England

REVIEW: Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo

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Phillipe Roberts

For two records now, Khruangbin have delved deep into a brand of cosmic funk whose proudly professed global influences have stuck them with the loaded, woefully illogical “world music” label. Digressions on the validity of the term aside (why does the “world” start where the English speaking world ends?) the Houston-to-London trio is perhaps one of the few to actually embrace its universalist implications. Their Spotify account shouts their influences from the rooftops, touting “certified Persian bangers” and “heat from Nigeria, Ghana and more” in carefully curated playlists that connect the dots right back to their own work.

First album The Universe Smiles Upon You leaned heavily on '60s and '70s Thai funk and rock records, but on Con Todo El Mundo they absorb new influences, collecting musical passport stamps, mostly from Iran and Nigeria, with abandon. Some tracks highlight specific influences more than others, but overall, the blend is an unrecognizable and immensely satisfying hybrid. If a revamp of the Voyager Golden Record is ever in the works, with only enough room for a split single, Con Todo El Mundo will be a fitting starting point for extraterrestrials building an “Earth” mix.

No matter how you slice it, the Frankensound assembled by Khruangbin on Con Todo El Mundo is primarily funk. Bassist Laura Lee brings a radiant, chunky tone that clings loosely to the backbeat, powering the punchy shuffles of drummer Donald Johnson through the seemingly endless web of rhythmic scrapes and psychedelic slides dreamed up by guitarist Mark Speer. The three are a magnificent working band, and many of these tracks feel like they could go on forever, squeezing in and out of tight grooves like it’s nothing. Small instrumental flourishes and occasionally vocals enter the mix, particularly on “Evan Finds the Third Room,” but the focus never drifts away from the smooth cohesion they build into the jams. Over the course of the record, the effect is that of a perfectly sequenced funk DJ set.

While this tendency towards impeccable roundness may leave those hungry for the jagged edges of psychedelia a bit out in the cold, the trio do produce some standout moments that linger heavy on the mind long after the set comes to a close. The rapidfire acceleration into the initial pirouetting guitar riff on “Maria También” is mirrored brilliantly by the bass. Enough cannot be said about Laura Lee’s playing on this record; song after song, her warm melodies are a highlight, particularly on penultimate track “Rules,” where her weeping lines surge to the front with invigorating confidence, and “Evan Finds the Third Room,” a proper disco sendup with a bit of Donna Summer call-and-response thrown in. On the whole, however, Con Todo El Mundo is perfectly happy to hang back, playing to the room and allowing you to provide your own context—if instrumental doesn’t quite cut it, you might call it post-funk.

On the aforementioned “Shades of Man,” Khruangbin turns a field recording of two Iranian women working out how to pronounce their name into a skit, played out over ocean sounds. “You say that’s a K-H-R-U,” one woman’s voice cautiously begins. She shoots. “Crewangbin?” Light chuckles around the room. “Crungbin,” a voice corrects. Bless a band with a pronunciation guide.

Dead air. A long silence.

“No…”

And back into that effortless groove, punctuated by a repetitive, chanting “YES.”

REVIEW: Dream Wife - Dream Wife

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Phillipe Roberts

Cursed with admiration for the well-written hook and burdened by a crippling obsession with separating themselves from the pack (via varying degrees of over-intellectualized "experimentation"), indie rock bands have always found themselves performing a high-wire act. This writer included, the critical establishment often pushes a canon of bands that, to their ears, have managed to strike some idyllic balance between opposing forces, some burying that undeniable knack for pop beneath clouds of noise, and others slicing catchy riffs into irregular time signatures. Ironically, the fear of appearing to seek popularity through instantly recognizable songcraft has squeezed the life out of many a blossoming performer.

