A stacked end to summer saw unlikely hits and wild misses from massive names including Lorde, Billie Eilish, and The Killers.
Well that was quite a month!
A jam packed August featured some of the biggest names in music dropping long awaited albums - how did some of the most anticipated records of the summer fare? Answers below as I dive into seismic releases from Billie Eilish, The Killers and Lorde. Surprisingly enough however, my album of the month is a gem to be found outside these superstar names.
As well as these aforementioned bumper reviews, there are notable names to be found in this month's GGNB where I'll be giving some hot takes on Angel Olsen, CHVRCHES and Gorillaz before naming the best tracks of the month in the E/O August Mix and taking a look ahead to what's looking tasty in September.
Sound good? Let's go.
August Album Reviews
Happier Than Ever - Billie Eilish
If you fell into the "good but overrated" camp for Billie Eilish's monstrously successful debut album, you're unlikely to be won over by the young American's sophomore effort. Happier Than Ever finds Eilish contemplating fame and fortune with a markedly matured narrative approach that is all but lost amidst a wearisome set of brother Finneas' minimalist electropop beats, which ask far too much patience of the listener.
The sparse production throughout Happier Than Ever's sluggish 54 minutes rarely kicks into second gear, with a maddeningly slow tempo that too often buries Eilish's mumbled vocals within a tediously quiet backing track, with 'Oxytocin' and 'NDA' rare examples of decent fare that break up the drudging monotony on a bloated 16 song tracklist.
The result is a strangely muted version of Billie that loses the lawless spirit, wild creativity and experimental edge that captivated fans globally in 2018.
4.0 / D-
Best Tracks: 'NDA'
Animal - LUMP
One of the most delightfully offbeat listening experiences of the summer comes from Laura Marling and Mercury award winning producer Mike Lindsay, who team up as LUMP once again on their second album as a duo.
Animal is an irresistible collection of indietronica bangers that sees Lindsay tee up no shortage of funky electro grooves for Marling to knock out of the park with her own brand of witty existential lyricism, as the 31 year old follows up one of the albums of 2020 with another wildly different yet similarly brilliant effort.
It seems like Marling's consistent excellence goes somewhat under the radar time and time again, so make sure you don't miss another star turn from one of the most relentlessly creative songwriters in Britain.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Climb Every Wall'/'Paradise'/'We Cannot Resist'
Pressure Machine - The Killers
Following the stadium sized bombast of Imploding The Mirage last year, The Killers tone it down for an altogether more contemplative effort, as Brandon Flowers pens a love letter to his hometown on Pressure Machine.
If Imploding The Mirage was The Killers' balls out Springsteen tribute a la Born In The USA, then their seventh album is surely their take on Nebraska, with its cast of small town American characters set to midwestern acoustic ballads.
This is still very much The Killers though, so there's plenty of grandeur amongst the balladry as Flowers & co. ensure that long term fans will be satisfied by pulsing synthrock single material ('In The Car Outside', 'In Another Life') to compliment minimalist turns ('Runaway Horses', 'Desperate Things') in a finely balanced mix. Elsewhere, dynamic highlights such as atmospheric opener 'West Hills' and 'Cody' with its ripping climactic solo combine both styles in the tracklist's best moments.
The result is an impressive sequel that stands alongside Mirage as two works that merit inclusion at the top end of the spectrum in Killers' discography, as the band continue to age into steady veterans while delivering some of the most complete and consistent records of their career.
7.5 / B
Best Tracks: 'West Hills'/'Cody'/'In The Car Outside'/'Pressure Machine'
Solar Power - Lorde
After cementing her name in the annals of pop history with Melodrama back in 2017, it's jarring to hear Lorde follow up her pièce de résistance with a record as lacking in adventure and imagination as Solar Power.
The third album from Ella O Connor takes inspiration from the 24 year old's trip to Antarctica in 2019, and was tellingly described by the artist as her ''weed album'' - as such, it features a lightly psychedelic blend of earthy folk pop that sees Lorde reconnecting with the natural world while getting introspective and philosophic about celebrity culture, the climate crisis and personal relationships.
The early signs of Solar Power's plain approach were clearly heard in the mild pleasantry of both singles that previewed the record, as our lead title track and 'Stoned At The Nail Salon' offered up a groovy summer mantra and charming slacker acoustic ballad respectively, with low key stakes and easygoing if indifferent returns.
The assumption had to be that Solar Power's true strength was lying in wait amidst the shadows of the album's full tracklist, but in fact it's the pre-released tunes (including funky new single 'Mood Ring' and soulful centerpiece 'Fallen Fruit') that stand among the few modest highlights of an unfortunately bland 43 minutes that manages to achieve the unthinkable by neglecting almost everything that has made the prodigious New Zealander's iconic evolution such a privilege to behold to this point.
