Friday, December 28, 2012

Top Seven Albums of 2012

     The end of the year is finally here, which means it is time for most reviewers to write lists of their favorite releases of the year. Usually people do countdowns starting at ten or five, but since seven is my favorite number, I've decided to make my countdowns from seven! I will also be making a list for the seven best music videos of 2012, which will be coming soon! Well, enjoy!

7. Halcyon | Ellie Goulding
     This year, Ellie Goulding's "Lights" became a "sleeper hit" in the United States, which sparked my interest in the English artist. I bought, and subsequently enjoyed, Lights, and a few months later, Halcyon was released worldwide. Halcyon takes a different direction than that of Goulding's debut album, with many dubstep and electronic elements being present. The first half of the album was superior to Lights, while the second half of Halcyon was quite a disappointment. (In fact, the only reason that this album was given a rating of three-out-of-five stars in an earlier review was because of its less-than-exciting latter half.) This being said, the first half of the album was impressive enough for me to put this album in the number seven spot on this list. The most memorable songs were "Don't Say a Word," "Anything Could Happen," "Figure 8," and "Explosions." If Goulding can take the sound from the first half of Halcyon and make another album with it, I would be content.

6. Vows | Kimbra
     This year, I caught wind of Kimbra while watching music videos on VH1. "Settle Down" was playing, and the bizarre style of the video and catchy sound attracted me the New Zealand native. Vows was actually released last year in many countries, but wasn't released in the United States until this year, which is why it is eligible for this list. Kimbra experiments with multiple genres including indie, electronic, and even soul and jazz. The most impressive songs on the album were "Settle Down," "Good Intent," "Cameo Lover," and the United States bonus track, "Warrior." Although Vows was quite nice, I see some room for improvement, and I hope that Kimbra can pull off another strong release in a year or two, because I'll be glad to take a listen!

5. Red | Taylor Swift
     Avid music listeners were on the edges of their seats while awaiting the release of Taylor Swift's much-anticipated Red. The lead single, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," completely blew up worldwide, and just made for more excitement for Red. Although that first single wasn't very representative of the entire album, Red was still a solid release from Taylor Swift. I enjoyed "I Knew You Were Trouble," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "Treacherous" the most from Red. The album easily met the expectations set by Speak Now, and showed a lot of experimenting from Swift in terms of overall sound. I really hope to see more songs like "I Knew You Were Trouble" come from Swift in the future, because her voice is so versatile and works with many genres.

4. The Truth About Love | P!nk
     P!nk finally broke back out on the scene this year, with a new release, The Truth About Love, with a few surprisingly different sounds. I enjoyed the majority of the album, but it simply didn't live up to P!nk's previous release, Funhouse. The album Funhouse had a much better flow and had many more outstanding songs, while The Truth About Love showed a lot of experimentation in musical styles from P!nk. These changes in genres can be seen in songs such as "Are We All We Are" and "Where Did The Beat Go?" while P!nk's regular pop style comes back in "Slut Like You," and the album's lead single, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)." So, whether listeners a different sound from P!nk, or a return to normality with pop music, they got a little bit of both with this album. To be short, The Truth About Love was a pretty solid release from P!nk. 

3. Electra Heart | Marina and the Diamonds
     I was lucky enough to discover another artist besides Kimbra and Ellie Goulding this year. Besides those two artists, I also uncovered Marina and the Diamonds, a Welsh artist who released her sophomore album last summer. I actually listened to Electra Heart before I listened to her first album, The Family Jewels, but I thoroughly enjoyed both. Electra Heart contains a great combination of elements from dubstep, bubblegum pop, and electronic music. Electra Heart shined with "Primadonna," "Power & Control," "How to Be a Heartbreaker," and "Fear and Loathing." After I listened to both The Family Jewels, as well as Electra Heart, it was quite evident that Marina and the Diamonds has really expanded in terms of genres and overall sound, and I am truly looking forward to more music from her in years to come.

2. Born To Die | Lana Del Rey
     It seems like it has been forever since Lana Del Rey was just a simple new-comer in the music industry, but Born To Die was surprisingly only released early this year.  This album came in second place on this list, just behind Lana's sophomore release Paradise. I picked up the album a few weeks after its release, a purchase which was signaled just by listening to "Video Games" and "Born To Die." I immediately fell in love with it after listening to it once. With Born To Die, Lana Del Rey helped bring about a renewed love for indie music in pop culture. Her music, as well as her voice, have a very soothing and relaxing sound. Songs like "National Anthem," "Summertime Sadness," and "Without You" were the most memorable from the album. Born To Die was an extremely remarkable, especially for a debut album.

