Popjustice Advent Calendar 2018 - Dec 23rd | Page 10 | The Popjustice Forum

Popjustice Advent Calendar 2018 - Dec 23rd

Discussion in 'Charts, rates etc' started by NecessaryVoodoo, Oct 24, 2018.

  1. Dec 19th

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    Now, Now - Saved
    reviewed by @Lost Boy

    Every great album must take its listener on a journey of its choosing; whether unpacking an evolution of sound for the artist, transcribing a dedicated narrative or delicately weaving through carefully crafted hit singles and filler tracks, every great album understands that who you arrive as should differ to the person that leaves – touched and altered by the journey they’ve undertaken. A truly brilliant album manages all three: representing an expedition for all involved – a feat that Now, Now has effortlessly achieved with the harrowing and powerful ‘Saved’.

    The idea of the voyage spills out from beneath the album into the messaging and lyricism itself. At the beginning of the album, Dalager is rooted in painful nostalgia and sentiment, crooning “I want it all back” in ‘MJ’ - an ode to the great Michael Jackson – and “Holding up for you, am I wasting my time?” in the tender unravelling of ‘Can’t Help Myself’. Bathed in references to driving, back-seats, road-trips with old flames, the album thrives on a constant development and utilisation of motion – including the lack of it, understanding that every road-trip to nowhere also comes with breakdowns, side-stops and endless ruminating whilst watching the world pass by.

    It’s in these opening moments in which Now, Now first establishes the evolution from their much rockier and punk-ish past selves. With six years gone since their atmospheric, mumblecore sophomore album, so too has the sprawling pads, stretched vocals and heavy guitars. Opening with the immediate ‘SGL’ - an abbreviation of the ‘shotgun love’ affection – Dalager and Hale showcase every tightened bolt, with sharp production and a glitzy yet affective melody – an updated and evolved version of their past title track ‘Threads’ in every way.

    ‘SGL’ was to be our first preview of their new sound, released almost a full year before the album, the perfect choice to show how the band had changed and yet retained the same bone structure – the following single, ‘Yours’, would go on to show how the skin surrounding it had matured and aged in all kinds of delicate and exciting ways.

    ‘Yours’ is undoubtedly the heart of the album; the fluttering synths and continuous drum beat a perfect match for the smooth delicacy of the chorus – carefully unfolding and exploding in a sensuous declaration of love with the final minute. “I’m driving faster with the windows down, just to keep my mind off you” she coos, instantly transporting her willing audience to the cold passenger seat beside her. Together you are Thelma and Louise, careening out into the open air as the behest of your unrelenting emotion.

    Often times, the album truly feels like dropping into a moment of depersonalised wanderlust; an expose of every meandering thought we’ve all experienced, glancing out of car windows into worlds we simply pass by. It’s dreamlike and coy, drifting through similes and metaphors, settling down sharply with the more dedicated, built-to-be-hit-singles (‘AZ’, ‘MJ’, ‘SGL’, and the punchy ‘Set It Free’)

    In ‘Window’, we are stuck behind the glass – observers to the life on the other side – the song positively swirling around one simple but exceptional melody, only for it to be subverted in the inviting and downhearted ‘Holy Water’ - another sharp mid-tempo with bubbling synths and a subtle explosion of emotion toward the end. It’s a true testament to their ability to craft a succinct and exciting narrative that the slower moments can be grouped together without the album feeling weighed down by the tempo drop.

    The only lessor moment on the album is the title track. despite the ‘oh my god, I’m saved!’ refrain being one of the stronger hooks of the collection. It occupies a similar pathway as ‘Drive’, and yet doesn’t quite manage to maintain the exciting duality present in the rest of the songs. A confusing ode to a broken relationship that doesn’t quite manage to utilise the heavy imagery to anything tangible, while by no means a bad song – it suffers by being between the two best songs on the album.

    And never does the album feel more like a real evolution as on the wonderfully evocative ‘Knowme’ - a lightweight and minimal epic that instantly evokes a duality of leaving behind unnecessary baggage in the face of self-confidence, whilst finding yourself irreparably stuck in the mud of your past; that circular feeling of being trapped inside circles in which you can’t escape – every road eventually leading back to your childhood home, every choice a facade against fated incident – and yet, there’s a quiet power in recognising and accepting that fate, and a quiet strength in the very simple mantra: “you don’t even know me, you will never know me”. Not only is it the best song on the album, but it’s a triumphant peak for their entire discography – an achievement made even greater by the pure simplicity of the track.

