must be included on the soundtrack for an upcoming season of Stranger Things. The deep, growling synth and guitar combo added with the fantastic opening vocals makes for a hugely harmonious yet beautifully dark song — another Burns staple that I'm so happy remains in 2017 (though hopefully, Louise herself isn't in a dark place). "Pharaoh", the first single released from the new album, is a radio-friendly romp through a lush wilderness of soaring choruses and pounding drums, but don't mistake it for being a weak track. In fact, it's one of the best this Polaris-nominated artist has put out in years, and it served as a really engaging and fitting song to return with. 

Video Credit: Light Organ Records

"Young Mopes", the title track, is another must-listen. The otherworldliness present in the form of its synthesized background makes for a delicacy for the ears, particularly well-utilized when Burns builds into one of her very best choruses, perhaps as great as "Emeralds Shatter" from 2013. This song has some of the best lyrics on the album ("Everything happens for one hundred reasons, that's what they tell you, then you're alone"), and honestly I can see why the album was named after it. It's that great. There are some tracks I'm not so keen on here and there, but I must make it clear that it's only because of the way words are repeated in them when Burns' lyricism is typically profound and ever-flowing, so really I was spoiled by the rest of the album, and went in expecting more of the same. Those tracks are certainly growing on me, particularly "Hysteria", with its powerful growl and kick. One thing this album has taught me is to never expect the "if it's not broken, don't fix it" formula in any creative medium. That in itself has trained me to approach each track on an album from a singular, isolated perspective.

If a record can help somebody reconsider their way of thinking or their perception in some way, then it really is a work of art in my opinion. I can't emphasize how great the tracks are on "Young Mopes" that I've highlighted, and due to none of them being available online for linkage, you'll just have to check them out on iTunes or other services as they are utterly wonderful. Much respect to Louise Burns and company for putting out a solid, soulful and effortlessly evocative album. It's going to be in several of my playlists for a very long time. This is a fantastic soundtrack for a road trip of self-rediscovery and reflection with the top down and the volume cranked, snacks packed and horizons endless.

Try it.

 

 

Familiar Touch (DIANA, 2016)

Photo Credit: Culvert Music, DIANA

Photo Credit: Culvert Music, DIANA

When nostalgic, a human mind flickers with images of moments and experiences from that individual's own past. Myself, I see countless hours glued to the Nintendo 64, and playing with Hot Wheels in the mud of our driveway. No regrets, either.

Sound, however, can stretch our nostalgic vision beyond our own years here on Earth, making it feel like we've been around individually for an eternity. It's an infinitely powerful storytelling tool that can capture the essence of a bygone era that we never lived in, yet with which we feel a special connection.  

That's the magic of DIANA's sophomore release, "Familiar Touch". It is the Eighties, resurrected and given a shot of the modern avant-garde in the arm. Warm, gooey synths and succulent multi-layered tracks are the star of this record, and there's not a subpar number on it as a result. When the band responsible for 2013's "Perpetual Surrender" (featuring the transcendently beautiful title track that's an instant classic in my eyes) returned with this new record, it felt as if they hadn't changed their essence and personality to cater to trends. These guys just plain care about making great music.

Video Credit: Indie88 Toronto, DIANA

This is the firm truth, for once you take a listen to "Familiar Touch", it indeed does evoke familiar sensations brought upon by DIANA's debut release four years ago. Definite standouts include "What You Get", which with its pounding drums and plucking electro-guitar chords wouldn't feel out of place on a Tears for Fears album. The chorus is vivid and shimmering — elevated by Carmen Elle's on-point vocals — but the actual soundscape is a character in itself that evokes the sensation that the instruments are equally important voices. This applies to much of "Familiar Touch", and it makes for a cohesive and impactful listen. Often I don't even notice that I've listened to the entire album several times on shuffle due to each track mingling so well with one another. Nothing feels out of place, even during the opening spoken segments on the ethereal "Miharu" which normally I'd detest. It just works here, from a storytelling perspective. 

Video Credit: DIANA

Another standout track is opener "Confession" with its groovy rhythm and hooks, accompanied by some fantastic lyrics and overall production. The band made the right decision in selecting this one to lead the journey listeners take when listening to the album. Other must-listens include the funky, brass-tinged "Slipping Away" and the majestic "The Coward" — the latter of which possesses some of Elle's most seductive and beautiful vocals (I consider it the band's equivalent to Goldfrapp's "Let It Take You"). I only wish it were twice as long.

