Album of the Week
A Hero's Death
August 7, 2020
Fontaines D.C. deliver a masterclass in atmospheric post-punk on their second full-length, A Hero’s Death. A little over a year since their incendiary, razor-sharp debut, the Dublin fivesome return a radically different prospect, a deliberate inversion of their former selves that is more disillusioned with the world but also softer, prettier and more subtle. Where Dogrel painted a Joycean portrait of the characters and stories that populate their hometown, A Hero’s Death looks inward, ruminating on the isolation and disorientation of their success, burning down preconceptions and puncturing the band’s own mythology in the process. Older, wiser and more haunted, Grian Chatten’s poetic lyrics go in search of life, identity and a place to belong, coloured by an outlook that teeters on an optimistic nihilism. Stark and grayscale, A Hero’s Death specialises in a sort of textural misery, with Fontaines D.C. unmooring themselves from traditional instruments to trade in impressionistic, moody layers, downcast guitars and hypnotic, droning rhythms. As the lyrics move towards the introspective, the rest of Fontaines D.C. move musically outwards, ranging from spectral balladry to disjointed art-punk and dreamy shoegaze. The result is a risky but rewarding second outing in which the Dublin five piece stake their claim to genuine greatness.
The Kid LAROI
July 31, 2020
Sydney’s The Kid LAROI earns the title of prodigy on his debut mixtape, FUCK LOVE. Matching his meteoric rise from Waterloo to the forefront of new generation hip hop, LAROI suffuses FUCK LOVE with a newfound sense of artistic versatility and a firm command over his atmospheric emo trap-rap, garnering comparisons to luminaries such as Lil Peep, Lil Uzi Vert and his late mentor, Juice WRLD. With a level of nuance and emotional maturity seemingly beyond his years, the sixteen year old rapper turns heartbreak into hypnotic, tortured tracks that explore topics of adolescent angst, failing relationships and living with the grief of his best friend’s death. Laden with raw passion, LAROI’s tremoring, crooning autotune vocals shine over delicate guitars, heavy 808s and skittering hi-hats as the young artist increasingly grows into his voice and delivery. Relentlessly catchy, vulnerable and stylistically fully formed, FUCK LOVE exceeds the weighty expectations placed on The Kid LAROI’s debut full-length and emerges as a milestone release for Australian hip hop.
L-Fresh the Lion
July 24, 2020
L-Fresh the Lion addresses his younger self on his deeply personal third studio full-length, SOUTH WEST. Centred around imagined conversations with a 13 year old incarnation of himself, the Sydney stalwart imparts lessons he wishes he knew when growing up. Channeling the likes of Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common, L-Fresh uses hip hop as a canvas to both untangle his own personal history and cultivate his political beliefs, infusing his conscious rap throughout his third record with stories of his experience as a second generation migrant living across two cultures while navigating the racism of Australian society. SOUTH WEST is an album which self-evidently lives its message out, as L-Fresh increasingly blurs the lines of activist, artist and community organiser, from the diversity of its musical makeup to the empowerment of its lyrics to its sense of uplift and pride in the area which birthed the record. On SOUTH WEST, L-Fresh details the continuing project of reconnecting with his Punjabi and Sikh heritage and cultural practices, opening up on his own processes of decolonisation on a record which is compelling, necessary and, above all, admirably honest.
July 17, 2020
Melbourne-based, Dunedin-born producer Vanessa Worm mystifies on her enthralling and idiosyncratic debut LP, Vanessa 77. Returning to esteemed Glaswegian label Optimo Music, Worm expands her creative horizons beyond the purely dance-oriented work of her earlier releases. Stitched together by her distinct, drawling vocals, Vanessa 77 bottles an anarchic melee of disparate styles, moving from twisted, texturally rich ambient to experimental folk, taut post-punk, cavernous industrial and euphoric dancefloor pop. Adhering to little sense of genre or convention, Vanessa Worm goes instead in search of pure expression on her debut record, willing to contort any sound into the shape she desires, anchoring Vanessa 77 around her guitar playing, which is at times drowsy, distorted, discordant, harmonious and alive. Created during a period of self-imposed isolation in the winter of 2019, Vanessa Worm’s debut is her attempt to impose her joys, fears, epiphanies, questions and everything she’s learnt about herself so far onto something everlasting. Along the way, Vanessa 77 captures the intriguing alchemy that comes with self-realisation and coming into your own.
July 10, 2020
Finnish duo Amnesia Scanner present their second LP, Tearless, a sonic reflection on how it feels to grapple with life in the Anthropocene amidst a pervasive awareness of humanity’s irreversible destruction of the earth. Described by the pair as a “breakup album with the planet”, Tearless is suffused with a prickly sense of unpredictability and a mood that has soured significantly since their ecstatic 2018 debut. Now, shadows of dissonance and impending doom hang over tracks which, full of distorted synths, blown-out beats and fractured melodies, feel burned out and overwhelmed at the sheer scale of the problem. Borrowing from the scraps of EDM, ambient, metal, industrial, emo, pop, dembow, techno and more, Amnesia Scanner throw these disparate genres together and contort the results into a twisted, squalling kind of club music. With tracks that morph into unpredictable new forms in real time, fusing moments of dread to moments of genuine beauty, Amnesia Scanner’s Tearless gives a new sound to the chaos and confusion of life right now.