    “Late night driving and I end up at my parent’s house”, Dalager opens on ‘Knowme’. It’s a simple enough line that conjures immediate imagery, a story told already in one sentence – every road leads back here. It’s one of a dozen powerful lines that manage to transcribe imagery and intent into the album without you having to stop and realise; “I got the seat back, windows up, just say it, I’m yours” (‘SGL’), “I’ll make it easy for you, baby. Remove myself from your equation” (‘Can’t Help Myself’), “You touch me like an angel, but you kiss me like a sinner” (‘Holy Water’).

    If we truly treat this album like the late night car journey the narrative would suggest, the opening run is that heightened euphoria of leaving home and not yet knowing the possibilities that lie ahead. On the way, we pass through foreign towns and glimpse people and places that reflect things we may have left behind. We enjoy ourselves with small talk and deep conversation, at the whim of the thoughts of everyone trapped within the car – surrendering to that open road. And in the moments winding the album back down, we come back to the melancholy in returning home, especially evident in the downbeat and heartbreaking ‘Drive’ - a direct contrast to the “windows up” of ‘SGL’, in which Dalager purrs about unrequited love being driven home with “the windows down” - and the quirky ‘Powder’, which encapsulates the feelings set before it before switching up into an experimental moment of release: “Crush me up into a powder, take me away like the wind”.

    All in all, it’s an exceptional pop album and statement for the band that isn’t being achieved by anyone else in the industry right now. A delicate balance of silky smooth songwriting, well-placed iconography, an emotionally infused vocal and an understanding that the slower moments have just as much opportunity to shine as the singles. Though the likes of ‘Set It Free’, ‘AZ’, ‘MJ’ and ‘Yours’ are perfectly designed to worm their way into your mind, the real heart of the album comes through in the quiet determination of ‘Knowme’, the rumbling desperation of ‘Holy Water’, and the painful melancholy of ‘Drive’.
     
    Island, Serg., Diet Pop! and 14 others like this.
  2. Oh look, it’s finally my turn! I hope everyone enjoyed the review. The album is one of my all time favourites in its relatively subtle and melancholic glory, but it also has huge punchy singles you’ll all love.



    Also this is my absolute favourite and one of my favourite songs of the entire year:

     
  3. 2014

    2014 Staff Member

    Dec 20th

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    Christine & The Queens - Chris
    Reviewed by @RJF


    Héloïse Letissier has made no secret of her love for theatricality in pop music and everything it can enable in the medium. It can bring a point or emotion into sharper focus in a heightened environment that is entirely of the artist’s creation; it can paint the boring and mundane in big, beautiful colours, and sometimes it can just look straight-up cool and be an absolute moment (re: her current treatment for “The stranger” on tour) of visual brilliance. But as she spent the last four years breaking down gender (she’s fluid) and queer (she’s pan) politics for journalists asking her frankly boring questions about pErSoNaS and aRtIsTiC hOnEsTy and her damn haircut, her response has been consistent. Theatricality and conceptualism in her artistry has enabled her to be honest in ways she couldn’t if she just had to plainly communicate how she was feeling. Away from the stage, she is shy. Under the spotlight, she is brave. This is how Chris was born, and this is how, ultimately, Chris was forged.

    “I declare this a safe space; a space of reinvention and revolution.” she says to the audience – but mostly to me of course – after a breathlessly choreographed two song opener of “Comme si” and “Girlfriend” to her concert in Glasgow last month. It isn’t shouted or roared; those with authority rarely need to raise their voice. It’s spoken, then it is. Because as much as bravery is important, so is sanctuary, and safety can enable courage. So as she speaks, a veil falls over everyone in the audience, and in the darkness of Chris’ protective shadow, I think: okay, I can do this, in the dark I can be brave too. And for the next hour and half, we watch someone who has been kind enough to share their light with us this year.



