Muse – Simulation Theory Review

Originally posted in the Thin Air here.

From pollution and dirty talk to Harry Potter references and riffs straight out of ’90s Europop, Muse’s latest album, Simulation Theory, has the energetic, revolutionary spirit of an album that has no idea what or who it’s revolting against. 

Like many albums released by a British artist in the past year, critics have uncovered an elaborate anti-Brexit agenda somewhere amidst the circus of synthesisers. ‘Thought Contagion’ is one of the strongest tracks on the album – but that doesn’t say much – with Bellamy belting on about “fractured identities”, “infinite black skies’ and a society “bitten by false beliefs”. It’s so vague it works on just about every controversy as the band keep their fingers in all the contemporary political pies from Trump to climate change. 

We will soon find this to be a recurring theme when identical ideologies and the abstract notion of impending doom feature once again in ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Get up and Fight’. One channels the dark energy of a heavy metal band covering Prince’s ‘Kiss’, while the other could pass as Boyzone’s next comeback single. Simulation Theory seems so haphazard and incoherent that one can only assume Muse weren’t expecting much of an audience to listen beyond the singles.  

In terms of sound, Muse have achieved the impossible by successfully using every iconic Muse trait to completely alienate themselves from their entire repertoire. The boxes have been ticked, the textbook instructions fulfilled and yet somewhere between the studio process and album release, there was a five foot spanner tossed into the works. 

If Queen covered a Basshunter track on BBC’s Live Lounge we would find ourselves trapped in the third track of Simulation Theory, ‘Pressure’… and if the UCLA Bruin Marching Band covered that cover, see track 14. This is a Europop Rock Opera that no one asked for, that even lacks enough confidence to use the “because we can” excuse. Simulation Theory is the equivalent of every single from the ’80s playing at the same time, layered on top of each other; obnoxious and loud with an overload of synthesisers and the rattling scream of a malfunctioning SNES tossed into the mix for that nostalgic charm.

That said, the Simulation Theory  does find its footing here and there. Later in the album, the trio salvage what’s left of their eighth full-length release and create something that sounds somewhat similar to a Muse album, starting with ‘Thought Contagion’. The shrill guitar licks make a triumphant return along with Bellamy’s stirring vocals.

Muse find themselves slipping back into their comfort zone, into the monotonous recycling of the same song that they’ve been getting away with for years. In an album so chronically ambitious that fell so far from the mark, we find ourselves welcoming the exhausted formula of the past five Muse albums with open arms. The first half of the album could be mistaken for an elaborate ploy to make something so outrageous that the rest sounds good by comparison, once again milking that same pedal effect under the guise of something new. Better the devil you know, as they say. 

No amount of attempts at “woke” lyrics, synthesisers or college marching bands can save Muse from themselves at this point. It is only a default to something vaguely enjoyable toward the end that saves this album from being quite as tragic as its catastrophic predecessorChristine Costello

Panic! at the Disco – Pray for the Wicked Review

Originally posted in the Thin Air here.

Remember that ‘I Like Me’ song from the Simpsons episode with Hank Scorpio? Imagine if Frank Sinatra collaborated with the Chainsmokers to make a Broadway version of that song. Once you imagine that, you’ll have a bit of an idea as to the level of absurdity we’re dealing with here. Pray for the Wicked is the sixth studio album from Panic! At the Disco. Riddled with pop culture references and sabotaged by extraneous high notes, this effort – which comes 13 years after Bradon Urie and co’s breakthrough A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out –  is basically everything we’ve come to expect from another Panic! At the Disco album. But not in a good way. 

The higher you rise, the farther you fall. Behind the glamorous falsettos and extravagant productions, there’s the remnants of a teenage, pop-punk band and the scars of their slow burnt out hidden away. One can’t help but think of actors who peaked young who go on to amble aimlessly between sitcom pilots and movie cameos in a bid to recapture the fame and fortune of their early years. The same goes for Urie who, at the ripe age of 21 had two commercially successful and highly reputable albums (A Fever you can’t Sweat out, Pretty. Odd.) under his belt. It’s unfortunate that Pray for the Wicked has become yet another victim of circumstance, but we can also place a lot of the blame on the only remaining member’s refusal to leave the band name behind, instead dragging it deeper and deeper into banality. Perhaps under a new banner, with a sense of freshness and of a new beginning this all could have worked. But who knows.

