Sunday, October 26, 2014

1989 | Taylor Swift


★★★★☆

When she dropped her debut album eight years ago, we never predicted that Taylor Swift would one day mature from America's favorite tyke-sized country starlet to everybody's new favorite pop star. Her transformation into a true pop star was predictable from the publicized Max Martin and Shellback tracks on her last album, Red, but seemed too good to be true. She has even put away the acoustic guitar and opted to pick up a Polaroid camera to take on a faux-hipster image that fits her well. She is the first of her kind in recent years to make such a big transformation to my knowledge. While Florida-Georgia Line decided to churn out awkward re-dubs of their tracks to suit pop radio and Shania Twain embraced the safety net of country-pop, Taylor Swift bid her roots goodbye and ventured into a whole new world. Luckily, her journey wasn't in vain; she may have just had a knack for pop music all along.

Swift opens 1989 with the Ryan Tedder-assisted "Welcome to New York," a track written about her experiences as a hopeful new arrival to the Big Apple and gives some insight on the city's influences on the album. "Welcome to New York, it's been waiting for you / It's a new soundtrack / I could dance to this beat, this beat, forevermore," sings Swift as she oozes love for her new surroundings. She then decides to poke fun at her infamous dating life on "Blank Space" as she rambles off, "I've got a long list of ex-lovers / They'll tell you I'm insane / But I've got a blank space, baby, and I'll write your name." The sarcasm in this track is just as clear as that in Lily Allen's "Hard Out Here," yet thousands of members of the viral anti-Taylor Swift committee will probably have a heyday with this track.

Sarcasm seems to be Swift's new wisely-used tool, such as in her grand arrival to the scene as a full-fledged pop star: "Shake It Off." The song has been a staple on Top 40 radio for over two months now, complete with blaring horns, a "Hollaback Girl" style bridge, and the lyrical sass that brushes off any criticisms and haters. In other words, Swift came out of the closet as a pop artist with a bang. The song even opens with a mocking exclamation of "I stay out too late / Got nothing in my brain / That's what people say / I go on too many dates / But I can't make them stay / That's what people say." While self-empowerment anthems aren't revolutionary works in this day and age, Swift manages to make the most ear-catching pick-me-up since Demi Lovato's "Really Don't Care."

The songwriting on 1989 shines as Swift's best handiwork to date. While she has traditionally written her biggest hits from a bitter and accusatory position ("Picture to Burn," "Mean," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"), we now see Swift as a romantic storyteller (minus "Bad Blood," in which she actually comes for blood). "Style," an irresistible track driven by a sultry guitar stem and a steady drum pattern, highlights a fluid, balanced relationship: "You've got that James Dean daydream look in your eye / And I've got that red lip classic thing that you like / And when we go crashing down, we come back every time / 'Cause we never go out of style." Meanwhile in "Out of the Woods," Swift recounts an accident that she was involved in as she sings, "Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room / When you started crying, baby, I did too / When the sun came up, I was looking at you." 

The aforementioned "Bad Blood" is the one and only spiteful jab that Swift offers this time around but is also one of her best offerings on 1989. In a cover story with Rolling Stone, she revealed the track is not about a ex-beau, but rather a fellow musician that "basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour." The Internet gossip-sniffing scouts quickly got to work and discovered that midst the planning of Swift's monstrous Red Tour, Katy Perry secretly hired dancers out from under Swift to go on her own concurrent tour. This feud is put into obscure phrases on "Bad Blood" that would be nondescript if it wasn't for the back story: "Band-aids don't fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show / If you live like that, you live with ghosts." Ouch, Katy. You might want to try to let a little more light in through your prism and beam your love towards Taylor.

Lush sonic landscapes are painted behind Swift from the beginning to the end of this album. This album is a step towards an unsurprisingly synth-heavy sound that we first heard in the album's promo singles. "Out of the Woods" and "I Know Places" persuade Swift into the world of pseudo-indie pop; the former, in particular, contains echoes of vocal effects and atmospheric synth stems that transport listeners into the hazy, lonely forest being described lyrically. Guitar patterns and some driving synths on "I Wish You Would" channel a pop-oriented version of Haim, garnering a seal approval from my viewpoint. The most subtle backdrops complement Swift's vocals on her ballads: "Wildest Dreams" blossoms with drum-machine clicks and winding synths, while intricate effects shimmer over the album's flowing closer, "Clean," like rain drops on a rooftop.