    After finding literal diamond-certified success with her debut in her home country of France only to find more success two years later in the UK and essentially having to rerun her first campaign, Chris feels like it’s been a long time coming, and positively bursts with enthusiasm and energy, like the person behind it has been desperate to share it. It’s that fervour that shines through on what is a thoroughly muscular, gleaming, punchy pop tour-de-force where she decides to fuck with the atoms of our society to satisfy her own curiosity and present her findings to us. Where Chaleur Humaine was cautious and reserved, Chris is daring and seductive. It’s meant be harder, sharper, and bolder compared to its predecessor, but it’s all in the name of exploration. Chris has spoken numerous times about the album being inspired by carnality and desire, and her newly found freedom in articulating those things inside herself. The album literally kicks off with a gasp of ecstasy before you settle into the jubilant one-two opening punch of “Comme si”, which acts as a clarion call for love, and “Girlfriend”, where she decides to play with masculine tropes and apply them to herself, and in doing so, she outlines the album’s modus operandi: okay, so if it’s typically expected of men to do this, what happens when I do that?

    It’s actually interesting to see it unfold across the album’s more sexual songs; this approach of taking masculine trappings and… appropriating them for herself and the situations she finds herself in. She’s not necessarily placing herself in the position of a man; she’s taking the stereotypes and behaviours typically expected and allowed in men and applying them to herself. Appropriate is perhaps too strong (or wrong) a word, but it illustrates just how iconoclastic it feels for being such an innocuous-on-paper approach. Stuff like “5 dollars” sees her on the attack as the dominant party (a position far more accepted for a man to be in in terms of sex), where she rejects the idea of being ashamed of sex even as she’s taking money for it, and "Damn" sees her literally crying out for sex, but on an album as densely packed as this, a lyric like, “Damn, what must a woman do?” carries a lot of baggage. Not only does it work on a surface level (damn, what do have I do for a fucking around here?) but on every other level that adopting masculine traits brings to the surface (damn, what do I have to do to be taken seriously? To not be ashamed of my desires? Of my femininity? Of my queerness? Of my confusion as I figure out all of the above?). It’s essentially the behaviour of a man being filtered through a queer woman’s lens, and it personifies the androgyny and investigative nature of the album perfectly. What happens when you take pop’s fairly heteronormative gaze and begin to subvert it by making things not as simple as they seem below the surface? Well, mostly what happens is sharp-as-hell bops, but you get what I’m saying.



    For all the bulging brashness that makes the album so engaging, softness is honoured and examined just as much as everything else because they are just as valid (Imagine men accepted their feelings as the norm as much as they accept a lack of feeling as the norm. BOOM!) “The walker” is a glittering, aching ode to tenderness and easy highlight of the album, while “What’s-her-face” sees Chris confront the part of her that is still that lonely, confused girl in the playground and “Make some sense” is a reminder to everyone that you can’t always have someone else point out the obvious to you. “Doesn’t matter” is most likely the album’s crown jewel for me personally; Chris pontificates over despair and suicide and grabbing your shard of sunlight and bolting for the hills over stabbing, metallic synths and that knock and thrash and bubble like some demented “Hey Mickey” remix as she throws her frustrations into the void. It feels like the peak of how the album marries hard and soft, fury and understanding, masc and femme, ordinary and extraordinary, fun and misery. One thing is never entirely one thing, because nothing can or should exist in a vacuum, especially in our times when we now have a duty to know better, to search deeper, and to question what is both right in front and hidden deep inside of us, and if there’s one thing to take away from Chris as an album, it’s that everything is connected, and it’s only in accepting this that we can prosper on all levels. Where have disconnection and division got us recently?



    It’s been over the course of the last few weeks where this album has become my favourite of the year, and it’s mostly because of what I just said in the above paragraph. It’s just an immaculate, intelligent, sentient pop album. Sometimes it articulates feelings that I don’t even think it means to; like it’s a living organism that goes beyond the canvas it was initially put on. Ultimately, the album is a testament to freedom, and that feels so important and vital right now when we feel so far away from an age where we’re all caramel and queer. So maybe the key really is to stop trying to fit into the restraints we all put on ourselves and accept that we live in a wide and endless world full of possibilities. To pull another quote from Chris from that same night in Glasgow, “Be soft, be tender, and be kind to each other. Especially now.” In fact, since I’ve been ripping her off for this entire write up (and low-key ripping her off in this very paragraph without y’all even realising), I might as well let her take the whole thing home.

