Belfast Telegraph

Albums of the week - from Ariana Grande to RY X

Ry X album Unfurl
Ry X album Unfurl

Two female stars at either end of the pop music spectrum, Ariana Grande and Avril Lavigne, are back with new sets of songs - but it's the younger of the pair who comes out on top with her romantic and sassy fifth album, Thank U, Next.

ARIANA GRANDE - THANK U, NEXT

Given that the past eight months of Ariana Grande's personal life have featured a whirlwind relationship that crashed on the rocks, the world seemed to wait for the Grammy Award-winner to pull something savage out of the bag. Surprisingly, Thank U, Next is a romantic, fuzzy offering completely at odds with her current turmoil.

It eclipses last year's Sweetener - a notably cathartic effort after the terror attack at her Manchester concert - and its impactful singles by being softer, raw and fuelled with emotion. The music is dreamy and waltz-like, interspersed with vocal clips that could be straight from a vintage movie.

There are also hints that the 25-year-old has experienced too much too soon. She swings through a range of moods: wistful, heartfelt and optimistic, apologetic and empathetic towards the lovers she's serenading, resulting in an album that is a celebration of love, a catalogue of a relationship's happier aspects - or what Grande has recently been through.

She's gracious and grateful, and Thank U, Next is timelessly romantic.

9.5/10: Sophie Goodall

AVRIL LAVIGNE - HEAD ABOVE WATER

Avril Lavigne's sixth studio album is a contemplative 12-track offering. The title track is poignant and powerful; it sets the tone immediately, and you realise you're hearing from a very different Avril.

The singer (34) refers openly to her health struggles and battle with Lyme disease. Talking about Head Above Water, she previously said: "One night, I thought I was dying, and I accepted I was going to die. My mum laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed 'God, please help to keep my head above the water.'"

Other stand-out tracks include I Fell In Love With The Devil, and Tell Me It's Over.

8/10: Kerri-Ann Roper

NOUVELLE VAGUE - RARITIES

How has it been 15 years since Nouvelle Vague's self-titled album sauntered into the ether with its soft melodies and dreamscape lyrical sighs?

To celebrate, the French collective have re-recorded their favourite tracks with a stripped-back sound; it almost feels like a relaxing beach holiday. Moody has a jazz-like lilt rather than their usual bossa nova vibe. Previous covers of U2's Pride, Dexys Midnight Runners' Come On Eileen (stunningly beautiful and fragile) and The Stranglers' Get A Grip On Yourself are re-spun.

Whether you are a long-time fan or have never dipped your toes into the glassy pond that is Nouvelle Vague, this is an album you need to hear.

9/10: Rachel Howdle

RY X - UNFURL

RY X is many things. He's the preferred vocalist of the Berlin techno scene, a folk troubadour and a songwriter.

It's been three years since the Australian released Dawn, a shimmering pop-electronic portrait. Unfurl sees the vocalist return to that sound for the first time since.

RY X, real name Ry Cuming, is best known for his records as The Acid and Howling - projects that delve into the fruitful territory between balladry and hard, emotive dance music.

Fans of those projects will likely be disappointed by Unfurl as it features a sound closer to the light folkiness of Dawn, but its gentleness is no reason for followers of his tougher work to stay away.

Over 13 tracks, Cuming plays with sounds you might have heard on albums by Kiasmos or even Fleet Foxes. Unfurl might not please all his fans, but it is certain to delight some of them.

6/10: Alex Green

PIROSHKA - BRICKBAT

The first few minutes of the Piroshka album opener, This Must Be Bedlam, sound so much like Half Man Half Biscuit, I had to check that I hadn't been sent the wrong record.

The vocals of Miki Berenyi put paid to any confusion, and it's an unexpected and promising start to this debut album.

Berenyi is supported in this indie supergroup by members of Moose, Elastica and Modern English, and there is real quality here. Village Of The Damned is gorgeously great, and the synths on Everlastingly Yours swoop and soar in all the right places.

Unfortunately, the more straight-forward numbers lack subtlety, and lazy sixth-form lyrics on tracks such as Hated By The Powers That Be grate somewhat.

6/10: Colm McCrory

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