"Helpless" is another wonderful number, evoking the sensation of being adrift in electro-spattered rainfall with an electronic thunderstorm echoing and cracking in the distant background. I could have done with more songs akin to "Perpetual Surrender" or the immaculate "Curtains" from the band's debut release, but one can't expect them to adhere to repeating themselves. The distinctive DIANA sound that I term "modern meets moment" is still very much present, albeit tweaked into a funkier, more retro-tinged sound that feels as if it had been locked in a vault for decades, waiting for the right band to present it.

The ironic thing is how floaty and dream-like the record is despite the lyrics for several tracks being brooding, deeply personal and deliciously dark. In actuality, this adds yet another layer of personality and depth to the project in typical DIANA fashion. It all feels so much more fleshed-out and positively human than many other albums of a similar soundscape or atmosphere. Particular standouts for lyrics alone are "Slipping Away", "The Coward", "Moment of Silence", and "Helpless", though you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason not to listen to the other tracks on offer here.

Video Credit: Indie88 Toronto, DIANA

That's the brilliance of "Familiar Touch" — that rarely-achieved authentic modern worship of the Eighties merged harmoniously with the band's signature vocals, lyrics, and production. It makes me wonder what they'll be up to next. Honestly, to the band I say take your time. They respect sound as an entity and if you need proof of that, just take a listen to their music. A wonderful addition to any record collection. Carmen, Joseph and Kieran have outdone themselves here and I applaud their creative vision in regards to this record.

The sound contained within this record just takes you back there... even if you've never been. That's the power of great music. And if DIANA stops by close to you on a tour, do yourself a favour and just go. The music comes to life and you feel an even stronger punch of nostalgic solace when they hit the stage. 

Autotune and plastic lyrics about selfies will never come close to what actually respecting this medium can achieve.

Woman (Rhye, 2013)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A breathtaking collection of whimsical acoustics, "Woman" is something incredibly special and heartfelt. The band behind this unique album consists of Canadian artist Milosh and Danish instrumentalist Robin Hannibal, and most people haven't had the pleasure of discovering either of these two. Combined, they form Rhye, the collective creative mind behind this 2013 release that has captured my heart. Unquestionably. There's a reason it was long-listed for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize. 

Because it's just so damn beautiful.

There's a very special sound here - a refined yet playful je n'est sais quois, if you will. This brilliant little Polydor release is airy, flirty and seductive, like a long-awaited caress from a crush you've been hungering for. It simply feels amazing; a strange thing to state, true, but this is just one of those albums that can trigger every good feeling and evoke a "welcome home" atmosphere no matter where you are. The meticulously plucked strings in each track suggest that a great deal of focus, contemplation and heartfelt passion went into each note.

Opener and major hit "Open" sweeps you into an audible dustpan of innuendos and deep grooves. It's a fantastic introduction to the sweet and decadent sound present throughout the record. The chorus features a great hook that pulls you in and cavorts in your ears. Moving into the funk-addled "Last Dance", the tempo picks up and a newfound sense of energy becomes prevalent. Cheeky horns and layered vocals form the heartbeat of this great little number.

Other standouts include the shimmering "Verse", which behaves very much like a muted midnight encounter along a tropical shoreline. Again, Milosh's layered vocals take centre stage here, like much of the record. His voice is simply on point and faultless in these ten tracks, flowing like waves and gently lapping against Hannibal's brilliant arrangements (in fact, many couldn't tell that the vocals were from a male singer due to the way the album was arranged, produced and layered, resulting in an air of beautiful mystery and refined elegance). "3 Days" is one of the best tracks on "Woman" and, despite not knowing what to expect upon hearing the harp-addled intro, it breaks into an edgy yet familiar beat that feels welcoming. This track really captures the special essence and atmosphere that Rhye were going for - that of decadence, emotion, sexuality and attraction. "3 Days" is playful, delicate, inspiring and undeniably addictive in execution. 

"One Of Those Summer Days" follows, slowing down to a crawl - the morning after "3 Days" had passed - and it's a beautiful thing to hear. A finely-plucked guitar echoes in the background through the dreamlike haze, inviting Milosh's gorgeous vocals to slow your pulse. It's a therapeutic yet contemplative piece that, with a brilliant string and horn arrangement mingled with electronic influence - works like a daydream. Closing out the album is the torturously short yet seductive "Woman". Acting as the true definition of the album, this title track merely contains that single word uttered over and over again. Without hearing the track, one might assume it could be the most boring and dull concept. But listen to it. What Rhye does here is sheer magic. A playful synthesizer introduces the track, plopping along before increasing in depth and scale. Milosh's vocals then enter the fray, uttering that one word continuously, but dragging it out so much that it becomes nearly incoherent but unashamedly passionate and human. It's fantastic. The production values really help add to the swirling immersion and prowess of what would otherwise be a simple track.