    Under the veil of her own protection, the stage bathed in darkness, everything feels shockingly intimate for a venue that holds thousands. Chris feels comfortable and admits to us, “I tried, man. I tried. I tried really hard to fit in. And it was EXHAUSTING, man! Twenty years old and I was like--,” and she groans and limps across the stage for a few seconds to illustrate just how fucking hard pretending can be before continuing, “Everything felt too narrow and impossible and I just tried for years and then I decided to STOP TRYING!” and the crowd goes wild, “BEST decision ever made! Lots of free time suddenly on my hands! New hobbies, everything! I could read more books it was fantastic. I just decided to embrace the fact that I would be once and for all and maybe always… a bit…”

    A bit what?

    “A bit… Tilted.”

    YAAAASSS
    .

    And she brings us back into her light, with a “Wink!” at her own cheesy as fuck introduction before gliding into the song that kicked off everything, balancing sincerity and levity perfectly. It’s theatre. It’s honesty. It’s bravery. It’s glorious.

     
  4. Loving all these reviews & how many of them are of the amazing queer music that's been released this year! Shameless plug that Chris, Now, Now, Ryan Beatty, SOPHIE, Rae Morris, & my very own Ssion are in my up and running 20Gayteen Rate!
     
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    So today's review is the last one we've received. I know a couple of others are still in progress so they'll get posted whenever they're completed. A huge thank you once again to those who took part this year, it's a real Testament --in stores now-- to just how much music (and this hot pink hellscape) means to us that we torture ourselves each November with trying to get down in words just how and why it makes us feel the way it does.

    Merry Christmas gerls!
     
    Island, Serg., Ironheade and 8 others like this.
  6. Dec 21st

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    Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
    reviewed by @beyoncésweave

    So you’re getting older. Life feels heavier. The rhythms of living have become motions and the people around you are too familiar. At odd times through the day, everything you’re doing and everything you are seems completely arbitrary and pointless. Most horrifically, the many doors which seemed open before you when you were younger are closing one by one. Possibility itself seems dampened. All the while, it feels like you’re missing out and falling behind in countless ways seen and unseen. It’s all frustrating and exhausting and, just quietly, terrifying.

    I’m getting older, too. In a new country to boot. Even in a new place, you can quickly develop new, heavy motions. There are new people around me, but their faces have become routine in less time than the years it took for faces from previous lives. The resolution of leaving to come here feels less strong after arrival. This was me seizing a new possibility but it seems impossible to do it again – what seemed like adventure before now feels so wearying. And it’s hot here. When your thoughts are simmering in humidity, you’re paralysed and simply resigned to watching the doors close. As it hit one year after the move, it really was frustration, exhaustion, and just slightly, terror.

    And then came Golden Hour. Some albums come like a shot in the dark to knock you out. Others develop over time, slowly revealing their depths. Golden Hour has, incredulously, been both for me. Perhaps is because its essence is reassurance – something you always seek and crave as both immediate and continuous sustenance. It is the first fire and the long ballast afterwards, together. Opener “Slow Burn” is both these quantities. One of the clearest, most singular opening statements of intent in memory, it quietly reflects that it’s okay to take things slow. The song is peppered with anecdotes that glitter with poignancy like “Grandma cried when I pierced my nose”; and truisms which somehow transcend the mundane, like “Texas is hot, I can be cold”. When the song finally lights the spark of “mmmh whatever feels good”, the whole affair just glows because it seems to arrest even for one second the cold angst of ambition and existence itself.

    It’s this approach which is repeated across the album – gentle observations about life which, with deft skill, somehow come alive to create the sense that things will be just fine in the end. But this is not an empty platitude – it doesn’t get there easily or linearly, and nothing provides reassurance in some definite, clean way which swerves life’s messy complications.

    There is continuous acknowledgement foremost of the multiple anxieties which plague us. “Lonely Weekend” paints the fraught line between being alone and lonely through the itinerary of a week. Its “I keep lookin' at my phone, puttin' it back down/There's a little part of me that's got the fear of missin' out” feels positively surreal in its accuracy. Similarly, “Happy & Sad” captures so fluently the foreboding which always seems to layer enjoyment with “And I'm the kind of person who starts getting kinda nervous/When I'm having the time of my life”. It nails the fact that we often don’t give ourselves permission to be truly happy in the moment, maybe for fear of it ending too soon or simply because we don’t think we deserve it. Likewise, the sparkling relief of “Thank god it’s not too good to be true” in “Oh, What A World” turns at the very end of the song to a plea for comfort in “Tell me it’s not too good to be true”. These subtle contrasts don’t collapse the original resolutions they are attached to, but rather, make them even more moving. Maybe then, the anxiety is just as important as the happiness because you are, and can be, both at the same time.

