Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brain | Banks


Many music journalists have noted Banks as an exciting upcoming sound of 2014 and she has started her year off strong already by releasing "Brain," a new digital single.

In my review of her London EP, I noted that I wanted Banks to travel towards the sound of "Waiting Game" and "This Is What It Feels Like" in future releases. Luckily, that's exactly what she did with "Brain." The dreary, underground sound that I loved is back with this song.

Banks' voice in the song is smooth and seductive until the 2:07 mark, when she starts to scream the lyrics to emphasize her point: "But it’s all the same / Like I had foreseen / That you would act like you are / Oh so cool you seem / Blending with that scene / Wearing what you think is hard." From what I've gathered, the song is pleading someone to use their brain to think rather than conforming to somebody else's views, which becomes quite evident with the lyrics "Trying to look smart / But not too smart to threaten anything they say."

Strangely enough, this track is almost five minutes long, but only have two stanzas of lyrics, each of them being repeated once. Until I saw the lyrics spelled out on a web page, I didn't even realize it because the song is simply so captivating. If the lyrics were bad, maybe I'd have a problem, but luckily the lyrics are well-written. Plus, the dynamic level changes so much between the first and second halves of the song that they feel like completely different lyrics anyway.

Simply put, "Brain" has just upped my excitement level for Banks' impending debut album even more and I think we can all expect a lot from this girl. A lot of dark, smoky sounds like the ones found throughout the London EP and "Brain" would really be appreciated and I have no doubt that Banks will deliver when the time comes.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Once Upon A Dream | Lana Del Rey


Amid the Grammy Awards Ceremony tonight, Lana Del Rey premiered her rendition of "Once Upon A Dream" for the upcoming movie Disney movie Maleficent in a commercial for the film. Just as expected, the rendition was beautiful and fits Lana Del Rey's sadcore sound perfectly.

The song is a dreary but dreamy rendition to the original Disney classic Sleeping Beauty. I love that the song met in a middle ground between the carefree, happy sound of Disney, but also drew back towards Del Rey's darker sound. It's a weird combination, but it works so well.

Del Rey's voice was also edited to sound as if she was singing through an aged microphone, making the song sound authentic to the original 1959 film. The same sort of technique was used in Del Rey's cover of "Blue Velvet" to give the song a bit of texture, with outstanding results, of course. Del Rey was using a quieter tone, so the song managed to sound like a dark lullaby; I loved it.

News sources, including Daily Mail, have reported that Lana Del Rey was actually "hand-picked" by Angelina Jolie, who stars as the main character in Maleficent, to sing "Once Upon A Dream." It's obvious that she made the right choice, as the song fits Del Rey's voice perfectly and really did her best to make the song her own. Make sure to check it out; I'm sure others will be as impressed as I was.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bad Blood | Bastille


British band Bastille chose a good year to debut; 2013 was a great year for indie pop and rock artists, especially with the trend sparked by Lorde and Lana Del Rey, and this band just added to the greatness with their album Bad Blood.

Bastille was able to breakthrough into international markets with "Pompeii," which captivates everyone with it's tribal-like sound and strings of "eh-eh-oh-eh-oh" underneath the main vocals. It holds the indie-pop sound that has recently accelerated Lorde and The Neighbourhood in stardom, so it was only natural that Bastille came right along with them. Obviously Lorde has had the most success of the three, but the two all-male groups have also gotten some love from music listeners too.

The title track from the album is another highlight from the album. Personally, I quickly fell in love with the layered vocals of the pre-chorus while lead singer Dan Smith sings "These are the days that bind you together, forever / And these little things define you forever, forever." The great sound carries over into the chorus, as the instrumental track fills and the lyrics draw to "All this bad blood here, won't you let it dry? / It's been cold for years, won't you let it lie?"

Following "Bad Blood" comes the slightly-slower "Overjoyed," which finds Smith soaring into the stratosphere of his falsetto while singing "And I hear you calling in the dead of night / Oh, I hear you calling in the dead of the night." The song is a bit haunting and I feel like it's almost like it was inspired by the tracks of Coldplay's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The song seems like a B-side from the album, actually.

"The Weight of Living, Pt. II" kicks life back into the album, bringing a up-beat and happy sound. However, this sound somehow masks a darker theme of losing control under all of the pressures of life, as shown by the lyrics "You've lost control / Do you like the person you've become? / Under the weight of living" and "It all crept up on you, in the night it got you / And plagued your mind, it plagues your mind." This same technique of throwing a sad meaning into a happy song was used in "Pompeii" as well.

