Monday, August 26, 2013

Wrecking Ball | Miley Cyrus

*A promotional image for Cyrus' upcoming album is being used due to the lack of an official single cover.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Late Saturday night, Miley Cyrus released the pre-orders page on iTunes for her new album Bangerz and, as a special surprised, also released a promotional single from the album titled "Wrecking Ball."

I've been expecting some faster-paced songs from Cyrus, but once again I was surprised once again. Her last single was a bit slower, but "Wrecking Ball" is down to ballad-status.

Although it's not what I was expecting, this is one of my favorite songs from Cyrus, beating out others like "Party in the U.S.A." and "We Can't Stop." The production and lyrics are both relatively nice and Cyrus' voice is at its best in the song. Surprisingly, her tone and attitude in this song almost seems like a step away from her new edgy personality.

I can see this song being a moderate commercial success, but I don't think it'll see the widespread popularity that "We Can't Stop" experienced. Then again, I could be wrong; it could ride off of the title wave that "We Can't Stop" made and quickly ride up the charts.

Of course, I was even surprised by the commercial success of Cyrus' last single. "We Can't Stop" thrived on shock value; if it was for the crazy video, drug references, and controversy, the song wouldn't have had such a high peak on the charts. I liked the song, but I didn't expect that everyone else would, too.

Regardless of the mess that was Cyrus' MTV Video Music Awards performance, I'm holding out interest in Bangerz. The music, thus far, is much better than it was before and that's all I truly care about at the moment. If the majority of the work on the album is as good as "Wrecking Ball," this should be a pretty good era for Cyrus.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Royals | Lorde

Rating: ★★★★★

Lorde, a relatively new singer-songwriter from New Zealand, has been extremely popular online for a while. After releasing an extended play, The Love Club EP, the Internet grabbed onto her immediately. Now she is catching the attention of the United States music charts with "Royals."

I've been aware of Lorde for a while now, but I just haven't gotten around to listening to "Royals" until now. In fact, I heard it on Sirius XM while driving home from work and listened out of curiosity. 

The lyrics in the song can seem really random at points, but they're really pretty. Some lines, like "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh / I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies," seem really illogical, while others make sense to a certain extent, such as "And we'll never be royals / It don't run in our blood / That kind of lux just ain't for us / We crave a different kind of buzz."

What surprises me the most is that Lorde seems very mature and wise, but she's actually younger than I am! I'm seventeen, while she is still sixteen. While listening to the song, the lyrics and the mature sound of her voice made me think that she was at least in her mid-twenties, so it was quite a shock when I read on Wikipedia that she was only sixteen.

I've heard only a few songs from Lorde, including "Royals" and "Tennis Court," but I like what I've heard thus far. Her debut album, Pure Heroine, is going to be released at the end of next month, and perhaps if I hear more material that I like, I might just have to pick it up.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Halcyon Days | Ellie Goulding


This review only covers the ten new tracks. If you would like to read my review of the original album, click here.

It's only been a little under a year since Ellie Goulding released her sophomore album Halcyon, and now she is already churning out a new piece of work to accompany it, called Halcyon Days.

Before we get into the actual music, let's talk about the covers. Goulding and her management opted to use the original covers from Halcyon, and simply added a coloring effect on both to make them stand out. Pink and blue were used for the standard, and green and blue for the deluxe.

To be honest, I like the covers with the colors added to them a lot more than I did the original black and white shots. I was a bit dissappointed that we didn't get any new pictures as the cover (because this shot would have made an awesome cover), but I'm glad that the ones that we have look nice.

Here in the United States, Halcyon Days can be purchased in a standard and a deluxe packaging alongside the original album, much like the release of Ke$ha's Animal + Cannibal and Lana Del Rey's Born To Die: The Paradise Edition. This marketing strategy seems to be really popular nowadays in an attempt to expand existing work. Some people don't like it, but I think it's a nice way for artists to get new material out there without massive new marketing campaigns.

