REVIEW ROUND-UP: The Lunar Year, Donkey Kid, Léa Sen

The Lunar Year’s logo in violet on a scuffed black background. Underneath is a diagram showing phases of the moon

The Lunar Year

The Lunar Year

Remember in 2014 when 5 Seconds Of Summer were touted as alternative music’s new boundary breakers, as a vague, vain attempt to osmose their incredible popularity, despite there being very little ‘alternative’ about them? Well, that’s the impression given off by The Lunar Year, a teamup between The Vamps’ Connor Ball and Cheat Codes’ Sasa Macek that tries to tout itself as a new force in pop-punk, only to end up more like a supremely late attempt to play both the pop and rock fields, while still committing far more to the former. To be fair, it’s being imposed further by the band than any bandwagoning media, which makes this EP all the more confused when it lands so far away from its intended target. The assertion of an ‘edgy punk project’ is wildly mischaracterising for what’s effectively the standard flavour of late-2010s alt-pop, and what feels just as hollow. The guitars fizzle by in the background with no real meat or propulsion; the percussion has a stiffness even outside of its programmed beats where it’s so rigidly hemmed in; this is the expected job with barely any concessions made. That’s all the way down too, even to where clinical, off-the-shelf style rears its ugly head once more and gives The Lunar Year so little to work with. It definitely feels like the approximation of modern alternative music from two guys who’ve jumped over from pop and EDM, as the genre-soup approach conflates with a wafer-thin pop-punk backbone and satisfies nothing. At least When The Sun Fades slides over to earworm territory with its hook, a distinction that the rest of the EP can’t even lay claim to from haphazard pileup of You Don’t Miss Me that’s still unavoidably toothless, to the airy, blocky pop whooshes of Nothing, to the obvious ploy to get kids weeping at some ultimately pedestrian sentimentality on Boys Will Cry. That final instance comes as evidence for how little nutritional value this EP has in its content, playing to the broadness in writing style of both The Vamps and the alt-pop playbook to wind up unflinchingly faceless and bereft of real stakes. All the archetypes of ‘young and in love’ are accounted for, presented without even a lick of deeper application, and totally evaporating on impact as a result. The only real personality comes in how Ball isn’t that great of a singer, though that’s hardly merit-worthy all the same. And sure, for some it won’t be an issue, but even just in adjacent lanes, The Lunar Year are handily outclassed for how basic they come across. Inoffensiveness is its standout trait, which really just says it all.

3/10

For fans of: The Vamps, Simple Creatures, 5 Seconds Of Summer

‘The Lunar Year’ by The Lunar Year is released on 20th May on M3 Recordings.


Donkey Kid baring his teeth

Donkey Kid

Distant Shouts

Where Donkey Kid could easily be bucketed in among the ongoing slew of bedroom-pop artists rather easily—an indie singer-songwriter operating with deliberately smaller scales and lack of airs—there’s probably more here than the limitations of that label would suggest. For one, the shuffling, insular presentation of Distant Shouts feels deliberate as opposed to a small artist just working in their means, when it pushes any clutter out of the way to let strong instrumental choices get as much air as possible. The taut, walking bass of Necklace and the wobbling synths of Digging Holes ring out as far more ear-catching choices without mounds of production to obfuscate them. It’s similar with Donkey Kid as a vocalist, in his lackadaisical baritone that feels as though it belongs in post-punk (and even takes a few tiny steps towards that on Girl Outside) that’s still kept rather small and exposed. Compared to others for whom such an approach can lay bare a lack of depth, that’s kept fairly minimal on Distant Shouts with its pretty focused execution. Even when it’s within the realms of bedroom-indie narrowness, there’s enough of note within the core compositions and tones—again, that bass texture throughout—to considerably make up for it. The writing is pretty decent too, albeit falling more towards the standard of this sort of thing in detail that’s there but doesn’t tend to leap off the page. Maybe to want that is missing the point, but it does feel as though Donkey Kid is still a draft away or missing one or two pieces from real greatness. That said, this is pretty strong all the same, a welcome addition to a scene starving for some standout names, and with enough flexibility and creative gradience to get there. Definitely worth a look.

7/10

For fans of: King Krule, Blood Orange, Mount Kimbie

‘Distant Shouts’ by Donkey Kid is released on 20th May on Euphorie.


Léa Sen wearing a blindfold with blue stains on it

Léa Sen

You Of Now (Pt. 1)

Léa Sen’s music presents itself in suitably understated fashion, where the shades of indie-folk and tasteful, sophisticated R&B are held together within the eased-back bedroom-pop framework. It certainly fits among that end of the Partisan roster, especially in how relatively free-flowing this debut EP can feel. It’ll careen across genre and style while remaining tight and fastidious, in equal measure across tapping electronics and fluttering, gentle acoustic guitars. In other words, the target audience that Sen is courting couldn’t be telegraphed more clearly, and in that mindset, the highfalutin Rate Your Music crowd will probably find a lot to enjoy here. That’s at its most obvious when the Bon Iver influence seeps through, between the jittery percussion and guitar echoes of Much To Lose, the soft folk of I Like Dis or just Sen’s generally waifish vocal style. Outside of that listening contingent though, it’s easier to appreciate more than anything; Sen is clearly a talented artist given that she also produced and mixed the EP on her own, but it’s more to do with aligning tastes in terms of how deeply this will go. Especially on the soft-focus folk-pop of Hyasynth, it can drift and float in a way that’s not the most engaging, something that’s remedied when the electronics feel sharper and more defined. It leads to a disconnect overall, as a collection of individual cuts rather than a definitive artistic statement, and while it’s easier to give Sen some leeway given that this is her debut, she’s already got the acumen to rise above it. Again, she’s clearly proficient in terms of playing and writing (and the fact that she avoids the obvious bedroom-pop throughlines in her themes is definitely a good thing), but bringing it all together is the next step. If nothing else though, there’s enough here to warrant giving Pt. 2 a try when that comes along.

6/10

For fans of: Bon Iver, Solange, Joy Orbison

‘You Of Now (Pt. 1)’ by Léa Sen is released on 20th May on Partisan Records.


Words by Luke Nuttall

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