1. Paradise | Lana Del Rey
     It shouldn't be a surprise that Paradise comes in at number one on this list. It was my most anticipated release of the year, and when I finally got my hands on a copy, I praised the album immensely in my review of it last month. The album heightened my love for indie music, which was jump-started by Lana's debut album. As a whole, Paradise was almost completely free of any flaws. The production of the album completely blew me away, as it was so superior to that of Born To Die. This improvement could be tagged to the fact that Lana Del Rey worked on Paradise extensively with Rick Nowels, who produced many of the standout tracks on Born To Die. "Ride," "Cola," and "Body Electric" were the most outstanding songs from the album, each with its own great qualities. Hopefully, she will not give up her solo career to work in scoring films, as she had contemplated before, because I need more albums like Paradise in my life.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lotus | Christina Aguilera

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Two years after the release of her least-popular album to date, Christina Aguilera has finally tried once again to release a solid album. However, her new release, Lotus, might face the same fate that Bionic did.

The biggest reason I picked up Lotus in the first place was its lead single, "Your Body." But before I spent the money on the album, I decided to watch Aguilera perform at the American Music Awards, so I could get a good sample of what it would sound like. 

When I found out that Aguilera was booked to perform at the American Music Awards, I was hoping that she had finally picked up the pieces and was able to crack out a good live performance. However, I was apparently fighting a losing battle. The performance opened with Aguilera, donning a fake-looking spray tan and a platinum blond wig with bangs, lip-syncing to the auto-tuned vocals of "Lotus Intro." The lip-syncing was extremely obvious, and she looked like a hot mess in that wig. This lead into a medley of "Army of Me" and "There Will Be Love." The performance of "Army of Me" brought a quick costume change for Aguilera, when she slid into an unflattering corset-looking garment, fishnets, and knee-high boots. The song was alright vocally, but it was nothing stunning. Then in "Let There Be Love," she gave up entirely, letting the majority of the vocals come from her back-up singers, and chose to rather just scream and shake around a bit.  The entire thing was a giant mess.

The performance didn't impress me at all, but I still held out hope that Lotus would turn out to be a solid album. So, I fought my way through the Black Friday crowds and got a copy of the album on sale. When I began to listen to it, I was met with an album that was about as impressive as the performance.

Many songs on Lotus were plagued with massive amounts of auto-tune. I am completely okay with artists using auto-tune simply for effect, which Aguilera did with "Lotus Intro." (But as I said before, when an artist does this, they definitely shouldn't try to lip-sync to it in a live performance, because it just looks dumb.) Although the auto-tune "Lotus Intro" doesn't bother me, there are many other songs on the album that just shouldn't have these heavy amounts of auto-tune, such as "Cease Fire" and "Circles." I would actually like both of those songs if it wasn't for all of the edits to Aguilera's voice.

There were very few stand-out songs, but one of them was "Army of Me," which is a song that actually lets Aguilera sing without any manipulations to her voice. When she actually tries, Christina Aguilera can sing pretty well, and this really shows in "Army of Me." She can easily belt out the held-out notes of the chorus without limitations, which I really like. Lyrically, it follows the theme of "Lotus Intro," and is another self-empowerment tune.

"Your Body" was the another impressive song, which I fell in love in with when it dropped as the first single from Lotus a few months ago. I was hoping that the song would be representative of the quality of the rest of album, but I was wrong. The song could be compared to another highlight from the album called "Let There Be Love," as they are contain a nice combination of electronic and R&B influences, and both have very provocative and sexual lyrics.

When taking a look at the album as a whole, many of the songs sound too similar and seem to blend together, with the exception of the three aforementioned highlights. The only songs switched gears were "Blank Page" and "Just a Fool," which acted as a marketing campaign for The Voice duet with fellow judge from The Voice, Blake Sheldon. The rest of the album is just a bland platter of cheap copies of "Let There Be Love" and "Your Body," to be completely honest. This being said, the album just doesn't cut it. And I have a feeling that if Christina Aguilera doesn't get her act together and put out a half-way decent album next time around, we won't be seeing much of her for much longer. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Paradise | Lana Del Rey

Rating: ★★★★★

This is a review of the eight-track Paradise EP. I have already reviewed Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, which you can read here.

When Lana Del Rey released her debut album, Born To Die, earlier this year, I instantly fell in love with her. So when I found out that she was releasing another new album a few months ago, I began to anxiously await for its arrival, and after spending the past month regularly listening to the leaked snippets of the songs off of Paradise, I finally have had the opportunity to listen to the album.

The first track of the album, "Ride," also served as the first single for the album. I gave a very brief review of the song and its accompanying video a while back, and you can read it here. The songwriting in "Ride" is beautiful. The lyrics can take multiple different meanings from listeners. The chorus of the song leads me to believe that the song is about not knowing what decisions to make in life and ignoring mistakes. But then again, the first verse of the song makes me want to believe that the song covers unstable relationships. Either way, the song is astonishing and did better on the charts than I expected. "Ride" has reached the #30 spot on the Billboard Rock Songs chart, and it is actually the first of Lana's singles to even chart in the United States since her debut single "Video Games" in 2011.