For the past few album cycles, Swift was clearly turning her direction in two separate worlds to please both country and pop audiences. Red contained the most distinct splits in Swift's personality to date, as Max Martin and Shellback handicrafts somehow graced the same track-listing as country-oriented tracks like "Red," "Begin Again," and "Holy Ground." Now, her newest collaborations with the Swedish producers are right at home on 1989, in company with fellow productions from Jack Antonoff and Ryan Tedder. Swift merely hints at the late '80s influences that were said to inspire it, but more often than not, she simply brings us some fresh, modern pop tunes on her most consistent and high quality body of work to date.

1989 will be released on October 27, 2014 under Big Machine Records. An exclusive deluxe edition will be sold at Target department stores.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Super Critical | The Ting Tings


★★☆☆☆

Album leaks: for artists and record labels, they're disastrous, but for a music fan pleading for new music like a relentless cat clawing at a closed door, they're great. In today's industry, it's not uncommon to see the entirety of an album spill a week early online via streaming websites, but English indie-pop duo The Ting Tings' newest effort, Super Critical, leaked unimaginably early; nearly three months sit between the album's leak and its official release date.

Super Critical follows the duo's sophomore album, Sounds from Nowheresville, which failed to meet critical and commercial expectations. The album peaked on the lower half of most major album sales charts and was slammed for being "deliberately bad" and "tuneless." (Minus "Hang It Up" and "Hands," I personally like to pretend that the album doesn't even exist.) Although it has never explicitly outlined as such, the title of Super Critical could definitely be a stab back at the reception of their previous album.

The Ting Tings opened their career on a light pop-rock sound on their uniform ten-track debut suite, We Started Nothing. After following some rocky roads, doing some self-exploration, and deleting a full album to start from scratch, they unveiled an alternative rock masquerade to their sound on Sounds from Nowheresville. Fast forward two years later, and they've now thrown themselves underneath the disco ball in a 1980s groove on this new record.

The Super Critical era began with the release of "Wrong Club," the love child of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and the Ting Tings' own "Shut Up and Let Me Go." (The band later recycled the same combination for "Do It Again.") Despite the palatable sound, the duo's fondness for underground indie static shows up through the song's lyrics as Katie White sings, "I'm in the wrong club, listening to this shit." Soon after the first single release, the title track of the album and "Only Love" were both released to boost some buzz. "Super Critical" features a low-riding bassline and a instrumental break full of drums, guitars, and horns, while "Only Love" is a forgettable blend of disco and indie pop. Disco finds its way back into songs like "Communication" and "Failure," but with lukewarm results.

On songs like "Daughter" and "Green Poison," the duo revisits the influences of that strange rock sound that they showcased in their last album; even with its nearly indecipherable lyrics, the former song prevails as a less disastrous affair. The album's only true ballad, the wobbly "Wabi Sabi," also fails to find its feet due to its unfortunate titling and initial vocal delivery. The song's drawing chorus and vocal harmonies does prove that it blossoms as it progresses, but no headway at the sound improvement is made until a minute and a half into the song; by that time, they had really already lost my attention.

Sometimes the success of the past cannot be replicated, and The Ting Tings are sadly a great example. We Started Nothing still stands as the duo's only worthwhile album, while The Ting Tings have continued to dig themselves into the ground with Sounds from Nowheresville and Super Critical. This new album is an improvement from their last effort, but just doesn't live up to the memories of "Great DJ" and "That's Not My Name." I held onto the hope that the band had just hit the dreaded sophomore slump a few years ago, but now I'm afraid that Katie White and Jules De Martino have simply just lost their touch.

Super Critical will be released on October 27, 2014 under Finca Records.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sound of a Woman | Kiesza


★★★★☆

The rise to musical stardom for Canadian singer-songwriter Kiesza has been a surprisingly quick process. After dropping a four-track extended play and two top-ten singles in the United Kingdom (most notably, her debut track "Hideaway," that got her to the number one spot across the pond), she has quickly followed-up with her debut album, Sound of a Woman. While many contemporaries have faced delays with releasing a full body of work, the time between the release of Kiesza's debut single and this album measures out at a mere six months. Impressive, to say the least, but how impressive is the work represented in Sound of a Woman?

