New Music Reviews: SZA, Brian Eno, and Caroline

This week SZA drops an excellent and accessible December album, while veteran Brian Eno and debutant band Caroline provide far more esoteric efforts.

SZA

SOS

2022, 9/10
The publishing of end-of-year music lists has become like a nuclear arms race, pushing further and further into early November. I get vindictive pleasure from SZA, an artist who’s both a big deal critically and commercially, releasing an outstanding album on 10 December, effectively obsoleting a bunch of premature lists. SOS is the long-awaited sequel to 2017’s CTRL, one of the most beloved albums of the decade. It’s lengthy, stretching over an hour with 23 tracks, but it’s excellent. Like Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, it uses its length to stretch out over other genres – in the case of SOS, it drifts away from SZA’s usual alternative R&B to explore mainstream pop/rock. I enjoy SZA’s introspection here, as her meditations on a breakup provide continuity as the record opens up. Her voice is rich, her lyrics are insightful, and her melodies are robust.

The run of ten songs at the opening is strong and conventional – the advance single ‘Kill Bill’ and the pretty breakup tune ‘Gone Girl’ are both terrific. The record opens up with the silliness of ‘Smoking on my Ex Pack’, before Phoebe Bridgers cameos on ‘Ghost in the Machine’. There’s music here that sounds far removed from SZA’s usual oeuvre – in particular, halfway through the record, the transition to the Avril Lavigne-style guitar rock of ‘F2F’ is jarring, SOS ends strongly – ‘Good Days’ is pretty, while Wu-Tang’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard contributes a posthumous verse to ‘Forgiveless’.

The sprawl of SOS may deter some listeners, but it’s impressively consistent.


Brian Eno

FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE

2022, 6.5/10
Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno is a favourite here at Aphoristic Album Reviews. His synths and “treatments” on the first two Roxy Music albums, his glam rock solo albums in the mid-1970s, and his distinctive production touches on landmark albums like Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and U2’s The Joshua Tree – all are cherished parts of my music library. Foreverandevernomore is Eno’s 29th solo album, but most of my solo Eno affection is reserved for his vocal albums, rather than his ambient work.

Foreverandevernomore finds the middle ground between Eno’s two solo pathways. Eno’s voice, deepened and mellowed with age, gently intones wisdom over ambient backing. His daughter Darla provides backing vocals, adding some sweetness to a dark-hued record. It’s heavy thematically, written about the climate crisis. Eno told The Guardian that he composed the foreboding standout ‘There Were Bells’ for an event at the Athens Acropolis. Performing on a 45 degree Celsius day “I thought, here we are at the birthplace of modern civilisation, probably witnessing the end of it.” It’s an admirable record that lacks the verve and flair of his earlier vocal record – hardly a surprising outcome for a musician in his mid seventies.

These billion years will end
These billion years will end
These billion years will end
They end in me
They end in me

Garden of Stars, Brian Eno

Foreverandevernomore lacks the panache of Eno’s early vocal records, but it’s a worthy entry to a standout catalogue.


Caroline

Caroline

2022. 7.5/10
There’s a lot happening on London eight-piece band Caroline’s debut. Despite their large lineup, there’s a lot of space in their sound and violin is often central to their arrangements. They feature two violinists, as well as a clarinet/saxophone player. The band describe their sound as “drawing on a mixture of choral singing, Midwestern emo and O’Malley and Llewellyn’s roots in Appalachian folk.” It’s often challenging music – it’s esoteric and experimental without many discernable hooks. The spacious arrangements, dramatic crescendos, and emotive vocals recall Kentucky band Slint.

The tracklist pads out six fully-fledged songs with some shorter interludes. The opener ‘Dark Blue’ is the most memorable track, built around a simple six-note figure. ‘Iwr’ augments chugging guitar with scraping violins, while the closer ‘Natural Death’ features some of the record’s most intense moments.

Caroline is a engrossing debut from an act with fascinating possibilities.

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12 Comments

  1. A particularly well-written review Graham. I really like SZA’s vocal stylings and the songs I’ve heard by her, and need to listen to more of her music. I’m not familiar with Caroline, but “Dark Blue” is oddly captivating. Will check out more of their album too.

  2. I’m like you, I like Eno’s albums with singing better than the ambient ones, which is weird because I listen to a lot of ambient all the time and you’d think I would like those ones better. It’s not that I don’t like them or anything but I just never want to listen to them. But I listen to Tiger Mountain and stuff all the time. Same thing with the albums he’s famous for producing. My favorite ones that he produced are Bowie’s Outside and Laurie Anderson Bright Red, but those are the ones that nobody likes. That is totally weird.

    • I should probably give ambient Eno another chance – the only one I own is Discreet Music, which was his first ambient record.

      I’ve never heard Outside or any Laurie Anderson record

  3. The clarity of Caroline is impressive. I haven’t listened to their other music yet.. but I like how it builds up and falls down.
    When I think of Eno…my mind goes straight to the work he did with Bowie…but he did much more than that.

  4. The ones he did with other people like the ones with Daniel Lanois or Harold Budd are a little better than his other ones. I find most of his ambient really dull. I understand that ambient music can be a little bit boring by it’s very nature, but it doesn’t have to be THAT boring. Ha ha!!!! I think he’s like a purist or something who thinks it should only be a certain way. That probably explains it.

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