Monday, November 30, 2015

A Head Full of Dreams | Coldplay

Chris Martin's storm has ended in a magnificent rainbow.

Last year's Ghost Stories was Coldplay's proclamation of emotions in the aftermath of Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's infamous conscious uncoupling, which, we have learned, means that they're technically divorced but still spend a fair amount of time together for the sake of their two children. The nine-track set was stained with sorrow yet was sprinkled with the hope of better days to come, paving the way for the band's seventh (and possibly final) release, A Head Full of Dreams.

Within the past few album cycles, Coldplay has become a band that refuses to fit perfectly in its listener-assigned alternative rock mold, making that fact most obvious when the quartet's fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, took the form of a gritty, electroindustrial concept album. Martin's voice remains the band's only constant factor; everything else works around him. This new record, just like the last few, further explores just how far a catch-all genre like alternative rock can be bent before it breaks. Just how far, you ask? Judging by the scene set by the opening title track, which displays an alt-rock core adorned with technicolor pop sensibility, pretty damn far.

This record most closely parallels the band's fifth release in the sense that it places the most emphasis on electronic-assisted production -- the one form of Coldplay that divides fans and critics alike. "X Marks the Spot," an unlisted track that is tacked onto the playtime of "Army of One," is Coldplay's best attempt at the spacey synthpop that the kids (Troye Sivan, Halsey) are making nowadays -- of course, with solid results. "Birds" (not to be confused with "Up with the Birds") charges along with a double-time beat that doesn't rest until the song awkwardly cuts off with Martin's muted mutter of "cool." Even lead single "Adventure of a Lifetime" is an energetic little number led by a reverberated guitar riff, vocal samples, and retro disco vibes; it may just be Coldplay at its most carefree moment.

Although only one artist, Swedish pop newcomer Tove Lo, is credited for her feature on the album, this album is the band's most collaborative effort, with unaccredited vocals coming from Paltrow (again, that conscious uncoupling thing is really lax), Beyoncé (!!!), and President Barack Obama (pulling out all of the stops here, folks). The other voices on the album take the backseat (even the POTUS, whose rendition of "Amazing Grace" is clipped to a fuzzy, nearly unrecognizable snippet at the end of the "Kaleidoscope" interlude) so Martin can continue basking in the spotlight, but they each serve a pivotal purpose in adding flairs to this album that gives it the advantage of unexpected variety over the band's others.

Surprisingly, Lo's voice, thrown into its light upper register and somewhat unrecognizable from its state on her own Queen of the Clouds, plays back-up on the nostalgia-soaked "Fun." Arguably, Yoncé's feature on "Hymn for the Weekend" is more commanding -- and her feature isn't the only thing that makes it the strongest track on the album. The anthem's title is fitting, given that the duo sings, "I'm feeling drunk and high / So high, so high / Then we shoot across the sky," over the beat-laden, horn-accented track. And as for Paltrow, her vocals barely emerge to audible levels behind her ex-husband's "Everglow," a bittersweet wave goodbye to their relationship that acknowledges a lasting impression that each had on the other.

If this album is, in fact, Coldplay's final sendoff, the band's story concludes with a "happily ever after" and a promise that everything is going to be okay, even if things are weird right now and you're singing songs about your ex-wife... with your ex-wife. It infuses a certain level of bliss but doesn't lose the personal touch of its creators, even with the slew of extra voices that wiggle their ways onto tracks and the production responsibilities that are credited to unlikely candidates: Norwegian duo Stargate (the production duo's name is attached to Ne-Yo, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez). The record doesn't contain anything mind-blowing, but that wasn't necessarily a requirement to begin with; it needed to prove that Coldplay is still a chameleonic little band that is alive and kicking nearly 20 years after its formation -- and it fulfilled its purpose with ease.

