Average User Score: 7.4Nov 23, 2015Adele isn’t an innovator—25 has notable musical progression that makes it not sound too much like 2011’s 21 and yet it’s not a distinctiveAdele isn’t an innovator—25 has notable musical progression that makes it not sound too much like 2011’s 21 and yet it’s not a distinctive departure from that very time she conquered the world. But she shouldn’t be: her vocals are controlled yet wildly free, expressing a maturity beyond her years and emoting compelling tales of romance we’ve heard time and time again, only from one of modern music’s most divine vocal talents. Even when her balladry becomes cheesier than an order from your local diner, it’s beautifully sang. It’s wearying when you hear it throughout—she described 25 as a “make-up” record, however, it’s equally as concerned with the past as its predecessor is, if lead single “Hello” didn’t make it any clearer—but the formula works: 25 is set to sell the more copies in its opening week in history and we’ll likely hear them for the rest of our lives.
The Max Martin-produced “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, an obvious highlight that shows Adele is capable of singing catchy hooks too, is already destined to become her so-and-so-th number-one hit in numerous countries and AC radio stations should be ordering every single song right this second. As Adele has said, her initial vision of a follow-up to 21 was a “boring” album about “being a mom”, so let’s be that thankful. The music is grandiose, commonly exploring gospel and soul influences, and despite the many producers signed on, it manages to sound consistent and Adele remains a dominant force throughout. Adele and Damon Albarn’s material may never see the light of day—he called her “insecure” and “middle of the road”, quite unfairly—and her next record may go down the same road. But as disappointing as it may be to analyze for critics and cynics, 25 is a representation of a woman who has conquered the world and that’s not a boring story.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.8Nov 13, 2015Ellie Goulding has lent her featherweight voice to… well, everything since her Halcyon came out in 2012; from motion picture soundtracks—TheEllie Goulding has lent her featherweight voice to… well, everything since her Halcyon came out in 2012; from motion picture soundtracks—The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Divergent, and, recently, Fifty Shades of Grey—to EDM heavyweights such as Calvin Harris, Skrillex, Seven Lions, Major Lazer, and Calvin Harris, again, as well as releasing the world’s most unnecessary deluxe edition, Halcyon Days. If you take the celebrity gossip surrounding her, her ex-beaus, and her public appearances alongside Taylor Swift and her grrrl gang, it’s no surprise the 3 years since couldn’t be any more Goulding-free if they were longer.
Her hotly anticipated third studio album, Delirium, has been described by Goulding as an experiment “to make a big pop album”, takes a tour even further into the middle of the road, hence why Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, and Ryan Tedder are producers instead of countless DJs. Besides the sweet, Swedish sounding “Lost and Found”, catchy “Codes”, or, of course, the Celine Dion-esque cheese of “Love Me Like You Do”, however, Delirium largely fails to make a similar impression, say, Taylor Swift’s 1989 or even Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion did in recent pop music. When her lightweight vocals aren’t being outmatched by the big-budget soundscapes surrounding her, Martin and co. aren’t capable of matching their own preceding successes—“Something In the Way You Move” either copies Selena Gomez’s “Me & the Rhythm” or Goulding’s own “Love Me Like You Do”, which second single “Army” does as well. The folktronica of her debut record and EDM of Halcyon may not be memorable in their own respect, but Delirium is Goulding’s first to not compliment her strengths to the slightest.
Overall rating: 5.8… Expand
Average User Score: 8.7Nov 8, 2015Claire Boucher AKA Grimes has enough idiosyncrasies to consider even her most musically polished, poppy, and, dare I say, feminine music toClaire Boucher AKA Grimes has enough idiosyncrasies to consider even her most musically polished, poppy, and, dare I say, feminine music to date unconventional by any musical standards, as her hotly anticipated Art Angels completely diminishes every single ethereal, experimental 'bedroom'-esque quality inhabited on her earlier releases in favor of a straightforward and streamlined sound reminescent of J-pop, pop rock, power pop, and contemporary pop music from the early '00s. And while it's mostly a success on Boucher's end of the table, maintaining an accessible yet alien approach throughout, Art Angels also doesn't have any surprises similar on scale to 2012's Visions and certain tracks almost anonymize both her production and vocals, which can be largely dependent on that seemingly signature weirdness Boucher has been acclaimed for since the beginning.
