Average User Score: 7.8Jun 16, 2015The acclaim Alejandro Ghersi—AKA Arca—has received since his 2012 EPs Stretch 1 and 2 and his work on FKA twigs, Kanye West and Björk’s mostThe acclaim Alejandro Ghersi—AKA Arca—has received since his 2012 EPs Stretch 1 and 2 and his work on FKA twigs, Kanye West and Björk’s most recent releases hasn’t distracted him from continuing the development of his own overall musical agenda. Xen is named after Ghersi’s own ‘feminine spirit’ that appears on the album art and in its accompanying music videos, described as being an ambiguously gendered “naked being” that her audience are “simultaneously attracted to […] and repulsed by”. Musically, it’s also a representation of that, where the tone goes from sexy to scary within seconds of each other. The closest Ghersi’s chopped, screwed, and consistently inconsistent songs can come to lead single material is the reggaetón of “Thievery”, which is sort of an accessible introduction into Xen as a whole and, thanks to the music video, very well belongs to the most luxurious strip club in your city. Even within its experimentation, Xen invites you in with its artsiest moments—the metallic and synth soaked title track and, according to Ghersi, the most personal one on Xen, “Failed”, which is about his current boyfriend. The cold and claustrophobic nature of Xen can be an uncompromising experience for listeners expecting more musical versatility and instrumentation, coming off as dull. But for anyone who gives it a closer examination can hear the heart beating behind these beats and as it continues to pull you in, the realization that Ghersi has made one of the most mood-altering and sonically distinguishable records in electronic music comes kicking in even closer.
Overall rating: 8.6
Highlights: "Xen", "Sad **** "Sisters", "Thievery", "Failed"… Expand
Average User Score: 8.4Jun 16, 2015Ever since “Habits (Stay High)” came out and became one of 2014’s commercially successful singles, Tove Lo has received many comparisons toEver since “Habits (Stay High)” came out and became one of 2014’s commercially successful singles, Tove Lo has received many comparisons to the recent ‘Queen of Alternative’—according to Billboard—Lorde, which isn’t surprising; their lyrical content is smarter than your typical pop clichés and the production, albeit catchy and contemporary hit radio ready, is darker by nature. But while Pure Heroine debuted an overall sound Lorde could quite call her own—the record’s sole producer, Joel Little, incorporated hip-hop, PBR&B, and rock music influences, as well as minimalist music and Lorde’s lyrical wit that took on topics like criticism of celebrity culture, coming of age realism and even death—Tove Lo generally keeps it safe on Queen of the Clouds as far as the music goes, which could be confused with the work of Max Martin and Shellback with its precisely placed hooks and polished production. But like its lead single, what helps Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson out is how infectious it is, both musically and lyrically. According to Nilsson herself, it’s separated in sections—“The Sex”, “The Love”, and “The Pain”—and tells the story of her romantic struggles. And even when it’s conforming to clichés found in most pop songs today, Nilsson stands on her own by being much more involved and even sometimes insightful when singing about sex or love or the impending aftermath of romance (“I’m not on drugs, I’m just in love”). Even if it all doesn’t leave the most memorable first impression, Tove Lo certainly has more up her sleeve the more self-assured she is—“Moments” is even evident enough of this (“But on good days, I am charming as **** Because despite some twisted imagery she gives us in her lead single—she eats dinner in the bathroom, munches on Twinkies when she’s stoned, and hits on dads at the playground—she’s certainly not lying about being charming.
