Troye Sivan: Bloom
Troye Sivan's sophomore album is a glorious celebration of pop, queerness and coming of age.
I just wish it would've kicked up a notch.
The album's highlights are undoubtedly its pop bangers. Bloom is full of in-jokes and innuendos and a catchy-as-hell hook designed for late-night escapades, and My My My is as pure as pop gets, with a chorus that demands to be put on full volume and danced to.
But with those singles leading the charge, I was expecting more party pop. What I got was a lot of subdued balladry that makes the whole album - although it comes in with just 10 songs - drag a bit.
Even Dance To This, which feels like it wanted to be a dance hit, seems muffled and lacking - like there's a whole layer of production they forgot to kick in after the intro.
Sivan saves himself however, with his beautiful songwriting and raw honesty as he celebrates his unabashed sexuality and coming of age.
Seventeen, Postcard and Plum are stunning tracks about love and want, with poetic lines about summer, spring and desire so strong it hurts, such as on Postcard when he sings, "I'm undone about to burst at my seams / 'Cause I am picturing you beside me / So let me be everything that you need."
Most of the songs are truly gorgeous.
It's just that as an album, it always feels like its on the brink of taking off, without ever actually managing it. I spent so long waiting for the leap that by the time I got to the end, I, too, was left wanting more.
Verdict: A beautiful collection which never took off as a whole
- Review by Siena Yates
Blood Orange: Negro Swan
On Jewelry, the fifth track of Negro Swan, trans rights activist Janet Mock says; "people try to put is down by saying, 'she's doing the most, or he's way too much,' but why would we want to do the least?"
Members of minority groups are used to being told to pipe down, their voices often declared by those in power as irritating kinks in the system as opposed to emotionally mandated cries for justice. There's an urgent passion surging through Negro Swan, Blood Orange's fourth album, and it makes for a richly rewarding listen; Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) is, with excellence, doing the most.
Negro Swan is less accessible than Hynes' critically acclaimed 2016 release Freetown Sound; where that album presented a number of bouncy pop morsels (Best to You, EVP, Better Than Me), Negro Swan largely sheds conventional structures, instead letting its ideas move more fluidly as skits and vignettes. Pop fans shouldn't be deterred; there are a number of dances to be had. Hope, featuring Tei Shi and Puff Daddy is a stunning mid-tempo jam, and Charcoal Baby is an energetic wash of broad synths and melodic guitar.
The record saves its best songs for last, with 11th track Dagenham Dream kicking off a run of dynamic, intoxicating pop. On that track, Hynes recounts being bullied for his blackness and queerness as a kid, before Nappy Wonder, a dreamy sequel on which Hynes skateboards his troubles away. The minimal production lets his beautiful falsetto come into focus on the frustrated cry of a chorus; "Feelings never had no ethics/feelings never have been ethical".
Hynes' anger at the injustices of society have been transformed into a thoughtful album that reflects the headlines as much as his headspace – samples of sirens appear frequently, lending fear to his ruminations on black depression and anxiety. And although some listeners may get lost in Negro Swan's strange pacing, it's a fine progression of Hynes' proudly political form of pop.
Verdict: An electric smorgasbord of Dev Hynes' politically-charged musings
- Review by George Fenwick
No matter what Interpol do they're instantly identifiable. You could argue this makes them one note . . . but damn, it's a pretty good note.
On Marauder, the New York band's sixth album, there's not really any surprises. It's more bass heavy than usual - an odd choice given their basslines still haven't recovered from the departure of original bass man Carlos Dengler in 2010, and there's a smothering layer of distortion on the drums for some reason, but there's no risk of confusing them for anyone else.
This, I'll quickly point out, is no bad thing. Interpol are a vibe band, their ice-cold grooves, spindly and metronomic guitar work combined with vocalist Paul Banks' brooding baritone, have always worked together to conjure up an atmosphere of darkly glam foreboding and a fond regret for one's debauched wrong choices.
If you listen closely you'll detect nuance, change and hints of growth to the band's sound. Banks occasionally soars out of his comfort zone to hit a raspy higher register (Party's Over, NYSMAW) and as a group they're now not afraid to solemnly stomp all over happier sounding chord progressions (If You Really Love Nothing, Number 10).
Heck, on Surveillance they even get their funk on before Banks crashes the party by slowly drawling out the title in an exaggeratedly bored monotone, almost as if he's reminding the others what band they're in.
The absolutely fantastic, plaintive head-nodder, Flight of Fancy would be right at home on Antics, their brilliant 2004 album, as would the superb, over-too-quickly, Mountain Child. Early single The Rover is full of hip-shaking swagger and Complications revels in the sound of NYC sleaze.
Interpol aren't the type of band that will drastically reinvent themselves; there's no sudden adoption of fashion or reaction to trend. What there is, is a collection of great new songs by a band that frequently sidles up to the bright lights of greatness before retreating back to the enveloping dark.
Verdict: Interpol mix things up but stay resolutely, perfectly, Interpol.
- Review by Karl Puschmann
I haven't listened to Passenger since 2012 when Let Her Go was one of the biggest hits on the airwaves.
Six years later, Passenger - aka Michael Rosenberg - has barely changed. This is not a good thing.
Rosenberg seems to have found a sound and formula that worked and stuck to it like superglue, and while there's definitely something to be said for staying in your lane and capitalising on your wheelhouse, it's just plain boring.
There's all the cinematic strings and folk guitar you'd expect, and of course, Rosenberg's distinctive vocals (which also have not changed). The only difference here is that Rosenberg has leaned into Americana, employing the banjo and mandolin, and really going to town with the ol' slide guitar.
The album was dreamed up as a kind of soundtrack to the great American roadtrip and the accompanying video clips were shot during a three-week jaunt across the US.
And to Rosenberg's credit, that's exactly how it sounds. You can easily imagine these songs soundtracking a sun-soaked montage in a roadtrip flick, which is all well and good until you have ten of them back to back.
Then there are the cheesy lyrics like "If life is a journey / love is a signpost / freedom's a fork in the road", "love like you mean it / be free as the river that flows" and "He leaves an ice cube in your heart and a snowflake in your soul".
Rosenberg's saving grace is that at the very least, he's doing what he does best and he's doing it as well as you'd expect. Clearly, there's a fanbase for that which will be over the moon to have more of what they like, unaffected by the changing tides of mainstream pop music.
Verdict: Perfectly ok songs, but in need of some new life.
Review by Siena Yates