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Average User Score: 8.0Oct 21, 2016New Lady Gaga Album, New Lady Gaga. At least that tends to be the sentiment that surrounds each new Gaga release. However, that somewhatNew Lady Gaga Album, New Lady Gaga. At least that tends to be the sentiment that surrounds each new Gaga release. However, that somewhat implies that at some point (whether it was previously, or whether that be now) Gaga is “inauthentic”. It’s quite obvious that Gaga’s career is indebted to a pastiche of pop cultural vomit, drenched in copious amounts of artifice and layers of spectacle. ARTPOP was very much an illustration of this. Despite the undeserving critical lambast of Joanne’s predecessor I still stand by ARTPOP as Gaga at her most experimental, wild, well produced, textured, and fun.
In turn this seemingly turned down aesthetic seems to be centering the discussion. To say Joanne is stripped of any aesthetic curation and absent of the gaudy shtick that caked Gaga’s previous efforts is very misleading. Just as its misleading to label this album as “stripped down”.
The music on Joanne is often tightly layered, fleshy, and even texturally enhanced. Layers of guitars and fuzz dance between each other often on a lot of cuts, underscored often by warble-y synths, plucked bass, and hodgepodged analogue and synthetic beats. Joanne has been criticized for lack of hooks which I can understand. Here it’s not so much the lyrical content that reaches out, and the melodies are less lurching perhaps then on previous Gaga outings, but Joanne isn’t a deal in hooks so much as it is in groove.
The slink of country stomp “Sinner’s Prayer” and fuzz rock of “John Wayne” have a musical swagger (in the bass particular) that propels the music in a way Gaga hasn’t explored. The 70s piano rock of “Come to Mama”, and 80s electro funk of Florence Welch duet “Hey Girl” are eras from which Gaga has borrowed before, but here their stride is felt right into the bones of the rhythm. The undercurrent of Elton John and Prince are instantly felt upon the first listen of these tracks. This might be aided by vintage fetishist Mark Ronson’s executive co-production. Either way Joanne finds itself sonically resembling a lot of Gaga’s influences in way that they haven’t ever before, while still incorporating a palette of contemporary sounds to keep things somewhat current.
Gaga doesn’t feel uncomfortable adopting country on aforementioned highlight “Sinner’s Prayer” (who’s sinister guitar lead and stomping drum stroll are immeasurably pleasurable), and piano ballad “Million Reasons”. Fans turned off by these inclusions must’ve forgotten about the string of slight country/piano rock ballads hidden on each of her albums prior (i.e “Speechless”, “You + I”, “Gypsy” etc). Her hearty vibrato and thick lower register never feel out of place bellowing on these country tinged tracks just as they do affectedly breathy over electronic beats and synths.
Right from the get go Joanne delivers us the girl who grew up on Bruce Springsteen with the bright and leaping rock stomp “Diamond Heart”. “Ayo” combines Motown brass funk with the glitched vocal sampled beats and distorted groove also found on “John Wayne”, in which she pulls of danceable numbers with fuzzy guitars instead of glittery synthesizers.
The title tack, a beautifully guitar plucked, pseudo folk song, sees Gaga delve into the hurt of her family’s loss of the title’s namesake. Somewhat uplifted with underlying sadness Gaga finds a way to be emotionally resonant in a way she never achieved before.
The only songs that I really feel leave something to be desired are the Beck assisted, reggae tinged “Dancing in Circles”, and the 80s glam rock of lead single “Perfect Illusion” (a curious pick indeed). The former has been aptly dubbed No Doubt b-roll, with a chorus that would feel at home in the hands of Lana Del Rey. As for “Perfect Illusion”, the somewhat underwritten lyrics (particularly towards the end) divulge in cringe. And despite contribution from Kevin Parker of Tame Impala the song always fizzles at the thought of what it could be.
The deluxe edition tracks fare better, with the country campfire callout of “Girgio Girls” and the bopping 70s tread of “Just Another Day” following in the footsteps of previous tracks.
Angel down ends the album on a fine note. Somber and theatrical, Gaga croons over atmospheric strings and synth harps with a subtlety political ally cry over Black Lives Matter and the death of Trayvon Martin.
Ever since her intense breakthrough, ubiquity, and constant pop cultural dominance, a new Gaga release always comes with its baggage. And as with ARTPOP, Joanne is what is is and isn’t what it isn’t. However, it finds Gaga in a space where she’s exploring a facet of her musical muses that have never rung so resonantly before as they do now.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2Jul 8, 2016How refreshing to forgo the usual sprawling wait times and get two Róisín Murphy releases within one year! And while these songs where helmedHow refreshing to forgo the usual sprawling wait times and get two Róisín Murphy releases within one year! And while these songs where helmed from the same pool of starting material that birthed last year’s beautiful Hairless Toys, Take Her Up To Monto doesn’t quite sound like a progression, nor retread either. Mixing up the old and the new, Murphy has once again created a very singular world with this record.
