Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022) is the third album from British producer Fred Gibson under the stage name Fred Again. It was released on October 28, 2022, through Atlantic Records. Similar to the previous two releases in the Actual Life series, Actual Life 3 incorporates samples and audio clips from existing material, such as Instagram videos.
Alpha Zulu is the seventh studio album by French indie pop band Phoenix, released on 4 November 2022 through Loyauté and Glassnote Records. Self-produced by the band, it is their first album since 2017’s Ti Amo. The singles “Identical”, “Alpha Zulu”, “Tonight”, and “Winter Solstice” preceded the album. The band embarked on a North American tour in support of the album, which will visit the UK and Europe in October and November 2022. The album received critical acclaim.
In a continuation of the direction Phoenix took on their previous two albums, Bankrupt! and Ti Amo, the band favors needling synths and skittering drum machines over the crisp guitars and live percussion of their earlier efforts. Guitars still tinker in the background in spots across Alpha Zulu, and they finally take center stage on both “Artefact” and the penultimate track, “My Elixir,” but the instrument’s usage almost feels antiquated after the more contemporary, computer-effect-dominated songs that precede them.
I also love the film clip for Alpha Zulu and the manipulation of art pieces.
Midnights is the tenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, released on October 21, 2022, via Republic Records. Announced at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards, the album marks Swift’s first body of new work since her 2020 albums Folklore and Evermore. Midnights is a concept album about nocturnal contemplation, written and produced by Swift with longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff.
Inspired by the “sleepless nights” of Swift’s life, Midnights contains confessional yet cryptic lyrics, ruminating themes such as anxiety, insecurity, self-criticism, self-awareness, insomnia, and self-confidence. Musically, Swift experimented with electronica, dream pop, bedroom pop and chill-out music styles in the album, eschewing the alternative folk sound of her 2020 releases for a return to synth-pop. It is characterized by subtle grooves, vintage synthesizers, drum machine, and hip hop/R&B rhythms.
Midnights is not different. It is normal. Aggressively normal, aggravatingly normal, and, in its way, excellently normal. She has found the cultural status quo, and it sounds like that Glass Animals song that was in everyone’s TikToks last summer. What’s distinct about her return to synth pop is just the flavors she stirs in: oozing bass, surmountable melancholia, and the same type of confession and awkwardness that appears 45 minutes into an office happy hour. Transcending expectations is its own expectation, and Midnights makes clear, with modest poignance, that Swift has burned out on her own hype.
Alternatively, Ann Powers suggests that it offers a rethink of Swift’s habits.
Swift uses Midnights as a way to rethink the sonic rhetoric of first-person storytelling and shake off habits that have served her artistically and commercially for more than a decade. Sometimes she succeeds; sometimes she hangs on to her old habits. But the attempt intrigues throughout.
NS: I think Reese bass is sort of equivalent to the sandworms in Dune. It’s under the surface; you almost don’t really hear it clearly, you only see the sand moving. You only get a sort of hint of what that creature — that sound — might look like. You get the sense that if you turn up your speakers to hear the bass more clearly, you still wouldn’t be able to. It’s always a little bit out of reach. Maybe it’s something about the way it’s filtered or side-chained … I don’t know. But something about it is untouchable; it’s unreachable.
Tom Breihan continues the vibe on atmosphere suggesting that the album “fills the room and makes the air taste better.”
My colleague Chris DeVille described the album as “just folklore with synthesizers instead of acoustic guitars.”
These songs are not anthems or earworms, but they fill up a room and make the air taste better. I would love to hear some more immediate top-down endorphin-rush Taylor Swift jams, but her downbeat burbles can be just as effective, and there are some really, really good downbeat burbles on Midnights.
One of the intriguing questions that seems to be addressed throughout the commentary is what is actually wanted or expected from Taylor Swift in regards to her evolution over time? Ann Powers discusses how, unlike Adele and Beyonce, Swift does not have a child and in our patriarchal society, this seems to matter.