A Head Full of Dreams will be available on December 4, 2015 under Parlophone Records.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Singles Summary: November 2015

Banks // "Better"
TBA, Harvest

Coldplay // "Adventure of a Lifetime"
Head Full of Dreams, Parlophone

Carly Rae Jepsen // "Last Christmas"
N/A, Interscope

Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello // "I Know What You Did Last Summer"
Handwritten: Revisited, Island

Sia // "Bird Set Free" & "One Million Bullets"
This is Acting, RCA
Bird Set Free: ★★★★☆ // One Million Bullets: ★★★★☆

Troye Sivan // "Youth"
Blue Neighbourhood, Capitol

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Know-It-All | Alessia Cara

Forget it, Katy Perry. This is the real teenage dream.

After the rebound of her single "Here," which originally settled for viral success before creeping its way up into the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 in the past month, 19 year old Alessia Cara's career has recently reached a turning point. Like every teenager, she's seemingly a Know-It-All but admittedly doesn't know enough -- and it's this attitude that makes her debut album the most #relatable set of ten songs to be released in a long time.

Much like the relationship between Troye Sivan's Wild and Blue Neighbourhood is said to be, this album is merely an extension to Cara's Four Pink Walls extended play, which was released only three months ago. In fact, all five songs from the EP -- including "Here," "Seventeen," and "I'm Yours" -- were simply copied and pasted right beside five complementary tracks. The tracks are just as enjoyable as they were in August -- and they're still the most varied tracks. The new tracks all follow a pop pattern more closely than the old school R&B-fused tracks from the EP, leading to a mixed bag of productions here.

But where the production lack in identity, the lyrics pick up the slack. Those light, digestible productions are guided by Cara's defining characteristic: the glimmering optimism -- the same optimism that she (sarcastically) cast off in "Here" -- that oozes from her conversational lyrics. Her shtick is introspection disguised in straight-out-of-the-diary writings (the mushier parts of the diary come through on the album's two lovey ballads, "Stone" and "Stars"),  and despite a number of co-writers with their hands in this project, Cara's writing of "Four Pink Walls" single-handedly confirms that most of the album's statements are, in fact, hers -- which is promising, considering they, alongside her voice, are the most powerful weapons in her teen pop arsenal.

For example, her own ode to outsiders, "Wild Things," is a standout track that revels in being carefree and professes a love for the 808s that drive this album: "So aye, we brought our drum and this is how we dance / No mistaking, we make our breaks, if you don't like our 808s / Then leave us alone, cause we don't need your policies / We have no apologies." And album closer "Scars to Your Beautiful" may make her strongest statement, with its verses telling the story of a teenage girl who takes dangerous measures (self-harm, starvation, etc.) to look like a cover girl. The song's chorus, however, spins things back to that signature glimmer of hope: "But there's a hope that's waiting for you in the dark / You should know you're beautiful just the way you are / And you don't have to change a thing / The world could change its heart."

With an animated voice, straightforward lyrics that get their points across smoothly, and a generally innocent demeanor that amps her likability by at least tenfold, Alessia Cara is bound for further success. She plays it safe with her nondescript production this time around as she experiments with that malleable voice, but the development of a signature sound should be expected in the coming years as she releases more material. This album may not be anything especially striking, but it surely is the warm introduction to the talent at hand.

Know-It-All is out now via Def Jam Recordings. Exclusive pressings can be found at Target department stores.

Friday, November 20, 2015

25 | Adele

"Hello, it's me..."

With three words, the ashes and rubble remaining from the spontaneous combustion of Adele's career were rekindled, four years removed from the release of the miracle album that blessed her with seven Grammy awards, four multi-Platinum singles in the United States, and 30 million album sales worldwide. Now, enter 25, the album equivalent to an admittedly average freshman entering high school under the ubiquitous shadows of her overachieving older sister who graduated from the same institution the year before. It's clear that Adele understands that 21 was a storm of success that comes only once in a lifetime, but she sure is doing her damnedest to double dip into the pool of popularity. 

