Kiesza – Crave (Zebra Spirit Tribe)
Some folks were just destined to be interesting, to be unique, to be awesome. From what I can tell, Kiesza is one of those people.
She was born Kiesa Rae Ellestad in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with a Norwegian grandfather. She has been a sailing instructor, as well as a member of the reserves of the Royal Canadian Navy. She suffered from a traumatic brain injury in 2017, from a car accident, and her recovery had her stay in a dark room for six months. Seriously, go check out her Wikipedia page, as there were several other details that I did not add here.
As a musician, Crave represents her second studio album, with the first one (Sound of a Woman) coming in 2014 – a pretty healthy gap. It doesn’t seem like she’s missed a beat, however. This is reminiscent to what “dance music” would have consisted of in the 80s or early 90s. The title track, as well as “Love Me With Your Life” illustrate the sound the best, but damn near every track has the signature synth and electronic drum beats to some extent. “Love Never Dies” is another solid track, using a sample that could be “When the Levee Breaks” or something close to it – but it works well regardless.
Kiesza’s smooth vocals help to make this a more enjoyable experience. There is a heavy level of production and auto-tune at play, but it sounds good – both as a corrective measure and an artistic one. Lyrically, it’s pretty simplistic, but as I’ve mentioned before, some albums truly need that. Crave with more complex lyrics would cause there to be a bit too much going on, and the lyrics would get lost in the shuffle.
Overall, Crave was a very good, very unique listen. Toes were tapped, and fingers were rapped, all throughout the album, thanks to Kiesza’s interesting style. Hopefully it won’t be another six years for album #3 to drop.
FFO: Robyn, La Roux
Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings (14th Floor Records)
The Scottish alternative rock band Biffy Clyro ruined my songwriting career.
Let me explain.
I’ve always thought that I was a halfway-decent writer, and that I could write a halfway-decent song. Jeremy (yes, good ol’ J.R. of Fairly KickAss fame) challenged me to actually do it, which I accepted. And I wrote a BANGER, y’all. I mean, it was kinda bland somber breakup pop, meant to be performed by someone in the vein of Sam Smith, or alternatively a bowl of cornflakes. But still: BANGER.
After writing and refining it a bit, I felt pretty great about it. Still needed some work in the chorus, and in the bridge before the coda (are those actual song things?), but I was happy with where it was.
A few days later, Jeremy mentioned that A Celebration of Endings – an album we were both hyped about – was delayed a few months. With the band top-of-mind, I needed a fix, so I fired up the double-album Opposites. I was quickly reminded of my favorite song on that release – and one of my absolute favorite Biffy Clyro jams – “Opposite”. Their songwriting has always been stellar, but for some reason “Opposite” jumps out at me for its composition.
I started to compare that to my song, still named “song” at this point, and I knew I was out of my league. After that, I couldn’t look at my lyrics without thinking about how crap they were. I shelved the song on my laptop hard drive, then accidentally wrote over it when I reformatted my laptop.
With that technical snafu, the dream had ended. I couldn’t deliver the goods to Jeremy. But Biffy Clyro delivered in spades with A Celebration of Endings, and I’ll take a great Biffy Clyro album over one probably-ass pop disaster of my own any day of the week. Since I’ve already written a novella with my little story, let me try to keep this short and sweet: Biffy Clyro makes great music. I say again: Biffy. Clyro. Makes. Great. Music.
I’d recommend going back to the beginning, their 2002 debut release Blackened Sky, and moving forward to appreciate the additional polish in every release since. If you’re an American and have heard anything from them, it was probably the song “Black Chandelier”, from Opposite – or possibly “Many of Horror”, from Only Revolutions. If you’re Scottish, then you probably could have skipped this review. (But still, thank you for reading from all the way across the pond!!)
