Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
We Came As Romans – Darkbloom
So perhaps it’s more a case of wanting rather than expectation, but Darkbloom was underwhelming on impact and hasn’t changed since. In the wake of adversity that a metalcore band could attune to their emotive sensibilities brilliantly—and a band like We Came As Romans could pull themselves out of a career-wide rut with—Darkbloom ended up as more of the same, maybe with some fleeting glances towards their former frontman’s passing, but nothing that would indicate it as the creative catalyst it would so naturally be. Yes, there’s an argument to be made about how mercenary capitalising on the death of a close friend like that can be, but for a band who have everything to gain from going for the gut and wrenching out a pure, raw lode that had been hitherto absent for them, more of the same watered-down fare isn’t good enough.
Joyce Manor – 40 Oz. To Fresno
As much as it goes against the point of Joyce Manor’s entire existence to make a longer album, their dogged commitment to brevity has been something of an undoing lately. On 40 Oz. To Fresno, it’s perhaps its most blatant, in trending towards power-pop that doesn’t benefit from their particular throw-it-all-out style as punk does. On top of that, there’s a cobbled-together feeling that barely even tries to paper over the seams, in what’s honestly likely to be their most forgettable work to date, simply for how little there is to stick the landing. This is a band once known for frantic, frenetic punk that could pack all it needed into not even two minutes; on 40 Oz. To Fresno, it’s a basic shell of that with no meat within.
Beabadoobee – Beatopia
The reason that Beabadoobee’s Fake It Flowers was such a cool and interesting listen is because it took her original bedroom-pop framework and moulded it into an alt-rock form that felt like a natural inclusion. Beatopia, meanwhile, feels content to splinter the groundwork laid down by its predecessor, and the result is a hugely messy listen that’s barely stuck since it came out. Even just through bedroom-pop having more prevalence, it feels like a backslide rather than adding to her building oeuvre, as so little connects or feels in service to a greater sentiment than a nebulous desire to not be boxed in. That’s all well and good, but it’s at the mercy of a listening experience that thrills or delights with any great consistency. More so, it just whiffs it rather frequently.
Avril Lavigne – Love Sux
There’s a few layers of disappointment to this one. It’s disappointing in the way that much of Avril Lavigne’s recent work has been, forgoing the genuine spunk and free-spiritedness that made her initial impacts so fun. It’s disappointing in how flat this so-called ‘return to roots’ falls. It’s disappointing how that’s effectively code for bolting on the current-day wave of pop-punk that Lavigne has always been leagues better than. The fact that this has all been framed as some brave, bold pivot only makes it feel even worse, as if kicking a few leaves over cynicism as blindly naked as this album welcomes can detract from its zero-dimensionality. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that pop-punk’s version of legacy support has taken this particular form, but it’s not wrong to want better.
Panic! At The Disco – Viva Las Vengeance
The age of the automatic stranglehold of new Panic! At The Disco music is clearly over. It was preluded by the overexposure of singles like High Hopes and Hey Look Ma, I Made It, but Viva Las Vengeance’s accomplishment of clearly nothing really felt like the solidifying factor. Mostly though, it’s because this is a supremely underwhelming album, especially coming from Brendan Urie who’s never felt more as though he’s going through the motions. Even on one-offs and soundtrack cuts, Panic! At The Disco have managed to go the distance with regards to theatricality and bombast; here, it sounds like a Queen cover band, with all the rigidity and colourlessness left in. They’ve certainly been pretentious or twee in the past (and often purposely so), but never inspiring outright apathy, and that’s clearly worse from an act whose diehard following seemingly don’t even care about this album. Between that sort of reaction and the practically nonexistent buzz ever since its announcement, this is a dud if there ever was one.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
Swedish House Mafia – Paradise Again
Maybe getting one’s hopes up for a blockbuster dance album is a bit of a non-starter in itself, but Swedish House Mafia’s reign over 2010s mainstream EDM was indisputable, songs like Save The World and Don’t You Worry Child arguably some of the best of their kind. This year’s Paradise Again (their first record in a decade) was definitely an anti-climax, soullessly rehashing old beats but never in the feelgood way they used to.
Weezer – SZNZ EPs
Yes, there’s always a capacity for disappointment when it comes to the musical engima that is Weezer, but even their more outlandish ideas usually have some notable qualities (or sweet, sweet meme factor). Releasing an EP for every season of the year is no mean feat, but other than whimsical orchestral moments in Spring entry these are just passable Weezer songs without the special ingredient they always add (“Shakespeare makes me happy” sung to the tune of Vivaldi a huge exception). At least we have those photos of the band dressed as elves, though.
Hayley Kiyoko – PANORAMA
The pivot towards a less bombastic pop sound should have been a winner for Hayley Kiyoko, this year’s PANORAMA tailor-made to take her thinner, sleeker vocal to a new level. But with this change, the personality that carried songs like Curious previously in her career was nowhere to be found, leaving the places her talents falter more noticeable than they should ever be.
Fickle Friends – Are We Gonna Be Alright?
On sophomore record Are We Gonna Be Alright?, Fickle Friends went in a more instrumentally organic direction, but it lacked the sparkle and vibrancy of their 2018 debut. Hooks are moodier and harder to commit to memory, and Pretty Great and IRL, the two tracks most reminiscent of their old sound are overhangs from 2020 and 2021. Of course artists need room to experiment and grow, but Are We Gonna Be Alright? just misses the mark for Fickle Friends.
Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2
Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 was without question the sound of summer 2017, its best songs still thriving far beyond that time. Vol. 2 coming out five years later mainly feels like the ship has sailed, the record obviously trying to recapture the magic of its predecessor but never quite managing it. The joy that should be synonymous with this laidback throwback sound laced with the best artists around, both uber-famous and up-and-coming, is rarely palpable like on Feels, Heatstroke or Cash Out, the only moment where the record actively aims for that (Stay With Me) feels cringeworthy, especially alongside the self-serious remainder of the record. Unfortunately, comparison is the first thing listeners jump to due to the installment format of Funk Wav Bounces, and Vol. 2 feels like a shallow recreation.