Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Problem | Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea



★★★★☆

After a squeaky clean Nickelodeon image and a rather peaceful debut album, Ariana Grande is coming back kicking with a new edgy look and sound in "Problem."

Looking sexy and sassy on the cover, Grande still hasn't lost any of that golden voice in transition to a horn-filled bop of a track as she belts out, "Head in the clouds, got no weight on my shoulders / I should be wiser and realise that I've got..." in the pre-chorus. The horns follow the recent trend of Top 40 songs like "Thrift Shop" and "Talk Dirty," while the song also incorporates a quiet breakdown featuring whispers of "I've got one last problem without 'cha." 

The inclusion of Iggy Azalea only fuels the greatness of the track. The production style compliments both Grande and Azalea so well, but also follows the popular trends that audiences are attracted to at this time; if it doesn't peak in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, I'd be shocked.

"Problem" is out now under Republic Records and can be bought on iTunes and other digital download retailers.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

All This Bad Blood | Bastille


★★★★☆

This review covers the thirteen new tracks. To read my review of the original album, click here

British band Bastille had a great time last year with the worldwide success of "Pompeii" and has since left us all begging for more. Nearly six months after the United Kingdom was offered the extended cut of Bad Blood, the United States is finally receiving the double disc album, All This Bad Blood.

All This Bad Blood may be the overall title of this collection, but this name only covers the first half of the album; the other half goes under another name. From what I can tell, the first part of this album is just a collection of any songs recorded for the Bad Blood era that didn't make the original album. "Poet" opens the disc, in which lead singer Dan Smith sings "I have written you down / Now you will live forever / And all the world will read you / And you will live forever," hence comparing his lover to an everlasting poem.

"The Silence," "Laughter Lines," and "The Weight of Living, Pt. I" were all included on the United States edition of Bad Blood, leaving just four new songs on the first half of the disc. Among them are a demo of a somewhat forgettable song called "Haunt" and another blooming piece called "Sleepsong." The last new song for American ears on the first part of All This Bad Blood is "Durban Skies," a slower song with its explosive moments of instrumentation.

The second half of the album is dubbed Other People's Heartache, which is mainly filled with cover versions of songs. The second part begins with the interlude "Previously on Other People's Heartache," which is simply a foggy medley of the upcoming songs.

One of the most notable songs from this album is "Of The Night," which ignited across the United Kingdom last year. The lyrics are composed of a combination of two 1990s songs: "The Rhythm of the Night" and "Rhythm is a Dancer." Hearing a combination of light dance music and Bastille's normal sound is quite different, but it works. I can definitely see why this song took off so quickly. The album dives back into a pure alternative sound in "The Draw," a song with a rock-solid chorus.

"What Would You Do" was originally recorded by City High, a short-lived R&B group. The lyrics tell a story of a woman who was raped as a child, got pregnant by a man who is addicted to drugs, and now strips for money to feed her son. In the song, Smith sings "What would you do if your son was at home / Crying all alone on the bedroom floor, / 'Cause he's hungry and the only way to feed him is to / Sleep with a man for a little bit of money?" I've heard the original song, and personally I feel that Bastille's deeper, melancholy sound fits the lyrics and situation even more than the original rap style.

A heavier bit, "Skulls," is another highlight, especially its lyrical content applying to eternal love: "When our lives are over and all that remains / Are our skulls and bones let's take it to the grave / And hold me in your arms, hold me in your arms / I'll be buried here with you." The album comes to a close with an outro titled "Tuning Out," which features a heavenly cover of "O Holy Night." In the song, there is a chamber choir made up completely of just Dan Smith's voice; it's amazing. The audio turns to static, and then fades out with heavily edited vocals from "Skull."

All This Bad Blood seems like a very half-baked idea put into physical form too early. There is a distinctive line of quality between the first and second halves of the album. The first half just seems like "oops, here are the songs we missed on the release just in case you wanted to hear them," while Other People's Heartache is a flowing, cohesive piece of work; I almost wish that the better half of the album was just available as its own extended play. The songs are great, but I just wish the planning aspects of this album were actually left to mature a bit longer.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The New Classic | Iggy Azalea


★★★☆☆

Prince, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, The Beatles... All of these names in music are what we would call "classics." However, Australian native Iggy Azalea is working to one day be placed on this list with her debut studio album, The New Classic.

