Ahh. Another year, another dose of weekly records goodness. It’s been a bit quiet for the last month-and-a-half, but the music gods have finally chosen to bless us with an absolute abundance of fantastic New Music Friday tunes. We’ve got an EP from the utterly wonderful Dodie (which we couldn’t even go over) alongside brand-new singles from the likes of The Killers, Hozier, Ariana Grande and Sigrid – and that doesn’t even make the headline. So strap yourselves in: we’ve got a lot to cover.
James Blake – Assume Form
Probably the first proper “big” release of the year, producer and multi-collaborator James Blake finally returns to the recording studio for a solo album in Assume Form, his first full-length record in three years – and six years after the Mercury Prize-winning Overgrown. On every account, it is a triumphant affirmation of his tremendous talent; with very select features (BBC Sound of 2019 runner-up Rosalía joining André 3000, Travis Scott, and Moses Sumney), the stage is set for Blake to shine. And shine he does.
Assume Form is very clearly influenced by Blake’s relationship with Jameela Jamil, but this serves only to embolden the album as Blake himself has been emboldened over the past few years; “rather than a journey, this album is a proud result of his emotional maturity,” says our reviewer Ellie Brain. At just 48 minutes, the record never runs out of things to say, whilst “the intelligent compilation and organisation of tracks, placing more upbeat records in-between heavier solo numbers, ensures that” you never feel like you’ve been stuck on a melody or a lyric for too long.
Throughout, Blake bounces perfectly off his collaborators’ contributions and dazzles on tracks where he is the sole attraction. Certainly, “there is no denying that this is James Blake’s strongest and most thoughtful work to date.” As for the future? All of us here at The Edge are “very excited for how he will develop personally and technically in the next few years, and we just hope that he retains the control and emotional maturity that he has demonstrated on Assume Form.”
Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
This one has been a long time coming, and on most points, it delivers expertly. Since bursting onto the scene in 2016 after leaving Pharrell Willliams speechless with a demo of ‘Alaska’ (a moment that feels an age away by now), Maggie Rogers shot to the forefronts of many music critics’ minds (including mine) with her sublime debut EP, Now That The Light Is Fading, in early 2017. But work on a full-length studio album was delayed by a year-long hiatus as Rogers looked to reconnect with her roots and rediscover her love of songwriting. Finally, more singles started trickling out as she took to the festival circuit in summer 2018, and now, Heard It In A Past Life is here.
So how does it sound? Does it live up to the hype? Yes – for the most part. ‘Alaska’ of course features, as does ‘On + Off‘, alongside the singles released since the summer. We knew going into the album that these were all fantastic tracks. But unfortunately, the rest of the album feels somewhat uneven. Rogers built her name in 2016 and 2017 on crafting inventive, personal ballads that combined just the right parts of folk with just the right parts of dance to make a infactuating, affecting, compelling musical aesthetic that has you cheering along with every beat. That aesthetic is a little bit hit-and-miss on the non-single tracks in her debut. Tracks like ‘Overnight’, ‘The Knife’ and ‘Burning’ just lack that astounding edge that Rogers is known for.
But then we have songs like ‘Say It’ and ‘Retrograde’. Here Rogers pushes the boat out further into pop, creating infectious melodies that permeate down to the soul, sparking that little bit of magic that we know Rogers is so fantastic at creating – and that’s to say nothing of the terrifically delicate ‘Past Life’. It may be patchy in parts, but Heard It In A Past Life is certainly a self-assured debut from the Maryland songwriter.
Look out for our full review of Heard It In A Past Life coming soon!
Hozier – ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’
Hozier was everywhere in 2015 with breakout single ‘Take Me To Church’, and although the rest of his self-titled album didn’t quite live up to the promise of that anthemic track it still left him with huge expectations for his follow-up record. According to our reviewer Becky Davies, “so far, his Nina Cried Power EP and subsequent single ‘Movement‘ have cemented the idea that not only is he back, but he is better than ever; ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’ is no exception.” Unlike ‘Take Me To Church’ – and indeed, most of his debut album – this new single is joyously upbeat, “full of memorable guitar riffs and almost gospel harmonies: it’s easy to imagine this being one of the highlights of his set-list when he tours later this year. It showcases his amazing vocal talents as well as his skills as a songwriter and composer.” As with his preceding work, it all points to good things for Wasteland, Baby! when it finally releases on 1st March.
Backstreet Boys – ‘Breathe’
On the more tragic end of the spectrum, ’90s boyband Backstreet Boys continued to attempt a revival with latest single ‘Breathe’. Unlucky for them, they fell completely flat: “there is nothing new about ‘Breathe’ as it sounds like the band are gasping for air, trying to stay afloat in a sea of younger, more inventive pop groups,” said our reviewer, Jack Nash. “‘Breathe’ just sounds like the Backstreet Boys got old and given up on their careers. Their new sound probably excites older crowds, but provides nothing to a new listener.” I think I’ll just stick to ‘I Want It That Way’, thanks.
Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
Looking towards more alternative offerings, indie popstar Chaz Bundick’s (better known as Toro y Moi) latest offering Outer Peace gave fans exactly what they were hoping for. Our reviewer Tom Brewster describes the record as “repetition perfected – a compact and buoyant album whose 10 tracks seamlessly slink into one-another like psychedelic, liquid Lego.” This is no simple indie-pop record though – Outer Peace melts together a kaleidoscope of influences to produce a truly techniclolour listening experience. As Tom explains in his review, “it’s the perfect listen for a generation obsessed with its own misremembered past, a hazy and doe-eyed examination of millennial culture intersected with the hip-hop influences that have come to symbolise the collective cultural zeitgeist of the times it is born from.” The end result? An album of “comfortable retromania that makes it feel like you’re living in a world where Vampire Weekend are releasing a new album, you’ve just discovered Simpsonwave and weed is still a novelty. Life is good.”
The Killers – ‘Land of the Free’
Hmm. I’m undecided on this one. The message is certainly there, Brandon Flowers & Co. going full Bruce Springsteen with a damning look at modern America set to just-the-right-level of anthemic instrumentation (complete with backing choir). But at the same time, it just feels a little… cheesey? A bit simplistic, lyrically? That said, Mr Trump better get the message: when even Mr Brightside is preaching truth to power, you know you’ve done something wrong. And let’s be honest – that instrumentation does kinda get you going.
Ariana Grande – ‘7 Rings’
Never did I ever thing I would hear Ariana Grande go full Migos-style triplets rapper. Well here we are in 2019, and here she is with ‘7 Rings’, the latest cut off her upcoming album due just the week before Valentines Day. Since breaking off her engagement to SNL sketch comic Pete Davidson last year, Grande has released anti-love song after anti-love song, and ‘7 Rings’ is no exception. Though it sounds a bit strange to hear the popstar ripping off so many rap tropes, it does create a powerfully venomous aesthetic – expect to see Sweeterner‘s upside-down cousin come February 8th.
Sigrid – ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’
It takes some doing for our favourite Norwegian popstar to be this far down a TWIR article, but that’s testament to the sheer quantity of music released this week – because rest assured, ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ is another bonafide bop from BBC Sound of 2018 winner Sigrid. “Although it would be placed at the ‘fun, upbeat’ end of Sigrid’s musical spectrum, ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ displays a vocal and lyrical power akin to the tracks found at the opposite end,” according to our reviewer Thea Hartman. “‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ is a refreshing take on a topic that’s been sung about since the beginning of time, and it overall proves to be a perfectly satisfying pop experience whether you’re in the shower, kitchen, bedroom, or on a windy walk.” Alongside previously-released single ‘Sucker Punch’, it all spells good things for Sigrid’s debut album when it finally releases on 1st March.
Alice Merton – Mint
You kinda knew what you were getting into with Mint if you’ve at all given a listen to Alice Merton’s terrifically bouncy breakout single ‘No Roots’. It’s all peak 2009 Florence + The Machine updated for a 2019 audience with stronger melodies, groovier instrumentation and just as powerful vocals. In short, it absolutely snaps, and you should absolutely check it out.
Loyle Carner ft. Rebel Kleff & Kiko Bun – ‘You Don’t Know’
Croydon-born-and-raised rapper Loyle Carner is no stranger to chilled-out, thoughtful rap as he showed on Mercury Prize-nominated debut Yesterday’s Gone and subsequent single ‘Ottolenghi’, but aside from ‘No CD’ from that debut album he’s been desperately scarce on old-school hip-hop bops. ‘You Don’t Know’, featuring Kiko Bun and long-time collaborator Rebel Kleff, makes up for that. You know from the opening hook what you’re letting yourself in for, and it doesn’t disappoint; pulsating bassy orchestral pops punctuate the boom-bap-inspired instrumentation, creating a wide open stage for Carner to project his gravitas upon alongside Rebel Kleff and Kiko Bun. It’s ridiculously bouncy, and ridiculously good, making us all ridiculously excited for whatever Loyle Carner has up his sleeve yet.
Selected Other Releases
Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Dodie – Human EP
FEVER333 – Strenth in Numb333rs
Future – The WZRD
Mabel – Ivy to Roses (Mixtape)
Mike Posner – A Real Good Kid
Papa Roach – Who Do You Trust?
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
AJ Tracey – ‘Psych Out!’
Dean Lewis – ‘7 Minutes’
Fredo – ‘Survival of the Fittest’
Gorgon City – ‘Lick Shot’
Hannah Grace – ‘With You’
Jade Bird – ‘I Get No Joy’
James Morrison ft. Joss Stone – ‘My Love Goes On’
The Japanese House – ‘Maybe You’re The Reason’
Labrinth – ‘Don’t Fence Me In’
Little Simz ft. Cleo Sol – ‘Selfish’
Logic – ‘Keanu Reeves’
L.S.D. ft. Lil Wayne – ‘Genius [Remix]’
Picture This – ‘If You Wanna Be Loved’
Sean Paul ft. Stefflon Don – ‘Shot & Wine’
Yungblud – ‘Loner’
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.