There was a vision in Pray for the Wicked. From what we can gather, there was a motive to reinvent Sinatra’s iconic, crooning sound for a contemporary audience – a venture which was better executed in the later tracks of Death of a Bachelor. But somewhere along the way, between the exhausted iconography and Urie’s ego, the motive was lost in translation. The name-drops of alcohol and drugs in the opening track ‘Fuck A Silver Lining’ are spoken with the same air of egoism as a teenager drinking their first beer in front of their parents, or a young child, defying all rules as he runs around the house screaming a chorus of Damn’s and Shit’s for attention. 

The sound of the album, although oddly unique in its own respect, remains unchanging throughout leaving several tracks completely indistinguishable from each other. It all blends into one 35 minute, 1920s Broadway extravaganza. Following a recent starring role in Kinky Boots on Broadway, it’s safe to assume that Urie pulled a substantial amount of musical influences from this experience. Pray for the Wicked’s greatest downfall comes from its desire to show-off, constantly pushing its limits with these staggering high notes, forced into the end of each track. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive, but you don’t see him sprinting at full-speed everywhere.

Despite all of the above, there are some notably decent tracks in Pray for the Wicked. Save the ear-piercing high note at the end, ‘Saturday Night’ is a strong lead-single and tailor-made for chart success with quip-filled songwriting and an infectious chorus. ‘Roaring 20s’ is the closest we get to the original vision of present-day Sinatra with its rousing brass arrangements reminiscent of that Gatsby aesthetic that’s appeared as a party theme at least once in your life. Finally, ‘Old Fashioned’ a suave, ode to vice that falls just a few yards short of its intended audience – unless you know of any teenager with an acquired taste for an Old Fashioned. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t write this off as the complete demise of Panic! At the Disco. The album did debut at number one after all, and there seems to be no signs of stopping this endless stream of Sinatra revivals anytime soon. Pray for the Wicked is just 35 minutes of directionless posturing. But it’s harmless. Christine Costello

Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today Review

Originally posted in the Thin Air here.

In the midst of a tumultuous period in the revered band’s development, Death Cab for Cutie have stripped back to basics for ninth album, their most accomplished of the past eight years, Thank you For Today. 

Thank you for Today is without a doubt Death Cab’s most retrospective album in over a decade, and is in many ways a celebration of the past. As the past four albums have been burdened by darker and more personal tones, Thank you for Today comes as a welcome relief in many ways but never risking flipancy. The buoyant and Beck-reminiscent single, ‘Gold Rush’ transports listeners back to the Seattle neighbourhood where it all began for the band as Gibbard hones in on the issue of gentrification and the mass exodus of creative types while his hometown is swallowed up by urban industry. With a Yoko Ono sample and its very own ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ video to match, ‘Gold Rush’ screams with nostalgia and a longing for a simpler time. As one of the lead singles of the album, ‘Gold Rush’ serves as a fitting introduction.

‘Gold Rush’ isn’t the only allusion we have to the band’s early days. One can’t help but notice the recurring parallel tracks between this album and its eight predecessors, most notably the first four. Themes of wanderlust and long-distant love are scattered throughout, Thank you for Today’s ‘Autumn Love’ and ‘Summer Years’ reminds us of Plans’ ‘Summer Skin’. Thirteen years later and the romanticism of seasonal love metaphors have returned to the forefront In Death Cab for Cutie’s ode to simpler times, shedding their brooding past for the pillars of indie; love, nature and excitement.

Above all else, though, the core theme of acceptance triumphs in this album, from the sombre opening track ‘I Dreamt We Spoke’ to the sound of brave new beginnings in ‘Gold Rush’, right down to the intimate closing track, ‘60 & Punk’. Thank you for Today affirms itself as an anchor in Death Cab for Cutie’s sound, a return to the stability of their comfort zone after years of exploring the limits of their genre. This is most noted in the aforementioned closing track, ‘60 & Punk’ which serves as an apt and ambiguous finale to the album that grieves the loss of a bygone era. Gibbard croons to the bitter end, “The curtain falls to applause, and the band plays you off”.

Thank you for Today is an album filled with promise for a new era; a celebration of the past and a promise of endurance. Christine Costello


Lily Allen – No Shame Review

Originally posted in the Thin Air here.

