We here at The Sphinx music team have been diligently trawling through new album releases over the last month, preparing for this first entry in a new monthly series in which we round up our favourite albums released over the last four weeks. Our October 2018 roundup includes records from musicians ranging from polished, sci-fi rap rockers, to jazz tinged, Trump-bashing singer/songwriters.
Twenty One Pilots – Trench (Beth Bossert)
Ohio based duo Twenty One Pilots released Trench this October, one of the most highly anticipated rock albums of the year.
Trench is a concept album set in a dystopian universe in which the listener journeys from the oppressive city of Dema, escaping into the safety of Trench. Following the trend of their previous albums, Trench is a melting pot of genres with each song taking unpredictable turns. Each track jumps around not just in terms of genre but in pace, subject matter and vocal styles, making it impossible not to give the whole album your full attention.
Stand out songs on the album include the R&B track ‘Morph’; an indie style song ‘My Blood’; the reggae-rock fusion of ‘Nico and the Niners’ and the simple piano ballad ‘Leave the City’ which perfectly finishes the narrative of the album with the arrival into Trench. However, ‘Neon Gravestones’ is the most prominent song lyrically, as its hard-hitting lyrics harshly criticise the media and the music industry of which the band is a part. Frontman and songwriter, Tyler Joseph, uses this song to attack the stigmas of mental health as well as the glorification of suicide in today’s media and pleads to the audience “Promise me this, if I lose to myself you won’t mourn a day” in an attempt to avoid the same fate that musicians before him have faced.
Trench is the most adventurous album from the band yet. It is clear that since their previous album Blurryface the duo have learned to take more risks and are no longer afraid of the criticism they may face as a result.
Tom Odell – Jubilee Road (Lily Blakeny-Edwards – Deputy Music Editor)
Earlier this month, London based singer-songwriter Tom Odell released his latest album ‘Jubilee Road’. This new record, his most personal to date, gives us a glimpse into the young musician’s life while living in East London, with Odell stating he was “…inspired by the lives of the friends I made whilst living there.” The album is certainly a tear-jerker, featuring a number of moving songs such as ‘Jubilee Road’ and ‘Your Gonna Break My Heart Tonight’. It’s here where Odell’s infamous piano skills truly shine, with the effortless blend of keys and raw vocals only adding to these already deeply touching tracks.
However, the album isn’t all mellow, as Odell makes sure to feature some more upbeat songs such as ‘Go Tell Her Now and ‘China Dolls’, that, while over-produced, are ultimately feel-good, refreshing additions to the album. Notable standouts from the album include ‘Half as Good As You’, in which Odell’s duet with Alice Merton provides a perfect balance of soft piano and the upbeat sound featured throughout the album, and the album’s title track ‘If You Want To Love Somebody’ that features honest vocals mixed beautifully with a cheerful, uplifting backing.
Overall, while the album is repetitive at times, it is ultimately the raw emotion of Odell’s performance that makes this album a promising effort from the young songwriter, and definitely one to check out.
Kagoule – Strange Entertainment (Sarah Potter)
Nottingham based band, Kagoule’s latest album is their most self-assured and confident to date; no longer just a support act, but headliners in their own right. The record, ‘Strange Entertainment’ is an album of development and commentary on the modern-day experience. About to embark on a UK tour, their typical wonky instrumentals and melancholic lyrics add to the laidback charm of this album. This is especially apparent in tracks such ‘Egg Hunt’ and ‘Repent! Said the Insect Man’, where louder vocalisation and faster instrumentals add more passion and edge to the messages of the songs. Lyrics such as “when will you realise you’re being magnified” from the track ‘Magnified’ show a sense of self-reflection in their music and a more in depth look into the typicality of everyday situations. Overall this album is a great journey of self-reflection and laidback brilliance from start to finish, possibly an insight into what is to come.
David Crosby – Here If You Listen (Daniel Marx – Music Editor)
77-year-old singer/songwriter and legend, David Crosby is back with his fourth album of new material in four years, and amongst that strong crop of releases, Here If You Listen might be his best. Crosby’s late career resurgence has been fuelled by his awareness of his own mortality, and the inspiration that comes from working with other musicians. Both of these things are at the forefront of the new album, making it more than a handful of well written songs; this co-authored record is a truly powerful work of art.
Here If You Listen is a collaboration with Crosby’s Lighthouse Band, comprised of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists, Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and Snarky Puppy frontman, Michael League, and this unabashed group effort has resulted in a refreshing take on Crosby’s signature blend of airy, unpredictable, close vocal harmony-laden songwriting. In addition to Crosby’s cutting, political lyricism (“Fat fingers on the trigger, Rocket Man and Little Hands, never takin’ time to listen” on ‘Other Half Rule’) and ruminations on old age, are group re-writings of old unfinished demos ‘1974’ and ‘1967’, as well as a spectacular cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’. The record is wistful and profound, and features some of the most beautiful, almost ghostly vocal performances you’ll hear this year.
Kurt Vile – Bottle It In (Tom Murphy)
Kurt Vile’s latest release Bottle It In is his most expansive work to date, an eighty-minute-long stream of consciousness underpinned by the Philadelphian’s trademark mellow guitar sounds and offbeat lyricism. Opener ‘Loading Zones’ combines one of the album’s most beautiful melodies with a lyric about illegal parking – “That’s the way I live my life”, Vile reassures the listener, “I park for free.” Such is the musician’s laid-back demeanour, you believe him. The easy-going style continues in ‘Yeah Bones’, one of the album’s high points both lyrically and musically: “When nobody calls you on the phone, don’t break your bones over it…” At 4 minutes 44 seconds ‘Yeah Bones’ is still one of the shorter tracks on Bottle It In, with several songs such as the hazy centrepiece ‘Bassackwards’ and the titular track sprawling themselves over ten minutes. When this works well it has the effect of a hypnotic wash of hazy sound upon which Vile drawls his lyrical turns of phrase; when it does not, some songs can meander on a little longer than they need to, with some of the melodies not strong enough to merit the length of time they’re afforded. You get the sense you could knock fifteen minutes off the album’s running time without sacrificing too much by way of quality.
Even so, Bottle It In sees some of Kurt Vile’s strongest songwriting to date allied with some of his most experimental production, a formidable return from one of the most inventive and talented musicians around- as he says himself on ‘Rollin With The Flow’, “all guys my age just raising kids, I’m raising hell just like I did.”