The carefree country music twang of "California", Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes's bubbly, cutesy Mandarin Chinese raps vs. Grimes' growly screams on "Scream", Grimes' continued screams and addictive K-pop flavored chorus of "Kill v. Maim", or Janelle Monáe turning grrrl power up to over 9,000 on the abrasive "Venus Fly"—Grimes obviously hasn't allowed Art Angels to fully submerge into the sugary sweet tropes that commonly overpopulate such a commercial genre. Then again, it's not safe to say that about all of it: "REALiTi", which receives one of the most unwarranted, unwanted, and unnecessary remakes of 2015, was already a near-perfect pop song and is an example of how Boucher's capable of rendering her uniqueness virtually mute on certain tracks on Art Angels.
The disappointment in the abandonment of the experimental electronic soundscapes cascading on her earlier releases could've been compensated for had Boucher's many opportunistic quotes regarding Art Angels—how Visions and her lead singles are substantially less creative, how one song is supposed to be about a gender-bending space traveller Al Pacino, and that the album was full of diss tracks, none of which are noticeably true yet—only to raise expectations to a criminally lower degree of fulfillment. The overall outcome can't be correctly calculated because it'll assumingly divide her target demographic; it's an immediately effective pop album that still starkly contrasts the pop of today and yet it completely dumbs itself down when you compare it to her earlier releases and realize they too similarly had that effect, only on music altogether. I imagine that's an admittedly stubborn critique and Art Angels may gradually grow on me within the next few months or maybe even days, but it's one I can confidently cast out for now.
Overall rating: 7.7… Expand
Average User Score: 6.2Sep 18, 2015Bring Me the Horizon are actually one of the most listenable bands from that mid-'00s born, Hot Topic clothed 'screamo' era that many of usBring Me the Horizon are actually one of the most listenable bands from that mid-'00s born, Hot Topic clothed 'screamo' era that many of us tried on like a trendy fashion statement then quickly grew out of. But 2010's There Is a Hell was an overall excellent effort at expanding their formerly generic post-hardcore sound into experimental territory and genuine horizons. Then came 2013's Sempiternal, which incorporated influences of prog-rock, electronica and even introduced frontman Oliver Skye's clean vocals that were withered yet warm, a welcoming addition to their ever-expanding sound. Despite the album's explicit anti-religious themes, it felt as if they were pushing more toward a more straightforward sound throughout.
But experimentalism didn't quite make it into their 2014 single "Drown", a mostly mainstream radio-friendly rock single that's about as faceless as it is faded of the band's post-hardcore roots. And That's the Spirit follows along by turning Bring Me the Horizon into the '10's recreation of '00s-era pop-punk, pop rock and even cringeworthy nü-metal moments only the most nostalgic music listener could love. It's an equally devastating and disappointing blow to the fans that wanted Skyes and co. to enter an experimental version of their core sound, not a complete deconstruction in a desperate attempt to earn the band another charting single. The opening "Doomed" does a decent attempt at incorporating electronics into their newfound mainstream rock sound, but it eventually descends as soon as the rest of the tracks play on, never separating themselves from each other until the trance-y breakdown hits on the closing "Oh No".
It's certainly not a complete disaster more than it is a weak attempt at writing catchy, commercial rock songs that never end up sounding different from everything else we've already heard since the 21st century first began. It's especially concerning for a band capable of doing so much more than become a stereotype of the bands that have fell in their shadow for years.
Overall rating: 4.3… Expand
Average User Score: 7.6Sep 16, 2015Purity Ring are apparently aiming at more mainstream styles of pop music nowadays and it’s a so-and-so effort—Shrines felt fresh due to thePurity Ring are apparently aiming at more mainstream styles of pop music nowadays and it’s a so-and-so effort—Shrines felt fresh due to the claustrophobic, equally eerie and endearing nature of the tracks that transpired into a sound numerous artists soon began to emulate. The contrary inhabits another eternity, an album largely influenced by everything else, even its own predecessor to certain extents. A contemporary pop sheen can be found covering everything from the hook-laden choruses (“I, I, I lied, now I’m wide awake/I, I, I cried till my body ache”) to Corin Roddick’s heavy use of trap and trance tropes to create catchy, but quite commonly heard electronic soundscapes. Luckily, Megan James’ voice is still her softest, sweetest musical advisory; her songwriting, albeit much more suggestive nowadays (“Get inside and pull on my sea/Get inside and build your castle into me”), remains poetic, but has a penchant for ‘repetition’, most notably James’ fascination with her innards and inserting a special somebody into them, figuratively and… literally? Elsewhere, it just doesn’t get any quirkier than an accidental—maybe?—shout-out to Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” on “stranger than earth”. It’s nowhere near bad, but Purity Ring are too talented to be just ‘good’. And that’s what another eternity is, just good.