If you want emotion, it’s here. Like, a lot of it, dripping out of every pore of most every track. Amazing songwriting? See above. Vocals? If there is an afterlife with any sort of angelic beings, Simon Neil will voice all of them. They’re consistently amazing, and amazingly consistent. My favorite songs on the track were “Tiny Indoor Fireworks”, “Space”, and “Opaque”, but man I had to try to narrow it down to three.
I think it’s time to give that song another go. I’ve been re-inspired, after being de-inspired. Jeremy, Dan, hit ya boi up for the collabo. When it happens, you awesome Fairly Kickass readers will be the first to hear it.
Also, listen to A Celebration of Endings. Do it.
Mon the Biff.
FFO: Snow Patrol, Frightened Rabbit (RIP Scott Hutchison, gone FAR too soon)
Ok, so Zack did everything here EXCEPT describe what the actual music sounds like. Between his excitement over the release, then being completely overwhelmed by the unbelievable awesomeness of A Celebration of Endings, he sort of stepped over that part. Ruthless ribbing will ensue…or not, we don’t really care.
“North of No South” opens the album with what is probably the heaviest piece of music that Biffy Clyro has ever written, then ends with an even heavier version of it. The next few songs are indicative of what the Scottish masters have been doing for years: intricate compositions with frequent time changes, interesting instrumentation, and some of the best melodies ever recorded. “Worst Type of Best Possible” is a mind-bender of a title, but recalls the absurdly heavy tone of the first track. “End Of” starts with a fuzzy bassline that sounds like it could be a transition scene in a Guy Ritchie film, and is one of my favorite tracks on the record.The acoustic, “Opaque” stands alone as the lone mellow track, at least musically. Lyrically, it depicts the words that you wish you could say to someone who selfishly hurts others, almost pathologically, but you love them anyway.
For those that have never heard them before, this is a great place to start, before becoming obsessed and going back through their catalog. A Celebration of Endings is one of the best pieces of post-grunge, post-emo, rock music in the modern era that doesn’t star Dave Grohl.
FFO: Foo Fighters, Sense Field
King Buzzo with Trevor Dunn – Gift of Sacrifice (Ipecac)
I am a fan of these 2 whack-jobs. After gorging on Melvins records, Tomahawk records, Fantomas, Secret Chiefs, Mr. Bungle, then Fantomas Melvins Big Band, there’s only one place to go: acoustic King Buzzo. It starts with a question. What will listening to him acoustic do to my brain?
You’re in luck! It turns out, if you strip away all the volume and crunch from Melvins, you still get a Melvins record. He even still drops in some bizarre electronic filler tracks that sound like they could simultaneously belong attached to the songs on either side of them. Or in the case of “Mock She”, right in the middle of the song, sounding like it belongs nowhere, then again at the end of the song, leaving you scratching your head.
Trevor’s quixotic bass phrasings provide the movement for the songs, his upright sounding drunk and demanding attention. All the while, the guitar is being mercilessly hammered with a pick that is way too heavy for the delicate strings. Maybe it’s made of bone.
Lyrically and vocally, this is exactly what you would expect from the mop-headed genius that brought you Stoner Witch, Gluey Porch Treatments, A Senile Animal, and so many other amazing albums.
The album is 9 tracks, which is 6 songs and the aforementioned filler. Those 6 songs are some of the best things in Buzzo’s massive collected works. I cannot stop listening.
Kris Delmhorst – Long Day in the Milky Way
Singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst straddles the line well between original home Brooklyn and her current base in Western Mass, as well as the line between folk, Americana, and bluegrass. The resulting album, Long Day in the Milky Way, is better than its individual components.
Kris’s ninth studio album puts her in the game for 20+ years, with her debut releasing in 1998. It always amazes me when someone can do something so mentally and emotionally demanding, like songwriting and singing, for that long without getting burned out. If she is burned out, you can’t hear it in her voice at all. She sounds very in-tune with each song, with no contrivances to speak of.