Take away her commercial success, and Adele is *gasp* no more than your average pop star: four chords per song, lyrics of love and heartbreak, and a well-supported, two-and-a-half octave voice. Since the last time we've heard from her, she has been blessed with a child, a steady relationship, and more fame than she could ever imagine, yet she has somehow ripped away most of her powerhouse climaxes and regressed to more melancholy soundscapes this time around. She nearly teeters along the border of pop and soulful adult contemporary -- an area that can so often be dangerously dull to explore.

Adele herself calls the album a "make-up" companion to 21's "break-up." The emotion is still there, but it seems self-restricted, if not nearly mechanical, to wallow in the same affairs of its predecessor, despite "Hello" seemingly bringing long overdue closure to that chapter last month. "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" is Adele at her her perkiest, but it seems like one last shot at the man who was already swiftly kicked in the groin over a billion separate times in the past few years: once for each time "Rolling in the Deep" or "Rumour Has It" played on the radio to broadcast his guilt to every breathing creature on the face of the planet.

She further bogs down the album when she throws herself into autopilot mode and croons through some typical, soul-tinged acoustic ballads: "Million Years Ago" plays Lana Del Rey's "loneliness in fame" card -- one of the few off-steps from the thematic redundancy that would be universally slammed if it had been pulled by an artist who hadn't been able to muster 30 million sales of an album in a time of pitiful album sales numbers -- and "Remedy," "All I Ask," and "Million Years Ago" are all color-by-number acoustic ballads that just feel like more of the same -- nameless faces in her discography, if you will. Adele's voice is a powerful weapon when put to use in engaging songwriting -- the problem with some of these songs lies in that last part. 

With the record's downfalls set aside, 25 has clear highlights that make the record worthwhile. Again, "Hello" is the proper punctuation mark at the end of her last album's strapping statement. Her voice takes center stage over production that swells in all the right places as she wails, "Hello from the outside / At least I can say that I've tried / To tell you I'm sorry, for breaking your heart / But it don't matter, it clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore." Impending second single "When We Were Young" and sultry standout "River Lea" take the right approach, nailing down nostalgia without saturating themselves with the soggy remorse of the past. Meanwhile, "Sweetest Devotion" asserts itself as the crowning jewel of this album by forgetting the past entirely and focusing on her young son, Angelo. She revels in a love that is guaranteed to last a lifetime, belting over the album's most expansive production: "You will only be eternally / The one that I belong to / The sweetest devotion / Hitting me like an explosion / All of my life, I've been frozen." 

Don't be mistaken: 25 isn't a bad record by any stretch of the imagination; there are plenty of pleasing moments to merit a purchase. In fact, many of the record's lowest points are still pleasing to the ear despite being frustratingly underwhelming. Adele's show-stopping voice, which has taken a slightly fuller tone since her vocal cord surgery in 2011, takes center stage throughout, and her lyrics are still masterfully crafted to seem autobiographical while also retaining the malleability for a typical single person to relate them to his own life and passive-aggressively post them on Twitter while eating his way through a gallon of Ben & Jerry's on a Saturday night. The glaring problem, though, is Adele's comfort in safety, crossing all of her Ts and dotting all of those Is precisely -- too precisely, that is -- to follow the blueprints to success. Judging by the outtakes from the album that were co-written and re-recorded by Sia Furler for her own upcoming album, the path towards powerful pop growth wasn't eliminated, but instead just wasn't chosen, which is disappointing.

So in many ways, 25 is that new girl at the high school who must live up to her sister's legacy of being head cheerleader, field commander of the marching band, fan-favorite choir soloist, captain of the tennis and volleyball teams, and class valedictorian. She's a good girl at heart; she's an ordinary student towards whom everyone gravitates due to her charm and outward personality. Yet her biggest fault is that she tries far too hard to be just like her sister, whose standards she'll ultimately, and unfortunately, never supersede.