One of the defining characteristics of Hairless Toys’ elongated and sometimes linear progressions were the unexpected turns the songs would take coming round the bridge. Monto builds on these turns, with songs often segueing between three or four different segments in the span of one song. “Mastermind”, our first taste of the record, kicks things off with percolating synths and dissonant harmonies narrating the prologue, picking up for summery introspection before descending into bubbling 80s synth drums and sprawling funk guitars and fading out by way of pitched down and harmonized vocal humming.
“Thoughts Wasted” (a personal favourite) splits a stuttering intro a frantic and skittish string jaunt with sliding xylophones, and hazy introspection with each section being spliced together by fuzzy pianos.
This is done somewhat easily as song structure is much more loose here than it has ever been with Murphy. This is epitomized on the somewhat shapeless “Nervous Sleep”, a sprawling 7-minute abstract stream of consciousness where underwater synths scatter over a subtlety pulsing (almost ticking) beat; voices moving in and out of frame deliriously illustrating its title’s concept.
This phase shifting of composition, and loose structure can make the first few listens of these songs somewhat hard to get into. Whether the compositions at the present moment very sparse or dense, the unpredictability of it all can leave you struggling to grab a hold of anything on a first listen. Melody takes a bit of a backseat on this effort, in preference of rhythmic and percussive swells. This also plays into the lack of accessibility, in that it becomes harder to grasp on a song’s motif when chords land so dizzyingly all over the place. I find it somewhat surprising that many reviews have stated THUTM is more accessible than its “alienating” predecessor, as Hairless Toys was content to stick to more solid ideas while stretching them out, whereas Monto can be a baffling enigma hard to delve into, requiring repeated entries before the ideas and sounds really take any discernible shape.
The record displays welcome eclecticism from the pop maven, from the dark electro cabaret of “Pretty Gardens” ripe with humourous innuendo, to the Bossa Nova bounce of the sweetly blissful “Lip Service”. “Romantic Comedy” pins the humour of “Pretty Gardens” to dizzying chord arrangements and glittery synth lines.
And for someone who’s favourite track from Hairless Toys was the title track, this record offers up quite a few dazzlingly atmospheric and ethereal takes by way of “Whatever” a sparkly piano whisper of a ballad, and the hazy introspection of “Sitting and Counting”.
The only disappointment for me here is lead single “Ten Miles Up” which glides on a few simple ideas introduced at the start to only reach any significant change ¾ of the way in when the beat picks up for a danceable bridge, but unfortunately leaves before one can even reap the sonic benefits of this change. It sounds more like an intro song than anything, but “Mastermind” clearly does a much better job. At 5:34 minutes it overstays its welcome and underperforms during its stay.
A strange choice for a single, let alone a lead, but none of the songs here really harness any single potential anyways. Which is no real problem, Murphy’s dedication to her craft and her world create a more dynamic listening experience than a collection of potential hits.
What we’re left with is another sonic world, ripe with layers upon layers, to really dive in and deconstruct, trying to decipher the maddening theatrics of an artist so incredibly fascinating as Róisín Murphy.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.8Mar 24, 2016When Gwen was touting a new solo record with atrocious singles “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire” I was awaiting the pharrell fuelled dudWhen Gwen was touting a new solo record with atrocious singles “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire” I was awaiting the pharrell fuelled dud that it inevitably would have been. “The Sweet Escape” was a mixed bag at best and paled in comparison to it’s predecessor and any No Doubt post “Tragic Kingdom”. When the record was scrapped to start a new I re-mained a little hopeful.
With the release of “Make Me Like You” a sparked curiosity for the new record was restored. The summer-y 2000s California Pop number finds Stefani “oohing and ahing” over shimmery keyboards and snappy snares. Her signature coo delicately strutting overtop bouncy bass and angled guitar. It managed to stun in a way that previous “confessional” single “Used To Love You” didn’t quite.
Confessional Gwen is what made Gwen famous. Her best songs have always been confessional. Some of which ironically were written about her now ex-husband (a supposed influencer to this material). But unfortunately this record doesn’t do a whole lot in dealing “Truth” but rather avoiding it. Which is perfectly fine, its Gwen’s prerogative to discuss what she wants to, but as a result the art suffers a bit.
Instead of getting a sincere look into aftermath of her divorce, we get a lot of hashed adoration for her new beaux, fellow The Voice coach Blake Shelton. Most of which is sound tracked by fairly trendy but uninspired instrumentation. A 2015 brand bland-ish trap/pop hybrid. In a review for “The Sweet Escape” Stylus Magazine stated that Gwen’s at her best when she’s combining two or more genres together. A sentiment I agree with when you consider No Doubt’s successes in blending Ska/Punk/New Wave, or L.A.M.B’s hybrid of 80s/Dance/Pop. This is seen on “Where Would I Be” (a clear highlight) in which 2016 EDM meets Gwen’s Reggae tinged roots for a pretty lively banger sure to be a summer smash.