The track listing of the original Halcyon has been left untouched, and I've got a problem with it: "Lights" is still on it. While I do agree that "Lights" was, and still is, an outstanding track and deserved every bit of success it had, it's time to stop trying to market it. It sounds great with the rest of the tracks on Lights and Bright Lights, but it just ruins the flow of this album.

Now, onto the new material. I reviewed the lead single for the release when it was put on Goulding's SoundCloud account back in July, giving it high marks. "Burn" doesn't stray too far away from the sound of Halcyon, but it has more of a commercialized sound. The song begs for commercial success, but doesn't let down in terms of quality either, which is hard to find nowadays. (She must have done something right with this song; it reached the top spot on the United Kingdom Singles Chart. It was her first song to do so.)

The second track, "Goodness Gracious," turned out much different than I expected. It was originally marketed as a collaboration with the always-irritating Nate Ruess, the fun. frontman. However, Ruess was only involved with the writing process of the song. (He, Goulding, Greg Kurstin are credited with penning the song.) Thankfully, Ruess' irritating voice was found nowhere in the actual song, letting me fully enjoy the happy-sounding song.

"You, My Everything" has the most in common with the original Halcyon tracks. It would have blended right in with the track listing of the original album, which makes me wonder if it was actually meant for Halcyon but then got pushed back to this re-release. (Don't take this comment as a bad thing; "You, My Everything" is one of my favorite tracks from release. It's just that its similarities to the sound of Halcyon are uncanny.)

The album's fast electronic style slows down with "Hearts Without Chains," which is a stripped track with Goulding, a piano, a few electronic noises here and there. The song was included as a B-side to the single release of "Burn," leading to its leak a few weeks before the album's release. (Well, to be honest, almost all of the songs were leaked intentionally by Goulding before the release of Halcyon Days...)

It's a very personal and heartfelt song comparable to Halcyon's "Explosions." The chorus contains some of my many favorite lines from Goulding: "I wish time was still / We'd stay right here / With time to kill / With our hearts without chains. / If time was still / We'd have no fear or scars to heal / And our hearts without chains." I wasn't really expecting any stripped songs like this on the album, but I do like it. In fact, it's one of my favorites from Goulding.

The album kicks back up with "Stay Alive," which was released on an exclusive version of Halcyon last year, but it never saw a large-scale release. The song features the production of Madeon, who has most recent been announced as a producer on Lady Gaga's upcoming album, ARTPOP. 

I love the sound of the instrumental, but the production is way too heavy for Goulding's voice. In "Stay Awake," it seems like her voice is fighting against the loud drums and it is evident that the instrumental just isn't compatible with her voice. Goulding's light voice is usually quite confident and complimented well by her songs, but the overproduction of this song makes her voice sound far too weak.

Goulding keeps the electronic vibes coming with "Under Control," in which she reverts back to more of a sound found in "Figure 8." The slow dubstep influences and the shouts of "I feel like I'm breathing again / I feel like I'm seeing again" make a perfect recipe for sending chills up the listener's arms. Its production and amazing vocals easily make it one of my favorites from the album.

The second of the three collaborations on Halcyon Days is the DJ Fresh-produced track, "Flashlight." If I had to compare it to other tracks, I could easily say that it's a happy medium between "Stay Awake" and "Under Control." It's somewhat different than Goulding's other electronic tracks, but not so much that it sounds unfitting for her, which makes me like it more than Madeon's track on the album.

At only two and a half minutes long, "How Long Will I Love You" makes a quick ending for the standard version of the album. It is similar to "Hearts Without Chains," being that it is another slow-tempo track, but it just doesn't seem to have the spark that "Hearts Without Chains." Nothing about the song stands out and it's just not a memorable track. This is probably the only track of Halcyon Days that I will skip when listening to it all the way through.

Included on the deluxe album is Goulding's cover of alt-J's "Tessallate." It has been available for a long while on Goulding's SoundCloud and YouTube accounts. It's a relaxing song, probably more so than the original, and I love the personal touches she put on the song, including the harmonies in the chorus and the beautiful saxophone solo in the middle of the song. Like she does with all of the covers she's made, she easily gave the song a whole new feel and really made it her own.