The album opens on a high note with "Walk The Line." The song's lyrics cover Azalea's move from Australia to America as a teenager: "Not where I want to be, but I'm far from home / Just trying to make it on my own / [...] / Ain't no going back now / It's just the line that I walk alone." (Her flow in the second verse is absolutely beautiful, by the way.)

After proclaiming that she walks solo, Azalea proclaims her independence once again in the sultry, dark "I Don't Y'all." In the chorus her voice has been processed through a vocoder as she raps, "Try to knock me down but I'm strong / Did all of this on my own / Ain't got no time for no new friends / So for now just leave me alone / I don't need ya'll anyway." The next track, "100," is a very bare-bones trap track and Azalea's flow top-notch, but the featured artist on the track annoys me as he wails "one-hunned" in a slurred vocal effort. Learn how to talk, please.

Azalea does some minor singing in "Change Your Life," as she does the vocal work for the chorus, but it's more like a sing-rap style in a Ke$ha-esque manner. It's a catchy song, though, minus T.I.'s verse. (There is a solo version out there, and I'm determined to find it.) The production in this song is killer; I'm surprised radio stations here in the United States haven't spun this song because of the production.

The fifth track on the album, "Fancy" was the fourth and final single to be released from The New Classic before the album even dropped, and managed to continue Azalea's success in the United Kingdom. The song features Charli XCX in the chorus, while Azalea does her thing through the verses. She first takes it slow with "First things first, I'm the realest / Drop this and let the whole world feel it" before completely tearing it up on the lines "Better get my money on time, if they not money, decline / And swear I meant that there so much that they give that line a rewind."

Stuck between two of the biggest hits from the album, "New Bitch" is a synthpop power ballad meets rap hit. In the song, a girl is explicitly told that her man now has a new girlfriend that goes by the name Iggy Azalea. The song is relatively forgettable, but I guess it helps fill the album.

"Work" was released as the lead single from The New Classic... an entire year before the album's release. It holds a very light trap sound, mainly emphasizing Azalea's voice and the lyrics covering Azalea's struggles as a teen. "You don't know the half / This shit get real / Valley girls giving blow jobs for Louboutins / What do you call that? / Head over heels / No money, no family. Sixteen in the middle of Miami," raps Azalea, leaving room for that oral sex pun in between the seriousness of her scenario (she left her Australian family at age sixteen to live in America, first settling in Miami, Florida).

"Impossible is Nothing" is a quick stab at a inspirational pick-me-up as Azalea raps, "Keep on living, keep on breathing / Even when you don't believe it / Keep on climbing, keep on reaching / Even when this world can't see it / No, impossible is nothing." The self-empowerment theme carries over to the loud, electric guitar and steel drum infused "Goddess," or at least the self-empowerment of Azalea's ego: "Make enough in ten months / I could live off of or retire / But I just won’t quit / [...] / Bow down to a goddess."

One of the most buzzed-about songs off the album by far is "Black Widow," which features the vocals of Rita Ora and was co-written by Azalea and Katy Perry. This song is legitimately "Dark Horse" 2.0 with a rapper that's actually half-way talented. Meanwhile, trap meets reggae in "Lady Patra" as Azalea revisits the "here I am so pay attention to me" theme from "Goddess." The song also features artist Mavado, who has a heavy native Jamaican accent to tie into the reggae feel of the song.

For the normal track listing, "Fuck Love" brings up the caboose of The New Classic, which pretty much sums up the entire album. In the song, she sings, "Fuck love, give me diamonds / I'm already in love with myself." Self-centered, worldly, independent; there's The New Classic in a nutshell. I'm not complaining though, because I feel like those are adjectives I would use to describe myself.

The deluxe edition of The New Classic brings about three tracks, the first being "Bounce." The song oozes Middle Eastern and Indian influences and has a great club-friendly vibe. In the synth-heavy "Rolex," Azalea compares a broken relationship to a fake Rolex watch: "Rolexes don't tick-tock / But damn it baby, my time costs / And damn it baby, my time is money / So I need pay back for all the time lost." Finally, the deluxe version of the album comes to a close with "Just Askin'," which is just a cutesy little pop-inspired bit.