"Cola," which was tentatively named "Pussy" for a while before the title was censored, is clearly a very controversial song due to its lyrical content. Many critics have stamped the song as lazy and claimed that it lacked creativity. I, for one, beg to differ. These critics made a premature judgement due to the opening lyrics, "My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola/My eyes are wide like cherry pies," but there's so much more to the song. Judging by the rest of the lyrics, I'm taking an assumption that overall, the song is about a woman cheating on a relationship, specifically with an older man. I love the song's seductive sound, and of course, I always like a little controversy.

"Body Electric" allows Lana to slide from note to note simply for effect, and when she sings it live, it can actually sound pretty demented. The lyrics of the song, some of which were inspired by a poem written by Walt Whitman in 1855 called "I Sing The Body Electric," are metaphoric and edgy, and furthermore, it has a riveting chorus that cannot be matched by any other Lana Del Rey song. The chorus features the repetition of the line "I sing the body electric," while a combination of drums, guitars and strings make up the instrumental backing track. This song is the best song on the album, as many fans may agree.

Continuing on, "Gods & Monsters" was another track that I thoroughly enjoyed. The song is slower and also carries a combination of strings and drums in its instrumental track, just as "Body Electric" did. The lyrical content of the song is quite shocking. From lines like "In the land of gods and monsters/I was an angel/Living in the garden of evil," to "Me and God, we don't get along/So now I sing," the song is a lyrical masterpiece, and could easily spark some more controversy with the latter line.

One of the final songs on the album, "Yayo," was not actually written for Paradise. A version of the song was originally recorded for one of Lana's first independent albums, Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant. However, the record was released under an independent label and failed miserably, so Lana bought back the rights to the album and ceased sales of it. But, she decided to resurrect and re-record "Yayo" for Paradise. The song's title is slang for cocaine: something that Lana references in her work frequently. It's a very calm and dreary song, but the song is about a cocaine addiction, so the style fits the lyrics very well.

Despite how amazing Paradise is, major Lana Del Rey fans have somehow found things to complain about, with many of them targeting "Yayo" Many arguments included comparisons to the version for "Yayo" that was included on Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant. I've heard both versions of the song, and they aren't all that different. The only major differences I can distinguish between the two recordings are a few note changes and the major reverberation in the vocals of the Paradise rendition of "Yayo." The note changes really aren't a huge deal, but the reverberation on Lana's vocals doesn't sound too great. To be completely honest, I do prefer the original recording of "Yayo" over the one on Paradise, but for people who haven't heard Lana's older work, it's a nice little glimpse to what Lana Del Ray A.K.A. Lizzy Grant sounds like.

"Body Electric" was also slaughtered by fans. Personally, I think "Body Electric" is completely flawless, but most of the comments I have seen from fans on multiple forums and websites have said that they  prefer the live version of the song rather than the studio version. In actuality, the studio version of the song is of higher quality than the live version, considering the epic instrumentation and the fact that the vocals actually sound nice and strong in the studio version. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it's obviously true that Lana sounds much better in the studio than singing live.

Overall, Paradise exceeded my expectations in every aspect.  The songwriting was outstanding and the production of the album was far superior to that of Born To Die. It seemed like almost all of the songs were stand-outs on the album, making this Lana Del Rey's strongest release to date. Although some pessimistic fans might try to drag the album down with petty comparisons, those comments shouldn't compel anyone from picking up this album. Paradise has easily become my favorite release of this year, and one of my favorite albums of all time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Halcyon | Ellie Goulding


EDIT: I have recently had a change on heart on this album, and gave it a follow-up review and a new and improved rating. To see some of my newer views on it, please click here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Red | Taylor Swift

Rating: ★★★★☆

I wrote a review last month when Taylor Swift dropped "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," and since then, my anticipation has been building for Red.

When details about the album started spilling out, one massive detail caught my eye right away: the name Max Martin. Max Martin has created some of the world's most iconic songs, and is the writer behind many of the songs of Britney Spears, the and Backstreet Boys. He has collaborated with many of today's popular artists such as P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne. And now, he has helped Swift with Red.

Please note, I said the he helped Taylor Swift write and produce Red. Some people have been under the impression that Swift had given up with the songwriting process of her music, and let people like Martin and Shellback take over. Luckily, although Swift has shifted to writing with new personnel, each song has still had input from Swift. One thing I really appreciate is when an artist's name also appears in the credits for actually writing the songs. When an artist sits back and lets other people write their material for them, it just seems extremely lazy to me. Many basic bitches of today's music industry, (for example, Rihanna and the aforementioned Britney Spears), simply lend their voice to a song. They have no emotional connection to the work, and they're literally there for the money.

