Best known for her ventures in metal, whether as the current frontwoman for Nightwish, or previous projects including After Forever and ReVamp, Floor Jansen takes a step into a new plain on a journey of self-discovery. Paragon sees her powerful vocals placed in an array of diverse genres and styles previously unheard.
My Paragon opens the album with a touch of distortion on the guitars, elevated synths and energetic rhythms. It’s an uplifting track that kicks off the album with a bang. This opener was the last song to be written on the album, and that’s perhaps why it so aptly conveys what Paragon is about. Following My Paragon is the gentle and tender Daydream, where soft yet purposeful piano chords are accompanied with orchestral and percussion parts to match. Gradually building into a more intense sound, both instrumentally and vocally, Daydream is about longing to be heard and it’s performed beautifully. Invincible carries an understanding message that is also reflected in the music. Like most on Paragon, Invincible showcases Floor’s dynamic voice capable of both delicate and intimate, as well as powerful and soaring. Thematically, Hope follows on from Invincible bringing a slower pace from the strong rhythms of the previous track. Hope offers space to breathe and reassurance that things will get better.
Storm is a thrilling and theatrical offering. From the minimalist and calm beginnings, it introduces a sense of anticipation with the compelling build up leading to the momentous chorus lyric “Hear my voice roar like thunder”. Electronic beats in the verse enhance the musical texture while clean guitars and piano bring depth and richness to the sound. The succeeding choruses unleash the peak of the storm with additional vocal layers from Floor making an already impactful performance reach new heights. Me Without You reveals a sensual and jazzy side to Floor’s voice that hasn’t been heard before. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film. Me Without You is a ballad with a twist; heartfelt but also expressing a dominant and assertive presence. The Calm once again delivers a stunning balance of intensity across the music and vocals. Orchestration is a prominent aspect of this track with bright strings and brass rising up in the chorus and manifesting an uplifting feel. Paragon draws to a close with the mighty Fire. This fierce track ends the album on a high. With more movement driven by the rhythmic piano, the momentum eagerly builds from a small ember into a huge flame. Fire was the first song to be created for the album, and first single to be release, and it links elements of Floor’s work in the metal world with rhythmic energy and the strong melodic elements.
There is something about Paragon that is present throughout each track, and it’s the authenticity and desire to empower which bleeds through the music, the lyrics, and Floor’s vocal performances. It’s pop music but it isn’t trying to force itself into a particular box—it’s clearly Floor’s sound. • HR
For fans of: Kate Bush, My Indigo, Charlotte Wessels
‘Paragon’ by Floor Jansen is released on 24th March.
This Is Crime Wave
So, you know how Transplants started out as a means for Tim Armstrong to follow his more rap-rock-oriented arrow without fully abandoning punk? Well, that’s basically what Codefendants is for Fat Mike. The parallels aren’t one-to-one, but they’re still there; there’s a further punk alum in Get Dead’s Sam King, a rapper in Ceschi Ramos, and a sound refusing to be lodged anywhere too limited for too long. Thus, in this ‘genre-fluid’ project (which is just…such a Fat Mike term, isn’t it?), the streaks of punk, hip-hop, ska, new wave and a fair few others to fill out the corners stand boldly. All the while, it’s presented with seemingly minimal amounts of interference from Mike that kneecapped NOFX’s swansong album last year, which is automatically a good start.
In fact, despite the blotchy unevenness underpinning basically Codefendants’ entire existence here, This Is Crime Wave turns out to be fairly likable. Part of that comes from their ability to sink into a street-level flow with ease, bathed in weed-ridden air and California heat as a commonality. It’s no surprise, then, that the stentorian goth-rock of Sell Me Youth is a bit more difficult to swallow; even for this band, it’s a few giant steps outside of wheelhouse that’s already diverse enough, and offers a lot of cool moments on its own. The turns into hip-hop are chief among them, like with the juddering reggae-rap of Def Cons or the fat, grinding bass that anchors some pretty solid flows on Fast Ones (including the first appearance on record from The D.O.C in 19 years).
It’s a little more hit-or-miss elsewhere, as the jumpy folk-pop-rock of Suicide By Pigs and the Dirty Heads pastiche Prison Camp tilt into the areas where Codefendants’ connections to an ostensibly punk / ska base begin to fray. They make sense stylistically but can lack some of the gravity the band have elsewhere, where that can at least be recaptured on Abscessed or Disaster Scenes. It’s mostly predicated on King and Ramos being forceful mouthpieces to cross the line, with the sneers necessary for streetwise anti-police sentiments on Fast Ones that get extrapolated into some biting societal commentary on Suckers. Meanwhile, Fat Mike’s fingerprints slip onto the edges of Disaster Scenes and Brutiful in moments of more excessive flagellation (both of the self and of others), but relayed from a commanding voice takes some of the distasteful edging off.
