Monday, July 28, 2014

Brand new track from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's 'Cheek To Cheek' released!

Calling jazz fans and Little Monsters alike! Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have quickly dropped the first studio track from their upcoming joint album Cheek To Cheek, which is speculated to be formally announced tomorrow on the Today Show on NBC. On the song, titled "Anything Goes," Gaga shows off a side of herself that was first seen in her first collaboration with Tony Bennett, "The Lady is a Tramp." The two duet beautifully, as we can expect to see on the rest of the album, while we also get a beautiful jazz instrumental break.

Listen to a snippet of the song below to hear the coveted "JazzGa." The track is available for digital download on iTunes now.

Bang Bang | Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj


Ariana Grande kicked off the summer with a collaboration with Iggy Azaela on the infectious bop "Problem," and is now ending the summer with a bang... literally. Grande and rapper Nicki Minaj were roped into a collaboration with Jessie J, who is well-known on this side of the pond for her hits "Price Tag" and "Domino." After those hits, she disappeared from the American music market, as her second studio album, Alive, wasn't even released in the country due to fears of poor sales. Leaving Alive in the dusk, she's re-appearing with a new lead single and signature black hair, with these two heavyweights in American music, to re-penetrate the charts again.

"Bang Bang" follows the newest musical trend by blending R&B, urban, and pop influences, while these three divas spit out lyrics with such sass that not even BeyoncĂ© would dare touch them. Jessie J's vocals are great, as they usually are, but I'm afraid that Grande shows her up with her second verse portion of the song. The song's style is just begging for Grande's style of voice, while Jessie J is definitely suited for a more traditional pop song. Meanwhile, Minaj's flow really isn't all that bad as she kicks the song into overdrive: "Queen Nicki dominant, prominent / It's me, Jessie, and Ari / If they test me, they sorry." 

The final product crafted by the three divas doesn't disappoint, but its crafting is disappointing to those of us pay attention to writing and production credits. Jessie J has had a co-writing spot on all of the tracks on Who You Are and Alive... but not on "Bang Bang." The head of writing and production on this track? Max Martin, who is known for his works with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. Luckily, Martin usually churns out some catchy hits, although a handful seem to be disposable. It almost feels like Jessie J is now using this song as a reach for a newfound following in the United States...  but it may actually work.

"Bang Bang" will be released digitally tomorrow under Republic Records. The song will be featured on Jessie J's upcoming untitled album, as well as on the deluxe edition of Ariana Grande's My Everything.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Azealia Banks makes triumphant return after split with Universal Music Group

Last month, after over two years of struggles with Universal Music Group labels Interscope and Polydor, Azealia Banks finally revealed that she was able to wiggle out of her coveted record deal. Disputes with the labels held Banks' debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, from its release.

Banks is now treating the loyal fans she has maintained, even during a long period of broken album release promises and disappointing setbacks, with the leak and release of "Heavy Metal & Reflective," one of the many tracks slated for release on her debut album.

The rapping on "Heavy Metal & Reflective" is carried with dark, intimidating vocal tone, while the song's instrumental track is the best part about it. The song's production was handled by Lil Internet, who also worked on the previously released single "Yung Rapunxel," and is heavily influenced by trap music, with some dial-up modem sounds scratching above the base instrumental. 

The short song is a strong comeback for Banks, who is now trying to restart both the Broke With Expensive Taste era and her new career as a independent artist. The fact that she has been forced to sit on these tracks for so long is devastating as a fan. It may not be her best work when compared to songs like older cuts like "BBD" and "212," but least we can all be thankful that it is strides ahead of the mess that was a last attempt to expose Banks to a bigger audience: "ATM Jam."

"Heavy Metal & Reflective" will be digitally released independently by Azealia Banks on iTunes and Amazon Music tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sheezus | Lily Allen


A few months ago, loud-mouthed British pop princess Lily Allen dropped her third studio album Sheezus, a title that is an obvious nod towards Kanye West's Yeezus and a statement on female empowerment. More recently, plans were revealed for Allen to open for select shows on the remaining North American leg of Miley Cyrus' Bangerz Tour. Seeing that she is obviously beginning to seek a bigger authority in the American music industry after already being a dominating force across the pond, I figured now was the time to finally see what Allen has to offer.


