Album Reviews – O Emperor, Nelly, John Newman, Agnes Obel

 
 

Album Title: Virtuous
Artist: O Emperor

Riding on the coattails of their acclaimed, and Choice Music Prize nominated, debut album, Waterford five-piece O Emperor have come storming back with Virtuous. Self-recorded and produced in their own humble studio, the result is a mirror-image of their surroundings; charmingly rough and raw.

Opening track, Grandmother Mountain’ is delightfully deary from the outset. Beginning with a twinkling piano, aided by a smattering of drums, what follows is a crescendo of contrasting filthy guitars and delicate strings. The dichotomy is striking, and O Emperor immediately succeed in gracing us with a worthy follow-up to 2010’s Hither Thither.

During the following eight short-but-satisfying tracks, the listener is swept along a swirling tide of psychedelic rock with frequent beautifully hushed moments. ‘Whitener’ introduces syrupy synths that mesh with a pleasing falsetto, while ‘Brainchild’ is undoubtedly trippy with its unusual ambiance dictated by soothing backing vocals.

Choosing one definitive moment is a hefty task, but the sublime swell of closing track ‘This Is It’ encapsulates the overall frustration that is palpable throughout.

Virtuous is bursting with originality, though the musical approach is reminiscent of Radiohead’s penchant for experimentation and ‘Minuet’ is akin to The National’s understated style.

O Emperor’s aggressive stance of self-assurance is precisely what a band with such a successful debut requires. Taking ownership of their aesthetic identity, they’ve coupled the style of Hither Thither with a confident sense of direction.

In a Nutshell: Short, ambient and thriving; the listener is immersed in their kaleidoscopic artistry from start to finish.

~ Eva Griffin

 

Album Title: M.O.
Artist: Nelly

M.O. is Nelly’s seventh installment in his flailing repertoire of similarly lacklustre tunes since his facial plaster-doning days. It’s clear that Nelly has introduced some big names on this album in order to grab the listener’s attention, including Nicki Minaj, Pharrell, 2 Chainz and Nelly Furtado.

However, instead of enhancing each individual track, Nelly appears to be using these collaborations as a cover, hiding behind these artists, almost completely lost in some of the tracks.

Heaven is the newest single, and it’s a song you’ll definitely catch yourself humming whilst alone in your car. Similarly, it’s Nelly’s exasperated attempt at female empowerment with reference to 2Pac’s line, “Never hate the ladies that make the babies.” Great to see misogyny is not a prominent theme throughout the album.

Songs like ‘100K’ and ‘IDGAF’ have the potential to become popular with disc jockeys in Dublin’s nightclub scene, yet this album makes it feel as though Nelly really should have yielded at the cusp of his success with ‘Hot in Here’.

The simplicity of ‘Ride Wit Me’ is what Nelly should have honed in on instead of putting layer upon layer of vocal and back-clapping synth with this record. In terms of catchy music and easy lyrics, this album is forced and Nelly comes across as an aged musician trying to recapture his former throne in the hip-hop world of today.

In a Nutshell: A forgettable album that Nelly should take as indicative of his sell by date.

~ Sara Holbrook

Album Title: Tribute
Artist: John Newman

As far as debut albums go, John Newman’s Tribute ticks all the boxes. This British singer hit the charts in July 2013 with his fabulous single ‘Love Me Again’ and a voice that was oozing with soul.

Newman just seems to have a talent for making modern music with a retro twist, resulting in an exceptionally appealing sound that reaches out to more than one generation; a difficult task in today’s age.

One particular song that showcases Newman’s talent for musical infusion is ‘Cheating.’ This song has got the beat, the passion and the kick-ass brass section we all need in our lives that will have everyone and their mother up and dancing.

The swooping chorus has already become a radio sensation, making it tremendously more difficult to resist its enticing melodic effect on your dance motives. Other standouts include ‘Try’ and ‘Running’; both memorable and emotive in their composition.

As a matter of fact, most of the album is set in a darker tone. Despite its deceptive, optimistic sound, the lyrics themselves are on the further side of the spectrum; evoking deeper and more profound feelings then their light, melodic partner.
Having said that, there is no doubt that John Newman is an exceptionally talented artist and this album is a strong one. It is sombre, but powerful and memorable nonetheless. This is certainly the beginning of a kicking career.

In a nutshell: A decent debut with quite a unique sound with  a healthy dose of catchy tunes.

~ Orla McEvoy

 

Album: Aventine
Artist: Agnes Obel

For her sophomore effort Aventine, the critically acclaimed Danish singer and composer, Agnes Obel, continues effortlessly from her debut album. Her newest installement sees this songstress mix well-crafted songs with instrumental pieces of piano across eleven aesthetically beautiful tracks.

Musically, she creates a rather sparse sound, based primarily around Obel’s singing and piano playing, ornamented with violin and cello accompaniment. The second track, ‘Fuel to Fire’, sticks out as a special highlight; with moody multi-tracked verses giving way to a haunting cresendo in the chorus.

The sense of restraint that underpins the album is key to its success. It is neither too long nor too short, and she has resisted any temptation to make the arrangements overpoweringly lush. For anyone who finds Joanna Newsom too left-of-centre or the later work of Regina Spektor too poppy, Aventine strikes the balance well.

The title track has a distinctively stately feel to it, with Downton Abbey-esque pizzicato strings intertwining with the vocals, while ‘Run Cried The Crawling’ will have to win a prize for the most intriguing song title of the year. ‘Pass Them By’ is reminiscent of a traditional ballad, and ‘Words Are Dead’, despite the title, sounds slightly more upbeat than the rest of album.

Aventine is not for those of us seeking a high-spirited adrenaline ride, but for those who seek music that is austere, beautiful and haunting, it is a surprisingly perfect fit.

In a nutshell: Perfect listening for a dark autumnal evening.

~ Stephen Heffernan

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