Many people also said that with Red, Taylor Swift has started to "sell out". In my mind, "selling out" is singing songs that don't have any meaning to the singer and just doing something for money. Swift is definitely not pursing her musical career for money, nor is she singing songs written solely by other people. So to all of the people saying that Taylor Swift has "sold out" and isn't talented, once the name Robyn Fenty starts showing up in songwriting credits, you all can come talk to me about Taylor Swift and her songwriting abilities and production team.

Going onto the actual album, Swift has really tried to experiment with her status as a country-crossover artist, and Red pushed a few more boundaries than I expected. In fact, a few of the boundaries Red played with have been sitting untouched since Shania Twain's Come on Over and Up!. In many different ways, Swift is easily taking the place as today's Twain, and is clearly living up to the title.

Even after listening to the entire album, my favorite song on the album is still "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." As noted at the beginning of this review, I loved it to the point that I wrote a review of the song it when it was released as a single, which you can read here. If you don't want to read that entire review, I'll paraphrase it in the next paragraph.

In "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the lyrics and the meaning were what surprised me, not the song's style. For once, we see a Swift that isn't playing the heartbroken victim or love-struck teenage girl in high school. In the song, Swift is actually the one who is doing the heartbreaking, which is why I think I like the song so much.

Actually, this change in lyrical meaning is shown throughout the entirety of Red. Most of the songs on Swift's previous albums detail the blossoming of a relationship, having a major crush on someone, or being devastated after a break up. Many of Red's songs are vengeful, and it's almost like Taylor Swift has finally graduated high school and has stopped feeling the giant urge to be loved by someone constantly. Red shows a giant change in attitude towards love since Swift's self-entitled record that was released six years ago.

Moving on, "I Knew You Were Trouble" is definitely another one of the best tracks on the album. The song is the farthest that Swift travels from her native country music on the album. I absolutely love the dubstep bass drop in the chorus, and the overall style of the song. The guitars and drums in the verses of the song contradict the dubstep-esque chorus, which threw me off a bit, but overall the song flowed nicely. I would also like to note that Swift's voice blends just as well with dubstep beats as it does with a simple guitar.

Many longtime fans of Swift are actually listeners of country music rather than pop music. Due to this fact, I can tell that "Begin Again" was lifted from the album as a single simply to regain the eye of country music fans, many of which had revolted against "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." The song is a nice slower song,  and it does end the album well, but it isn't the appropriate material to be a single.

Another slower song on the album is a typical crossover song called "Treacherous," and it is one of my favorites from the album. The repeated bridge of the song is the most likable part of the song, where the instruments because heavier and the vocals become stronger. Overall, it's just an amazing song.

For the most part, I did enjoy Red, but I do wish that more songs like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" made their way onto the album. I find myself always skipping over a lot of the songs just to listen to the album's pop songs, and as much as I do like a good old Taylor Swift country song, I like Swift's pop songs a lot more. Sadly, Red only has a few majorly-experimental pop songs, while the rest of the songs on the album play it safe as typical crossover songs. I want to stress, those crossover songs aren't bad, but just weren't what I was expected after hearing the album's lead single. All of this aside, Red was a solid attempt from Swift, and is the best Swift record to date.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ride | Lana Del Rey

Rating: ★★★★★

I believe it has already been noted on this blog that I have an obsession with Lana Del Rey. (Well actually, my passion for Lady Gaga is stronger than that for Lana, but since Lady Gaga is being relatively quiet while preparing for ARTPOP, my love for Lana has been a bit more prominent lately.) Anyway, I've spent the past two days ripping my hair out while waiting for the premiere of Lana Del Rey's film for "Ride," and I finally got my wish this morning.

When I woke up this morning, I logged onto both Lana Boards and Gaga Daily, and on each forum I was met with threads about the new video. About two minutes into the video (which included the majority of the video's monologue), I began to tear up. It didn't take long to figure out what the video was about: a young, failing singer that falls into prostitution.

The video was well-thought out and had a great plot. It contained scenes ranging from Lana walking down a dark city street and waiting for another man to pick her up for the night, to her riding on an open road with a gang of bikers, to her having sex on a pinball machine with a middle-aged man. Despite the dark theme and a few rather disturbing scenes, the video overall was a masterpiece, and could be considered one of the best music videos ever.

The song by itself also memorized me. The overall meaning and sound of the song were enough to win my love. But now, the video has just put the icing on the cake. Now I'm anxiously waiting for the November release of Born To Die: The Paradise Edition. But until then, "Ride" will just have to satisfy my craving for new music from Lana Del Rey.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lana Del Rey Releases Information on Born To Die: The Paradise Edition

I first discovered Lana Del Rey earlier this year, when I stumbled across "Born To Die" and "Video Games." Ever since then, I've been a major fan of her. This being said, I've obviously been extremely excited for the arrival of her upcoming re-release of her debut album as Born To Die: The Paradise Edition, and today, news on the album totally exploded.

