Alternative Pop

Robbie & Mona ‘EW’

No director has arguably mastered the art of non-linear narratives and character ambiguity like David Lynch. A dark and beguiling examination of the mysterious rot underneath the glamourous allure of Hollywood, his labyrinthine opus Mulholland Drive takes a ‘matryoshka’ approach to Naomi Watts and Laura Harring’s two roles, Watts’ naïve and wide-eyed Betty Elms slowly morphing into the drug-addled obsessive Diane Selwyn, whose toxic jealousy results in the death of Harring’s Camilla Rhodes who had switched from the amnesia plagued Rita to the target of Elms’ passionate rage with impeccable sleight-of-hand. With Elms wanting to make it as a film star and Rita assigning herself that name after seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth in the film’s opening, endlessly amorphous character entanglement serves as a powerful vehicle to explore the subconscious and latent desires within Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece.

There are characters within characters all over Robbie & Mona‘s debut album, although Robbie & Mona aren’t really Robbie & Mona but alter-egos of Bristol artists and avowed cinephiles Eleanor Gray and William Carkeet of Pet Shimmers fame. Embracing the austere restraint that comes with performing as a duo, the pair have explored the art of sonic textures and offbeat song structures to deliver a hazy dreamscape of a debut for Spinny Nights, a lo-fi minimalist work that balances stark arrangements with nebulous production that shifts and obscures any clarity from the experience, and presents a cast of characters such as Celine, Ruby, and The Carpenter to probe the beguiling and hypnagogic.

Illustrated by the erotically charged cover by kink photographer Scvmrat, an enticing decadence pervades EW. A beckoning mirage of downgraded synths and trip-hop drums seeps slowly into sight on the psychedelic album opener ‘Fidelity’, a captivating demonstration of Robbie’s production skills that ensure the lo-fi nature of the track is rich in aural feeling for it to avoid sounding ‘bedroom’, and Mona’s exquisite acapella recorded vocals lend a strikingly ethereal hover to the hypnotic trip. Strange traverse in unreal realms guide their second single ‘Wallpaper’, a tight and muffled synthpop number that excavates a sharp and solid pop hook amid its terse front, beautifully conveying the lyrical theme of spectral disassociation and being rather content with your newfound astral plane. Little moments throughout EW almost serve as motifs of unsought reality slowly drifting into the album’s introspective world, the slight glitches and tonal fluctuations that ebb and flow throughout ‘Cherry Fish’, each artful defect a pinch to the listener struggling to ascertain whether the daydream is real or not.

Like Lynch’s penchant for beclouded misdirection, Robbie & Mona imbue the seductive trip with disconcerting contours of abrupt dissonance and menacing hues. ‘Queen Celine’ (a character representing the surreal that features in many of Mona’s creative writing) adds crunchy electronica that instils an erratic unpredictability to the languid mood of the album, veering between industrial discord and brittle, layered vocal harmonies with eerie disquiet. Some trusty post-punk shows the duo at their most conventional but no less absorbing, a crisp drum machine that feels lifted from Radiohead’s ‘I Might Be Wrong’ pulses along mean bass on the punchy ‘Picking up Ruby’, a brief respite of groove and lithe guitar that offers a touch of nonchalant swagger. The album finale ‘Crocodile Pears’ is their most stunning track, a celestial swirl of stifled jazz and weathered keyboards that advance with a funereal march, exotic strings plucked from Björk’s cover of ‘I Remember You’ and skewed sequencers all coalesce perfectly together, but the soul of the track is Mona’s sublime voice, wavering between soaring high ranges and demure charm with ease.

Like a dream that’s felt intensely in the senses but with the plot long forgotten in the morning, EW is a record that forces one to listen again and again, not just because it’s musically brilliant, but because it tantalisingly draws you in that bit closer to elucidation as to its meaning, but clarity remains satisfyingly elusive and just out of reach. Firmly establishing themselves as heavyweights in the Bristol music community, and eclipsing even Pet Shimmers, Robbie & Mona has produced a remarkable debut effort that captures the mystifying, Lynchian soul they’re so inspired by.

Emma Acs ‘While I Shoot from My Fortress of Delusions’

”My love for you is like a drug” Emma Acs quietly sneers on the acerbic ‘Into Your Heart’, a stinging epitome of just how detrimental the throes of love can be. The gnawing torment of regrets, confusion, and unsatiated longing that follows a relationship breakdown can veer into obsession, often pushing us to a state of unguarded vulnerability not witnessed by anybody else. Heartache is one of the most intense experiences of the human condition, yet once passed through its test a great insight about oneself is ultimately discovered.