Sheezus opens with the song that shares its namesake, a trippy track about musical divas like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Lorde. Allen's voice in the song seems fragile, as if this was a demo track that was released too early. Next, broken Nintendo Game Boy noises take center stage in "L8 CMMR" (apparently pronounced as "late comer") as Allen describes her baby daddy as "a bad motherfucker" and brags to other ladies that "He can bring it, bring it all day long / All other men, them been wrong / Nobody will get to see / 'Cause he's gonna spend his life with me." So moral of the story? Lily Allen's bad-ass husband is hers and only hers. Don't you forget that.

Allen collaborated primarily with songwriting and producing giant Greg Kurstin for this album, but worked with pop heavyweight Shellback for "Air Balloon." The song is disappointingly boring for a Shellback production, who had his hands in tracks like Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" and "Problem" by the powerful duo of Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea. The next song on the album, "Our Time," is rather bland as well, seeming to be a downplayed cover version of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop."

The album's primary uptempo electropop sound takes the back-burner for the album's four middle tracks. On "Insincerely Yours," Allen dabbles in West Coast hip-hop influences while she trash-talks Rita Ora and Jourdan Dunn, and  Cara Delevingne before even finishing the first stanza. She may also be referencing her Twitter fight with rapper Azealia Banks with the line "I don't give a fuck about your Instagram / About your lovely house or your ugly kids." (Banks called Allen's kids ugly at some point during their '140 characters or less' jabs at each other.)

A downcast ballad titled "Take My Place" finds its way into the track listing here, and it is neither a highlight nor a low point, to be honest. Allen then manages to take us to a pseudo-hoedown with "As Long As I Got You," one of quite a few songs dedicated to being a wife and mother on Sheezus. The midmost tracks may be a departure from the pop sound of the other songs on this album, but sonically, "As Long As I Got You" is a completely random outlier; there's no other way around it. The track "Close Your Eyes" revisits that funky hip-hop sound that was introduced in "Insincerely Yours" before the album slides back into electronic-pop hybrid mode.

"URL Badman" has been another popular single from the album that covers the inner doings of an Internet troll. In the song, Allen name-drops a lot of random, uncorrelated shit like Winnie the Pooh, A$AP Rocky, and Vice, and half-raps her verses about being a "broadband champion" in a manner that manages to sound quite similar to M.I.A. due to their English accents. I love the song, but I can't help but wonder if its semi-autobiographical given all of her infamous statements within public earshot, many of which have been made in the lyrics of this album.

A darker synthpop sound bleeds through on the self-defensive "Silver Spoon." The song is statement about singers that are rumored to be entering the business either by sleeping with the right people or buying their own record deal. Allen sarcastically sings lyrics through the song with a doubled digitized vocal line to create a cool effect. The following song, "Life for Me," is a light track about... well, Allen's daily life. Lyrically, the song is just as boring as you'd expect a housewife's diary to be: the kids keep me busy, when I get a free moment I like to watch T.V., I don't get any sleep, and I'm not in the mood to have sex.

Arguably the most widespread track from Sheezus is also its finale: "Hard Out Here" is an auto-tuned track that is a stronger feminist anthem than the title track, which I expected to be no holds barred on the subject. Instead, "Hard Out Here" is a killer track that finds Allen exclaiming, "Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits / It's hard, it's hard, it's hard out here for a bitch," while the video is a satirical view of females in the music industry, as she dances with some half naked women and a company CEO forces her into liposuction.


In his review of the album, Digital Spy's Lewis Corner stated that the songs on Sheezus lyrically rely on "snappy commentary and a fearlessly perceptive outlook." Personally, I feel that this commentary is quite self-defensive with songs like "Silver Spoon," and simply shallow in "Life for Me" and "URL Badman." However, shallow isn't necessarily a bad thing in all cases; "URL Badman" is aimed at people that use the Internet to troll and feel superior, a first world problem that most people using the Internet today have to deal with on a daily basis. The song with the strongest resonating meaning is surprisingly "Hard Out Here." It may be hidden behind some cutesy vocals and a comical video, but the meaning is there.

