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Album Review New Music

‘I Want the Door to Open:’ Lala Lala’s Artistic Victory Lap

Listening to the latest album by Lala Lala–the brainchild of Chicago-based indie rocker Lillie West–is like listening to a once-cynical adult reverting back to their childlike wonder and learning to play again. It’s a manic trip of bombastic synth-infused ballads that transports the listener to another dimension, with lyrics that invoke tragedy, mortality, and joy and despair with intricate gospel choirs, wigged-out production, and lush vocoder-layered harmonies.

Lala Lala’s previous album’s The Lamb and Sleepyhead, were introspective bare-bones indie projects that West had recorded with a three-piece band. Her forthcoming album, I Want the Door to Open, is a much more sonically adventurous project with a lengthy personnel of collaborators including Yoni Wolf of WHY? on production, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on drums, Benjamin Gibbard on guest vocals, Adam Schatz of Landlady and Sen Morimoto on saxophone, and many others.

The record is a loose concept album that tackles mortality, the labor of living, and the occasional highs we garner from being alive. On “DIVER,” West invokes the greek tragedy of Sisyphus of Ephyra, who was punished by the gods for wanting too much, forced to push a boulder up a mountain from Hell for eternity. It sounds like every instrument is battling each other for domination in the mix, production that’s guaranteed to leave every listener reeling. “Lava,” “Castle Life,” “Beautiful Directions,” and “Bliss Now!” each contain enchanting vocal loops and ethereal gospel choirs reminiscent of the styles of FKA Twigs and Kate Bush, both of whom West cites as major influences on the album.

“I want to be the color of the pool/I want to hold the fire part of fuel,” West yearns on the cinematic “Color of the Pool,” illustrating the violent desire that most humans feel to control the ways that they are perceived. “How can anyone else know who you are?” West asks. “How can you know who anyone else is when all these different avatars or personalities or performances are happening simultaneously, in different places.” Featuring an unhinged layered saxophone solo by Adam Schatz, the sonic landscape that West built around the song is just as urgent as the lyrics themselves, if not more.

This desire to mold one’s self-image into an avatar that doesn’t fit them is echoed on “Photo Photo,” where West traverses the pervasiveness of online digital spaces and social media. “There it is again, A flicker of pleasure/I didn’t take a picture, I guess I’ll have to remember,” she laments.

The closing track, “Utopia Planet” is a four-minute otherworldly pop opera with cavernous synths, amorphous production, and a blossoming saxophone solo by Sen Morimoto. The song closes with a voice-recording of West’s Grandma Beth, closing off the album on a lighthearted note.

“I tried to imagine a great expanse, abundance, an open door. It’s an invitation to surrender. I used a recording of my grandmother to take you further into another world.” It is the quintessential album closer, illuminating how acceptance of one’s circumstances is the only way one can truly reach a sense of peace. The door may never open, but we all must learn to fall in love with the labor of pushing the boulder up the mountain.

‘I Want the Door to Open’ will be released on October 8th via Hardly Art.


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Categories
Album Review New Music

Anika Re-Emerges with “Change:” Review

Berlin-based artist and political-journalist-turned-indie-icon Annika Henderson has finally come out with her long-awaited sophomore album after an eleven-year hiatus. Her eponymous 2010 album was comprised of dub and minimal wave reinterpretations of classic folk rock tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Kinks, and Yoko Ono, with instrumentals that bonded like a magnet to Henderson’s frosty vocals that have drawn comparisons to the likes of Nico and Jane Weaver. Her self-titled record was produced by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow while Henderson was playing in his experimental band, Beak>.

Unfortunately, her debut was not positively received at the time. Pitchfork panned the album and called it a “minor pet project.” But that wasn’t enough to stop the record from becoming an enduring cult classic. Welsh indie darling Cate le Bon, who has been compared Anika a number of times, has frequently cited Henderson’s work as a major influence on her own music.

Anika’s new album Change was released on July 23rd through Invada Records and Sacred Bones, and unlike her debut, this beautifully fraught new collection of songs are all original compositions. It is a project that is hopeful for change and filled to the brim with angst about social ills, filtered through Anika’s icy and nonchalant vocal delivery that made listeners fall in love with her over ten years ago. Change sees Anika’s work take a left turn into a tunnel of effervescent synth blips and incredibly catchy synth-rock bass grooves on tracks like the opener, “Finger Pies,” where Henderson laughs in the face of intimidation, incinerating the self-centered subject of the song with her deadpan delivery (“Theory is you’re a monster, that you hate yourself/Afraid, afraid of you/Afraid, afraid of you.”)