The other bonus track on the deluxe version of Halcyon Days was also leaked by Goulding early. It is another cover, this time of Midnight Star's "Midas Touch." Goulding collaborated with Burns to give this old funk track a twenty-first century electronic face-lift. This song is pretty good, but I'm glad it's a bonus track because it doesn't add a lot to the album. This being said, it does have a cool sound and I love the edited vocal lines in the chorus that makes Goulding sound robotic while singing.

Halcyon Days covers every side of Ellie Goulding: the radio-friendly "Burn," the personal "Hearts Without Chains," and the good old electronic explosion of "You, My Everything" and "Under Control." It's a very versatile album that works as a great extension to Halcyon. Some people were rubbed the wrong way by the commercial sound of "Burn," but even those fans should be able to find something that they love on this album. I sure know I loved every bit of it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Applause | Lady Gaga

Rating: ★★★★★

Over the course of twelve hours, Lady Gaga's plan to release her new single "Applause" on August 19, 2013 fell through. Hackers posted a large amount of low quality snippets of the song online, giving her no option but to rush release the song today, August 12.

"Applause" can easily be considered one of her best songs to date. Her vocals, for the most part, actually sound different. She uses a different tone when singing live when compared to singing in the studio, but this song carries her live tone, which I love.

The instrumental is quite nostalgic-feeling, giving me reminders of glitchy video game and computer noises from the 1990s. It's something different from what everybody else is doing, which I most definitely expected from Lady Gaga. Everything I wanted out of this song is here.

The chorus of the song is my absolute favorite. It's this great explosion of Super Nintendo noises and Lady Gaga screaming "Give me that thing that I love / I'll turn the lights down / Put your hands up, make 'em touch." The chorus is the real reason that the song is going to catch fire across every nightclub in the world.

The one and only problem I found with the song is vocalization of "I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong / To crash the critic saying, 'Is it right or is it wrong?'" I get that she wanted to put emphasis on it, but it sounds kind of sloppy. I guess after waiting two years for this, I can handle two lines of funky vocals and fall in love with the rest of the song.

Like I said before, Lady Gaga put everything into this song that I was expecting, and it's making me even more excited for the upcoming release of ARTPOP. I'm really expecting ARTPOP to be the best album in existence if the rest of it is going to sound this great. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Roar | Katy Perry

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Although it has been over a year since the release of Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection, it feels like she has never left the scene. Most of her songs are still regularly played on radio stations and she hasn't had an extended period of downtime.

Well, now she's back with the lead single from her upcoming album, Prism. "Roar" is slated for release on August 12, 2013, but was leaked online via Tumblr today. 

At most, the song is mediocre. It's a cheap crack at a self-empowerment anthem ("I am the champion / And you're going to hear me roar") that has more than one similarity to Sara Bareilles' "Brave." 

The instrumental to "Roar" sounds exactly like that of "Brave," and the lyrics of both songs are about overcoming personal hardships. "Roar" is almost a carbon copy of Bareilles' song, which premiered early this year and met average commercial success. It's sad because "Brave" was actually an alright song, but now comparisons will be flying faster than they were between Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and Madonna's "Express Yourself." 

I was expecting more from Perry. I know it's ridiculous, but I did enjoy most of the singles from Teenage Dream, and I'm really disappointed with "Roar." It's cheap, it's tacky, and the fact that it sounds exactly like another song almost lost it another star in my review. Giving it two stars is probably really lenient, but I'm just in a giving kind of mood today. Be grateful for that, Perry.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Electra Heart | Marina and the Diamonds

*This song hasn't recieved any official release, nor an official cover, so I have used a fan-made cover from Coverlandia for this review.

Rating: ★★★★★

Exactly two years after it began, Marina Diamandis ended the Electra Heart era with one last video featuring a demo with the same name as the album.

