Average User Score: 8.9Oct 14, 2014After witnessing her Abandon EP from last year, Bestial Burden's most surprising moment for me comes from Margaret Chardiet's act of restraint on her bonus track cover of Nancy Sinatra's more well-known 1966 cover of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and how well-executed in typical Pharmakon fashion it turned out to be, dethroning Lady Gaga and David Guetta from the coveted 'Memorable Bang Bang Cover of the Year' award.
But now that we know Chardiet does have the—in her case—unique ability to have fun, let's back to the dark reality of what Bestial Burden really is: a compositionally cleaner structure of the chilling, horror-esque screams of Chardiet and her accompanying percussions and assortment of noises. As evident by the artwork—which according to Chardiet, is to "the body as a lump of flesh and cells that mutate and fail you and betray you—this very banal, unimportant, grotesque aspect of ourselves" with actual organs (none human though!)—the concept came together after Chardiet had to undergo emergency surgery and cancel her very first European tour in order to rest her body over a period of three weeks.
Where does that lead us? Well, into more incomprehensible reverbed screams that could've came from the recordings of an actual murder, of course. But with Abandon, it's already been well-embraced by noise music listeners and it only takes us further and further into Chardiet as an artist. Though she insists it's much grittier than her previous material, Bestial Burden actually unveils a more coherent and organized noise artist, from the song titles ("Body Betrays Itself" and "Autoimmune") to the even more meaningful interludes (heavy breathing of "Vacuum" and coughs of "Primitive Struggle"). Wherever Pharmakon eventually takes us, whether that's a full-length LP or a pattern of conceptual yet minimal EPs, Chardiet might not even know. But it's kind of scary—and kind of innovative and endearing.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.4Oct 12, 2014Though musical acts consisting of one man and one woman—one Adam (producer) and one Eve (lead vocals), ahem—are sprouting out in the indie-pop industry like poison ivy on an abandoned farmland, latching onto whatever audience they come upon, and selling out like cigarettes at a Kentuckian Pilot station—if you're from Kentucky, you'll understand what I mean—Phantogram have fortunately managed to develop and establish a signature sound that's actually quite unique and even successful without sounding the least bit insincere. It's no Crystal Castles as far as ambition goes, but it certainly earned them an audience that's not there for a millisecond and gone in another. What does that mean for their second studio album Voices?
Phantogram—Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter—didn't actually capture my attention until years after their 2009 debut album Eyelid Movies came out. But once a friend of mine introduced me to "Futuristic Casket", I immediately searched them up on Spotify and felt a warmth in their melancholy melodies, sample-heavy production, and Barthel's safe yet soothing voice. It's not as if I became a complete believer in their material and praised it to the highest Heavens of them all. It's not revolutionary and it's not at Arcade Fire's height of hype, but that's exactly why it caught my eye for at least a moment: Phantogram aren't trying to break ground on a surface of music that's already been broken to pieces, they're just creating very, very endearing art that seems sincere to them. That means a lot to me and I wouldn't want anything more.
Voices on the other hand, it's an, albeit faulty, attempt at building on top of their previous endearments and simultaneously making it more accessible. That's not a crime on their behalf—in a market dominated by duos and trios like Crystal Castles, CHVRCHES, Haim, and many more, why not take advantage of that dominance and cash in on it yourself? Lead single "Fall in Love" differs from CHVRCHES' 2012 breakout single "The Mother We Share" in sound, but it's simultaneously established and effective on both paper and presentation. The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd contributes to "Never Going Home" to craft one of the record's most memorable tracks, an indie-rock anthem to Phantogram's fullest.
