Friday, February 28, 2014

This Is... Icona Pop | Icona Pop


Icona Pop took the world by storm last year with their breakthrough single "I Love It." The song jump-started their international career outside their homeland of Sweden, and they took advantage of the song to release their second full studio album This Is... Icona Pop, which was plugged as their debut album in countries other than Sweden.

I listed "I Love It" in my favorite singles of 2013, and it stills hold its place as my favorite song on the album. The song is just so fun and great for clubs and dances. Whenever I hear it, I can't help but scream the lyrics along with the duo: "I crashed my car into the bridge... I DON'T CARE. I LOVE IT." (Yes, the all-caps were necessary. The lyrics have to be screamed for maximum excitement. It's a strictly-enforced rule while singing that song.)

The only other Icona Pop song to make an impact on United States radio is "All Night," which was tailored to radio stations as the second single from the album in the States. It's an alright track, but I would never listen to it on repeat like I do "I Love It." Another song, "Ready for the Weekend," was tailored as a promotional single from the album, and was also included on the Iconic EP, but it never really took off in the United States. It's a really great party song, and I must say that its electronic breakdown is nicely done.

Most of the songs keep the fun rolling, but two of my other favorites include "We Got The World" and "On A Roll." The former keeps the carefree feeling going lyrically with "They say, 'You're a freak,' when we're having fun / Say, 'You must be high,' when we're spreading love," and introduces a beat reminiscent to a Calvin Harris production. "On A Roll" contains a looped "Do do do do do do do" vocal line in the chorus and a chilled-down bridge.

Most of the songs on This Is... Icona Pop are formulated on a common electronic dance formula: verse, build-up, breakdown, verse, build-up, breakdown, bridge, breakdown. "Girlfriend" breaks that tradition, relying on a more traditional pop song format (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus). What really shock me about this song is its simple lyrics ("All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend / Down to ride till the happy end, is me and my girlfriend") and the fact that it took eleven people to write it. ELEVEN PEOPLE. That's not even song writing; that's a group project! And for having so many people working on one track, the outcome definitely could have been better.

This album is strictly intended for parties and dances, in my mind. This is not a pop album intended to be played over and over again, because it will definitely get old fast (minus the legendary "I Love It.") The electronic beats are great in the album, but once you hear it once... well, you don't really want to listen to it again unless you're in full-on party mode. The Icona Pop shtick gets a bit old after a while, but I'm sure hardcore fans of electronic dance music will have a heyday with this album. Personally, I'll just keep This Is... Icona Pop for parties and enjoy it on occasion rather than burning it out after a few continuous listens.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Empire | Shakira


Just on the heels of "Can't Remember to Forget You," Shakira has decided to up the ante for the quality of her upcoming album release, Shakira.

The song opens on a quiet note, as Shakira uses a slight accent, which already adds to her unique tone. The song quickly climaxes as Shakira screams "And the stars make love to the universe / And you touch me / And I'm like, and I'm like, and I'm like / Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh." 

"Empire" takes a rock direction more so than a pop sound, actually, and that isn't exactly a bad thing. The experimentation on this album is going to be big; the changes between "Can't Remember To Forget You" and "Empire" already foreshadow that fact. Now it's time to wait until the album drops.

Shakira is due out on March 25 and will contain "Can't Remember To Forget You," "Empire," and ten other tracks. The deluxe edition will contain three extra tracks. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rapor EP | Active Child


Active Child is a relatively underground indie artist that I first heard of thanks to his remix of Lana Del Rey's "Ride," although I never really dug deeper into his music. After his name appeared again in my music collection, this time when Ellie Goulding covered his song "Hanging On" for her sophomore album Halcyon, I figured it was time to start looking for some of his solo work. Luckily, he now has a new fan thanks to his new release, the Rapor EP.

First, let's talk about the song that introduced me to both the Rapor EP and Active Child as a whole: "Silhouette," which features Ellie Goulding. Look up the word "heavenly" in the dictionary, and you will find this song as part of it's definition. "Silhouette" has to be the best song from the EP all-around. I mean, listen to that falsetto! It's like an angel singing from a cloud and hugging a puppy. Ellie Goulding gets her time to sparkle with her beautiful vocals, and then the two of them together make mystical harmonies throughout the rest of the song. Anybody who denies the angelic qualities of this song may have hearing problems.

