Acoustic Sounds
Album covers for new releases by Lana Del Rey, Slowthai, Gorillaz, Lil Yachty, Black Country, New Road, and The Streets
By: Malachi Lui

April 4th, 2023



Review Explosion: Lana Del Rey, Lil Yachty, Slowthai, Gorillaz, & Black Country, New Road

Tracking Angle's roundup of recent releases

(Review Explosion is Tracking Angle’s guide to notable recent releases and reissues, a burst of shorter reviews across all formats.)

Black Country, New Road - Live At Bush Hall

Album cover for 'Live At Bush Hall' by Black Country, New Road

Ninja Tune 48kHz/24bit stream (LP coming soon, CD also available)

Produced by: Jordan Hayward

Engineered by: Jordan Hayward and Oliver Baldwin

Mixed by: John Parish

Mastered by: Christian Wright at Abbey Road

Music: 4

Sound: 6

For about three glorious years, London’s Black Country, New Road was the most exciting rock band in the world. A seven-piece unit from 2019 until January 2022, their early singles and 2021 debut LP For the first time brilliantly combined post-punk and post-rock with elements of math rock and klezmer. Frontman Isaac Wood’s lyrics were sharp observations about the crisis of modern masculinity, with each song being a meticulously written, multi-part suite that always held emotional impact and never got stale. The following LP, last year’s chamber pop-influenced Ants From Up There, was more overtly melancholic and less bombastic, but only cemented Wood’s status as easily the greatest songwriter of his generation, unlikely to be usurped by anyone else. (If that sounds like hyperbole, it really isn’t.)

Then, Isaac Wood respectably left the band for mental health reasons, leaving the other six members to soldier on with new songs (they’re not playing any of the old stuff). Live At Bush Hall is BC,NR 2.0’s first official release of their new original material, written expediently for the purpose of performing it worldwide. The remaining members are all excellent musicians but mediocre-at-best songwriters; keyboardist May Kershaw, bassist Tyler Hyde (daughter of Underworld’s Karl Hyde), and saxophonist Lewis Evans share vocal duties, but none of them provide very memorable songs. What is memorable is how utterly obnoxious it is, with many formulaic instrumental buildups and some big singalongs that make going to the circus sound less annoying. Without the depth of Wood’s songwriting, Black Country, New Road are just 20somethings from posh backgrounds making chamber pop for annoying theater kids.

I try to think of the new Black Country, New Road as a separate band from the original Isaac Wood iteration, similar to how Joy Division and New Order are different bands. You can’t expect the same quality or style when a key member of the original thing is missing. But while New Order’s Movement was a graceful transition away from Closer, Live At Bush Hall takes any quality that BC,NR previously had and throws it off a cliff. They likely would’ve gone further in the chamber pop direction had Wood stayed, but the extent to which these songs lack nuance and lasting substance is truly appalling. As someone who heard the first two Black Country, New Road albums in real time and listened to them constantly, I will absolutely not buy Live At Bush Hall. You probably shouldn’t, either.

Lana Del Rey - Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.

Album cover for 'Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.' by Lana Del Rey

Polydor/Interscope 4859191 standard 180g 2LP; 48kHz/24bit stream

Produced by: Lana Del Rey, Jack Antonoff, Drew Erickson, others

Engineered by: Various

Mixed by: Laura Sisk, Jack Antonoff, Dean Reid, Michael Harris

Mastered by: Ruairi O’Flaherty (digital), Joe Nino-Hernes (vinyl)