The whole record is a little top heavy. With the aforementioned tracks highlights, as with the bouncy step “Misery”, the bitcrushed drip drop beat of “You’re My Favourite”, and the slight grower of first single “Used To Love You”.
The rest is pretty filler, but not offensive missteps for the most part. The Soca tinged EDM in “Send Me a Picture” and “Asking For It” sound fine. And the attempt at sassy trap inspired “Red Flag” and “Naughty” feel like a grab for the sound of something current. Though the latter two divulge into some cringe (Gwen hasn’t really been able to pull of white girl rap since “Hollaback Girl”), “Red Flag” does intrigue from the offset trap verses with lamenting strings and choral harmonies.
The ballads “Truth” and “Me Without You” aren’t anything particularly remarkable nor offensive. Electropop closer “Rare” ends on a similar note. Unless you’ve indulged in the deluxe edition in which many extra tracks of NOPE have been added (save for the 8-bit dancehall of “Getting Warmer” which could’ve easily been swapped for absolutely atrocious international edition closer “Loveable”, and perhaps some of the less then stellar standard tracks).
I find “…Truth…” holds up more cohesively than “The Sweet Escape”, but it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. Perhaps the tragic subject matter would’ve been handled more interestingly on a No Doubt record (and it somewhat already has). Here’s to hoping that next time Gwen finds back her pop charm.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.6Feb 4, 2016After 2014’s triumphant return of singer/songwriter and powerhouse vocalist Sia with 1000 Forms of Fear, she became a household name. WhatAfter 2014’s triumphant return of singer/songwriter and powerhouse vocalist Sia with 1000 Forms of Fear, she became a household name. What ended up being a slightly unconventional and potentially downright uncommercial move ended up really bringing more attention to the project, leaving Sia in a very similar position of notoriety and success shared with the pop stars she started writing for when she “retired”.
1000 Forms of Fear adopted some of the trendier and pop leaning sounds Sia had been using writing for others, all the while balancing them with quirkier elements of her taste and darker more personal lyrics.
This Is Acting curiously takes this further as its comprised almost entirely of songs written for and subsequently rejected by other artists. The concept being that these aren’t things Sia would necessarily say herself, but rather an “act”. This isn’t particularly unfamiliar territory for Sia as her vocals were reluctantly used on massive hits like David Guetta’s “Titanium” (meant for Alicia Keys), and Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones” (meant for Katy Perry). Stating in an interview of the latter that she would never say “I want to shut down in the club”. This is repeated on This Is Acting with self confidence anthems like “Unstoppable” harkening the former and a slew carefree dance tracks all of which employ uncharacteristic (and perhaps even off brand) lyrics for a Sia song.
The results on This Is Acting is somewhat mixed. Starting with “Bird Set Free” Sia wails triumphantly over a brooding arrangement of her freedom. Moving into “Alive”, the most “Chandelier” like track, Sia laments over a chugging rhythm before exclaiming with the utmost power and pain that “I’m Alive!”. An obvious highlight, this track speaks to the albums successes. Her signature creak, cracks, and squeaks inject so much emotion, passion, and texture in the vocal delivery that I feel Adele wouldn’t have been able to.
“One Million Bullets”, the only song on here Sia wrote for herself, is blissful and torn, oddly dark and uplifting power pop. Her voice subtlety ricochets before soaring into an explosive chorus. These would have felt absolutely at home on 1000 Forms of Fear. However, from here on out we traverse somewhat uncharted territory.
“Move Your Body”, an EDM club banger initially meant for Shakira, starts with Sia chanting and eventually inflecting in Shakira-esque fashion. “Unstoppable” fails to make much of an impact as the pop landscape is now so saturated with a Sia penned inspirational uplifting anthem. “Cheap Thrills” thumps with Caribbean undertones singing of spending an inexpensive night out on the town. Though odd chanting children, and alien like auto-tuned backing vocals add a bit of the Sia quirkiness to this track thats largely a miss from this album.
Kanye collab “Reaper” finds a way to take the dark subject matter and make it sunny and somewhat breezy. “House On Fire” (a personal favourite of mine) attaches light and sunny pop rhythm with a sneakily catchy and smooth vocal line, juxtaposed with the dark reality of the lyrics whilst also taking cues from motifs found on her last record. It’s after this song where the record kind of dips of.