In between all of these songs that rely primarily on drums, electronic noises, and an overall sound that I can only seem to describe as "tribal," the primarily-piano ballad "Oblivion" seems to be haphazordly shoved in the middle of the album's track listing. I must say, though, that the harmonies that appear starting at the 1:40 mark of the song are beautiful, creating a choir-like sound, but the song as a whole just doesn't seem to mesh with the rest of the songs on Bad Blood.

"Oblivion" picks up some help from some strings, which comes back later with "Laura Palmer." In the chorus of this song, the strings are incorporated and strung between the beats of drums and Smith singing "This is your heart / Can you feel it? Can you feel it? / Pumps through your veins / Can you feel it? Can you feel it?" The song seems to carry a bit heavier of a sound than "Pompeii," which proceeded it in the singles line-up from Bad Blood.

For a debut album, Bastille did well. They've found a sound that works and seems to be universally liked by alternative and indie fans alike. With a few more albums under their belt, they could solidify their spot as Coldplay 2.0. Obviously Coldplay will forever be the only Coldplay, but Bastille has got the same appeal as them. "Pompeii" introduced them to the world, and another smash-single could give them all the boost they need to gain a solid fan base. I was thoroughly impressed with Bad Blood, and I'm sure many others were as well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Talk That Talk | Rihanna



Apparently Rihanna wasn't kidding when she said "that Rihanna reign just won't let up," because she kept pumping out albums a few years ago and tried to stay at the top of the pop music game. Although her singles kept lighting up on the Billboard Hot 100, her albums keep feeling a bit lukewarm.

I had boycotted the annual Rihanna album releases beginning with Loud because at that point it looked like she was starting to get desperate. I mean, sure, I liked a few of the singles being spawned from the album, but I definitely did not want to throw $13.99 at Rihanna for doing almost nothing. However, for $5.00 on sale during Black Friday? I'll take it (and Unapologetic, as well).

My main motivation behind taking the final jump and finally purchasing Talk That Talk came from one of the album's most popular singles, "Where Have You Been." The fact of the matter is that it is amazing. The production of the song was handled by Dr. Luke, Cirkut, and Calvin Harris, and the battle between the sounds of Dr. Luke and Harris make the song perfect. Plus, in the song, Rihanna's voice is the strongest I've ever heard it. The loud "Are you hiding from me, yeah? / Somewhere in the crowd" and "Where have you been?" belts cut through listeners like a sharp knife and draws them to pay close attention.

Sadly, "Where Have You Been" was slightly overshadowed by the album's lead single, "We Found Love." It reached successful heights around the globe, but I'm still not sure how it happened. Frankly, the song is a repetitive piece of trash. Calvin Harris has made some great tracks (please see: "Sweet Nothing," "I Need Your Love," the previously-mentioned "Where Have You Been,") but this one just doesn't cut it. And lyrically, the song is almost a dirge: "We found love in a hopeless place / We found love in a hopeless place / We found love in a hopeless place / We found love in a hopeless place / We found love in a hopeless place." Like, seriously girl, we get it.

"You da One" aims for the rhythmic and urban radio jugular, with a handful of reggae sounds, which all break into a quick electronic bridge before snapping back into the chorus towards the end of the song. Lyrically, it's definitely no where near a masterpiece (Well, none of the songs on this album are, but this one's pretty bad... I mean, the non-existent word "da" is in the title, so that should set off some alarms), but overall it sounds really relaxed and is definitely likable. 

I can't let this review slide away with mentioning "Cockiness (Love It)" either... Upon my first listen, I was completely stunned to hear "Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion" open the song. My first thought? Oh my gosh that's disgusting! My second thought? Holy crap, that's really clever! The song's got a great beat to it, but most of the lyrics are still pretty raunchy: "I love, I love it, I love it when you eat it" and "I want you to be my sex slave / Anything that I desire." I must say, though, that those opening lines get me laughing every time...

The rest of the album, sadly yet unexpectedly, falls flat. Once "Birthday Cake" ends, I feel like the rest of the album just kind of blends together. "We All Want Love" "Roc Me Out" and "Watch N' Learn" just... don't have the spark it takes. "Farewell" is a prettier ballad, but it's shoved behind all of the boring tracks as the light at the end of the tunnel. Even with "Farewell" to save it, the latter half of the album is just boring when compared to the alright tracks on the first part.

