Walk The Moon – What If Nothing
Walk the Moon’s third studio album and first since exploding with their 2015 hit “Shut Up and Dance” is a mixed bag that sees the band attempting to both recapture lightning in a bottle and pay homage to their beginnings as a rock band, both tasks not receiving the full extent of their focus and neither being performed to their greatest effect.
I prefer the pop material on this project to some of the off-kilter decisions they make when the guitars roar back in. “Headphones” juxtaposes frontman Nicholas Petricca’s shouted rap vocals and terrible lyrics with rapid-fire guitar solos for chaos that never clicks together. The ordering of the album is very strange in this regard – the band switches back and forth between this and tracks like “One Foot”, an incredibly bland pop song that brings back the marching-band drum tempo, rapidly syncopated one-note vocals and gang vocals reminiscent of their biggest hit.
The band haven’t lost their touch entirely, however – opening track “Press Restart” is legitimately a great pop song, as the effect of the band showing restraint for once is shown, the track beginning quietly and culminating in the explosion the band is known for. The main hook is catchy, and when all the elements they introduce finally click together, we get the sense of euphoria the band is clearly trying to achieve. The harmonies on “All Night” are a surprise in new wave bliss, as the band displays their highest level of musicality, Petricca sounding engaged in the music instead of trying his hardest to create a hit song.
The main problem What if Nothing suffers from is a lack of originality. The album stretches to nearly an hour’s length, and too often I just feel like I’m listening to retreads of “Shut Up And Dance” that aren’t as immediately impactful, a band desperately trying to achieve stadium status but lacking the songwriting ability and creativity to connect on that level. All of these songs blend together – and this review is a bit shorter because it’s tough to distinguish them enough to write in specificity. They have the ability – “Sound Of Awakening” is a 6-minute shifting, changing experiment in vocal effects that actually goes over pretty well, but opted to be safe instead.
Favourite Tracks: All Night, Press Restart, Sound Of Awakening
Least Favourite Track: Headphones
Tove Lo – Blue Lips [lady wood phase II]
Tove Lo’s third studio album comes shortly after last year’s largely inconsistent and disappointing Lady Wood, representing its second “phase” and a huge step up in quality. The production here is much more complex and engaging than its predecessor, as she finds all the best spots in her vocal range to move past the bland pop of last year. While the lyrical content can still leave a bit to be desired, sometimes its bluntness fits the overly sexual mold she has come to embody over the course of her career, the musical decisions here at time as bold as that album artwork.
Tove Lo works harder here to create an ambient, electronic world, frequently incorporating aspects of her own vocals into the instrumental to great effect, as it offers the quality of sonic intimacy, wrapped in her soft vocal tones, that the content of her music demands. “shivering gold” is an incredible track, building on extended, creeping low synth bass notes before exploding into a pulsating, syncopated chorus as she hits high notes I never knew she had in her between the rapid juxtaposition of synth stabs and tiny moments of silence. Some of the chord progressions here are clearly 90s inspired, slower tracks like “dont ask dont tell” offering an intoxicating piano melody straight out of a slow dance in a teen movie.
On Lady Wood, her vocals were secondary to overproduction, but the mix here is greatly improved without the instrumental getting any less bombastic – you can tell because for once, you are paying attention to her every word, her sultry vocals drawing you in. “bitches” packs so much fun into its brief 2-minute runtime, Tove Lo swinging her vocals over a prominent rock and roll drumbeat and woozy synths in the background, while closer “hey you got drugs?” is her most emotional track yet – she stated she was crying in the studio in an interview and you can tell – her harmonized, anguished repetitions about a relationship’s end – “You won’t save the night for me” – are incredibly visceral.
Even so, lead single “disco tits” is a little too ridiculous for me. The spoken, repetitive vocals are just too awkwardly phrased and overtly sexual to be enjoyable despite that pounding, inviting instrumental. The album’s second half is a little weaker, the energy letting up on tracks like “romantics” where the production drops out for the lower-tempo verses, coming back with clichéd trap hi-hat rolls.
Still, Tove Lo’s melodies themselves are so much better than Lady Wood, the album much more sonically cohesive. Blue Lips is a step in the right direction, Tove Lo coming into her own in the experimental alt-pop scene.
Favourite Tracks: shivering gold, hey you got drugs?, dont ask dont tell, bitches, struggle
Least Favourite Track: disco tits