It should be no surprise that pop’s own Rebel Queen might eventually go rawk but Plastic Hearts is in many ways a surprisingly grown-up affair, channeling the MOR side of 80s pop-rock and country. Collaborating with Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and Billy Idol points heavily towards the mission statement for the album but there is without doubt more gloss than guitars, despite what the leather studded elbow gloves and fashion-mullet might suggest. However, while this mix will invariably generate sneers from ‘authentic’ rock music fans it hits a bullseye in her capabilities as a performer and is huge fun to listen to.
Like everything Miley has done since Can’t Be Tamed (a record that has more in common with Plastic Hearts than you might imagine) there is a perfect concoction of visuals, artwork and fashion orbiting the music. Much like Lady Gaga’s Joanne it feels as though there is an element of cosplay to the rock ‘n’ roll persona and this extends to the songs which are peppered with with cheeky sonic and lyrical nods to her influences. But while Dead Petz remains the most believably honest and raw record she has produced this new release sits firmly on the right side of contrivance, the packaging and ephemera only serving to further enjoyment of the music.
The only dud track for me is single release Prisoner, featuring Dua Lipa, which somehow feels like the worst of both artists. Otherwise this a strong and cohesive collection of songs. Night Crawling, an absolute ear worm that would be a shameless Billy Idol pastiche if it didn’t also feature Billy Idol, perfectly encapsulates the tongue in cheek side of the album whilst Midnight Sky, WTF Do I know and title track Plastic Hearts offer a more uniquely Miley take on the genre. Surprisingly ballad heavy, the album closes with what I imagine is the only genuinely moving song to have been released named Golden G String.
Miley’s vocal talents have never really been in doubt to anyone not clouded by abstract hatred of her media image but it feels like she is finally moving into a more credible position of longevity as an artist. Plastic Hearts doesn’t quite have the exuberant joy (or, ironically, as big a middle finger) for me as Bangerz but it feels like the perfect album for her stylistically right now.
ARTIST: Miley Cyrus
TITLE: Plastic Hearts
TOP TRACKS: Night Crawling, WTF Do I Know, Midnight Sky, Golden G String
MOOD: Put another dime in the jukebox, baby
Despite being based in Cannock, a corner of the UK with more than its fair share of paranormal legends, new Marquis Drive single Spaceman speaks more to the dreams and aspirations of the human species than the extraterrestrial.
Signed to Alan McGee’s label and supporting The Happy Mondays at the Creation Festival next year, the band have some pretty strong britpop credentials. The chuggy chorus of Spaceman certainly fits this bill, but in it’s best moments the verses have a melodic hook that’s strangely reminiscent of Aztec Camera.
Accompanied by possibly the only music video to feature an astronaut being given the wanker sign in suburban England, the band had this to say about it in a recent RGM premier:
“The video was shot in downtown Hednesford, although it could be any British town. With a grown man walking round in a spaceman outfit you’d expect a few raise eyebrows, and shock a few we did. But, in this strangest of years, some people thought it looked perfectly normal- you could hear them think "it’s prob summat to do with COVID.”
ARTIST: Marquis Drive
MOOD: Lying in the gutter, staring at the stars
With Reeder’s illustrious musical past encompassing connections to bands like Joy Division, New Order and Die Toten Hosen as well as the recent documentary ‘B-Movie (Lust & Sound in West Berlin)’ and Chosnau’s equally impressive resume both with Naktines Personos and as a solo artist it’s not a great surprise that Children of Nature is a fantastic tour of retro-tinged gothic electro.
From the opening melodic swoop of How Do You Feel? to the sparse rhythmic punch of Fade On, through the poppier and hooky title track and the punchy rock tinged Stand Up this album is stuffed with songs that feel instantly appealing and ask to be listened to over and over. In any righteous world I Can’t Share This Feeling would be a chart smash.
