Table Of Contents
Skip straight to any review of your choice by clicking one of the buttons, or just keep scrolling down to read them all in order!
C’est La Vie -by- Novelists
The Neon Skyline -by- Andy Shauf
C’est La Vie
C’est La Vie is the third album from the french metalcore band Novelists, following up 2017’s Noir. Noir showed the band developing their sound, with a unique focus on clean vocals and guitar styles typically associated with progressive metal – so how does C’est La Vie show the band growing from there?
The most apparent development in the band’s sound is their more riff-focused approach that incorporates elements of their more melody-focused sound from Noir while being different enough to be noticeable. The opening track, “Somebody Else” is a good example of this, with its crisp, clean guitar tones that quickly transition into a more gain-driven metalcore sound. The lyrics of this track are a bit on the nose, lamenting over society’s attachment to social media and others’ approval, but this kind of delivery isn’t uncommon in metalcore. The hook in this track is classic Novelists, with Matteo Gelsomino’s drawn-out cleans that sound bleak and triumphant at the same time.
Following “Somebody Else” is “Deep Blue”, another solid riff-driven track, with a gloomier attitude. The way the band complements the riffs of the verse with faint lead melodies and consistent clean vocals is another highlight that shows up consistently in the band’s sound on this record. Although it doesn’t feel quite as inspired as “Somebody Else”, the lyrics feel more mature and give the track more emotional appeal. The unclean vocals on this track sound akin to Sam Carter’s of Architects, in the sense that they verge on full-on screams while still holding onto some raspy melody.
“Lilly” feels like a hybrid of Bullet For My Valentine’s guitar sounds and more emo lyrical content and more mature modern metalcore elements. A bit edgy, sure – but sometimes that’s half the fun with metalcore, and Novelists pulls it off very well here. The outro solo reminds me of all the commercial metal stars of the late 2000s, from Avenged Sevenfold to Trivium.
“Modern Slave” shows Novelists leaning hard into the Periphery vein of metal, with crushing riffs accented by erratic melodies and vocals that sound heavily inspired by “Blood Eagle”. After the hook, the song goes into a breakdown that slowly but steadily cranks the tension and energy up until a brief reprieve in the form of a clean, dreamy bridge. Slowly, drum fills begin to fade in and the vocals get harsher and harsher before exploding into one last chorus. Although the buildup was excellent, the chorus itself feels like it could be more energetic – it’s pretty much outshined by the bridge.
“C’est La Vie” is the first feature track on the album, with Camille Contreras contributing vocals. The song almost has a Creed vibe, in terms of attitude and vocals, but without the extra grunge. The kind of bleak, resigned tone in Gelsomino’s voice is what he’s best at, and it’s well accented with a brief melancholy solo before Contreras’ light, delicate vocals come in. Although Contreras doesn’t contribute many lines, she hits the mark when she does. The song ends with a triumphant refrain, casting a faint light on the dark mood already established.
“Head Rush” sees more 2000s metalcore influences take center stage, with a headbanging riff that fades into a slow, moody verse. The pre-chorus bursts back in, with percussive vocals and riffs accented with octave chords that hold the tension just right. After that is “Kings of Ignorance” with an alien intro full of flange-y guitars and muffled drums. The main riff comes in briefly before transitioning into an aggressive, dissonant verse with the same trance-inducing synths in the background. The bleak, foreboding tone of the track is the perfect springboard for Florent Salfati’s almost tortured sounding screams, which complement the more clean-cut style Gelsomino uses.
“Rain” featuring Michael Hirst slows things down a bit, with sounds reminiscent of earlier Intervals tracks with a metalcore edge. The track stays in the spacy, melancholy space that you’d find earlier on in the verses of “Deep Blue”, discussing issues of depression, doubt, and giving up. It’s ultimately an uplifting track though, even if it doesn’t grab me like the others.
“Human Condition” Bookends the album perfectly, with a riff that’s exciting both rhythmically and melodically. Much like some of the other bleaker cuts on the album, this song is critical of society and takes on a very misanthropic tone. At the same time, it isn’t completely negative, encouraging people to take a closer look at their actions and how they participate in society. The section ahead of Aaron Marshall’s solo builds tension perfectly with the slowly ascending tapping leads and percussive riffs. As Marshall, best known for his guitar virtuosity in his solo instrumental project Intervals, takes the stage, he lets the track breath for a quick moment before launching into a solo that’s a perfect blend of his sound and Novelists’. The main riff’s final reprise sends the album off well, with one last burst of energy before fading into a quieter echo of itself.
C’est La Vie shows that Novelists have developed their sound further while still maintaining their musical identity. The melodic riffs, the melancholy attitude, and excellent vocals from Gelsomino mixed with newer ideas makes this feel like the natural progression of the band’s sound after Noir. The blend of current and past metalcore trends was really enjoyable, and reminded me of why I loved those bands when I was in middle and high school in the first place. For all the good, it’s still not perfect – no tracks really stood out as exceptional, although they were all good. Some had more developed sounds and identities, while others felt a bit generic at times.
I give C’est La Vie by Novelists a 3.5 out of 5.
