Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Demi Lovato, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Iglooghost, Dry Cleaning, The Fratellis, Justin Bieber

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

Seeing as Friday was April 2, we thankfully didn’t have to fall for any April Fools releases this year. Instead of jokes, we were treated to a host of releases centered around joy, recovery and celebration.

 

1. Demi Lovato – Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over

Contemporary R&B

Released April 2, 2021

2.5 Globes out of 5

Demi Lovato is such a tricky celebrity to talk about. She has had an incredibly rough time in the last few years regarding her physical and mental health, with the internet never letting her catch a break. Despite the hardships she has faced in her own life and in her public backlash, she still maintains a large following of dedicated fans. The controversy surrounding her is oddly complex and is a situation I don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole.

This album chronicles Lovato’s inner thoughts and feelings throughout her recent substance abuse recovery and newfound self-identity. I commend her for turning her life around for the better, but there are a lot of missteps that she has taken. I am not in the position to tell someone how to handle their trauma, but Lovato has faced some serious backlash over this album’s accompanying docu-series that touches on her vices. Many have said that her recreations of certain events were in poor taste, and you can brush that off by ignoring the series, but the same slightly carries over to the album. The way the songs are presented feel like they are less expulsions of inner demons and more ticking the boxes needed to get her point across. There is this weird balance of this having little heart in it but also too much heart that it borders on bombastic self-parody.

Looking past the meaning behind the songs, this album is probably Lovato’s best, but that isn’t saying much. Almost every line is delivered like it is the most dramatic thing she has ever said and the near constant vocal runs feel like that one kid in high school choir who showed off way too much. Lovato has a serviceable voice, but she has no idea how to dial it back for the more tender moments. For that reason, the folk-influenced tracks like “The Way You Don’t Look At Me,” “Carefully,” and “Good Place” feel like generic show-stopping American Idol performances that you forget about after that season. The album has no reason being an hour long, with lots of filler, such as that unimaginative cover of “Mad World.” However, the songs that call back to west coast soft rock from the 70s, like “The Art Of Starting Over” and “The Kind Of Lover I Am,” are actually pretty okay. “Lonely People” is also a pretty serviceable dance-pop song that sits with the more enjoyable tracks.

The first three songs on this record do nothing and serve as a prelude to the main album. These tracks could’ve been cut to make a much more concise listening experience, but I understand why she included them. Overall, this isn’t a great album, but it is fine enough. There is just not enough going on to warrant this album to be structured the way that it is, but I am glad that Lovato is at least doing something to help her take care of herself.

 

2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_D’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

Post-Rock

Released April 2, 2021

4.5 Globes out of 5

Post-rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor have returned with their seventh studio album. The album’s title might be a little jarring to the uninitiated, but Godspeed are anarchists with a sense of humor. After almost 25 years in the game, the collective shows that they are still the most notable and impressive groups in the scene with this album.

“G_D’s Pee AT STATE’S END!” is largely a return to form for Godspeed in more ways than one. For starters, the group brings back their radio broadcast recordings and other sounds recorded out in the field that helps invoke the atmosphere of “F♯A♯∞” and “Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!,” both albums considered to be the band’s peak. Because of this, this record comes the closest to the highs of those albums but with an integral twist. While the field recordings, string sections, crescendos and drones are all there, this album structures them in a way that conjures hope. The group is somewhat known for how apocalyptic and nihilistic their work has come across, but there is a sense of optimism in this record that is not found elsewhere in their catalogue.

The album follows the same format as the prior three “reunion” albums, as it consists of two long songs and two shorter songs. Unlike prior Godspeed epics, the longer songs are not given an overall title, with the tracks only named after the various sections contained within. The lack of a main title for the two pieces does oddly make them feel less like complete epics and more like stitched together tracks, but that does not draw too much enjoyment away from them. 

The full titles of these songs would take up the entire review, so I will mention specific sections. The first track’s sections, “Job’s Lament” and “First Of The Last Glaciers,” contain some truly hearty and powerful guitar work, with the latter section having great ebb and flow between the strings and guitar leads. The second track, titled “Fire At Static Valley,” is the most foreboding song on the album, with the deep, buzzing strings droning along as guitars wail solemnly on top. The section in the third track titled “Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE” contains what is likely the single most euphoric and joyous climaxes in Godspeed’s career during the track’s back half. The strings create this jaunty backing while the guitars and drums steamroll forward with a motif so celebratory that it could cheer anyone up. The fourth and final track, “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.)” is a beautiful outro that closes the journey with a sense of peace that is undercut with slight desperation. Our side doesn’t need to win… it has to win. It is the final cry out for peace and harmony to reign supreme.

Godspeed are truly a special, one-of-a-kind band. This record is going to go down as one of the best releases of this year. The hopefulness of this release is so refreshing, as they could’ve easily used their powers to create something existentially devastating given the pandemic. Instead, they treated us with the soundtrack of us running triumphantly towards that light at the end of the tunnel.

 

3. Iglooghost – Lei Line Eon

UK Bass

Released April 2, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Seamus Malliagh, known professionally as Iglooghost, has consistently been one of the more exciting producers to come from the UK in the last decade or so. While he hasn’t broken out into the mainstream in the way a few of his contemporaries have, he certainly deserves the recognition.