Sam Sanders – I don’t see Beyoncé as 17 and in Destiny’s Child anymore. I don’t see Adele as being 18, doing those first small songs and albums. Different people, right? But we still do this thing where Taylor is 15. It’s a Taylor thing, and I can’t put my finger on it, so I want you to.
Ann Powers – I do have an answer for this, and it goes into a sensitive place. I think about the great song by the Pretenders, written by Chrissie Hynde, “Middle of the Road,” where there’s a line in that song where she says, “I’m not the cat I used to be / I’ve got a kid. I’m 33.”
Taylor doesn’t have a child. And in our patriarchal society, when does a woman change? When she becomes a mother. All the women you mentioned became mothers, and maybe one of the main reasons why we don’t accept Taylor as an adult is because the childless woman remains a strange figure in our society. We don’t know how to accept childless women as adults. I’m gonna thank you, Taylor, for not having kids yet because we really need more childless women out there showing their path.
Some criticism has also taken aim at Jack Antonoff. Kornhaber makes the case that although Antonoff co-wrote 12 of the albums 13 songs and co-produced all of them is it is misleading to suggest that the album is the way it is simply because of Antonoff. Kornhaber describes Antonoff as a ‘therapists-slash-craftspeople’, someone who provides the conditions to flourish:
The term producer can refer to a whole range of activities. Some producers mostly just capture the sound of artists playing their own music in the studio. Some, by contrast, are like one-person bands who whip up accompaniment for a vocalist. Some producers are beatmakers who deliver their contributions by email. Some are tyrants who use the singer as a mere ingredient for their own creation (and, in many cases historically, exploit or abuse the singer in the process). And some are therapists-slash-craftspeople, coaxing an artist to pour out their soul and then helping shape the results.
By all accounts, Antonoff falls into that last category.
For me, what I like about the album is how contained it feels. I wonder if this is what Antonoff brings?
Place between Lorde and Halsey.
I was intrigued that even with its liberal spray of sugar, Cerro is adamant it is not hyperpop. However, it is clearly inspired by the genre. Maybe what Montaigne is not is simple and straight-forward. That I found interesting is that although the album is not very long, its frenetic nature means that there is so much to dig into.
Montaigne has provided the stories behind the tracks.
Stepping comfortably into somewhat new territory for the-artist-also-known-as Jess Cerro, leaning more to a kind of burbling, low impact electronica intersecting with shiny floor pop that doesn’t so much sprinkle the sugar as spray it liberally (in other words, a kind of hyperpop), these songs have the kind of in-built momentum that make actual tempos secondary.
Where on Cerro’s previous records, the music would serve to uplift their vaudevillian prose, here it’s just as crucial. The bitcrushed percussion and wonky keys on ‘SickCryDie’ let the listener feel the pangs of anxiety Cerro depicts in their lyrics, reckoning with the impact trauma has on a blossoming relationship. And without its angular collision of wonky tropical house beats and garish brightness, ‘JC Ultra’ – a biting critique of major label ethics in the form of an instructional guide on becoming a “vessel for the pro-alien agenda” – would just feel cheesy.
Cerro has called making it! “neurotic computer music”. In fact, they were largely inspired by their beloved video games. “I really wanted to have that influence the sounds that were chosen on the record.” But, working closely with producer Dave Hammer (Lime Cordiale), Cerro similarly latched onto the exploding hyperpop genre, citing SOPHIE, Charlie XCX and Caroline Polachek. “Both of us were really excited by those sounds and found them really addictive and really good to listen to.”
Place between Charli XCX and Architecture in Helsinki.
Freakout/Release constitutes a reset. Much of the album is outwardly about pleasure: of dancing, of togetherness, of physical contact and sex. Recorded in the London studio that Al Doyle set up during the pandemic, it’s the first Hot Chip album to be written from scratch by the full band all in the same room, and its sound reflects that pooling of energies, full of exuberant dance rhythms and arrangements that burst at the seams.
11 track album
Flood is an album that requires patient and careful listening, peeling back the layers in each song to find the pulsing heart beneath. There’s nothing as immediate as the songs on Donnelly’s debut, but that’s not a bad thing – these 11 tracks ebb and flow like water, washing into and over one another to create a sense of something pure and boundless.
