Sometimes a week will roll around where one release absolutely dominates the conversation. That week is this week, with British rock trio Muse‘s eighth full-length album proving the greatest talking point – more on that later. But there are also plenty of other little gems to go around, from an experimental new Crystal Fighters EP to the debut EP of one of Southampton University’s recent graduates, and everything in between. But with Simulation Theory so positively generating buzz right now, it feels the only place we can start.
Muse – Simulation Theory
What to say about this album. Muse’s eighth, and first since 2015’s hard rock disappointment Drones, Simulation Theory sees the trio capitalising on the recent trend for synthy ’80s nostalgic-come-futuristic galore. Everything is dipped in neon paint, the band’s traditional riffs and beats going through some kind of Ready Player One VR adventure to the heady days of big hair and bigger sounds.
It’s certainly proven divisive, Records Executive Tom Brewster decrying the record as “a paper mache mask of trendy ’80s aesthetics slapped onto the most boring noise imaginable,” online manager Jack Nash praising Simulation Theory as one of the greatest Muse albums yet – stay tuned for their thoughts to go up on The Edge later this week. I find myself tending to agree with Tom: whilst decidedly more exciting and imaginative than 2015’s Drones, each track bleeds into the other, culminating in an hour of aggressively mediocre synth-rock that’s only really good for the remixes included in the B-Side of the Super Deluxe edition.
Those remixes at least add something interesting to Simulation Theory‘s dreary 80-minute runtime. Adding the UCLA Bruin March Band to the electric ‘Pressure’ or a gospel choir to the powerful ‘Dig Down‘ shows that Muse can experiment musically and blend contrasting sounds together successfully – they just chose not to for the main release. It’s a shame, and feels like a sore missed opportunity to reinvent themselves and once again reach the highs of 2006’s Black Holes & Revelations and previous. Instead, Simulation Theory only serves to confirm Muse’s decline into bland, unimaginative stadium rock that simply capitalises on the current going trend.
Crystal Fighters – Hypnotic Sun EP
Things have been quiet for Spanish-English electronic dance group Crystal Fighters since 2016’s Everything Is My Family. That is, until we got a taste of new music in the form of the FIFA 19 soundtrack and ‘Another Love’, teasing at a new project for the band. That new project is here, and it’s good. ‘Another Love’ will be welcomed by long-time fans of the group as the successor to songs like ‘Follow’ and ‘Love Natural’, but the remaining tracks on the EP look to take things in a far heavier, more electronic and more experimental direction. While Everything Is My Family felt natural, wholesome and carefree, Hypnotic Sun is much darker and more intense – with ‘Goin’ Harder’ standing out as the broody big brother of the bunch. Despite the new direction, the EP is just as engaging and enjoyable as the group’s previous work, telling of good things to come if the band take this approach towards a full album sometime in the future.
Ariana Grande – ‘thank u, next’
Undoubtedly the popstar of the moment, Ariana Grande dropped another banger over the weekend in the biting ‘thank u, next’. Responding to ex-fiance Pete Davidson‘s skit on Saturday Night Live, Grande wasted no time in teasing, producing and releasing her response – but even so, ‘thank u, next’ was “arguably unexpected from Grande,” according to our reviewer Ottilie Young. Despite this, the track “is as heart breaking as it is powerful. Grande vocalises the sadness of a break up without being petty, and stirring the pot. The song is beautifully written, and sung perfectly,” not to mention highly memeable, with the line “one taught me love, one taught me patience, one taught me pain” appropriated online to myriad different scenarios. Yet another smash hit from the pop sensation.
Backstreet Boys – ‘Chances’
Just as we saw with Busted last week, this early-’00s boy band sensation are looking to make a comeback with a more mature sound that still feels nostalgic of their earlier, iconic highs. “Having not released anything for five years, the boys had a lot riding on them in 2018,” explains our reviewer Ottilie Young – but ‘Chances’ “strikes a good balance between presenting something new to Backstreet Boys fans, whilst still unquestionably belonging to this band. It’s a song that offers hope, whilst still being emotionally provoking.” It’ll be interesting to see how the full album sounds when it’s released in early 2019, but for now there are good indications that the Backstreet Boys are well and truly back in town.
Fickle Friends – ‘San Francisco’
Just eight months on from their enticing debut album, Fickle Friends are back with an electric trio of tracks. ‘Broken Sleep’ plays like some twisted alternate-reality ’80s fitness video backing track, ‘The Moment’ struts down the high street Saturday Night Fever-style, but it is ‘San Francisco’ that really shines. Finding the balance between the scintillating synth beats and suave confidence of the partnering two tracks, ‘San Francisco’ sums up Fickle Friends in three minutes and seven seconds of electropop delight. It’s more of what we love from Fickle Friends, and precisely the sort of thing that deserves to feature highly in the Bop Appreciation‘s Bop 40 as soon as possible. (Side-plug: go check out Bop Appreciation. They’re made of two former Edge Records Editors and a former head honcho, and they’re wonderful!)
Moir – The Truth Is EP
Last, but certainly not least, we have the beautiful debut EP from Southampton alumni Sarah Moir – better known simply as Moir. It’s an intriguing offering, flickering between hints of The Japanese House and Banks yet remaining distinctly unique, with untidy electronic instrumentation somehow colliding together with Moir’s distinguished vocals to create the kind of rich musical soundscape that’s perfect for almost any occasion, despite the ultra-personal lyrics. ‘I Can’t Bleed’ finds beauty in hauntingly empty melancholy, whilst the titular opening track finds solace in its subject matter of not being able to talk by hiding it all and having a subdued night out. ‘I Said I Don’t’ must be commended in the way it impactfully talks of emotional trauma, but it is the more upbeat banger ‘You Have Soul’ which is the standout track on the EP. Following three tracks of personal troubles and trauma, the song provides a glimmer of hope as Moir promises the listener that “I’ll be there for you,” certain that “we’ll save you from your darkest fears.” A suitably empathetic ending to an intensely affecting EP of precise grace and emotional power.
Selected Other Releases
Architects – Holy Hell
Imagine Dragons – Origins
Little Dragon – Lover Chanting EP
Olly Murs – You Know I Know
Cheryl – ‘Love Made Me Do It’
CNCO, Meghan Trainor & Sean Paul – ‘Hey DJ’
Ice Cube – ‘Arrest The President’
Jamie N Commons – ‘Paper Dreams’
Jennifer Lopez ft. Bad Bunny – ‘Te Guste’
Little Mix – ‘Told You So’
OneRepublic – ‘White Christmas’
This Week In Records: Playlist Edition
Want to listen to all of this musical goodness? Follow our shiny Spotify playlist for The Edge‘s picks of what new music deserves to be on your radar each and every week.