Saturday 18 January 2020

Albums I Never Got Round To Reviewing In 2019: Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and more…

I listened to a lot of albums in 2019. However, my busy ass didn't get round to reviewing many of them. For this reason, I thought I'd catch up with a few mini-reviews of all the notable albums I missed. 

Here are all the albums I will be looking at: No. 6 Collaborations Project by Ed Sheeran, Lover by Taylor Swift, Fine Line by Harry Styles, Bubba by Kaytranada, Magdalene by FKA Twigs, There Existed An Addiction To Blood by Clipping, 1000 Gecs by 100 Gecs, We Are Not Your Kind by Slipknot, H.A.Q.Q. by Liturgy and Hidden History of the Human Race by Blood Incantation.

Let's begin...

No. 6 Collaborations Project - Ed Sheeran

I don’t caaare’. That pretty much sums up my feelings on this record. Yeah, the lineup of guests is impressive. And yes, Ed is trying new things here - he jumps on a grime beat with Stormzy and even attempts some classic rock with… Bruno Mars??? But despite the star-studded cast and genre-hopping, it still comes off almost as soulless as that new DJ Khaled album (although admittedly, Ed does contribute a lot more than ‘we the best’ and ‘another one’).

Lover - Taylor Swift

I’m convinced that Taylor Swift has never watched rugby in an English pub or gone for a night out in Brixton as she tries to romantically narrate on ‘London Boy’. This aside, Lover is a much more authentic sounding album from Swift – especially compared to the good-girl-turned-bad character that she tried to rebrand herself as on Reputation. Much of the album is still fairly conventional, but she does dip her toes into some slightly more quirky production on tracks like ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’. Also, of all the hundreds of breakup songs Taylor has written, ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ may be her best breakup song to date.

Fine Line - Harry Styles

Harry Styles has gone from One Direction to no direction. While I did think his dad-rock flavoured debut sounded a little too mature, it had a clear sound. This time around there are folksy Fleet Foxes-style ditties like ‘Cherry’, Pink-Floydy rock ballads like ‘She’ and DNCE-style summery pop jams like ‘Watermelon Sugar’. It's all well-executed - and you could argue that there’s something for everyone - but personally I feel there are too many styles of Styles to choose from. If it was up to me to choose a style to focus on, I’d opt for more songs like ‘She’ and less songs about watermelons.

Bubba - Kaytranada

The guest performances aren’t as exciting as they were on 99.9%. In fact, Pharrell’s feature is pretty atrocious. However, Kaytranada’s hypnotic synth magic is as warm and comforting as stepping into a hot tub. The tracks alternate between hip hop, electropop and house – and yet they all share that distinct Kaytranada sound.

Magdalene - FKA Twigs

It’s intriguing to hear FKA Twigs pushing her voice beyond breathy whisper-singing. And the deconstructed Bjork-ish beats remain just as fascinating (this time with the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and even Skrillex as production credits). The sluggish pace of the latter tracks and the unnecessary Future feature stop this from being quite as mind-blowing as her first album. However, it’s still some cool experimental pop.

1000 Gecs - 100 Gecs

This is music to terrify boomers. It’s a wacky mix of emo, hip hop, trance and noise (there’s even some dubstep and deathcore in there). At first, I couldn’t stand the autotuned vocals (it’s literally all auto-tune), but the production is so excitingly off-the-wall that I’ve conditioned myself to put up with them. Do I like it overall? I’m still not sure. Parts of it evoke the excitement of a SOPHIE or Death Grips record. But other parts evoke disturbing flashbacks to Brokencyde.

There Existed An Addiction To Blood – Clipping

Clipping’s new horror-themed experimental hip hop record is pretty damn creepy. Daveed Diggs delivers a series of bloodcurdling tales, centred predominantly around vampires. His obsession with rapping at speed can sometimes reduce the suspense, however tracks like ‘Story 7’ still had me on the edge of my seat. The production meanwhile is typically avant-garde – there are eerie synth drones to rival Pharmakon, tracks that dissipate into harsh noise and bass-heavy bangers like ‘Blood of the Fang’. The eighteen minute closer of a piano burning seems a little excessive (I tend to just skip it), but otherwise it’s all captivating.

We Are Not Your Kind - Slipknot

Nu metal made a comeback in 2019 – Korn, Papa Roach and Slipknot all released new albums. While I had no desires to listen to a new Korn or Papa Roach record, I was excited to hear the new Slipknot record having enjoyed the singles leading up to it. They’ve mastered the art of juxtaposing soaring poppy choruses with blistering extreme metal verses as on ‘Unsainted’ and ‘Nero Forte’. At the same time, there are some off-kilter ideas thrown into the mix to spice things up such as the Exorcist-like pianos on ‘Spiders’ and eerie Boards-of-Canada-esque interludes such as ‘Death because of Death’. Some of the riffs are fairly rudimentary and the record scratching is a little corny, but otherwise it’s a dynamic and satisyfyingly savage metal album.

H.A.Q.Q – Liturgy

You don’t often hear recorders, glockenspiels and vocal oohs on a black metal record. But this is a Liturgy album, and they don’t cater to the black metal purists. The creativity is impressive and so is the intensity of these tracks. At times, I wasn’t sure I could handle another accelerating blast beat (or ‘burst beats’ as Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has dubbed them). The added constant glitching only adds to the anxiety and, I admit, I got a little frustrated constantly having to check that my computer hadn’t crashed. I’m not a fan of the buried moaned screams (especially on ‘Virginity’) and there are a few too many directionless interludes, but there’s no faulting this band’s flair and musicianship.

Hidden History of the Human Race - Blood Incantation

The eighteen-minute closing track is undeniably exhausting (even if it is only a four track album). That said, this is still a very exciting death metal record. Each track is an intricate maze of riffs and drum patterns, topped off with growled sci-fi-themed lyrics. The exception is ‘Inner Paths (To Outer Space)’, which is a suspenseful slow-building instrumental (my favourite metal track of the year – I can’t recommend it enough). I’m also a big fan of the production style – it’s muddy and yet somehow crisp with lots of psychedelic phaser effects thrown in.