Now, reversing to the beginning of the EP, we find "She Cut Me," a two minute snippet of song that can only be described as tribal, complete with xylophones, drums, and battered shrieks from Active Child himself. "She Cut Me" leads into "Subtle," featuring Mikky Ekko, who was once skyrocketed into fame thanks to his feature of Rihanna's "Stay." This track takes a bit of an electronic pathway but doesn't stray away from the normal vibe of this extended play, either. Of course, that falsetto is back and ready for action as Active Child soars into the stratosphere with those notes. Ekko comes front and center about half-way through the song with a Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake inspired vocal tone. It's an outstanding effort from both artists and it can only strengthen this EP.

"Calling in the Name of Love" brings a bit of a darker sound into play, but gives me really strong eighties vibes. In fact, it strangely puts me in mind of Phil Collins' 1981 single "In The Air Tonight." It's almost like a modern-day indie-style revamp of the song in terms of sound, actually. Following "Calling in the Name of Love" is the closing track of the EP, titled "Evening Ceremony." The song has a bit more of an explosive chorus when compared to the rest of the songs on the Rapor EP, but it eventually brings the EP to a dreamy and glimmering end.

Many critics have slammed this piece of work, saying that it deviates too far away from Active Child's previous work. To be fair, I can't really compare it to his previous records because this is the first glimpse I've had of the artist so far, but I can promise that I am thoroughly impressed with it. Of course, sometimes critics can be harsh. But, take a chance and listen to the Rapor EP below for free via Active Child's official SoundCloud. You may find something that you like from it; I know I did.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Closer to the Truth | Cher


A decade after her last release, Cher decided to rise from her on-again, off-again retirement plans to release her twenty-fifth studio album. She had prepped her fans on Twitter for this album for nearly two years before finally releasing the full-length album under the name Closer to the Truth.

I have actually had this album sitting in my collection for a little while now, but I just haven't gotten around to writing up a review for it. However, with a few snow days off of school, I decided to sit down and listen to the album closer than I originally did to find the truth about Cher's latest attempt. (I know, I'm really punny.)

"Woman's World" was released two separate times as the lead single to the album, and I didn't like it either time it was released. It's a cheap jab at a female-empowerment album with a repetitive, back-washed sound and a lack of... well, a spark, really. There's just nothing that sets it apart. The song unfortunately gave me a bad forecast on the album, but luckily Closer to the Truth did improve from the sound of "Woman's World."

Ironically, "Woman's World" was penned by a group composed entirely of men. Closer to the Truth was penned in collaboration with multiple people like pop heavyweight P!nk, Mark Taylor, and Paul Oakenfold. Only one track was written with the help of Cher, as many of her albums have been. However, she did explain herself in an interview last year with David Letterman: "Also, before that, an A&R person would pick your songs, pick the band; you would go in and you would just sing on the track and then it would be done and that was it."

So, I guess given the time period she started in the industry, I can let her slide in the writing credits. And of course, the last time that Cher wrote an album herself, her record label turned her down and she was forced to give the album a limited release on her website under the title And we also saw what happened when Britney Spears tried to write a whole album, so I guess it's good that Cher just kept herself to working on the vocals.

Strangely enough, the best song on the album is also somehow the shortest, reaching only the 2:51 mark. "Dressed to Kill" is a slightly-aged dance bit, similar to the sounds found on Believe, but it's so lovable that I forget how much it sounds like an early 2000s track. It's quite an explosive track, and the lyrics are clever, if nothing else. "I'm dressed to kill and you know that I will," warns Cher. "We're dancing in the dark with my hands around your heart." People who don't love this song obviously aren't going to have fun in any sort of club.

"Take It Like a Man" is another throwback-to-Believe track that has often been noted as a highlight from the album. Parts of the song are so heavy in auto tune that Cher sounds like she's singing underwater, but it's catchy regardless. It is a bit strange to hear Cher sing "Boy if you want my heart, you gotta take it like a man" at 67 years old, but it's a hell of a lot better than watching Madonna strut her stuff in a bra and underwear on stage during the MDNA Tour.

The album takes a quick and unexpected turn with a song that was worked on with P!nk called "I Walk Alone." A banjo makes an appearance throughout the song, and is layered underneath a pile of synths in the chorus to create a foot-stamping beat inspired by country music. The title to the album is also drawn from this song, as Cher sings "There's a sadness in my confessions / There's a hyena howling at the moon / And there's a gypsy in me that keeps on roaming / And there's a an anger as I get closer to the truth."