In short, Iggy Azalea is doing what M.I.A. has already done and what Nicki Minaj just thinks she is doing: making her own page in female-fronted electronic hip hop music. Overall, the album came off to me as lukewarm, although many of the lyrics were outstanding, especially those that cover Azalea's travel to the United States and starting with not a nickel to her name. I must stress, for a debut album, this is better than most and there are some songs on this album that may just become The New Classic.

The New Classic is due out Tuesday, April 22, 2014 via Virgin EMI and Island Def Jam.

Monday, April 14, 2014

West Coast | Lana Del Rey



★★★★☆

One of the most talked about indie pop artists of the decade is prepared to re-claim her position of power with her upcoming sophomore album, Ultraviolence. However, this time around it seems that Lana Del Rey is making a move to combine dark pop and light rock in lead single "West Coast."

The lush, blooming instrumentals of Born To Die and Paradise have been stripped down to the core: guitars, drums, and a sparse scattering of summery synths to fill any voids. Meanwhile, Del Rey brings a cutesy, airy vocal tone last seen in songs like "Off to the Races" and "Carmen" on Born To Die. Her famous smoky lower vocals can be heard layered underneath the main vocals, though.

This song definitely is a departure from the sound of her debut and subsequently re-release, but the lyrics are still typical Lana Del Rey, which is good (I wasn't expecting her writing style to change, nor did I want it to). "I can see my baby swinging / His Parliament's on fire when his hands are up," sings Del Rey. "On the balcony and I'm singing / Ooh baby, ooh baby, I'm in love." Sounds poetic enough, doesn't it? (Well, at least everything up to the inevitable "Ooh baby."

"West Coast" can be streamed now on YouTube and was rush-released to iTunes today. Listen to the track below and get ready to listen to it endlessly during the dog days of the summer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chandelier | Sia


★★★★☆

Any new Sia material is usually simply great material, and after spending four years without a full-length solo studio album, she has delivered once again in her new single, "Chandelier."

Her voice hits all-time beauty in the chorus of this song, which is quite evident considering when I first heard it, I could only say one phrase: "Holy shit." Sia and Florence Welch are the only two women in the industry I know that can belt notes out like that without sounding as strained as Christina Aguilera. The fact that people like to claim this song should have been handed to Rihanna is crazy: She would never be able to soar through those notes with such ease and grace.

The lyrics hide a melancholy background of a drinking problem, which can be seen visually in the lyric video for the song as well as lines like "One, two, three, drink / Throw 'em back 'til I lose count" and "But I'm holding on for dear life / Won't look down, won't open my eyes / Keep my glass full until morning light / 'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight."

You can check out the lyric video for "Chandelier" below and download the single on iTunes now!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Playlist: April 2014

I've decided to add a new feature to my humble little blog: a monthly playlist of what I'm addicted to listening to. Expect songs from my favorite artists, some random outliers, and of course some older songs for nostalgia, too. (My favorite songs from my favorite artists usually change on a bi-weekly basis, so expect to see that happen a lot.) Perhaps this feature will help everyone discover some great new music, too! Enjoy!

"Latch" | Disclosure feat. Sam Smith

Although they have just arrived on the scene, Disclosure is turning a page in the book of electronic music and making sure their name is in big, bold letters. Both "Latch" and "White Noise" are prime examples of what kind of a punch they pack with their debut album Settle, and Sam Smith's smooth vocals put the icing on the cake in this track. How Disclosure hasn't blown up on the radio yet, I have no clue.


"Dare (La La La)" | Shakira

Shakira's new self-titled record has plenty of acoustic tracks on it, peaking through the track listing like a ray of electronic sunshine is "Dare (La La La)." Is is loaded with cliché Dr. Luke production styles? Yes. But does it sound absolutely killer? Yes. Any fan of pop music should eat this song up because this song could fill a dance floor faster than "Cupid Shuffle." The lyrics are really generic, but I don't even care.



