Each month ‘Refrain’ delivers its verdict on some of the best albums out now.
PinkPantheress: Heaven Knows
PinkPantheress’ debut album Heaven Knows, is a wondrous introduction to her sound and mind. Working with an array of new pop collaborators such as Greg Kurstin, PinkPantheress demonstrates her desire to be looked at as a budding popstar who can create timeless and relatable music. The inclusion of Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2 shows that there is a potential for other songs on the album to mirror its success in nostalgia and longevity, but many of them feel too similar and rushed. The short lengths and similar soundscapes of almost all of the 13 tracks, hinder their ability to stand on their own. While the record exudes consistency, it is often too similar, and it’s to the point where it almost sounds like one very long song. However, it is through the trilogy of songs at the end of the record, where PinkPantheress shines. Songs like Blue, Feelings and Capable of Love highlight the very best of her and signal a new popstar is on the rise.
Marnie Stern: The Comeback Kid
Noisy and rambunctious, Marnie Stern makes her triumphant return to the experimental rock world with her fifth studio album, The Comeback Kid. The record follows a 10-year hiatus for Stern and embodies a new energised spirit, whereby her distinct guitar style invigorates the brashness and grit of the record. Stern also uses her guitar playing and overall production as an extension of her lyrics. In the song Believing is Seeing, Stern adds a kickdrum base pattern to the track once she sings the lyrics, “What if I add this, and this”. This clever use of production, adds depth to the sound of the album, thus providing a much-needed relief to the overall intensity of the LP’s vibe. The album feels like Stern is reminiscing on the very best of late ’80s and ’90s underground rock. This notion is emphasised most on the track, The Natural, where her vocal delivery sounds almost like an ’80s Madonna, but the production is more in line with the full grunginess and punk of a ’90s rock band. Nevertheless, The Comeback Kid is a playful and dizzying reminder to never give up on your passion. It’s about learning to continue to have fun as you get older.
Tkay Maidza: Sweet Justice
Tkay Maidza’s sophomore album, Sweet Justice, is an expansion of her confident and eccentric musical persona. As the title suggests, the record is Maidza’s account of karma and flippant remarks to her detractors, while simultaneously expressing her deep-seeded feelings surrounding love. Each of the 14 tracks flow smoothly into each other, to the point where you don’t even realise one has ended and the other has started. The album opens with the slick R&B track, Love and Other Drugs. Maidza flex’s her cadence and clever wordplay on this song through lyrics like, “That pool water warm like miso. Me, so cold, I’ma drop that freeload”. And this continues throughout the album. The flow of Love and Other Drugs into WUACV and then again between What Ya Know and Won One will scratch a particular part of your brain you didn’t even know needed scratching. The song Ghost! is another standout as it expands on a funk/disco sound which bubbles away under the surface throughout the album. The record however is very high energy and rarely stops for a breather, which can be confronting on a first listen. However, the more you listen to it, the more you’ll fall in love with the carefree and joyous music Maidza has constructed.
Jung Kook: GOLDEN
The release of the debut studio album by BTS’s Jung Kook, GOLDEN, is a masterful stroke at what polished Pop and R&B can sound like, however it lacks authenticity. The album attempts to be edgy with overly sexual lyrics and aesthetics but behind the hook-filled songs, is a project which fails to have clear artistic expression. The album feels like it was manufactured for success within the modern pop world. An example of this is seen through the album opener, 3D, which has a feature from Jack Harlow. The song itself doesn’t feel like an album opener but rather a B-side single. The track Standing Next to You feels like a more interesting way to open the album, but it doesn’t have a feature from another popular artist packing it, which is why it was placed lower in the track list. This highlights the motivations of what Jung Kook was trying to achieve with the record. GOLDEN has quite a significant number of features for the amount of songs, including Jack Harlow, Major Lazer, Latto and DJ Snake. With this in mind, GOLDEN feels like it relies on specific trends of the time to generate hype, however this could hinder its longevity as time goes on.
The Kid LAROI: THE FIRST TIME
The Kid LAROI’s debut album, THE FIRST TIME, is an exploration of the growing pains and many firsts people experience leaving their teenage years. The level of angst and raw emotion in his voice throughout the record denotes this pain. The Kid LAROI’s voice cracks and strains and peaks in volume as he communicates his experiences with fame at such a young age and the extensive pressure this creates. However, the feelings he has surrounding his first heartbreak pollute the album’s lyrical content, almost becoming inescapable across the 20 tracks. Opening with the track SORRY, The Kid LAROI sets up the common theme of a first heartbreak with the initial line, “Well, my first time, let’s see”. This notion is anchored through the two STRANGERS interludes. The record suffers from being too long and the main theme of heartbreak feels stale towards the end of the track list. The production of the album has its moments of uniqueness especially in the songs, TEAR ME APART, THE LINE and WHAT JUST HAPPENED. It’s a welcome change, but most of the other track’s sound very similar to Post Malone or The Weeknd, which might leave listeners unsatisfied. The distinct tone of the Kid’s voice does provide a freshness to the tracks however, so a smaller track list would benefit the overall flow and oneness of the album.
Sabrina Carpenter: fruitcake (ep)
Sabrina Carpenter crafts a modern holiday classic with the release of her second studio EP fruitcake. It features five original festive-infused tracks and a Christmas remix of her hit song Nonsense. Throughout the project, Carpenter combines traditional holiday sounds with a fun and light-hearted disco-ting, complementing the humorous delivery of lyrics such as “Spend your cookie dough, dough, dough.” On the track, is it new years yet? Carpenter perfectly sums up the holiday experience for many single 20-something year olds, by wishing to skip out on all the festive cheer and welcome in the new year. If you’re looking for some new Christmas music or a chance to reminisce on old Christmas’ past, fruitcake does not disappoint.
Main image from supplied photos and art generated using Dall-e.