Talk That Talk had a handful of catchy songs on it and could have been a solid piece of work if some of the rotten tomatoes were picked out of the bunch. In fact, if Unapologetic and Talk That Talk were solidified into one album full of hits, it would be a great Rihanna album. However, Rihanna's been going for quantity over quality so this is what we've ended up with. I'm going to continue to ignore parts of the album, but I can assure you that "Where Have You Been" and "Talk That Talk" will be on replay for a while.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Days Are Gone | Haim


Indie rock has recently taken a new physical form. Haim recently reached a moderate amount of success with their debut album Days Are Gone, and with all of the buzz around the band, I couldn't resist picking it up when I saw a copy of it resting on the shelf at my local Books a Million store. 

Days Are Gone opens with three of the album's four promoted singles: "Falling," "Forever," and "The Wire." The last of the three songs is arguably the most successful single from album the album thus far, and is my favorite as well. It's very upbeat and would fit in perfectly with most adult contemporary radio stations. The song keeps a steady beat with a guitar and drums until it breaks down into a nearly a cappella section at the 2:30 mark. 

This cutesy, light indie rock sound continues on into "If I Could Change Your Mind" and "Honey & I." Both are pretty good songs (although I like "If I Could Change Your Mind" a bit better than "Honey & I"), but they share about the same sound as "The Wire" and the peppy title track "Days Are Gone." Sure, they're okay songs on their own, but when listened to back-to-back, I find myself wanted a bigger variety of sounds. There's really no unique features to each of the songs. Again, I'd like to emphasize that they're good songs separately, but can't really be listened to all in a row without seeming to blend together into a massive blob of a song.

"My Song 5" brings a darker sound into the album when compared to the lighter, happier productions of "The Wire" and "Honey & I." The song is all about finding out about a significant other cheating in a relationship and the bitter feelings associated with that. "He's in her heart, on the floor thinking than I'll never know / I'll be up going through crazy shit I did for you / In my mind, in my head seeing all the words unsaid / Honey, honey, I am never coming home again," sings Danielle Haim over dark, heavy guitar riffs and beating drums. Because of its sound, it really stands out from a lot of the other songs from the album.

A lot of the songs on this album tend to blend together into this general, light rock sound that is perfect for a grocery-store soundtrack. Many of the songs are pretty ear-catching by themselves, but listening to the whole album at once makes the songs seem less fresh and more like a dirge. However, for a debut album, Days Are Gone is extremely promising and contains some great songs like "The Wire," "My Song 5," and "Let Me Go." A little evolution will go a long was for Haim and I'll still gladly pick up their sophomore attempt when the time comes.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Can't Remember to Forget You | Shakira feat. Rihanna

Rating: ★★★★☆

Oh boy, everybody. We've got a match that could only be made in Heaven: Shakira and Rihanna have teamed up for the lead single off of Shak's upcoming album. I was skeptical on how it would sound at first, but the duo pulled it off and made quite an astounding piece of work.

The song begins with a blossom of island and tropical beats, while Shakira uses her voice to bounce from word to word in the verse. Things take a surprising turn of events as the chorus takes on a heavier breakdown of guitar riffs and drums. However, we're easily reminded that this is still a pop song, because the chorus also brings in the classic "oh, oh, oh, oh, oh" vowel found in every pop song in existence.

Unexpectedly, Rihanna's Barbadian accent and Shakira's unique tone (I don't want to call it a Columbian accent, because I'm pretty positive there's nobody that really sounds like Shakira) blend really well in the song. The lyrics aren't bad, either; they mainly pertain to a lover that can't be let go for some unknown reason. Shakira has had a few mess-ups in her discography lyrically (let us not forget the iconic line "Lucky that my breasts are small and humble / So you don't confuse them with mountains"), but the lyrics in this song are on-par with a lot of average pop songs.

Shakira hasn't disappointed me in a long while, and she definitely didn't with "Can't Remember to Forget You," either. Hopefully this song reaches some great success, but with the tropical styles in the lyrics, I'm not sure if it'll happen. Whether it is a commercial success or not, the song is great and the decision to add Rihanna only benefits the song. 

Shakira's new album featuring "Can't Remember to Forget You" is currently scheduled to be released on March 25, 2014.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Matangi | M.I.A.

Rating: ★★★★☆

M.I.A. has been in the business for a while, but not much of her work has ever interested me. This being said, last year when she dropped "Bad Girls" and I later heard parts from Matangi, she started to grasp my attention. After listening to a lot of the cuts from the album on YouTube and liking most of them, I went out on a whim and ordered a copy of Matangi while it was on sale. It was a snap-decision to get it while I could, but I'm really glad that I did. 