Kiesza's ticket to fame was her nostalgic house touch and the impressive choreography in her first music video. Sound of a Woman not only delivers a fair amount of euro-house bangers, but also a few outliers that are both surprising and well-welcomed. (Kiesza promised that "people will be surprised to hear some of the songs on this album" because of their dissimilarities to her pigeon-holed status as a house artist.) The most noticeable sound changes come as she breaks away from the safety of her heavy beats and recedes to acoustic cuts like "What is Love" and "Cut Me Loose" to exude confidence in her voice. She also experiments with mid-tempo R&B and pop on the Mick Jensen-assisted "Losin' My Mind" and "Piano," a track that ironically doesn't incorporate a piano until its outro.

Ultimate throwback vibes radiate from new cuts like "No Enemiesz" and "Vietnam," as Kiesza hop-scotches between 1980s and 1990s house influences. The former track has been lifted as the album's third single, after "Hideaway" and "Giant in my Heart," and finds Kiesza sounding more like Cher in its ad-libs, but the lead vocals let her hit some of her highest wails yet. Meanwhile, the nineties live on through the deep-house tracks "Over Myself" and "The Love," as well as the album's flowing title track. "Baby, that's the sound of a woman / Baby, that's the sound that her heart makes when she's crying out to the one man chaining her to love that she can't escape," sings Kiesza on "Sound of a Woman," in between crooning ad-libs and persistent strings. Those lyrics easily sum up the album as a whole, which follows the thoughts of love and heartbreak through a relationship.

While she lyrically brings nothing extraordinarily new to the table, her vocal ability and production techniques do. Her gleaming production choices blast nostalgia in full force, which follows this year's most popular trend without sounding tedious; one listen to "Over Myself" or "No Enemiesz" makes that fact obvious. Yet, these huge production backings can be taken away without stripping away Kiesza's power. Her vocal technique is quite unique as she manages to sound consistently strong, even as she reaches the bounds of her vocal range (à la Sia Furler). Normally, new acts aren't always so ambitious on their debut albums, but Kiesza has pulled out all of the stops for this record: push play and bask in the old school euro-house glory.

Sound of a Woman will be released on October 21, 2014 under Lokal Legend and Island Records.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heart On My Sleeve | Mary Lambert


★★☆☆☆

You may not know her name, but you definitely know her voice. Mary Lambert is probably most well-known from her featured role in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' pro-gay marriage anthem "Same Love," but she is now trying to carve a name for herself beyond her big break. She wrote new verses around her "Same Love" chorus and released the solo song as "She Keeps Me Warm" on a low-key extended play, but she has now moved forward to the release of her first full-length album, Heart on My Sleeve.

The lead single to the album, "Secrets," has been moderately successful on contemporary radio, but shares a dramatically different side of Lambert's musicality. "Same Love" introduced us to a light-voiced songbird, but "Secrets" offers up an awkward half-spoken, half-sung track that covers up insecurities with a fun, care-free sound. Even with proclamations of her sexuality, mental state, and family problems, Lambert fails to garner a unique character shape. With this in mind, she tries to compensate for her lack of character by borrowing from others. Throughout this album, she channels influences from contemporaries ranging from Christina Perri and Sara Bareilles ("When You Sleep," "Chasing the Sun") to Ingrid Michaelson ("Heart on My Sleeve," "So Far Away").

She tries to draw out some sort of sentiment on a short poetic interlude titled "Dear You," but the final product is an awkward, rushed storytelling session. Perhaps the most emotionally-charged cut from this album is not even composed of her own words: Lambert's cover of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" takes the original pop-rock song and transposes it into a subdued piano ballad with a lesbian twist. Everywhere else, mushy lyrics get layered over rinse-and-repeat mid-tempo pop sounds. The album may highlight Lambert's light vocal abilities, but isn't able to spark an interest in the music itself. Her heart might have been on her sleeve while compiling this album, but the final products on this album make it seem like she was wearing a cutoff.

Heart on My Sleeve is out now under Capitol Records.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sweet Talker | Jessie J


★★☆☆

She's only three years into her recording career yet Jessie J is already dazed and confused on what move to make next. The English singer-songwriter silently penned tracks for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown before she took the world by storm with her debut album, Who You Are, and singles like "Domino" and "Price Tag." After that, she disappeared from sight in American pop culture. However, across the pond in her native country, Jessie J famously shaved her head for a charity benefiting cancer research and released her follow-up, Alive. Although the album didn't completely commercially fail by definition, it did by comparison to her monstrous debut, and that was enough to scrap any plans for an American release of the album. Hence, we have now been handed Sweet Talker, Jessie's sophomore album by American standards, but third overall.

