Each month ‘Refrain’ delivers its verdict on some of the best albums out now.

Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday 2

Pink Friday 2 assures Nicki Minaj’s influence on rap as a genre and her opportunist eye for music. Drawing inspiration from her debut album Pink Friday, Minaj has built upon the conventions which made that album so impactful and supplemented it with a new aura, making this era feel realised. Her ability to switch up her cadence and flow as well as persona across the 22-album track list, helps for a smoother listen. The use of samples across many of tracks can be a bit excessive at times. Minaj on songs like FTCU, Everybody, Red Ruby Da Sleeze and Pink Friday Girls uses samples well and adds something to them, making them feel new and incredibly addictive. However, some tracks don’t benefit from the samples. For example, the album opener, Are You Gone Already samples Billie Eilish’s When the party’s over. It’s a bit jarring hearing Eilish’s vocals for the first 48 seconds of the album. Minaj does offer new music on the project free of samples. Standouts include Fallin 4 U, Needle featuring Drake, Cowgirl featuring Lourdiz and Big Difference. Overall, Minaj has crafted another classic which sees her exploring her artistry by taking inspiration from not only other artists, but more importantly from the music she started out making over a decade ago    




Like an early 2000s Britney Spears, Tate McRae strides with confidence across her second studio album, THINK LATER. The release follows a drastic switch up in image for McRae. However, as the record progresses it is evident to see that the “sad girl” persona, which embodied her earlier music, is not completely gone. Instead, we are left with a conflicted McRae as she navigates the breakdown of a relationship. She references this notion on the first song cut my hair, through the metaphor of cutting her hair. This blunt and playful side of McRae is further explored on the Timbaland inspired greedy. However, it isn’t until the track run for the hills, where McRae dissects her self-confidence over a sweeping synth, revealing that perhaps it is all an act, “I’ll hate you bad in the long run, but somehow, it never ends”. This persona is further broken down by the tracks grave and stay done, which are standard McRae pop ballads. By the time exes is over, McRae has all but abandoned the persona until the title track think later, which is an explosive last hurrah of self-assurance. Signalling, to us that this new era of McRae can be expanded upon on later projects.      



Dove Cameron: Alchemical: Volume 1

The debut of former Disney star Dove Cameron is packed full of camp and unhinged edge. The album Alchemical: Volume 1 follows her viral hit Boyfriend from early 2022 as Cameron delivers a cohesive display of angst. The relatively short track list of eight songs feels like more of a teaser than a full body of work, but what she is teasing will entice you for more. The opener Lethal Woman sounds like it was ripped from the 1930s rendition of Frankenstein before imploding into a heavy base track, coupled with Cameron’s haunting vocals. It sets up the overall theme of the project which is that of female autonomy and free will. The track Breakfast continues this through the metaphor of eating as Cameron sings, I eat boys like you for breakfast”. The song Sand offers a break to the sinister harshness of the record as Cameron exhales over shaky vocals the feeling of unrequited love. Due to this being the first half of the record, it does feel a little unclear on what the project is trying to say. It feels like we have only gotten the first course out of three. With Volume 2 set to come out later in the new year, we’ll just have to wait and see what more Cameron has to say.   



Thy Slaughter: Soft Rock 

The debut LP of A.G. Cook and Easyfun’s collaborative project, Thy Slaughter (Soft Rock) is an eclectic mix of both pop and soft rock sounds. The album feels like a patchwork of ideas which sometimes fail to fit together seamlessly. The project additionally features vocals by both Alaska Reid and Charli XCX, and co-writing credits from Ellie Rowsell and the late SOPHIE. The seemingly flippant nature of the record makes it difficult to discern what is trying to be said. Coupled with the excessive use of distorted and often robotic sounding vocals, makes the whole listening experience difficult to fully enjoy. In saying that, perhaps the whole point of the project is to disrupt and entertain rather than tell a story or be relatable. The lavish production prevents any form of stability to the record and rather disorients you. The song Bullets demonstrates this as it opens with an acoustic and incredibly soft rock sounding guitar, almost reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. It then descends into the usual distorted vocals and messy production style found throughout the rest of the album. Nonetheless, Soft Rock isn’t a record you put on in the background. It screams at you to listen and to place it in the foreground.