That's the magic of this album; the execution and attention to detail. It's like entering an old car. On the outside, it may be curiously outdated-looking or alien, but inside it feels warm, inviting and humbling. The craftsmanship is evident in each stitch of leather. The grooves ribbing along the seat like the bones of a whale. The polished steering wheel that looks as if it were made of mahogany, lovingly accenting the finely-attuned instrumentation and dials that click in an ever-so-satisfying manner. It's a slinky, smooth and succulent experience.

Music can provide the exact same sense of immersion, and that is why "Woman" will remain, in my opinion, one of the most dignified and personal albums of recent years - not just because of the subject matter it covers so eloquently, but the depth and near-insane level of polish behind it. A fine recording deserving of a listen, and a band that deserves all the praise in the world for such an incredible feat. It's a wonderful exploration of relationships, intimacy and undying passion. Despite only having ever released this one album so far, Rhye has made a lasting impression with this project alone.

Video Credits: RhyeVEVO, John Theod, Madien Nacheva, Ashley (Youtube)

The Other Side Of The Mirror (Stevie Nicks, 1989)

An album that few speak of, the ever-mystical "The Other Side Of The Mirror" is, in my opinion, one of the best solo releases by the bohemian powerhouse of Fleetwood Mac fame.

Why?

It's Stevie Nicks in her most vulnerable, raw and utterly visceral form. Even under influences of addiction and other personal demons, her personality and emotions shine through. Ironically, in this particular release is where Nicks gets utterly shameless and fiery. It's perfect because of the imperfection resulting from her struggles during this period of her career. It's honest, brutal and timeless, really. 

Credit: Lady From The Mountain: A Stevie Nicks Fansite

Opener "Rooms On Fire" lunges into a crackling chorus with harmonies that have rarely met their match to this day. Lyrics that deal with Nicks' struggles with love and relationships ignite the track, injecting energy. In fact, that is where this album really shines and escapes the suffocation of Nicks' personal distress; she's screaming out for guidance through the lyrics, track by track. It couldn't get any more reflective (perhaps hinted at in the lyrics "turn to the crystal blue mirror" on the swanky number "Juliet").

Other favourites include the imposing "Long Way To Go". The fiery, ever-introspective lyrics such as "it's a real long way to go, say goodbye, I thought we already did that, have fun tell the world" nearly suffocate the edgy riffs that pepper along ferociously. Despite a weak title, "Ooh My Love" is one of the best "half-ballads" on the album. Behaving very much like "Talk To Me" from Nicks' previous release, "Ooh My Love" boasts rapturous hooks, heavy drums, lyrics detailing a fall from grace of sorts and, of course, Nicks' vocals lovingly harmonized with backing vocalists Lori Nicks and Sharon Celani (her secret weapons).

"Ghosts" should have been one of Nicks' greatest hits. It possesses (no pun intended) all of the hallmarks of an iconic Eighties arena rock hit, checking the same boxes as Heart's "Alone" and similar hit songs of the period. Synthesizers not out of place in a nostalgic session with a favourite Nintendo game of one's youth, a soaring chorus that pulls at the heartstrings, and a production value that brought an electric energy are all present on the thumping track. Another track that could have been equally successful is "Cry Wolf", which features one of Nicks' best and most explosive choruses since "How Still My Love". 

The one track that perfectly captures Stevie Nicks as a human being following her own personal journey, complete with ups and downs, is the utterly magnificent "Doing The Best That I Can (Escape From Berlin)". It screams survival. It screams power. It screams in the form of Nicks, naked with all of her imperfections, serving as the ironically perfect essence of raw determination and personal struggle. It yearns to express that nobody understands her journey except for herself. It's true. We have no idea what she went through as a human being away from the spotlight. That's why this song is so very important, and an essential listen. It is a triumph in execution, particularly on Nicks' part obviously. Every lyric is a home run, a shameless straightening of one's back under distress. This one song not only serves as the defining moment on "The Other Side Of The Mirror", but one of the greatest and most personal defining moments of Nicks' entire career. Coupled with a synthesized atmosphere on the studio version that surely inspired the makers of the Bond film "Goldeneye", you owe it to yourself to give this a listen. 