The entire album runs off electronic and trap beats (usually combined into the term trip-hop, if I'm not mistaken) with spoken raps over them, which tends to be the only rap I listen to. "Bad Girls," which was lifted as the album's first single, brings some Middle Eastern influences into this mix on Matangi and was a moderate success online. Produced by Danja, who worked on songs with Britney Spears and P!nk previously, the song sparks a mix of Bollywood and electronic music, much like Selena Gomez's "Come & Get It" did. The lyrics are okay, with the chorus using the cliché "Live fast, die young" before exclaiming "Bad girls do it well / My chain hits my chest when I'm banging on the dashboard / My chain hits my chest when I'm banging on the radio."

The title track "MATANGI," (which is stylized in all caps although the title of the album isn't, for some reason) also holds these Indian vibes, while M.I.A. also adds in some flairs of her culture again lyrically. I'm assuming she's speaking in another language as she says "Immina immina thana thana / Ingana ingana gina gina" (I've read that they are words originating from the language Tamil, but I'm not one-hundred percent sure), and then she ends the hook with "Matangi," which is the name of a Hindu goddess. 

"Y.A.L.A." takes the phrase "Y.O.L.O." and throws it out the window, as M.I.A. shows off Hindu roots saying "Y.O.L.O.? I don’t even know anymore, what that even mean though / If you only live once why we keep doing the same shit / Back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again / That’s why they invented karma." Some of the lyrics throughout the song are almost laughable ("Yeah we come come come / Yeah we come with some some / Get a glass of rum") while others refer to strippers on a pole ("Go low, go slow / Roll like a polo / Up and down a pole / Like you’re glowing up a yo-yo"). Once she proclaims "Alarms go off when I enter the building," a banging trap beat kicks in and give the song a whole new life.

Another great breakdown comes in with "Only 1 U," where M.I.A. says "There's only one you, you, you" before repeating "ding" like a ringing bell at a wrestling match. The final ding jump-starts a trip-hop beat that has a few elements that are similar to the instrumental track on Lil Wayne's "6 Foot 7 Foot." (Don't ask how I know that.) You'll find some great beats in "Bring the Noize" as well, which heavily relies on some strong drums and... well, just a lot of loud, noisy sounds in general. (I guess that's where the title came from, eh?)

Fans of electronic or trap music are going to love this album. It's reminiscent of the type of music that Azealia Banks has been putting out, but Banks seems to hold strong with clean club beats while M.I.A. leans towards noisier sounds. What I especially loved about Matangi is the emphasis on the production. Sometimes, I would forget that it is supposed to be a rap album because I was too distracted with the great beats. Matangi was a great listen, and although it wasn't a commercial success, I hope that doesn't deter M.I.A. from making another album like this.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Let It Go For Tonight | Foxes

Rating: ★★★★☆

The moment I have been waiting for is finally here: we have some new music from Foxes. Here in the United States, we fell in love with her voice in Zedd's "Clarity," and although not much else has been released and promoted from her solo career in the United States, the Internet has let me follow her from across the pond. When it was released on Sunday, I quickly picked up on "Let Go for Tonight" and I'm not letting it go for a while. (Sorry for the pun.)

With "Let Go for Tonight," Foxes targets contemporary pop audiences with a strong power-ballad style. The lyrics are really uplifting and center around letting go of worries and living for the moment. Foxes requests her listeners to "Turn off the lights" and "Let go for tonight baby / Let love in your life and be shown" during the chorus, which has to be my favorite part of the song. It's so explosive and crescendos the drums, strings, guitars, and piano to create a really amazing tune.

The music video fits the song perfectly, as the scene changes from a dull white room to an explosion of color and happiness. Hopefully listeners will get this same happy feeling while listening to the song and manage to throw it onto the charts, because I would love to hear Foxes' voice broadcast on radio stations again. With Ellie Goulding's "Goodness Gracious" and now Foxes' "Let Go for Tonight," the British are already off to a great start to the year musically; hopefully we Americans can catch up soon enough.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Goodness Gracious | Ellie Goulding

Rating: ★★★★☆

A new year has marked a new single for Ellie Goulding! Last year, Halcyon Days spawned one successful single in the United States ("Burn," which is still sitting in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100), and two massive singles across the United Kingdom ("Burn," as well as "How Long Will I Love You," which was chosen as the official song of the BBC Children in Need efforts). Now, she is continuing her Halcyon Days campaign with "Goodness Gracious."

I reviewed Halcyon Days when it was first released in August, but I never touched on "Goodness Gracious" on an in-depth scale. Now that I have been listening to it for months now, I can do it even more justice while going over it.

The song carries a really up-beat vibe, similar to the one found in "Burn," but sounds more experimental than the lead single from Halcyon Days. It's definitely not the edgiest cut from the album, but it's a great introduction to the heavier electronic productions of most of Goulding's recent material. Overall, the song's production just makes me happy, though. I love to listen to "Goodness Gracious" on the way to school in the morning when I'm really tired, because it always perks me up and just puts me in an optimistic mood.