Upon being slammed as a "flopping" act by critics, artists have each had their own ways of coping with the criticism. For Avril Lavigne, it meant releasing a borderline-racist music video to spike interest; for Lady Gaga, it meant abandoning ship and hiding herself from public view for months on end; for Britney Spears, it meant that a Vegas residency deal could continue paying her tab at Starbucks. However, Jessie J decided on counteracting any claims of her fading presence as quickly as possible with this new album. Although she has confidently breezed over Alive's missteps multiple times in interviews, Jessie J's newfound position at the bottom of the sales charts clearly damaged her confidence as an artist and songwriter. Jessie went from co-writing all of the tracks on her first two albums to only penning five of the twelve tracks on Sweet Talker. Clearly, integrity has been discounted in favor of commercial dominance, but has it paid off?

To announce her return to the States, Jessie enrolled the help of fellow songstress Ariana Grande and rapper Nicki Minaj (who have both been riding on their own tidal waves in American pop culture this year) on "Bang Bang." The track, which contains watermarks of Max Martin's influence, was a wise choice for the leading cut from the album thanks to how well the three divas mesh as they seduce with promises to blow (more than) your mind in the backseat of a car. The sexual overdrive doesn't kick into neutral as Jessie moves onto the album's overlooked second single, either; "Burnin' Up" is the infectious pop-meets-country track that Miley Cyrus tried to create with "4x4" last year. The track oozes with lust as Jessie claims she is "drippin' in sweat" and "burnin' up for your love." While the brash appearance from 2 Chainz on "Burnin' Up" was unnecessary, it doesn't extinguish the flames on the track.

"Burnin' Up" opens the door for an urban-infused rhythmic pop sound that has been pieced together from external influences and sprinkled through the album. The album's opening number, for example, allows Jessie J to slide into a sing-rap style that channels pop-meets-pseudo-rap duo Karmin. "Keep Us Together" and "Sweet Talker" both utilize a return to a moderate R&B-pop blend that suits Jessie J well; contemporary radio would grab hold of the tracks quickly. She also brings in De La Soul for assistance on "Seal Me with a Kiss," a '80s-funk and R&B track that finally allows Jessie to experiment a bit without sounding unoriginal. This track returns to the sexual undertones of the album's first two singles, but with more subtle and innocent interpretations: "Take me, love me with your lips / Seal me with a kiss."

Elsewhere on the album, Jessie J still struggles to find her own sound, but a power-ballad format takes center stage. Unsurprisingly, violinist Lindsey Stirling's credited instrumental work on "Loud" is more of a subtle complement to the track rather than a recognizable feature, but it ends up as a blossoming and booming cut. "Personal" finds Jessie J sounding more like P!nk than herself, but she manages to find her own voice again for "Masterpiece" and the touching "Get Away," which ends the album on its most raw moment. Most of this album flies over listeners' heads as a way to regain lost territory for Jessie J, but "Get Away" breaks free to a vulnerable and intimate piano ballad. She goes through this track from gentle coos to powerful belts as she sings, "How's this a different kind of love? / It used to be saving us, now it's just breaking us / It's not about just giving up, we know we're not safe enough."

While Jessie J has managed to make an album worth listening to, she has also lost her personality. Instead of continuing to pave her own way, she has now insisted on playing dress-up with the style of others; her vocal power isn't compromised, but it's just utilized to fit the part of other artists. We clearly know her goals with this album cycle and although she may have managed to create a seemingly average album right now, I doubt Sweet Talker will be able to withstand multiple replays. The album may have actually benefited by moving the bonus tracks to the standard pressing, as well: "Your Loss I'm Found" has huge potential. So, if a temporary burst of popularity is what Jessie J was aiming for, her wish has been fulfilled. However, if she wants longevity, Sweet Talker isn't going to cut it.

Sweet Talker will be released on October 14, 2014 under Republic Records and Lava Music. Standard and deluxe pressings will be available.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A.K.A. | Jennifer Lopez


★★☆☆☆

Jennifer Lopez has been known for years as a Jill-of-a-trades in Hollywood. Classically, she's known as Jenny from the block and the actress that played the leading role in the 1997 Selena Quintanilla-Pérez biopic. Following a small stint on American Idol and a greatest hits compilation disc, Lopez is trying to revitalize her career with a starring role in cheap movie as a teacher that has sex with her student and the release of her tenth studio album, A.K.A.