But where Voices falls, it's not dramatic more than it is disappointing. Though it's natural to eliminate and re-establish certain qualities into an artist's creation over time, Phantogram have removed a fair percentage of their charm by relying less on samples and more on glamorizing themselves to fit in with the 'cool' kids and the 'weird' kids. Truth is, however, not a lot of Voices is all that memorable. It's quiet and instead of ingraining itself into your eardrums with the same effectiveness of their last album or lead single "Fall in Love", it insists on layering itself into the back of your mind, but leaving no room in the forefront for the listener to latch to. It's not shoegazing when your melodies become dull halfway through and Barthel's limited vocal range certainly doesn't have the strength to support it up. None of Voices sounds even remotely below-mediocre at worst and there are good songs here; the glimmers of Barthel and Carter's maturity and ever-growing sound haven't vanished. My issue with Voices isn't that negative and it's actually pretty biased and simple: it just could've been better.… Expand
Average User Score: 5.1Sep 28, 2014Though it feels like it was just yester-year that Kesha—then known as 'Ke$ha'—took a commercial bath in fame, fortune, and glitter in between from the success of her debut single "TiK ToK", it has been nearly half a decade since the release of her debut album Animal and although she's more recently remembered for her rehab stint earlier this year—which actually didn't involve 'a bottle of Jack' in contrast to her nay-sayers—she remains a polarizing figure to the public. For example, her overuse of Auto-Tune made us question her vocal capabilities and with lyrics like "D-I-N-O-S-A-you are a dinosaur", we definitely questioned her songwriting capabilities. Would she be a one-hit wonder? Is she a parody artist or is this actually as deep as it gets in the mind of this Nashville gal-turned-Valley girl? Many of the questions have already been answered, we just never really payed more attention than we should have to learn them. Her 2012 acoustic EP Deconstructed certainly spotlights her ability to sing—why anyone would wanna cover up that quivery-yet-beautifully raw Nashville accent is above me—and considering her lengthy string of top-ten hits since her debut, it's out of question how successful her schtick has sold so far.
Let's get to Animal now: to sum it up, depth isn't in this record's ungrammatical vocabulary. Production-wise, Dr. Luke and Max Martin created some of the '10s most guiltiest electropop pleasures out of hits like "Take It Off" and "Your Love Is My Drug", however, while Lady Gaga's 2008 club classic "Just Dance" features some surprisingly well-detailed production to accompany its drunken lyricism, neither of the aforementioned are groundbreaking in any shape or form and often sound so sweet, they rot at the brain like a cavity due to the simplicity. The highlights on the record come from assisting producers like Tom Neville on "Boots & Boys"—spoiler, it lists two primary 'obsessions' that 'bring [her] so much joy'—and the Greg Kurstin-produced title track that could be the most thought-provoking, vulnerable track on the record. Her following EP Cannibal and second studio album Warrior continue to unveil more and more of her impact as a pop icon—albeit very, very calmly. As for now, Animal remains one of her funnest records to date and whether you're a female (or male) teenager experiencing bratty hormonal development or too drunk to understand who or what you are at this moment, it has a lot to offer as far as mindless dance-pop goes.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.9Sep 24, 2014Recent came-and-went Welsh singer-songstress Marina & the Diamonds once described herself and her music by saying, "I probably have a bit of a different sound because I don't really know what I'm doing!" That's not negative in her defense and it's actually a refreshing introduction to one of the fresher artists in the mainstream music industry. However, it's not the perfect fit for a musician who's well-known for her collaboration with famed pop producer Dr. Luke, it's not suiting at all. But if it came from Claire Elise Boucher—AKA Grimes—it couldn't be any truer. Ever since she received recognition from her single "Vanessa", critics and music listeners alike have failed to define her artistry and it's unknown to date. For example, it's not 'weird' enough to compare to Bjork and it's not artsy-poppy enough to compare to Ellie Goulding or Florence + the Machine. It's all courtesy of Grimes. And with Visions—which is virtually produced by Grimes and Grimes only using GarageBand—it's not any less true.