Vocally, the song is on par with the rest of Goulding's work; they're great. I especially love the harmonies in the pre-chorus while Goulding sings "I keep calling your name / I want to hold you close / But I never want to feel ashamed / So I keep calling at night / I want to hold you close / I just never want to hold you tight." 

The music video, which was just released today, has to be one of my favorites from Goulding. The glowing paint, the bright lights, the wide arrange of colors everywhere... It helps promote the happy aura of the song that I originally sensed. All of the inverted colors remind me of the pop art of Andy Warhol, which is always fantastic. It's doesn't have big dance breaks or intense story lines or any hidden meanings, but it is, simply put, a fun music video. Sometimes it's better to throw it back to the basics, which is something Goulding does here.

If "Burn" was able to break the Top 20 in the United States, and hit the number one spot in the United Kingdom, "Goodness Gracious" should have no problems going further, especially in the latter country where she is most popular. The song is much better than "Burn," and steps a bit further out of the safe zone for Goulding than before. I can only hope that it continues her success.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: 'I Am Britney Jean'

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Talk about beating a dead horse... Britney Spears is still trying to milk out the "personal" Britney Jean theme, even though the album was dead before it was even released. And just like the album that shares it's name, I Am Britney Jean flopped miserably both in terms of viewership and content.

I Am Britney Jean was meant to focus on the personal aspects of Britney Spears' personal life and coincide with both Britney Jean and her two-year Planet Hollywood residency in Las Vegas with a show titled Britney: Piece of Me. However, the former was almost completely abandoned to focus completely on the Vegas show. Essentially, it was a two-hour infomercial that broke down into:

  • 20% Britney Spears
  • 40% Spears' management team
  • 40% Propaganda for Spears' Las Vegas residency

It also may have accidentally spread some light on how absent-minded Spears is with her career. Most of the scenes including Spears also include none other than her father, who still, five years after Spears' widespread breakdown, is the sole conservator over his daughter. It is evident that he still has quite the iron grip on his daughter's career choices and daily life, and I can't help but feel that she's become his little puppet. Her manager and her father were like a dual effort on pushing Britney here and there while she just stared at the sky and wondered where she was even at.

The majority of the time, Spears is absent from management meetings and costume fittings, leaving everyone to make plans to fit her schedule. She would eventually mosey in, approve an outfit by calling it "really cool" or "awesome," and then leave. And let's not forget the Britney Jean album release listening party, where she let answer all of the questions for her and chose to awkwardly stare at her lap or off in space. (Which she did acknowledge in an interview during the documentary, but it was awkward nonetheless.)

I will give Spears credit though; she did buckle down and learned as much of that choreography as possible. She seemed dedicated when she was there, but I think her back-up dancers took the spotlight from her, having about double the camera time practicing their dance. Dancers were breaking limbs, passing out, puking across the stage, and practicing for twelve hours a day, while Britney got to freely come and go as she wanted. 

One thing that was completely void from the rehearsals for Britney: Piece of Me? Singing! Of course, the one thing that actually made Britney famous to begin with was completely ignored. Surprising? Not really, considering Spears hasn't sang live for years now, but her management did tell press sources before that Spears was taking singing lessons and that she planned on singing live during the entire show. Obviously that was never the case, as she made no attempt to even whisper her own hits while in rehearsals... In fact, even the prissy, whiny-sounding dance coaches watching the rehearsals did more singing than Britney throughout the entire documentary.

We did see a very small sliver of Spears' personal side as she attended her family's Thanksgiving dinner, received a call from Jamie Lynn sending love to "y'all" in Louisiana, and visited terminally-ill children in a metropolitan hospital. Coinciding with the hospital visit was a small monologue from Britney on why she wanted to visit the sick children, and just when I thought I was finally going to get a worthwhile quote from Britney Spears, she cut it short and simple to say that she had a family member with cancer... and that was about it. I thought she'd have a bigger monologue on the subject, but I guess that's asking a little bit too much out of her...

Really, the only things I've learned from the documentary are that Britney likes watermelon bubblegum and the word "cool," she's much more manufactured than I could ever imagine, and her dancers did a hell of a lot of work to actually look good on stage. In fact, if they keep dancing like they were in the documentary, they could easily upstage Britney herself. Meanwhile, Britney is doing significantly better with that whole dancing thing than she has been the past couple of years, but the lip-syncing isn't going anywhere... even on songs that include in-track auto tune.