Album reviewsMusic

This week’s new albums reviewed & rated: RJD2, Zayn, The Joy Formidable, White Denim

29 March, 2016 — by Christopher Ratcliff0

dame-fortune-cover copy

This week’s new album releases are a contrasting bunch, sitting on either side of the divide between ‘fun but dumb & empty’ and ‘serious but pompous & boring’ with little room in between.

Which is fitting for a week that also saw the release of the stupid but joyless Batman V Superman. But unlike that mess, nobody’s going to listen to any of these albums and wonder what the fuck a Parademon is. Luckily Zayn Malik has this covered on his new album Mind of Mine with the track titled: ‘thIS is whAt the FUCK a PaRademoN is’. Thanks Zayn.

RJD2 – Dame Fortune

Back in 2002, DJ/producer RJD2 was a welcome figure to us baseball-cap wearing instrumental hip-hop loving nerds who insisted on wearing fucking rucksacks to gigs. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing was eight years-old and we were desperate for another dose of moody, cinematic hip-hop to soundtrack our lonely night-time bus rides home, but when Shadow’s follow-up The Private Press eventually arrived, it was a disappointment (we were wrong, the album’s actually brilliant and stands up incredibly well to this day). The Private Press was full of odd experiments, weird genre mash-ups and was ultimately way ahead of its time. However RJD2 released Deadringer the same year, and it was loaded with exactly the kind of shit we loved: dramatic melodies, the rich textures of old soul records, samples taken from obscure 70s movies, a bit of scratching, the odd laid-back hip-hop track… basically anything that would fit nicely on the soundtrack of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It wasn’t exactly a breath of fresh air, more a breath of the same air, and listening back on it now it’s little wonder that one of its more memorable tracks, ‘Ghostwriter’, has been used on a fucking soup advert.


Jump forward 14 years and RJD2’s 10th album is even less inventive. The production is a lot cleaner than before, with polished grooves and lush orchestration but it has little discernible character. This isn’t helped by a roster of guest vocalists that bring as much passion to their work as the average session singer/temporary office assistant. There’s some interesting noodling in places; ‘Your Nostalgic Heart and Lung’ stops it from descending fully into neo-soul dullness and ‘The Sheboygan Left’ is an upbeat highlight, but there’s little to recommend it beyond inoffensive background music for a dinner-party with your other grown-up ex-skater mates who now work in an estate agents. 4/10

The Joy Formidable – Hitch

The North Wales rock trio, who released some supercharged and charmingly big hearted early singles and a cracking debut in The Big Roar, continue their dismaying ascent into stadium banality with their third full-length album, that will likely see them reach the middling achievement of opening for Biffy Clyro at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Great, good for them, after this album and their previous mediocre effort Wolf’s Law, it seems to be exactly what they want. But hey, your day job doesn’t have to be a creatively satisfying experience, it’s totally fine if you just punch in, punch out, work relatively under-the-radar without too much responsibility, go home and get your joy from your family, friends and other leisure pursuits and not even think twice about how banal 45 hours of your entire working week are. The Joy Formidable are very much the Accounts Payable Clerks of rock and roll. 4/10


White Denim – Stiff

And if The Joy Formidable are the Accounts Payable Clerks of rock and roll, then White Denim are the criminally underpaid teenage intern, who turns up an hour and a half late to the office, spends the entire morning talking about how much they drank last night and how they got kicked out of a nightclub because their mate accidentally set fire to his own crotch, before taking a two-hour long lunch then coming back to the office where the only work they achieve is sending an offensive tweet from the corporate account. Oh sure, they’re fun for the first week, when you kid yourself that you can keep up with them, but after that their schtick gets boring fast and you realise all the things they’re into – Zayn Malik, Snapchat, Neko Atsume, flakka – are fucking stupid and you can’t bear to be around them any longer. Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, White Denim have gone from slightly weirdo experimental rockers, to dumb, douchey frat-boys, with little on their mind apart from good times, good brews and insultingly simplistic tunes. Catchy sure, but you don’t want what the intern will give you. 5/10

white denim

The Thermals – We Disappear

Like a poppier, friendlier version of Irish punks Therapy? The Thermals are all gritted-teeth vocals, pop-punk riffs and “oh-oh-oh” shoutalongs. They’re not very good, but difficult to truly dislike. If your friend said, “Hey let’s go see The Thermals tonight,” a perfectly acceptable response would be to ruffle their hair, tilt your head to the side, said “aw, you’re sweet” and walk away without saying another word. 5/10

the thermals

Zayn – Mind of Mine

Not nearly as shit as you’d assume a solo record from an ex-member of One Direction would be, but then he was always the ‘bad-boy’ of the group (or at least the only other one with a bit of personality who wasn’t the ‘one with all the hair’). Just look at his tattoos, his occasional use of a marijuana cigarette and saying “fuck” on his first single. INTERESTING! Also check out the way he writes his song-titles…

zayn mind of mine track listing

Yes, like a 14 year-old girl and/or psychopath. DOUBLY INTERESTING! Anyway, Mind of Mine manages to be ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘derivative of’ a ton of other non-shit recent things, primarily Frank Ocean (this and Channel Orange share a producer in Malay) and The Weeknd; the gorgeous ‘BeFoUr’ has a similar vulnerable self-loathing set against a backdrop of dreamy, intoxicated beats. And even at it’s poppiest (‘sHe’ in particular) Mind of Mine has interesting samples and textures going spare. And you know what? Zayn’s voice is pretty damn good. Full of character, layers of depth and… oh shit. This is album of week. Really wasn’t expecting that. 8/10

Check out all the latest music releases in our new album reviews section, including this round-up featuring Savages and Chairlift.

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