Though it's no concept album, Visions has a caution in its production that's lacking in a lot of 'indietronica' (let's be honest, everyone's gonna call it indie because it's a critically acclaimed yet commercially unheard of artist). Despite retaining that dream pop and electronica influenced sound throughout its duration, each song has its own structure and more importantly, its own individual personality. If lead single "Genesis" didn't catch your attention with its ambient vibe and Brooke Candy-starring music video that has gathered more than 20 million views on Youtube, "Oblivion" had to have caught your ears from the beginning: bubbly electronica and Grimes' cutesy, lisp-y vocals accompanied by lyrics that are the exact opposite ("And now the walk about after dark/It's my point of view/If someone could break your neck/Coming up behind you always coming and you'd never have a clue"). Turning a personal experience—previously dealing with assault—into one of the year's catchiest melodies isn't easy.
Visions requires patience in a sense that it takes multiple listens—about as many as Grimes use of layering her vocals, which have been documented to reach up to 50—and once the less climactic ones are skipped, it's a surprisingly pleasant experience the more it grows on you. A few of my favorite highlights that didn't catch me upon the first or second listen are "Skin", a seductive-in-a-Grimes-way ballad that transitions from soulful R&B to dark, calming synths you swore you remembered from a Blaqk Audio song, and "Nightmusic", which definitely takes the witchy concepts of its music video to heart and induces a nightly euphoria until the very end. Grimes has certainly caught the eye of many and to many, her recent collaboration on the far too trendy trap-tastic "Go" completely contrasts her work on Visions. But that's just Grimes, her ability to create accessible yet jarring electropop makes her one of the most coveted artists in the underground music world right now.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.7Sep 23, 2014More of us are—admittedly—checking out Cheek to Cheek for only one of the two iconic musicians on this duet album and well, it's Mother Monster herself. Not all of us adore her—ARTPOP or 'Artflop', to anti-Monsters, obviously disappointed in the commercial market and the critical world—however, we're intrigued because she's a contemporary artist. But we shouldn't really be surprised since Gaga has not only sang jazz since her childhood, but her previous duet with the legendary Tony Bennett on their 2012 duet "The Lady Is a Tramp" was one of the highlights of Duet II. It was a pleasant surprise to music listeners and little monsters alike.
As far as Cheek to Cheek goes, any comparisons to Madonna's soundtrack album I'm Breathless or any original jazz album for that matter should be discarded. It's a cover album and as far as reviewing it goes, well, it's about as cheesy yet admittedly feel-good jazzy cover album goes. Despite her tendency to over-sing some of the songs, Gaga has a charming and very impressive vocal range in many of the songs, including her own solo performance on the 1933 song "Lush Life". Even if some of their duets aren't all that memorable, they're smooth enough to earn themselves the top-played album of the year at dinner parties. "Nature Boy" is one of the finest examples of their chemistry—which has faults on other tracks. To sum it up, in order to develop any attachment to Cheek to Cheek, the details aren't all that necessary to analyze, just enjoy it for what it is: a fun duet between two respected musicians.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.0Sep 22, 2014Deafheaven have obviously created one of the most controversial records on Metacritic—which is saying a lot, considering it's not by an allegedly 'washed-up' metal band or some album in the top 40. However, Sunbather deserves to be talked about. A lot. Even today. It's magnificent record to take in, whether you end up on its side or on the opposite. It has us talking and that's all that's important—at least there's something there to discuss.
Let's get one thing out of the way: Sunbather isn't the first album conceptual art metal album on the market and it's certainly not Deafheaven's first time experimenting with this kind of sound. Their EP Roads to Judah was when the group gave us a vision into what we'd see in the future, however, we didn't expect it to be Sunbather, something so groundbreaking and well-detailed in a genre that began to lose its shine. George Clarke's faint yet deep-and-drenched-in-emotion screams haunt on every track. ("I'm dying"/"Is is blissful?"/"It's like a dream"/"I want to dream") The opening 9-minute rock opera "Dream House" has a finale that'll raise the goosebumps on even the most conservative of music listeners.