The album is distinctively cut in half; the first half brings a load of pop songs like "Dressed to Kill" and "Take It Like a Man" that are sure to fill the dance floor at any given club, while the second half brings Cher into a slower, ballad setting. Of the ballads on the album, the gleaming stars in the bunch are definitely "Hope You Find It," which was originally recorded by Miley Cyrus for the film The Last Song, and "Sirens," which is dedicated to the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. Both songs show Cher's voice at its strongest; no auto-tune, no shiny sound effects... Just Cher's voice. That's it. In "Hope You Find It" and "Sirens," her voice is the purest that I have heard in the past fifteen years. 

The songs off of Believe and Living Proof are good, but they're not a true test of Cher's vocal capacity. The same can be said about the first part of Closer to the Truth. I love "Dressed To Kill" and "Red," but they're full of the auto tune effects that Cher made popular with "Believe." Her pure vocal talent comes through on her ballads, which Closer to the Truth contains plenty of. She's still got the voice that made her famous; it's just usually buried underneath heavy dance production nowadays, so it's nice to hear it shine through on these ballads.

What I truly love about Closer to the Truth is that Cher hasn't tried to beef herself up any; she's just making some more music and that's it. Nothing more and nothing less; she's just being Cher. Her closest contemporary, Madonna, has tried to fit in with the cool kids by creating a pun off of ecstasy for the title of her latest name and creating really cliché, sexed-up pop bits. But as for Cher? She has just created some fun pop bits and few touching ballads. 

Closer to the Truth wasn't the super-revolutionary album that some fans were hoping for, but thankfully most of the material on the album was better than "Woman's World" that proceeded its release. It's got some great material on it, and although not super inventive, it serves the purpose. I bought a Target exclusive version on sale, which comes with a handful of extra tracks that only compliment the rest of the track listing, and I don't regret the purchase, so it's definitely something to check out if you're a fan of dance bits.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Spring Albums to Watch For In 2014

I feel like 2014 is going to be a great year for music. Debuts from indie artists like Azealia Banks, Foxes, Banks, and Karmin, and new material from Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, Foster the People, and Tony Bennett. Of course, some of those haven't been completely confirmed yet, but I have created a list of those albums that have already been confirmed by artists and record labels to look forward to this spring. I will create a new list later on for summer albums that will be coming soon enough!

Glorious | Foxes (May 9)
Sadly, this is an album that has already had its release date pushed back once (from March 3 to May 9) and I don't think I can wait much longer for it. Foxes first caught my heart in Zedd's "Clarity" and my love has only grown from there thanks to her great solo work like "Youth" and "Let Go For Tonight." With her great indie pop sound, I'm sure I will love this album when it is finally released. It's going to be absolutely glorious.

Supermodel | Foster The People (March 18)
Foster The People caught the attention of radio listeners a few years back with "Pumped Up Kicks." Torches was a pretty good debut album, and I can already hear improvement in the band in their new indie rock single "Coming of Age." The cover of the album is a cool little mosaic; much different from the strange cartoon monsters on the cover of Torches. I'm definitely excited to see what the band is planning of their big comeback.

Shakira | Shakira (March 25)
The Queen of Latin American Music is back, this time following the trend of eponymous titles for albums. (Evanescence, Avril Lavigne, Beyoncé, DEMI... The list goes on and on.) The album was proceeded by the ultra-catchy "Can't Remember To Forget You," complete with a sexy music video featuring Rihanna. With rumored writing and production collaborations with Fernando Garibay and Sia Furler, I'm sure Sharkira will be coming back better than ever.

Head or Heart | Christina Perri (April 1)
Christina Perri found herself in a great place a few years ago with the release of "Jar of Hearts" and "A Thousand Years," but has maintained a very low-key image. Perri quietly released "Human" as the first single from Head or Heart and debuted a slightly new image, complete with a new brunette hair color. She has kept this album campaign so quiet, in fact, that I didn't even know the little gem "Human" was even out until a few days ago.

Pulses | Karmin (March 25)
Like Foxes' Glorious, Karmin's debut album has seen delays in release for a while. They were able to drop a quick EP featuring their breakthrough single "Brokenhearted" before slightly changing their image to a crisp, clean, modern look. It's kind of refreshing. I loved the sound of "Acapella," the lead single to Pulses, even though there's an annoying typo in the title (it's a cappella, people). "I Want It All" is pretty good, as well!

