Albums of the Month: August
The Newspaper's monthly collection of brief album reviews will be back in full swing this year. An overwhelming amount of great music came out this summer and we hope you had as much fun digging through it all as we did. Rather than try and do justice to an entire season of brilliant releases we're kicking things off again by talking about a few records from August that caught our ears.
Beauty Behind the Madness
Sex sells and The Weeknd’s highly anticipated sophomore album, Beauty Behind The Madness (2015), is a prime example of that. Its steamy single, “Earned It” was also featured on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack and solidified The Weeknd’s place in popular music. This latest LP shows how the Toronto native has combined his trademark soulful, hazy R&B with sleek mainstream pop. It’s trendy, flashy, and oozing with sex appeal.
“Can’t Feel My Face” is undeniably the 6ix’s song of the summer and has garnered attention along with the album’s other three singles. The Weeknd could very well be heralded as the go to music of fuccbois as his lyrics often speak of drug use and emotionless sex. I can attest to this because I have personally received a text from a fuccboi saying, “ I know it’s basic but I would totally have sex to this song.” While it can be more poetic than that, it's hard to say if the true tragedy behind his lyrics carries through to the average listener. Many people will just hear, “I fucked two bitches before I saw you,” and glamorize it as that.
Losers”, is a stellar track that satisfies both musically and lyrically. It features Labrinth and the lyrics tell the story of how Abel dropped out of school and ran away from home to pursue his dreams. It directly challenges the notions that you need university to be successful. It does so in a way that does not trash post-secondary education or necessarily glorify dropping out of school but rather stresses the importance of real life experience. The song ends with a celebratory brass section that revitalizes the time-worn “drop”. It’s a nice change of pace as it manages to be self reflective and focuses on something other than raunchy sex.
“Often” is a trap-flavoured banger that reveals deeper meanings in light of the fact that it is sung over a sample of a poem by the Turkish Poet Sabhattin Ali. The clip loosely translates to “my each and every day takes years, I’m tired of going alone.” The recurring themes of meaningless sex, addiction and depression will likely be relatable to The Weeknd’s youthful audience. Our generation is increasingly defined by hook up culture and Abel Tesfaye perfectly captures how we glamorize our pursuits in spite of our dulled emotions.
“In The Night,” is by far the poppiest track on the album, drawing noticeable influence from Michael Jackson. Staying true to The Weeknd’s classic demeanor the song uses it’s glossy façade to tell the story of a woman who is dealing with inner demons that resulted from sexual abuse in her youth. It explains how she uses sex to handle her pain but also to continue it in an almost masochistic way.
Beauty Behind the Madness encapsulates the stoned and lecherous tumblr generation aesthetic and is sure to be a hit this year. It would be easy to dismiss it as formulaic leap towards super stardom but it still bears the authenticity and artistry that drew fans in to begin with.
In an interview with Pitchfork this summer, Dan Bejar said that he “[couldn’t] have people walking away humming songs” in light of his current disdain for pop music. I can’t help but wonder if he’d consider Poison Season (2015) a failure based on this caveat as I’ve found myself with more than a few of its melodic moments caught in my head. I also haven’t forgotten about Kaputt (2011) in the four years since its release even though Bejar has occupied himself with The New Pornographers and other projects in the hope that Destroyer’s acclaim might fade from popular memory.
Forgotten or not, Bejar still writes Destroyer songs as though he’s flying under the radar. Poison Season winds its way through a dense array of tones and textures, weaving strings, horns and congas into its thirteen songs with an auteur's sense of abandon. Although the record has a dour flavour overall, it is punctuated with flourishes of poppy catharsi and the space between these fluctuates from heady ballads to jazzy, drifting sections. Melodies follow a sort of motif as Bejar’s lead lines seem to rearrange similar patterns and scales that reproduce the same satisfying effect without completely losing their novelty. The song “Times Square” appears in its entirety three different times, each with a slightly different sonic approach. It frames the album nicely, bookending it and providing a smooth intermission of sorts. Bejar’s variations on this tune illustrate the breadth of his sound here, stretching from delicate to romping and painting similar colours from a different palette each time.
Like its predecessor, these palettes on Poison Season often look several decades into the past. Destroyer continues to favour 80’s pop and bits of 70’s prog flipped into smug contemporary arrangements. Smoky, “sophisti” saxes and bursts of fluttering piano or guitar fill in the details on even the most sinister cuts, like the sprawling Tim Hecker collaboration “Archer on the Beach”. These serve to augment the thick atmosphere that filters much of the record into a hazy monochrome so that Bejar’s voice feels like it’s coming right out of his grayscale portrait adorning the album cover.
Much care is put into even the most lavish passages of sweeping strings and horns, culminating in a piercing sunbeam of a finale on the second half of “Bangkok”. Poison Season’s grandeur is far from ironic even if Bejar’s tongue is still firmly in his cheek on lines like “aw shit, here comes the sun” or “it’s a miracle every time I open my mouth”. This record is unabashedly gorgeous and often downright catchy. No matter how much instrumentation is layered in.
Destroyer is still very much a singer/songwriter project and most of the songs here could be stripped down and hidden in Streethawk (2001) or Destroyer’s Rubies (2006) quite easily. His musical sensibility is distinct though by now quite familiar to his fans. Regardless of how much space he leaves between records there is always lots to unpack so it's hard to imagine even the most dedicated listener walking away unsatisfied. Sorry Dan, but I’m gonna be humming this one for a while.
Captured Tracks; 2015
Another One (2015) is a narrative themed around heartbreak and the difficulties of new love. The album does not appear to follow the timeline of one relationship but comes across as a nostalgic retelling of multiple past lovers. It follows his acclaimed third album Salad Days (2014). DeMarco has a recognizable sound that is attractive because it follows an accessible pattern of vulnerable melodies layered over quiet, shimmering guitar leads . This formula allows for the personality of each song to really come alive in the simplistic lyrics.
The album opens with “The Way You’d Love Her,” which tells the story of a love lost. The song comes across as almost twee with its beachy chords and sincere lyrics.
The titular track “Another One” tells the story of man whose love is in love with someone else. This song acts as the moment of realization that his relationship is going to end. It is the point of acceptance before the emotions of anger and sadness really kick in. The song plays like a sigh of disappointment, as the narrator is forced to be honest with himself. That being said the song itself is not a disappointment, it feels relatable and resilient.
Songs “No Other Heart” and “I’ve Been Waiting for Her” are also standouts. In “No Other Heart” DeMarco is trying to save a girl from herself while attempting to win her over. There is something undeniably adorable about the way DeMarco refers to himself in the lyric, "then come on give this lover boy a try/ I`ll put the sparkle right back in your eyes. ” While this has a sort of bubble gum pop ring to it on paper, when sung by DeMarco it is an earnest attempt at being romantic.
“I’ve Been Waiting for Her,” is an upbeat track about DeMarco meeting his dream girl. It acts a conclusive story that suggests that throughout all the record's heartbreak, he was just waiting to meet the right person. This song brings it all together as he relates his love for her to his love for music.
The album is a perfect accompaniment for the slow transition into fall. As people are either leaving summer flings or faced with walking past old flames, the reminiscent quality of the album rings true.