It’s been a busy five years since Acs’s previous album Give in to Whatever. Graduating from college, contributing to various side-projects and composing a symphony for a 50 piece orchestra, this creative momentum sees Acs jumping from her native Copenhagen to L.A. with restless energy fueled by the end of a relationship. Finding soothing catharsis in the aggressive trap of artists like XXXTentacion and the haunting arrangements of Scott Walker, new E.P. While I Shoot from My Fortress of Delusions is an enticing clash of sonic serenity bristling with buried tension.

At just seven songs, Acs achieves an impressive traverse of mood and styles which truly pushes the parameters of the E.P. format, reaching a sense of cohesion like it were her third album. This arc is established on the opening track ‘Blessed are the Faithful’, a psalm of sorts which sees Acs pleading for some divine intervention before segueing into the hazy menace of ‘Palm Trees’, an introspective wander through lulled accordion and soaring strings which belie its lyrical pugnaciousness with lines like ‘I want to hurt you so badly’.

Acs’s affection for Scott Walker courses throughout, but particularly shines on third track ‘My Beloved (Lost to Begin with)’, a swirling trip of expert jazz brass and ice-cool bass that recalls Peter Walsh’s production work on Walker’s Climate of Hunter. Synth darkwave pulses on the sombre ‘Disarmed’, a beguiling mix of electronica and Høyer Hansen’s intricate acoustic guitar that creates a brittle disquiet perfectly mirroring the themes of the futility often felt when trying to protect oneself from the slings and arrows of love.

The narrative grip never ebbs, the last two songs feeling as conclusive as the opening two were introductory. The penultimate ‘Right Here’ is devastatingly eerie, a deeply private admission of ignoble efforts to maintain a presence in our lovers lives no matter how unhealthy, perniciously pulling you in with Gothic piano drops and singing strings reminiscent of Nick Cave’s latter atmospheric output. The final blow ‘Witch Hunt Waiting Room’ is a gorgeously rousing affront of cleverly disjointed piano notes and synth choir that amounts to a terrifying wail of chills with a weird arcane energy, a fitting closure that soundtracks the nagging sense of injustice at past grievances and grudges never accounted for. A witch burning in front of a crowd hiding their own transgressions and disloyalties.

The full gamut of heartache and its many manifestations have been brilliantly distilled into an exceptional piece of work which effortlessly glides between beauty and acidic lyrical barb. While I Shoot from my Fortress of Delusions is a bold and confident statement from an artist destined for great things.

ShitKid ‘[DETENTION]’

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the sleeve for [DETENTION] was some poster for a new St. Trinian’s movie, but perhaps that’s the point? Chewing gum, all in school uniform, with guitarist Arvid Sjöö sporting a Rick Nielsen cap, this is a cover which wears it’s love for pop-punk, emo, and flipping off your teacher on it’s sleeve.

ShitKid, being the alias of Swedish musician Åsa Söderqvist, has shifted from her lo-fi eccentrism as heard on 2017 debut Fish, and with the help of partner in crime Lina Ericsson, has delivered a scuzzy sophomore rock record of teen angst, endless summers, school crushes and alienation. Revisiting the bands of her youth like Sum 41 and Green Day, Söderqvist has set out to make an album strictly for ‘the kids’, and what do parents know anyway?!

Opener and title track oozes bratty, snotty irreverence, lighting trash cans and slipping laxatives into your teachers drink without a trace of ‘fucks given’, thick bass thuds with the classroom clock drudgery, before a ‘no regrets’ garage rock blast that seizes your inner delinquent. The grunge punch of ‘SuMmEr BrEaK’ vibrates with effortless cool, a paean to teen infatuation which burns for two and a half glorious minutes, with a chorus so insanely hooky your arm reaches for the repeat button like a sudden bout of alien hand syndrome.

Söderqvist’s affection for Weezer style power pop shines on ‘summer ’18’, 90s alt-rock riffs hit hard joyously, while an expert interplay between slacker indie and hardcore grapple together on ‘Grown-ups are KIDS’. Album finale ‘Lost in a Dreamworld’ is the cumulative and definitive statement on wasted youth, a rousing anthem for every future artist, thinker and musician who was too busy dreaming to care for the football they just missed, or the test paper vying for your attention with all its utter insignificance. Stirring production allows the song to grow and build, before drifting off with an electrifying solo and Siamese Dream majesty.

ShitKid’s immersion in their own nostalgia has yielded songs which celebrate and commiserate the universal experience of adolescence. [DETENTION] is an enthused and fiery kick of a record, which reignites the youthful rebel which society tries to extinguish.