Overall rating: 7.0/10
Highlights: "Habits (Stay High)", "My Gun", "Not on Drugs", "Talking Body", "Timebomb".… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Jun 8, 2015It’s apparently the beginning of a new era for Nick Jonas and while his eponymous [solo] debut album definitely hint at the ‘10s’ own JustinIt’s apparently the beginning of a new era for Nick Jonas and while his eponymous [solo] debut album definitely hint at the ‘10s’ own Justin Timberlake, it at least mostly succeeds at separating him from that god-awful Disney manufactured trio and turning him into mainstream music’s most irresistible twenty-something sex icon for the ladies—and gay men, which Jonas has openly pandered to since his musical rebirth. And as long as you didn’t come for anything even remotely timeless, let alone innovative (ha!), or lyrical depth, Jonas definitely delivers on the hooks—he has at last outgrown that teeny-bopping whine and matured into a smooth, sensual tone that makes his choruses soar and his verses flow like water. Musically, Jonas has adapted R&B—of course—and more significantly, trap; lead single “Chains” lyrically calls out to the Fifty Shades of Grey fandom with its masochist metaphor of being trapped by his romantic antagonist (“You got me in chains for your love”), while “Numb” features Jonas’ first f-bomb backed by hiccupping beats and chopped up ‘ah’s obviously influenced by DJ Snake’s recent material. As far as balladry, don’t expect any “Cry Me a River” or anything above average, so just keep your mind on the trappier tracks, turn your speakers up, and sing along to words you won’t remember by this day next year. But for now, Nick Jonas has made an exceptional record that’s simultaneously a statement about newfound adulthood in the limelight and a transition into a much more controversial figure that isn’t afraid of tossing his purity ring into the trash without being a total dick about it.
Overall rating: 6.9 (but let's go ahead and make it a 7 since it was SO close)… Expand
Average User Score: 7.7May 17, 2015Dominick Fernow has produced possibly his best, cohesive and emotionally invested collection of tracks to date in a career that’s beenDominick Fernow has produced possibly his best, cohesive and emotionally invested collection of tracks to date in a career that’s been spanning since the late ‘90s; Frozen Niagara Falls is a double disc and it’s musically everything Fernow has experimented with under his numerous aliases, primarily Prurient—traditional Prurient, mic + amplifier and all, while also reintroducing the synths that were a prominent part of 2013’s Through the Window. Except here, everything’s used to their best, maybe even complete ability. The opening “Myth of Building Bridges” and “Traditional Snowfall” are a beautiful mess of drones and drums frequently interrupted by Fernow’s haunting, heavily reverbed screams, while the second disc’s “Greenpoint” and the closing “Christ among the Broken Glass” are an acoustic journey into what black metal may have been if we were in some sort of alternate universe. And whoever said Prurient isn’t capable of accessibility, I highly recommend the industrial drums and Fernow’s much, much more comprehensible screams of “Dragonflies to Sew You Up” and the hiccupping synths of “Every Relationship Earthrise”. It’s not just a milestone for noise music in recent years, it’s a milestone in an already critically underappreciated discography. Frozen Niagara Falls is a variety of moods, mostly somber, and sounds and sounds that both contrast and complete each other, favorably.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.0Mar 21, 2015Noah Lennox has created his catchiest record since Animal Collective’s 2009 cult classic Merriweather Post Pavilion—Panda Bear Meets the GrimNoah Lennox has created his catchiest record since Animal Collective’s 2009 cult classic Merriweather Post Pavilion—Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper exercises experimentation, hypnotic hooks, and some of Lennox’s shortest song lengths he’s ever recorded to make mostly solid psychedelic pop gems that’ll ingrain themselves into your brain, with or without your consent. Particularly “Mr. Noah”, it’s a highlight that starts out in distorted eerie moans that transition into Lennox’s center aye-aye-aye hook that’ll have you singing for days. It’s not his most memorable entry to date, but it doesn’t disappoint once you realize Grim Reaper is practically its own universe in comparison to his previous projects.
Overall rating: 7.7… Expand
Average User Score: tbdMar 2, 2015Dying is a well-informed debut album that crafts an atmosphere and aesthetic that largely borrow from the ‘90s—whether it’s noise-pop,Dying is a well-informed debut album that crafts an atmosphere and aesthetic that largely borrow from the ‘90s—whether it’s noise-pop, post-punk, or shoegaze, it’s a record seemingly disinterested in defining itself by one specific signature sound. The guitar rhythms simultaneously hum and screech dark, brooding melodies, while frontman Joe Hatt’s vocals are virtually monotone throughout, making your eardrums are about as disoriented as Dying’s composition and lyrical themes. But while it’s certainly a bit of a ubiquitous statement since the recent return of the shoegazing genre, the Spectres offer an overall enjoyable listen that, at its best, never sounds too inauthentic to lose yourself in.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.5Mar 2, 2015The Haim sisters have created some of the ‘10s’ catchiest pop songs with Days Are Gone, one of 2013’s most critically celebrated entries inThe Haim sisters have created some of the ‘10s’ catchiest pop songs with Days Are Gone, one of 2013’s most critically celebrated entries in the indie pop genre. Producer Ariel Rechtshaid particularly highlights some of the debut’s most charming, playful and sweet ones (“Falling”, “The Wire”, “Honey & I” and “My Song 5”, at his edgiest), which isn’t surprising when you take his work with Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX into consideration. But it’s just that: a debut, not a solid album, where certain compositions can blend into others and others can be a bit filler. But if you’re an admirer of radio-friendly ‘70s rock-flavored aesthetics, it’s never too late to give Days Are Gone a listen or a dozen more.
