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

Ariana Grande: eternal sunshine 

What do you with the feelings that linger long after a breakup. Do we hold them close like souvenirs or do we try and erase them? Ariana Grande tackles this notion in her seventh studio album, eternal sunshine. Basing her recent heartache on the romantic/ sci-fi film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Grande is retelling the plot of the movie through the music she creates, leaving us with a reimagined version of the story. As if falling from the cosmos, the album opens with a dive into a single guitar strum on intro (end of the world). Grande sets up the themes of the record through the question “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” A question which is answered on the final track ordinary things. From then on, we’re sent flying through Grande’s memories, almost as quickly as she’s trying to erase them. The eccentric disco influenced track, bye, sees Grande in the immediate aftermath of the relationship’s demise. She’s walking away from it. However, the following track, don’t wanna break up again, emphasises there was a dissonance between both parties on when to let go.

Saturn returns interlude and eternal sunshine could be seen as the exact point in the album where her memory gets erased. Following this Grande is occupied with new feelings for someone else in supernatural and the boy is mine and the media’s perception of her in true story and yes, and? Her mind has officially erased all memory of the previous person, however in we can’t be friends (wait for your love), Grande expresses how love can’t be easily forgotten. She is back in the cycle of a love that was neither good nor bad, as she professes her shortcomings and her partner’s good points in i wish i hated you and imperfect for you. In ordinary things, Grande diverts the narrative of the film and instead of trying the relationship all over again, she takes on the advice of her Nonna, “Never go to bed without kissing goodnight… and if you can’t, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you’re in the wrong place, get out”. She crafts a different ending for herself as she notices that she was in fact not in the right relationship.



Kacey Musgraves: Deeper Well 

Kacey Musgraves focuses on the simple pleasures with the release of her sixth album, Deeper Well. The album follows her more pop-leaning influences on Star-Crossed (2021) and Golden Hour (2018) and instead offers a contemplative soundscape with reflective and meditative lyricism. Throughout the record Musgraves singles out this giver and taker dynamic regarding both relationships and her connection with nature. Each track almost feels like book chapters, as Musgraves guides listeners through the recent season of her life. The opener Cardinal, sees Musgraves contemplate the sudden loss of a friend as being a sign or an omen through the repeated line “Are you bringin’ me a message from the other side?” It’s an unexpected dark start to the album but sets up the tone of the following tracks, as Musgraves takes this as a sign to find the deepest form of appreciation through the unassuming joys of life. In Deeper Well (the song), Musgraves explains her recent Saturn Return’ experience and how it coincided with her desire to take care of herself and find “a deeper well”. This clever wordplay was enough to make me fall in love with the track. As the album progresses, Musgraves reflects on the joys of celebrating with friends and loved ones in Dinner with Friends as well as how something as simple as a bracelet given to her by a past lover can evoke the same heartfelt and vibrant emotions she thought were long gone on Jade Green. Overall, Deeper Well feels like a reset for Musgraves. A time in her life where she feels like she can strip away the pain and hurt of the past to find solace in herself and the world around her.  



Hozier: Unheard (ep)  

Hozier surprises fans with the release of Unheard. A collection of four songs which did not make the cut for his 2023 album Unreal Unearth. The EP builds on the concept of Unreal Unearth, which was a contemporary interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, with every song representing a layer of hell. Too Sweet opens as the first song and represents the third layer of hell, Gluttony. In the song, Hozier contrasts the lifestyles of two different individuals with one representing the values of discipline, health and structure and the other succumbing to gluttonous ways of sleeping in late and indulging in the small pleasure of taking their “whisky neat, my coffee black and my bed at three”. Moving through hell, Hozier arrives at Wildflower and Barley, which represents the first layer (limbo). The track is a different direction for Hozier as he plays with acoustic guitars and soft drums, which gives a 1970s soft rock feel to it. Empire Now rattles things up and completely disrupts the relative calmness of limbo with the fury of the seventh layer (violence). It’s an atmospheric and cinematic track, whereby Hozier sings in soaring vocals, “The martyrs of our revolution. Their spinnin’ caused the earth to shake”. A deeply gruesome image which details the violence of revolution. Farewell signals the end of the EP and a track which feels most familiar to Hozier’s traditional style. A comforting nostalgia before he delves deeper into hell throughout Unreal Unearth  



Beyoncé: Cowboy Carter 

As Beyoncé said ahead of the release of Cowboy Carter, “This ain’t a country album. This is a Beyoncé album”. She was right of course. The record is a substantive collection of country-inspired songs with a mix of folk and her traditional pop and r&b. Beyoncé draws on clear inspirations within the country music scene such as Dolly Parton’s Jolene and The Beatles Blackbird. However, rather than singing a traditional cover of these classics, Beyoncé adds her own style to them, which makes them feel entirely her own. Her vocal delivery in BLACKBIRD reminded me that perhaps she was singing it to her daughter or her younger self, while in JOLENE, she adds lyrics which pertain to infidelity she felt throughout her marriage, “I sleep good happy, cause you can’t dig up our planted seeds”. Moving away from the covers on the album, the rest of the record sees Beyoncé experimenting from her most joyous self. With the long run time of over an hour, however, it can feel a little bit excessive, and I found that towards the end, I was skipping through some of the tracks. Nevertheless, the album has many standouts, which were the songs I felt combined her traditional music style with country. These included, PROTECTOR, BODYGAURD, SPAGHETII, II MOST WANTED, YA YA and RIVERDANCE, just to name a few