No Shame is Lily Allen’s most comprehensive album to date. What may at first, to naysayers, appear like a feeble attempt at bringing the charm of the noughties pop into the modern world, soon veers into a dark journey through Allen’s very real and personal struggles the moment you scratch the surface. The honesty portrayed in this album is far from alarming and it’s not Allen’s intention to play up to shock factor or trigger any radical change in the ethics of relationships. Instead, Lily Allen shares these jarring truths with us without shame or fear, giving herself to the public eye on her own terms in a bid to fight against the media’s deceptive assumptions about her.

No Shame brings us on a journey through the profound and personal: From the tales of adolescent rebellion (‘Trigger Bang’) and harrowing accounts of abusive relationships (‘Higher’) to nostalgic childhood memories (‘Three’). Opening track ‘Come On Then’ sets the tone for Allen’s stab against conformity as she condemns the media’s lies and criticisms. This introduction is fitting when put into perspective with the rest of the album which sees Allen baring all in a bid to trump the alleged lies she accuses the media of spreading. No Shame stands as a statement, a carefully orchestrated and elegant profession of infidelity and suffering, exposing the good, the bad and the ugly to the public.

These memories are presented with picture perfect clarity, tracks like ‘Family Man’ relaying brutally honest details with a dialogue that would rival a television drama script. At times these poignant pieces slip through the lines of the pop genre and into the realm of spoken word. It’s especially noticeable in tracks like ‘Everything to Feel Something’, recognised as perhaps Allen’s lowest point in the album before the rise to a happy ending. Here the lyrics reach Plath levels of personal anguish, sucking in the listener and trapping them in an inescapably bleak mentality as Allen brings us all the way down the rabbit hole.

The aforementioned happy ending, the final four tracks of No Shame, can be regarded as the album’s saving grace. While the album is undeniably beautiful in its raw storytelling and bitter narration, it can often be somewhat overwhelming. Allen pulls up just before the listener cracks under the pressure, bursting forth to the light at the end of the tunnel that is ‘Waste’. The shift in tone would give someone whiplash if we hadn’t been praying for this lift for the past three tracks; unexpected, but needed. For fans of Lily Allen’s bubblegum pop image of the past, these four tracks are for you. Each cut is teeming with an insurmountable amount of confidence. The relief and joyous redemption at the album’s conclusion is infectious, intensified by the arduous struggle it took to reach this point.

The album’s refined sound is worth noting as Allen sheds the chirpy piano chords and rousing acoustics for a drum machine and electronic palette. Over the past few years pop has finally risen and come to be shed its unfounded be and as a style music that is “less serious” than others, as a genre less capable of being a vehicle for serious, powerful lyricism or less deserving of serious examination. We are reminded of how vital pop is when it is met with a fitting songwriter to match the set tone with lyrics of equal maturity and haunting poignancy. The moment she stepped into herself again, Lily Allen brought the sound of 2018 pop to new heights. Christine Costello

Delorentos – True Surrender Review

Originally posted in the Thin Air here.

Delorentos fifth studio album, True Surrender, boils down to one simple message: Cut the bullshit. Through intricate metaphors of escapism, bold images of desolate extradition from society and elusive references to the current, global political state, the Dublin outfit beg us to take a step back and ask ourselves: Is this the world we want to be living in? From observations of panic to eventual acceptance, the 2012 Choice Music Prize winners take us on a journey through some manner of existential crisis, leading us ultimately to a state of acceptance.

The album opens with a recurring, focal image of an island, setting its narrator in a remote environment, removed from society, observing the wider world. This sense of desolation in the album’s opener ‘Stormy Weather’ is solidified by Rónan Yourell’s isolated vocals creating images of black oceans and aggressive storms, pulling subtle influences from unnamed Irish landscapes and their violent beauty. It sets a foreboding and ominous tone for the rest of True Surrender, placing listeners on the brink of disaster before bringing us to safety. In the first three tracks, Delorentos establish the core theme of isolation, building anticipation for the next stage of the album.

‘In Darkness We Feel’ presents us with the first glimmer of hope in this near-dystopian realm. The ringing harmonies, bring with them the impression of joint suffering, or acceptance. Delorentos introduce a string of elusive  references to the current global, political state, (“Open up the borders”, “Looking back in time… finding only famine or feast”). At times, we fear the Dublin group may stray a little too far into the U2 levels of preaching but there’s a musical substance breathing fresh air into a seemingly broken record and clichéd message. The uplifting symphony of synths and chanted backing vocals give the album the firm backbone it needs. Delorentos use their acute ear for quirky hooks and fearless experimentation to keep True Surrender on track at all costs, refusing to let it slip into the mindless, directionless, stream-of-consciousness mess it could have been.