Overall rating: 7.7… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2Jan 18, 2015Beyoncé has at last experimented with the themes she’s continuously half-explored throughout her decade(+)-long career—feminism, sexualBeyoncé has at last experimented with the themes she’s continuously half-explored throughout her decade(+)-long career—feminism, sexual expression, self-empowerment—and overall, she has created her most erotic, overtly feminist, and sonically experimental record to date. The intros and interludes of audio snippets seeming to act out Knowles’ childhood experiences and the segments of speeches discussing society’s expectations of women (“***Flawless”) and why women can openly love sex (“Partition”), it’s a concept album through and through. Besides its accompanying visual experience, the dark, moody production trails PBR&B, electronic, and even ambient influences and its large array of producers—Ammo, Boots, Detail, Hit-Boy, Timbaland, etc.—and featured artists—Drake, Frank Ocean, and, of course, hubby Jay-Z—help her achieve her musical ambitions. The monumental “Drunk in Love”, the sultry “Partition”, the urban confidence of “***Flawless” featuring an insert from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth studio albums further certifies her status as one of pop music’s most dominant divas and if her overnight release date without any prior promotion or singles isn’t evidence of that, let her musicianship and vocal capabilities speak for her themselves.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Jan 2, 2015If Pink Friday established her as a voice with versatility and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded established her as a voice with commercial impact,If Pink Friday established her as a voice with versatility and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded established her as a voice with commercial impact, The Pinkprint at last establishes her as a voice altogether. It’s her most accomplished album to date. Especially its first half, where Nicki Minaj—no, not ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Barbie’, but Onika Maraj herself—highlights her vulnerability on “All Things Go”, a record referencing the murder of her cousin and an abortion she had when she was a teenager, and “I Lied”, one of Mike Will Made It’s darkest productions to date that could or could not lyrically trace back to Minaj’s longtime relationship with Safaree Samuels, which allegedly ended in 2014 and is seemingly Pinkprint’s primary go-to inspiration. And then there’s her continuously maturing sexual confidence on the Dr. Luke produced “Get On Your Knees”—co-written by Katy Perry, features Ariana Grande, but couldn’t come close to being deemed “radio-friendly”—and “Only”, which has Minaj’s most memorable verse on the entirety of the album.
Minaj has a lot of collaborators on The Pinkprint, but mostly let’s everyone know who’s running this show. And when she’s not, it’s her holding herself back. Unfortunately, where Pinkprint stumbles, it’s when Minaj tries to throw the ball to everyone on the court, usually fresher faces. It’s an exemplification of how obvious it is that they were tacked on post-production by her record label. Even Queen B makes an underwhelming appearance on “Feeling Myself”, which is less Pinkprint and more of a blueprint appropriately scheduled after their previous diva dominating collaboration on the remix of Beyoncé’s “***Flawless”.
Though not all collaborations are a misfortune on an overall solid record, Minaj’s intent on reviving the more urban oriented sounds of her pre-Pink Friday mixtapes means Pinkprint’s singles—obviously meant to compensate for any financial loss in case nobody buys into serious Nicki—are underwhelming as well: “Pills N Potions” is gimmicky, hollowly produced, and is pushed to the second half after her much, much more vulnerable offerings on the first three tracks; “Anaconda” is conceptually well-intentioned and fun, but the second-half is just a compilation of Minaj’s gurgling, wannabe Weezy laughs, and skinny-shaming lines that turn on the single’s initial theme; and “Bed of Lies”, which is just dull and a rehash of everything that topped the R&B charts in the last three years.