His newest project, titled “Lei Line Eon,” sees Iglooghost explore a tradition from his birthplace that was known as Lei Music. After some research, the art form is still not entirely clear to me, but it revolves around songs that are said to summon “squeaking entities from invisible zones.” These songs were transcribed on objects known as Lei discs and have long since been passed around by collectors. The process of how these historic compositions have been used on this album is lost to me, but boy, does it sound cool.

“Lei Line Form” is much more meditative and less zany than Iglooghost’s prior works, with there being a strong integration of modern classical music throughout the project. However, the trademark styles of deconstructed club, glitch, and wonky are all still actively present just in a new context. This music sounds otherworldly in a way that feels like stepping both into the past and the future. Lead single “Sylph Fossil” incorporates some hushed and chopped up rapping, while other songs like UI Birth feature guest vocals that are so hushed and twisted apart that you only catch a word here or there.

There really isn’t a lot of music that sounds like this, so I am at a bit of a loss in terms of describing it. The production is absolutely immaculate, and the whole project has a great flow that never gets tiring to listen to. There is a lot to unpack on this release, so repeated listens are an absolute must. If you are looking to keep up on what is going on with young talent in the underground music scene, this is a great release to check out. Popular music is always a few years behind, so I won’t be surprised when this style of production is as mainstream as some current hyperpop producers.

 

4. Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

Post-Punk

Released April 2, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Dry Cleaning are a London based post-punk group that have finally released their debut album “New Long Leg.” While new post-punk from the UK doesn’t sound terribly exciting, Dry Cleaning go at it with a twist that sets them apart from other bands in the genre.

While the guitar, bass, and drums all follow formats laid down long ago by bands like Joy Division and Magazine, vocalist Florence Shaw takes the deadpan vocals of the genre to new heights. Instead of singing, she delivers the lyrics in a cool, laid-back spoken word format. She never raises her voice and doesn’t let it fall into a hush but maintains a captivating volume that keeps the listener invested in her words. The lyrics are cryptic and sometimes feel rambly, but Shaw sells them through her vocal swagger. Her voice sounds like the word “cool.”

Instrumentally, the bass lays down some awesome basslines that carry the songs along, while the guitar sometimes pivots on a nostalgic tone that resembles The Cure earlier on in their career. “Strong Feelings” is a good example of this with its  lyrics about longing for love. The title track and “More Big Birds” are the only two tracks to have any sort of overt melody in the vocals, with Shaw serving up some “doos” and “das” throughout.

While this is a highly enjoyable album, it feels like the beginning of something greater. The ideas are all there, but I feel they will improve upon this already impressive and unique formula they already have more in the future. This album joins a surprisingly big list of debut UK post-punk albums from this year, and that scene is certainly going through an incredibly prosperous period right now. I can’t wait to see what is next from these guys and many others from the scene.

 

5. The Fratellis – Half Drunk Under A Full Moon

Indie Pop

Released April 2, 2021

3 Globes out of 5

I’ve written about many flash in the pan mid-2000s indie bands and their return this year, but The Fratellis were not one I had a prior connection to. I knew about their old hit “Chelsea Dagger” in passing, but it took a fellow Globe member to tell me for me to realize that this was coming out. While I think the term “landfill indie” is a bit harsh, this album doesn’t do too much to stand out or be special in today’s musical landscape. Had this same album come out 15 years ago, I can see it getting more acclaim, but it sounds worn out by now.

Of course, there are similarities this band draws to Arctic Monkeys, but I want to go back even further. A large part of the jangly pub sound on this album gives off strong vibes of the British/Irish/Scottish band The Waterboys. The horns on “Six Days In June” help evoke the feeling of Waterboys’ songs like “The Whole Of The Moon,” which actually plays positively in favor of The Fratellis. This sound fits them well! They just don’t do anything to make the songs pop out other than just be nice indie-pop songs that are pleasant to listen to. I’m sure if they try to be more adventurous, they can make something pretty enjoyable, but as of now, it’s just okay. There are some nice songs, however, such as the title track and “Living In The Dark.” Even if I didn’t love this one, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard this weekend…

 

6. Justin Bieber – Freedom.

Contemporary R&B

Released April 2, 2021

0.5 Globes out of 5

Just when I thought Bieber couldn’t get any more offensively bland, he releases an EP of songs on Easter. Aside from the boring production and Bieber’s slight faux-Caribbean delivery on some tracks, this thing is a trainwreck on the mere concept. How poor this release has nothing to do with the surface-level message but with the fact that something so important to many people is delivered in the most watered-down form to make money. If you listen to a lot of religious-based music, you can tell this is an incredibly shallow cash-in on Bieber’s new faith-filled persona. I certainly can. At this point, I have no idea what Bieber is trying to do with his public image. I thought the inappropriate use of an MLK speech in his album was bad, but using one’s personal faith as a marketing tool instead of an expression of one’s own thoughts and feelings is truly bottom of the barrel. If this is Bieber being sincere, then I guess Kanye West is the Pope.