Del Rey released a video on YouTube, with samples of eight songs, titled "Ride," "Pussy," "American," "Gods & Monsters," "Body Electric," "Blue Velvet," "Bel Air," and "Yayo." A song called "Burning Desire" also leaked today, and the full version of "Blue Velvet" has been out for a while.

She also released the cover of the album, which I would like to focus on for a minute. I think the concept is absolutely amazing. The cover, which dons the same font as the original album, but it is highlighted in gold, features Del Rey in a low-cut top or swimsuit in front of palm trees and a pool. In my mind, it is supposed to be a ying and yang concept with the original cover. In the original Born To Die cover, she is wearing a collared, buttoned-up white shirt, and looks very conservative and serious. In this cover, Del Rey is more provocative and less serious.

After all of these samples and cover were released, the complete version of "Ride" was a released. From that song, along with "Blue Velvet" and samples of the rest of the songs, I can tell that Born To Die: The Paradise Edition is definitely going to meet my expectations. The song I'm most eager to hear is "Body Electric," which I loved the live version of, and I have been begging for a studio version for a while now.

On the downside, I have read that Lana Del Rey has considered quitting her music career after this next release to peruse a career in the movie industry. Yet, I did read that someone very near to her has said that she is in fact working on a second full LP. I'm hoping that the latter is true, because if she stopped singing, I would be devastated.

Monday, September 17, 2012

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together | Taylor Swift

Rating:  ★★★★★

I'm not afraid to admit it: I have a major soft-spot for Taylor Swift. When she was just starting her career with Taylor Swift and Fearless, I really tried to hide the fact that I really do adore Swift because of her gushy love songs, but by the time that Speak Now rolled around, I couldn't hide my admiration any longer. So when I heard she dropped a new single a few weeks ago, I couldn't wait to hear it. After looking for the song on YouTube, and finally finding a video that wasn't blocked for copyright reasons, I finally got my first listen of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."

So, I really don't know why so many people hate this song, especially people who are giants fans of Swift. Many have argued that the song signifies that Swift is "selling out" and becoming a pop artist. However, Taylor Swift hasn't been a country artist since her debut self-entitled album, and even then she was really pushing the definition of a country singer.

Fearless was a small move away from country and was just the beginning of Swift's transition to pop music. I always like to compare Fearless to Shania Twain's Come on Over, which was Twain's crossover album from country to both country and pop music. In fact, Taylor Swift has cited Shania Twain as one of her musical inspirations, according to the Wikipedia page about Swift. 

Getting back on track, Speak Now was an interesting album. Most of the songs had country-style instrumental tracks, but easily worked as pop songs, with most of the album's singles ("Mine," "Back to December," "The Story of Us," "Sparks Fly," and "Ours,") being very successful with pop music audiences. 

Looking back on Swift's move towards pop music, a song like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" was not surprising to me. The nearly-complete absence of any country music elements is what I think shocked people the most. The fact that "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" was penned by Swift with Max Martin and Shellback (who have both worked with pop artists such as P!nk, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, and the Backstreet Boys,) could also contribute to the the drastic change in sound.

Now, onto the actual song. The lyrics and the meaning were what surprised me, not the song's style. For once, we see a Swift that isn't playing the heartbroken victim or love-struck teenage girl in high school. In the song, Swift is actually the one who is doing the heartbreaking, which is why I think I like the song so much. I must also mention that the hook of the song is hypnotizing. I could listen to the chorus of the song on a loop for hours on end, and would sing along the whole time.

The one complaint I do have about the song is the small portion of bridge where the lyrics are spoken. Britney Spears is also famous for randomly talking in the bridges of her songs, and it sounds tacky and unprofessional. I really hope Swift doesn't resort to doing this random little chats in the middle of her songs on a regular basis.

Minus the bridge problem, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is one of the best songs to be released by Swift. Commercially, it could easily be considered the strongest Taylor Swift single to date due to the amount of records it shattered, including one for the fastest-selling digital single.

I applaud Swift for her growth as an artist, and I really look forward to listening to and reviewing her next studio record, Red, when it is released next month.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Truth About Love | P!nk

Rating: ★★★★☆

It's been a while since we've heard from P!nk (whose birth name is Alecia Moore.) She's been off the scene for a year or so, due to a pregnancy, and now she's back with The Truth About Love.

P!nk's previous studio album, Funhouse, completely blew me away: it was, and still is, a completely flawless album.  Although two new singles were released with her 2010 compilation album Greatest Hits... So Far!!!, I have still been craving for an entire new album from P!nk since Funhouse was released.