Meanwhile tracks such Drowning in You, Tonight, It’s Who You Are and (not a cover of the Stephen Sondheim song) Losing My Mind offer a more contemplative and occasionally darker, gloomier side to the album. Closing track Heartburn sees us out with a delicate and melancholic plea for hope.
Whilst this album plays with the moods and styles of something I would frame as gothic the overall feeling is optimistic, though never cloyingly so, and a welcome addition to these strange and difficult times.
TITLE: Children of Nature
ARTIST: Alanas Chosnau & Mark Reeder
MOOD: Gloomily futuristic optimistic
TOP TRACKS: I Can’t Share This Feeling, How Do You Feel?, Drowning In you
Maria Brink has always been a mesmerising live presence, a heady mix of Courtney Love, Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson topped off with her own unique vision, that has rarely been captured on record in all its glory. However, there is a rawness to Mother that gets closer than anything since Blood and succeeds in doing justice to what the band are capable of without the watering-down process of studio recording getting in the way. That’s not to say that this is some kind of garage jam though, far from it, and indeed it is possibly their most creative and adventurous record yet.
Conceptually there is a strong religious motif interwoven with themes of the feminine, fertility and motherhood. Mother nature, Mother Mary and literal motherhood come together to create a narrative that brings to mind both Darren Aronofsky’s film of the same title and the scarlet women of the Handmaid’s Tale.
Musically, the album has huge scope and ambition both in it’s range from it’s full out screaming to moments that are hymnal and ethereal. Not to mention a cover of We Will Rock You featuring Taylor Momsen and Lzzy Hale that is far better than it has any right to be.
Easily their strongest outing for some time this album should delight existing fans and anyone who likes some effort and extravagance in their rock and roll.
And besides, any album that ends by paying homage to Mazzy Star can only be good.
ARTIST: In This Moment
MOOD: Bloody Mary
TOP TRACKS: Hunting Grounds, Lay Me Down, The In-Between
I first encountered HMLTD via their gothic epic Satan, Luella & I – one of those tracks so masterful that if the band never released another note they would still have made a worthwhile contribution to pop culture. Since then I have been awaiting this album with curiosity and interest. The string of singles, EPs and other assorted bits and bobs they have released in between have oscillated wildly in genre (and occasionally in quality) and I found it hard to imagine what shape their debut might eventually take. Part of me expected them just to combust before that point, particularly in the light of various frothingly hyperbolic press articles (ARE HMLTD THE SAVIOURS OF GUITAR MUSIC??) but here it is and it is, thank goodness, excellent.
While it’s fair to say that my first encounter with them remains their peak it’s surrounded by a rich, genre diverse and satisfying album that actually is an album rather than just a collection of disparate potential singles. Songs sonically dovetail into each other and there are several short vignette tracks that act as musical connectors from one micro genre to another. The biggest surprise for me was how heavily the album leans into pop electronica rather than the glam punk some earlier tracks suggested, however it’s a shift that suits them and they pull it off seamlessly with some of the more contemporary touches being the glue that holds it together.
Singer Henry Spychalski has an extraordinary voice in the great tradition of ‘marmite’ vocalists that is a little Adam Ant, a little Jobriath, a little David Byrne and in many ways it is an album that hangs on this however it’s also stuffed with great sounds, interesting production and solid pop hooks. There is an excessiveness to the album, something that is reflected in their grandiose, filmic and teetering-on-the-right-side-of-ridiculous videos, however it’s not excessive in the way I expected. Rather than the big, swooning, gothic melodrama of Satan, Luella & I it’s a glorious excess of style, genres and ambition.
There are some obvious influences here from the dark Depeche-Mode-esque LOADED to the pure 80s pop of Mikey’s Song but there are less obvious touchstones too like the gloomy, ironic The West is Dead which lyrically has more than a hint of Leonard Cohen’s The Future about it or the Weimar cabaret horror weirdness of Where’s Joanna? which sounds a bit like a sexier, glammier version of The Tiger Lillies.