Cheek to Cheek | Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga (March 18?)
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga were automatically a match made in Heaven in their cover of "The Lady Is A Tramp." In fact, they blended so well that they decided to create a whole album of jazz bits under a collaborative effort. The album release date changes in each interview with Bennett, and Gaga has been completely mute on the subject for a while, but I still cannot contain my excitement!

Ultraviolence | Lana Del Rey (May 1?)
After feeling discouraged about the music industry for a while due to criticism of her performing abilities during the campaign for her debut album Born To Die, Lana Del Rey finally announced she would return to the scene with her next record, Ultraviolence. Rumor has it that Emile Haynie, Rick Nowels, and Dan Heath are all working with her on the album; they have all worked to create masterpieces with Del Rey before.

Broke With Expensive Taste | Azealia Banks (March?)
Alright, so this is an album we may never get. Azealia Banks captivated me with her club beats in her 1991 extended play, but has failed to deliver her debut album yet. However, it isn't her fault this time around; her label rejected two tracks off of the final copy she sent in. Once she can get things handled, I'm sure she'll be out and coming for blood.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Human | Christina Perri


Early last month, Christina Perri quietly released "Human" and plans for a sophomore album, Head or Heart, completely unbeknownst to me. I can't believe I didn't pick this one up on my radar; I loved Christina Perri's singles as she was marketing her debut album and I even liked her page of Facebook... I must have just really been clueless on this one.

However, now that I've heard it, I can definitely say that I've been missing out! The song is a quiet yet slightly haunting self-empowerment song, but takes an opposite approach than most songs. "Human" uses physical limitations to justify any flaws in life: "I'm only human / And I bleed when I fall down / I'm only human / I crash and I break down."

I love the building climax of the song; the song doesn't reach maximum volume until the second chorus of the song. It's kind of reminiscent of Perri's old work, but blends in some new ideas as well. It's a great little song that is sure to capture everyone's heart; be sure to check it out.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Blessed Unrest | Sara Bareilles

Rating: ★★★★☆

Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles reached quite a big milestone this year, having been nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance and Album of the Year at the 56th Annual Grammys Ceremony. Although she didn't win either category, even being nominated should speak for itself. Both nominations came from her latest album, The Blessed Unrest, and its lead single. With all of this buzz, I thought it was a wise time to finally review it.

The lead single that preceded The Blessed Unrest is one of my favorites off of the album, but it doesn't really match the sound of the rest of the album. "Brave" seems to be tacked on the front the album that is dominated by piano ballads and toned-down sounds simply for curb appeal for radio listeners. 

In the end though, I'm happy it was added onto the album, because it's a great self-empowerment song. Bareilles has said multiple times in interviews that it was an anthem written for her friend that was hiding that fact that he was gay. It is such a beautiful little gem and shows people that songwriters can in fact write a self-empowerment song without constantly relying on clichés like "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "I went from zero to my own hero." (I'm looking right at you, Kelly and Katy. Especially you Katy, thanks to your cheap knock-off of this song.)

Once "Brave" ends, the true colors of The Blessed Unrest come through: it is an emotionally-charged, ballad-filled album. The relatively pop sound goes out the window and is replaced by a contemporary sound starting with "Chasing the Sun" and "Hercules." My favorite of the two is "Hercules," which uses layered vocal line pattern, piano, and drums to create a semi-tribal sound. Later in the track listing, "Satellite Call" also brings a new sound to the album, using some twinkles and vocal edits to create a very peaceful and open song.

"Manhattan" is a very simple ballad, featuring just Bareilles and a piano. The lyrics circle around a break-up, and after the said break-up, Bareilles cannot stop thinking about her ex while in the city. "You can have Manhattan, because I can't have you," she offers in the song. Sure, break-up songs are nothing new, but this one seems so heartfelt compared to some of the other contemporary pop bits out there. Bareilles' voice shines in the track, and she is able to showcase her dynamic control with this track, too.

Another bare-bones piano and vocal track is also one of my favorites from the album: "Islands." This song shows Bareilles at her most vulnerable state, as it is truly about isolationism after a relationship. "When will you realize? / You must become an island," sings Bareilles. However, she wants to be sure that her ex is still experiencing the same loneliness and is doing okay during this time: "Holding my breath until I know you'’re alright because the water will only rise…." This song has such a beautiful sound and creative metaphoric meaning; it's really a great introduction to the album if anybody is on the edge on whether or not to buy it.