The atmosphere of "The Other Side Of The Mirror" is full of dread, uncertainty, introspection and a firm reluctancy to give up. All of these things, mingled into one cohesive record, can feel overwhelming or even confusing to some. In fact, I doubt that many people truly appreciate this record for what it is. Perhaps some will consider it in a different light, in time. As they say, artists aren't truly appreciated until after they've passed on. Same as how people posthumously elevated their worship and appreciation of David Bowie and Prince for not just their music, but who they were as human beings, Stevie Nicks will likely receive the same treatment. Still, the Queen of Rock has many years ahead. Listening to her raw, personal struggles through this record is a form of respecting her as a person; also consider that respect is a thing that has become less and less practiced in this plastic age - a lost art, if you will. There are no excuses or agendas that justify it. Besides that, this is simply an edgy, exciting record (bar a few tracks such as "Two Kinds Of Love" and "Juliet" that can be a little grating) that deserves a good, enthused listen.

She was doing the best that she could. She tried hard to change. And she did. We had no business to know what she was going through at the time, and we still don't. But one can still hear her pain, her struggle and determination to survive. I may write this as a die-hard Stevie fan (not exaggerating - take a look at my logo and you'll notice it mimics the colour scheme of this album's cover, and is designed to be a reversed, minimalistic form of Stevie's stance on the cover itself), but also as somebody who sympathizes and refuses to judge her journey; a journey that we have no business to judge or snoop into. That's the beauty of this woman, and this record; the preservation of struggle for others to learn from or be inspired by without the need of opening the doors to a private past. This is why Stevie Nicks is so loved and relatable to our own struggles, as well as why her solo career has been so successful; she isn't afraid to be herself. Music has to be personal to make an impression, after all.  


All rights remain with their respective parties and rightful owners. No copyright infringement intended.

Surfacing (Sarah McLachlan, 1997)

This is the sound of the Nineties, in every way, shape and form. A unique, humanity-driven sound that is an art nearly lost in this plastic modern age. 

The visceral, timeless "Surfacing", a staple of Nineties Canadiana, was and will remain one of the most deep and precise compilations in our history. It is truly that good. McLachlan poured so much of her own essence and heartbeat into the making of this record that one can nearly follow the rhythm of each track to her breaths and shimmering voice. This album was built around her, but out of glass rather than plastic, allowing for a deep, personal journey mapped out in the ten tracks on the record.

Of course, no words will ever do these songs justice, particularly since most of the songs on "Surfacing" are extremely popular and continue to be added to McLachlan's setlist nearly twenty years later (and yes, it really has been that long already). Standouts obviously include the opener and smash hit "Building A Mystery". Right from the opening guitar twangs tinged with that oh-so-nostalgic Nineties echo, you're hooked. And there's no shame in not letting go of every second of this fantastic track as it echoes and hammers along in mystical fashion. Following along into the dream-like, hazy "I Love You", you can hear the remorse and tenderness in McLachlan's voice as she calls out to what could have been an ideal relationship that she never was brave enough to confront - a deep, raw crush that many of us have gone through in similar circumstances, surely.

Then, the sweeping synths of "I Love You" are overtaken by an echoing signal - an alarm or warning, even. This is the aptly titled "Sweet Surrender", one of McLachlan's most iconic tracks yet (resulting from the familiar alone - too many times have I noticed people stop when shopping to listen for a moment when that electronic siren blares through the speakers). The appropriateness of the track title is that one can't help but be sucked in to the chasm of electronic prowess, veiled by McLachlan and her backup singers belting out a shimmering, siren-like chorus. Following that is the spellbinding "Adia", a real tour-de-force. As soon as those first few deep piano keys plunk and lead into this heartfelt ballad, one can sense that they're about to enter another intricate, lush musical atmosphere. "Adia" and McLachlan do not disappoint. The soaring chorus and powerful backing arrangements feel like greeting an old friend at the door and inviting them in for coffee after years of lingering in the darkness alone.

