Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ghost Stories | Coldplay


★★★★☆

With hits like "Viva la Vida" and "Clocks" behind them, alternative rock band Coldplay is always expected to go bigger and better on their next releases. Since it would be a challenge to go any louder or get any more produced than their last album, they decided to cut back their sound on their sixth studio album, Ghost Stories. This album trips back to the basics, minus a song or two.

Coldplay's last attempt was Mylo Xyloto, an experimental album with an unpronounceable name. The album was gritty, loud, and heavy in its electronic influences. On Ghost Stories, Coldplay seems to try to pull back to their alternative rock influences while also lightly implementing what they learned on Mylo Xyloto.

Ghost Stories slowly draws open with a relaxed "Always in My Head," which was surprisingly co-written by the band with electronic musician Madeon. Vocals from Chris Martin are drawn to a minimum, so most of the song relies on its easy, ambient instrumental and few light samples of vocals from none other than Apple, Martin's son, who has a nice falsetto but an unfortunate name. 

"Magic," the album's official lead single, carries a simple drumbeat and piano chord instrumental. The vocals could be tweaked in this track, but then again the few vocal imperfections make the song seem more personal - a theme the band seems to be going for with this album. Despite Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's "conscious uncoupling," the song's lyrics tell the story of an optimistic couple in love: "Call it magic, call it true / I call it magic when I'm with you / And I just got broken, broken into two / Still I call it magic, when I'm next to you." Maybe this song represents that "flying to the Bahamas together and bringing the kids like it's a family vacation" portion of the "conscious uncoupling."

The bittersweet "Ink" gives way to a synthesizer and Martin still proclaiming his love for his ex-wife, but yet ready to let go. The holy falsetto of Chris Martin finally makes a fully-committed appearance in "True Love," in which he sings of his heartbreak: "I've lost you now, you let me go but one last time / Tell me you love me, if you don't then lie to me."

Coldplay really hit the nail on the head with the title of the next track, "Midnight," because the song just makes me envision a lonely drive through the dead of night. The track is perhaps one of the most experimental on the record, with Martin's vocal track being shoved through a vocoder before being layered on the track filled with overlapping synths. 

The dark, twinkling "Another's Arms" finds Martin almost muttering through the repetitive verses and wailing choruses while also leaving room twisted instrumental break during the bridge. Perhaps the slowest song from the album, "Oceans," once again features some mumbling vocals, but also showcases Martin's upper register. Personally, I feel like it's one of the least memorable tracks on the album.

Madeon isn't the only electronic musician to work on Ghost Stories: "Wake Me Up!" hit-maker Avicii got to put his hands into this album in the track "A Sky Full of Stars." While Madeon's presence is relatively hidden in "Always in My Head," Avicii gets to push in a progressive breakdown that holds down the ends of the choruses in "A Sky Full of Stars." I see it as the crowning jewel of Ghost Stories, but that may be because I'm usually drawn towards electronic music. It's a refreshing sound for Coldplay and would probably give the band the moderate radio hit they need if released as a single.

Ghost Stories draws to end with the piano-fueled ballad "O," which is another song that is semi-reliant on Martin's upper register. After all is said and done, the album wraps up at just over forty minutes of new music. Although I don't think Ghost Stories compares to my favorite Coldplay album (Viva la Vida and Death and All of His Friends), it's a solid attempt. Ghost Stories is a nice addition to Coldplay's discography and actually seems to tell the story of the decaying marriage between Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow. By no means is this an Adele-style "we could have had it all but you broke my heart so now I'm going to an entire album about you," but instead it leaves behind bittersweet taste of broken love that was thought to be eternal.

Ghost Stories is out on Tuesday, May 19, under Atlantic Records in the United States. An exclusive deluxe edition can be found at Target department stores.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Glorious | Foxes


★★★★☆

I have been patiently waiting for months for English singer-songwriter Foxes (born Louisa Rose Allen) to release her debut album, and the time has finally come to hear what kind of musical punch she packs with her very first full length album. Glorious has had plenty of buzz surrounding its arrival and I'm happy to have a signed, deluxe edition in my hands.

Glorious opens on a blossoming, beautiful, mysterious note with "Talking to Ghosts." Using some Chinese-style patterns in the chorus and dark, deep chords elsewhere, the song makes such a promising leap already for the album, and we're only one track in.

After "Clarity" spread like wildfire, Foxes' official lead single was strategically dropped in the United Kingdom: "Youth." It made sparks here in the United States, but didn't take off enough to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is a driving synthpop piece of gold with lyrics over growing old. In the video, Foxes stays forever young as she dons Mickey Mouse ears and sings, "Now I'm just chasing time / With a thousand dreams I'm holding heavy / And as we cross the line these fading beats have all been severed / Don't tell me our youth is running out / It's only just begun."



Following "Youth" in the track listing is "Holding onto Heaven," which was released as the album's third official single last month. A demo of the song appeared online much earlier than that, though. A twinkly chime runs faintly through the cutesy little song about keeping a relationship intact and pretending there are no problems between the couple. The next track, "White Coats," is another early Foxes track it holds a darker yet still upbeat sound. In this song, Foxes compares her love to a mental illness as she sings, "And if the men in white coats are coming / I know you’ll still be there for me / to chase down the wolves around us."

