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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on April 17, 2017.


How do you follow up an album like Singles? Future Islands’ fourth record was their long-awaited breakthrough, riding on the back of Seasons (Waiting on You). What would The Far Field bring? Some artists, when they achieve massive acclaim, change their sound to avoid repetition. While Future Islands stay in their wheelhouse, they respond to success by writing some of the best songs of their career.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on April 5, 2017.


Social commentary is not usually at the forefront when you think about Depeche Mode. Sure, some of their classics, like Everything CountsPeople Are People and Blasphemous Rumours, are political. But Dave Gahan and Martin Gore usually focus on the personal instead. On Spirit though, current events guide their hands, expressing their desire for change.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on March 21, 2017.


Semper Femina is part of a Latin phrase from  Virgil’s Aeneid. “Varium et mutabile semper femina.” It translates to “Fickle and changeable woman always is.” On her latest album, Laura Marling concentrates on the end of that sentence: “woman always.” This is a record that looks at all aspects of womanhood. The theme helps Marling turn in one of her most focused and consistent releases yet. Every song is its own mini-journey in a vast odyssey.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on March 3, 2017.


Aging is a struggle that everyone goes through, even upstart, raucous indie bands. Now, a decade after their first single, Los Campesinos! return with Sick Scenes. The road from then to now can feel like a long one. But their seventh album finds the group proving that maturation doesn’t equal malaise. This is one of their most energetic efforts yet. It pushes against the impact of growing older, but with determinism, not fatalism.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on February 13, 2017.


By this point, Elbow feels like an English institution. The band has played charming, heartening music for decades and has a dedicated fanbase. When you’re around for such a long time, you need to find ways to keep your sound fresh. On Little Fictions, the band continues its gradual evolution with some success but also some noticeable missteps.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on February 6, 2017.


Allison Crutchfield needs a vacation. Or some sort of getaway. In 2015, Swearin’ broke up and she ended her relationship with guitarist Kyle Gilbride. With two focal points of her life gone, Crutchfield spent the next year out on her own writing her solo debut, Tourist in This Town. This synthy, poppy, angry and melancholy affair is all about escape and the reasons behind it.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on November 30, 2016.


Back in 2008, Metallica released Death Magnetic, a return to form after the mess of St. Anger. It returned the band to their thrash metal roots. Now, eight years later, here we are again. This is the longest break between albums, not counting Lulu (no one counts Lulu). What is the band’s philosophy on Hardwired…to Self-Destruct? One word: more. Their latest album is more ferocious, more eclectic and filled with more songs. But, as the latter will prove, more isn’t always better.

It starts out great, though! The first half will rip at you like a Category 5 hurricane. Hardwired is an explosive, adrenalized throwback to the days of Kill ‘Em All. “We’re so fucked, shit out of luck,” Hetfield screams, summing up the sentiment of this year. Sure, it looks cheesy on paper. But you will still feel the need to shout it out and headbang whenever you hear it. Atlas, Rise! and Moth Into Flame are different sides of the same coin, churning shredfests that double-down on the catchy choruses.

Even the tracks where Metallica takes their foot off the pedal are massive. Now That We’re Dead lumbers forward like Godzilla, Lars Ulrich’s drums shaking the speakers to their core. Hetfield digs up the right amount of his young fury into his seasoned vocals. He’s definitely grown as a singer, willing to try some different inflections. Halo On Fire might be the cleanest his vocals have ever sounded, but he still brings the growls out when needed. On Dream No More, Hetfield’s voice echoes out from the deep. Behind him, the band chugs along like a missing cut from their self-titled LP. And of course, it’s about Cthulhu.

So, that’s the first half. Sounds great so far, right? Well, maybe Metallica should have kept this on the short side. Or at least, they could have ditched some of the wasteful filler that litters the second half of the album. Confusion is a lesser version of what they did with Now That We’re Dead. After an unexpected clean guitar and bass jam, ManUNkind dissolves into generic riffage, with an eye-rolling chorus. I’d tell you more about Am I Savage? or Murder One, but no matter how many times I listen, I can’t remember what they sound like. You won’t either.