The shoegazing influences are ingrained throughout the album like a forest; "Please Remember" is easily one of the most surprisingly ambitious and climactic highlights on the record, with its spoken word dialogue—which you should Google the words to as soon as possible if you want even more goosebumps—and seemingly lost musical composition of backwards guitar loops and a piledriving mechanic-esque noise that eventually dissolve into another beautiful acoustic moment. You'll find a lot of unexpected twists and turns on this album, despite using the same formula throughout: loud, humming guitars, seemingly time signature-less drums, and Clarke's screams leading into melancholy instrumental moments and spoken word speeches.
Sunbather isn't for everyone and it'll have haters by the numbers, whether it's from the metalheads who refuse to buy into the hype or your mother simply saying, "It's still just screaming to me, turn it off!" But when an album creates that much controversy and develops that much of an interest from music listeners everywhere, you know it's more than word-of-mouth that drew them in and caused a reaction. But for my own opinion, I'm gonna call Sunbather a masterpiece. If I wanted to hate on it to sound 'unique' or love it to sound, again, 'unique', I wouldn't go into so much—still minimal compared to much, much better reviews written here, both good and bad—detail trying to explain why it is in fact one of the greatest albums in recent years.… Expand
Average User Score: 9.3Sep 19, 2014Though many could consider Homework or Random Access Memories their milestones—Homework for contributing to modern electronic music (and simply because it's their debut album) and RAM for its commercial breakthrough and refinement to an era of EDM where everyone wants to be David Guetta—Discovery is truly where it all began, in my opinion. Not just the beginning of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo's robotic alter egos—caused by a September 9th, 1999 accident in their studio, ahem. But the beginning of an era where electronic music began again. Discovery could be considered a main highlight in the early noughties, with "One More Time" being noteworthy as one of the greatest singles of the decade and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" being sampled by Kanye West then remixed into their Alive tour, however, it's just a work of art in its own right, disregarding Pitchfork and all that praised it in their year-end lists.
Technically speaking—if I spoke from my own fangirl alter ego, I'd simply say "This album is **** amazing" and nothing else—Discovery has a polished production that's almost insulting for the simple fact that it's samples layered upon samples, which would later end up being sampled by other artists. And yet it's all original in its own right, especially considering the obscurity of the samples chosen. It's obviously not a concept album, but to recommend single songs off of the album seems impossible, considering it'd strip the mood from when you listen to it on continuous play. From the sappy, feel-good vibes in its lead single and "Digital Love" to the funky, chill vibes in "Something About Us", it's astonishing how cohesive a dance album can actually be. To sum it all up, it's amazing, there.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.7Sep 3, 2014Pharmakon—AKA Margaret Chardiet—has received more attention from the masses for Abandon's admittedly ugly album artwork more than the EP's even uglier sound—seriously, if Alice Glass' vocals on Crystal Castles' 2010 song "Doe Deer" challenged your eardrums, Chardiet is going to slice, stab, and mutilate your ears with her black metal-esque screams that sound like she's, well, getting sliced, stabbed, and mutilated in the darkest part of the woods. Maybe it was recorded during the shooting of death metal band Cattle Decapitation's extremely NSFW music video for "Forced Gender Reassignment", I don't know.
To call Abandon atmospherically dark is an understatement—it's even kind of scary to listen to if you're at your home alone at night. It's not meant for casual ears ("Milkweed/It Hangs Heavy" builds on the sonically Silent Hill-esque momentum and climaxes into Chardiet's indistinguishable screams of anguish that'll strike the senses in even some of the most devoted noise listeners). By far, "Crawling on Bruised Knees" is the most ambitious track on the EP: one of the most effective drumbeats of 2013 accompany grinding synths that sound like the eerie spaceship level on a '90s video game and Chardiet's gurgled vocals that, for all you know, could be summoning the dead to come and take your life by the end of the song, who knows.