Honestly, when Allen is good, she's great ("L8 CMMR," "URL Badman," "Hard Out Here"), but when she's bad, she just bland ("Sheezus," "Life for Me"). I'll be jamming to the great cuts from this album for months to come, no doubt, but when looking at Sheezus as a whole, it's a run-of-mill, average pop album. I guess just like the Corgis that appear on the cover of this album, Allen's bark is definitely worse than her bite.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Trouble in Paradise | La Roux


Five years. Half a decade. Nearly two thousand days. Over forty thousand hours. Any way you want to count it, it's been too long since La Roux has released an album. In that time, the duo has dissolved into a solo effort by Elly Jackson, who struggled to regain confidence in her voice after the release of La Roux's debut  album. The road has not been easy to release a second album because of all of this Trouble In Paradise, but the results have not disappointed.


The album opens with its lead single, "Uptight Downtown," and introduces us to a new and polished electronic sound. The chorus kicks in with a few extra instrumental stems and a loud wail of the song's title. The following track, "Kiss and Not Tell," is a cutesy, childish sounding bit with very repetitive synth and lyrical patterns. It's catchy, if nothing else, but doesn't particularly stand out. "Cruel Sexuality" seems take a much less bouncy sound, instead choosing to nod back to a seductive 1980s groove. The smooth vocal delivery really draws listeners into the song, especially in the chorus as Jackson sings, "Cruel sexuality / Am I fool to let you trouble me?"

This album seems to seep with sunny, bright influences and the electro-ballad "Paradise is You" is proof that it was meant to be this way. The song would be the perfect, glittering ending to a hot summer day's soundtrack. In the song, Jackson sings "And the palm trees make it feel like a paradise / Without you here, there's nothing nice / Because in your eyes, yeah, that's my paradise."

Sandwiched between two songs filled with summer-infused lyrics and influences, the song "Sexotheque" takes lyrical content back to sexuality and relationship issues. From what I can make of the lyrics, Jackson is comparing a discotheque to a strip club, essentially. In the chorus, she sings, "She wants to know why he's got all that money, money, money on him / He's at the sexotheque," insinuating the man is spending money on these flings instead of his steady girlfriend.

On Trouble In Paradise, La Roux introduces a electro-tropical fusion in "Tropical Chancer," which many fans have compared to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." Steel drums, cowbells, synths, and Jackson's glossy voice combine to create an unforgettable tune about a womanizer taking advantage of vacationers that are easily to stumble into "true love."

Two of the first tracks to be sampled from the album were "Silent Partner" and "Let Me Down Gently." The former was sampled in an Instagram teaser, while the latter was released in full in May to raise some hype for the lead single and album announcement. "Silent Partner" is a long, dark track that is reminiscent of the soundtrack to the final 'boss' level of an old video. Meanwhile, "Let Me Down Gently" is divided into halves; one half utilizes slow synths and focuses on vocals while the second half wows listeners with a layered breakdown that definitely shows off the best of this new era.

Trouble in Paradise ends with one of its weakest tracks, "The Feeling," which features some very mousy vocals but very atmospheric, airy production. The track would close the album much better if the vocal delivery would have been improved, though.


Nine tracks seems like such a small outfit given the time that La Roux has been out of the spotlight, but were these songs worth the wait? Most definitely. It's obvious that these songs had a long time to ripen in the studio before they were finally let free to public listeners. Personally, the only track that fell flat was the ending bit, "The Feeling," but powerful songs like lead single "Uptight Downtown" and the smooth "Cruel Sexuality" draw attention away from the one rotten apple in the basket.

As I said before, Trouble in Paradise definitely leans towards a much cleaner production route than La Roux's preceding album, which really helped make this album shine. In all honesty, Elly Jackson's voice is slightly limited, but the sleek synths and glimmering sound effects of this album make up for that fact. On a last note, releasing this album in the dog days of summer was definitely the right decision for the benefit of its listeners; if oases had sound systems similar to those in department stores, Trouble in Paradise would be played on a loop.