    Equally, the album doesn’t provide a cushy justification for everything you’re doing and absolve you of your actions. “High Horse”, for example, is filled with warnings against hubris and treating people like shit, while “Wonder Woman” gently implores a little more commitment. Importantly, these are not issued to the listener – they merely complete third- or second-person narratives observed with raised eyebrows, either severe or pleading, from the corner of the room. In doing so, the album is insistent on not preaching; no revelations are offered as life lessons. She’s just making scribbles of the world around her for you to do with as you will. This complete absence of ego is disarming and remarkable enough to be entirely persuasive. So when “Slow Burn” intones that “I know a few things, but I still got a lot to learn” it’s a quiet reminder of the value of humility, delivered so off-handedly that it gets absorbed instantly.

    The same carefree approach nudges the album’s charming playfulness and wit. There’s something ticklingly joyous about the “giddy ups” in “High Horse”, whilst how the wordplay in “Space Cowboy” actually plays out is exceedingly clever, even if it’s wrapped in the forlorn. To match, soft acknowledgements of pleasure, not for its own sake, but because it illuminates life itself. Liquids, psychedelics, organics, love; when the weight of age is clouding and finally erasing your horizons, why forsake anything on the tongue to arrest or reverse that, or even paint anew the damn horizon? So to “good in a glass, good on green” and the “plants that grow and open your mind”. And to the multiple shades of love, too, traversing early goosebumps (“Butterflies”) to warm appreciation (“Golden Hour”) to affable possession (“Velvet Elvis”) to cosmic certainty (“Oh What A World”). As a whole, it is this delight at everything the world is, from the sunsets to the flowers by the road to the trips to the hands on your arm to the whole universe.

    It’s difficult to tear yourself away from the album’s ideas to focus on its technicalities because they, too, are so understated. The instrumentation is emphatic enough to dismiss any tired debate about country and country-pop right from the outset. There’s guitars and banjos and pianos throughout, but little surprises alongside them, too. “Oh What A World” features a vocoder right next to the banjos, and “High Horse” spins quickly into a delicious disco affair. In the background, this lowkey dappling ambience which is maybe what sunlight sounds like. Paired with this is a voice so crystalline that you never doubt the genuineness of the words it is singing, across melodies so simple and gorgeous. And she can make songs shiver, like with the slightest upward inflection at the end of the second repetition of “when I’m having the time of my life” in “Happy & Sad”. It all sounds pristine and effortless in a way you just know was crafted meticulously, but lovingly so.

    It’s these flourishes which help pull the album back smoothly even where it broaches topics which feel like it could mire the album in the trite. “Mother” is not a sappy paean to your mother but a simple, heartbreaking expression of missing her in a single moment, astutely judged to be succinct – because tender feelings for your parents are sometimes so ephemeral. “Rainbow”, likewise, is not some easy empowerment anthem wheedled out to score points. The lyrics might seem hackneyed – she’s literally spells out the rainbow at one point – but when it comes after acknowledging the string of anxieties and apprehensions that we face, even the plainest words feel incredibly generous.

    In the end, this woman offering up herself and her world to you without judgment or arrogance, and with considerate, genial concern amounts to a true compassion. With such a worldview, even something as innocuous, mundane as “In Tennessee, the sun’s going down, but in Beijing they’re heading out to work” sounds like the most important revelation. And it is. Isn’t the fact that people are living their lives duplicate to yours, going through the same motions and maybe being torn open by the rare raptures, its own wonder?

    It’s all so transfixing because it is so purely, innocently sincere. Perhaps it appears novel to ears and eyes trained on pop and all its artifices, where it seems like you need to harness the dramatic in order to be profound. Or maybe it’s alien because people just aren’t this honest to us, in real life or otherwise. So when something like this comes around, you can only accept it all in the same spirit it was offered with.

