We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not on this week’s music roundup
Half Waif – THE CARETAKER
Genre: Art Pop, Synthpop
Favorite Tracks: “My Best Self,” “In August,” “Lapsing” “Brace”
Alright, alright, look… this album was released two months ago. Sometimes it takes a little while for the gears to turn over MGRM way, but we tend to stick a pin in things that we feel are worth a listen. And THE CARETAKER is certainly worth a listen, due in no small part to the fact that the quiet agitation that has always been at the periphery of Nandi Rose Plunkett’s music as Half Waif is finally allowed to blossom over the course of THE CARETAKER, making it an oddly fitting listen for the times we’re facing two months down the line. To be clear, it’s not agitation in a vein of anger; compared to the rest of her catalog, THE CARETAKER is nothing if not minimal and ambient-oriented. Rather, it’s the constant shifting and jittering of the IDM-flecked drum patterns, the warbling decay of a synth tuned just slightly south of entirely palatable, the unexpected drop of a vocal passage into a minor key… it’s not music for a protest, but it certainly is music for an overwhelming blanket of malaise and ceaseless, endless hoping. That’s likely June 2020 goggles talking as far as extrapolating it to a larger sense of world-weariness is concerned, but to meet the album on its originally intended terms, it would still be a heavy existential hitter even in an ideal world. Nandi perfectly reflects the conundrum familiar to many listless 20-somethings, feeling as if you’re working hard, but without much idea as to what you’re working towards and why (“Going nowhere fast now / I’ve been running uphill / And still no view,” “I know what you’re thinking / I’m circling the drain”), bolstered by a sense of unspecified ennui (“Sitting in the dark, dreaming up a song / Crying in my coffee, doing it all wrong”) with just the slightest sprig of sunshine in the distance (“Shouting at clouds: I’ve done enough now / And I’m coming home to myself”). When THE CARETAKER falters, it’s in the same way that the vast majority of art-adjacent synthpop does, wandering off into the weeds, favoring a hazy, dreamlike stab at formlessness that evokes the name of GABI but fails to reach her perfection of the style. But whereas this mishap (unfortunately) pops up more regularly in the second half of the record, there’s not a goddamn thing to be said against the centerpiece hat-trick of “My Best Self,” “In August,” and “Lapsing,” which if excised and repackaged would be one of the year’s stronger EPs. It’s rare that a full-length effort of what are essentially ballads can be this diverse and engaging, but whatever’s in the water, your harried ears deserve a spin of THE CARETAKER. [Thomas Seraydarian]
I’m Glad It’s You – EVERY SUN, EVERY MOON
Favorite Tracks: “Big Sound,” “Ordinary Pain,” “Silent Ceremony,” “Every Sun, Every Moon”
A lot of the edges of I’m Glad It’s You’s sophomore release, EVERY SUN, EVERY MOON, have been smoothed in the two years since we last heard from them, the scrappiness of their debut THE THINGS I NEVER SAY calmed with lighter melodies and less angular rhythms. There is, to be clearer, nothing quite as explosive as “Daydreams” or “Parking Tickets,” but on paper a lusher sonic evolution is the right next step and there are moments where that pays dividends. I do think EVERY SUN, EVERY MOON is fundamentally good, and when it goes brash with its equal-measured pop punk and emo melancholy like on highlights “Big Sound” or “Silent Ceremony,” I’m Glad It’s You strike that Jimmy Eat World-balance as well as any band in that sonic orbit. But as frequently happens in the glow-up for parking lot and house show emo bands, a bit of the essential slapdash excitement of their sound leaves during the next phase of their careers. I’m reminded of the transition oso oso made from THE YUNAHON MIXTAPE to BASKING IN THE GLOW, another move from raw, unfiltered urgency to something smoother, prettier, and perhaps more easily accessible. The middle section of this album, in particular “Lost My Voice” onward, is slow, frequented by fuzzy piano ballads like “Lazarus” or orchestral cry-alongs like “Death Is Close.” Even “The Things I Never Said,” a five-minute burner, takes a while to really get going; that final guitar solo playing us out is one of the record’s best moments, but the song fails to ever kick things into another gear. It takes until the final two tracks to get a bit of essential energy going again (the title track closer is what Joyce Manor should be aiming to do with longer songs), but by that point you’ve probably made up your mind about the album. EVERY SUN, EVERY MOON is one of the better emo records I’ve heard this year, with some great highs and a lot of wasted energy; I doubt I’ll find myself going back to many of these songs as often as I do, say, the beautiful frenzy of “Small Talk,” but if you like in any way this wave of emo rock, you’ll find a few tracks to playlist. [CJ Simonson]
