Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Max James Hill
Even for a Nick Cave album, Skeleton Tree is dark. Partially recorded after the tragic death of Cave’s son, the album is an unfettered glimpse into the singer’s grief and turmoil. But it’s also as beautifully realized and hauntingly poetic as any of the band’s records, and though it’s oftentimes heartbreaking, it never feels burdensome.
The Bad Seeds have always had a knack for album openers (“Into My Arms,” “The Mercy Seat,” et al.) and first track “Jesus Alone” is no exception, a solemn invitation set to Ennio Morricone strings. “Girl in Amber” is similarly melancholy, featuring one of the best vocal performances on the album.
But it’s the record’s centrepiece “I Need You” that stands out. Over a soaring synth background, Cave gives us the album’s thesis: “Nothing really matters / When the one you love is gone.” It’s one of the best songs the band’s ever done.
Skeleton Tree is not an easy listen, but it’s an essential one.
Wild World by Bastille – Courtney Miller
Bastille opens strongly on its sophomore album Wild World with “Good Grief,” which also happens to be the lead single. The thing I love about Bastille is the depth in their instrumentation and lyrics. It’s a beautiful combination that never disappoints — just like this album.
The news-type snippets throughout the album might throw off or even turn off some listeners, but everything the band does is for a reason. “Two Evils” has an eerie echo of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and really gives a majestic quality to the album.
The theme song for 2016 could be “Warmth,” with its reflections on current politics. “Blame” has a hard rock intro and keeps a low and foreboding feel throughout. Any university student can resonate with “Campus,” which is basically university life in a nutshell, with dependable Bastille twists.
Bastille may be classified as indie-pop, but the band branches into so many other genres that pretty much anyone can find something to like from them. This is an amazing record; play it anytime, anywhere.
Big Mess by Grouplove – Courtney Miller
Grouplove opens “Welcome to Your Life” (and thus Big Mess) with a bubblegum pop intro, before gradually transitioning to a rockier style. The whole album goes back and forth like this, making it a bit of a stylistic rollercoaster. There’s the constant indie thread throughout the record, and I’m a big fan of indie, but it feels unfinished; like there’s something missing that would really cement it as a record to return to time and time again.
At times it almost seems purposefully immature, particularly on “Traumatized,” where the complaint is that the chores never end — despite naming only one chore. “Do You Love Someone” gets a little screechy at times, but for the most part it’s still an enjoyable song.
The opening riff to “Standing in the Sun” is the best part of that song, frankly. That’s how this record works. Some songs have really good parts but that’s all you get: a tease.