Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Moth | Chairlift

Chairlift's third studio album is packed with pop music for the alternaman.

Titled Moth, it's a lot to take in for the average pop fan. While it's lyrically fueled on the basic stages of falling in and out of love, the duo's production choices are strikingly unorthodox, oftentimes assertive and sometimes abrasive. And the detail work done to lead vocalist Caroline Polachek's voice renders it consistently slick and watery, although it's employed in the name of artistic direction rather than pitch overcorrection. But beneath it all, the album does rest on a solid synthpop base; their fascination with left-of-center extraneity simply strays attention away from the ingenious melodic motives within.

Perhaps their appeal is most easily revealed to the layman by "Crying in Public," a two-stepping track that carries a pleasing little melody line, or "Moth to the Flame," the second cousin to modern house music that thrives in the power of lyrical repetition over a dancing synth groove. From there, a greater appreciation can be extended to experimental madhouses like "Ch-Ching" and "Ottawa to Osaka" or the lyrical dabbling of "Polymorphing" and "Romeo" that successfully attempt to translate moods rather than experiences -- because while this record is pop music for alternative ears, its accessibility isn't to be undermined.

Moth is available under Columbia Records.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Long Way Home | Låpsley

Working professionally under her middle name with an stylized letter for good measure, 20-year-old Holly Lapsley Fletcher is a derivative of modern day pop and electronic R&B trends with the voice of an old soul. Her husky, well-supported pipes often occupy more space in her soundscapes than the clean, concise beats she lays out for herself, bearing great resemblance to Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. While it's not hard to draw that comparison in a post-Adele world, don't allow it to portray her as second-rate: on her debut album, Long Way Home, Låpsley exists in category of her own.

Largely a product of suspicion and distress, Long Way Home listens as such. Unlike her two closest equivalents, she rejects the type of traditional pop production usually paired with her type of soulful inflection, often opting for sparse, self-produced beats and foggy atmospheres. With damp, hollow spaces and plenty of breathing room, lofty tracks like "Cliff" and "Falling Short" are standard Låpsley; her instrumentation offers true competition to her heavyweight vocals only when she looks to '70s disco lounge on "Operator (He Doesn't Call Me)" and masquerades herself as a genuine figure of the decade.

In addition to "Operator," the album is checkered with a few other outliers – namely, "Hurt Me" and "Love is Blind" are sweeping waves against an otherwise calm current, and "Tell Me the Truth," acts as a trippy twist to the Låpsley formula – but they don't feel uncomfortable residing in the body of work as a whole. Rather, they contribute to the impression that this album, composed of tracks produced within a lengthy two-year span, is a safe space in which the young artist can learn to walk on her own two legs, learning from experience and massaging any growing pains along the way – yet the results render listeners breathless nonetheless.

Long Way Home is available now under XL Recordings.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Night Swim | Josef Salvat

A poised, charismatic man, Australian singer-songwriter Josef Salvat carries himself as such. In fact, throughout a listen to his slow-burning debut album, it's quite challenging to believe that Florence Welch and Sia Furler, the queens of the pop maximalist movement, are among his biggest influences. While he does put Rihanna to shame with his understated take on the Sia-written "Diamonds" on the deluxe edition of Night Swim, he lacks overwrought inflection, acting as a cool fall breeze that restrains his music from taking the abrupt flame that his musical role models' tunes do.

Albeit typical, his vocal delivery is cool and collected; really, it's hard not to picture him cutting the vocals for "Every Night," a track that reeks enough effortless swagger for the entire album, in a '50s greaser outfit with a smoking cigarette stuck between his index and middle fingers. But unlike many men in the industry who think that the voice and the attitude are enough, he sets up camp on the coastline of alternative electronic pop as one of the few men to have ventured into the moody, female-dominated genre. His specialty? Pop music that is murky yet alluring, understated yet breathtaking.

"Open Season," his most popular single to date, paints him as an upbeat second cousin to Top 40 pop, but further dabbling with grandiloquent pop isn't anywhere to be found here. Instead, his craft most often includes sweeping swan dives into deep pools of heartbreak. Subtle, compounding swells of emotion bring most of his tracks to dramatic finales, whether that means spirals from fragility into a haze of vengeful drums and guitars ("Punchline") or eventual sways under the pressure of additional layers, mimicking an uneasy Jenga tower ("Shoot and Run").

Salvat may lack a solidified sonic direction, dabbling in a bit of everything within reasonable bounds of his niche, but he delivers a personal, enjoyable experience nonetheless. The sole songwriter of every track spare the "Diamonds" cover, he manages to keep this album standing as a singular body of work with a consistent lyrical tone. Essentially, Night Swim is what its title track implies: a calming, enveloping dip into a private rooftop pool. Salvat's charisma draws listeners in, but the warm waters of love and heartbreak keep them mesmerized.

Night Swim is available now under Columbia Records.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Lady Wood | Tove Lo

While Tove Lo is two years removed from her debut album, it feels as if she has never left. Since then, she has been pop music's favorite featured vocalist (with Alesso Nick Jonas, Flume, and Coldplay, among others) and songwriter (for Ellie Goulding and Hilary Duff). After so many brief guest appearances, an update from within – from her own perspective, without additional company –was long overdue. So as we close out this year, enter Lady Wood, the first in a proposed series of interdependent concept albums.

Lo's first outing, Queen of the Clouds, is associated with booming, dark pop – qualities that carry over only to "Flashes" on Lady Wood. Elsewhere, this album takes a minimalist approach, inspired by icy club beats and fueled on infectious, repetitious melody lines. She finds power in grooving synthesized bass lines ("Cool Girl," "WTF Love Is") and deep automated drums ("Influence"), while continuing her lyrical trend of reducing dissonance between her lovesick emotions and her blurred lines, no-strings-attached, party-hard mentality.

The focus has become not the killer hooks or guided story line of her debut, but rather the cultivation of a distinct attitude through careful soundscaping that demonstrates artistic evolution without losing touch with Lo's taste for Top 40 sensibility. Lady Wood carries a less distinct plot than its predecessor, instead emphasizing its moodiness and leaving room for a fluid interpretation as to how the two sections of the album are to coexist as representations of a relationship's rise and fall.

At ten tracks plus two instrumental interludes long, this record is a relatively small playground, but it's one that allows for experimentation without giving leeway for Lo to abandon the qualities that differentiate her from the crowd. In fact, she's a more believable (and admirable) brand of edgy than ever before, sparing the overwhelming drug-referencing drama for sleek, too-cool-for-school apathy – even if that cool factor is sometimes compromised by the expected use of trend terms like "feels," "WTF," even "lady wood" itself.

Lady Wood is available now under Island Records.