A personal favourite, for several reasons, is the track that follows. "Do What You Have To Do" is, at the risk of sounding prejudiced, McLachlan's finest creation in her entire career. It saved my own life when I needed saving the most. For years in the Quebec countryside, living under the control of fear, oppression and an existence as a trophy to a malevolent pair of guardians, I found solace in this one song. Through the muffled, muted cold and past hungry wildlife, I walked, unsure of where the road went but half-hopeful it led to silence. Through my headphones, Sarah spoke to me. She kept me going with those same three minutes and forty-seven seconds. They're the best minutes of my life in regard to how much influence the music had on me. The muted, suffocated piano evoking it's player performing in an empty, echoing void mirrored my existence. It made me feel less alone and more capable of getting through the existence I was in. In a biased, inward-thinking society I continued to just survive. I made it out thanks to the empowering words in that track, and I'm forever grateful for how Sarah's music helped me through. Perhaps you will feel similarly, dear reader, once you take a listen to this transcendent piece of music. It may speak to you differently, or simply be too much to process. But the heartbeat is there, rest assured. That is the power of music, unquestionably.

Moving on, we enter the airy, shimmering atmosphere of "Witness", another deep cut that deserves recognition as a striking and personal foray through darkness and light. McLachlan, like on the rest of the record, is at the top of her game here. Her methods in lyric delivery are staggering - something that is specially confined to the albums "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy", "Afterglow" and of course, "Surfacing". There's something indescribable about this period of her career - an influence that gave the music extra soul and rawness in such a beautiful form. Following that, McLachlan unloads the big gun. You all know.

"Angel". 

Fitting, that her most famous song is the most deeply rooted, emotionally charged and brutally open. McLachlan is carving out her chest here, baring all without shame. And it's splendid. I commend her for such presence and true, unrelenting tenderness. Few artists reach such a point in their entire careers, let alone within the span of a few minutes on a single track. This is why McLachlan is deserving of such praise - the music she makes is real. This is a lost art, and it must be resurrected in a more widespread manner to maintain our humanity. The plastic, sugary corporate pop music of the modern day is utterly cringeworthy and depressing - ironically, more so than tearful ballads such as "Angel" and "Do What You Have To Do". And that's saying something. Think about it for a moment - let this observation rattle your mind.

One more standout is the groovy yet harmoniously pleasing "Black And White" - another personal favourite. It churns and flows along, weaving in and out of ethereal waves and jazzy piano mingled with sharp drum arrangements. The lyrics "Don't disappoint them" are an underlying theme as McLachlan expresses a need for understanding, all whilst drowning in electronic synths and strings and occasionally surfacing to cry out. Following that, all settles down for the angelic "Full Of Grace". This one is a jewel of the album, really. It increasingly bursts with energy and life as it goes on, with jungle drums and a choir of backing vocals serenading amidst McLachlan's empowering lyrics. 

Closing the album, one last track of note is the otherworldly yet homey "Last Dance". Acting as a step through time and into an uncertain future, this plonking old-timey piano ballad serves as the perfect conclusion of a deeply personal musical journey. It's short, honey-sweet and every bit as evocative as the rest of "Surfacing". It even ties into the album title in terms of atmosphere - one can envision rising to meet the challenges of life, of floating to the surface and light after so very long cast adrift in the depths of darkness. It's melancholic yet inspiring at the same time - a staple of McLachlan's music in this era, particularly. 

Perhaps you've noticed that every track on "Surfacing" is mentioned here as a standout. That was no mistake. This album is fully appreciated when heard in its entirety. It can heal, bring tears, inspire and empower all in one cycle. It's a journey worth embarking on. The age of that signature Nineties Canadiana sound found in works of the era by artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Amanda Marshall and others is long gone, but that hasn't stopped the music from meeting the challenges of time and winning without a scratch. In conclusion, "Surfacing" might be the album that's been missing; the one little musical void that you've been yearning to fill, so to speak. 

Bring an old friend into your home that you didn't know you had. "Surfacing" is an album for humanity.

  

Tomorrow's Harvest (Boards of Canada, 2013)

Escapism comes in many forms, but escapism through surrealism is something of a rare occurrence. Enter "Tomorrow's Harvest", the bombastic release by the ever-elusive Boards of Canada. This is a record designed and engineered to make one think, feel and breathe fresh perspectives. It is, quite literally, intended to get those brain juices flowing.

As such, this record has proven instrumental (pardon the pun) in serving as background atmosphere during the writing of short fiction, content for this website and even a manuscript for my debut novel (a project which matures beautifully with each passing day). The way each track is arranged and orchestrated acts as a temporary expansion of one's mentality; it encourages increasing the speed at which our gears turn and lightbulbs flicker, so to speak.

Opener "Gemini" acts as one of the most solid foundations to build this record on, with each track serving as a story of the artful tower that is "Tomorrow's Harvest". No matter the track length, there is a great deal of strength and ingenuity present. "Gemini" throbs along menacingly like the precursor to a tragic dominance of a naïve yet innocent world, swirling and blaring synthesized fortitude before halting, transitioning into the next track.