It’s not a total wash, though. It’s worth wading through the dredge to get to Spit Out the Bone, a pummeling, incredible and unrelenting thrash track. Kirk Hammett even manages to find a frenzied, fresh take on the wah solo that will put a grin on your face. If you need any evidence that Metallica can still keep up with the competition, it’s in this unstoppable beast.  It’s the best song the band’s written since the 80s.

Hardwired…to Self-Destruct is not a perfect album by any means. It’s too long, with too many tracks that go nowhere. But those songs that do work are some of their best in the last couple of decades. Most importantly, despite the seriousness of the lyrics, it sounds like Metallica is having the time of their lives. That feeling is infectious and makes a good portion of this record a joy to hear. May they keep shredding for years to come.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 25, 2016.


Saying that David Bowie was theatrical is as obvious as saying ‘water is wet.’ It’s only shocking that it took him so long to put together his own musical. Lazarus ran for a limited engagement in New York last winter. It’s just starting up previews in the West End this month. Envisioned as a sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth, it features tons of Bowie covers. Unless you see the show, the plot seems to be hard to come by. But the songs hold up in their new setting.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 25, 2016.


It’s a little after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and the crowd at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn is silent and enraptured. Onstage, Emily Jane White’s fingers glide over the keys as she sings Hands, her voice echoing out and filling every inch of space in the venue. This is the reaction that meets White for most songs in her set, followed by applause and shouts of approval.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 10, 2016.


Bon Iver creates beauty out of disarray. On his first two albums, Justin Vernon took his heartbreak and turned it into gorgeous, soothing melodies. 22, A Million takes a similar approach, but the filter for his turmoil is gone. Instead, these songs are chaotic, unexpected and jarring. Samples, vocoders, and shambling synths crash together in an unstructured soundscape. But if you listen through the anarchy, you will find a stirring, masterful odyssey.

22 (Over Soon) throws you into an alien landscape of stuttering electronic glitches and auto-tuned vocals. But Vernon’s voice comes in like an old friend, bolstered by a lovely sample of Mahalia Jackson’s performance of How I Got Over. The aggressive 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ is the most tumultuous song here, with pounding percussion, unintelligible vocals and crushed, flattened instrumentation. Somehow though, these elements create a perfect storm, sounding harsh but not painful. 21 M♢♢NWATER goes a bit too far, though, barely holding together as a song at all.

While many songs are crowded and cluttered, others offer a calm in this maelstrom. 715 – CRΣΣKS is a corrupted choir of Vernon’s voice, contorted to several warped tones. ____45_____ is also stunning, with twisted saxophone lines, gentle banjo picking and Vernon’s voice. 666 ʇ is sunny with warm guitar chords and an electronic beat pattering away. “I’m still standing in/Still standing in the need of prayer/The need of prayer/No, I don’t know the path/Or what kind of pith I’ve amassed,” Vernon sings.

It’s this need for assurance from God on his path that occupies Vernon’s thoughts on this album. “These will just be places to me now,” he sings on 33 “GOD,” giving up attachments over a grounded piano melody. On previous records, this song may have been just his voice and the keys. Here? It’s buried and resurrected around samples from Jim Ed Brown, Lonnie Holley and Paolo Nutini. 8 (Circle) hits a similar note, as he sings “Not sure what forgiveness is/We’ve galvanized the squall of it all/I can leave behind the harbour.”

29 #Strafford APTS comes the closest to combining all aspects of Bon Iver so far. While there are electronic  vocals and floating synths, this is a graceful spiritual that harkens back to earlier works. If you don’t feel something when that voice wails out the word “canonize,” or when Vernon breaks into distortion as he ascends to falsetto, check your pulse; you may be dead inside.

Vernon’s desperation for answers find a resolution of sorts on 00000 Million. This piano-based hymn finds Vernon trying to cut ties, only to return to familiar haunts. “I hurry bout shame, and I worry bout a worn path/And I wander off, just to come back home,” he sings, the weariness clear even through a vocal effect.“Well it harms, it harms me, it harms, I’ll let it in,” he concludes, choosing to stay and live with the pain.

22, A Million finds Vernon searching for a solution to the hole in his heart that he tried to fill with pandemonium. But despite the pleading and searching for answers from God, it’s up to him. Maybe the solution is realizing that there isn’t one at all. Vernon may not be sure if he’s on the right path, but he’s certainly on a good one.