Her last studio album, Love?, was stapled with RedOne productions like "On The Floor" and "Papi," and only contained one track with Lopez listed as a co-writer. Fast forward to A.K.A., Jennifer Lopez has writing credits for nine of the ten standard tracks, with most of the tracks being hip-hop/pop hybrids influenced by her love life and recently-finalized divorce from Marc Anthony. In fact, A.K.A. opens with its title track, a hip-hop infused banger in which Lopez proclaims (presumably to her ex-husband), "Now our faces never stick around / A.K.A / Never hold you down / A.K.A / Can't figure it out / A.K.A / You don't know me now."

Just like this album, the first and second singles were also met with massively underwhelming commercial success. The tragically-titled "I Luh Ya Papi" finds J.Lo singing in a pouty, indecipherable manner over a bubbly instrumental - and the featured verse from rapper French Montana only sinks the track further into an infamous bin full of singles that never should have been. However, "First Love" can be seen as the deserved hit that never was; it's another urban inspired pop track with a killer chorus that indefinitely sticks with the listener.

One of the biggest stars to emerge this summer, Iggy Azalea, slides in a verse on "Acting Like That," a track that loses its touch within its first minute; there's no real climax anywhere to latch onto. However, Lopez and Azalea hooked back up recently for an alternative version to the newest single to be lifted from this album, "Booty." (The album version of "Booty" includes an inevitable featured verse from Pitbull, but his edit has been paid dust in order to ride off of the Iggy Azalea wave.) In essence, "Booty" is J.Lo's take on Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" before the latter track was even released. Thanks to the two big-booty divas, having a lusciously large hind-end has never felt so good.

In addition to all of these cut-and-paste twerk-anthems, J.Lo serves up a slew of ballads. The ballad selections on this album are all pretty similar in terms of composition; the choruses swell with emotion, while everything else in the song is rather flat. "Never Satisfied" features an in-love Lopez belting, "I'm never satisfied / Honey my appetite, it's keeping me up at night / I'm going crazy for more of your love," while the piano and synth led "Emotions" finds J.Lo at a stalemate in a relationship: "All I ever wanted was your time / Right now I don't even have the patience / I'm tired of waiting for you / I just want to let go." 

"Emotions" is followed in the track listing by a weak line-up of "So Good," "Let It Be Me," and "Worry No More." The first two tracks fall victim to the same problem as "Acting Like That" and become dirges after a minute or so thanks to their lackluster production and choruses. Most, if not all, of the songs on A.K.A. thrive on the ear-catching chorus, and when the chorus sucks, there's no hope left for the rest of the track. Meanwhile, "Worry No More" relies on auto-tuned vocals and an unimpressive verse from Rick Ross; need I say more?

With its small selection of slick earworms and barely-satisfactory power ballads, I was starting to ask myself if I had ignorantly disregarded this album prematurely. However, I realized that the main problem is that the standard price of the album just didn't match the utility price for a handful of disposable, dated bops and repetitive ballads. In layman's terms, the problem isn't that I discounted A.K.A. too soon; the problem is that Target didn't discount A.K.A. soon enough.

A.K.A. is available now under Capitol Records. An exclusive version can be found at Target department stores.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Take Me When You Go | Betty Who


★★★★☆

The blogosphere has been abuzz with news of Australian singer-songwriter Betty Who (born Jessica Newham) for a while now as she toured stateside to spread her name, but Betty's story is now reaching a new chapter as she releases her debut album, Take Me When You Go. This thirteen-track set comes after the release of two extended plays, a record deal with RCA Records, and appearances with YouTube stars such as Tyler Oakley.

As the album began to slowly leak on the web, Betty Who has been placed under the microscope of music fans and critics to find her similarities to other artists. Upon the cover, Betty channels the platinum blonde reincarnate of Lana Del Rey's former 1950s persona, while she sonically appears as a pop star plucked straight from the 1980s. Her voice and musical style has already drawn comparison to the likes of Katy Perry (who she will open for when Perry's Prismatic Tour hits Australia), but critics have failed to note the strength of her voice that exudes the confidence of Sia Furler and Marina Diamandis. Even with all of these influences under her belt, Betty still manages to move forward as her own, defining persona with Take Me When You Go.