All in all, The Blessed Unrest is an extremely peaceful listen. A lot of the songs are really appropriate for a long, lonely, relaxing car ride at night. I'm sure "Brave" will be rotated on contemporary mix radio stations for years to come, and I wouldn't mind hearing a lot of these songs more often in a casual public setting. For some reason, I could just imagine hearing "Manhattan," "Eden," and "Hercules" in a Kohl's store. That's not a bad thing by any means, though; a lot of the music at Kohl's is really relaxing.

Before this becomes a review of the music selection at department stores, though, I must wrap this up. Fans of mix radio stations will more than likely love this album; it aims directly for that category. No, it's not going to be an album that you will be tapping your foot to; it's an album that will make you relax. It gets a tad repetitive in terms of sound, but overall it's a solid album. Bareilles has come leaps and bounds since her first album and some evolution has gone far for her.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Life Round Here | Ellie Goulding feat. Angel Haze


Earlier today, Ellie Goulding took to her Twitter page to announce and release a collaboration with underground rapper Angel Haze. Together, the two made a cover of James Blake's "Life Round Here."

The cover is super-chill and brings something to the table that we don't hear often in the forefront: Ellie Goulding's lower register. Most of her songs rely on her beautiful, airy upper-register, but "Life Round Here" reveals her equally-beautiful, smoky lower notes. 

Angel Haze takes up a special verse in the last minute, and although I've never really followed Haze, she sounds alright on the track. Of course, anything's better than that Tinie Tempah bit that Goulding let on her cover of Active Child's "Hanging On."

Not a very long review, but I more or less just posted this to help spread the word of this great cover; be sure to check it out! I was definitely surprised by Goulding's rarely-heard lower register and I'm sure this song will be on repeat for a long while.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Boss Ass Bitch | PTAF



Do you not care about ratchet-ass lames? Are you currently turnt up? Were you made for the game? Do you got your swag on? Are you swagged the fuck up on a regular basis? Do you not give a fuck? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations: You, my friend, are a boss ass bitch.

PTAF is a trio of girls that loved their boss ass bitch statuses so much, they decided to write a homemade rap about it and rub the fact in everybody's face. PTAF (which stands for 'Pretty Talking All Fades') is comprised of Kandii, K'Duceyyy, and Alizé, three of the bossiest ass bitches of them all.

These three girls mean business, as shown by their lyrics, and nobody is going to get in the way of their boss ass bitch ways. From what I've gathered, these head bitches in charge have ruled out some guidelines on how to be a boss ass bitch, which can be seen below with lyric references:
  • Do not do any acts of oral sex; just look for the fame. 
    • "You can suck a dick, I'm all about the fame."
  • However, boss ass bitches can fuck anybody as long as they get paid.
    • "Fuck a nigga, fuck a bitch. Straight gettin' paid. I love money."
  • Umm... use your tongue, I guess. Boss ass bitches like that.
    • "Use your tongue, I'mma like that."
  • You're not allowed to give any fucks. At all. Zero fucks are given by boss ass bitches.
    • "Clearly, um, I don't give a fuck."
  • Don't be lame or you're going to get Sharkeisha'ed in the face.
    • "You bitches is lame tryin' to run up on me. Bitch, I'll punch you in the face."
  • You better stay informed on when other boss ass bitches are turnt up.
    • "We're too turnt up for you. Bitch, I thought you knew."
  • Most importantly, be sure to inform everyone of your boss ass bitch status.
    • "I'm a boss ass bitch."
Clearly PTAF is speaking for all of us in the self-empowerment anthem. It's got a great beat with super powerful lyrics. Whenever I listen to it, I seriously just feel like a boss ass bitch. People can judge all they want, but "I don't give a fuck about your ratchet ass lames." Even Nicki Minaj picked up on the song a and made a remix of it about pussy renovations! Not everybody can say that has happened to their song!

Our generation can be defined by "Boss Ass Bitch" and future generations will look to this song for empowerment as well. Whenever I'm feeling down, I just jam out to this song and think about my inner boss ass bitch. How this wasn't up for at least one Grammy nomination, I have no clue. Oh well, the members of PTAF don't need a Grammy... 'cause they're boss ass bitches.

(I hope they all realize this is a satire review...)