Quick Reviews: October
With another month gone, it’s time to review some of my favorite releases of the month.
Caroline Polachek — Pang (2019)
Caroline Polachek’s first solo album under her full name embodies a sense culmination for the singer’s artistic growth, with it coming out after the disbandment of Chairlift and a slew of releases under pseudonyms like Ramona Lisa and CEP. Encapsulated within new-age, borderline ambient arrangements, Pang is sequenced in a way that feels almost symphonic, with Polachek’s voice being the main instrument driving the function; ranging from her operatic delivery of main verses to the way her stylized — and heavily autotuned — harmonies add unique layers to each song they appear on, it is evident this release was an effort in making something that could bring forth both experimental and classical sensibilities, all while ensuring Caroline was still the entity running the show.
This is further cemented in some of Pang’s more pop moments, which allow the singer to construe a narrative about transitioning from apathy, longing, and fear to revelation, humor, and trust. All of these elements result in a theatrical and atmospheric record that is also incredibly articulate, especially in its refined portrayal of vulnerability as a transformative force. As said at the beginning of this review, Pang is a culmination point, but it is also the landscape of a new beginning, one that holds incredible potential.
sakuraebis — octave (2019)
For their second full-length, former Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s trainee group openly embrace the most lighthearted and laid-back aspects of idol music, with tracks that have them playfully alternate between fizzy electro-pop and more evocative band-driven tracks. While at first listen there doesn’t seem to be anything too groundbreaking about this record, repeated listens revealed octave to be a fresh, relaxing album that can comfortably slip into a more cheerful territory without ever compromising its musical solidity. In the current state of the Japanese idol scene, with groups often being presented through some sort of — often extreme — concept, having albums like octave being fun and light-hearted just for the sake of it feels like a much welcome breath of fresh air.
Mika —My Name Is Michael Holbrook (2019)
My Name Is Michael Holbrook is Mika’s first effort in four years and, as it often happens with releases titled after an artist’s real name, it is an earnest effort in sharing a more personal picture, even if said picture is meticulously styled and covered in glitter. While Holbrook’s earliest albums often drew strength from his ability to put together feel-good, positive anthems like Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) or We Are Golden, My Name Is sees the singer reclaiming different aspects of himself in a way that feels closer to releases like No Place In Heaven, be it through glossy numbers about flirtatiously embracing romance or by means of more daunting moments where he admits to emotions like the jealousy of no longer being the man he could potentially have turned into. Maturity (both musical and personal) is often the result of learning to compromise things about yourself; in Mika’s fortunate case, maturity didn’t mean to stop making fun music, but to learn how to convey more intimate — and purposeful— messages through said kind of music.
Samantha Urbani — Made In Love (2019)
Probably the most unexpected comeback of the month, Made In Love is Urbani’s first release since the monumental Policies of Power. Mainly showcasing glossy synths and carefully crafted percussion beats, the track is an ecstatic yet intimate number meant to explore love as a place instead of a feeling. An idea that is incorporated into the song through lyrics that portray love as a force the transcends all relationships, even those that might have reached a breaking point. Its merits as gentle but honest song aside, the most exciting thing about this single is that Samantha Urbani is back, and her music is as genuinely charming as ever.