But Dream Wife don’t have time for pop pessimism, yours or mine. They’ve been too busy cramming wave after wave of stadium-sized, fist-pumping melodic goodness into every square inch of their long-awaited debut. In a sense, the London-based trio evolved in reverse. Starting as an art school project to create a fake girl band, the three women discovered an unexpected chemistry and ditched highbrow artifice in favor of near-religious dedication to hook-fueled rock and roll. Their first proper LP is 35 minutes of mania, a commanding collection of pop-punk tracks bristling with riotous energy. Dream Wife don’t waste time hiding their melodic gifts, and why should they when the results are so damn fun?

From beginning to end, the band operates within a well-defined universe, rallying around linear, palm-muted riffs, strutting basslines, and yelping choruses determined to pull wallflowers like you onto the dance floor. Dream Wife know their lane and stick to it, but they find enough wiggle room within that paradigm to keep you thoroughly entertained. Opener “Let’s Make Out” leaps right into the fray with rabid abandon—a few reverb-drenched “oohs” and you’re slammed into a throat-shredding chorus, with all credit to vocalist Rakel Mjöll for bringing the bravado in spades. Under her thumb, potential slow-burners like “Love Without Reason” turn into theatrical blowouts that call to mind The Killers at their arena-conquering best, and scuzzy dirtbombs like “Hey Heartbreaker” take on a winking mischief courtesy of her bratty, hiccuping delivery.

The raw power behind Mjöll’s vocals finds a worthy foil in guitarist Alice Go, who howls alongside her partner in crime with a roaring tone that fills in the spaces with a satisfying squeal. Center stage on the album’s best track, “Fire,” is hers entirely. Alternating between seasick bends that ramp up the distortion and metronomic pulsations, the riff explodes off the drums in a flash of garage-rock brilliance.

For every minor moment on the album that seems to skew towards the formulaic (the penultimate track, “Spend the Night,” doesn’t quite break free of its clichés), Dream Wife turn in five massive hooks that muscle their way into the back of your mind with ease. Most of these hew close to the classic rock antics that make up the majority of the record, making final track “F.U.U.” all the more mysterious. A completely blasted, fuzz-fried banger featuring the chant “I’m gonna fuck you up / I’m gonna cut you up / I’m gonna fuck you up,” the track skips along with a hip-hop groove, an update of “Kool Thing” with a modern swing. It’s like nothing else on the record, but there’s a real joy to how Dream Wife turns the tables on you one last time. A sugar-coated fist to the brain, this album hurts too good to ignore.

REVIEW: Gorgeous Bully - Great Blue

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Kelly Kirwan

Gorgeous Bully have carved out a place for themselves in the realm of minimalist bedroom pop by giving their sound a razor-sharp edge. The Manchester four-piece have returned with a new LP, great blue, full of bustling melodies and a pinch of grit on each of its twelve tracks. They tend to keep their songs brief—the longest clock in at just over three minutes—making for an album that never drags despite its generally laid-back aesthetic.

great blue's title track is one of its slower, more meditative songs. True to its name, it conjures a calming, expansive ambiance reminiscent of the sea. The vocals are soft, delivered in a gentle cadence that weaves between a chorus of oohs, which add to its tranquil aura. Plucked guitar strings and tangy reverb billow out like soft ripples on the water’s surface.

Then there’s "can’t explain," which comes in just shy of the two-minute mark. It's a quick hit of nigh-monotone, chant-like vocals, like a little dose of reluctance to unpack more complicated emotions. Between punctuated percussion we hear the exasperated lyrics, “I was feeling strange that evening / Think it’s something I can’t explain … You didn’t get it / I said forget it / It’s just something I can’t explain.”

On "health," the drums are prominently featured, and rich guitars play a driving riff in the background. The lyrics “You take it out on yourself … It’s no good for your health” are a mainstay of the track, a mantra to avoid becoming your own worst enemy. It’s a loose, sunny melody offset by even-keeled vocals, exemplifying the balancing act that is Gorgeous Bully's style. great blue is expansive, with a certain fluidity between their tracks that makes each snippet meld into a seamless whole. It’s music that goes down smooth but still has a spark, and it’s worth diving into.

