By: Rebekah Chotem, Gemma Lee, Miranda Macfarlane, and Courtney Miller
Marianas Trench – Astoria
Astoria is Marianas Trench’s fourth album and a further showcase of their maturation — all of their albums seem to build and improve on the previous one. Though not done in the continuous song style that Ever After was, the band includes some cinematic style orchestral pieces to move between songs such as “Hospital Bells” and “Never Say Die.” For the past couple of albums, Marianas Trench has been a fan of long, “Masterpiece Theatre I”-type opener songs on their albums, and the title track is no exception.
Marianas Trench is known not only for their rhythm and musical abilities, but also for their lyrical prowess. “Sometimes you can’t yell loud enough / sometimes a whisper’s just too much” is a powerful line from “Burning Up,” along with “the light dims without regret / you’re fading right in a cold trick of the light” from “One Love.”
“This Means War” is a percussion laden up-tempo number with poppy guitar riffs and quick lyric delivery. A ukulele features on “Dearly Departed,” something I don’t recall the band ever trying. But it works really well as the only instrument for half the song, until a violin and then the rest of the band joins in. “Shut Up and Kiss Me” is another track that is extremely catchy and awesome to jam to — a personal favourite.
Lead vocalist Josh Ramsay employs his unique falsetto as a stunning contrast to his raspy screams throughout the album, with nods to the band’s previous work for the fans. “End of an Era,” for instance, is a beautiful tribute to that work.
I’ll admit: after the release of their 2014 singles, I was more than a little concerned that Marianas Trench had lost their place as almost-royalty in the pop-rock world. Let me assure you though, despite their previous foray into the unknown, they have returned to what they’re best at. It shows through with Astoria. Hearing it, I have no regrets. –CM
Eli et Papillon – Colorythmie
The quebecois duo Eli et Papillon first met in 2008 during a recording session. Since then, singer/songwriter Elise Larouche and renowned Francophone composer/instrumentalist Marc Papillon-Ferland have been an inseparable pair, releasing their debut album in 2012 and gaining critical acclaim for its refined, elegant pop. Their new album, Colorythmie, deserves similar praise.
Their style can best be described as uplifting, folksy, and sometimes-electro, pop. Papillon-Ferland is impressively versatile and innovative in his composition and instrumentals. Throughout the album he plays the piano, guitar, synth, violin, bass, and saxophone, among other instruments. His musical style is simultaneously upbeat and mystical. The effects of his instrument choices are always aligned with each song’s lyrical theme.
Elise Larouche is, as far as my fragmented understanding of French can tell, a remarkable lyricist. Perhaps it is the appeal of a language that feels comparatively exotic to my own, but Larouche’s soft voice combined with her poetics comes off as otherworldly. Her singing style is always quick-tongued and fluid.
The pair works together harmoniously on all 10 tracks, exploring multiple musical fashions. Their song “Cette nuit” features prominent Celtic-sounding violin with an upbeat tempo. The tone of “Bouteille á la mer” slows a bit, setting a literal underwater sound, while still remaining folky. “L’oiseau” takes it even slower, its melody reflecting the spirit of a bird gliding through the air and featuring a more bittersweet tone to the violin that gradually gains momentum.
“Victoire” feels powerful, like a call to arms. The chorus gradually gains power, driving home a message of achieving victory. “Gratte-ciel” is by far the most pop-influenced track on the album, with more electro-based instrumentals, heavier bass, and featuring a rap segment by Sarahmée.
My favourite track off of Colorythmie is “Automne,” which describes my favourite season. It feels elegant and catchy, and doesn’t take long to get stuck in your head. –MM
EL VY – Return from the Moon
Musical collaborations have always been popular, and recent triumphs like that of David Byrne and St. Vincent remind us why we love them. But others, like Kanye West and Paul McCartney, make us reevaluate. EL VY, a collaboration between The National frontman Matt Berninger and Menomena/Ramona Falls’ Brent Knopf, lands somewhere in the middle.
Their debut, Return to the Moon, is a somewhat upbeat, dance-y, nostalgic record, filled with moments of self-doubt and melancholy (fans of The National will instantly recognize Berninger’s distinct lyrical style). The album’s title track kicks off with just enough force to get a room of apathetic dancers sliding their feet. This theme continues through most of the album’s first half, such as in the Beck-inspired “I’m the Man to Be.”
Berninger admits the film Grease influenced the album, and it’s in the moments where this is most apparent that the album finds its stride. The neo-rockabilly “Silent Ivy Hotel” feels comfortable and reassured, and lacks the chaotic jumble of musical ideas that confuse some of the other songs. As the backup vocals harmoniously hum, it’s easy to picture EL VY performing in an offbeat California hotel, with slicked-back hair, swishing dresses and all.
The latter half of the album abandons the swaying sounds of the former in favour of something more sombre. This is where the album sounds the most like The National; but Knopf’s influence is always there, providing that sought-after fresh sound. “Happiness Missouri” kicks things up a notch, while the wholesome piano of “It’s a Game” sets a much-needed subdued tone.
Despite these rare moments, Return to the Moon overall can’t quite find cohesion. Components provided by both Beringer and Knopf are individually great, but when combined feel more like the result of two beautiful jigsaw puzzles trying to fit together, ultimately forming a pile of missing links. When those links miraculously find each other, EL VY stands out. Here’s hoping they bring fewer puzzles to the next recording session. –RC
Terrible Thrills Vol 2 – Various Artists
Bleachers’ debut album Strange Desire has been reimagined as an all-female compilation titled Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 with vocalists including Charli XCX, Sia, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Tinashe.
I cannot rave enough about this album. It’s a vision by the mastermind leader of Bleachers, Jack Antonoff. Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 is his second re-imagined all-female cover compilation. The idea was reborn from Terrible Thrills, a compilation Antonoff released in 2010 when he was playing with his band Steel Trains.
“I hear my songs being sung by females before I change them and make them into my voice.” Jack Antonoff told Billboard in a recent interview. “The whole heart of this idea is for people to hear the album the way I hear it in my head, reinterpreted by the artists who sort of inspired it to be written in the first place.”
Listening to Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 is even more enjoyable if you’ve already heard Antonoff’s original album. “Rollercoaster” by Charli XCX is a classic Bleachers anthem, enthusiastically solidifying their modern pop-rock persona. “Like a River Runs” made my eyes run, as the song, delivered beautifully by Antonoff, is reprised in a slower, more soulful style by Sia.
“Shadow,” sung by Carly Rae Jepsen, is an adorable, lighter version of the original bittersweet melody. Jepson’s voice is clearer than Antonoff’s, and, as sung by her, the beautiful lyrics are much more audible. “Wake Me” is similar in style, but absolutely gorgeous as sung by Lucius. The tune behind the refrain of “If you’re lonely, lonely / lonely wake me” is timeless songwriting genius.
But my favorite song of the whole album is “I’m Ready to Move On/Wild Heart Reprise.” Susanna Hoffs does an incredible job of renovating this song and its lyrics into more of a hopeful compromise between human and spiritual.
The song that disappointed me a bit was “I Wanna Get Better” by Tinashe. On Strange Desire, it was my favorite song, a deeply personal expression by Antonoff; I just couldn’t feel that with the cover by Tinashe.
Despite this one fault, gender-bent albums have yet to disappoint me. Great collaborations and creative reimaginings make Strange Desire and Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 a perfect pair. –GL