Overall rating: 7.0… Expand
Average User Score: 5.8Sep 12, 2015According to Britney Spears, her eponymous eighth studio album has been described as being both “personal” and a sequel to 2007’s Blackout;According to Britney Spears, her eponymous eighth studio album has been described as being both “personal” and a sequel to 2007’s Blackout; it’s one of the only LPs in her discography where Spears is credited as a co-writer on more than a handful of tracks and it supposedly revolves around her 2013 split from her ex-fiancé. But coincidentally, it’s probably her most celluloid musical statement to date and one of her worst written; it dulls in comparison to the fellow female pop singers who were already making a buzz in 2013—Beyoncé surprise released her self-titled LP to critical acclaim, Lorde challenged the status quo on one of the year’s biggest hits, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga released new albums, hell, even Miley Cyrus turned heads with her twerking VMA performance and even enjoyed some success with her own singles. But even Spears didn’t seem too enthralled by her own co-creation by its release date because she gave it little to no promotion—Beyoncé has already succeeded Spears in pulling off promotional stunts like this because not only did her product become commercially and critically consumable in the end, she’s simply a better musician nowadays, succeeding Spears at numerous achievements within her decade-plus career.
For Britney Jean, Spears assigned the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am—who makes an extraordinarily unextraordinary appearance on “It Should Be Easy” since ANY product he’s involved in must include more than co-producer credit—as a curator of her “personal” sound, exchanging her longtime collaborators Max Martin and Dr. Luke in for shallow EDM “drops” courtesy of him and accompanying co-producers such as the equally unextraordinary David Guetta. At least Max Martin and Dr. Luke, albeit one-dimensional, knew how to make a mountain out of a mole hill in terms of turning minimal melodies into epic generation-defining euphoria—Spears’ own Femme Fatale exhibited similar EDM influences in 2011, it could create electronic landscapes out of relatively simple contemporary pop tropes, such as the dance-pop anthem “Till the World Ends”, Spears’ best song in years. But whereas Femme Fatale and even 2007’s Blackout stood slightly ahead of the trend, will.i.am keeps Spears safely in the middle of the stream and maybe even behind the rest of the pack.
The lead single, “Work **** embarrassingly emulates—and appropriates—‘80s black vogue culture, which could be called out as a desperate attempt at baiting and cashing in on her dedicated LGBTQ+ fan base, in a decade where civil rights regarding sexual orientation and gender identity have become far more relevant than the stereotypes society continuously associated with their community. But it’s much more exhilarating than the rest of Britney Jean, which trails between bland and absolutely terrible. The second single, “Perfume”, co-penned by Sia, nudges Spears back into her early teen-pop balladry and also has the laughable line “I’m gonna mark my territory,” as if it’s an appropriate metaphor to define making sure you stamp your identity on your romantic partner as a dog urinating on a fire hydrant. The T.I.-featured “Tik Tik Boom” compares sexual climaxing to a time-bomb explosion in an awkwardly childish manner; T.I. returns to his signature sexism from that year’s “Blurred Lines” with cringeworthy lines of his own (“She like the way I eat her, beat her, beat her/Treat her like an animal, somebody call PETA”).