With each subsequent release, Boards of Canada continues to prove their evolution not just as a band, but as human beings who reflect their outlooks of the world in the way they twiddle knobs, flick switches and listen unreservedly. "Tomorrow's Harvest" is easily their most cohesive, bombastic yet surrealist release yet, bar none. Obvious standouts include "Reach For The Dead", which behaves like a mirage blossoming into a great living, breathing populous strewn with technological wonderment. Synths flickering like passing power lines seen through a train window form the structure, complimented with choir-like distortions reminiscent of flowing streams. Enter the crashing, cascading beats that illuminate the "living" feeling of the track, compelling one to picture unique personalities passing each other in a city of shimmering glass and electronic prowess. This is one of the most fantastic recordings on the album and, though some may believe it to be simple, others may fall in love with it as so many already have done.

"White Cyclosa" continues the trend of painting a picture of realism/surrealism. It ping-pongs along over the eerie distant sound of an airborne helicopter before expanding into a booming, distortion-addled journey - almost behaving as the seedy underbelly of what was evoked by "Reach For The Dead". There's an air of caution and alertness, and it's a real treat.

Then, there's "New Seeds", a thumping, flickering composition accented by precise timing, string treatments and swaggering, jiggly synths. "Nothing Is Real" is an equally lively track, elevated by deep bass and ambient soundscapes evoking a "night on the town" attitude. Shimmering synths fade in and out in the background with alien vocal snippets peppering the atmosphere. "Palace Posy" feels strangely out of place or disruptive on the record, but don't let that turn you away; it is easily one of the best tracks on the release despite that fact, and serves well as an alien soundscape - most likely intentionally. Heavy, plopping beats mingle harmoniously with ocean-deep bass, chaotic chanting and shimmering strings - all sounding quite unlike the rest of the record in a most beautiful way.

A final standout is "Come To Dust", which is undeniably the greatest track Boards of Canada has ever released for public consumption. After bursting out of its shell, it roars along majestically with meticulous drum and cymbal arrangements. Orgasmic strings and flickering synth orchestrations strobe along overhead. It is truly the best track on the record; powerful, evocative and quite necessary. A fantastic addition to the tail-end of "Tomorrow's Harvest".

turk242's sublime video of "Come To Dust" is a real treasure of the internet.

Of course, listeners will experience different emotions and feelings when listening to the record. Perhaps nobody will liken their perceptions to mine when listening to this record. Still, that's a good thing. After all, if we all experienced everything the same way, I very much doubt that this gorgeous record would have been made. There are few electronica artists which pique my interest, but Boards of Canada have established themselves as true geniuses of the genre with "Tomorrow's Harvest". To some it could be perceived as mindless noise, but perhaps that might be nothing more than an instant knee-jerk reaction. If you truly listen to this record, that perception could evolve into an appreciation for the brilliance present in these seventeen tracks.  

Snowfall (David Arkenstone, 2010)

Once in a while, an album comes along that is so meticulously detailed and composed that we, as an inferior species, don't know how to process the sheer brilliance of it. This kind of music tends to either climb to incomprehensible levels of popularity or fade into obscurity, lost to time.

"Snowfall" - a winter-themed 2010 release by New Age magician David Arkenstone - doesn't deserve anything close to such a sad fate. 

Of course, given Arkenstone's uncanny ability to churn out masterpiece after masterpiece at a surprising rate, it's understandable that "Snowfall" isn't so well known. In fact, it can only be found via services such as iTunes or Amazon - a treasure buried under the mountain of New Age music pumped out annually by countless artists and composers.

Once you discover this hidden gem, however, you'll likely not regret it. A swirling, wintery soundscape calls to you like a siren in a muffled forest of virgin snow, presented in emotionally uplifting atmospheres over a svelte 8-track compilation. Opening with the appropriately titled "Autumn Is Waning", eerie yet inviting chimes echo before warm strings pull you in. The fifteen-minute-long track caresses and envelops the listener in luscious gooey warmth in the form of cascading strings and angelic synthesized harmonies. The album gently rolls on, with each track transitioning non-intrusively - likely to evoke a sense of peace and belonging. 

