Friday, May 26, 2017

Lost on You | LP

Upon first listen to her dingy spaghetti western of an album, it's hard to imagine that singer-songwriter LP has managed to swing some writing credits in albums from some of the biggest names of mainstream pop. In the past ten years, she's found her name in the listings for albums from Rihanna, Cher, and the Backstreet Boys – well, 2007 Backstreet Boys, not the top-of-their-game 1999 Backstreet Boys, but I digress.

Then again, it's hard to believe that the title track of Lost on You lit up airwaves across Europe last year. With its humid guitar strums, heavy beats, and singalong melody line, "Lost on You" is the sticky embodiment of what to expect from its parent album. Though it's an earworm of a song, its ignorance of current radio trends makes it an unlikely candidate to top the charts in a flurry of countries.

But if stripped of the refreshing production tactics that give her the illusion of singing from amid a slew of desert heat haze, LP is a pop songwriter through-and-through. She knows how to complement the most defining features of her shrill soprano voice – its raggedness in lower parts of its range, its strength through higher belts, and its ability to cut through all sonic environments. She proves time and time again that her voice is a force to be reckoned with, from her cutting wails over the bellows of the haunting "Muddy Waters" to the nonchalant, conversational delivery of "Death Valley."

While she may have knack for pop – and an appreciation for it, at that, as she name-checks songs from Shakira and Britney Spears on "When We're High" – all-out powerhouse pop really isn't where her heart resides: she's really a rock 'n roll spirit with pop smarts. Her record, while a pop one, is a pop one masqueraded with a crossbreed of sonic influences, pulling from '70s rock, western, folk, and modern alternative pop – and apparently, that's the formula for success.

Lost on You is available now under Vagrant Records.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

After Laughter | Paramore

Paramore isn't exactly the same band you lived vicariously through in middle school any longer.

Since the band's debut in 2005, its moniker might have been its only stable element. Its member roster has been crushed and rebuilt time after time amid storms of rapid-fire allegations hurled at Hayley Williams – that she's lax in her Christianity, that she's the only member of the band contractually bound to Atlantic Records to ensure she's the sole star of the Parashow, that she weaseled a member out of promised songwriting royalties... The list goes on. In essence, the band has spent most of its lifespan caught up in, well, itself.

But through it all, Paramore has survived – even if barely – as has Williams – again, even if barely. Once known for hair dyed such bright colors that it could be considered an outright visual assault on passersby, Williams now dons a head of hair that shares a color tone with bleached flour. Stripped of her high-gloss personality coating, she becomes more believable than ever before when tapping into genuine pain. Her newest reincarnation comes not to release a few years of pent-up teenage angst, but instead to reflect on her anxiety and depression as the band imploded in the palm of her hand yet again between this record and the last.

Grasping onto a newfound maturity, she backtracks on plenty of past lyrical staples, relying heavily on references to the band's first four records as she claims to have killed the last fraction of her optimism and become the type of unrealistic, daydreaming escapist that she once criticized. But Williams' attitude isn't the only element that has taken a turn; the band has ditched its roots altogether – the pop-punk ones that the band had already started to cut away with 2013's transitional self-titled record – in favor of agreeable pop on its face, a new trend that has swept across acts that once prided themselves on a certain level of viral counterculture status.

The changes serve their purpose, though, reviving a band that was on the brink of folding for good. Rehashing what has already been done would only gash open the half-healed wounds, so the band walks another avenue, locking eyes on survival but keeping the past in the periphery. While that means a seemingly drastic change for listeners, the product still seems familiar because the successful juxtaposition of Williams' grief with the fizzling pop sparks roughly equates to the same basic principle upon which Paramore was founded: barreling through the pain via song, even if that means plastering on a smile but allowing the stretched threads of a band in crisis show through.

After Laughter is available now under Fueled by Ramen.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ralph | Ralph

There's something about Canadian singer-songwriter Ralph that gives her the front of being simultaneously trendy and timeless. The magic is sparked when her voice, an admirable, pop-oriented echo of Stevie Nicks' pipes, meets her light, bouncing production, spiked with the same sensibility as the fuzzy, upbeat pop music that accompanied decades-old shopping mall commercials. When those two elements come together on the six tracks of Ralph's eponymous debut extended play, the product beams like the sun on a warm July afternoon.

Across the extended play, she teeters the line between commitment and indecisiveness in love. "Tease," a florescent highlight fueled by the undertones of a slinky '70s rhythm machine and a shimmering beat, finds her exposing a cheater after the promise of a ring, yet she does the heartbreaking herself when an urge for utter independence takes control on "Cold to the Touch" and "Something More."

In short, Ralph is an abridged profile of a young woman who struggles to decide whether she craves the hopeful fulfillment of monogamous love or the ecstasy found in being young and free of any ties to another. It plays out through infectious melodies and over the glossy bounce of retro-flavored pop music, leaving a sugary aftertaste and the desire for another fix. And luckily, this is only the beginning.

Ralph is available now under Wednesday Management.