But once you quit scoffing at the overabundance of filler collaborations and more of Minaj’s attempt at recreating the success of “Super Bass”, The Pinkprint is her most accomplished album to date. Her singing still isn’t as versatile as her rapping skills, but there’s definitive enough talent there to make sappy power ballads like album closer “Grand Piano” convincing enough to make us feel for her heartbreak over what’s-his-name. It’s not a foreseeable classic like the Jay-Z album it replicates by title, but it’s another—if not larger—step-forward into the legacy that is Nicki Minaj.
Overall rating: 7.2… Expand
Average User Score: 6.3Nov 23, 2014Bangerz was one of the most anticipated pop albums releases in recent years—unfortunately because of Cyrus' widely dubbed "controversial"Bangerz was one of the most anticipated pop albums releases in recent years—unfortunately because of Cyrus' widely dubbed "controversial" behavior at her televised live performances and not because of the former Disney starlet herself. But overall, Bangerz doesn't have a lot to talk about because it's neither musically a major success or a failure. Despite her self-indulgent dive into genres her former Disney contemporaries, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, didn't even hesitate to make a jump for in their respective releases of 2013, Bangerz has a hit-or-miss quality to it many experimental pop records tend to have, except none of Ms. Cyrus' work sounds adventurous enough to be considered experimental—let alone like "the next Thriller", as Cyrus herself said while discussing her intentions with the album.
What's more disappointing about Bangerz than its average at best quality? The overall consistency—or inconsistency. Whereas moments like lead single "We Can't Stop" or the Britney Spears-featured "SMS (Bangerz)" explore Cyrus' desire to make more urban-oriented 'bangers' and emulate her current public image, listeners have to re-experience her previous album Can't Be Tamed all over again: party on the surface, completely heartbroken teeny-bop-esque ballads all over the inside. The mood largely suffers from separating the party from the teary-eyed Tennessean that's constantly telling us "everything's okay" before breaking into ex-fiancé-induced tears on the couch again.
But on the otherhand, Bangerz musically sounds safer and more satisfying when it comes to ballads and truth be told, it sounds more sincere on the singer's part. Even in an industry latched on by manufacturers where the songwriting has probably already been in conception by music executives since before the album's conception itself, Cyrus has one of the most naturally beautiful voices in that industry today, especially when she's closer to her country roots. The opener "Adore You", Mike WILL Made-It-produced "Drive", and of course, one of the most memorable guilty pleasures of 2013, "Wrecking Ball", are only half as solid as they are not because of the stories told by their songwriters, but because of the voice of the storyteller herself.
And then on cringeworthy courses like "Love Money Party" and will.i.am's already unwanted appearance on the production and co-writing credits of "Do My Thang", Miley Cyrus' 'so-southern belle/crazier than hell' alter ego comes out to rap and to be honest, she's just not that fun—or fun to listen to. And neither are her friends—collaborators. Nobody needs Nelly in this newer generation of music, let alone toward the end of an overall okay job at southern hip-hop courtesy of Cyrus and Pharrell Williams. Future and Cyrus' duet on "My Darlin'" turns Ben E. King's 1961 classic "Stand By Me" into an Auto-Tune clad mountain of murmering about making a sex-tape—in 3D! Though Britney Spears and Big Sean deserve honorable mentions for making some sort of use of their signature vocal stylings—yes, Spears still has those when she herself is clad in computer-enhancements—they're not appearances we'll remember in the long run.
Unless frequent uses of the f-bomb and references to cannabis use are actually still considered "racy" in this day and age, Bangerz never warrants the kind of talk Cyrus constantly calls upon all of us to do. It's not failure by any means and there are minor successes like "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball". But ten years after the Bangerz era, it's not the music that we'll be talking about. Though Cyrus has insisted that she despises the idea of her being labeled a pop star, everything we'll remember from this time in her career represents everything despicable about the genre and that's when a musician's celebrity becomes more important than the musician herself or rather, the music itself. Like Lady Gaga and her meat dress or Britney, Christina Aguilera, and Madonna's on-stage make-out session, Cyrus lighting up a joint at the EMAs is no different. It's a career-highlight that's there for the sake of shock value more than it is to promote that singer's latest single or record.… Expand