    The first punch and later flurries of Golden Hour were a series of so many moments over this year. Weekends both alone and lonely. Watching a bunch of schoolboys break into laughter from the bus or a sun split into three and plunge into an impossibly blue sea. Seeing and feeling life go by from so many porches, windows and balconies. Somewhere in there, a few rainbows, too. And, of course, the golden hours themselves – the ones in Sri Lanka are stupendous, where everything feels charged with a warm electricity and a sublime light that could last forever.

    The revelations came, too. That the familiar faces are indeed faces to love. That the “you” in “and there is you” was actually several beautiful people and maybe even myself. That possibility was never linear and definite and you weren’t born with a set number of doors for time to close one by one. That maybe the doors closing, by or on you, creates new openings which just aren’t immediately noticeable or even imaginable. That you wouldn’t be the person you are now without having done and experienced every single thing that you have. And suddenly and slowly, the weight lifted. It didn’t seem to matter that I was getting older. Things became, just quietly, a little less frustrating and exhausting and terrifying.

    Reassurance is difficult. Even when you receive it from those you love, the range of its expression is so limited that it’s bound to feel clichéd. For someone you don’t know and will likely never meet, to make even the most banal words of reassurance feel not at all trite, then, takes a special kind of magic. Kacey provides that magic. Even, and especially, with Golden Hour’s very last words: It’ll all be alright. And you believe her, completely.
     
    Island, aaronhansome, askew and 37 others like this.
  7. What an immaculate set of reviews.

    I put Golden Hour on my short list but was intimidated by the sheer weight of emotional significance, I was hoping someone else might be able to do it the justice deserved. I’m so relieved to see @beyoncésweave remains a humble wordsmith for that intangible magic.

    I’ve been meaning to get around to the Christine & The Queens album for some time but @RJF you may have convinced me to put it on rotation for my holiday drive this weekend. Bravo.
     
    Island, aaronhansome, Serg. and 8 others like this.
  8. Much like this album coming at a perfect time in my life, this review came on the perfect day. As always, beautifully written and felt
     
  9. 2014

    2014 Staff Member

    Thank you so much everyone for another year of fantastic reviews! We have some more in store so keep your eyes peeled !! xx
     
  10. @beyoncésweave manages to layer extra levels of appreciation due to that review for an album that was already impeccable.
     
  11. RJF

    RJF

    dodoriazarbon and londonrain like this.
  12. 2014

    2014 Staff Member

    Dec 23rd

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    MNEK - Language
    Reviewed by @londonrain

    Uzoechi Emenike is that rare thing in music: a songwriter, producer and singer who excels at all three and is seemingly capable of putting together 10/10 songs for himself as easily as he does for other people. I can't count the number of pop songs I absolutely love that I've subsequently discovered were produced and/or written by him (including All Fired Up by The Saturdays, Home Run by Misha B, IDGAF by Dua Lipa, Touch by Little Mix, Basically Over You by Alex Newell and Word of Mouth by Metroplane and Bree Runway). He's managed to amass writing and production credits for Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Rudimental and Clean Bandit by the age of 24, while putting out a fairly consistent stream of singles from 2014 onwards, including the UK top 40 hit The Rhythm, which was included on his 2015 EP Small Talk, and the international smash Never Forget You, which was recorded as a duet with Swedish singer Zara Larsson and was included on her 2017 album So Good after having peaked at #5 in the UK, #13 in the US, #1 in Sweden, #3 in Australia and in the top ten in six other countries.

    So what does his first full-length album have to bring to the table?

    It would be tempting to just craft an album full of songs that sound like Never Forget You and the hits he's crafted for other acts: I'm sure PJ would be here for an album of songs like Touch and All Fired Up. What he's chosen to do instead, however, is to create a cohesive, all-killer-no-filler album that includes a number of nods to his influences while avoiding the "songs that other acts rejected" approach that Sia took with her album This Is Acting.

    I mean, look at this Spotify playlist of songs he listed as his influences:

    Who else would list Billie Piper, Janelle Monae, Mariah Carey, the Spice Girls and Samantha Mumba as influences for a single album?

    Most telling is the choice of a song from Janet Jackson's masterpiece The Velvet Rope as the top song on that playlist. The influence on Language is obvious immediately from the choice to use intros and interludes to pull the disparate sounds on the album together to form a single connected whole, an interesting choice in the streaming era when albums are increasingly a collection of previously-released singles plus a bunch of additional songs that sit easily on their own and are designed to be easily added to playlists.