Overall, this is one of those pleasant-sounding albums that won’t knock your socks off, but that you won’t want to turn off either. Kris’s voice effortlessly adapts and balances for each song, with a more subdued tone for the upbeat, instrument-heavy tracks (“Hanging Garden”, “Bless Your Little Heart”), and a bit stronger sound for the softer jams (“Nothing ‘Bout Nothing”, “Crow Flies”). Again, nothing flashy lyrically, but good, fundamental songwriting goes a long way.
2020 hasn’t been a good year for much, but it has been a good year for Americana and folk music. Kris Delmhorst’s Long Day in the Milky Way won’t make the top of either list, but it’s more than worth a listen nonetheless.
FFO: Lucy Kaplansky, Caitlin Canty, Patty Larkin
All We Are – Providence (Domino)
Take a look at the picture of this band (above). If you were guessing, you’d probably say they were a New Wave or Electro-Pop outfit, lost in the mid-’80s, worshipping Joy Division.
So it should be no surprise when I describe them as crisp electro-indie-pop that you can dance to. In fact, I can actually see that girl that shows up to every concert with her hula hoop as I’m listening.
This is one of the most chill records of the summer, but still infectious as hell. The emphasis is on fun, with lyrics that invoke a great night out, such as “Like a pina colada, you’re not gonna waste me” (“Not Your Man”) and funky post-disco jams that Spotify describes as “The Bee Gees on Diazepam” (“L is For Lose”). Tight, harmonized falsetto vocals and invasively catchy melodies run throughout the album, which is riddled with some of the smoothest beats and slickest guitarwork this side of George Michael.
It is unfortunate for All We Are that they released this on the same day as a Biffy Clyro album AND a King Buzzo album. It’s sort of getting short shrift with my attention span. I’ll revisit later.
FFO: I Break Horses, Portugal. The Man, Foster the People
8 Inch Betsy – The Mean Days
To be clear, this is not new music. Singer/guitarist, Meghan Galbraith, died in 2015, but this is the first time that this recording is available on any streaming platform. 8 Inch Betsy is a queercore punk act from Chicago that paired raw emotion and honesty with ‘90s-style melodic punk. This recording is gritty, lo-fi, and raw. It is unfettered by modern production and all the more potent for it.
Start with: “Uh Oh”, “True North”
FFO: Sleater-Kinney, Shesus, Hole
Orville Peck – Show Pony (Columbia Records)
1 part Johnny Cash, 1 part Conway Twitty, a dash of Toby Keith, shake well and strain into ears. Orville Peck – if that is even his real name – wears a mask when he performs, and his true identity is a mystery. What’s not a mystery, though, is that this gritty, rustle-up-some-cattle style of country works well, somehow, in 2020.
And why not? Something making sense would make no sense at this point anyway.
FFO: Chris Stapleton, Josh Turner
RaeLynn – Baytown (Tree Vibez)
The Baytown EP is the follow-up to RaeLynn’s album Origins, which gave us the gem “God Made Girls”. (Readers, if you are not familiar with “God Made Girls”, please keep it that way, for your own sakes.) This is your typical “badass female country” act, in the same vein as Maren Morris or Miranda Lambert. But unlike those two artists – and several other awesome acts – Baytown just isn’t good. Origins did have a good track in “Love Triangle”, and Baytown has its own in “Me About Me”, but the rest is a pass.
FFO: Maddie and Tae, Cam, Runaway June
Son Lux – Tomorrows I (City Slang)
Smooth. Very, very smooth. Lots of variety, but the smoothness is present throughout. From jazzy (“Days Past”), to R&B (“Honesty”); from classical (“Involution”), to a more modern pop feel (“Plans We Made”), most tracks tie back to a signature sound.
I’m too much of a Neanderthal to understand the nuances of current musical genres, which is why knowing that Son Lux is considered “post-rock” doesn’t mean much to me. But I can understand a good album when I hear it – and I just did.
FFO: Perfume Genius, Woodkid