On “Critical,” Anika adopts the role of a conniving murderess. “I always give my man the last word, I always give him what he deserves/But don’t forget that little twist of cyanide I put in his little gift,” she sneers over rhythmic Jane Weaver-esque computer blips. For me the highlight of the album was “Naysayer,” where Anika’s menacing vocals ascend with fury against a wall of sirens. “You say I can’t have it all/You say I can’t have what’s yours/I don’t want this world,” she righteously spews over spiky percussion, droning synths, and rhythmic helicopter blade effects.

On the anthemic title track, Henderson’s signature detached vocal delivery is nowhere to be found. Instead she adopts a much more emotionally-introspective tone. The hope that she expresses for a better world despite the cynicism of her peers is palpable as she chants, “I think we have it all inside/I think we can change, I think we can change,” with so much conviction that even her most ardent doubters are bound to come away from the song believing her.

With the electric-piano lamentation “Never Coming Back,” Henderson mourns a world on fire. Inspired by Rachel Carson’s environmental science book Silent Spring, the lyrics are filled with anguish and uncertainty (“I saw the warnings/I turned a blind eye, kept my hands over my ears/Before I could take a stand, it was too late/You were gone.”) “Freedom,” is another commanding touchstone on the album comprised of a repeated spoken-word mantra: “I’m not being silenced by anyone, least not you, least not you,” she chants over piercing synth drones. The final track, “Wait for Something,” trades the rest of the album’s electronic sheen for a guitar and drums setup, ending on a hopeful note as she commands with perseverance, “Don’t hold onto the past it’ll take you down… Be patient for something new.”

Certain critics have complained about points on the album where Henderson seemed to be lacking certainty. But considering the fact that the record was written and recorded at the height of the pandemic, the occasional uncertainty just adds another layer to the album, because it speaks to an ultimate truth: No matter how much conviction or confidence we may have in our own beliefs, it is virtually impossible to be alive at this point in history without experiencing any sense of doubt; so it’s only natural that her levels of certainty fluctuated throughout the album.

Score: 8.5/10

Favorite track: “Rights”

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Album Review New Music

Allow Cosha to Re-Introduce Herself – Mt. Pleasant Review

After having her creativity stifled as a major-label R&B rave-pop artist, Irish singer-songwriter Cassia O’Reilly–who formerly sung under the name Bonzai–has since broken away and re-branded her artistic identity, now making sensual and confident R&B under the moniker Cosha.

Cosha’s newest album, Mt. Pleasant, is a breezy and erotic amalgamation of come-to-bed anthems saturated in tropical beats, jazzy basslines, and confident croons the call back to Prince, CHIC, and Erykah Badu.

The pulsing and mellow opener, “Berlin Air,” sees Cosha juxtaposing desperation and yearning with resignation (“Leave it, let it turn/I’d die in your arms tonight”), her effortless crooning couched in watery synths and cushioned basslines.


The slinky and sexually-confident “No Kink in the Wire” shows Cosha flaunting her self-belief over electric keyboard grooves and sticky 808s. The Rostam-produced “Do You Wanna Dance,” is a sexually-charged “will-we-or-won’t we” between the subject and a potential hookup at a nightclub. O’Reilly’s vocals effortlessly coast along jagged basslines and tropical horn-sounding synths, culminating in one of the most heavenly highlights on the record.

“Run the Track” is a piercingly confrontational chronicling of the paranoia that stems from second-guessing a romantic relationship (“And you’ll miss me in a good way/In a way that only I know”). The production is drenched in reverb and percussive white noise, perfectly mirroring the chaotic innermost thoughts of the narrator. The urgent “Lapdance from Asia,” is an unforgettable ode to erotic yearning with languid guitars and syncopated handclap percussion. But the enduring hedonism evoked in the guest verses from Shygirl was what really drove the track home and brought it full circle.