Throughout the era, Diamandis released a total of eleven videos in a series, each featuring a separate recorded or released during the Electra Heart era. Most of the songs were already featured on the album, while a few, like "E.V.O.L." and "Electra Heart," were never released on the album.

In the videos, Diamandis used an alter ego by the name of Electra, and in the very last video, Diamandis effectively cut ties with character once and for all. The signification of the death of Electra? Smearing off the fake, heart-shaped mole that was painted on Electra's face during the entire era. 

The video was a great ending to the era, but song was even better. I love both The Family Jewels and Electra Heart, but this track makes the rest of Diamandis' discography look like child's play. 

"Electra Heart" is heavy in electronic dance influences with a riveting breakdown after the chorus. The lyrics of the song work amazingly for the end of an era, too. She sings, "Lights, they blind me / Could we go back, go back to the start?" and "At the alter, would you pay the price?" and in essence, asks fans if the era was worth their time.

Why "Electra Heart" wasn't included on the album that bares the same name, I don't know. The song is a great ending to the era, but it also would have been amazing to end the album track listing. This is, hands down, my favorite Marina and the Diamonds song, and I really hope that her next album grabs a hold of the sound of "Electra Heart."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An Awesome Wave | alt-J

Rating: ★★★★☆

I'm about a year late on listening to An Awesome Wave, the newest release from the indie rock band alt-J, but now that I've heard it, I thought I was time to give it a proper review here.

I came across the name alt-J when reading about the track listing to Ellie Goulding's upcoming release, Halcyon Days. The deluxe edition of the album will come with Goulding's cover of "Tessellate," one of the single from An Awesome Wave. 

After hearing Goulding's cover, I wanted to compare it to the original. At first I wasn't the biggest fan of alt-J's version, but now "Tessellate" is one of my favorites from this album.

"Tessellate" covers a love triangle, but also references the band's trademark delta symbol (∆) with lyrics "Triangles are my favorite shape / Three points where two lines meet." It can be assumed that one of the members of this said triangle is shot and kill by another, but all three of them originally had the intention of killing each other ("Three guns and one goes off / One's empty, one's not quick enough / One burn, one red, one grin / Search the graves while the camera spins"). They're twisted lyrics, yes, but they're great lyrics.

I'm not particularly sure what's going on the video for "Tessellate," but the cinematography is outstanding. The video is composed of different shots of a large group of people: there are some girls lazily trying to dance, an angry man smoking a cigarette, men gambling with a pair of dice, and a really angry dog. It's sounds really dumb in text, but it's memorizing when actually watching the video.

Another one of the highlights from this album is "Breezeblocks," which has reached the most success out of all of the singles from An Awesome Wave. Like "Tessellate," one of the best aspects of "Breezeblocks" is its video, which is a scripted murder scene played in reverse. In the video, a man's mistress ties up his wife and throws her in the closet. When the man arrives home, he finds his wife in his house... as well as the mistress, who sneaks up behind him to kill him with a steak knife. After a nearly three-minute long struggle, the man ends the fight by killing the mistress in the bathtub with a cinder block. That's some pretty demented shit, but it sure is creative.

The lead singer of alt-J, Joe Newman, has an odd yet unique voice that takes some getting used to. It can sound really pinched and strained at times, and Newman often times slurs many of his words together and it is hard to even understand him. Once I took a few of listens to some of alt-J's songs, his voice magically turned from moderately-irritating to pretty average. 

Newman reminds me of Mark Foster of Foster The People in a sense. When "Pumped Up Kicks" debuted, I couldn't stand it but after I got used to Foster's unusual tone, I took a strong liking to the song and now Torches proudly sits in my music collection. Both Newman and Foster aren't exemplary vocalists, but they're definitely not sub-par.

Any fans of alternative rock will be sure to like An Awesome Wave, that is, if they can get over the initial shock of Newman's voice. Both their lyrics and videos are demented and twisted, and their overall sound is extremely infectious. All of those elements together made for a great band, as well as a great album. If you haven't heard of the band before, I highly suggest you check them out now.