From the universal to the personal struggle, the album takes a full turn on the narrator. The retrospective track, ‘Am I Done?’ tackles notions of fear and doubt in the wake of a personal crisis. Classic lines from your all too familiar insecurities ring loud here: “Am I over before I’ve begun? Am I scared of something barely there? Am I scared and underprepared? Am I somebody who can’t change?”. Delorentos even go so far as to take a swipe at the problematic stigma surrounding Irish men and their mental health, stating, “It’s manlier to just suppress”. The track itself is far-removed from the album’s minimal electronic influences, remaining almost entirely acoustic throughout. This shift in sound solidifies the intimacy and personal anguish addressed in the track, its intimacy and honesty making it the real of highlight of True Surrender.

We return to our regularly scheduled programming in the final few tracks of the album. There’s a fresh course of optimism in these closing, synth-fuelled, festival ballads.The message boils down to every clichéd motto on wellbeing you’ve heard; learn from your mistakes, Carpe Diem, live in the moment etc etc etc! The infectious hooks and toe-tapping beats of that drum machine, lure you into believing what they say, though. Ultimately, this is an album of festival and radio-friendly tracks that ward off concerns of lyrical cliché and repetition by using the tools and talents they have remarkably well. In the hands of many other bands this format of anthemic production meets “optimism in the face of crisis” lyricism would be ham-fisted. In True Surrenders case, however, with its bold musicality and honesty it’s hard not to be convinced that, even in the face of personal crisis, there is hope that things will probably be grand.  Christine Costello

Wyvern Lingo – Wyvern Lingo Review

Originally posted in the Thin Air here.

At its core, Wyvern Lingo’s stunning, eponymous debut is a journey towards recovery after a break-up, leading us on an intimate journey through love, loss and healing to an eventual resurrection. Wyvern Lingo bring to the table the storytelling qualities of Ireland’s contemporary folk musicians (Lisa Hannigan, Glen Hansard) but just as confidently introduce decades worth of pop and R&B flavours and sensibilties to make this an album that is truly their own. The Bray trio succeed in adapting these personal tales of woe, love and loss into a universal experience,  most clearly executed in tracks like ‘Dark Cloud’ and ‘I Love You, Sadie’. In their own words, “These songs are a collection of experiences both separate and shared. Experiences that shape how we view the world, and how we’ve come to terms with the way our lives have unfolded”.

This transition through the stages of heartbreak across the album present us with a question surrounding the transience of sadness. The sound of the album works alongside the development of this theme. ‘Maybe it’s my Nature’ and ‘Used’ make use of isolated vocals and haunting reverb to create an overwhelming depth to the emotional lyrics. Meanwhile, in later tracks like ‘Fountains’, the aggressive denial bursts through in a clever juxtaposition to its gritty guitar riffs. It all works seamlessly against the trio’s wonderfully executed vocals. This, along with the jarring, almost tribal, rhythm lends to a power that Wyvern Lingo wield very well indeed, enabling them to break beyond even their own expectations and limits to produce some of Ireland’s most poignant tracks of the past decade. 

Wyvern Lingo traces its roots back to the origin of female empowerment; from the Celtic Goddesses of Ancient Ireland to female powerhouses of the 60s to modern day icons. Each source embeds itself into these tracks, creating an elaborate exploration of the female image, hidden beneath the guise of these personal tales of love and heartbreak. ‘I Love You, Sadie’ pays homage to golden era of the 90s/00s girl bands (Destiny’s Child, TLC); a pop-infused, R&B track with addictive harmonies and a catchy chorus. In ‘Used’, Wyvern Lingo allude to a sort of Celtic mysticism without any use of traditional instruments. Visions of Irish Goddesses and rolling landscapes come to mind through the nuances of their vocal delivery, complimented by the intricate, musical arrangements. Meanwhile ‘Tell Him’ takes a turn toward a more blues-influenced sound, paying tribute to the powerhouses of the 60s like Etta James and Aretha Franklin.

Wyvern Lingo’s debut is both a celebration of women in music and their empowerment. It explores the self and the power of unity through a perceptual retelling of shared life experiences. With their debut, Wyvern Lingo have created a triumph of an album with plenty of promise left for what’s to come.  Christine Costello

L.A. Witch – L.A. Witch Review

Originally posted in The Thin Air here.