While the album as a whole provides a transcendent music journey, there are definitely some standout tracks. "White Sentinels", accompanied with twinkling stars and shimmering string-laden crescendos, is a whimsical delight. "The Stillness", aptly named, is an ethereal injector of solace, reminiscent of the silence of heavy snowfall in a still grove. "Winter Dreams" is a touching ballad that could be easily mistaken for a track by Enya with its playfully plunking piano arrangement and cooing atmospheric vocals. In fact, that track in particular is one of the most identifiable of Arkenstone's repertoire due to the compelling, thoughtful piano arrangement alone. A personal favourite is the spellbinding "Midnight Snowfall", with a purely optimistic arrangement that, accompanied with twirling synths evoking the tweets of passing birds, brings about a feeling of complete and utter satisfaction, be it within the track, the emotions awakened by it or even the listener's outlook on life. The album acts like the complete spectrum of an otherwise depressing, dark and cold season. It awakens the opposite aspects of winter - the ones that so many enjoy. One can feel the warm fires, hot drinks, cozy homes, good company as well as the beautifully muffled world that can normally seem hectic and crazy. 

That is the power of this album, and Arkenstone's other releases such as "The Healing Spa" and "Ocean Dreams" (other instant recommendations). It awakens the little things we enjoy. It serves me faithfully as the only Christmas music in the house even though it isn't designed to cater solely to that time of year. Still, gone are the cliché-addled cash-grab Christmas albums that are a dime a dozen nowadays. No regrets about it, either, as the album is a wholesome and comforting thing to put on.

"Snowfall" is one of those albums that can be difficult to describe; the English vocabulary does little to justify the sheer beauty and brilliance of this record. By including just a couple of tracks in this review as an example of the atmosphere it evokes, hopefully you might begrudge yourself to take a moment to immerse yourself in something truly extraordinary. In conclusion, if there's a go-to album for solace and escapism, then this is the one. You will do no wrong in experiencing one of the best albums made by this triple grammy nominee.

Tales of Us (Goldfrapp, 2013)

Few records come along with as much depth, personality and raw expressionism as "Tales of Us", the sixth album released by the constantly evolving Goldfrapp. The duo forming the band, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, are known for their experimental, unique and incredibly powerful music that changes in style with each consecutive album release. From electro glam-pop to hazy atmospheres and synth-addled distortion, the band refuses to stand still and it proves a powerful weapon in their arsenal. 

With "Tales of Us", the band scaled back to a more bare bones, stripped-down and acoustic soundscape forming the background of ten wonderfully weaved stories, each titled after their respective protagonists save for the haunting Stranger. Gender identity, introversion, heartbreak and self-discovery are recurring themes throughout this visceral, sharp and striking collection of songs akin to the band's 2001 release, "Felt Mountain". Opting for a more simplified sound positively affected the maturity of the record, but it refrains from sounding bare and overly stripped. Beautiful orchestral arrangements and an occasional peppering of digital synths mingles nicely with the aforementioned acoustics and vocal concentration. Alison Goldfrapp is at the very top of her game here, and in ever-present fine form. With her lingering, honey-drenched voice the listener enters a melancholic, haunting and emotional world - and it truly is a masterfully executed atmosphere. There really is little else comparable to the feeling this record evokes.

Some truly remarkable standout tracks include the opener, "Jo", with a luscious chorus and unforgettable vocal arrangement surrounded by a forest of whirling strings and the eerie singsong lines, "run, you better run, you better run for your life" that chase the listener along the way menacingly. "Annabel", plucking along with an acoustic guitar before building into an orchestral climax, serves as a vivid story of personal struggle and contemplation. "Laurel", with Alison's vocals lilting and rolling like waves softly lapping on a forlorn shoreline, is a stunning tour-de-force of storytelling and possesses a truly personal sound that provides a brilliant method to the perspective formed in the lyrics. "Drew" is another gem on the record, with searing strings reminiscent of a deeply dramatic Edwardian waltz and meticulously interpersonal lyrics, with the lines "feel the cold arrive in my bones" and "you bumped and crashed in dirty snow, up to our sin I might as well melt into Sunday" focusing sharply on the wonderful storytelling portrayed behind the eyes of the characters living in this record.

A personal favourite is "Thea", a track unlike anything else on the record. While most of "Tales of Us" consists of soft, orchestral ballads, this track is a complete about-face and the only required one on the record. It is very much akin to the band's hit single "Strict Machine", though resurrected in a primal, tribal form and stomping all the way like a wild horse in fervent fields. The chorus consists of what is likely Goldfrapp's best composition yet, with Alison's vocals soaring to ferocious transcendency amidst roaring drums and bells that wouldn't be out of place on Fleetwood Mac's album "Tusk" (in a very good way). If one needs a track to prove to them how capable the band can be, then "Thea" is the first I'd recommend listening to on this record. Unquestionably.