25 is out now under XL Recordings. An exclusive deluxe pressing can be found at Target department stores.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Made in the A.M. | One Direction

As Liam Payne tells us in "Love You Goodbye," a track on One Direction's latest album, "It's inevitable everything that's good comes to an end." In the music industry, those good things are often boy bands and girl groups. *NSYNC, the Jackson 5, Destiny's Child, TLC, the Jonas Brothers... even Beatlemania had to end sometime. So, we're onto One Direction; we know what a "hiatus" may lead to. At least time around, we've been given a fair warning and a respectable parting gift in the form of Made in the A.M., the final installment of the band's annual album releases.

It may bear a title inspired by the late nights and early mornings the boys worked through to write (let's use the term "write" very loosely here; a whole mess of songwriters had their hands in this project) and record new music, but Made in the A.M. feels like business as usual. But after spending the majority of the past five years on global concert tours and producing albums like well-oiled promotion machines, perhaps those long work hours have simply become the norm for Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson. With this in mind, all the pre-requisites for a One Direction album are checked off the list: mushy, lovey lyrics, some vocal descants, and a balance between digestible pop-rock tunes and sentimental power ballads.

Actually, this record is home to what could arguably be One Direction's best ballad: "If I Could Fly." It may be a simple piano-led song, but when the quartet join together by the second chorus repetition, a vocal compatibility prevails that reminds listeners exactly why they were grouped together as a band to begin with. And on more upbeat notes, "Hey Angel" emulates Mylo Xyloto-era Coldplay in the best way possible (plus, the post chorus "ooh" is a spot-on Chris Martin impersonation), "Never Enough" is a "Stockholm Syndrome" level anthem, and "What a Feeling" is a sultry highlight that will be perfect for summertime drives. We also mustn't forget "Drag Me Down," an infectious pop-rock radio pleaser, and "Perfect," another standout that recycles the chorus melody line of Taylor Swift's "Style."

The boys didn't pull any tricks on their last hurrah of an album. The benefit of that? We get an album that is no more or no less enjoyable than the last, supplying a fair share of golden moments ("What a Feeling," "Never Enough," "Love You Goodbye") and a few duds ("End of the Day," "Infinity," and the band's attempt at a swan song titled "History"). The drawback, though, is that the material here, like on the last four albums, makes the band sound good, but not exceptional. The album may not be the ringing testament to One Direction's legacy that we expected, but perhaps it's best that the boys are signing off by simply continuing to do what they do best.

P.S. – Zayn, you couldn't have just stuck it out for this one last album, buddy? We miss you. See you in a few weeks for your Timberlake-style solo break-out.

Made in the A.M. is available now under Syco Music and Columbia Records. Exclusive covers and deluxe pressings can be found at Walmart and Target department stores.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Misfit Toys Tour | Ryn Weaver with Holychild and ASTR

"You're so cute," Ryn Weaver told me in the lobby of the Newport Music Hall after her gig on Friday. "Are you in college? What do you study?"

Off stage, Weaver carries herself as a warm, outgoing friend. As I stepped towards her for my meet and greet session, she dived in for an embrace before the photographer ushered us against a marble staircase for a photo opportunity. Five more hugs, a kiss, and two dozen selfies later, I was on my way out of the venue, surprised that the girl I had just met was the same girl who effortlessly captured attention from hundreds of audience members just an hour before.

She took her spot on the stage three hours after the doors opened, allowing time for sets from two opening acts: Holychild, a purposely gaudy pair of musicians who performed a stripped set with a keyboard, drum set, and vocal sampler after some equipment was lost in the transfer from Chicago to Columbus, and ASTR, a New York-based duo who relied heavily on vocal playback but piqued attention with some impressive production. The two acts were no match, however, for Weaver, who caused massive outcries as she appeared in the haze of synthetic fog that was being blown through the venue by a dingy, old box fan back stage.

While singing, Weaver is a category five hurricane. Her body spasms with energy and her voice rattles with vibrato in full-force, keeping audiences entertained and the energy alive for the entirety of her hour-long set. There weren't any flashy outfits or gimmicks; just Ryn Weaver in a vintage black pantsuit, a resonating voice, and more energy than can be provided by a dose of Five Hour Energy. During many songs, she sacrificed a bit of vocal stability in favor of spastic dance moves, but the trade-off was justifiable; the crowd's electricity was fueled on her stage presence as she whipped her hair around her head and threw herself around the stage like a rag doll.