The Truth About Love does show that P!nk's musical style is now starting to vary. From heavier rock, to more urban-style music, to her native pop music, this album has a little bit of everything.

The lead single lifted from the album, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," is a very cliché P!nk song; a pop break-up song. P!nk is like a kick-ass version of Taylor Swift in the sense that they both write songs about break-ups over and over again, yet all of the songs sound different and unique. Anyway, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" was released back in July, and I fell in love with the song immediately, and had me pumped up for the release of The Truth About Love. 

However, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" doesn't represent the album very well. In fact, when I first listened to the album, which was in my car, on the way home from the music store today, the opening song shocked me.  Titled "Are We All We Are," the first track on the album is very rock-influenced. Its backing track contains plenty of drums and guitars, and sounds like a song that people would "head-bang" to. (If you don't know, "head-banging" is a seizure-like movement that fans of heavy rock music do often, in which you just fling your head up and down to the music.) I've been wanting to hear P!nk's voice in a heavier rock song for a while, and I finally got my wish. It was well worth the wait, because she sounds great in "Are We All We Are." The rock sound is not exclusive to "Are We All We Are," and reappears in "Walk of Shame." That song, although not as strong as the former, is still quite a catchy song, and is a good example of how well P!nk's voice sounds in a rock song.

The third track of the album, and the second single from the album, "Try," is a beautiful rock ballad about self-empowerment. It sounds amazing, and is a great contrast to all of the faster dance songs on the album. The successful history of "Glitter in the Air" could easily be repeated with "Try." The song is a great highlight from the album.

One of the best songs on the album is titled "True Love," and features Lily Allen (now known as Lily Rose Cooper after her marriage.) The chorus is probably one of the best from P!nk, and lyrics describe the ups and downs of a relationship but accepts that those ups and downs really do signify a strong relationship. It is also notable that the melody of the song in the chorus is amazing; it's very catchy, noticeable, and is easy to sing right along with. Personally, I think the song would do well as a single, and could be in the same position as "Get This Party Started" and "So What" are in now in terms of memorable P!nk songs.

Opening with the line "I'm not a slut, I just love love," "Slut Like You" is another song from the album that would be a massive hit as a single. Although the lyrical content is of what I would expect from someone like Ke$ha, it's still a great dance song. It's a shame that The Truth About Love wasn't released a few months back, because "Slut Like You" is definitely worth of a "summer smash-hit" title.

The title track of the album is also quite catchy. I'm taking an assumption that "The Truth About Love" is a song about what people try to hide about love and sex. However, the fact that the line "...the smelling of armpits" was included in the song is completely disgusting.

Although there are many songs that shine on the album, one song in particular really should have ended up as scrapped material. "Here Comes the Weekend" features rapper Eminem, but it sounds like a hot mess. It's a very immature song, with not much meaning. I do like that the song has more of an urban feel, as that is another genre that I wanted to hear P!nk in, but the song is just terrible.

Another problem I had with The Truth About Love was that P!nk was very desperate to add as many curse words that she could into the album. I do know that curse words are very common is P!nk's vocabulary, considering that she was originally planning on using the title Heartbreak is a Motherfucker for her 2008 album, Funhouse, but she pretty much just sprinkled curse words all over the album. For what purpose, I have no idea. All of the cursing in the album will also plague all of the songs with censors when it comes to radio and public airplay.

Overall, The Truth About Love was another great release from P!nk. Did it live up to her previous record, Funhouse? To my standards, no. However, the album opened so many new doors for P!nk. It toys with different genres and styles of music, and although it isn't a huge change in style, there is a lot of variety in the album. It may not as good as Funhouse, but it definitely the second-strongest P!nk record to date.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Electra Heart | Marina and the Diamonds

Rating: ★★★

I first came across the name "Marina and the Diamonds" in June when I was surfing around Gaga Daily, which I do frequently.  After some listening on YouTube and searching on Wikipedia, I knew I had to listen to this woman's entire album.  However, the album was just released on the tenth of this month. So, after three weeks of waiting and one trip to the local record store later, here I am.

In 2009, Welsh singer and songwriter Marina Diamandis quietly released her first studio album, The Family Jewels, which gained little success. However, her sophomore album Electra Heart topped the charts in the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Ireland, and has caught the attention of many people, including myself.

The first song that I listened to from Electra Heart was called "Power & Control." I was instantly amazed with its sound. Diamandis's vocals give it this powerful and dark feel, while the electronic instrumental backing makes you want to hit the dance floor. These two colliding forces react to create one damn good song.

