It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from Canadian misspeller The Weeknd, British electro popsters The xx, troubled troubadour Ryan Adams and punk stalwarts AFI.
New Album from a New Artist
The Weeknd — Starboy
Known to his parents as Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, The Weeknd first appeared in 2010 when he started uploading his songs to YouTube.
He immediately gained a following in his native Canada, releasing a trio of acclaimed mixtapes through 2011 and compilation album Trilogy (made up of the best tracks from the mixtapes) in 2012.
Born in Canada to parents of Ethiopian ancestry, young Abel went off the rails early. With an absent father and mother working multiple jobs to support the family, Abel started smoking weed at age 11 and quickly graduating to MDMA, cocaine and ketamine. This fondness for substances led to him cutting class and eventually dropping out of school, earning him the nickname The Weekend, which was eventually truncated to the Weeknd to make it more searchable and avoid confusion with a fellow Canadian band of the same name.
Inspired by Michael Jackson, Prince and R Kelly, The Weeknd released his debut studio album Kiss Land in 2013, followed by Beauty Behind the Madness in 2015. Including first single The Hills, it was leaked album track Can’t Feel My Face that really catapulted The Weeknd into the spotlight. International acclaim swiftly followed, as did collaborations with artists from Drake to Daft Punk, both of whom contribute to new album Starboy.
Mixing catchy jams with smooth R&B and experimental weirdness, Starboy sees The Weeknd incorporate a hint of Bowie as he defies classification into an easy-to-define genre. The layered production and occasionally obscure lyrics reward repeat listens, and guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Ray help make Starboy a damn fine album.
Standout tracks: Starboy, Reminder, Sidewalks
Sample lyric: “Star Trek groove in that Wrath of Khan, girls get loose when they hear this song.” (Starboy)
Verdict: 8/10 — definitely worth a listen for fans of new school R&B and Hip Hop
New Album from an Old Artist
AFI — AFI
Formed in Ukiah, California back in 1991, A Fire Inside had no idea how to play their instruments when they first got together, so they just started making as much noise as possible and hoped for the best. 26 years and 10 albums later, singer Davey Havok and his band of not-so-merry men are still going strong.
AFI had their biggest hit in 2003 with album Sing the Sorrow, driven by singles Girl’s Not Grey, Silver and Cold and the epic Leaving Song Pt. II. The album earned AFI an MTV Video Music Award and elevated their profile outside the USA, opening the door for an extensive touring schedule around the world. They followed up with the almost-as-good decemberunderground in 2006 and had big hits with Miss Murder and Love Like Winter, then ran into contractual issues with their record company that somewhat derailed their fast train to the top.
Described as everything from Garage Punk to Post Hardcore and even Screamo, AFI are basically a punk band that likes 80’s style power-rock choruses. They also seem to take themselves very seriously, in contrast to self-deprecating punks like NOFX and Blink 182. The band’s most recent self-titled album does little to dispel this perception, barely breaking a smile through 14 wrought tracks.
Also known as The Blood Album, AFI (the album) sounds exactly like you’d expect AFI (the band) to sound in 2017. With all lyrics written by Havok and all music composed by guitarist Jade Puget, there isn’t a huge amount of variety, but if you’re looking for dark themes and soaring anthemic choruses, then you’ve come to the right place.
Standout tracks: Aurelia, White Offerings
Sample lyric: “I’ve penned the end over smarter lines, but we both prefer romantic murder.” (Hidden Knives)
Verdict: 6/10 — punk isn’t dead, but it’s starting to smell that way
Album I Expect to Suck
Ryan Adams — Prisoner
Ryan Adams is one of those artists who would be far bigger if not for their personality. Deliberately contrary to the point of career immolation, Adams alternately builds his career with amazing albums like Heartbreaker and Gold, then flushes it down the toilet by acting like a spoilt child and storming off stage every time someone jokingly requests Summer of '69.
After getting his start with Alt-country band Whiskeytown, Adams went solo in 2000 and started releasing albums at a breakneck pace, both solo and with backing band The Cardinals. Diagnosed with the inner-ear condition Meniere’s Disease, Adams took a break in 2009, but it wasn’t long before he was back in the studio cranking out more albums. In 2015, Adams decided to release a track-for-track remake of Taylor Swift’s album 1989, dismissed by most reviewers as a novelty album. Fortunately, like the honey badger, Ryan Adams does not give a fuck what anyone thinks.
Apparently drawn from a pool of over 80 songs written about his breakup with wife Mandy Moore, Prisoner is a bit of a self-pitying affair. From the opening track ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ to the closer of ‘We Disappear’, there is nary a hint of joy on this album. This is not to say that Prisoner is bad per se, but it’ll make a good mood bad and a bad mood worse, particularly if you’re newly single.
Worth checking in on from time to time, Ryan Adams is an artist who will likely end up with a great body of work, if you can ignore all of the slightly mediocre stuff he churns out between classics...
Standout tracks: Doomsday, Breakdown
Sample lyric: “Clock don’t know what your memories do…” (Prisoner)
Verdict: 4/10 — wait a few minutes and he’ll probably release something else
Ch-check it Out…
The xx — I See You
The xx got together in 2005 after meeting at the elite Elliott School in Wandsworth, London. When the band released their first album xx in 2009 the British music press went insane, with hipster bible NME calling them both an “Underground Sensation” and “Britain’s New Favourite Band” which seems contradictory until you realize that NME doesn’t make sense at the best of times.
Catchy without being especially interesting, the xx’s music seemed custom-designed for TV shows, and was used in everything from Cold Case and Misfits to Next Top Model and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Sophomore album Coexist was released in 2012 in a stunt that saw the album available to stream via Internet Explorer for a week prior to release. While this did little to revive the declining fortunes of Internet Explorer, it fortunately didn’t provoke the backlash experienced by U2 when they had the temerity to give their preachy, middle-of-the-road dad rock away for free.
With shades of the Eurythmics crossed with the Pet Shop Boys, the xx are big fans of low frequency bass, which rewards listeners with high end audio equipment, but isn’t great for fans who live in cramped living conditions. Turned up to any reasonable volume, I See You will still shake your floors and rattle your windows as if Lemmy were reincarnated and joined a pop band.
I See You is a professionally produced slice of electronic pop, sounding at times like Florence + The Machine, butwithout the soaring choruses. If you like your music to feel like it could be playing in the background of an episode of Suits, the xx is for you.
Standout tracks: On Hold, Performance
Sample lyric: “Now I go out, but every beat is a violent noise.” (Violent Noise)
Verdict: 7/10 — clean and shiny but lacking in depth
IA subscribers may listen to entertainment editor John Turnbull discuss movies, music and conspiracy theories with managing editor Dave Donovan in the latest members only Independent Australia podcast HERE.
Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!
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