Lady Gaga – CHROMATICA
Favorite Tracks: “Rain On Me (with Ariana Grande),” “Sour Candy (with BLACKPINK),” “Replay,” “Sine From Above (with Elton John),” “1000 Doves”
Having been cultured to avoid pop music by my cadre of jackass male friends in high school, Lady Gaga’s THE FAME and THE FAME MONSTER are releases just as important to me as something like Deafheaven’s SUNBATHER, albums that showed me that enjoying a previously avoided genre and form of expression was possible. And then… the 2010s happened. BORN THIS WAY has some nice singles, but Gaga herself would prefer ARTPOP gets struck from the record, I don’t know a single person who listened to her 2014 collab album with… Tony Bennett… and I could not tell you the name of one song that appeared on 2016’s JOANNE. Thankfully, CHROMATICA is absolutely a confident return to the scene. A triumphant one? Perhaps not quite, but certainly a consistently commendable one, a retro-fitted tip of the hat to the disco-laden gay clubs of yesteryear where Gaga feels utterly and completely comfortable. CHROMATICA is absolutely Lady Gaga’s world, and even if we might not want to live in it, there’s certainly enough present to entice us for an extended stay.
What ultimately stands out about CHROMATICA is the fact that it sounds like nothing else currently being released. But considering the fact that A.G. Cook, SOPHIE, and more recently, Dylan Brady, are becoming household pop production names, CHROMATICA’s sound comes across as fresh because it’s one of the few releases in the medium not concerned with the glossy sheen of futurism that has become the sound du jour. Things are big, bold, and resolutely four-on-the-floor, club-ready cocktails of pounding bass, neon-lit synth stabs, and Gaga’s soaring mezzo-soprano holding things down while a variety of dance styles, from wide-eyed festival EDM to ‘90s trance to ice-cold Euro disco to throbbing after-hours deep house waltz in to luxuriate in the spotlight for a spell. For my money, “Rain On Me” is the star of the show, a breezy French house-influenced track that makes perfect use of a historically forgettable Ariana Grande, features hand-claps so sharp you could cut yourself on them, and a motherfucker of a build-up that would have absolutely decimated the dancefloors in different circumstances. Across the board the features are all homeruns, with K-Pop superstars BLACKPINK seamlessly melding with Gaga on “Sour Candy,” evoking the highs of Katy Perry’s “Swish,” but without all of the baggage she brings. That’s not to mention Sir Elton, who joins Gaga for a team-up a long time in the making on late-album highlight “Sine From Above,” a track just as theatrical and indulgent as the two artists who sing on it, making use of CHROMATICA’s strongest drop as far as I’m concerned, an “I’m peaking” rave-tent moment for the ages.
If anything holds CHROMATICA back, it’s Gaga’s lyrics, which are fairly milquetoast at best and hokey at worst. Things feel resolutely non-transgressive as presented here, with snippets such as “My name isn’t Alice, but I’ll keep looking for Wonderland,” “I’ve been hurting, stuck inside a cage / So hard my heart’s been in a rage,” and “Don’t play with me / It just hurts / I’m bouncin’ off the walls / No, I’m not your plastic doll” not exactly tattoo-worthy screeds. In addition, the first segment of the album is a fairly slow start apart from “Rain On Me” until the chef’s kiss of the transition from orchestral interlude “Chromatica II” to the unfortunately titled “911.” But thankfully things pick up steam from there, the second half more than making up for some of the missteps of the first, culminating in the one true risk on the album: the head-scratching closer “Babylon,” which sounds like it sashayed off a RuPaul novelty release, a grower-not-shower of Pet Shop Boys nostalgia, hi-NRG, and ‘90s Madonna swagger. In an era where so many pop voices are skewing weirder and more challenging, CHROMATICA and Lady Gaga don’t feel like vital dispatches from the front line. But they do both have tangible “cool aunt” energy, self-assured and regularly exciting, if perhaps bringing up rose-colored considerations of their glory days more than intended. But when Gaga says “This is my dancefloor I fought for,” it’s hard not to agree. [Thomas Seraydarian]