As another review here has mentioned, Abandon is like walking through a haunted house that you know you won't like, but you're still somehow fascinated. Pharmakon has made a very, very unique EP that's certainly one of the most memorable noise—or whatever the hell you could call a genre like this—records of the 2010s. Here's a challenge for ya—I quadruple-dog-dare you to get through the bonus track "Sap Sour", which is half an hour in length, with your headphones on full blast while you're out in the woods during the darkest night of the year. If you succeed, you were probably possessed by whatever ominous demon Chardiet is summoning somewhere in there.… Expand
Average User Score: 5.1Sep 2, 2014V—which makes a 'vague' indication that this Adam Levine, erm, Maroon 5's fifth studio album—has hooks and it has repetition of said hooks, that's not polished production, in my opinion. Even more so than their previous 2012 album Overexposure, which Levine has said was their "poppiest record to date", Max Martin, Shellback, Levine, and the dozens of other writers—rarely the band members themselves—make no attempt at creating a memorable hit-single. The second single, "Animals", is ridiculously catchy. That's it though. It's as if it was only tailored for that Kia Soul commercial and nothing more. It's not a memorable pop moment, it's a satisfying one. There's a difference.
As executive producer, Max Martin must've exerted more energy into making number-one hits for Ariana Grande, Jessie J, and Taylor Swift. Because with V, it literally sounds like Levine and Martin just said, "Eh, we'll settle on a good radio song or 2. We're just satisfying our record label, anyway," which makes V lazy even by the laziest of standards. And what's with the excessive Auto-Tune? Levine has a hit-or-miss vocal range, sure, but I haven't heard of him sending any live audiences to the ear doctor. And don't say it's for "artistic reasons", the production doesn't even call for it.
To sum it all up, if you were expecting Adam Levine & the Scene (I'm sorry, I had to) to return to their glory days of actually sounding like a band intent on crafting pop gold like they did on Songs About Jane, Levine and his pick-up lines aren't even remotely interested in flirting with those expectations.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Aug 27, 2014Even in 2014, Evanescence's return in 2011—which came out half of a decade after 2006's The Open Door—disappoints me. To admittedly be one of their most enthusiastic fans for years and years and to love literally everything they've done to date—from their unreleased late-'90s material to their B-sides, Amy Lee and her fellow interchangeable band members made me feel let down. The experimental and electronic music influenced album hyped during their work with producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, The Rolling Stones) was cancelled in favor of completely tossing out any refreshing ideas and recording songs that could've been B-sides from their Fallen days. It's the '10s, why do bands continue to try and resurrect nu-metal?
That's not saying there aren't any redeeming records on here: "My Heart Is Broken" has that signature everything-I-touch-dies sort of melodrama within the musicianship + Lee's knock-out vocals belting out the album's catchiest chorus ("My heart is broken/Sweet sleep, my dark angel"); "Lost in Paradise" is musically My Immortal, Pt. 2, a completely dramatic and chill-inducing rock ballad where Lee apologizes to her fans for being human and wanting more than fame and fortune; "Swimming Home" is gloomy gothtronica at its finest and bonus track "Secret Door" has to be one of Lee's most breathtaking vocal performances in her career of many, many, well, breathtaking vocal performances.
But all-in-all, nothing's very new. The influences of Bjork, Depeche Mode, and MGMT aren't visible in plain sight due to the forgettable and formulaic 'rock' moments, which sound more like re-written Disturbed or Korn songs rejected from the final cuts of the albums. Amy Lee is the heart and soul of Evanescence. Though her band members try their very best to make a really, really rad rock record, they hold Lee back from exploring her inner ambition she flirted with on her cover of The Nightmare Before Christmas' "Sally's Song" and her recent solo album for the 2014 film War Story. It's not terrible and I'd even recommend it to longtime Evanescence fans, however, it's just not what it could have been.… Expand