This feels like a different sort of COVID album, written while traversing around Australia.
Stella co-produced Flood alongside Jake Webb and Anna Laverty (whose award-winning CV features Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett), and opened up her co-writing credits with her touring band.
The more spontaneous process resulted in Stella trying on a lot of different personas. She ended up penning 43 tracks as she moved around the country mid-COVID, passing from Fremantle to Margaret River to Melbourne and beyond.
Place between Courtney Barnett and Megan Washington
Enter the Muse Will of the People Experience
It’s a montage of the best of Muse. It’s a new take on all of those types of genres that we’ve touched on in the past.
However, this reference to the past comes across as somewhat problematic at times. As Paolo Ragusa touches on:
The fact that our global political crisis has given Muse’s audience more context for a dystopian record means that the band needs to be very careful about how it addresses these woes, the way it poses solutions, the specific problems that Bellamy is choosing to investigate. And unfortunately, Will of the People is — perhaps on purpose — not very careful about such things.
Whereas Arcade Fire’s return to the past seems somewhat comforting, I am not exactly sure how I feel about Will of the People.
Place between Queen and Rage Against the Machine.
Prekop and McEntire’s Sons Of is a thrillingly diverse journey and a masterclass in longform music that reveals nuance at each listen. By concentrating their considerable skills as both creators and curators, the duo have crafted an album abundantly vibrant, an intoxicating exploration of pure inspiration and intuition.
Every few bars, there’s a new sound clamoring for your attention; the chords gradually become more enveloping, radiant, even sentimental. The drifting harmonies echo the Sea and Cake at their balmiest and most bucolic, where even the slightest effort melts beneath the glow of the endless summer; the tumbling groove exemplifies the ramshackle, improvisatory spirit that’s at the heart of modular synthesis.
Place between Prop and Jono Ma.
12 track album
‘Giving the World Away’ reflects Hatchie’s wide-ranging influences, as she blends elements of shoegaze and electronic pop to further fortify a sound of her own. Songs like ‘This Enchanted’ and ‘The Key’ feature the singer’s trademark jangly guitars and big drum fills (played by Beach House percussionist James Barone), sounding big enough to fill a stadium, while closer ‘Til We Run Out of Air’ echoes the sweeping sonics of dream pop pioneers such as Cocteau Twins.
While her influences are not hard to spot – Sky Ferreira, La Roux (on the title track particularly), Mazzy Star, Carly Rae Jepsen – they are configured in imaginative and distinctive new combinations, with lush production care of Jorge Elbrecht.
Dance Fever is the fifth studio album by English indie rock band Florence and the Machine, released on 13 May 2022 by Polydor Records. Work on the album was originally scheduled for early 2020 in New York City; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, recording took place in London instead. Frontwoman Florence Welch has cited Iggy Pop as the biggest musical influence on the album which features a variety of styles, ranging from progressive pop to indie pop, disco, and industrial music.
The title and concept of Dance Fever originated in Welch’s fascination with choreomania, a social phenomenon in early modern Europe that involved groups of people dancing erratically.
Anxiety never goes away, we just need to learn to dance with it.
In regards to production, I love Jack Antonoff’s conitnual exploration of the more suitable side of music.
We (stylized as WE or “WE”) is the sixth studio album by Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire, released on May 6, 2022, through Columbia Records. Produced by Nigel Godrich and band members Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the album was recorded in New Orleans; El Paso, Texas; and Mount Desert Island in Maine. The album takes its name from the Russian dystopian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. It is the final album to feature multi-instrumentalist Will Butler, who departed the band in 2021 shortly after its completion.
They remain epic on We, but more in the way that The Suburbs (2010) and Neon Bible (2007) felt so big. They’ve gone back to the sound that won them legions of fans, perhaps to placate those who weren’t prepared for the creative leaps on their past two records.
A part of me was left wondering if maybe a return to the familiar was simply what the situation called for?
