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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Best of June albums: Charli xcx’s ‘Brat’ and ‘Fathers & Sons’ by Luke Combs among list

By Jordan Tolley-Turner The Spokesman-Review

In what is continuing to be a strong year for music, June brought a mixed bag of results with some tall highs and mediocre lows.

“Brat” by Charli xcx

With 2020’s quarantine came a noticeable shift in the music industry. True pop hits, at least high-energy ones, seemed few and far between. One can respect the true shift to honesty many artists found, but the lively and spirited sound of the 2010’s simply appeared to vanish. And now, finally, active production and dynamic pop is making its way back – as exemplified by Charli xcx’s “Brat.”

Best described as electro or club-pop, “Brat” is intoxicatingly bold and assertive. Charli has managed to perfectly bottle the feeling of hot bright lights, crowded movement, and electric vigor in a way that is impossible to deny. The 15-track project is extremely cohesive, but each song offers its own feel and unique aspects to bring to the table – from violins and heavy harmonies to assorted vocal filters and various versions of bridge breakdowns. The record is bass-boosted and is encompassed by every synth under the sun, but remains extremely honest and vulnerable on the lyrical end. From lust to brashness to heartache, “Brat” has it all.

I have truly missed production that feels like a roaring roller coaster, and “Brat” is a true breath of fresh air.

“The Secret of Us” by Gracie Abrams

Last year, Gracie Abrams released one of my favorite records of 2023 in the form of “Good Riddance.” Her newest album, “The Secret of Us,” continues with much of what Abrams does so right as well as some new experimentation, but also falls a little flat in some areas.

Over the past few years, I have been impressed by Abrams’ lyrical abilities. She consistently paints exact portraits of what she feels and is going through while also leaving much open to interpretation, as a precise yet truly artistic writer should. Abrams continues to prove herself as a beautifully vulnerable lyricist, but portions of the record don’t come across as full as her last. The final choruses tend to hit with more intense layers, drums, and synthy touches – but the first halves are a little too quiet for my taste. Whether it be the acoustic guitar or base percussion, the somewhat lack of things going on in the production leaves me wanting more.

It’s a solid record, don’t get me wrong, and I honestly hope we get to see a bit more of the true pop potential as shown on the internet favorite, “Close To You.” Nonetheless, Abrams has quickly become one of my artists to watch and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

“Fathers & Sons” by Luke Combs

Luke Combs has been at the top of not only his game but the general country scene for a while. With lyricism that speaks to the heart and a sound fresh yet hinted with classic country, Combs has nothing left to prove. Yet his newest album takes a bit of a step back from what listeners are used to, making “Fathers & Sons” easily his most down-to-earth record yet.

Lacking the usual rocker or two we usually get from a Combs LP, “Fathers & Sons” tells stories of the beauty of fatherhood, the other side of that coin with varied perspectives of a son, those we love growing older, and all in all to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

I absolutely love the production of this album. Heavy on rich piano chords, guitars with the perfect mix of slight twang and softness, and some outstanding fiddle (probably my standout aspect of the record as a violinist) it is easily Combs’ most acoustic based album, and I am desperate for more.

“Fathers & Sons” is a delight of a record that hits every soft spot and is easily one of the best country records of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I like Combs’ usual sound that garners hits and I think he has somehow managed to improve with every release, but the tenderness of this album is difficult to beat.

“C,XOXO” by Camila Cabello and “Timeless” by Meghan Trainor

I am including the records by these two pop artists within the same section because I feel they fall flat for opposite, yet oddly similar reasons.

On one hand, we have “C,XOXO” by Camila Cabello. Credit can be given for it definitely being Cabello’s most experimental record, which I always like to see, with some unique spoken word interludes, synths, and backing harmonies.

Nonetheless, it just can’t fully capture the “Miami-party-scene-I’m-confident-but-also-sad” vibe the album is fixated on. It just tries a little too hard to really land as a record full of club songs. And I’m not against artists branching out and trying something new, I love it when they do, but this push to be edgy feels sudden.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Timeless” by Meghan Trainor. I would argue this album is just about the exact opposite of Cabello’s with Trainor doing what she has been doing since the early 2010s. Major chords, lyrics that attempt to be “quirky” but come off as cringe, and an intense focus on the hooks that end up creating pure radio pop.

This record is also trying hard, but trying hard to do the same old thing track after track. I respect the confidence, but I wish it was shown in any other form.