“Footprints” suffers too much from its cliché to make much of a meaningful impact as a love song. “Sweet Design” takes the sampled funk of B’Day era Beyonce, with half enunciated lyrics about booty that sound awkward coming from a persona like Sia’s. The slight middle eastern tint is nice on “Broken Glass” but the song stays somewhat stagnant as Sia cries of perseverance for love’s sake only to be shaken up slightly at the tail end by a glitched out vocal part that appears before the song wraps up. And album closer “Space Between” finds Sia straight up wailing over an atmospheric backdrop, but not in a way that is affecting like “Cellophane” off of 1000 Forms of Fear. The listener struggles to find the slightest redemption in this chore of a song as it trudges along.
Ultimately This Is Acting is a somewhat interesting, if also somewhat wholly unsatisfying experiment. This is certainly Sia’s least consistent album since Colour the Small One. And this isn’t at the fault of “The Acting” persé, but as the initial intrigue in hearing Sia perform her best Shakira and Rihanna impressions quickly wane when you’re left with the reality of the mixed bag that’s This Is Acting. It’s entirely conceivable to understand why some of these songs were passed on. But the versatility might offer a little of something for everyone. Whether it’s the more typical Sia in the absolutely emotionally affected and devastating power pop songs, the odd dance songs that worked, or the odd dance songs that didn’t. While I find Sia’s voice satisfying enough to listen through the record (save for perhaps the closer) it’s absolutely understandable why this album will fall short for so many.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.5Sep 19, 2015Metric return almost 4 years after 2012’s glossy Synthetica with arguably an even glossier record (as perhaps the title may suggest) Pagans inMetric return almost 4 years after 2012’s glossy Synthetica with arguably an even glossier record (as perhaps the title may suggest) Pagans in Vegas. And a majority of that gloss is the product of the band’s embrace and use of multiple fairly textured synthesizers. And for a band often categorized (especially in their early years) as "Indie Rock”, one might question this gradual progression to a more synthetic sound. But one can easily point to the fact that one of Metric’s main draws is in fact Emily Haines singing/lyrics and synth playing. In fact, some of Metric’s best songs are mostly synth driven (Poster of A Girl, Hustle Rose, Twilight Galaxy). So while some may be turned off by the abandonment of the punk rock tinge of Old World Underground, and Live it Out, in favour of an increasingly more synthetic sound, the band seems fairly comfortable making more polished, electronically coloured, pop rock ready for the masses.
Our first taste, and lead single, “The Shade” is indicative of this (A slightly disappointing first taste but 2nd release “Cascades” brought me back on board). The anthemic chorus consisting of a repeating mantra “I Want It All”, complete with a vibrating retro synth line and glitchy blips, slightly rehashes their previous uplifting alt-rock anthems (Fantasies’ “Gimme Sympathy” and Synthetica’s “Breathing Underwater”). While perhaps most successful on “Gimme Sympathy", this formula seems to stick commercially seeing as “Breathing…” and “The Shade” have both done well on the Radio.
One thing fairly notable about Pagans… is the similar sonic palette used throughout: a pastiche of glittery and sometimes glitchy 80s synth rock (which sometimes sounds almost 8-bit/videogame-y) with the occasional burst of jagged guitars. While not as overarchingly conceptual and thematic as Synthetica, Pagans… does have a common motif of Emily commanding the listener overtop teetering guitars and synth laser beams. Whether this be a command to “celebrate”, to “want it all”, to “keep going strong” and “don’t be afraid”, or to “take me out of the state I’m in . . . where’s that paradise?” before expelling our trivial problems in “Too Bad, So Sad” with a triumphant “WOOHOO!”.
While the band does break into a fair bit of new territory with just the sheer amount of synth use in favour of traditional guitar tones, bass, and even drums, they still often look back. The remarkable, bubbling, electronic synth ride “Cascades” takes cues from 80s influences like Depeche Mode, Emily’s voice vocoded and processed over glitching and shimmery bleeps and bloops before progressing into a slightly harder/grittier bridge, harkening back to Old World’s… “Hustle Rose”. Album opener “Lie Lie Lie” winks at Live It Out with Emily’s sinister snark as she shouts “Hey!” overtop teetering guitar and throbbing synths.
They break completely new ground a couple times. The first notable instance is the straight up dance pop “Celebrate”, in which cascading synth cords gauzily sway underneath synth beams and overtop pounding drums, building into a thick retro 80’s breakdown. Emily’s vocals command and echo to get us to appreciate the present moment. While a slightly un expected turn, they successfully manage to pull it off.
Another more obvious first is lead vocal by Metric’s guitarist and frequent producer Jimmy Shaw on “The Other Side”. As well as the album closing two-part instrumental “The Face”. The first of which being reminiscent of early video game soundtrack before dissipating into an atmospheric dial tone, ringing overtop a classical music theme meets Nokia ringtone. An answering machine picks up and we’re dispelled into an atmospheric and ephemeral synthscape of waves building and falling.