REVIEW: Faye Meana - Nothing's the Same

Kelly Kirwan

Faye Meana. The name is melodic, with a half-rhyme hiding in its syllables, the two words rolling off the tongue with a certain easy lyricism. More often than not, a name is just a name (cue the obligatory Shakespeare reference), but in this instance it hits the mark in capturing the artist it belongs to.

Faye Meana is an up-and-coming, London-based songstress whose soulful croon simultaneously prompts heart pangs and a compulsive sashay to her R&B melodies. Earlier this year she released her four-track EP, Nothing's the Same, which stands as a poignant piece of work, diving into the inner turmoil and glints of hope that so often become entwined in relationships (particularly ones that were never able to find steady ground).

The song "Patience" shuffles with a light chime of cymbals, as deep notes bleed across the melody, played in rich, broad, vibrant strokes. Faye Meana’s voice flies into a head-turning soprano, eventually leveling out into a smooth pitch, as if she were merely murmuring her passing thoughts: “Wishin’ that you would take me home tonight, home tonight / Home tonight, with you / Wishin’ that you would make me yours tonight / Yours tonight, maybe.” The chorus drifts around us, its repeated phrases lulling us into the same craving for human connection. “Spoke for a while then I gave you my number / Texted a bit but then it faded out again,” she recalls, her voice moving from a subdued, confidential tone to high, heartsick notes.

Then there’s "Move On," with its pronounced, idiophonic percussion keeping the pace amidst a gleaming melody. Faye Meana’s voice is always smooth as satin, but it’s also impassioned, and it delivers moments of realization that are bit coarser then what you might first expect. “Now we have become those people that we didn’t want to be / And we’ll have to do our best to get back where we want to be … Did you ever wish we stop this shit and move on?” The song then fades into a conversation among a group of people, speaking of life’s hurdles with a blend of humor and resilience, reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s finish for her 1998 smash "Doo-Wop."

In all, Nothing’s the Same is an album that touches on heartbreak without drowning in it. The melodies are mesmerizing, the grooves easy to slip into, and the lyrics contemplative. Faye Meana's latest is well worth your time.

REVIEW: Gorgeous Bully - Holsten

Kelly Kirwan

Gorgeous Bully's name and sound both revel in opposites. On one side are smooth edges and a welcoming symmetry—on the other, a clenched fist, a few ruffled feathers, and a willingness to strike and sting. It’s the sort of ironic, contradictory name that does well in teasing the band’s personality. Their latest EP, Holsten, chugs along with the staccato head-bang of punk, and the stripped-down facets of bedroom pop. These two elements are held tautly together throughout Gorgeous Bully’s sound, which somehow manages to be both gritty and easy listening.

Holsten is an array of six concise and condensed tracks, with the longest song, "autoimmune," clocking in at just over three minutes. It begins with a deep, rumbling bass and rich resonance, as a healthy dose of distortion adds a pixelated edge to their chord arrangements. "What will they say?” we hear, as if it’s spoken through a megaphone, a call to action that’s just barely more than nonchalant. He toys with the word, repeating it twice, before arriving at the crux of it all: “What will they say when you’re gone?” Is it a genuine musing, or a threat? Towards the end, Gorgeous Bully sings, “You’ll be all right…” as the guitar lines become more frayed, an abrupt finish cutting off the track entirely. 

Then there’s the album’s closer, "can’t explain," which rolls together like a series of run-on sentences, opening with, “I was feeling strange that evening / Think it’s something I can’t explain / Birds were singing / I was drinking / Feeling something I can’t explain.” The way the vocals rise and fall, the half-rhyme of the lyrics, and the subdued grumble of the instruments come together in a way that’s hypnotic. Just under two minutes, it’s a personal favorite off Holsten, capturing that feeling of surreal detachment that comes from too much introspection. The track, and the EP as a whole, will leave you swimming in rich reverberations and songs that sink in instantly.