L.A Witch‘s eponymous debut long player is the movieless soundtrack of the year, one that is utterly addictive and that will leave you begging for a visual counterpart. From their brooding vocals and hazy riffs, the Californian psych rock trio take us on a cinematic journey through the seedy bars and clubs of 1960s Los Angeles. 

L.A. Witch have set out to capture a hazy, Californian dream; a sound lost and found only in the depths of David Lynch’s surreal, on-screen exposés of the Southern Californian underbelly. Any of these nine tracks would slip neatly into this scene; crackling in the background through a broken jukebox or buzzing through the car radio of a cadillac tearing across the desert plains of the south west.

This vivid scene is painted through a number of different methods. Firstly, through invocations of the myriad of influences from the south western American alt-rock scene like Mazzy Star and 13th Floor Elevator (e.g ‘Baby in Blue Jeans’). Secondly, their first-person morality tales of love and woe like ‘Untitled’ give character and plot to the scene, solidifying the setting and introducing the running theme of escapism. Finally then, and most importantly, there is of course the sound itself. L.A. Witch’s washed out vocals and gritty riffs conjure the analog sound of a collector’s prized 45′ from some short-lived footnote cult band seamlessly and serve to solidify the atmosphere they strive for.

Once they’ve set the scene, L.A. Witch delve into an intriguing plotline of problematic love and escape; a classic Bonnie and Clyde, us-against-the-world scenario. ‘Kill My Baby Tonight’ is the perfect showcase track; a marriage of the album’s main themes and defining, musical characteristics. Sade Sanchez’s hazy, lulled vocals paint a vivid depiction of the album’s protagonist, (“I’m gonna hurt my baby tonight/This way he’ll forever be mine”), the band’s very own Ellie Driver; a femme fatale fit for an all-female, 60s garage trio. This anonymous, fictional renegade features throughout the album, playing a central role in the execution of the album’s narrative.

While Sanchez’s sultry narration brings character, it is Ellie English’s punctual, jarring rhythm that really brings the album to life in tracks like ‘Drive Your Car’ and ‘You Love Nothing’. L.A. Witch utilise their drumbeats to set and manipulate the tone of the album. Lines like wish I had a heart as cold as yours” are delivered with a venomous, motorik beat before the drums drop completely, giving space for the ominous, echoing void of a lone bass line from Irita Pai.

The dramatic theme of escapism is palpable in just about every track but is most noticeable in final track, ‘Get Lost’, (“Take me where you go/To get lost from myself /To get lost from my soul”). Our protagonist draws on issues of love and self-doubt, repeating the same running-from-your-problems scenario that has featured  numerous times before in the album. While repetitive at times, L.A. Witch’s execution feels fresh at every turn.

While ‘Get Lost’ is both lyrically and structurally similar to the other album tracks, its execution is unique, letting it stand out from its predecessors. Sade Sanchez’s hypnotic, velveteen vocals strike up a stark contrast against English’s vigorous, percussion-soaked breakdowns, topped off with a tyranny of soporific guitar riffs that resonate with a haunting reverb, carrying this wonderfully executed album to a neat and satisfying conclusion. Christine Costello

Liam Gallagher – As You Were Review

Originally posted in The Thin Air here.

So here we are, Liam Gallagher has done something he would never said he’d do andpresented to us his debut solo album, As You Were, a straightforward rock album with no if’s, no but’s and certainly no synthesisers. As You Were amounts to just about everything it says on the tin. Ironically enough though, for his alleged tribute to all things “rock ‘n’ roll”, Gallagher has called upon the A-List of pop-songwriters, Greg Kurstin and Andrew Wyatt. While there’s no stand-out strokes of genius, the album should be accredited with worthy acclaim for its lack of filler tracks – It’s certainly not boring. But As You Were strays far from Gallagher’s usual thirst for controversy and in a rare turn of events, plays it safe. In that case, maybe we should question whether it’s the music we’re falling for, or the charming, redemptive character arc. 

Liam Gallagher attempts to resurrect the solid essence of rock ‘n’ roll with a mirage of savage hooks and sandpaper vocals; wrapped up with just enough humorous cynicism and swearing to make for solid entertainment. As You Were is far from mediocre, but it has no single, stand-out characteristic that makes it worthy of any ranking anywhere above average. Is it the album’s inability to commit to any one theme, with its foot in just about every relevant topic? Whether it be the politics of ‘Chinatown’, the faux-wisdom of ‘Paper Crown’ or the uncharacteristic apology track ‘For What it’s Worth’, Gallagher exhausts just about any relevant mood the infamously cantankerous Britpop icon can think of. But the aching feeling that he’s not really handling them well is never far from mind.

