Track Reviews: Angel Olsen, Ariel Pink, Childish Gambino, Damien Rice, Godflesh, Lydia Ainsworth, Kendrick Lamar, Miley Cyrus, Run The Jewels, Weezer

Angel Olsen – “All Right Now”

Angel Olsen’s album Burn Your Fire for No Witness was one of my favourite albums this year. The recently released deluxe edition features some juicy tracks, including a personal favourite, “All Right Now”. The song, however, seems a bit removed from Angel Olsen’s recent repertoire; in Burn Your Fire, Olsen embraces anger and solitude as liberation with kick drum accents and reassuring chants. “All Right Now,” on the other hand, is more comforting with a slow tempo, an intimate and simple instrumental, and of course, her angelic voice.

This song reminds listeners of the voice we fell in love with on Olsen’s debut, Half Way Home. It’s the kind of song I would slow dance to, if I enjoyed slow dancing, or any dancing for that matter. I’d more likely cry to this over a glorious cathartic night alone with a soft blanket and warm peppermint tea. – Ayla Shiblaq

Ariel Pink – “Put Your Number in My Phone”

Within the first few seconds of Ariel Pink’s “Put Your Number in My Phone”, its kitschy, soft rock could easily double as the opening sequence for a single-run 80’s sitcom. The track draws a clear lineage from the excessively lo-fi Papermache or even his most recent, tided-up Mature Themes, as its subtleties revolve around a single melodic core. Relaxed, effortless and cherry-topped with a bit of cheekiness, the song could come across as mediocre were it not for a clever telephone sample and Pink’s signature diluted sparkle.

Anyone familiar with Pink’s back catalogue can’t help but wonder if his proclamation of “I wanna get to know you more, baby/put your number in my phone is ” directed at a prospective drug dealer or a potential significant other. That being said, I want to believe in the latter and that on “Put Your Number in My Phone,” Pink has transitioned from perpetual man-child to thoughtful freak-pop elder. – Melissa Vincent

Childish Gambino – “Sober”

Fans of Childish Gambino will be pleasantly surprised with the direction of his latest track, “Sober.” The track was published earlier this month as a rough edit on the rapper’s SoundCloud account. Gambino channels a younger Michael Jackson with his smooth vocals and an R&B sound on the track. Gambino soulfully reminiscences about a lost relationship that Gambino, and the song fades out as the bass drops and takes a new turn at the outro. The track will be featured on the artist’s upcoming mixtape/album combination release STN MTN/Kauai, which will hopefully have the more of the unexpectedness that “Sober” has given us. – Samantha Capaldi

Damien Rice – “My Favourite Faded Fantasy

When an artist returns from a hiatus, their comeback is met with immense pressure and high expectations. The title track from Damien Rice’s upcoming album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, gracefully embraces such expectations. Rice has accompanied the track with an eye-catching teaser video, but comparing it to the official audio is off-putting at first; in the official audio, Rice sings in a higher pitch than listeners may be accustomed to. The higher pitch, however, enhances the otherworldly beauty of the track, which follows Rice’s signature formula: a slow buildup leading up to a moving, emotional crescendo.

While this track lacks much of the raw emotion Rice conveyed through his vocals in songs such as “Amie” or “The Blower’s Daughter,” its buildup and climax are strengthened and transformed by the orchestra in a way that bestows an inherently cinematic and epic quality to the track. Will the album be worth the eight-year wait? We’ll have to wait and see, but this single seems to be a sign of a more refined, grander chapter for Rice. – Lakota Rich

Godflesh – “Imperator”

We’re all excited about Aphex Twin, but let’s not forget that Godflesh are also returning after a thirteen-year hiatus. The Birmingham duo founded the genre of industrial metal by stripping extreme metal to its bare bones – no drums, no guitar solos, and no mercy. Their latest track, “Imperator,” taken from their upcoming album A World Lit Only by Fire, sounds like a factory floor accident in progress: overdriven bass and guitar grind in lockstep over coldly mechanical programmed drums.