After listening to "Power & Control," I was intrigued with Marina and the Diamonds, and had to listen to more. I moved on to "Primadonna." At first, I was a bit shocked. The song greeted me with Diamandis singing the chorus to the song, with a guitar and a few other quiet instruments... But, with one last repetition of the words "primadonna girls," the instrumental track did a three-hundred-and-sixty degree change back to that fist-pumping electronic sound that "Power & Control" contained. However, the vocals and lyrics to "Primadonna" are much more happy. I've found the song to be about a girl who wants to live the life of celebrity and constantly needs to be the center of attention, as suggested by the lyrics, "All I ever wanted was the world."

"Lies" also impressed me. It is strongly reminiscent of "Power & Control," in the sense that it contains those darker vocals from Diamandis, while still containing a dance-worthy beat.  The verses of the song are quiet, and wouldn't really catch anybody's attention at first, but then the chorus explodes with Diamandis's strong vocals and dubstep backing track, which is so exciting that I'm sure it could stop traffic on a four-lane highway.

Listening to the entire album on YouTube would have been like eating candy before dinner, so the last song I let myself listen to from Marina and the Diamonds via YouTube before buying Electra Heart was "Radioactive." The song contained a very generic instrumental track, which to me seemed very similar to that of Rihanna's mess of a song "We Found Love." But Marina's vocals make up for the somewhat cliche backing track. There's something about her voice that can change a whole song, but I can't seemed to place my finger on it...

So, after I actually bought the album, I listened to the songs a few times in order.  And personally, I'm pretty happy that I listened to some select songs on YouTube before I actually bought the album, because if I would have just randomly picked up this album off the shelf, the title of the first song would have made me stray away, being called "Bubblegum Bitch." It really wasn't a very memorable song, either.

"Homewrecker" reminds me of Lana Del Rey's "National Anthem" in the sense that its verses are nothing impressive, and are half-spoken and half-sung.  But the choruses of both songs are impressively catchy. The chorus of "Homewrecker" is the meet-up of electronic and disco genres: a combination that works quite well for the song.

Rock influences are also seen on Electra Heart, in songs like "Sex Yeah." From what I can interpret from the lyrics, the song is based on the fact that society has forced women to be sex icons instead of humans.  This theme is carried into the next, slower track, "Teen Idle," but this song focuses on the effects of that message on teenage girls: the loss of self-confidence, eating disorders, and suicidal actions. Both songs are very well written and recorded.

Getting back into a electronic feel, "How to Be a Heartbreaker" contains vocal strong verses from Diamandis  that are accompanied by layers of guitars and the steady beat of a drum, while the chorus is a bit more exciting, while still containing that same steady beat of the drum and guitars.

Overall, the album has been quite a commercial success, while it critically fell behind. However, I don't know why.  Many reviewers gave it the equivalent of 50% or below.  Sure, the album has some duds, but the songs that truly are masterpieces shine bright enough to cover those flaws up.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vows | Kimbra


I first heard New Zealand-native Kimbra (as a solo artist) a while back ago on VH1, which was showing the music video for her song, "Settle Down."  The clip featured a young girl trying to commit to a relationship with a handsome mannequin. Then, the next thing I know, Kimbra is dancing in front of a rack of burning dolls. I will admit, I was a bit confused while watching it, and didn't really focus on what she was singing.  After watching the video again on YouTube, I figured out what the music video represented, and actually listened to the music. To say the least, I was impressed to see this quality of work from a newcomer on the music scene. It was easy to tell that Kimbra will not just be remembered as "that girl from 'Somebody That I Used To Know.'"

Vows opens with the song mentioned above, "Settle Down." The song begins with a repeated a capella phrase: "Boom, ba-boom-bah." This leads into a verse that contains Kimbra's lead vocals, along with a backing track of claps and the phrase "boom, ba-boom-bah." However, the song picks up, adding more claps and instruments.  The chorus then explodes with emotion and excitement.  The remainder of the song carries the excitement level of the chorus. "Settle Down" is definitely one of the best songs on the album.

The second single from the album, "Cameo Lover," better fits the category of a traditional pop/indie song.  The majority of the song holds a high-energy feeling, with the exception of one repetition of the chorus.  The meaning of the song is a very strong one: Kimbra's boyfriend will only show love and compassion when they're alone, but in public around other people, he doesn't show any signs of compassion or seem in love with her.

The third single to be lifted from Vows was "Good Intent."  Although it only peaked at #98 on the Australian music charts, it failed for the wrong reason.  The song is great, and deserved to peak much higher than #98, however the song sounds too much like jazz for pop music charts. "Good Intent" is probably one of the best songs, if not the best song, recorded for Vows. Furthermore, the music video for the song is the best from Kimbra, and the music video also helps explain the meaning of the song.

In the video, Kimbra is preparing to performing in a formal dinner party, while her boyfriend is in the alley behind the theater.  In the alley, he can be seen wearing a gray suit. You can also see his conscience take physical forms: one dressed in a white suit, telling him to go on into the theater to watch Kimbra perform. The other, dressed in a black suit, is telling him to walk further down the alley to hire a prostitute for the night. One thing leads to another, and the man is walking down the alley to find his prostitute.

