Album reviews: Jon and Roy, The Maine, and Halsey

By: Courtney Miller and Justin Stevens

Jon and Roy – Riverside

Jon and Roy have been a standout fixture in the realm of Canadian folk music for over a decade. Since their debut in 2004, this three-piece band has been a favoured choice amongst Canadians looking for well-produced and thoughtful melodies. This October, they returned with its sixth studio album, continuing to mark their presence as one of the genre’s best.

This bite-sized LP of seven songs is an enjoyable and greatly accessible album to experience. At a duration of just over 30 minutes, it’s certainly succinct, but no less of an enthralling collection of songs for any casual music listener. 

The album begins with its gratifying title track “Riverside,” which has a calming melody capable of soothing even the most restless of souls. Jon and Roy’s strongest song off the LP is “Quatro,” with alluring guitar and drums that hypnotize over an intensifying beat. The album concludes with “Come Again,” a warming serenade which gives ample reason to return to the album multiple times.

Part of the album’s strength lies in its highly articulated instrumentals, which speak volumes with tactful intricacy. In many cases, the lyrics often take a backseat to the finely crafted instrumentals, which speak more soulfully to listeners.

This is not to say that the lyrics in Jon and Roy’s Riverside are at all lacking; they are just not on the same level as the crafted acoustics and drum beats.

If the album has one drawback, it is that the vocals simply don’t stand out. Lead singer Jon Middleton’s voice is unmemorable and does nothing to really differentiate itself from other folk singers in the genre. Fortunately, this never truly impedes the album in any regard.

Overall, Riverside is a delightful album with its share of good toe-tapping beats and epistemological themes capable of captivating casual and serious folk music fans alike. –JS

The Maine – American Candy

CMYK-The Maine-8123 Records

American Candy is Tempe, Arizona-based group The Maine’s fifth album. Their third and fourth albums, Pioneer and Forever Halloween, respectively, were darker and more introspectively critical musical endeavours. In contrast, American Candy is a lighter, more pop-infused take on their usual alternative rock style.

Released on the band’s own label, called 8123, American Candy was engineered to be a feel-good album you can just have fun to. Lead singer John O’Callaghan said at The Maine’s latest show in Vancouver that this label freedom really allowed the band to shape the American Candy sound as they saw fit.

Featuring catchy choruses and guitar riffs perfect for breaking out your air guitar, the band knows how to deliver a rock-solid record. The Maine features on lead guitar, Jared Monaco; on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Kennedy Brock; on drums, Pat Kirch; and on bass, Garrett Nickelsen.

They start you off with “Miles Away,” an upbeat, pop-rock tune about driving up the West Coast and partying with your friends. It’s a brilliant choice to introduce you to an entire album full of karaoke-worthy numbers. “Same Suit, Different Tie” follows, saying that you don’t need a lot of money to get dressed up and have a great night.

“My Hair” is all about living your life how you want to live it, using how you wear your hair as a metaphor: “Nobody’s gonna tell me how to wear my hair, not my momma or a big-wig millionaire. . . it’s not your hair!” And the same theme of having fun and doing your life your way flows into “English Girls” which was the first (and so far, only) single off the album.

As O’Callaghan said during the show, “Diet Soda Society” is a song that almost didn’t make it onto the record. I’m glad it made the cut, because it’s a fun, catchy commentary on the American, and universal, human experience. Featuring such candid lyrics as “to be honest, I am full of shit / But that’s alright because everyone else that I know is,” it’s an entertaining and amusing song to crank up in the car.

The Maine just concluded a free tour in the States, playing American Candy all the way through for fans without charging admission. It was their way of giving back and saying ‘thank you. –CM

Halsey – Badlands

CMYK-Halsey Badlands-Astralwerks and Capitol

A mix of electronic, synth, and indie pop sounds, Badlands is the debut album of Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, a New Jersey native who records and performs under her stage name Halsey. After a quick rise to the music scene in 2014 following the release of her EP Room 93, Badlands has garnered unexpected runaway success.

Room 93 is the original home of Halsey’s singles “Hurricane” and “Ghost,” both of which have been re-released on Badlands. Since then, a third single, “New Americana” has also been released, and a portion of it was covered by Panic! at the Disco’s Brendan Urie.

Badlands metaphorically represents a desolate and lonely mind, as well as the duality that comes with hereditary bipolar disorder. Despite all this, the album has a very optimistic, yet angry, rebellious feel.

“Strange Love” and “New Americana” are the anthem-like sing-along songs, the former with a devil-may-care attitude: “They think I’m insane / They think my lover is strange / But I don’t have to fucking tell them anything.” The latter is optimistic and hopeful: “Turned dreams into an empire / Self-made success.” The catchiness of these two songs is a feeling that spreads through most of the album. There’s an enthralling, magnetic pull to Badlands that lures the listener in and holds them there.

“Colors” takes the listener through the stages of a relationship with an addict. It begins with the separate colours of the two individuals before showing how those colours and those people shape each other. And then it sees it through to the romance’s demise: “Everything is grey / His hair, his smoke, his dreams.”

As you can probably tell, Halsey is a feminist and that shines through on a lot of her songs, “Hurricane” in particular. This song talks about sexual agency and a woman’s decision about what that means for her. A little slower than some of her other songs, the melodic combination of the lyrics and the guitar is a beautiful backdrop to a story of a woman doing the right thing for herself. –CM