"Beating Heart" | Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding is one of the only reasons that I actually was excited for the movie Divergent to premiere. Between the beautiful score tracks she did and "Beating Heart," it is like Ellie overload. "Beating Heart" is the best song that she has done for a soundtrack thus far; the lyrics and her vocal tone are so beautiful. The lyrics "I want to make the best of what is left, hold tight" always ring through my head.



"G.U.Y." | Lady Gaga

Of course Lady Gaga has to make an appearance on this list. Now that she out of hiding and back to performing, she also managed to drop "G.U.Y." as the next single from ARTPOP. The song features a killer production from Zedd and strong vocals from Gaga. With its sexed up lyrics and dance beat, "G.U.Y." is sure to be a hit with pop radio stations. Check out the new video below, too!


"Price Tag" | Jessie J feat. B.o.B

This one actually came about as we began rehearsing this song for an upcoming choir concert. Jessie J had such a strange yet unique funk about her during her debut years; she looked manufactured without feeling or sounding like a product of a record label. Between this song and "Domino," Jessie J had my head constantly bobbing to the radio when she arrived in the United States.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Head or Heart | Christina Perri


★★★☆☆

Three years after Christina Perri debuted with "Jar of Hearts" and Lovestrong, she has finally managed to cook up a sophomore record: Head or Heart. With months of promo under her belt, and a looming North American tour, let's see how she did on a record that was three years in the making.

The album opens with the acoustic "Trust," which has some strong vocals and some even prettier backing harmonies. Following it, "Burning Gold," the album's second single, sounds like a bit drawn up from Sara Bareilles (which isn't particularly a change). In the summery song, Perri sings about stepping up into a brighter and better life: "I’m setting fire to the life that I know / We start a fire everywhere that we go / We starting fires, we starting fires / Till our lives are burning gold."

The upbeat, cutesy "By My Forever" features Ed Sheeran, who blends very well with Perri. "Human" follows directly behind it. As many already know, "Human" dropped in January as the lead single to Head or Heart, and I wrote a review of the song as soon as I heard it. With a quiet tone, subtle climaxes, and inspiring lyrics, "Human" is perfect for contemporary pop radio.

After so many semi-upbeat songs, Perri brings on "One Night," which sounds like the soundtrack to a rainy night. And speaking of water, the seventh track on the album, "Sea of Lovers," relies on metaphors in its blossoming chorus to express feeling lost in a relationship: "In the sea of lovers without ships / Lovers without size, you're the only way out of it / A sea of lovers losing time / Lovers losing hope, will you let me follow you / Wherever you go, bring me home." (For any of Perri's fans reading this, you may have noticed that I skipped right over "I Don't Wanna Break" in the track listing... because it was super forgettable.)

"The Words" finds Perri in a vulnerable situation, as she sings, "And I know the scariest part is letting go / Cause love is a ghost you can’t control / I promise you the truth can’t hurt us now / So let the words slip out of your mouth" This susceptible feeling is conveyed again in "Lonely Child," however it is masked by a slightly lighthearted beat; a happy sound that in turn spills over into the next track, "Run," as well. (I would mention "Butterfly" and "Shot Me in The Heart" here, but sadly... they're just as forgettable as "I Don't Wanna Break.")

Head or Heart draws to a close with one last inspirational bit: "I Believe." Lyrically, the song is absolutely beautiful, especially with lines like, "I believe in the lost possibilities you can see / And I believe that the darkness reminds us where light can be" and "‘Cause I have been where you are before / And I have felt the pain of losing who you are / And I have died so many times, but I am still alive." The song primarily focuses on the sound of a piano, but also dabbles with subtle beat-boxing in the second verse as well as the voices of a chorus while the song runs into it's final minute and Perri repeats "This is not the end of me, this is the beginning / Hold on."

This album gleams with confidence vocally. We've been used to a quiet, timid Christina Perri, but she now gets comfortable enough to belt notes out with radiance. I like that. Head or Heart is also very cohesive, aiming directly for a contemporary pop audience. I like that, too. The real problem with this album isn’t a lack of talent, but that it is void of memorable material. When consumed all at once, Head or Heart seems to blend into a gargantuan blob of power ballads. The only songs that really stay in the forefront are "Human," "I Believe," "One Night," and "Sea of Lovers," while everything else is just sufficient filler material.