The Smile will release their highly anticipated debut album A Light For Attracting Attention on 13 May, 2022 on XL Recordings.
The 13- track album was produced and mixed by Nigel Godrich and mastered by Bob Ludwig. Tracks feature strings by the London Contemporary Orchestra and a full brass section of contempoarary UK jazz players including Byron Wallen, Theon and Nathaniel Cross, Chelsea Carmichael, Robert Stillman and Jason Yarde.
The band, comprising Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood and Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner, have previously released the singles You Will Never Work in Television Again, The Smoke, and Skrting On The Surface to critical acclaim.
The more I heard from A Light For Attracting Attention, the more the question gnawed at me: Why isn’t this a Radiohead album?
FutureNever is the second studio album by Australian musician Daniel Johns, released on 22 April 2022 through BMG Music Australia. It was announced in December 2021 and initially scheduled for release on 1 April 2022 until it was delayed to 22 April to include the song “Emergency Calls Only”. Johns stated that he did not want to release any singles before the album as he intended it to “be enjoyed as an album”.
FutureNever is a place where your past, present and future collide – in the FutureNever the quantum of your past experiences become your superpower
Michael Dwyer suggests that FutureNever has more darkness, less varnish and more stylistic confusion.
Manic may be the best single-word answer to describe his new album. FutureNever has some of the whimsical, baroque threads of his last few albums – The Dissociatives with Paul Mac, his own Talk, DREAMS with Empire of the Sun’s Luke Steele – but a lot more darkness. There’s more purge, less varnish, more stylistic confusion and a default pitch that seems to come from the thick of struggle rather than the bliss of creative liberation.
While Andrew Trendell argues that what makes FutureNever ‘unmistakably Johns’ is the sense of vulnerability, curiosity and adventure.
While there’s a lot of Daniel Johns at his best here, this isn’t ‘The Best Of Daniel Johns’. There’s rock bravado throughout, but you won’t get a whiff of ‘Frogstomp’. Styles and eras clash, but ‘Neon Ballroom’ it ain’t. There is, however, a vulnerability, curiosity and adventure that makes ‘FutureNever’ unmistakably Johns. That kid who once asked you to wait for tomorrow is living in it today.
Nathan Jolly explains how the album sounds like a ‘number of separate projects played on shuffle’.
FutureNever feels like a number of separate projects played on shuffle. There are four songs that seem like offcuts from an aborted operetta, a few dance collaborations that belong on Ministry of Sound mixes, and a handful of tracks that split the difference between the slinky electro of his debut solo album, Talk, and his bright and loopy Dissociatives work with Paul Mac. There’s also a lot more guitar shredding than expected, despite this being very much not a guitar record.
Tyler Jenke elaborates on this in a Rolling Stone profile, in which he explains how the album is a combination of three different ideas.
Never one to stop writing or composing (he admits to having thousands of demos around the place), three separate records (which will remain unheard) had managed to make themselves apparent over the years. One, dubbed “The Modern Punk Record”, featured an electronic punk sound; another—”The Opera Record”—was self-explanatory; while “The Modern Electronica Record” featured the sort of futuristic R&B sound he had ventured into with 2015’s Talk.
Johns explains that he is not cohesive and that the album reflects who he is.
“I’m sure I’m going to get slayed in the press, because it doesn’t sound cohesive,” he admits, casually brushing off memories of past criticisms. “But I’m not cohesive.
“Some people are going to be perplexed because it’s not an experience of a record that I’ve ever done before. It’s more a collection of stuff that I’ve been doing while everyone thought I was dormant.”
At the end of the day, writing for Johns is about figuring things out.
I write music because I’m trying to figure out ways to get the shapes in my head into a sonic form. I don’t think I’ll ever stop because I don’t think I’ll ever get what I want.
9 track album
The references to memories and ghosts reminded me of The Avalances’ We Will Always Love You. I am left wondering if one of the general consequences of the pandemic will be a dive into memories and the haunting past seemingly taken from us?
I also enjoyed the love performance of the album shared on Youtube.
