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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Album(s) of the Week: Lorde, HAIM, and Yuck New Albums

Thanks to it being the deadline for qualification for the upcoming Grammy awards, this was a big week for new releases and, frankly, it would've been unjust to only review one and ignore the other two. So, while the three records aren't necessarily equally good, they're all worth your while. Choosing just one would be unfair to the other two, which in slower weeks would absolutely grab the top slot. So, instead of one longer review, I'll be briefly discussing three new releases from this past Monday: Lorde's "Pure Heroine," "Days Are Gone" by HAIM, and Yuck's "Glow & Behold."

Lorde - Pure Heroine

Rating: 7.7/10

By now, you've probably heard Lorde's story; 16-year-old New Zealand singer hits it big in the US with "Royals," making her one of 2013's breakthrough artists. It's astounding how such a young musician can make music as mature-sounding as the songs on Pure Heroine. This would be an impressive album from an already established artist, so the fact that it's a debut album from a teenage star is even more remarkable. The typical 16-year-old starlet is a Disney-manufactured singer whose music is aimed towards preteens and young children. Lorde's music, on the other hand, sounds experienced, cultured, and serious.

Pure Heroine is refreshing in that it incorporates some of pop's stronger elements in a minimalist way all the while mocking the lyrical content of mainstream music. On "Royals," her breakthrough hit, Lorde sings of being fed up with pop stars and hit rappers bragging about luxury and excess. After leading in with "but every song's like," she lists all of the things Top 40 lyrics mention that are unattainable by the fans listening to those lyrics. It's a very down to earth song, especially considering her age, and hopefully her fans pick up on the message and demand more realistic and relatable lyrics from their pop stars.

"Team" has a similar tone to it. For the main hook, Lorde croons "I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air," pointing out the ridiculous number of songs that contain a similar lyric. ("Applause," "Boom Boom Pow," "Party in the USA," "Single Ladies," and "California Girls" just to name a few.) Her sultry voice is being put to good use, as it is rare a popular crossover artist so openly criticizes pop music. Ironically, now, "Royals" has gone platinum and is currently #1 on the Billboard charts, meaning now Lorde's music in the same place the songs she had been critiquing had inhabited.

Other highlights of the album include "Ribs," free on iTunes right now, which incorporates angelic harmonies splendidly, and "Tennis Court," a song that says money isn't everything. Lorde has a rare opportunity to really change the pop culture landscape for the better. Her minimalist sound is so far pretty universally liked, as it uses elements of pop, hip-hop, electronica, and indie to create an excellent crossover album. Her music is reaching millions of ears, and thus so is her message of stronger lyrical content. It's up to the world to decide whether to listen or not.

HAIM - Days Are Gone

Rating: 7.1/10

Fleetwood Mac comparisons aside, HAIM (pronounced so that it rhymes with 'time') are an excellent band in their own right. This trio of sisters know how to write a song, and are pretty apt instrumentalists as well. Days Are Gone is a jittery, upbeat record full of evidence of songwriting genius. The band is clearly influenced by '70's classic rock, but this album could just have easily been released in 1985 as 1977 or 2013. Essentially, there's no clear label for Days Are Gone. It sounds extremely modern yet still pays tribute to Americana, '80's keyboards, and all of the 1970's.

Simply put, the album is a collection of fasntastic tunes that are a lot of fun to listen to. "Falling" opens the album with nice guitar work and vocal gasps. "Forever" shuffles along for four minutes, characterized by jumpy drum beats and a fast-spoken vocal track. "The Wire" is the track that draws the most Fleetwood Mac comparisons, and understandably so.

The album's best song, in my opinion, is the '80's-tinged "Don't Save Me." The plucky guitar track creeps up and down the fretboard, and HAIM's vocals have never sounded as full. Handclaps, hi-hat hits, and cowbell fence in the chorus, while keyboard flourishes let it soar.

These girls mean business and, like Lorde, lived up to their hype and should hope to capitalize on their early success.

Yuck - "Glow & Behold"

Rating: 6.7/10

If HAIM were a 1970's throwback, Yuck is absolutely the '90's alt-rock sound transposed to 2013 production values. The sophomore album from this British band, Glow & Behold is Yuck's first without former lead singer Daniel Blumberg, who sang and wrote most of the songs on their self-titled debut. Other founding member/core songwriter Max Bloom now tales the reigns, filling in on lead vocals for the band's follow up. Whereas their debut was distorted and fuzzier, Yuck's newest record is cleaner, clearer, and more polished. Yuck had excellent energy and guitar work, but so does Glow & Behold. It's not quite up to par with their debut, but Glow & Behold turned out much better than expected, with many followers skeptical that band could live on without Blumberg.

"Middle Sea" is the album's standout single, and could've been plucked straight from the group's debut. The guitar riff is addictive, and the entire song charges ahead relentlessly. The song sounds like somethiing Dinosaur Jr. would have written, if they were English and in their 20's again. "Rebirth" is clearly shoegaze-influenced, and it's fair to say you could see My Bloody Valentine performing a track like this one. Echoing guitars add to the song immensely, as is common for a Yuck song.

The whole album is a pretty pleasant listen, at times possibly a little too pleasant. Some songs sound a little too corny and soft, like the slow-moving "How Does It Feel," or the needlessly lengthy "Somewhere." Still, it's good to see Yuck making solid music after the loss of such a key member.

This may have been a big week for music, but there's still a handful of exciting releases already announced for this fall. With Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, and others on the way, it's going to be one great conclusion to an already fantastic year for music.

As always, check out key songs from the album(s) reviewed this week below.

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