The one certainty is that whatever he’s doing, he’s still doing it with a staggering amount of confidence. There’s a lack of fear in As You Were; from the initial idea of a solo album, after Gallagher so blatantly condemned the idea, right down to some of the album’s most ambitious lyrics. ‘The cops are taking over / While everyone’s in yoga,’ sung with such confidence that at first we believe that it must be clever. But honestly, it’s really not. Gallagher’s almost-narcissistic confidence is a leading factor in its success.

In terms of sound, As You Were is reasonably versatile. From the hard rock and riff-heavy to the slow-set acoustic tracks, each and every track fits comfortably within the As You Were “aesthetic”, if you want to call it that. Soft and crooning ‘Universal Gleam’ ballads seem to blend smoothly with the charming, scratched vocals of heavier tracks like ‘Wall of Glass’. This album would first and foremost be a people-pleaser if it wasn’t so hard to feel fully pleased by it. 

On the other hand, maybe As You Were’s inability to commit to any one theme is its most defining charm. For an artist so sure of his own identity, the lack of coherent identity seems frivolous and untidy, but Gallagher manages a clean and inexplicable execution. As You Were has since broken the record of fastest selling vinyl in twenty years, thus proving the universal appeal of the younger Gallagher’s unpredictable nature. It’s cheap and cheerful rock ‘n’ roll with a questionable success, but enough confidence to convince us of its worth. Christine Costello

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful Review

Originally posted in The Thin Air here.

One of the golden rules of making any playlist is that you should absolutely never ever start the night with ‘Mr. Brightside’. ‘Mr. Brightside’ should not feature anywhere in the first two hours of a night. Since its phenomenal success 16 years ago – which earned it a spot on the Billboard Top 100 to this day – ‘Mr. Brightside’ has been hailed as one of the most popular “peak” songs for any appropriate party, be that a wedding or whatever you’re having yourself. It reaches its maximum potential only when coupled with unsafe amounts of Jaeger at 2am with crowds of all ages screaming their throats raw. No one remembers consciously learning the lyrics, but you can be damn sure every beat, breath and pause of the song is embedded into the blood and soul of every man, woman and child, only ever to be unlocked only at your late night apex.

The Killers lead-single: Run for Cover (2018)

Unfortunately for The Killers, ‘Mr. Brightside’ was the starting point and thus, their fate was sealed before they even ventured to a second album. Despite admirable efforts from equally stadium-friendly singles through the years (‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘When You Were Young’, ‘Human’ etc etc etc) nothing has ever come quite as close to the commercial success of that singular track. It’s the ‘All Star’ to Smash Mouth, the Harry Potter to Daniel Radcliffe and the ‘Wonderwall’ to Oasis. There’s no escape, there’s no running from it. This single creation is now – at least to many, less engaged followers – more or less their entire identity. 

When looking at their fifth studio release, Wonderful Wonderful, the closest contender to even make a dent on the ‘Mr. Brightside’ spectrum is ‘The Man’; a boisterous and jazzy number with ambitiously cringe-worthy lyrics and a consistent lack-of-commitment to any particular genre. As a lead single, it’s quite weak and further solidifies the continuous decline in the quality of The Killers’ albums.

At this pinnacle moment of their career and following Wonderful Wonderful’s dire predecessor Battleborn, the band are giving this album their all. Literally. Wonderful Wonderful drags listeners unwillingly through a feeble imitation of The Killers’ back catalogue in a desperate search for a single like ‘Mr. Brightside’. 

The opening title track is a promising but ultimately flat lament to the Sawdust era, with dystopian landscapes and human tragedy being brought to life through Flowers’ powerful vocals. ‘Life to Come’ then, is nothing more than an unfortunate electronic Battleborninfluences.

While Wonderful Wonderful is predominantly a rehash of previous albums, there are a few moments where The Killers edge out of their comfort zone, which should offer some semblance of promise but just end up resulting in some of the album’s lowest points. ‘Run For Cover’ opens with your classic indie intro, often associated with the likes of Two Door Cinema Club. From there, the track spirals into a mutilation of pop-punk and indie made worse by Flowers’ ill-fitting vocals. The entire track is a fragmented experiment that should not have seen the final cut of this mess of an album. 