July 3, 2020
Phoebe Bridgers defines the emotional gravity of her songwriting on her mesmeric second solo full-length, Punisher. Swapping the muted, hollowed-out acoustics of her debut for noisier, livelier and more expansive production choices, Punisher locates feeling in specificity. Rushing strings, horns, processed vocals and effects-laden guitars swirl around Phoebe’s murmuring, multi-tracked voice like a cataclysm opening up on the horizon as the Los Angeles singer-songwriter finds herself preoccupied with the same apocalyptic anxieties as the rest of the world. But Bridgers punctuates her downcast lyricism with bruised honesty, acerbic wit and a winking self-awareness that prevents her poignant, unfiltered observational style from feeling confessional or prophetic. Instead, she obsesses over the banal, fascinating and sometimes absurd details of heartbreak, loneliness and modern sadness. It’s these details which colour her increasingly multifaceted stories, making them feel not only lived in but endlessly relatable, seemingly about everything big and small at the same time. A track about touring in Japan becomes about impossible-to-wash-off feelings of imposter syndrome, while a tribute to her spiritual mentor Elliot Smith becomes about awkward fan run-ins at the bar. Punisher is an immense and potent record, the statement of an enduring songwriting and a singular lyrical talent that hones in on what makes Phoebe Bridgers’ music so special.
June 26, 2020
Cathartic and delirious, KiCk i is the fourth solo full-length from Venezualan producer and performance artist Arca. The first in a four-part series of records exploring individuation, KiCk i is the coronation of Arca as pop star, a revelatory statement from an artist who has already helped to shape some of the most thrilling, forward-thinking pop music of the past decade through her work with Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Björk, FKA twigs and more. Restless and messy, KiCk i is defined by its ceaseless sense of forward momentum and mutation, encompassing operatic balladry, apocalyptic reggaeton, bubblegum club-pop, crystalline ambient, gothic noise and more. Arca layers these styles, moods and genres atop one another in dizzying fashion, allowing her tracks to exist in a constant state of collapse and regeneration. Out of KiCk i’s formlessness comes the realisation that these disparate elements can coexist simultaneously and harmoniously within the one whole. On her fourth record, Arca presents the endlessly divergent sides of her self, personality and history as being in constant conversation with each other, a multitudional symphony. KiCk i is her chaotic celebration of all this, an invitation into her universe of becoming and manifestation.
June 19, 2020
Ziggy Ramo carves out his own space on his vital and eloquent debut album, Black Thoughts. Written in 2015 before being shelved due to fears of being misunderstood, Ramo’s first record arrived with little pre-advance notice, compelled by global Black and Indigenous Lives Matter movements to make something of his platform. Uncomfortable, confronting, profound and intensely personal, it carries with it the full weight of the world into which it’s born. Raised in Perth and Arnhem land and now based in Sydney, Black Thoughts distills Ramo’s experience of growing up Indigenous in Australia across 16 tracks of lyrical story-telling and jazz-inflected golden age hip hop. On his first full-length, he extols the oldest surviving culture on earth, canvases the history of racism in Australia, dismantles the systems that have oppressed First Nations peoples since invasion and examines how this entire history has manifested itself within his own life so far. Ramo’s pain, anger, heartache, exasperation and exhaustion are all palpable throughout Black Thoughts, but so too is his pride and resilience and optimism that First Nations people will continue to survive and prosper in spite of a world that would deny their existence. Ambitious and multifaceted, Black Thoughts is a lot of things: a potent monument to voice and presence, a diaristic piece of healing, an inedible exercise in listening, an incendiary conversation-starter, a seat at the table, an education.
June 12, 2020
Just Kids is the radiant debut full-length from Wollongong-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Stevan. Collecting material written between the ages of 16 and 19, Just Kids caps a meteoric year for the Illawarra songwriter, from debut single to first ever mixtape. Appropriately, the project reflects on the dual simplicity and complexity of adolescence, where the awkward and uncomfortable sit alongside the landmark and transformative in Stevan’s relatable, open-hearted vision of suburban teenagedom. Gliding between hip hop, R&B, indie rock and more, Stevan conjures woozy, multilayered soundscapes from the confines of his bedroom, blurring the lines of style and genre at every opportunity. Written, recorded and produced entirely by himself, the tracks on Just Kids blend classic songwriting structures with a crate-digging, collage-like sensibility and the genre-melting approach of contemporary musical auteurs. On his debut collection, Stevan announces the coming of an endlessly inventive and prodigious talent.
Run the Jewels
June 5, 2020
Run the Jewels return after the longest pause in their breathless career to date with their exhilarating and cathartic fourth album, RTJ4. The potent partnership of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and New York producer-rapper EL-P, the two go toe to toe throughout their fourth record together, equally skilled at street-hardened shit talk and rousing, righteous call-to-arms as they are incisive political commentary and deeply sincere reflections on their own personal pain. As a producer, EL-P subsumes the duo’s reverence for lyrical rap and Golden Age hip hop within their dystopian, industrial wasteland, while continually finding new ways to balance his dissonant, noise-bombed production with glimmers of lightness and hope. Killer Mike, meanwhile, tears open the fault lines of a broken, deeply dysfunctional society, expounding on racist cops, systematic inequality, corporate capitalism, religion and much more. Fourth albums in, and nothing dilutes the rush of Run the Jewels: the towering levels of talent on display; the palpable friendship between Mike and EL-P; the razor-sharp economy and consistency; the thrill of watching two artists who are just really, really good at what they do. A brisk and brutal listen, RTJ4 once again proves why Run The Jewels are one of the most essential and charismatic rap duos ever.