Britney Jean is actually a kaleidoscope of idiotic imagery curated by Spears and co.’s second-grade songwriting: “If there was a scale from 1 to 10 then my love for you is a million billion,” Spears sings in one of her most headache-inducing vocal effects yet. But even when the lyrics aren’t bombing catastrophically, they’re cliché as all hell. The chorus on “’Til It’s Gone” dramatically chants “You never what you got ‘til it’s gone,” as if it hasn’t been said billions of time before under much better circumstances—“’Til It’s Gone” even copies the stuttering hook of Femme Fatale’s “I Wanna Go” in an act of filling out a pre-chorus. The only standout track on Britney Jean is the Diplo produced “Passenger”, which was initially meant to be on Katy Perry’s Prism and probably would’ve been that album’s highlight. The lyrics definitely suit a female pop star at Spears’ velocity that has been in control for so long, the comfort of allowing a romantic partner to take the wheel is actually kind of endearing. But not only did Spears’ vocals require an overwhelming amount of Auto-Tune to sing, it’s a contradiction for her as well, since Spears has practically been a passenger throughout her career, allowing writers, producers, and record companies to guide her through every shift and turn. But despite leaving a significant mark all over pop music throughout the early millennium, Britney Jean is evidence that maybe she's falling from relevancy, publicly and musically.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Aug 29, 2015Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally aren’t antagonizing ambition, like some music critics are assuming just because of the duo’s recentVictoria Legrand and Alex Scally aren’t antagonizing ambition, like some music critics are assuming just because of the duo’s recent statements regarding the success behind 2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom driving them to a “louder, more aggressive place” that felt “farther from [their] natural tendencies”. Rather, Beach House are celebrating intimacy on Depression Cherry, which is destined to be one of the year’s most misunderstood records based on a couple of critic’s reviews. The magical melodies and shoegazing influences cover Legrand’s ethereal voice like diamond dust, returning the duo to their roots of crafting stadium-size sounds out of thin air, which can be heard on “Sparks”, “Space Song”, and “Beyond Love” most beautifully. It’s a quite consistent sound that may make certain music listeners feel claustrophobic, but I’d rather call it a cozy, comfortable place sparkling in some remote forest that’s hard to find, but easy to love.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Aug 29, 2015HEALTH have allowed accessibility into their signature sound and, whether their fans agree or not, it makes for some stadium-sized epicHEALTH have allowed accessibility into their signature sound and, whether their fans agree or not, it makes for some stadium-sized epic electronic rock. It’s their first official studio album since 2009’s Get Color and the band has admitted that a lot of trends have came—and went—since then in recent interviews. But one of their most notable claims is their newer appreciation for pop music such as Katy Perry and Rihanna, which you can actually almost tell influenced some part of DEATH MAGIC. At least if the contemporary charts consisted of Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine, maybe “STONEFIST”, which is the album’s best track, could’ve received the recognition “Roar” or “We Found Love” earned with the repetitious line “And we both know love’s not in our hearts” or better yet, “LIFE”, which is quite figuratively the heart of DEATH MAGIC, with such a sappy yet heartwrenching lyric like “Life is strange, we die and we don’t know why”. But much of the record still sounds closer to their core; noise and even some shoegazing continuously roar throughout. A lot of music listeners still keen of their biggest song to date, Get Color’s “Die Slow”, might let disappointment in and ruin the experience, but for the rest of us, we’re just reciting the words we plan on singing back next time we see them live.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.9Aug 28, 2015Abel Tesfaye has returned from the failure of 2013’s Kiss Land and accompanied by production by Max Martin, Illangelo, Kanye West and himself,Abel Tesfaye has returned from the failure of 2013’s Kiss Land and accompanied by production by Max Martin, Illangelo, Kanye West and himself, he has polished his PBR&B enough that it can be played at both dancefloors and sleazy house parties across the nation. Beauty Behind the Madness doesn’t deviate too far from the sounds he’s explored—much more superbly, in my opinion—on his mixtapes rather than trademark it. I could write paragraphs about how problematic Tesfaye’s misogynist lyrics are and how his objectification of “b****es”—even in the more ballad-esque tracks—are a legitimate concern if they are to be taken serious beyond an aesthetic alone. But he’s not the first to commit this crime and he won’t be the first to sell millions despite branding this behavior.
Beauty Behind the Madness has many “pop” moments that are nothing short of stellar: number-one single “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Shameless” get enough credit to be compared to some of Justin Timberlake’s sharper hits and his Michael Jackson impersonation on the former and Max Martin-assisted “Into the Night” work well for him, surprisingly. The PBR&B in between, however, range from catchy to just filler. Even when he’s raining catchy choruses like “To say we’re in love is dangerous/But girl, I’m so glad we’re acquainted” on their better moments, they don’t differ from each other enough to earn individual praise from my perspective.
To summarize Tesfaye’s The Weeknd project so far, it feels like he’s becoming much more comfortable in being labeled pop’s new male face in a market mostly crowded by women—I mean, “b****es”—and Beauty Behind the Madness has enough glossy hits to make up the top half of your ‘Party ’15’ playlist. But until his lyrical content expands beyond blatant misogyny and **** one’s own ‘beautiful disaster’-esque lifestyle—“When I’m f***ed up, that’s the real me” is quite disturbing if you over-analyze it, I’m just going to call most of his efforts outside of 2011’s brilliant House of Balloons just very good collections of crossover sleaze&B.
Overall rating: 7.6/10… Expand
Average User Score: 8.3Jun 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