Sonically diverse but also cohesive, if you like your rock and roll smeared in lipstick and accompanied by synths this is probably one for you.
TITLE: West of Eden
MOOD: Music to badly home-dye your hair to.
TLDR: Big, ballsy, glamorous and gothic.
TOP TRACKS: Satan, Luella & I, Mikey’s Song, Blank Slate, Nobody Stays In Love, LOADED
Poppy’s evolution from uncanny valley arthouse fembot to industrial metal angst machine reads more like a Black Mirror pitch than your standard celebrity gossip. Following her split from partner and puppet master Titanic Sinclair the inference is that this is now the ‘real’ Poppy. The raw, angry poppy. The Poppy that won’t take that shit anymore. How much this is the case and how much this is another alter ego in the Poppy funhouse hall of mirrors is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly a stark departure from the bubblegum, satire drenched electro-pop she made her name with.
Musically this album might not be quite ‘post-genre’ as it claims but it’s certainly a crazy riot of sub-genres encompassing everything from deathcore to drum and bass and stompy goth. On the whole it works but it does feel at times like someone trying on a few different outfits to see which one they like best then deciding just to wear them all at once. Individually the tracks are exhilarating but as a whole it can become a little exhausting. There is a playfulness about the rebelliousness of it all, lyrically, sonically and visually, but there is definitely a sense that we are meant to take it seriously too and I think it’s saved ultimately by being neither too ironic or too self important.
More than anything this feels like a stepping stone, albeit a mostly successful one, and It will be interesting to see where she will go from here – will she commit to this riotous sound or will there be a whole new Poppy around the corner for us next time?
TITLE: I Disagree
MOOD: Some girls just want to watch the world burn
STANDOUT TRACKS: I Disagree, Boodmoney, Fill the Crown, Bite Your Teeth
Birdhead released their genre bending electro-rock debut ‘Pleasure Centre’ to much acclaim nearly five years ago, so the soon to be released follow-up ‘Massive Aggressive’ has been a long time brewing. Thankfully it’s been worth the wait.
Traversing from wailing 80s guitar riffs, to throbbing funk, to vocals spat disdainfully Mark E Smith style at the listener, to the more mellow almost ambient moments of the record – Birdhead continue to do a remarkable job of making music that is both pleasingly angry, undeniably melodic and often surprisingly danceable.
Rock music for dance fans, dance music for rock fans. Music for everyone to get drunk at a disco and start a punch up to.
Highlight tracks for me are Custom Muscle, Sunsleeper, Tesseract, Autostrider, Beasts of England and the title track. This is an album with no duffers though and if you like your music with some meat on the bone (or muscle for that matter) then this one’s for you.
Massive Agressive is released on the 28th of September.
TITLE: Massive Aggressive
Fantastic, stylish and super cool new track ‘Nouveau’ released today by Mark Fernyhough and Steven Horry accompanied by an equally cool and colourful video featuring an awesome gang of Berlin roller girls.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough & Steven Horry
Debut Single ‘TV Years’ out 10/08
Having already made their mark on the London indie scene in an impressive collection of other musical projects, Toothpaste comprise of Amol (Vox/Guitar), Daisy (Bass), Poppy (Keys) and Sami (Drums) and promise to bring you ‘minty fresh pop bangers, wicked tunes and okayish oral hygiene.’*
Their first single ‘TV Years’ is set for release later this month on the 10th of August and they will be throwing a launch show, with the help of Viral Nights, at The Lock Tavern in London that night.
The song explores the sense of disconnect between people in the modern world – singer Amol describes it as:
“the sort of feeling that makes you want to stay away from the outside world, at home watching TV.”
‘TV Years’ is a great introduction to what promises to be an exciting new band – awash with dreamy guitars, swirling digital synths, and drifting vocals.
Please keep your eye out (and mouth open) for Toothpaste who are most definitely One To Watch.
Find out more here:
*none of the band are qualified to give legitimate advice on oral health.