However, there is one surprising change: Justin Broadrick gives up his signature guttural growl. He instead chants his words melodically, and his vocals float far above the din, creating a mesmerizing result. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re getting a kinder, gentler Godflesh. Even with a touch of shoegaze influence, “Imperator” is still unadulterated weapons-grade material. – James Li

Lydia Ainsworth – “Hologram”

Lydia Ainsworth might not be a household name yet, but she is one of Toronto’s most original up-and-coming artists. Ainsworth studied composition for film at McGill and NYU, and accordingly, there’s a cinematic sweep to “Hologram.” The shimmering piano, echoing percussion, and a flourish of cello all add a deep, dark texture to the track. Some music can create a sense of place like film does, and “Hologram” takes you to the woods in the dead of night.

The star of the track, though, is Ainsworth’s multi-tracked vocals. She effectively duets with herself, anchoring her fairylike high-pitched singing with her darker lower register. Ainsworth’s lyrics also conjure some otherworldly imagery: “into the garden I’ll meet my maker / and all that I ever know, this is forever dead.” It’s tempting to compare Ainsworth to Kate Bush, but “Hologram” is proof that she’s capable of carving out her own niche. – James Li

Kendrick Lamar – “i”

Starting with a sample of the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady,” Kendrick Lamar’s first single since 2012 launches into an uplifting and powerful song, a vast difference from his previously dark and grimy hits, “Swimming Pools” and “Backseat Freestyle.” Lamar spits a repeated refrain in the chorus, “I love myself,” and he delivers solid lines about the madness in the world and its lack of effect on him in his unrelenting signature flow. The song concludes with a jazz breakdown and car horns.

Lamar courted controversy since good kid, m.A.A.d city dropped, especially after he called out his peers in hip-hop with his verse on “Control.” But this song is a great reminder that Lamar is one of the top dogs in the rap game right now and for good reason. – Emily Scherzinger

Miley Cyrus – “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (Led Zeppelin cover)

Miley Cyrus, despite the fact that she is most famous for her original music, is also an amazing cover artist. In her 2012 Backyard Sessions, Cyrus did a legendary cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and her 2013 cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” is a beautiful homage to the original work.

While this Led Zeppelin cover is far from legendary, it is a solid testament to Cyrus’ abilities as a rock star and not a pop princess. Demonstrating her commitment to dynamics, Cyrus drops down to a whisper for the lyric, “I got to go away” and then launches into a full wail that would make Robert Plant proud. Cyrus knows how to display her passion and flex her vocal muscles, even if it is only obvious in her covers thus far. – Emily Scherzinger

Run the Jewels – “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
Run the Jewels is one of those match-made-in-heaven collaborations that seems pretty much unstoppable. Killer Mike and El-P riff off each other in a playfully competitive way, constantly pushing each other to live up to their full potential. After the success of their first self-titled album, the two seem to have put each of their own solo endeavors on hold to work on another album together.

“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is the second single off their upcoming album RTJ2. The track has a fast-paced, glitchy, bass-heavy beat, loudly announcing their return. The production on this track is no less aggressive and gritty than it is on their first album. Run the Jewels tend to rap less about sex, drugs or violence than a lot of other rappers; their overarching message seems to be about being confident, ambitious and fierce. In this way, it’s accessible to pretty well anyone. If you liked what you heard, make sure to check out RTJ2. – Emma Doerksen

Weezer – “Cleopatra”
You know that really cool cousin you admired in junior high, because he or she played in a band and represented everything you wanted to be? Now you’ve graduated high school, and your cousin traveled the world and brought back a fusion sitar/guitar, which makes you slightly uneasy. In that metaphorical universe Weezer is your cousin and “Cleopatra” is that guitar.

The song opens with a bouncing drum beat, setting itself up for a knee-slapping session, only to dive back into a waterfall of chords 30 seconds through. As it progresses, Rivers Cuomo plays a freshly divorced Mark Antony, who rubs his freedom in Cleopatra’s face with frank lyrics and coy, harmonic-minor vocalizing. The song is experimental, it’s fun, and perfect if you need to break away from your own Cleopatra. But even if that’s not exactly your thing, don’t worry. Like your grown-up cousin, Weezer assures you that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. – Rachel Chiong


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