Other notable tracks include the catchy and brooding “For Kicks” which would feel at home on an 80s film soundtrack, with it’s shimmery synth lead, wandering guitar, and sweet coos of “Why’d I have to go and break your heart for kicks?”. As well as the previously mentioned “Too Bad, So Sad”, in which video game synths tip toe back and forth in an arcade like bridge before erupting in dark guitar bursts. “WHOO HOO!”
The only real dud here is “Black Valentine” which employs a similar campfire circle vibe with synth undercurrent/pulse as in “The Governess” but without really pulling together a decent or memorable tune.
Ultimately Pagans In Vegas isn’t Metric’s best record. It’s also possible that it isn’t better than Synthetica. Or that it isn’t as consistent as past Metric records. It is however pretty cohesive, and sees the band building on previously marked territory with some newer motifs. And with this bunch come some good work, “ Cascades” now being one of my favourite Metric songs. Here’s to seeing what the supposed upcoming companion piece will bring. Whether that be a compliment to the glitchy, retro leaning, synth rock of Pagans… or a counterpoint so completely contrasting that it’ll spin this record on it’s head.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.4May 12, 2015We’ve waited 8 years for another album by Irish, electronic music maven, Róisín Murphy. Following 2007’s ‘Overpowered’ came a string ofWe’ve waited 8 years for another album by Irish, electronic music maven, Róisín Murphy. Following 2007’s ‘Overpowered’ came a string of one-off singles and collaborations until last summer’s Italian cover experiment ‘Mi Senti – EP’. Finally back in full, Murphy reminds us exactly why we fell for her the first time, and gives even more reason to fall for her again.
Usually dabbling in the quirkier side of pop, her first solo record saw her using sampled objects for percussion while synthesizing pop, jazz, and electronic music for 2005’s ‘Ruby Blue’. The more commercially ready successor ‘Overpowered’ didn’t so much downplay Murphy’s oddness, but rather filtered it into slightly more accessible dance music, and club bangers.
With ‘Hairless Toys’ Murphy finds an interesting middle ground between the sounds of its predecessors all the while creating something entirely singular as well. One listen through and it’s pretty apparent Murphy’s created a somewhat style of her own, not so successfully described as a sort of sleek and slinky downtempo electronica, taking nods from house and dance music. Most songs start with a simple downplayed and straightforward recurring motif, progressing linearly, and slowly collecting various musical accents to adorn itself in pulses of lush layers.
Most songs clock in at a few past the four minute mark, spreading out and forcing the listener to repeat a few times to digest and make sense of a song. But the record never feels overdrawn. This might be in part due to the short track list.
Occasionally the song will take a quick left turn down an unexpected detour, as showcased on “Uninvited Guest”. Starting with a shifty bass line under sneaky vocal chirps and high pitched whistling, it drifts into a cascading cycle of plucked strings and breathy vocals swirling in ecstasy, only to return back on course where it dropped off.
“Gone Fishing” starts the record with a metallic clang, submerged glittery synths, and tinkering piano, while bright synths bubble to the centre before it boils over towards the end, drowning in chaos. “Evil Eyes” takes on a funkier step, while whispered witchy chants of “my wish come true/my spell on you” preceding big sparkling blasts.
“Exploitation”, a 9 minute epic, diverges three separate segments in the first 30 seconds alone. Noisy beeps and harsh industrial drums smash, and then pound, segueing into a clicking beat over a distorted synth bass line. Murphy’s delivery hardly wavers from threatening whispers, constantly musing “who’s exploiting who?”. Jittery guitar slides and tiptoeing piano teeter, while firework synths stab glittery flashes. Segueing back into an instrumental for the outro the pitter-patter of brush sticks flutter over the continued stomp and click beat. Droning bleeps sound before billowing piano chords like clothes drying on a line, being blown away by the wind in slow-mo. And before you know it the song fades.
“Exile”, perhaps the most abstract the record gets, opens to the twang of guitars and the windy brushes of drums, as if an old western. Lamenting the banishment by a former lover, Murphy paints idyllic scenery in contrast to it’s underlying desolate landscape. “Exile, Banished from your love, I feel; It’s a beautiful place, But cold at night”
“House of Glass” adopts a similar palette to “Exploitation” with the stomping beat, whispered vocals, and low synth line, occasionally dissipating into short atmospheric swells before returning with slightly more raucous percussion each time. Eventually picking up steely beats and hard handclaps surrounded by soaring mallets and synth sweeps.
“Hairless Toys” (my personal favourite) is painfully beautiful. Slow drums pitter-patter, while distorted vocal mutters constantly insist, “that’s gotta hurt”. Towards the end it erupts into cascading lights of dancing synths, while mournful choirs rise in and out with tremendous swells and cries, only to fade back to where it started.
