Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vows | Kimbra


★★★☆☆


I first heard New Zealand-native Kimbra (as a solo artist) a while back ago on VH1, which was showing the music video for her song, "Settle Down."  The clip featured a young girl trying to commit to a relationship with a handsome mannequin. Then, the next thing I know, Kimbra is dancing in front of a rack of burning dolls. I will admit, I was a bit confused while watching it, and didn't really focus on what she was singing.  After watching the video again on YouTube, I figured out what the music video represented, and actually listened to the music. To say the least, I was impressed to see this quality of work from a newcomer on the music scene. It was easy to tell that Kimbra will not just be remembered as "that girl from 'Somebody That I Used To Know.'"

Vows opens with the song mentioned above, "Settle Down." The song begins with a repeated a capella phrase: "Boom, ba-boom-bah." This leads into a verse that contains Kimbra's lead vocals, along with a backing track of claps and the phrase "boom, ba-boom-bah." However, the song picks up, adding more claps and instruments.  The chorus then explodes with emotion and excitement.  The remainder of the song carries the excitement level of the chorus. "Settle Down" is definitely one of the best songs on the album.

The second single from the album, "Cameo Lover," better fits the category of a traditional pop/indie song.  The majority of the song holds a high-energy feeling, with the exception of one repetition of the chorus.  The meaning of the song is a very strong one: Kimbra's boyfriend will only show love and compassion when they're alone, but in public around other people, he doesn't show any signs of compassion or seem in love with her.

The third single to be lifted from Vows was "Good Intent."  Although it only peaked at #98 on the Australian music charts, it failed for the wrong reason.  The song is great, and deserved to peak much higher than #98, however the song sounds too much like jazz for pop music charts. "Good Intent" is probably one of the best songs, if not the best song, recorded for Vows. Furthermore, the music video for the song is the best from Kimbra, and the music video also helps explain the meaning of the song.

In the video, Kimbra is preparing to performing in a formal dinner party, while her boyfriend is in the alley behind the theater.  In the alley, he can be seen wearing a gray suit. You can also see his conscience take physical forms: one dressed in a white suit, telling him to go on into the theater to watch Kimbra perform. The other, dressed in a black suit, is telling him to walk further down the alley to hire a prostitute for the night. One thing leads to another, and the man is walking down the alley to find his prostitute.

After doing what you usually do with a prostitute, he buys Kimbra a fancy necklace to apologize for cheating on her. This is the point where we see Kimbra's conscience also take two physical forms: one dressed in a red dress, that refuses to take the necklace or forgive the man; the other is dressed in white, who accepts the  necklace and forgives her boyfriend.  The real Kimbra, dressed in black, goes on to perform before making her decision

The song ends with a 35 second-long instrumental outro, and in the music video, Kimbra and her boyfriend can be seen dancing with other couples.  She is not seen wearing the necklace, which leaves us to assume that she didn't accept her boyfriend's apology.

Kimbra's live cover of "Plain Gold Ring" recorded for the album shows her amazing vocal range and just how strong her voice is.  She constantly has to jump from note to note very quickly in this song, and does so quite well for singing it live.  Although I don't like the song itself, it does show how strong of a singer Kimbra actually is.

"Come Into My Head" is another song that well-displays Kimbra's vocal range.  Her highest and squeakiest notes, as well as her lowest and deepest notes can be heard in this song.

The track "Posse" is not only very catchy, but also contains a great message of self-respect.  In "Posse," Kimbra tells her boyfriend that she's not going to change for him, and if she can't fit into his clique, or 'posse,' because of that, then she will go.  "Posse" has a very electronic sound, and ditched that happy-go-lucky indie sound that most of Vows contained.

"Warrior" is a bonus track on the United States edition of Vows, which sounds completely different from anything on the rest of the album.  The song features Mark Foster of the band Foster the People, and DJ A-Trak.  "Warrior" is another one of my favorites from the album.  The song has a very strong electropop vibe, and sounds very much like La Roux, an English electropop duo that hit big with their song "Bulletproof" in 2009.  The chorus of "Warrior" is extremely catchy, and I have already caught myself singing it in the shower.

Overall, for a debut artist, Kimbra is quite impressive. Although it is true that the best songs on the album were the singles, Vows is still well-worth a listen.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Born to Die | Lana Del Rey



A quick first listen to Lana Del Rey's voice may shock you; it takes a little getting used to before you begin to like it, like Mark Foster's voice of Foster the People.  However, once you get comfortable with her voice, it sets in just how amazing it can be (in the studio...)

The cover of Born to Die also drew me into buying it: it's a simple yet creative cover, such as the cover of Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster. Del Rey's stern stare and strong stature are actually sort of intimidating, but intrigued me.

Moving into the actual album, it begins with the title track, which was one of the songs that convinced me to buy the full album.  "Born To Die" is one of the few songs on the album that is sang mainly in Del Rey's lower register.  This is one of my favorites. The second single to be pulled from the record, "Video Games," is also another one of my favorites.  This song is also sang in a lower register, and contains lyrics describing a one-sided relationship in which the singer is head over heels for her boyfriend, but he could care less for her.

After hearing the first two singles from the album, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.  However, once I bought a copy of Born to Die at Best Buy, and popped it into my car stereo to listen to, I was in complete shock.  None of the other ten songs sounded like "Born to Die" or "Video Games." In fact, Lana Del Rey sounded much different in terms of vocal range in the rest of the record. "Off to the Races" and "Diet Mountain Dew" are where Del Rey begins to experiment with the upper ranges of her vocal range.  "Diet Mountain Dew," however, is a much better example of her vocal capabilities over "Off to the Races." In the song, Del Rey's boyfriend is compared to Diet Mountain Dew, because although Diet Mountain Dew seems healthier than its regular sugary counterpart, it really isn't.  Her boyfriend takes that same effect on her as Diet Mountain Dew.

Both "National Anthem" and "Radio" are great examples of what to expect from a typical song from Born to Die:  They both have great choruses, but unimpressive verses.

My other favorites from the album included "Dark Paradise" and "Summertime Sadness."  "Dark Paradise" was impressive; the lyrics were deep and the vocals were amazing.  The song speaks of a boyfriend that has passed away (it is suggested that he committed suicide,) now the singer is wishing that she could pass away as well, but is afraid that her boyfriend won't be "waiting on the other side." Although I liked "Summertime Sadness" better than most of the songs on the album, I will admit that it sounds very similar to "Born to Die."

In all, this album is composed mainly of songs containing weak but catchy verses and powerful choruses, with exceptions being "Dark Paradise," "Video Games," "Born to Die," and "Summertime Sadness."  I was going to give the album a rating of three stars, but I crossed the border of giving it four simply for the breathtaking choruses. Do not let Lana Del Rey's terrible Saturday Night Live performance curve your interest in the album: Del Rey is much better in the studio than she is live (Taylor Swift alert?)  Check out the album now; it's worth the money.