The production on this album is just immaculate; everything from the malfunctioning-android synths on “Tighter,” to the glitching, drafty drum-machines on “Run the Track,” to the tropical synth-filtered saxophone solos, and Rostam’s eternally funky bass playing.

If this is O’reilly when she’s in the creative driver’s seat, then consider Bonzai properly killed off and this album the final nail in the coffin. This is Cosha’s world and we’re all just living in it.

Favorite tracks: “No Kink in the Wire,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Lapdance from Asia,” “Run the Track,” “Tighter.”

Least Favorite Tracks: “Berlin Air,” “Hot Tub,” “Bad Luck.”

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Album Review Music

Pretty Sick Ventures Into Shoegaze Territory on New EP

Singer-songwriter, model, and bassist Sabrina Fuentes wears many hats. She started the NYC-based new age grunge band Pretty Sick when she was only thirteen, capturing the attention of audiences all around the globe with her darkly sardonic vocal range, dirty grunge-laced basslines, and songs about being caught up in toxic relationships, with heavy instrumental accompaniment from a multitude of rotating band members. This time she is joined by Wade Oates of the Virgins on guitar and Austin Williamson from Onyx Collective on drums.

Last year, Pretty Sick released their debut EP, Deep Divine, through the UK indie label Dirty Hit. Earlier this week, they released their follow-up EP, Come Down. And if Deep Divine was meant to encapsulate being caught up in the intoxicating rapture of self-destructive youth and toxic love, then Come Down represents the dreary hangover of the aftermath.

Fuentes’ uninhibited lead vocals, Wade Oates’ crisp, feedback-heavy guitar solos and Austin Williamson’s tom-heavy drum fills are guaranteed to grab every listener by the throat. Songs like “Bet My Blood” and “Devil in Me”—with their crunchy guitar solos and vocals that sound like they’ve been run through Courtney Love’s blender—are heavily contrasted with slower cuts where Fuentes emits these soft “ooohs” over pedal-heavy distortion.

“I have a real taste for pop music, and my songwriting style has a real pop music sensibility,” Fuentes said in a recent interview with Alternative Press. This is no more apparent than in the lead single, “Dumb,” an infectious earworm with a hook that is eerily similar to “Hanging Around” by the Cardigans.

Fuentes’ vocal range alternates between the airy, mystic coos of My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher on “Pillbug” and “Bare,” the unrestrained trills of Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland on “She,” and the grating screams of Mia Zapata from the Gits on “Self Control.” “Pillbug” could easily pass for a B-side off of My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything, which is the last thing I would have expected from a grunge band. And that only adds to the EP’s allure.

Come Down as a whole is an amalgamation of reflections on love lost, and what it’s like to grow up in New York—a laborious and emotionally-draining undertaking that both prepares you for the crushing weight of heartbreak and simultaneously leaves an even nastier bruise when a relationship doesn’t work out. And it sounds magnificent.

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Album Review Music

Liz Phair’s “Soberish” is a Liberating Return to Form

Liz Phair is nothing if not a polarizing figure. In 1994, she smashed barriers and directly challenged what was acceptable for women to sing about with her critically lauded and sexually-liberated debut album, Exile in Guyville. Unfortunately, that album would go on to hang over her head like the Sword of Damocles throughout the course of her career. Her follow-up records, Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg were still critically-revered, but not as well-received as her debut. And when she released her eponymous fourth album in 2003 and a follow-up record, Funstyle in 2010, she was demolished by critics for embracing a more accessible pop sound.

Now, after an 11-year hiatus and a frenetic reissuing of demo tapes, the pioneering queen of alternative Gen X folk rock is back to reclaim her crown. The first single off the album, “Good Side,” leaves a memorable and lasting impression on the listener. While one could assume that the lyrics depict Phair reflecting on a relationship gone sour, any listener familiar with the trajectory of Liz Phair’s career could easily draw a parallel between the lyrics and her complicated legacy (“Done plenty more wrong than I ever did right/Still I’m not a criminal”).

“I think there’s a sense of counterbalancing the weight of my memoir being concerned with the darkness and haunting aspects of the past. “Good Side” captures the optimism and acceptance I feel even in the face of disappointments,” Phair revealed in an interview with Stereogum.