The record ends on the aptly title “Unputdownable”, likening a lover to a fascinating read. “You’re unputdownable, a story so confounding, the pages turn so easily”. Piano keys ripple over a shaker, only to halt completely for hard guitar strums and an uplifting chorus chant.
While there might be the occasional echo of some of Murphy’s electronic contemporaries (i.e Björk, Goldfrapp), it’s also very apparent that “Hairless Toys” is a world entirely of its own.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.8Jan 27, 2015With each new record Björk moves off into a new sonic direction. Expertly wrapping her vocals around lush instrumentation, bouncing from motifWith each new record Björk moves off into a new sonic direction. Expertly wrapping her vocals around lush instrumentation, bouncing from motif to motif with every new album she releases. Oddly enough however, it would seem with “Vulnicura” she’s taken a step back (or few) to a sound she first played with in 1997, on her critically lauded “Homogenic”. On that record she devised a sonic genre of “modern Icelandic pop music” by pairing lush, romantic strings with heavy, pulsing, explosive “volcanic” beats. It paid off to great effect, but she moved on in her career shape shifting the musical motifs behind her, until now.
While the beats on “Vulnicura” are nowhere as aggressive as on “Homogenic” it’s quite clear that the sonic palette is quite similar. Although this return to past formula is a bit uncharacteristic it never sounds redundant of her past work. Björk still has a knack for compelling, and beautifully ornate string arrangement. And her collaborators this time around (Arca, the Haxan Cloak) help flesh out these songs, and create the intense mood that surrounds this body of work.
While possibly not her most experimental, I strangely found this record also not her most immediate. While her last few records have not been poppy, they’ve had at least some fairly ear grabbing, and even catchy moments. I think this is in direct relation to the stretched out time lengths of these songs (some of her longest yet), which result in the songs coming on more slowly. Often times the first few listens can drag on as the general ideas in the songs can repeat a few times. But slowly the songs start to open up.
The subject of which is to put it simply; heartbreak. Which leads “Vulnicura” into being a fairly open and honest look at Björk’s emotional state during the course of events. Making this collection of songs, certainly her most personal to date.
Opening on the stunningly beautiful “Stonemilker” with somber strings that turn hopefully courageous with a soaring chorus, which may even rival 1997’s “Joga”. “Lionsong” starts with a very tight vocally processed harmony reminiscent of “Biophilia”’s “Dark Matter” (possibly one of the only sonic remnants of “Vulnicura”’s predecessor). “History of Touches” finds Björk reminiscing over glittery and stuttering vocal-like synths ( like a mix between the heavily processed vocal haze of “Medulla”’s “Desired Constellation” and Arca’s work on FKA Twig’s “Water Me”).
A shift of events happens on the albums centerpiece: the moody, dense, and absolute stunner of a track “Black Lake”. Pensive string and vocal swells dip in and out over this composition, sometimes over soft percussion, reflecting on the devastation after the breakup, and berating the former partner for the way things turned out. About halfway through the track heavy pulsating beats and electronics kick in and grow with magnitude, before dissipating once more into swelling furies, and leading off with a crying violin solo. “Family” starts off hauntingly with a brooding atmosphere and Björk wishing to mourn “the death of her family”, implicating the other people affected by this breakup like their daughter. This swells and scatters, leaving Björk to sing before jagged and dizzying string arpeggios cutting down like knives, before dissipating into an almost heavenly haze (which brings back some of the texture and atmosphere of “Vespertine”), implementing some of the only choral arrangements on the record, for which have largely been abandoned in place of strings.
“Notget” starts with a dizzy swirling string theme, alternated with either darker strings violently sawing back and forth, or spinning electronic percussion. I feel some Asian and Middle Eastern influences in the main sonic themes repeated in this song. “Atom Dance” percolates with percussive pizzicato strings dancing with a similar rhythmic-ness found on “Biophilia” cut “Hollow”, as well as the use of natural phenomena as lyrical basis. Guest collaborator from her 2007 record “Volta”, Antony Hegarty, contributes some underlying backing vocals, and later some warbled vocals all on his own.
The least accessible cut solidifies in “Mouth Mantra”. It’s swirling composition is quite sprawling and ever changing, making it hard to pin down any one point as memorable, save for perhaps the high pitched sparkly synth cascading all over the place that appears just as the song ends.
The album ends on a slightly optimistic note, although an admittedly abrupt one, with “Quicksand” bouncing with hard slapping percussion, with hazy storms swirling back and forth, confessing, amongst other things, that “when we’re broken we are whole” before just stopping.