Trouble in Paradise will be released in the United States on July 22, 2014, distributed jointly by Interscope Records and Cherrytree Records.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hello Memory | Little Daylight


Recently in the large bustling city of the American music industry, electronic dance bangers and hip-hop beats have been overpowering all other influences on pop radio, towering over the Billboard Hot 100 like skyscrapers and strangely leaving no room for other genres to break through. But in the past few years, bands and artists like Lana Del Rey, Chvrches, Charli XCX, Haim, and Broods have been rising from the cracks in the sidewalk and reestablishing an underground following for genres like alternative rock, indie pop, and electropop.

Another new act is in town now to join the list of those who already have a foot in the door, and they go by the name of Little Daylight. The Brooklyn, New York-based trio released an extended play last year after being signed to Capitol Records, and are now geared to release their full-length debut album Hello Memory, an effort that brings the best of alternative rock and synthpop, and smashes them together into a unique, cohesive sound.


"My Life" opens the curtain on Hello Memory with auto-tuned harmonies before quickly spiraling into some spiked synths and bratty shouts of "It's my life!" Arguably the band's most publicized track from their Tunnel Vision extended play, "Overdose," also makes an appearance on Hello Memory. The song is one of the most infectious from the album, with a driving drum beat and a systematic synth line, which is often doubled with matching chants of "oh, oh, oh." That "oh, oh, oh" chain isn't let go for the following track, "Siren Call," which includes lonely, reverberated vocals and a seemingly-intricate breakdown after each chorus, complete with constantly-popping little synths.

"Love Stories" finds lead singer Nikki Taylor using a cutesy but smooth vocal delivery. The track technically acts as a ballad, but slowly unravels at it progresses, leaving a nice instrumental break to carry the ending of the song. An indie rock-inspired track, "Mona Lisa," had me surprised at the slight change in sound, but pleasantly so. The murky, dark "Be Long" brings us back to electro-ballad territory before "Nothing to Lose" swings us into another indie rock throwback. A driving track titled "No One Else But You" throws a few synths over another indie rock track to create a nice mixture of both sounds found on this album.

Remember that Haim reference I made? The track on this album, "Runaround" sounds like an expanded sound of the trio of alt-rock sisters; the heavy reliance on guitars, overall light sound, and irresistable chorus are all there. Sadly, the album ends with only ten songs in the tracklisting and "Never Go Back" drives the record home with pounding synths and drums. The track gleams as one of my favorites from the band thus far; in fact, the album closes with one of its highest points.


When I had my first listen to Little Daylight as I was fumbling through Sirius XM stations and stopped to listen when "Overdose" was being broadcasted, I was expecting to go home and search Google for a synthpop band, and initially that's what I found. Almost all of the sources assured me that Hello Memory would be a synthpop record I would never forget. Instead, what I found while listening to the album is that it definitely is unforgettable; not for being a synthpop record, but instead for being a distinctive record. Every band finds its own niche within its respective genre, but for Little Daylight, their niche is taking those genres and making something completely new.

Hello Memory will be released on July 15 under Capitol Records.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NBC's 'Miley Cyrus: Bangerz Tour' Special


Last Sunday, NBC suffered quite a ratings flop. Filling their 9 - 11 p.m. time slot was Miley Cyrus, strutting her stuff for a special broadcast of her Bangerz Tour, but only two million people tuned in for the show. I was one of them, and I actually wasn't entirely disappointed. In the show, Miley thrives on the same sort of strange antics as she has since last summer's debut of "We Can't Stop," but for the majority of Americans, has Bangerz lost its bang?

At the first sight of the stage, it's pretty low-key for Miley Cyrus. I was actually really surprised at the fact that the show relied primarily on some cheap cartoons ran on a monstrous screen behind the stage. Once in a while, some inflatables or a fake car or two would roll out for a few songs, but I just expected so much more. I did enjoy her entrance though, on a red tongue slide that popped out a giant projected version of her head, before she began singing "SMS (Bangerz)."

From motor-boating the breasts of a giant stripper to riding a giant hot dog named "Mr. Wiener" surrounded by giant ketchup and mustard bottles, Miley will stop at nothing to keep her crowds screaming for more. All of these shenanigans don't really have a purpose, but just act as something fun to keep the show moving and without much of a focus. It seems that the show is just to act as a giant, random party for Miley and her fans, which I don't really have a problem with.

A small chunk of the show revolves around Miley's dead husky dog, Floyd. While singing "Can't Be Tamed," an inflatable version of Floyd that is nearly big enough to reach the rafters of the arena takes center stage, and Miley manages to dry hump its leg. After a commercial break jump, Miley takes the stage in a beautiful black full-body suit holding a stuffed dog to sing "Adore You" in memoriam of Floyd. The song would have actually have been a nice tribute to her past dog if she didn't turn on the giant kiss cam to her audience, encouraging couples to tongue each other in ways that don't even look passionate.

In between some of the concert's selections, some snippets of an interview with Miley were used to create some dramatic transitions, but I really don't feel like they were necessary. The concert could have stood alone as a solid program without interruption. The interview snippets sometimes don't even have anything to do with whatever is happening in the concert. At some point, Miley spiraled into some sort of story about how she and her friends had their own version of 'The Plastics' from Mean Girls in the sixth grade. Why did it really matter? I'm still not sure.

With this concert special, Miley can at least prove one thing: she's got the voice to back up her career. Coming from a Walt Disney background, people don't give her as much credit as they should when it comes to her vocals. On some of the high-energy songs like "SMS (Bangerz)" and "Do My Thang," she slides a bit vocally, but when she is actually focused on singing, such as during "Adore You," "Drive," and her country version of OutKast's "Hey Ya," she sounds solid. Personally, I feel like the live versions are even better than the studio versions because of how much emotion she can transmit in her live vocals.

People say Miley's reign is over thanks to her radical change in personality and image. After last summer, suddenly people that used to love her have now turned their backs on her, claiming she has no talent and she'll never re-coup her popularity. Perhaps if they would have tuned into the special, they would have learned that she still does have the vocal capabilities that singers like Britney Spears and Katy Perry don't. Sure, this NBC special wasn't the greatest, but it was far from the worst. Personally, I pitched my tent in Miley's camp once she hit this new Bangerz era, and I'll keep it there as long as she keeps following the beat of her own drum.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

1000 Forms of Fear | Sia


Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler has made quite a splash in the United States in the past few years with her plethora of features on songs like "Titanium" and "Wild Ones," and has most recently been noticed for her solo hit "Chandelier." Four years sit between the release of her fifth album, We Are Born, and her newest release, 1000 Forms of Fear, but for Sia, those years were filled with a growing problem with alcohol and drug abuse, one foiled suicide plan, the entrance to a twelve-step program, and an ongoing dread of actually becoming famous.


1000 Forms of Fear opens with the track that is not only the most popular, but is also the most personal and heartfelt: "Chandelier." The song covers Sia's struggle with dependence on alcohol in the past years, making it a very personal track even though the track was originally written with stars like Rihanna and BeyoncĂ© in mind. Sia hooks people in as she uses her powerhouse vocals to sing "I'm going to swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier / I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist, like it doesn't exist / I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry."

On the next track, Sia proves that "Big Girls Cry." (Sorry, Fergie.) The sultry track, Sia slurs through verses before building to a chorus, in which she sings, "I may cry, ruining my makeup / Wash away all the things you've taken / I don't care if I don't look pretty / Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking." For "Burn The Pages," a lighter sound with twinkling synths is used. It actually sounds like a song that could have come straight off of Chvrches' debut album.

The album's first promo single, "Eye of the Needle," relies on a simplistic instrumental and a repeating vocal run in between phrases, but it's a solid piece. The vocals are just as stunning as ever and the lyrics are on-point; the only problem I have with the song is the recycled "Titanium" vocal run in the bridge. Following "Eye of the Needle" is "Hostage," a fast-tempo, alternative rock-inspired song that can easily be forgotten.

Half of 1000 Forms of Fear was written solely by Sia herself, while the other half was co-written by Sia with outside help. Justin Parker, who has worked Rihanna, Lana Del Rey, and Ellie Goulding, has a co-writing credit for "Straight to the Knife," a moving ballad that metaphorically compares the end of a relationship to homicide. Another ballad, "Fair Game," succeeds it in the track listing, but seems to fall flat when compared to "Straight to the Knife."

"Elastic Heart," which originally featured Diplo and The Weeknd, premiered on the soundtrack of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire last year, but a solo version of the song was squeezed on the track listing of 1000 Forms of Fear as well. The song is heavily guided by electronic influences, while also not losing a signature Sia touch. The following track, "Free the Animal" is a glitchy tribute to 1980s pop. Underneath powerful belts in the song's chorus, Sia raves some nearly indecipherable words, followed by some electronically edited vocals to create a sound that resembles a broken 8-bit video game.

A majority of this album focuses on Sia's vocal power and "Fire Meet Gasoline" is definitely no exception. To be honest, the lyrics are quite repetitive, but the killer vocal line makes up for that shortcoming. The same could not be said about the following track, "Cellophane," however. The song has a simplistic instrumental track and now leaves the crestfallen lyrics to stand for themselves, from "Look at me I’m such a basket case / While I fall apart, you hide on my pills again," to "Can’t hide the pain / When you’re wrapped in cellophane."

1000 Forms of Fear ends on a blossoming, sultry note with "Dressed In Black." The song reminds me slightly of Foxes' "Holding Onto Heaven" in the nature that it uses one strand of a twinkling chime and builds on top of it. The song features a beautiful outro of Sia wailing over a chorus of... well, a chorus of Sia. It offers a beautiful, ambient closure to the album.


The production is great, but also tends to draw a little dull when listening to the album in full. The songs on this album thrive on a powerful, moving chorus, making them all radio friendly - the type of music that most Americans tend to be drawn to nowadays. I do truly appreciate that the production on 1000 Forms of Fear is focused on Sia's powerful vocals. Nothing has been unnecessarily added to overpower or outshine the vocal talent here. However, I wish that Sia would have taken that voice to go further outside her comfort zone; I think she's underestimating the power of her own voice.

Sia really hit it big in her native country Down Under, but in terms of radio airplay in the United States, only Sia's featured songs really took off until "Chandelier." Even with the relatively vapid productions on 1000 Forms of Fear, Sia's voice and lyrics shine through to create a pretty solid album. Although she doesn't want to be a worldwide superstar, she just created a record so enticing to the masses that she may have accidentally injected her name into the jugular vein of pop culture. 

1000 Forms of Fear will be released on July 8, 2014 under RCA Records and Monkey Puzzle Records.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Playlist: July 2014

Boom Clap | Charli XCX
Charli XCX has remained relatively underground until recently, but after some big name collaborations, she released the great "Boom Clap" from The Fault in Our Stars soundtrack. I really haven't bought into this whole "typical tragic romantic story with a spritz of cancer exploitation," so I really can't watch the music video without feeling annoyed, but it's a great song.

Cruel World | Lana Del Rey
This song struck me immediately while taking my first listen to Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence last month. It's such an ambient song that waxes and wanes like a full cycle of the moon; at some points it's a half-lit, lonely tune, while other times it grows into a full production of emotion. The light alternative rock sound of the entire album is perfect for warm summer days.

Stay With Me | Sam Smith
Sam Smith is an extremely talented act to come forth this year in the United States. Paired with his feature on Disclosure's "Latch," "Stay With Me" has skyrocketed his soulful voice onto the radio. In the song, he explains why he is no good at a one-night stand and would much rather have a meaningful relationship. It's a beautiful song with an even more beautiful meaning.

Drowning | Banks
When Banks announced the September release date of her debut album, Goddess, I knew it was too far away for my liking. Luckily, she has offered up multiple tracks from the album to hold us over until the album drops, including the single "Drowning." This song holds her signature glitchy, sultry sound and is perhaps one of her best cuts yet.

Uptight Downtown | La Roux
La Roux's follow-up album has been a long time in the making, but the lead single "Uptight Downtown" proves that the act is coming for synthpop-infused blood. A boosted instrumental and wails of the song's namesake make the song's chorus make the song extremely catchy, while not losing that special La Roux touch. I'm pumped to hear the rest of the album this month, as well.