    The album opens with an intro entitled Background, which revolves around the line "For too long I've been in the background / It's time to step up to the front now" before being overtaken by two girls seemingly talking at a party, with one of them recognising Never Forget You when it's played and then referring to MNEK as "M-Neck" before the other one calls her out and points out that the pronunciation is M-N-E-K. (For those not in the know, "M-N-E-K" is how you pronounce the surname Emenike, and the mispronunciation of "ethnic" names in Britain is an ongoing discussion point in the context of race relations and the representation of minorities in the country - Rina Sawayama's Flicker, for example, tackles this more directly.)

    The intro then leads straight into Correct, which is the most wonderfully assertive statement of intent I could have asked for here. He makes no bones about lines like "I was making flames before Year 7 begun / I was getting paid before I was getting drunk", but the highlight is the middle eight, which gives us this section:

    So if everyone figures
    Your head is getting bigger
    Fuck them, they don't know shit
    You've earned it, so own it
    Black kings we sit proud on our thrones

    before launching straight into a spoken section that repeats the line "Stay fabulous honey". We're not even two songs into the album and it's obvious that, not only is MNEK a Personality with a capital P, this is an album that's both authentically queer and unapologetically black. In a country where non-white voices have to speak louder to be heard and then are told they're "aggressive" or "angry" when they do so, and where the few popular LGBT artists are uniformly white, it's a thing of beauty to hear a queer black man embracing his queerness and his blackness on record while also adopting the swagger and storytelling that normally seems reserved for heterosexual rappers.

    Lead single Tongue follows, in which MNEK somehow makes a spoken-word chorus incredibly musical by virtue of all the little background vocals, production flourishes and an unexpectedly addictive beat. The video for this song is possibly my favourite from the era, with MNEK looking positively regal as he sings to a man about not wanting to admit he's in love. As with Correct, part of what makes the song work so well is how comfortable in himself he sounds - he makes both songs quite thoroughly his own, to the extent that it's hard to imagine who else he could have given these songs to without losing their essence.


    The Gibberish interlude which follows segues neatly into Phone, in which MNEK puts a modern twist on the oft-used theme of an ex who keeps trying to get in contact. Where, say, Bug A Boo by Destiny's Child had the girls complaining that they wanted to "throw my pager out the window" and "tell AOL, make me email stop", MNEK complains about this guy "tweeting me, texting me" before ending the song by pointing out that "If you stopped calling and beeping / Gave me the space I needed / Maybe I would still be there".

    Next comes Colour, the one song on the whole album that sounds like an attempt to recreate the success of Never Forget You. MNEK replicates the duet format by calling in Hailee Steinfeld, who turns in a competent performance here but really could be anyone at all, as she's largely here as a foil for MNEK's vocals (and in fact I believe she was far from being the first choice for the song). It would have been great to hear a fellow queer vocalist like Alex Newell or Mykal Kilgore trading vocal runs with MNEK here... and make no mistake, MNEK is in great form here, singing above Hailee, below her, around her, and giving us some glorious ad libs. In a year where things have often been tough for me, Colour has frequently been an unexpected source of joy and comfort, with the lines "Before you came into my life / Everything was black and white / Now all I see is colour / Like a rainbow in the sky" clicking with me in a way that a lot of similarly-themed music somehow failed to do in 2018.


    Hailee's opening line in Colour is "I never thought that I would meet anybody who knows my body how you know my body", and that neatly sets up the album's highlight, Body, in which MNEK perfectly captures the experience of a first time with somebody ("you seem tense, so come on over") while using his rather impressive vocal range to its full effect... but then the song quickly turns into Honeymoon Phaze, in which he asks "Now we're sitting round asking when did we get out of the honeymoon phase?"

    The switch from first contact to "we ain't touching like we used to" in the space of two songs seems so drastic and yet so seamless that it really brings home how quickly that can happen in a relationship. Suddenly we're hearing a rather different vocalist from the one who gave us Correct and Tongue, with fuller, swooping vocal lines and an instantly attractive dexterity that's all too rare among male singers in 2018. Honeymoon Phaze also includes the most obvious lyrical nod to MNEK's influences, with the lines
    Used to be puppy love
    All that romantic stuff
    Smoking in your bedroom to some Brandy and Monica
    We stan a legend with taste.