Her part-pop, part-folk, part-rock productions were intensified into venue-shaking backdrops by touring band members with the implementation of a real drum kit, live bass, and live guitar. In the cases of "Pierre" and "OctaHate," it's almost impossible to imagine bigger climaxes, but they sure did happen on Friday. In fact, my ears are still ringing in the aftermath of that last one... but it was completely worth it. The party gave way for sentiment only once, during a dedication to Weaver's late grandfather in the form of "Traveling Song" -- and even then, the audience stared in awe and sang every word.

The music on Weaver's debut album, The Fool, bears equal importance to the story it tells; the 11 track album has a clear story arc of her time spent traveling and living out of her car. The set list of this show was a lively retelling of the album's tale -- still opening the "Runaway" and closing with "New Constellations," with the other nine tracks given a new order in between. Her album and the story it tells pose the question, "Are you a fool for settling for something you've always wanted, or are you a fool for running away and looking for more?" By the end of her Columbus concert, the answer became clear: "You can run if you want to / If you want to, you know you can run." Every song, minus "Traveling Song," transformed into separate jubilant celebrations of exploration, justifying her days of open-ended journeys. After all, none of this -- the music, the story, the tour -- would have ever transpired if she weren't a runaway, a misfit, a fool.

The Misfit Toys Tour runs in the United States through the rest of November.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Art Angels | Grimes

Visions was a blessing and a curse for Grimes. The record was composed entirely in GarageBand and carried itself as a set of 13 jagged-edged demos; it was just strange enough for critics to latch onto, but just digestible enough for mainstream audiences to divulge in. With nearly universal acclaim, the album has become the golden standard for what hipsters proclaim as "quality pop music" and what Top 40 dwellers call "strange pop music." So when our little synthpop mastermind took it upon herself to add a lick of mainstream pop sensibility to her new material that meets halfway between the oddity of Visions and the flamboyance of her 2013 single "Go," she inadvertently divided the masses once again.

Her fourth studio album, Art Angels, is a fleshed-out record that required some work on Grimes' part. Producing the entire album single-handedly, she taught herself how to play the violin, guitar, and piano to layer an organic energy with her synthpop bases. Ninety-five percent of the time, this works in her favor. She nearly abandons synthpop altogether for her new found acoustic abilities on intro track "laughing and not being normal," opening the album with an overture fit for a fantasy video game, not an outlandish synthpop album. Exemplified in ideal Grimes settings, electric guitar riffs are prominent features that spice up "Pin" and "Flesh without Blood," both of which are already kicked to life by hyperactive drums and topped off with some of Grimes' clearest lyrics to date. On the other hand, while I hate to make such a scathing comparison, "Easily," with its simplistic piano backdrop and wispy, droning vocals, could pass as an early Sky Ferreira demo; luckily, this is the album's only clear downfall.

Although not a mainstream pop album by any stretch of the imagination, the intentions and the undertones are there; whereas Visions was haphazardly pieced together under the haze of intentionally-induced hallucinations, Art Angels has a clear club mission in mind while retaining substance. Her affinity for supercharged pop music is uncovered by just one listen to "California," a reimagination of Rihanna's "Pon de Replay" that shoots bullets towards Pitchfork, or "Art Angels," which wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to an obscure early 2000s teen comedy movie. The title track really embodies a set of its own lyrics -- "I don’t need your medicine / Gonna dance all night / I’m high on adrenaline" -- but then again, so does most of the record. Its closing track, "Butterfly," is the brightest star of the bubbly bunch, waving in between low grooves and a euphoric chorus.