The Neon Skyline
By Andy Shauf
Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf is back with The Neon Skyline, four years after the release of his previous record The Party in 2016. The Neon Skyline is a concept album, detailing one continuous story.
Concept albums often focus on a central theme or a story to tell – what makes this one unique is that instead of focusing on a more conventional story with a planned narrative structure and a message it instead details what starts as an average night out for Shauf. In an interview, Shauf said at one point “Essentially it’s a record about nothing.” Despite this sentiment, the album has received acclaim for its unique approach to musical storytelling from outlets like Pitchfork.
When I listen to most albums, concept-based or not, I generally put the instrumentals and musicality first. And upon first listen, I tried to do that. To be honest, the retro-soft rock sound didn’t really grab me at first, and I only truly started to appreciate it when I focused on the lyrics and story of the album, treating it as a backdrop instead of the main attraction.
The acoustic guitar, piano, and bass coalesce into a warm, simple soundscape, occasionally accented by woodwind instruments or more tense chord structures. At times, it almost feels like I’m playing an old Noir film in my head while listening – the sound feels old, but fresh at the same time. It’s not my typical sound, but it serves its purpose very well and adds another layer to the mental picture painted by Shauf’s lyrics.
Now, time to get to the story.
It all starts like any other night – Shauf is just going about his business before going out to a bar with his friend, Charlie. While at the bar, Shauf starts remembering moments from his past relationship with a woman named Judy, as a sad nostalgia overtakes him. This feeling extends through the first three tracks, as Shauf is presented with the fact that Judy is back in town. He becomes fixated on the relationship he’s lost and can’t stop revisiting scenes of his past.
As the fourth song, “Thirteen Hours” begins, Shauf remembers a key traumatic moment in the relationship. At some nondescript point in time, after taking a cab with Judy, he mentioned the amount he tipped the driver. Judy, frustrated, said it’s not enough and ran back to give him more. Before he knows it, he hears a crash and finds that a drunk driver has struck Judy nonfatally, but enough to leave some broken bones and result in a hospital trip. Sitting in the room with Judy, she reminds him “If you weren’t such a cheap bastard, I’d be at home”.
The bad memories intensify in the next song, “Things I Do”. Shauf, attempting to bring some extra joy into his relationship, comes home early from work to surprise Judy.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she yells, as Shauf walks in on her with another man. At this point Shauf is resigned to the fact that the relationship is falling apart, repeating “Why do I do the things I do / When I know I am losing you?”
The next song begins as Shauf gets out of his head, turning his attention to him and Charlie’s mutual friend Claire, who has come to the bar. As they chat, Clair remembers how when she was a child she had drawn something for her father but he said he was too busy to look at it after work – then explains that today, her daughter did the same for her. As history repeats itself, Claire said she was too tired to look at her child’s picture.
“How hard is it to give a shit,” Claire says, disappointed with herself and who she’s become since her youth as she leaves.
The night continues with Charlie and Shauf discussing life, death, and reincarnation. This triggers another memory of his relationship with Judy, in which he awoke from a dream of his own death. He told Judy what he’d seen and she just laughed gently as they laid together in bed. He longs for the warm, intimate times from the past.
On “The Moon” Charlie finally acknowledges Andy’s mood and decides it’s time to have some fun and go to a more exciting bar. Claire returns and decides to join the two. As they leave the bar, they run into none other than Judy. The tension between Andy and Judy is noticeable until they start walking to the next bar. They begin talking and slipping into old habits, joking and reminiscing until Andy tries to hold her hand. “You know it can’t be like that.” She says.
As they arrive at the next bar, he continues talking with Judy, struck by pangs of longing while remembering that things ended for a reason. He notices others talking to Judy, and he feels jealousy for the positive emotions they stir in her that he no longer is a part of. At one point, she reaches for his arm and touches his coat, saying she’s missed “this”. Andy says he’s missed her too only to be corrected – she missed his coat, not his company.
The night progresses and Andy continues talking with Judy. After bringing up a memory of the two waking up to their neighbors’ house burning down, Judy expresses some frustration before turning around and grabbing his hand and pulling him onto the dance floor. As he dances with her, he continues thinking of that night, likening it to his life with Judy.
“Now that I’m dancing in the ashes, I just want it to be whole,” he says, wishing that his relationship had never fallen apart. Judy leaves, and Andy stews in his sadness and nostalgia more until returning home.
The story finishes on a hopeful note. sometime after that night, Andy is again confronted with memories of Judy – only, it’s different this time. He’s less attached to the emotions and visions from his past, and as he realizes this part of his life is fading away for good, he looks forward to the future with hope.
Although the album’s story isn’t anything complex or filled with themes and symbolism, it’s every bit as profound. There’s something unique in how relatable these feelings of love, loss, and longing are – reconciling with the past and breaking free from your emotional attachment to it is an experience anyone can relate to, whether it’s from past relationships or just life in general. The slice-of-life presentation of the story is direct and simple but feels carefully crafted. If you go into this album like you would any other, it may not strike you as anything special – but once you open yourself up to the experience fully and follow the story word by word, you’ll be greeted with a genuine and refreshing experience that is bound to resonate with you at one point or another.
I give The Neon Skyline by Andy Shauf a 4 out of 5.