Wonderful Wonderful wears the burden of a band’s fading interest in their own music, or at least their wilting optimism. There’s a running sense of regret and shame coursing through it to the point where Flowers’ is literally apologising and pleading listeners, “Don’t give up on me” in ‘The Rut’.

One supposes though that it’s not all bad for Wonderful Wonderful. It does feature a multitude of quirky cuts like ‘Out of my Mind’, the name-dropping number where Flowers attempts, and actually basically succeeds, to woo and seduce us with cheesy disco riffs and brags about McCartney and Springsteen. ‘The Calling’ then is  a solid, well-structured track with an infectious chorus and the smooth execution the rest of the album is lacking.

The Killers have been known to bypass the “Out with a Bang” theory in favour of the slow, lulling close to their end tracks. Wonderful Wonderful finishes with the track ‘Have All The Songs Been Written?’ and really, that alone speaks volumes. The title singlehandedly sums up the mediocrity of this album. It marks the band’s surrender to their own demise and a final ode of acceptance. In this case, the answer is in the question. If you’ve been reduced to writing a track like ‘Have All the Songs Been Written?’ then yes, it’s quite possible that all the worthwhile songs have been written. We can hope and wish that it’s not so, but you can’t help but feel that the final drop of The Killers’ creativity has been spent in Wonderful Wonderful. Christine Costello

The Academic – Tales From the Backseat Review

Originally posted in The Thin Air here.

One of the most hotly tipped young indie-bands in Ireland,The Academic have released their debut album; a ten-track LP so radio friendly that you have probably heard most of the tracks already after months of extensive airplay. These four lads – all still in their early 20s – appear to have have risen from the rubble of the bygone era of rock boybands (The Vamps5SOS) with a charming debut that holds its own amid waves of similarly inclined young bands. Tales from the Backseat thrives on its own simplicity, along with their precocious gift for creating infectious earworms.

The Academic’s debut album feels like a tribute to the ever changing Irish youth, taking snippets of that modern character and presenting it with an American teen-drama gloss. With classic topics of love and rebellion being observed in their most idealistic form, they attempt to repaint a classic Irish identity with its newfound cultures. This leads to plenty of attempts to portray fleeting emotion and complexity of character. In doing so, four-piece have targeted a specific audience, and crafted and album specifically toward an Irish teen market.

The Academic lead-single: Bear Claws (2017)

This young Irish character shines through in tracks like ‘Fake ID’ and the all too familiar image of being left in the cold because you were born with the eternal face of a 12-year old. Later we’re presented with more fictitious tracks like ‘Girlfriend’; showing desperate longing for the American teenage dream, driving Bentleys and running away with your partner to escape those suffocating hardships of adolescence. Tales From The Backseat constantly switches between this unrealistic, John Hughes imagery of ‘Girlfriend’, and the less romantic Irish reality of being far too polite to call people out on their bullshit in ‘Bite My Tongue’. The idealistic and realistic play alongside each other, often intertwining as a near mockery of the teen rock genre.

The album starts strong with three leading singles one after the other, easing listeners in with songs they are probably already familiar with. ‘Permanent Vacation’, ‘Bear Claws’ and ‘Different’ push the album to a great start with three feel-good ballads. The album is constantly changing and jumping from tone to tone and yet never strays too far from fun, love and heartbreak; three of the most vital pillars of adolescence. One could call it inconsistent, but it could also be considered tactful. It’s putting an egg in every basket. Note also the lack of lulls in this album, even the slow-set, ‘Northern Boy’ picks up a bit of viguor after the first chorus to keep the energy up. It draws listeners in and leaves little room for boredom; a cheap, but effective trick on The Academic’s part.

Tracks like ‘Bite My Tongue’, ‘Television’ and ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ pay homage to their indie progenitors with blatant influence from the sounds of Neon Trees and Vampire Weekend. Following the solid groundwork put in place by the three staple singles at the beginning, The Academic grant themselves the freedom to explore and expand in these final tracks. After playing it safe, The Academic take this new found liberty and implant a promise of greater things to come, a taster of their maturing sound.

As a debut, the album can stand proud alongside its contemporaries, at points even overshadowing the old-guard of Irish rock who long ago began to go stale. Tales from the Backseat has a sort of simple brilliance; a clash of realities, wrapped up in the allure of adolescence. Christine Costello