All in all this marks an interes… Expand
Average User Score: 8.6Aug 19, 2014“The Golden Echo” really works as a whole, most notably because of the segues that lead the end of one song into the start of an other. This“The Golden Echo” really works as a whole, most notably because of the segues that lead the end of one song into the start of an other. This helps seal each song together as a package and narrative ride, rather than a sequence of songs that play after each other. This includes giggling children, a spiraling haze fading into chanting and pickaxes, strings rising before a broken record skips, a laughing frenzy swirls down before abruptly stopping at a clap, and a fuzzy piano softly playing out. The use of segues was somewhat present on “Vows” (siren sings atop acapella horns after “Old Flame” and “Posse” ends with a remixed “Settle Down”), but on “The Golden Echo” so much more consideration and time was spent making these songs seamlessly blend into one long experience.
As for the guest spots from collaborators (a list that goes on and on), it never feels like a group party. Kimbra is ever in the front seat wearing the conductor’s hat, and everything about these songs centres around her voice, lyrics, and artistic vision without distraction.
This record is a bit of a departure from “Vows”. It abandons the jazz influences and really amps up the R&B and Electronic ones, with more emphasis on rhythm. This isn’t to say this is a throwback retro album, Kimbra isn’t weighed down or washed out by her influences. “The Golden Echo” is a look back to the past that is then filtered, redesigned, and experimented with until it becomes something completely of Kimbra’s own. It’s a shame that the joint tour with future funk partner in crime Janelle Monae was cancelled seeing as their music would resonate so well together.
Most songs include vocal processing of some form or another (via her Voice Live Touch), resulting in deep bass, robotic harmonies, and gritty textures. Vocal layering is utilized quite frequently to create large choral explosions (building on this from ”Vows” tracks like “Sally I Can See You”, and “Home”).
The record starts with the pitter-patter of drums overtop glowing organs on “Teen Heat”. Kimbra whispering almost as if this is a lullaby, displaying a great sense of innocence and intimacy before the Prince-like chorus explodes into a grand euphoric “I don’t want to die without knowing what it’s like to touch you”. This innocence moves into reflection on the nostalgia of youth and love in the chaotic frenzy of “90’s Music”, which incorporates trap beats and 808’s underneath high-pitched vocal harmonies and scratchy guitars preceding a throbbing synth chorus. “Carolina” is a shiny stunner; with spiraling synths cascading across bass vocal hums under swooning high vocals, and processed layered harmonies. “Goldmine” flaunts a pickaxe beat and chanting that would feel at home on Kanye West album, with a chorus reminiscent of chanting slaves gleaning for inner hope. Alien like vocals perform a “horn section” impression on the bridge of groovy future funk disco track “Miracle”. “Rescue Him” showcases a darker R&B vibe with Kimbra whispering of saving her lover from his ways. A cascading bass groove underlines schizophrenic vocals on “Madhouse” continuing the darker vibe and harkens 80’s era Michael Jackson. “Everlovin’ Ya” featuring Bilal is a trippy, gritty, electro duet. “As You Are” is an absolutely stunning piano ballad that builds with lush strings (courtesy of Van Dyke Parks) and vocal arrangements, until the climax “Come, a little to the right, get comfortable,” which simultaneously sounds inviting and disconcerting. There is almost a comfort to the danger. On “Love In High Places” Kimbra’s voice waves and flutters over jittering percussion and glowing synths before building into an explosive vocal climax, followed by insane psychedelic bass guitar wailing (courtesy of virtuoso bassist extraordinaire Thundercat). “Nobody But You” is a sunny, feel good love song, before ending with a clapping future funk jam. Closer “Waltz Me To The Grave” is slightly psychedelic, yet slightly groovy, and parts with the world (and the album) on high note, swaying and dancing off the earth being left behind without remorse or dread.
The deluxe edition bonus tracks feature the stuttering beat and staccato vocals of “Slum Love” before a breezy chorus. Absolute gem “Sugar Lies” plays out like a whacked song for an old school Disney movie (perfect for Alice and Wonderland), sweet sing-a-long back up vocals and whistling are juxtaposed with booming bass synths before completely falling apart for the delirious acapella breakdown of the bridge. And the dizzy swirling “The Magic Hour” teeters back and forth in a sense of introspective surreality, harkening the title.
“The Golden Echo” is the work of an artist who places exploration and experimentation first, while still keeping it grounded as pop music. The ambition is well executed, and while calling back the past, it’s echoed in a completely different and captivating way.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.9Jul 11, 2014In the four years behind the scenes working as the golden songwriter doctor for every pop star and their mother, the girl with pipes made ofIn the four years behind the scenes working as the golden songwriter doctor for every pop star and their mother, the girl with pipes made of iron has come out with her first record since 2010’s shiny and bouncy “We Are Born”. While this record is even more of a step towards pop, Sia never sacrifices her own unique idiosyncrasies and soul. Unlike the myriad of songs she’s penned for top 40 artists, she keeps the most personal and meaningful material for herself, and the connectedness between the words and her delivery is far stronger than those adopting her material. Every run, belt, shake, crack, and breath in Sia’s distinctive voice is both beautifully powerful and emotive.
