Azure Blue, “Fast Falls the Eventide”

The title, alluding to the hymn “Abide With Me”, is a description of darkness arriving. Surely it feels like darkness has arrived these days. Azure Blue’s answer to the surrounding darkness is to bask in luxurious layers of synthesizers. I’m not sure it’s an escape. By the second track “New Moon” it feels more like standing strongly upright within the current and refusing to be pulled along.

Tobias Isaksson — of phenomenal Swedish-pop outfits from days gone past like Irene and Laurel Music — has led Azure Blue through three previous albums of romantic synth-pop. This fourth album is especially reliant on synths, in a bright, welcoming way that makes the neon art of the cover feel appropriate.

The songs are sullen, heartsick and defiant. “Post Affect”, one song is titled. This immersion in ’80s-style synth-pop isn’t a pose. Isaksson is fully devoted to the style and the sentiments it perhaps naturally pairs with – love, dreams, sensitivity, romantic obsession.

“Whatever ’18” might sound like a slacker title, but it’s a commitment. The mantra (sung at least 10 times) “I don’t care / I do what I want to / as much as I want / whenever I want to” is a declaration of independence that pairs nicely with the next song “Beneath the Sphere”, a dancefloor tribute to standing up for yourself. By the end of the album he’s dreaming off into the darkness, or perhaps the light. Dreaming idealistically of what’s next, even when holding the object of his dreams firmly within his arms.



The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me”

Her future self may hate her, but her present self doesn’t think that highly about her either. On the debut album by the Auckland, New Zealand band The Beths, Future Me Hates Me, singer Elizabeth Stokes persistently voices self-doubt and disappointment within a climate of punchy pop-punk that’s inescapably “’90s alternative” but nonetheless has an of-the-moment immediacy. That comes from the melodies but mainly her singing, channeling lots of emotions within an overriding one of melancholy.

There’s self-destructive partying (“Uptown Girl”, not the Billy Joel song), multi-varied lust (“Little Death”, a mid-album stretch-out), and driving off a cliff in a failed double-suicide as the inevitable response to heartbreak (“Whatever”). For every song propelling towards destruction there’s one where joy is trying hard to poke its way to the surface. There’s tenderness, always, in the sulking, the hatred, and the instinctual drive towards “stupid mistakes”.

“You wouldn’t like me if you saw what was inside me”, she sings early on, but this is a very, very likable deep-dive into frustration and desperation. The last track “Less Than Thou” explodes – a soft but boisterous release.