Again, it must be emphasized that the signature Grimes eccentricity hasn't gone anywhere. For example, she may be the only pop artist on the market who can craft a two-minute track of screams and Taiwanese rapping (courtesy of featured artist Aristophanes) and make it sound like an urgent movie score. (She also invites unlikely candidate Janelle Monáe in for the fun on "Venus Fly," where her shouted vocals are sandwiched between rolling bass and skittering synth runs for an equally-great product.) The wild extravaganza that is "Kill V. Maim" bounces like a Japanese anime score (another quality that only she can pull off with precision), and the rehauled version of "REALiTi" shines just by being quintessential Grimes -- well, Grimes with a few shots of espresso, that is.

Art Angels is a turning point for Grimes' career. She has concreted her status as a spectacular, ever-evolving, all-in-one package of a vocalist, songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer -- spare the two featured guest vocalists, all of this is a one-woman show. While previously sufficient, her production is finally perfected, and we learn that she can, in fact, enunciate actual words now. (She left us on our own to decode whatever she was saying throughout Visions, which was nearly impossible, by the way. At least we can reasonably decipher the lyrics of Art Angels.) But the greatest news of all? Even in translation to her biggest sound to date, she has retained the idiosyncrasies that make her Grimes -- as if one look at the album's cover art alone hadn't already told you that.

Art Angels is available digitally now under 4AD Records. Vinyl and CD formats will be released December 11, 2015.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Delirium | Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding has made a mistake: she revealed her intentions for a full-fledged pop invasion and her passion for pop and electronic music. 

In a world where the standard for quality music is often forcefully determined by old fogies and hipsters in front cameras with thick-rimmed glasses and distinguished aural palates who think anything sort of moaning indie static is unsatisfactory, an affiliation with Top 40 radio is often looked upon with an eye roll or a look of disgust – even more so when an artist is particularly passionate about being part of the mega-pop gang. So when Ellie Goulding announced her third full-length album, Delirium, to be an experimental attempt at crafting a "big pop album," a large digital moan was nearly audible from one half of the Internet – the half that is still grumbling about wanting "old Ellie" back, that is. 

By "old Ellie," they're talking about the timid, doe-eyed girl who splashed onto the scene in 2010, winning that year's BBC Sound of... poll and coveted Brit Critics' Choice award. In other words, the original archetype of Ellie that has been all but a memory for a while now. Acoustic guitars and tinny electronics coexisted to form the Internet-generated, fictional genre of folktronica on her debut, Lights, but they were swiftly abandoned in favor of the layers of tangled vocal samples, drum machines, and synthesizers courtesy of Jim Eliot on her sophomore attempt, the glimmering, sentimental Halcyon.

For her third full-length outing, she's done equivocating her position as a chart-dominating hopeful. The acoustic guitars of her early days are revived for a few tracks, usually digitally contorted and encased in a shell of larger-than-life production from the best of the best in the pop industry: Max Martin (the chameleonic wizard of pop music with over two decades of experience) and Greg Kurstin (the right hand man to Sia, Kelly Clarkson, Tegan and Sara, and Lily Allen, among others), who collectively produced 11 of the standard pressing's 16 tracks. (And yes, you read that correctly: the album brings a new definition to the term 'long play' with its 16 standard tracks. Some variants of its deluxe edition span 25 tracks.)

Vocally, this is arguably the most "Ellie" album of them all. The vocal differences between the live performances and studio tracks from this album, unlike most Lights era tracks, are unnoticeable. While her voice is often reverberated and layered over the intensive beats, its quality isn't tampered with or compromised. She boasts her voice this time around, both through song (check "Intro (Delirium)" in particular, in which she throws her voice into full-on operatic operation) and through interviews ("I think my voice is something untouchable, but I think me as a person is not. No one else will ever have my voice."), giving her a stronger tone and live stamina than ever before. However, her voice may be the only element of these tracks that is not foolproof; instead of continuing to adapt that sort of smoky, sort of airy, sort of ethereal voice of hers into a more palatable format for all, Goulding and her producers have accepted the polarizing effect of her voice. Some love it, some hate it; you can't win 'em all.