While being pop music, thematically and lyrically “1000 Forms Of Fear” takes on a darker character than the work she’s done for other artists, mainly focusing on self-destruction, and self-destructive relationships. Common motifs of knives, fire, gasoline, and crying run rampant over anthemic soaring power ballads. Lead single “Chandelier” sings of partying and binge drinking for social fun, but with careful listening unravels a dark tale of anxiety and the “demoralization of alcohol”. Sia compares relationships to being set on fire or stabbed (Fire Meet Gasoline, Straight For The Knife), being held “Hostage”, and stretched to point of break (Elastic Heart). Even the upbeat tracks have a darkness behind them, like “Burn The Pages” where she borrows a lyric from her “Some People Have Real Problems”(2008) song “Lullaby” and sings of placing her “past in a book” to then “burn the pages, let ‘em cook”. Or “Free The Animal” in which Sia screams to be decapitatedand emancipated.
“Fair Game” is an obvious standout, and my personal favourite track. Singing atop subtle swinging strings, eventually leading to an instrumental interlude of toy piano and xylophone, Sia contemplates a need for personal change in order to benefit future relationships. At the end the last two songs can drag on, even though I catch “Cellophane” stuck in my head constantly.
Overall Sia has made one of her most consistent, and accessibly pop ready albums yet, all the while without compromising what makes her unique and inimitable. This one is for the big time.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Nov 11, 2013ARTPOP probably fell short of most of our expectations. We could sit around and talk forever about what ARTPOP isn’t. But what it IS, is aARTPOP probably fell short of most of our expectations. We could sit around and talk forever about what ARTPOP isn’t. But what it IS, is a decent record. Feeling less of a mixed bag than Born This Way, the sounds and quality of these songs read more cohesively than on it’s predecessor. ARTPOP is essentially one giant electronic dance pop album. And for every experimental verse is a HUGE pop chorus. (As exhibited by “Aura” and “Venus”). There’s variety to Gaga’s vocal delivery, while often displaying a throatier bellow (As exhibited by “MANiCURE”, “Do What U Want”, and “DOPE”).
As with Born This Way, the promotional campaign for ARTPOP has been primarily hype. Gaga debuted half the album two months prior at the 2013 iTunes Festival. I found that I preferred the lower vocal delivery and more industrial rockier feel of the songs from the performance (except “Jewels & Drugs”), but I believe this says more about Gaga as a performer, than it says about the Album lacking. But unlike Born This Way, the overarching Theme is not communicated well, if at all. A “reverse Warholian expedition” this is not. Save for “Venus” which is semi-inspired by the famous Boticelli painting, we have mere mentions of this idea in “ARTPOP” and “Applause” in which she explains that “ARTPOP could be anything”, “We could belong together”, and “One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me”.
As far as the songs go, they’re crafted well and sound fantastic. Even trap-y “Jewels & Drugs” sounds okay, despite the mess it was during iTunes Fest. “Aura” with its cinematic intro and glitchy verses, certainly Gaga at her most experimental, is still grounded in a glorious pop chorus. The galactic “Venus” demonstrates harmonized chanting vocals reminiscent of QUEEN or Bowie, and brings it to a chorus possibly as big as “Bad Romance”. “G.U.Y” and “Sexxx Dreams” both dark and dirty dance songs demonstrate an airier vocal, with the later sounding like Janet Jackson followed by a Disco bridge. 80’S rock romp “MANiCURE” channels Pat Benatar, complete with a chanting chorus and eerie sci-fi synth. “Do What U Want”, with throatier Christina Aguilerian vocals, pulsates and throbs while dismissing critics (and enticing lovers). Gaga softly coos over underwater bleeps and pulses, while percolating beats build with angelic wailing on “ARTPOP”. Hiccups, squeaks, and grunts jitter over bubbly synths culminating in a huge drop, bringing out the rave in “Swine”. “Donatella” exhibits the snarky, ironic, satirical lyrics of The Fame (while also weirdly paying homage to friend and designer Versace?). Glittery piano introduces “Fashion!”, a strutting disco number that harkens Bowie (while sharing the title of practically 5 previously released songs). The throbbing “Mary Jane Holland” displays some more ironic lyrics while theatrically confessing love for weed. The confessional “Dope”, and sprawling “Gypsy” take up the piano ballad spots of the album, while utilizing synths to help integrate the songs with the album, unlike on previous Gaga records. And ending on the finale of “Applause”.
As much as ARTPOP may not be doing what it needed to conceptually, sonically it provides much to be satisfied with.… Expand