Place between Talking Heads and Beach House.
“What I’m interested in when it comes to writing music are ideas of memory – how you split as a person and live parallel lives,” he says. “Your past, present and future selves are like ghosts of ourselves – somehow you are this already long dead person, walking through a world that you are not really materially even present in at the time.”
“To me, the record is this one solitary person sitting down at a piano and all of the songs are played out in this person’s head,” he says. “But I thought of all the chorus for all these songs being sung quite literally by a chorus, like in those old ancient Greek plays, [where] there is quite literally a chorus of people who are the moral compass. I tried to make most of the chorus have this ‘big group’ sound to them.”
Some tracks compel introspection, others make you prance around the room, while still others encourage intimate activities. It’s goth without the glower, and it can be spooky but never spectral. That’s a hard line to walk, especially when your art rejoices in creating emotional connections with its listeners.
But from the beginning of the album to the sweeping instrumental epics of “In a Minute, Sublime” in the album’s final moments, the message of Are You Haunted? is clear: In the face of your ghosts, dance them away.
Combining (often) dark and (always) thoughtful lyrics with unexpected instrumentation or obscure samples, Methyl Ethel’s music reflects the claustrophobic experience of our contemporary living. Notably, “Neon Cheap” sees richly textured ear-wormy melodies hint at the rife restlessness and angst of the modern, overstimulated world.
Dawn FM is the fifth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter the Weeknd, released on January 7, 2022, through XO and Republic Records. It features narration by Jim Carrey, guest vocals from Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne, and spoken word appearances from Quincy Jones and Josh Safdie. As the album’s executive producers, the Weeknd, Max Martin and Oneohtrix Point Never recruited a variety of other producers such as Oscar Holter, Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia.
The Weeknd described the album’s concept as a state of purgatory—a journey towards the “light at the end of a tunnel”, serving as a follow-up to his fourth studio album After Hours (2020). Musically, Dawn FM is an upbeat record containing dance-pop and synth-pop songs that are heavily inspired by the 1980s new wave, funk and electronic dance music styles. The album received widespread acclaim from music critics, who complimented its production and melodies.
The radio-station conceit does enhance the album’s nostalgic, one-step-removed feel, much the way an early 2010s-mixtape concept did for last year’s Tyler, the Creator album; Tyler guests here (somewhat forgettably) on the very yacht-rock-ish track, “Here We Go … Again.” Perhaps most valuably, the format gives Tesfaye and his producers—primarily his longtime collaborator Max Martin and more recent helpmate Daniel Lopatin (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never)—greater license to indulge their throwback sonic instincts, as well as to transition seamlessly, DJ-style, between tracks. The sudden, always belated realization that the previous song has already ended and a new one begun brings on a pleasantly startled frisson, almost as one might hope about the transition between one plane of reality and another.
I wonder if The Weeknd has been panned for experimenting with a different way of presenting his music. For me, I think Jim Carrey’s commentary help make this album flow together. In some ways it reminded me of Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor mixed with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never.
Fix Yourself, Not the World is the fifth studio album by British rock band the Wombats, released on 14 January 2022. It was preceded by the singles “Method to the Madness”, “If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming with You”, “Ready for the High”, and “Everything I Love Is Going to Die”. The album will be supported by an America, Europe and Australia tour throughout 2022.
Pieced together over distance, as so many have this last couple of years, the band have swapped plans and files between Oslo, London and Los Angeles to create these songs, and then fired them off to an impressive list of producers to mix them. So this album finds them working with the likes of Jacknife Lee, Gabe Simon and Mark Crossey amongst others, and the result somehow hangs together surprisingly well. Distance, it seems, is no barrier, when there’s something special happening and there’s a drive and determination to make it work.
Described as a “self-help manual for the domesticated malcontent,” their fifth album ‘Fix Yourself, Not The World’ has a recurring theme of fixing throughout. The remarkably cohesive, inventive and forward-thinking guitar pop record finds frontman Matthew Murphy turning a psychological corner and highlights the bands bond and experience to power through such setbacks.