Music: 8

Sound: 9

Lana Del Rey’s new album Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd. is the moment she’s spent years building up to, when the persona of Lana Del Rey dissipates to better reveal the Elizabeth Grant behind it all. America as constructed through the lens of the Lana persona was always this idealistic, darkly romantic, sometimes hedonistic idea that’s increasingly out of reach. On Ocean Blvd, the world she navigates is more grounded, her writing more stream-of-consciousness. Lyrically, Lana is at her absolute best; she’s at turns funny (“If you want some basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center” on “Sweet”), self-aware of her status (“I’m folk, I’m jazz, I’m blue, I’m green/Regrettably, also a white woman/But I have good intentions even if I’m one of the last ones” on “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father…”), conscious of the way her expression of femininity is perceived in the age of empowerment feminism (all of “A&W,” aka “American Whore”), concerned about family (“Fingertips”), and existential (“The Grants”). Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd says a lot without positioning itself as a big “statement” record; it just gets it out. Compared to her previous records, the production is lush yet bare and desolate; the preceding Blue Banisters transitioned towards this style, but Ocean Blvd feels infinitely more assured. It’s one of the few 78-minute records that doesn’t feel exhausting, and despite the atrocious Tommy Genesis sample on “Peppers” and the fact that “Taco Truck x VB”—an early version of Norman Fucking Rockwell!’s “Venice Bitch”—feels like an afterthought, it flows exquisitely. Ocean Blvd is easily Lana’s best record yet, a gripping work that demands repeated listens. If she wasn’t already in the pantheon of Great American Songwriters, she’s certainly there now.

As usual, the sound is spectacularly textured and spacious with instruments and vocals rendered as realistically as possible. Lana always has excellent sounding albums, though the 48kHz/24bit digital version is more detailed than the appealingly midrange-rich 180g 2LP vinyl, cut by Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling Sound and pressed at GZ. The standard black vinyl edition has problematic surface noise and my copy has particularly nasty pops on “Candy Necklace.” A wet vacuum clean only slightly helped. The direct-to-board gatefold jacket and printed inner sleeves are fine enough, though I wish the lyrics were printed somewhere. An essential listen, but buy the vinyl at your own risk as online reports suggest most of the run is like this. (The same GZ pressing is distributed worldwide.)

Lil Yachty - Let’s Start Here.

Album cover for 'Let's Start Here.' by Lil Yachty

Quality Control 48kHz/24bit stream (2LP also available)

Produced by: Various

Engineered by: Various

Mixed by: Various

Mastered by: Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound

Music: 5

Sound: 8

Last fall, rapper Lil Yachty (among the last of the SoundCloud generation still alive and relevant) released “Poland,” an infectious little tune about taking codeine cough syrup to Poland. With fuzzy synths and a minimalist trap beat courtesy of Working On Dying’s F1lthy, “Poland” clocks in at one minute and 23 seconds, taken up by one verse and Yachty’s quivering Autotune hook of “I took the WooOoooOOOckk to PolaAaAAaandd.” It sounded unfinished, and it probably was; Yachty only released it after it’d already leaked and gone viral.

For years, people criticized Lil Yachty for his thin voice, mediocre lyrics (remember “she blow my dick like a cello”?), and the way his presence seemed vapid and unnecessary. “Poland” seemed like a turning point, a moment where Yachty could turn his flaws into valuable eccentricities and breathe new life into his career. Yet instead of getting weirder, he threw Currents, Dark Side Of The Moon, and Maggot Brain into a blender, presented it as “different,” and called it Let’s Start Here. It won him credibility outside of his usual audience, though as a psychedelic rock album it’s generic and predictable. A somewhat unusual move for a “SoundCloud rapper,” sure, but it sounds labored over and specially designed for a particular audience; expect to hear this when a college-aged barista serves you a $6 iced matcha latte this summer. Lil Yachty’s mumble-crooning makes his thin voice a detriment once again, and despite the proficient sound design and decent enough songs, it’s not very satisfying. Let’s hope that Let’s Start Here. is exactly that: a starting point for him to explore a broader musical palette and get weirder.

