list.co.uk/music ART ROCK HMLTD West of Eden (Lucky Number) ●●●●●
Hailed for several years as ‘ones to watch’, London quintet HMLTD have finally released their debut album. West of Eden is a glam odyssey that attempts to explore multiple genres while never veering too far from the band’s self-consciously ‘epic’ style. Bursting onto the scene in 2015, HMLTD (originally called Happy Meals Ltd, before the McDonalds lawyers came calling) quickly turned heads with their dynamic live shows and snappy dress sense. The early buzz led to a contract with Sony, which seemed to fall apart quicker than it took to come together as the group left an aborted album and joined indie label Lucky Number. West of Eden is an album of big ideas and even larger ambitions (as hinted by its Steinbeck-referencing title). Album opener ‘The West Is Dead’ outlines this, as slick guitars and driving synths underpin proclamations from lead singer Spychalski (real name Henry Chisholm) that ‘Three years ago I said / The West is dying right underneath my nose / And I’ll be so glad when it finally goes.’ It introduces a band searching for something important to say, but in looking so hard merely loses all its vitality. Unfortunately, this tone is carried throughout the album.
Nonetheless, the musicality on display can be impressive, and the talent to segue from early 2000s indie to sweeping 1980s New Romanticism and on to EDM in a single song is not to be dismissed. Largely, the commitment to pursue ideas to extremes leads to the album’s best and worst attributes. Throwback ballad ‘Mikey’s Song’ stands out for its commitment to a relatively simple notion,
whereas glam-rock stomper ‘Blank Slate’ aims for an anthemic target (somewhere between Soft Cell and Arcade Fire) and misses magnificently. This seems to be music
engineered for festivals and perhaps in that environment HMLTD could really work. However, listening to the album on its own means that the endless barrage of pseudo-intellectual catharsis quickly becomes meaningless and exhausting. (Sean Greenhorn) ■ Out Fri 7 Feb.
RECORDS | MUSIC
CHAMBER POP AGNES OBEL Myopia (Deutsche Grammophon) ●●●●●
Apparently, when working on a new record, Danish-born songwriter Agnes Obel prefers to work as a solo entity in her Berlin home studio. Under self- imposed isolation, she removes all outside influences and distractions during the writing, recording and mixing process. It’s also said that to snap out of this singular vision, the platinum-selling artist likes to go to the pictures. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, her latest release Myopia is both introspective and cinematic.
The album marks Obel’s first new material since 2016’s Citizen of Glass
which introduced the ghostly electronics and voice modulation she’s since become known for. Those references are all present and correct in Myopia, a self-confessed album about trust and hope. The first teaser from this collection came in the form of ‘Broken Sleep’, a track pulled along by plucked strings. Obel’s cascading melodies tumble around like the fits and bursts of a dreamlike state just out of reach. Elsewhere, ‘Drosera’ leans more on her classical accomplishments with the haunting keys and slinking flute conjuring up an Exorcist-like suspense. Meanwhile, closer ‘Won’t You Call Me’ paints enchanting moonlit landscapes through Obel’s soothing vocals and wild lyricism. From an anatomical point of view, myopia is a common vision condition
where the viewer can see nearby objects clearly, but those further away appear to be blurry. Of the record’s creation, Obel admitted, ‘paradoxically, for me, I need to create my own myopia to make music’. And that could be true for us all when it comes to fuelling our New Year enthusiasm at the moment. If you’re still struggling to conjure up your big decade energy, follow Agnes Obel’s approach with some self-imposed solitude and get intimate with her latest cut of artful chamber pop. (Cheri Amour) ■ Out Fri 21 Feb.
DANCE / ELECTRONIC MHYSA NEVAEH (Hyperdub) ●●●●● POST-PUNK WIRE Mind Hive (pinkflag) ●●●●●
In the ‘Opening Skit’ of MHYSA’s second album, she invites us to celebrate ‘the everyday / something that has tried to kill her and has failed’. What unfolds is just that, an intimate, often vulnerable tribute to MHYSA’s existence as a black queer femme. ‘Opening Skit’ is in fact a recitation of Lucille Clifton’s 1994 poem, ‘won’t you celebrate with me’, and is the first of many references to black popular culture that are pivot points in the record.
‘Breaker of chains’ – an insistent incantation over a cascading tambourine cadenza – quotes NAS, and the spiritual ‘when the saints’ is a motif that pops up more than once. MHYSA describes NEVAEH (‘heaven’ backwards) as ‘a prayer for black women and femmes to be taken to or find a new and better world away from the apocalypse . . . NEVAEH is a safe space, a sort of negro heaven.’ The second track, ‘Float’, a glitchy choral fantasia, elevates us to this space and draws back the curtain to nod towards the palette of sounds MHYSA uses to paint this nirvana.
Heavy use of reverb and lo-fi electronica tinge much of the album, which generally has a distinct lack of grooves; the abrasive trap beat of lead single ‘Sanaa Lathan’ stands out as one of the only bops. With R&B-inflected vocals, MHYSA pays tribute to 90s trailblazing divas such as Aaliyah and Whitney Houston, but these are often far more vague and tonally ambiguous than big and belting.
On ‘w_me (Interlude)’ – an ode to self-care – MHYSA sings almost entirely inwardly, and numerous moments of unaccompanied vocals magnify the already heightened intimacy, celebrating a power that can be held in softness. Although this often minimalist gathering of pastiches and vignettes can feel slightly disjointed, recurring themes glue together what is a highly experimental and complex celebration of empowerment, queerness and resistance. (Kate Walker) ■ Out Fri 14 Feb.
With just a few years off here and there for good behaviour, Wire have been chipping away at the geopolitical coalface, gnawing at the foundations of capitalist consumerism and pushing back against the socio-political tide for over four decades. Their earliest dispatches, Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, were re-issued last year, sounding as fresh and essential some 40 years on.
But a suave, subversive post-punk band’s work is never done, as evinced by the
opening track of their 17th album. The sinister prowl of ‘Be Like Them’ unearths an unused lyric from 1977, and lobs it into 2020 with unsettling relevance to the negative forces of today. Wire have always been smarter than your average man-the-barricades pop polemicists, taking wider aim at global systems with their thought-provoking but claustrophobic response to the bigger picture. Insidious corporate language is woven through the low-slung industrial punk- funk of ‘Primed and Ready’ but even when the oppressive atmosphere lifts on ‘Off the Beach’, this relatively blithe angular jangle is not entirely as it seems, its catchy chronicling of everyday life gradually zoning in on those clinging on at the fringes of society. There follows another dynamic shift to the flowing lyricism and pastoral psychedelia of ‘Unrepentant’. This dovetails seamlessly into ‘Shadows’, where the contrast between a soothing ambient wash of the music and grim lyrics on genocide produces the darkest lullaby.
There is some levity in the John Cale-like gothic melodrama of ‘Oklahoma’ with its stand-out observation ‘I admired your sexy hearse’, before the epic, inexorable eight-minute grind of ‘Hung’ is unleashed. Still, the entire album is dispatched in a trim 35 minutes, rounding off with the delicate, plaintive ‘Humming’ which, like much of the album, makes a virtue of the contrast between Colin Newman’s more declamatory delivery and the smooth background interjections of Graham Lewis. (Fiona Shepherd) ■ Out now.
1 Feb–31 Mar 2020 THE LIST 85