From the hypnotic “Spanish Doors” to the pulsing synths and zany guitar strokes on the bridge of “Ba Ba Ba” to the creeping electric piano groove of “Soul Sucker” to the percussive handclaps on “In There,” and “Hey Lou”—her playful tribute to Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson—there are several glorious highlights on this record where Phair packs absolutely no punches.

However, there are also certain points on the record where the songwriting flatlines a bit. The title track is lyrically bland at best, and I can’t say that the instrumentally one-note “Lonely Street” will be getting any replays from me. But Soberish remains a solid release.

And if the album sounds at all like it’s clashing with itself or that Phair might have trouble picking a lane, that’s kind of the point. Soberish seems to embody every image that Liz Phair has adopted throughout her evolving career, as well as everything she excels at; the exceptional song-crafting, the poignant lyrical self-reflection, the cathartic rage, the irreverence, and the razor-sharp wit that made both fans and critics alike fall in love with her in 1994.

It must also be noted that now that it’s more acceptable for certain genres to cross-pollinate, Phair is also now able to write the excellent sugary pop melodies that once got her mercilessly bashed by critics. Soberish may not be a perfect album, but it’s still something exciting and something new. And there’s certainly no disputing the fact that any day Liz Phair puts out something new is a good day.

Favorite tracks: Hey Lou, Ba Ba Ba, Good Side, Soul Sucker, Bad Kitty

Least Favorite Tracks: Soberish, Dosage, Lonely Street

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Album Review Music

St. Vincent is Taking Things Personally This Time… And it Sounds Magnificent

Singer-songwriter Annie Clark—better known as St. Vincent—has famously said that she’s never been a proponent of nostalgia or looking to the past. But on her newest and most deeply personal album yet, Daddy’s Home, Clark seems to have realized that looking back does not always have to be painful. And what a statement it is, that while you don’t have to look back, you still can.

Daddy’s Home trades the punishing, acidic drug-trip of her previous record, Masseduction, for a sepia-toned psychedelic dream. The album packs absolutely no punches on songs like the show-stopping glam opener, “Pay Your Way in Pain,” and the brutally distorted “Down.” This album sees Clark wearing her influences on her sleeve in the most reverent ways, interpolating ‘70s and ‘80s classics like Sheena Easton’s “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” on my favorite track, “My Baby Wants a Baby,” and the melodies and rhythm patterns of David Bowie’s “Fame” on “Pay Your Way in Pain.” She pulls from Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder, Funkadelic, Pink Floyd, and even Yes—that’s right, Yes. But the overall soft and twangy reverb-infused sonic palette clearly resembles Clark’s most prominent and upfront influence, which is Steely Dan.

This new era feels like a breakthrough moment for Clark. The album is a lovely homage to her personal heroines from Joni Mitchell, to Tori Amos, and Candy Darling. “There’s something glamorous and tragic and incredibly strong about those characters I was writing about,” Clark recently told Vogue, before going on to say, “And I’ve been that girl. I’ve been the girl wearing last night’s heels on the morning train.” Whether she is channeling Gena Rowlands in a Cassavetes feature film, or taking on the persona of Candy Darling’s ghost haunting the corridors of the Chelsea Hotel, she doesn’t ever shy away from identifying with these women who history wasn’t always kind to.

St. Vincent has always written from personal experience, but never like this. On other records she normally kept her guard up, her personal experiences shrouded in metaphor and fictional characters. This time she throws all of that to the side and brings her personal experiences to the forefront—recounting signing autographs in prison visitation rooms, toxic romantic relationships, and a strong reluctance to have children out of fear that her identity and her lifetime achievements will evaporate completely. It is a form of oversharing that is so unexpected for Clark, and yet—considering her constant willingness to reinvent herself and venture into unexplored territories—it makes perfect sense.

This album is a very sharp left turn, yet it’s still quintessentially St. Vincent—a sweet and sour, blues-filled acid trip of elation, self-destruction, and stinging confrontation—but this time, it’s unapologetically in-your-face and on-the-nose. Just when you think she’s fulfilled the listener’s expectations, she immediately rips the rug out from underneath them before lulling them back into an intoxicating trance equivalent to that of a subway ride at 5 A.M., when everybody around you is heading to work while you leave the party, clutching “last nights heels” in your arms as you ride the long “morning train” downtown.

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