While there is nothing outright objectionable about the gentle if generic collection of wavy daydreams that Solar Power conjures up, the true issue lies in what's missing. Gone are the anthemic 80s synth hooks and cathartic electropop melodies that so vividly captured teenage heartbreak and coming of age on that masterful sophomore album four years ago, cast aside in favor of a set of laid back hippie jams that never manage to pick up the tempo to a comparably engaging level at any stage throughout eleven low energy tracks.
The result will have to go down as a rare misfire for producer Jack Antonoff, whose washed out reverb feels similarly uninspired as almost everything else on Solar Power, while Lorde will face her toughest test yet through the hardening fallout of this polarizing record and her ensuing response. At just under a quarter of a century old, the Kiwi icon still has the world at her feet and a blazingly bright prophecy to fulfill. The hope must be that when the sun eventually begins to set on Lorde's time in the spotlight in the far distant future, Solar Power will be no more than a blurry speck on the horizon.
5.5 / C-
Best Tracks: 'Solar Power'/'Stoned At The Nail Salon'/'Fallen Fruit'/'Mood Ring'
You know how this works by now, GOODGOODNOTBAD is where I get to give you some extra quick takes on stuff I've been listening to this month that hasn't gotten the full review treatment! This is my way of including some more quickfire recommendations for all of you that are well worth checking out.
These albums can either be: Very Good, Good, Not Bad or BAD. So with that being said, what else is out there this month and what's good?
An EP of unabashed 80s covers conceived when strolling down a supermarket aisle may sound like a recipe for disaster in the hands of most artists, but Angel Olsen is not most artists. On Aisles she continues her hot streak against all odds with a series of synth soaked, delightfully gloomy riffs on Laura Branigan, Men Without Hats and Alphaville among others. The result is a glorious 21 minute time machine that finds Olsen reveling in the bombastic vocal hooks and warped walls of synth that defined the decade.
Screen Violence packs CHVRCHES now patented formula of sugary synthpop hooks underneath Lauren Mayberry's warm ethereal vocals to reliably pleasurable effect, as the Scottish trio incorporate 80s slasher themes into a fun fourth album. While the bands signature blasts of electropop may not sound quite as fresh or exciting as they did on their unsurpassed 2013 debut, Screen Violence marks another solid entry into CHVRCHES effortlessly enjoyable catalogue, even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel.
Gorillaz follow up last year's spectacular Song Machine event with a surprise three track EP dropped this past month. Meanwhile continues the marvelous collaborative spirit of the band's seventh album as Damien Albarn and Jamie Hewlett team up with a variety of West London rappers including 2021 hotshot AJ Tracey to deliver a trio of feel good tributes to Notting Hill's annual Carribbean Carnival. Festival goers may have missed the event in person this past August bank holiday but this heartfelt homage from the experimental animated quartet brings the celebration to a global audience in reliably inventive style.
Check out these three releases ranked below and let me know whether you thought they were good, bad or indifferent:
Angel Olsen - Aisles EP
Gorillaz - Meanwhile EP
CHVRCHES - Screen Violence
Either/Or's August 2021 Mix
38 of the best tracks of August, curated by yours truly for your aural pleasure.
Gorillaz - Deja Vu (feat. Alicia Hayley) - Live from NW10
Silk Sonic - Skate
The Weeknd - Take My Breath
Zella Day - Golden
Parcels - Comingback
Blossoms - Care For
The Killers - In The Car Outside
Big Thief - Little Things
Indigo de Souza - Hold U
Fya Fox - NEED IT
Purity Ring - soshy
James Blake - Life Is Not The Same
Loops & Loops, Lines of Flight - Under The Glacier
LUMP - Paradise
Angel Olsen - Eyes Without A Face
Japanese Breakfast - Glider
Kacey Musgraves - star-crossed
Courtney Barnett - Before You Gotta Go
Waxahatchee - Talking Dust Bowl Blues
Amyl and The Sniffers - Security
IDLES - Model Village (feat. slowthai)
Sleigh Bells - Justine Go Genesis
Turnstile - BLACKOUT
Deafheaven - In Blur
Living Hour, Peel Dream Magazine - Double Bus
Grouper - unclean mind
Explosions In The Sky - Climbing Bear
euphorian - mentality
Gang of Youths - Unison
Dorian Electra, 645AR - happy
Remi Wolf - Liquor Store
illuminati hotties, Buck Meek - u v v p
Public Service Broadcasting, Andreya Casablanca - Blue Heaven
CHVRCHES - Final Girl
Big Red Machine - Mimi (feat. Ilsey)
Bon Iver - Babys (4AD/Jagjaguwar Session)
Sufjan Stevens, Angelo De Augustine - Back To Oz
Lorde - Fallen Fruit
September's Most Anticipated Releases
Drake - Certified Lover Boy
Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart
Kacey Musgraves - star-crossed
Sleigh Bells - Texis
Various Artists - The Metallica Blacklist
James Vincent McMorrow - Grapefruit Season
Lil Nas X - Montero
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine - A Beginner's Mind
Various Artists - I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico