Saturday, November 29, 2014

For You | Selena Gomez


At only twenty-two years old and only one solo album under her name, Selena Gomez seems a tad too young to already be producing a greatest hits compilation, but that is exactly what the "Come & Get It" singer has done. Containing songs from both her fresh solo career and material made in collaboration with Selena Gomez & The Scene, For You is a fifteen-track set that marks the end of the road for Gomez's contract with Hollywood Records. It is rumored that this album was purposely rushed for release in order for a new contract to be penned between Gomez and Universal Music Group's Interscope Records. If true, this was a very wise choice for the behind-the-scenes workings of Gomez's musical career while remaining a seemingly foolish situation to general listeners.

The news of the album's release came out of left field, paired with the release of the single "The Heart Wants What It Wants." The single, which targets Gomez's rocky relationship with Canadian artist Justin Bieber, debuted early this month alongside an emotional video that is still no competition to the misty-eyed Gomez performing the song in an intimate setting at this year's American Music Awards. Besides "Heart Wants," listeners get a few other tracks that are new to the album, which is otherwise filled with hits like "Who Says" and "Love You Like a Love Song." Included on For You is a remastered edit of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez's tropical "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" with newly-recorded duet vocals from Selena Gomez, who was named after the late Latin singer. The track was previously recorded for inclusion on Quintanilla-Pérez's posthumous album, Enamorada de Ti. Also on lighthearted notes, "Do It" channels Fifth Harmony and Cher Lloyd with a heavy pop instrumental and bratty, auto-tuned vocals and "My Dilemma 2.0" is a small re-work of the track of the same name from When the Sun Goes Down

The new tracks on this album are sufficient and "The Heart Wants What It Wants" is arguably one of the most heartfelt and impressive tracks from Gomez to date. Elsewhere, the 'greatest hits' line-up is on-par with what should be on the album, from the mega-hit "Come & Get It" from Gomez's solo debut to songs like "Naturally" and "Round & Round" that helped her build a career with the Scene. While it still seems too early for a compilation package from Selena Gomez, the reasoning behind the release is undeniably wise. To place importance on this album's timing and meaning, a quote from writer T.S. Eliot has been printed in the album's acknowledgements: "For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a new beginning. What we call the beginning is often the end." Could she be referring to a new voice next year or will this new beginning actually be the end of her musical career for now? We'll soon see.

For You is out now under Hollywood Records.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Listen | David Guetta


November has been a great month for fans of the ever-changing genre of electronic dance music, as the beginning of the month welcomed Calvin Harris' Motion and the end of the month has brought us a new studio album from French DJ David Guetta. Aptly titled Listen, the new album brings listeners fourteen new tracks, while the deluxe cut offers four extra tracks, including two with singer-songwriter Skylar Grey. With names like Nicki Minaj and Ryan Tedder as listed collaborators, this album should seem like a good purchase even without listening to any samples, but one Listen to the set may say otherwise. Guetta has been in the industry for over a decade and is now on his sixth album cycle, but it looks as if the forty-seven year old Guetta just can't keep up with the new kids on the block.

With Listen, Guetta has the thrown listeners multiple curveballs, starting with the release of a hazy, western-fused electronic rework of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" with vocalist Skylar Grey. While the United States was gypped out of "Shot Me Down," the Wild West still slides into the lead single from Listen, "Lovers on the Sun." Guetta took a risk by placing unknown vocalist Sam Martin on both "Lovers on the Sun" and his second single, "Dangerous," and it seems to have backfired on him in the United States. While both singles have done very well elsewhere, Guetta is driving himself back into the ground in the States. Sadly, "Dangerous" is also lacking any sonic signature of David Guetta's electronic roots. When thinking of electronic dance musicians, many listeners nod back to well-crafted electronic synths and booming bass; this isn't the case for "Dangerous," with its piano-based introduction, alternating synth patterns, and natural string outro. As the track blossoms with sexy '80s influences, it becomes more infectious, but there isn't a true climax to look forward to as the track plays.

As a DJ who has aimed for widespread popularity and notoriety, especially with Nothing But the Beat, David Guetta requested vocal assistance from a few notable names of the year for Listen. He managed to reel in the handiwork of the multi-faceted Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic), one-hit wonder outfits Magic! and Nico & Vinz, and industry-heavyweight John Legend, but also looked towards currently-underground artists like Bebe Rexha and Elliphant. American listeners may remember names like Emeli Sandé and The Script, who each experienced a small boost of popularity stateside due to "Next to Me" and "Breakeven," respectively. Sandé landed a spot on Listen's next single, "What I Did for Love," a track that expands by surprise from a pop ballad to a electropop hit. On the contrary, "Goodbye Friend" with The Script holds true to the traditional electronic dance formula as it erupts into a glittery ecstasy of peppy synths similar to that of Coldplay and Avicii's "Sky Full of Stars." 

Nicki Minaj, who has had her fair share of success this year and previously worked with Guetta on "Turn Me On" and "Where Them Girls At," slides in for vocal credits on "Hey Mama," a carefree, sex-oriented track filled with blaring electronic horns and synths. One other returning collaborator that we can also be glad to see on this track list? Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler. While "Titanium" is able to hold its place as the pinnacle of David Guetta and Sia's work together, both "Bang My Head" and "The Whisperer" from Listen are far from subpar. Listen's equivalent to "Titanium" comes in the form of "Bang My Head," a radio hit waiting to happen featuring an explosive breakdown and a new set of inspiration lyrics from Sia: "You'll find what you're searching for / And you might feel light-headed / You think you're going to hit the floor / Instead you rise above it all / Bang your head against the wall." Meanwhile, thanks to its piano-heavy ballad style, the only indication of Guetta's presence on "The Whisperer" is the vocal production given to Sia's pipes. It would have made more sense for the track to be placed on Sia's own 1000 Forms of Fear with the tag "Sia feat. David Guetta," but that doesn't make it a bad track. In fact, it's still one of the most stand-out tracks on the album thanks to its moving melody line and chorus.

Strangely, Listen is more of a production portfolio for Guetta and less about the electronic dance music that should be his main focus. Will this mark Guetta's transition to a song producer à la Max Martin or There could be a good chance, as one of his feet is now planted in pop production and the other still in electronic dance. His nearest contemporary, Calvin Harris, recently entered the realm of electropop songwriter and producer under his ex-girlfriend Rita Ora but still aimed the focus of his most recent full-length album at the electronic dance jugular. Guetta, on the other hand, has simply gathered a large amount of vocalists to practice production styles under; there are plenty of songs for him to toy with electronic roots, but the album lacks full instrumental tracks to strut electronic handiwork. This is David Guetta's album, but it's a shame we can't hear more of David Guetta on it.

Listen is out now under Atlantic Recordings and Parlophone Records.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reclassified | Iggy Azalea


Album repacks are nothing new in today's industry, and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea wasted no time to make one final release to affirm her stance as one of the biggest stars of 2014. As she quickly went from rags to riches this year with three massive radio hits under her belt thus far, Azalea clearly began to prepare methods to repeal the "No money, no family, sixteen in the middle of Miami" stance of her debut album. Her solution takes physical form in Reclassified, a twelve track release containing seven of her best cuts from her debut album, The New Classic, as well as five new tracks from a reinvigorated Azalea and her new collaborators.

While The New Classic allowed I-G-G-Y to contrast her success and her roots, the five new tracks included on Reclassified tout Iggy Azalea for all that she is worth. In the opening track of the album, "We in This Bitch," Azalea proclaims, "Now let's reflect where we left on New Classic / I overstepped what was expected, blew past it" to switch viewpoints from one set to the other. A promo single for the repack, "IGGY SZN," concretes Azalea's new lyrical aim: she is the ruling female presence of mainstream rap and wants to keep it that way. With her closest contemporaries releasing albums late in the year (Azealia Banks' Broke with Expensive Taste and Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint), Azalea was left to take control of the female rap game recently: "Everywhere I go they say it’s Iggy season / 'Til I get what I want, baby I ain’t leaving."

Azalea's biggest hits to date, "Fancy" and "Black Widow," are both included on this set, but the winning formulas of both are united for "Beg for It." The track, which combines a similar beat from "Widow" and a bratty Charli XCX-penned hook à la "Fancy," features Danish singer-songwriter MØ, who infamously crashed Azalea's Saturday Night Live performance with faulty lip-syncing. British songbird Ellie Goulding is called in for assistance on "Heavy Crown," in which the two divas claim, "This heavy crown, it comes and goes around / And when it's time, I'll pass it proud / But bitch I got it now." Instrumentally, we see small nods to M.I.A.'s chaotic production meeting trap synths, with Goulding's choruses acting as a slowdown from the robust verses. In a interview, Azalea rightfully described the collaboration as a newfound "aggressive" side of Goulding while offering a change of pace for both artists. A new sonic direction is also taken on "Trouble," Azalea's second collaboration with Jennifer Hudson. The duo bows away from trap and electronic influences to pull Azalea into J. Hud's comfortable soul territory.

In all, Reclassified only offers five new tracks, which seems a bit too small by comparison to other repacks. While a small amount of new material would normally deem a repack unjustifiable, the format used for this release is ingenious. By only including select highlights from the original album and then blending some new cuts into the mix, Iggy Azalea and her team may have just Reclassified what an album repack should entail. For those who never purchased the entirety of The New Classic should highly consider checking out its condensed essentials-only companion; anything that lugged the original album down to a three-out-of-five star set has been removed and replaced with tracks that are more worthwhile. Good thing we already put her name in bold, because she's going to be around for longer than just a season.

Reclassified will be released on November 24, 2014 under Virgin EMI Records.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mockingjay - Part One: Official Motion Picture Soundtrack | Various Artists


Not many people would think that handing a curator position to a teenage girl would be a wise decision, but then again, Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O'Connor) isn't your typical teenager. At only sixteen years old, Lorde had the world in the palm of her hand with her debut single, "Royals," and subsequent release, "Team." After turning seventeen, Lorde was volunteered as tribute to stand as the executive producer and sole curator of the soundtrack to upcoming motion picture, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One. Earlier this month, she turned eighteen and who knows what this next year will bring for our young musical (pure) heroine. Lorde performing in space with Lady Gaga? Lorde as a presidential candidate with running mate Hillary Clinton? Lorde winning the Nobel Peace Prize? The possibilities are endless, but perhaps she will be able sit back and bask in the success of this endeavor instead of illegally running for president or somehow winning a prize that she probably isn't eligible for.

After her haunting rendition of "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" for the movie series' previous soundtrack, it is clear why Lorde was hand-picked to curate this new project. Besides being the leading director of this soundtrack, Lorde contributed "Yellow Flicker Beat" and a cover of Bright Eyes' "Ladder Song" to this album. The former song was released as the lead single to the soundtrack and features elements of Joel Little's traditional drum-heavy production with a surprisingly expansive chorus, while the ladder latter allows Lorde to switch into a light-voiced persona over a minimal instrumental background. The album's opener, "Meltdown," is labeled with a slew of features, including a significant portion from Lorde. This song marks the first that we've heard Lorde over a production that isn't from her faithful sidekick, the aforementioned Joel Little, but it turns out well. Her signature sound already stemmed from hip-hop beats, but adding chunky synths and rapped verses only complement her further.

Some of this year's biggest names were welcomed into the recording of this soundtrack: Charli XCX, Tove Lo, Tinashe, and Ariana Grande, to name the most notable. Charli XCX, who has already received massive attention this year for her feature on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and her own hit, "Boom Clap," is rendered nearly unrecognizable on her contribution to the soundtrack, titled "Kingdom." She replaces the bratty vocal tone with a high-pitched, cutesy approach and implements a piano-led production that eventually flows into her native synthpop territory. Both Tove Lo and Tinashe don't venture far from their own respective genres, either. In her driving track, "Scream My Name," Lo asks, "When I'm dead and gone, will they sing my name? Dead and gone, will they scream my name?" and manages to reference her own radio breakthrough, "Habits (Stay High)," with final murmurs of "oh, oh." Meanwhile, on "The Leap," Tinashe warbles over the seductive R&B beats that filled her debut album, Aquarius. Finally, Ariana Grande, in collaboration with Major Lazer (a.k.a. producer Diplo under an alias), brings "All My Love" to the table, a radio-friendly and club-ready banger with bouncy synths and airy vocals. "All My Love" and Grande and Zedd's "Break Free" go hand-in-hand to solidify the versatility in Grande's voice from genre to genre.

Lorde also made sure to pick out some acts that may seem a bit more obscure to many music fans that listen solely to Top 40 radio. Most notably, three-piece synthpop band, Chvrches, brought their sparkly, bouncy craft to the table with "Dead Air." Just like many cuts from 2013's The Bones of What You Believe, the band manages to contrast deep, dark undertones with glimmering synths and front-woman Lauren Mayberry's light vocals. In the same loosely-categorized echelon as Chvrches, Bat for Lashes (born Natasha Khan) graces the track-list of this soundtrack with a cover of Son Lux's "Plan the Escape." Khan easily flows through the song and echoes in the background with high-pitched wails as the instrumental continually blooms with enchanting combinations of automated drums and synth patterns. The truly-independent artist XOV offers his self-described "dark pop" sound in "Animal," complete with somber synths and electronically-enhanced vocals. Oppositely, the long-standing, Grammy-winning duo, The Chemical Brothers, produced a glitchy anthem featuring hard-hitting instrumental stems and vocals from singer-songwriter Miguel.

The balance between the familiar and the unknown is nearly optimal on this album. While some curators beg to be seen as ultra-indie and others are in the deal to make the franchise a profit, Lorde picked up the best of both worlds. If this soundtrack doesn't convince you that Lorde has a wise ear for musical talent, nothing will; seeing her name on another soundtrack wouldn't be surprising. (Perhaps she will be allowed to create the musical companion to the second half of film adaptation of Mockingjay?) Most importantly for a compilation album, this set is sonically cohesive, for the most part (the Ariana Grande piece almost doesn't fit, but it is such a highlight that I would hate to have seen it axed). While Mockingjay: Part One isn't out just yet, as Lorde sings in "Yellow Flicker Beat," the film marks the "start of how it all ends." At least we know that musically, the franchise is going out with a bang.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One: Official Motion Picture Soundtrack is out now under Republic Records.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Four | One Direction


In the late 1990s, boy bands could be found for a dime a dozen. Prominently, the Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, and 98° skyrocketed up the charts and left giant footprints in pop culture. Following a boy band drought during the majority of the 2000s, the demand for the teen-heartthrobs was resurrected by five-piece pop-rock group One Direction in 2011. In traditional boy band fashion, the members of One Direction and their record label leaders have been in a race against time to churn out as many albums as possible while the boys are still young, compatible, and most importantly, profitable. Four marks their fourth studio album in four years, but the content on this set allows the group to stray the farthest they've ever been from the definition of a boy band sonically.

This album's era opened with the release of a buzz track, "Fireproof," and the lead single, "Steal My Girl." Both tracks introduce listeners to the band's new exploration into an indie-rock sound that is sent into a tailspin by subtle influences of both '80s and modern pop. The former track is led by a guitar line and carries a pleasant blend of light rock and folk that would make John Mayer proud, while the latter turns the band towards the aforementioned '80s influences with highlighted piano and guitar stems. "Steal My Girl" is perhaps the strongest track on the album, with a unique sound, killer melody line, and the charming lyrical spark that is normally associated with the band. Sultry '80s influences also shine through on "Stockholm Syndrome" as the boys sing, "Baby, look what you've done to me / Baby, you got me tied down / Baby, I'll never leave if you keep holding me this way."

The folk John Mayer-esque sound doesn't go away, either: most of the cuts on Four are led by acoustic guitar stems. However, the expansion on those basic guitars isn't as extreme as I had hoped. Two tracks that definitely could have packed a stronger punch are "Night Changes," a steady track headed for adult contemporary success, and "Fool's Gold," a track that could easily be masked as a ballad from The Script. "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and "No Control" aim for a harder-hitting sound, but sonically come off as re-works of "What Makes You Beautiful" with the boys' shouted choruses layered over a pop-rock spin. The combination of old and new sounds are well-balanced on "Ready To Run," but it gives a very strong nod towards the band's own "Story of My Life." Another happy medium between 'too bland' and 'too boy band' is found on "Spaces." The song carries a subdued instrumental track and allows the vocals of each member to shine.  

The band openly collaborated with multiple notable acts for the material on Four and it is clear that the boys are easily swayed by their influences. English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has collaborated with the band before, but once again was called upon to pen "18." The song's lyrics glimmer of the melodramatic handiwork of Sheeran while the boys succeed in emulating Sheeran's vocal style. (Sheeran has retained his native accent in his professional recordings, while the guys of One Direction normally drop their own, spare the vocals on "18.") A horde of other collaborators were rumored to be working with the band on this album, including indie-rock group The 1975 and rock band Good Charlotte. Both groups clearly helped the effort to nudge One Direction into the world of pop-rock, but with their voices fitting so well in the genre, perhaps this was the type of group One Direction was meant to be all along.

While many bands strategically feature one lead vocalist that could effectively jump to solo stardom if needed, there has never been a clear highlighted member of One Direction. This fact holds true for the material on Four. An equal blend of voices is a good sign for the quintet as a whole, but not as promising for the members individually if the group were ever to disband and solo careers ensued. Four years ago, I would have never guessed that the five singing little tykes that visually seemed to be fresh out of middle school would grow into young men that allowed their music to mature with them. With their influences in tow, the band is slowly yet effectively developing from a traditional boy band into a pop-rock group that fits somewhere on the spectrum between Maroon 5 and The 1975, while also continuing to stay true to the appeal that first skyrocketed them into stardom. 

Four will be released on November 17, 2014 under Columbia Records.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Broke With Expensive Taste | Azealia Banks


September 2012, March 2013, September 2013, March 2014, possibly never: these were all possible release dates associated with the release of Azealia Banks' debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste. Finally, and quite surprisingly, the time has come for the album to grace the presence of Banks' fans. While Banks blacked out her social media websites and has given fans a few subliminal messages via Instagram in the past few days, nobody knew that the album would drop today as a surprise via iTunes until Banks simply tweeted the link to buy the album with the message, "Voila!!!! Here it is... "Broke With Expensive Taste!" Enjoy!" In other words, Azealia Banks was the first artist to pull a Beyoncé-style release since the Queen B herself.

Broke With Expensive Taste has been infamously delayed numerous times after the release of Banks' 1991 extended play and Fantasea mixtape. Banks signed with Universal Music Group's Interscope Records and Polydor Records a few years back, but the labels pushed dates back each and every time the album was near release. After slipping out of her contract and retaining the control over her own material, Banks dropped both "Heavy Metal & Reflective" and "Chasing Time" with no release date in place for her debut album. Now completely liberated from record executives, Banks is back in full force and has released this album independently in cooperation with Prospect Park. However, now that the album is out, was our two year wait just a waste of time? Absolutely not.

Longtime fans and supporters of AB will recognize a handful of the songs featured the album. Among the familiar tunes are Banks' breakthrough, cunnilingus-referencing banger "212," the fan-favorite "BBD," and the original lead single that was dropped by Interscope and Polydor, "Yung Rapunxel." (Luckily, Also in the mix are the aforementioned "Heavy Metal & Reflective," a heavy-hitting glitchy track featuring a deep-voiced rap, and "Chasing Time," an '90s-inspired house track in which Banks sings, "Am I chasing time? / 'Cause I wasted all mine on you / Check my watch, I had the future in my pocket / But I lost it when I gave it to you." Could this be a diss at her previous labels, sent out behind the façade of a tattered relationship? You be the judge.

Like "Chasing Time," many tracks on Broke With Expensive Taste allow Banks to display talents in singing and rapping. While she can still carry a great flow (see: "Heavy Metal & Reflective," "Wallace," "Desperado"), her singing voice was a resource that was left untapped for the majority of her 1991 extended play (spare the chorus of "Liquorice" and small portions in "1991" and "Van Vogue"). In fact, this album opens with the primarily-sang "Idle Delilah," a track full of funky, tropical beats and ad-libs. The tropical vibe flourishes and conquers on the album's pleasant outlier, "Nude Beach a Go-Go," which completely abandons rap and house in order to act as a 2014 re-vamp of the sound that made the Beach Boys profitable in the 1960s.

In other areas, Broke With Expensive Taste is swayed by a mixed bag of inspirations without running too far from home base. The worlds of hip-hop and big-band soul collide on "Gimme a Chance," which toys with blaring horns and record scratches while Banks raps through the latter half in Spanish. The track following it, "Desperado," opens with a some piano chords, a horn, a fast-paced beat, and a fake radio introduction that alludes to the album's delay ("I've been waiting for Azealia Banks") before Banks rips into her verse over a beat that could have been lifted from the musical backdrop of The Jetsons. (Between old boy bands and animated children's shows, Banks channeled the 1960s just as much as she did 1990s house.) Let's also not discount the vocal ad-libs that sound eerily similar to something from a Super Mario Bros. game in "Soda," a track that Banks said is about self-medicating.

If you were a fan of the down-right dirty ways of Azealia Banks, have no fear: the explicit lyric handiwork is back. All sixteen tracks on Broke with Expensive Taste carry explicit content labels on iTunes, and for good reason. In "BBD," we get everything from derogatory slang to lesbian sex references ("Tits out with your wife, n***** / I'm bringing out the dyke in her / XOXO, fine, scissor sister, sixty-nine, whip that"), while in "Wallace," she reminds us that, "The black cherry on her tickle when the breasts undo / You lick the left one, you gotta lick the right one too." When she's not being explicit erotic, Banks is still radiating the confidence we were introduced to on "212." In "Heavy Metal and Reflective," she proclaims, "I'm in every city, they say hello to the head bitch," and in "Ice Princess," she boasts her newfound financial status despite her album's moniker as she raps, "Grown money, ever since a youngin' made my own money / You broke, honey, and they call me Banks 'cause I can loan money." I would hate to hear what the edited cut of this album sounds like, because I'm assuming there are a lot of blank spots for people to fill in on their own.

From the opening beats of "Idle Delilah" to the closing companions of "Miss Amor" and "Miss Camaraderie," Azealia Banks consistently delivers polished products. With over two years of improvements and tweaks, it is only reasonable that Broke With Expensive Taste should be shining with only minimal imperfections. Tropical undertones, heavy house beats, and fresh, natural flows blend together under Banks' direction to create an arsenal of solid bangers. While female rap competitors Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj both have releases scheduled within the next month and have catered to radio-friendly audiences, Azealia Banks has successfully followed the footsteps of M.I.A. down the road less traveled by aiming for club success over radio airplay. To deny this album a perfect rating would just be a brash insult towards Ms. Banks.

Broke With Expensive Taste is out now under a partnership between Azealia Banks and Prospect Park.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Motion | Calvin Harris


Calvin Harris has quickly become one of the biggest names in electronic dance music. While he achieved great success across the pond with his first two albums, his 2011 solo hit "Feel So Close" and collaborations with Tinie Tempah, Florence Welch, Ellie Goulding, and Rihanna on his third album, 18 Months, shot Harris into international stardom. This year, he and British singer Rita Ora were the topic of discussion as they ended their relationship before Harris infamously snatched away Ora's control over the music they made together for her second album. Harris effectively (and perhaps reasonably) crippled Ora's career for the moment, but uninterruptedly progressed with his own career by releasing his top ten single, "Summer," and his fourth studio, Motion.

The aforementioned single, "Summer," allows Harris to return as a self-sufficient singing, songwriting, and producing machine. "Summer" joins the Cedric Gervais remix of Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" on the list of "jams appropriately titled for the season," but that does not stop either of them from being just as amazing in mid-November. Harris' raspy voice creaks over the sprawling electronic synthesizers as he reminisces of his summertime lover: "When I met you in the summer, to my heartbeat sound / We fell in love as the leaves turned brown." He also places his own vocals over the album's opener, "Faith." The song sounds fresh sonically, but turns into a dirge lyrically, as Harris continually beats "I need a little, I need a little faith / Is that too much to ask for?" into the ground.

The dream team of Harris and Ellie Goulding reunited for "Outside," after the success of "I Need Your Love" from 18 Months. On this new cut, Goulding brings it home with subtle harmonies and her signature vocal tactics. Which other female powerhouses are featured on this album, you may ask? Gwen Stefani, who is currently undergoing a solo image revival, gets a credit on "Together" as her vocals drip with autotune effects and she sings, "We're going to wake up together / You won't want to go home / We'll find love here forever / As we wake up together." Up-and-coming artist Tinashe has also nabbed a feature on this album follow the release of her album, Aquarius. On "Dollar Signs," Tinashe channels a hybrid of Rihanna and Ariana Grande, while Harris finds his production style rooted in a heavy, trap-style beat. Another newbie wildcard, English trio All About She, slide into Motion for the track "Love Now," which incorporates some organic strings under the shiny electronics and the undistinguished vocals from All About She's lead singer, Vanya Taylor.

Harris managed to score a seemingly-unlikely feature from the three sisters of indie-rock band Haim, with results that are even more surprising on the track "Pray To God." While it opens with some eerie synths that channel Haim's own "My Song 5," the song expands and resolves into a traditional electronic dance style. Harris took away most of the Haim sisters' guitars and natural instruments (spare one running guitar stem), yet they vocally managed to make it seem as if they had never left their comfort zone. Other notable features on this album include John Newman on "Blame," which contains one of my favorite electronic dance breaks on the album, and two separate songs from pop duo Hurts. The first song to feature vocals from Hurts, "Under Control," was released a year ago in collaboration with fellow producer Alesso, and is a steady-moving cut that is perfect for the club scene. On the other hand, both the production and the vocal delivery on "Ecstacy" do not live up to that of "Under Control," as the team fails to create a moving electronic ballad they were yearning for.

Whether you're an in-the-car rockstar or a flamboyant club dancer, Motion will get you moving in one way or another. Harris is able to display a radio-friendly side on Motion ("Summer," "Together"), but doesn't forget the monstrous club scene in electronic dance music with some completely-instrumental tracks that are sure to get everyone bouncing ("Burnin'," "Overdrive"). While still not revolutionary, Harris manages to bring some killer tracks to the table. Minus the degrading oral sex references on the Big Sean collaboration on "Open Wide" and the sonic catastrophe on "Ecstacy," the album is right in line with 18 Months. With fellow producer David Guetta aiming for an album release date at the end of this month with a relatively uninteresting line-up, Harris' Motion may easily still end up on top of the electronic dance game this year despite the lack of musical growth thanks to his quality features and catchy beats.

Motion will be released on November 4, 2014 under Sony Music Entertainment.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Playlist: November 2014

Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding

The dream team is back together. After a successful pairing on "I Need Your Love," Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding have teamed up again for a track on Harris' fourth studio album, Motion (out November 4). This new track, titled "Outside," opens with a sound that is quite similar to the Harris' handiwork on ex-girlfriend Rita Ora's "I Will Never Let You Down," but later expands to a booming electronic-dance track that screams influences from earlier tracks such as "Sweet Nothing." Meanwhile, Goulding delivers a great product (per usual) as she spits out, "There’s a power in what you do / Now, every other day I’ll be watching you / Show you what it feels like, now I’m on the outside / We did everything right, now I’m on the outside."

"Baby Don't Lie"
Gwen Stefani

We all found our hearts melting when both Fergie and Gwen Stefani both announced planned comebacks as solo artists as they step out on their own again without The Black Eyed Peas and No Doubt, respectively. Both artists encountered massive success during their debut solo album cycles in the mid-2000s, but haven't released any solo work in the 2010s until now. When Fergie debuted "L.A.LOVE (la la)" with the relatively disappointing results, I personally was counting on Gwen Stefani to deliver. Luckily, she did just that. "Baby Don't Lie" seems like Stefani's sassy take on Coldplay and Rihanna's "Princess of China" and is driven on heavy drums and a winding synth run. The song has been run through the mud by fans who just want "Hollaback Girl" 2.0 and claim she ripped off a random SoundCloud user, but I'm still rooting for Stefani.

Marina and the Diamonds

After killing off her Electra Heart persona last year, Marina Diamandis is back... as herself this time, on her new track "Froot." Billboard's Ryan Reed hit the nail on the head while describing this song: it is a "sonically fresh but lyrically stale" pop song. The lyrics of "Froot" are, for the most part, just as cringe-worthy as the spelling of "fruit" in the title. The most glaring examples include "Hanging like a fruit, ready to be juiced, juiced, juiced" and "Oh my branches are heavy / Yeah they're heavy, yeah they're heavy," as Diamandis rails through the song with multiple vocal tones and vowel shapes. However, ignore the lyrics, and a killer retro jam with an irresistible chorus prevails; even the lyrical handiwork improves as she sings, "Living la dolce vita / Life couldn't get much sweeter / Don't you give me a reason / That it's not the right season."

"You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile"

Usually, modern day franchise re-boots give no justice to their respective classic counterparts, but when the makers of the upcoming Annie remake added one of today's best vocalists to the mix, they made the outlook just a bit better. Sia Furler was enlisted for three tracks on the new Annie soundtrack, the first of which was just released last month. In her take on "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," Sia steps away from her own haunting 1000 Forms of Fear album concept and shows us a much brighter side of herself - perhaps the happiest we've heard since "Clap Your Hands." When in need of a pick-me-up and a great sing-along track, this should be a go-to song.

Iggy Azalea

Iggy Azalea knows that she's currently one of the biggest names in the rap game, and she's not afraid to brag. Towards the end of last month, Azalea released "IGGY SZN" the first promo single to her upcoming re-release, Reclassified, which will include the most popular cuts from her debut album, The New Classic, as well as a few new tracks with collaborators like MØ, Jennifer Hudson, and Ellie Goulding. On "IGGY SZN" (pronounced: "Iggy Season"), Azalea raps all about her newfound status as a star over a fresh beat. "Simmer down, bitch / It's Iggy season / I ain't worried about shit / It's Iggy season / Bad bitches scream, 'yas' / It's Iggy season," proclaims Azalea, exuding just as much confidence as we heard in "Work" and "Fancy." If you have a problem with Iggy Azalea, just remember that what you make in a year, she can make in a week.