After doing what you usually do with a prostitute, he buys Kimbra a fancy necklace to apologize for cheating on her. This is the point where we see Kimbra's conscience also take two physical forms: one dressed in a red dress, that refuses to take the necklace or forgive the man; the other is dressed in white, who accepts the  necklace and forgives her boyfriend.  The real Kimbra, dressed in black, goes on to perform before making her decision

The song ends with a 35 second-long instrumental outro, and in the music video, Kimbra and her boyfriend can be seen dancing with other couples.  She is not seen wearing the necklace, which leaves us to assume that she didn't accept her boyfriend's apology.

Kimbra's live cover of "Plain Gold Ring" recorded for the album shows her amazing vocal range and just how strong her voice is.  She constantly has to jump from note to note very quickly in this song, and does so quite well for singing it live.  Although I don't like the song itself, it does show how strong of a singer Kimbra actually is.

"Come Into My Head" is another song that well-displays Kimbra's vocal range.  Her highest and squeakiest notes, as well as her lowest and deepest notes can be heard in this song.

The track "Posse" is not only very catchy, but also contains a great message of self-respect.  In "Posse," Kimbra tells her boyfriend that she's not going to change for him, and if she can't fit into his clique, or 'posse,' because of that, then she will go.  "Posse" has a very electronic sound, and ditched that happy-go-lucky indie sound that most of Vows contained.

"Warrior" is a bonus track on the United States edition of Vows, which sounds completely different from anything on the rest of the album.  The song features Mark Foster of the band Foster the People, and DJ A-Trak.  "Warrior" is another one of my favorites from the album.  The song has a very strong electropop vibe, and sounds very much like La Roux, an English electropop duo that hit big with their song "Bulletproof" in 2009.  The chorus of "Warrior" is extremely catchy, and I have already caught myself singing it in the shower.

Overall, for a debut artist, Kimbra is quite impressive. Although it is true that the best songs on the album were the singles, Vows is still well-worth a listen.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Born to Die | Lana Del Rey

A quick first listen to Lana Del Rey's voice may shock you; it takes a little getting used to before you begin to like it, like Mark Foster's voice of Foster the People.  However, once you get comfortable with her voice, it sets in just how amazing it can be (in the studio...)

The cover of Born to Die also drew me into buying it: it's a simple yet creative cover, such as the cover of Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster. Del Rey's stern stare and strong stature are actually sort of intimidating, but intrigued me.

Moving into the actual album, it begins with the title track, which was one of the songs that convinced me to buy the full album.  "Born To Die" is one of the few songs on the album that is sang mainly in Del Rey's lower register.  This is one of my favorites. The second single to be pulled from the record, "Video Games," is also another one of my favorites.  This song is also sang in a lower register, and contains lyrics describing a one-sided relationship in which the singer is head over heels for her boyfriend, but he could care less for her.

After hearing the first two singles from the album, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.  However, once I bought a copy of Born to Die at Best Buy, and popped it into my car stereo to listen to, I was in complete shock.  None of the other ten songs sounded like "Born to Die" or "Video Games." In fact, Lana Del Rey sounded much different in terms of vocal range in the rest of the record. "Off to the Races" and "Diet Mountain Dew" are where Del Rey begins to experiment with the upper ranges of her vocal range.  "Diet Mountain Dew," however, is a much better example of her vocal capabilities over "Off to the Races." In the song, Del Rey's boyfriend is compared to Diet Mountain Dew, because although Diet Mountain Dew seems healthier than its regular sugary counterpart, it really isn't.  Her boyfriend takes that same effect on her as Diet Mountain Dew.

Both "National Anthem" and "Radio" are great examples of what to expect from a typical song from Born to Die:  They both have great choruses, but unimpressive verses.

My other favorites from the album included "Dark Paradise" and "Summertime Sadness."  "Dark Paradise" was impressive; the lyrics were deep and the vocals were amazing.  The song speaks of a boyfriend that has passed away (it is suggested that he committed suicide,) now the singer is wishing that she could pass away as well, but is afraid that her boyfriend won't be "waiting on the other side." Although I liked "Summertime Sadness" better than most of the songs on the album, I will admit that it sounds very similar to "Born to Die."

In all, this album is composed mainly of songs containing weak but catchy verses and powerful choruses, with exceptions being "Dark Paradise," "Video Games," "Born to Die," and "Summertime Sadness."  I was going to give the album a rating of three stars, but I crossed the border of giving it four simply for the breathtaking choruses. Do not let Lana Del Rey's terrible Saturday Night Live performance curve your interest in the album: Del Rey is much better in the studio than she is live (Taylor Swift alert?)  Check out the album now; it's worth the money.