The first solo single I heard from Foxes was "Let Go For Tonight," and it almost instantly made me a fan. Everything about this song just screams happiness, from the carefree lyrics to the pounding instrumental to the messy, colorful video. In a quick, rapid-fire explanation of the song's meaning, Foxes laughed and said, "'Let Go For Tonight' is about forgetting about your worries and yesterday, and trying to live for now... and having lots of fights with cake and stuff." It's such a pick-me-up that it's unbelievable; I could listen actually have listened to it on repeat for a few hours straight.

Following along in the track listing, the echoed, somber "Night Glo" finds a vulnerable Foxes belting over a growing instrumental track. It's a nice little mid-album ballad. Continuing the nighttime antics, "Night Owls Early Birds" covers one night too many out on the town and borrows some elements from the old times of disco to create a driving dance track.


"Glorious," the track that was influential enough to set its namesake on the whole album, is the perfect combination of the electronic elements that boosted her to stardom and her unique indie pop sound. The verses rely on that drum-filled indie sound while the chorus adds a deep, booming synth line. The title track flows into "Echo," which reminds me of some very light Florence + The Machine injected with some light electropop elements behind it.

The standard pressing of Glorious closes with "Shaking Heads" and "Count the Saints." The former track is power ballad of sorts, while "Count the Saints" leaves listeners on a quiet, mysterious note. It's an ambient track that matures with time, adding layers of strings and drums throughout. For those with the deluxe copy of the album, it continues with a live version of "Clarity." In a piano and vocal format, "Clarity" is even more heartfelt. As in all of her live performance, Foxes' vocals are rock solid and could literally be studio ready.

Disco finds its way back onto Glorious while it is infused in "Beauty Queen," a powerful contemporary pop track on superficial feelings and feeling picture perfect: "Oh, beauty queen / It's only skin deep / It's only thin sheets / There's no audience." The twinkly, jewelry box-jingle of "Holding onto Heaven" is referenced again in "Home," a relatively early track from Foxes that I'm surprised was able to resurface on the album.


"In Her Arms" is another toned-down Florence Welch track, but could also pass off as a perfected version of something out of an off-Broadway performance of Stomp. When compared to the standard version's cut-off at "Count the Saints," the deluxe edition's finale, "The Unknown," brings a bit of a more appropriate ending. In the closing, we once again get disco and dance influences, especially in the chorus.

Foxes truly has found a cozy little niche to base her sound in; it's a combination of genres and sounds that I've never really heard before. She's talented, she's cute, and she's going to be around for a long time: this album is a prime example of those exact things. It truly is Glorious.

Glorious is out now in the United Kingdom via Sony Music Entertainment. For United States fans, I highly suggest importing the album from online retailers such as Amazon.co.uk: it's worth it. You can watch Foxes' rapid-fire track-by-track explanation video of the album below.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Playlist: May 2014

"Fancy" | Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX
What a great jam... The lyrics are on-point from the start, as Azalea spits out "First thing's first, I'm the realest / Drop this and let the whole world feel it." Charli XCX comes in a gleaming Gwen Stefani style as she sings the chorus: "I'm so fancy / You already know / I'm in the fast lane / From L.A. to Tokyo." The looped trap beat is stripped back a bit to allow Azalea and Charli's voices to shine a bit but that doesn't kill the song at all.



"West Coast" | Lana Del Rey
This song is perfect for the upcoming summer months. A seductive, sultry rock sound oozes from this song, while Del Rey whisks her way through the airy vocals: "I can see my baby swingin' / His Parliament's on fire and his hands are up / On the balcony and I'm singing / Ooh baby, ooh baby, I'm in love." Thanks to producer Dan Auerbach's help, this song is like a perfected version of what Lana Del Rey's pre-Born To Die material sounds like.



"Y.A.L.A." | M.I.A.
M.I.A. outdid all of her previous album with Matangi, and "Y.A.L.A." has to be one of the most infection beats of the past year. In this song, the popular phrase "Y.O.L.O." was contorted into a Hindu re-incarnation bit and placed over a killer club beat. The breakdown barrels down the listener after M.I.A. proclaims, "Alarms go off as I enter the building." Everything about this track is aimed for the jugular of the club scene and I absolutely love it.



"Ain't It Fun" | Paramore
After the moderate success of their pop radio-friendly "Still Into You," Paramore has decided to follow-up with "Ain't It Fun," a fun, disorganized alternative rock song about growing up, being an adult, and loneliness. Let's not forget the little breakdown, in which a choir sings behind front woman Hayley Williams: "Don't go crying to your mama 'cause you're on your own in the real world." It's obviously not the most complex song ever, but it's catchy.



"Hollaback Girl" | Gwen Stefani
This month's throwback goes back to 2005, the year that "Hollaback Girl" fired its way across the globe. The lyrical content of this song is so stupid, but overall it's such a bad ass bit that nobody cares. Gwen Stefani was, and still is, the bad girl on the block, which she makes concrete in this song as she tracks down the girl that was talking shit about her. And just a quick post-script: This shit is still bananas after all these years. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.