As promised, this is also her most intensive pop album to date. The production of lead single "On My Mind" is par for the Delirium course: effective utilization of repetition and drum-heavy, synthesized backdrops that pulsate with enough energy to wake the dead. From "Aftertaste," a tropical-fringed embrace of a break-up, to "Codes," another Max Martin-assisted gem, the album consistently bounces in a state of ecstasy. The club-ready "Something in the Way You Move" may be the most energized track, but "Around U" is a close second, with its peppy double-time beat and a twinkling, Kimbra-esque chorus. Sultrier, yet still uptempo, offerings "Don't Need Nobody" and "Keep on Dancin'" both chase club trends in their own ways – the former with its PBR&B automated drums and thick, DJ Snake-inspired chorus, and the latter with a whistle chorus over stabbing synth hits – but still don't lose touch with the rest of the album.

Every song either starts and finishes in overdrive, or gradually builds itself up to that point; even the slowest tracks conclude in explosive ways. So although it's easily the album's slowest-burning moment, Fifty Shades of Grey track "Love Me Like You Do" sits somewhat comfortably in the track listing. Even the album's most personal touches are topped off with sparkly electronic finishes and drum-kicks that gives them the vitality of a minor sugar rush: "Lost & Found" sits atop an acoustic base with the sound and fluffy lyrics of the Lights era, a strong ballad is cloaked under a clean-cut club format on the poetically-tongued "Devotion," and "Scream It Out" closes the album with a certain vulnerability that echoes that of Halcyon.

So what has this album taught us? Being seriously passionate about pop music is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you're pretty damn good at making it. Goulding set out to make a pop album that is quality, spirited, and fulfilling, and that is exactly what she did: the album embodies the idea that fun, straightforward, love-oriented pop songs do not have to be chintzy. The few truly personal moments ("Army," "Aftertaste," "Scream It Out") are trumped by distinctive vocal acrobatics, feel-good melodies, and enveloping soundscapes ("Something in the Way You Move," "Codes," "We Can't Move to This"), but that isn't necessarily a problem. We already know that she can write songs that tug at the heartstrings, so there's no foul in letting her revel in her most carefree setting to date. It may not be her most intimate affair, but it's definitely her most ear-catching by a long shot. The album grabs listeners just 30 seconds in, takes them on an hour-long, sugar-coated trip, and releases them from its grip with blurry, yet warm, recollections of the euphoric state they were just encapsulated in – but who wouldn't want to be a victim to this state of Delirium?

Delirium available now under Interscope Records and Cherrytree Records. An exclusive deluxe pressing can be found at Target department stores.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lucid Dreaming | Say Lou Lou

Ah, dreampop: that weird catch-all category for music that falls somewhere on the spectrum between synthpop and indie record store fuzz. Monstrous hooks and ear-catching melodies are few and far between here, but instead, the focus is aimed towards the overall use of a sonic space. Miranda and Elektra Kilbey-Jansson, the twin daughters of two musicians, are the newest players in the genre's arena, operating under the moniker Say Lou Lou. After releasing a string of singles throughout 2012, 2013, and 2014 and being short-listed for the BBC Sound of 2014, the twins dropped their full length debut album earlier this year.

With consistently impersonal lyrics and production that waves in and out of encompassing crescendos, Lucid Dreaming is a set of 11 tracks could have easily worked as a seamless 50-minute mix. The ladies achieve spacious soundscapes with tracks that boast intricately-crafted production and thrive on ambiance and gradual culmination. While nothing else on the record quite compares to opening number "Everything We Touch," each track, from the billows of "Julian" to the starry techincolor of "Glitter," is equally as meticulous as the next.

The album is a commendable affair, but it's best suited for passive listening. Thanks to its wispy vocals, straightforward lyrics, and honeyed glaze that blurs the separate tracks into a singular affair, the album suits its name well; it's encompassing and charismatic as it plays out in real time, but by the time you wake up from the haze, the recollection of its happening is glimmering yet nondescript. 

Lucid Dreaming is available now under á Deux and Cosmos Music.