Right now, Codefendants’ biggest hurdle is finding an equilibrium among their numerous offshoots of tone and style and creative source, and while This Is Crime Wave is by no means a flawless example of that, it can strike gold in some encouraging ways. The inkling is that Codefendants stand more as an artistic community that a straightforward band, and that makes sense for how this album presents itself. It’s patchy, undoubtedly, but with humanity and enthusiasm behind it that certainly shines through. Definitely worth a look, if only to unearth its most fully-formed gems. • LN
For fans of: Transplants, The Skints, Dirty Heads
‘This Is Crime Wave’ by Codefendants is released on 24th March on Bottles To The Ground.
Dancing In The Face Of Danger
Now that Sleep Token are definitively rock’s Next Big Deal, the door is wide open to afford airtime to similar lofty, poppy, progressive acts. So here’s Exploring Birdsong, who made some waves in prog circles with their EP The Thing With Feathers EP a few years ago, and for whom there’s really no excuse not to pay attention to. They feel like a band whose runway is just as long, in piano-driven prog-pop that’s arguably even more melodically rich and deep, and only feels expanded on significantly since last time round.
Indeed, Dancing In The Face Of Danger represents not only a considerable step up from its predecessor, but also the sort of watershed mark for Exploring Birdsong that’ll only benefit them further going forward. Their musical ideas are willing to jut out in less conventional directions here; the melding of piano and a borderline djent bassline on The Way Down stands out immensely, as do the histrionics launching into the hook of Ever The Optimist that all at once feel angular, cinematic and exceptionally bold. At the same time, it’s phenomenally accessible, ringing out with clarion production and letting even the most subcutaneous layers burst with colour.
Of course, chief among them is Lynsey Ward as a vocalist, Exploring Birdsong’s ace in the hole in terms of crystalline, theatrical presence. Admittedly, she could be mixed a bit louder at times to sharpen up some enunciations, but even just for cultivating a mood—as so much of this EP can do—she’s an excellent fit. Fielding the winding stories in the lyrics and emphasising how extensive this sound can be, Ward really feels like the perfect inclusion. In truth though, that can be said about anything that Exploring Birdsong do, where each individual flourish or composition choice is placed with the utmost purpose.
Nothing feels forced or as though it’s in service to anything other than a lush, vibrant tableau. There’s no shortage of those here by any means; even at just five tracks, there’s enough meat and raw material to feel properly satisfying, and all without ever verging on spinning its wheels. It’d be interesting to see what Exploring Birdsong could do with a full album, but they’ve struck such a goldmine with their EPs so far that it’s hard to ignore. Dancing In The Face Of Danger is unmistakably that, every single way you can look at it. • LN
For fans of: Sleep Token, Karnivool, Agent Fresco
‘Dancing In The Face Of Danger’ by Exploring Birdsong is released on 24th March on Long Branch Records.
What some people—and even some artists—fail to realise about music’s inevitable nostalgia cycle is that it doesn’t have to mean simply doing the same things over and over again. In the current wave of soloist-driven pop-punk and pop-rock, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that anyone had more ideas than just wedging a trap beat into a blink-182 knockoff; Lille Venn, meanwhile, actually shows off the value of application. This is the musical outfit of Norwegian-born Helene Brunæs, whose affinity for those same musical sources is apparent, but through indie-rock and teen-pop cues blended in way more seamlessly than one might expect, this seven-track EP feels more substantive than some comparative acts’ entire catalogue.
Chiefly, Whatever, Together shows that no grand overhaul is needed to make something new and strong from this style. That’s certainly not what Brunæs is going for; the vein of Beabadoobee via Disney Channel pop is remarkably easy to trace on this EP, as are all of its composite parts. It’s the way they’re threaded together that does the work though, right from the opening title track with its rattles of acoustic guitar and Brunæs’ more tart vocal delivery inside the pop-rock framework. The feel of plenty of European indie-punk courses through, only a little less rough-hewn and matted on songs like I Blew My Friends Off!! and Sleepover Song.
That’s not to its detriment though; not in the slightest. Rather, Brunæs has her own way of operating within it, where it’s tailored to meet the sweeter, girlish viewpoint of her writing, without tipping over into full-blown bubblegum. There’s a nice amount of crunch and fizz to be found, and even a pivot towards swooning ‘90s alt-rock balladry with What Would I Do that’s remarkably well executed. It’s courtesy of production that’s always organic and never trying to corral the sound into something its not, instead letting the rock impulses run without fear of marginalisation. Honestly, it’s reminiscent of a more indie take on what Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album strived for in that regard—a little more deliberately messy, but sonically and lyrically tapping into big, young emotions, to where any potential fanbase crossover wouldn’t be shocking in the slightest.
The difference is that Rodrigo can still reasonably fit into the Disney star template; with Brunæs, that’s not even up for consideration. She’s got a ramshackle, unvarnished quality that peers through regardless of teen-pop consumption, and it’s what defines Whatever, Together ultimately. This is the sort of thing simply begging and crying out for a bigger push or more exposure; the mainstream potential is enormous, and with some well-timed TikTok penetration that’ll see this do gangbusters—count on it—Brunæs’ path up ahead looks pretty healthy indeed. • LN
For fans of: Beabadoobee, Olivia Rodrigo, Avril Lavigne
‘Whatever, Together’ by Lille Venn is released on 24th March on Little Friend Big World.
Words by Holly Royle (HR) and Luke Nuttall (LN)