Slowthai - UGLY

Album cover for 'UGLY' by Slowthai

Method Records 96kHz/24bit stream (LP and CD available)

Produced by: Dan Carey, others

Engineered by: Alexis Smith

Mixed by: Dan Carey and Jacob Bugden

Mastered by: Christian Wright at Abbey Road

Music: 5

Sound: 7

What if Lil Yachty was British and already highly praised? Slowthai’s third album UGLY sort of answers that. Like Yachty’s new record, UGLY finds Slowthai turning to rock—in this case, the great, UK-centric tradition of post-punk. Sonically, it checks all the boxes: Dan Carey production, shifts between aggression and more measured introspection, songs that build up and exhibit grand emotions. But however sincere, energetic, and technically skilled he might be, Slowthai remains an often lackluster lyricist, with his (seemingly very genuine) feelings displayed as surface level platitudes a la Kid Cudi. UGLY is certainly listenable, and the polished yet raw production and sound quality is good (as expected from all things Dan Carey/Speedy Wunderground-associated), but it feels hollow. That said, it’s less pandering and more worthwhile than Yachty’s record, and I’m sure UGLY will come to life in a live setting.

Gorillaz - Cracker Island

Album cover for 'Cracker Island' by Gorillaz

Parlophone 44.1kHz/24bit stream (physical formats available)

Produced by: Greg Kurstin, Gorillaz, Remi Kabaka Jr.

Engineered by: Various

Mixed by: Mark “Spike” Stent

Mastered by: Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound

Music: 5

Sound: 7

Damon Albarn’s creativity flows in cycles, by now predictable to the point that he’s consistently inconsistent; for every good record, one or two mediocre or bad records will follow. Gorillaz’ 2020 outing Song Machine Season One was very good and Albarn’s 2021 solo LP The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows was decent. That means it’s time for a lesser album like Gorillaz’ latest, Cracker Island. None of the songs really stand out in quality, and the titles are a bit ridiculous: “The Tired Influencer”? “Skinny Ape”? C’mon now. Cracker Island’s bland synthpop quickly turns to wallpaper, and the whole presentation feels like Gorillaz according to the boardroom; respective Thundercat and Tame Impala features will land the title track and “New Gold” in alternative radio rotation, and a Bad Bunny verse on “Tormenta” will get it on these Spotify playlists. Skip this record and wait two or three years for a hopefully better Damon Albarn project of some sort.

One more thing…

Fred again.., The Streets, & Dermot Kennedy - “Mike (Desert Island Duvet)”: Perhaps no one in history has had as quick and violent an artistic decline as The Streets’ Mike Skinner. After brilliantly combining UK garage and hip-hop on 2002’s classic and still-relevant Original Pirate Material and its conceptual follow-up A Grand Don’t Come For Free, Skinner creatively fell off a cliff due to lack of inspiration and the fact that he never really seemed to mature. Since then, he’s come dangerously close to tarnishing his first two records’ legacy by making the most insipid garbage you’ve ever heard, his primitive garage beats sounding even clunkier than they did 20 years ago and his performances similarly amateurish. At this point, you’ve no reason to expect any new Streets material to be even listenable, but Skinner’s new track with the increasingly popular producer Fred again.. and singer Dermot Kennedy is the best thing he’s done in ages. Sure, Fred’s beat is a watered down, corporate take on garage, but Skinner actually sounds engaged, lyrically painting a scene with actual emotion instead of mumbling whatever he wrote down five minutes after waking up hungover. It’s too early to call this a “comeback,” especially with the indescribably atrocious Brexit At Tiffany’s EP lingering in recent memory, but it’s nice to know that maybe, just maybe, Mike Skinner has regained that spark that made those first two Streets records so good.


  • 2023-04-05 07:16:20 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    Dig it! I agree about the Gorillaz latest.. sigh. I would really dig seeing slowthai live in Chicago if he was around... GB and Europe rn. I was just listening to Lana's yesterday... and I think I need to listen more attentively tonight. I caught glimpses of greatness, but I was distracted with stuff to do. While this is absurd of me to suggest, I was thinking last night that Lana should do a few songs in a different key if possible or even pure spoken word interjection in some of her work- pure poetry over music. While that is essentially what she does, and I get Lana is Lana, but I wish she had more range artistically from a vocal standpoint. (I low-key hate myself for saying that...) Lana is 100% herself and I agree with your convictions about her potency as a song-writer. The simply imagery of a tunnel beneath is incredible on a personal and physical level, especially with the gilding of LA on top. Keep the capsules coming, ML! I will dig into them...