The band ensured that the stories told in this album would be given the amount of respectful expressionism they deserve, and thus have released five videos, each beautifully accompanying their respective album track. Personal favourites are the videos for "Stranger" and "Drew". All of these stunningly gorgeous videos were filmed from lent equipment and on a small budget, and it really is an amazing result, proof that the amount of money isn't the influencer of quality, but rather the amount of creativity and initiative from the artists themselves. Combined with lush production and detail layered with Alison's velveteen vocals and you have a true work of intricate, focused and vibrant art in the form of the five videos released.

Many people outside of the U.K haven't heard of Goldfrapp, yet the band has been around for years and influenced more artists than anyone can possibly imagine, from Madonna to RuPaul. It is true that the greatest artists aren't properly respected during their time, but if Goldfrapp continues to produce deeply personal, evocative and engaging compositions such as those on "Tales of Us", it is only a matter of time before they gain their rightful place at the top. There are truly very few masters of the musical arts around, and much music released is the equivalent of processed cheese, but if you are to delve into new musical discoveries then Goldfrapp is, quintessentially, the band to start with. You won't regret it. These artists are truly deserving of your attention, and are some of the greatest visionaries around today.

Homogenic (Björk, 1997)

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Björk is one of those revolutionary artists who finds peace in unconventionality - something which is a lost art and has resulted in a plastic age of materialism.

She doesn't settle. 

She doesn't adhere.

She screams into the wind.

With her 1997 release, "Homogenic", the Icelandic songstress with a heart of fire unleashed ten bombastic audio soundscapes for her ever-devoted fans. Swirling arrangements and lush orchestral touches compliment her finely manicured vocals, which fantasize, play and express explosive rage. The album opens with the throbbing, primal "Hunter", an energetic number still performed on tour to this day. Electric staccatos and beautifully mutated strings wrap themselves around Björk's teasing voice before being blown into the stratosphere with the searing, powerful chorus.

While I fully recommend listening to the full album in one listen as it tells an engaging story of love, suffering and contemplation, there are certainly some standout tracks deserving of at least a portion of your attention. "Unravel" is a haunting, raw and expressive ballad of Björk's innermost feelings, and is regarded by many (including Radiohead's Thom Yorke) as one of their favourite all-time songs. "5 Years" bears the equivalent energy of thunderclaps bombarding a rain-lashed jungle, with heavy feet stomping through mud under the canopy with the same energy as children in their first snowfall.

"Joga" is a call home, yearning for the shores of Iceland and affirming the power of natural beauty, expressed with echoing vocals and epic string arrangements. The track was also co-written by poet Sjón, a longtime collaborator with the singer. Then, there is "All Neon Like", with its playful electro-chirping and swishing synths that evoke a soothing atmosphere, and the crackling "Pluto", which achieves the polar opposite as each incoming electronic bleep explodes in cascading force before being overcome itself by Björk's scream-addled vocals. The track is a work of art in itself, serving as a nearly overwhelming crescendo of distortion and magmatic expressionism.

After all of this, the album closes with the whimsical "All Is Full Of Love", a thoughtful and heartfelt proclamation that love is "all around you" in every being in every form, given a more radio-friendly treatment in the video below. Through the music videos released during this album era, Björk elevated her creative expressionism and, honestly, one-upped herself. The videos of this period are stunning, visceral pieces that are a complete about-face to other popular music videos.

"Homogenic" was created during a stressful time for Björk. Her relationship with Goldie had ended, and a stalker previously upset at her relationship yet unknowing of it ending had attempted to mail an explosive device to Björk in September 1996. Scotland Yard were notified after the stalker had committed suicide, intercepted a package at a London post office and discovered a hallowed-out book that would explode, then either killing of horribly disfiguring Björk with sulphuric acid. She became increasingly private afterwards, but her music never suffered as a result. "Homogenic" releasing in 1997 with such a powerful overall theme of love is the true art; it demonstrates Björk's ability to see past pain and suffering towards prospective horizons. The overall theme of this album, in retrospective, is undying love, in every form without barriers. It is very likely that Björk's experiences during the recording and writing period had a profound influence, yet with all of the hardship and difficulty at that time, the Icelandic singer birthed an innocently beautiful and shameless musical journey.