    After the all-too-brief title track, we get a spoken-word interlude of a man trying to allay his girlfriend's concerns about where he's been and what he's doing... and we then get what is rumoured to be the album's next single, Girlfriend, which from a lyrical standpoint is perhaps a bit too relatable for too many gay men, as MNEK asks "If your girlfriend knew / 'Bout me and you / 'Bout what we do / Tell me what would she do?" in an obvious homage to the lyrics of Aaliyah's 1996 hit If Your Girl Only Knew. Uzoechi is pulling no punches here: "Neither you or your story's straight", he says, and at one point the album booklet literally lists the lyrics as "'Cos you're ️‍️‍[eyes emoji] [rainbow flag emoji] (Go!)"

    Previously-released single Paradise, which samples the distinctive riff from Ultra Naté's Free, follows, before flowing into Crazy World, which was the last pre-release track before the album came out and features the lines
    Somewhere in this crazy world
    A man is told he's committed a sin
    Somewhere in this crazy World
    All because of the colour of his skin
    The streets to the courtrooms
    And every time I watch the news

    and

    Somewhere in this crazy world
    A father is disappointed by his son
    Somewhere in this crazy world
    'Cos he told him that he's in love with someone
    Less her and more him
    He's coming out; he can't keep it in
    It's not an easy listen lyrically or musically but it does carry a message of hope ("I'll be there for you / 'Cos in this crazy world you're not alone") and again gives you a clear sense of who MNEK is while not making the song about him.

    The next interlude, Be, echoes the need for people regardless of race or gender to be free, but the song that follows - Free - is no euphoric expression of liberation; instead it's the sorrowful end of a relationship, portrayed with an unexpected maturity ("So this is my apology / Let's end this love with honesty / There's no need for fighting, no "it's you", "it's me") and with what is almost certainly a reference to Mariah Carey's Butterfly ("So I won't keep you tied / Spread your wings and take flight"). MNEK's voice starts off processed and almost cowed in its dynamic before taking off towards the end. This leads to the album closer, Touched By You, which is particularly heartbreaking when seen as an extension of Free. There have been thousands of breakup songs, but there's something particularly personal that hit me with the lines

    You should know that he held me like you
    With his hands like you
    Made me laugh like you
    Loved like you
    Fucked like you
    And for a second
    If only for a second
    It was like I was touched by you
    Touched by you
    For all the swagger we heard earlier in the album, the album leaves us with an image of MNEK bereft, trying to recapture the touch of someone who has long gone. It's a surprisingly stark image for an album that started off so confidently, and for a record full of joy, anger, defiance and frustration, it provides an almost theatrical end to the story of the album. The storyline isn't always linear but it's certainly there, and you can feel how personal it is even before you get to this line in the liner notes:

    "I want to thank the guy a lot of this album was inspired by. You'll probably never understand it but you know who you is [heart emoji]"
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2018
    vague, VivaForever, Island and 16 others like this.
  13. 2014

    2014 Staff Member

    I have to say a massive thank you to @londonrain for swooping in with a lastminute.com review - a lifesaver, thanks!
     
  14. That review was last minute. Phew!!! Well done @londonrain
     
  15. londonrain

    londonrain Staff Member

    Thanks!

    (I only started it this evening after being drafted in as a last-minute replacement earlier in the week dddd. Glad you like it!)

    Also, I forgot to include the videos for Paradise and Correct, so here they are:



    Body is one of my favourite tracks of the year and I strongly recommend checking it out:​

     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2018
  16. londonrain

    londonrain Staff Member

    Tagging @Robsolete because... well, Samantha Mumba.

    [​IMG]
     
  17. If he helps her release new music, I'll decide to stan forever.
     
    Island and londonrain like this.
  18. I will have to read the rest of these reviews, but, JESUS CHRIST, that Golden Hour essay is something else. I'm not crying, you are, etc
     
    2014 and Deleted member 29256 like this.
  19. londonrain

    londonrain Staff Member

    A post-Christmas song for you all from MNEK:

     
    Old Untouchable Ace likes this.
  20. londonrain

    londonrain Staff Member

    Thanks again to @NecessaryVoodoo and @2014 for running this! It was great to read everyone's reviews - it was a great way to cap off 2018 and discover a number of albums I didn't know about or hadn't bothered with earlier in the year.

    (I take it we're not getting any more reviews?)
     
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