Minus two earnest ballads (the subdued "California Love" and a track lead by the clicks of a drum-machine titled "Missing You"), Take Me When You Go is the perfected album packed with radio-ready pop anthems that Katy Perry (semi-successfully) tried to create last year. Betty's earliest single, "Somebody Loves You," combines 1980s pop with the best of today's pop scene and is still being plugged as the album's lead single despite first being released in 2012, While many artists have taken the 1980s shtick and thrown us completely back a few decades, with radiant songs like "Somebody Loves You," "Glory Days," and "Dreaming About You," Betty proves that she can simply complement the modern era of pop music with blast-from-the-past influences.

Throughout the album, Betty rattles through these songs with lyrics about love and relationships in her native Australian accent, which is refreshing to hear; most artists that cross into the United States adopt the accent as well. At her best, she dreams of an upper echelon status with her dream man in "High Society" as she sings, "We'll drink Chardonnay through the day, 'cause we say so / A silk lapel suits you well, baby you know / With you, each and every day, we'll be high society," and reminisces of young, bright-eyed love in "Runaways": "We sneak out late after midnight / Hijack your daddy's car / You're my best bad kind of habit / I'm your backseat movie star."

Betty Who pulled out all of the stops with Take Me When You Go to create an infectious, nostalgic set of songs. This year's pop debuts have come in all shapes and sizes this year and Betty just adds to the variety. While Tove Lo found her niche in electropop fogged in the smoky haze emitted from a joint and Foxes crafted a unique light pop sound that easily complements her alluring voice, Betty Who and her producers formed a cohesive album that would easily chameleon itself into a sea of other pop albums if it wasn't for the perfect amount of 1980s glimmers sprinkled across its tracks. With so many sing-along pop tracks, perhaps Betty should have extended the album name to Take Me When You Go (on a Long Road Trip and Need Good Music).

Take Me When You Go is out now under RCA Records.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Aquarius | Tinashe


★★★☆☆

Emerging artists have been coming out of the woodwork all year, and there are no signs of the trend stopping now. Although she's been in the music industry for nearly seven years, Tinashe spent most of those years performing with The Stunners, a now-disbanded girl group, and plugging away with three underground mixtapes. Upon release of her major label debut single, "2 On," the American singer-songwriter has been gaining speed in the industry as the release of her debut album, Aquarius, draws near.

With eighteen tracks and an extraordinarily long running time, Tinashe's debut album is equivalent to that of her underground counterpart, Jillian Banks. Dissecting Tinashe's musical style will reveal a blend of Banks' trip-hop meets experimental R&B production techniques, a slew of sexually-charged lyrics, and ultra-seductive beats. The moderate success of "2 On" proves that it's a formula that works, but a full listen to the album uncovers cohesiveness throughout all of Tinashe's tracks. Not all of the tracks are completely polished and the multiple interludes throughout the album are unnecessary, but the album has an undeniably consistent flow.

As Tinashe plays a masterful coquette, she manages to create great tunes with cringeworthy lyrics that nod listeners back to infamous tracks like Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" or Riskay's "Smell Yo Dick." Selections from this album range from "All in the front, all in the back just like that, like that / I'mma blow your mind like that" ("All Hands on Deck") to "I can make a thug cry, tonight / Watch me make a thug cry, tonight" ("Thug Cry," produced by Mike WiLL Made-It). She unsurprisingly also goes no holds barred on "Feels Like Vegas" as she sings, "Body to body, we gettin' out of this party / Flashing lights / I let you love me 'cause I can tell that you want me / Just you and I / Feels like Vegas, don't it?"

Rarely in this album, we see a glimmer of a vulnerable Tinashe that has stepped away from the sex-kitten persona. The album's title track opens the album on a cool and collective note that manages to mask its sexual undertones, while heartbreak flows through Tinashe's vocals on her own sonic replica of Sade's "Soldier of Love," titled "Far Side of the Moon." Her vocals also take center stage over the muted, subtle production on "Bated Breath" and "Bet." The latter song is complemented by a chorus full of edited ad-libs and verses that allow Tinashe to soar into her light, airy upper register freely.

Tinashe manages to be indistinct yet interesting simultaneously. The production keeps the album partially fresh for the entirety of its hour-long run and her voice is consistently smooth. She relies on production tactics and naughty lyrics to create the newest reincarnation of dirty rhythmic pop and R&B. We're not talking about the indecently comical definition of dirty à la "Anaconda" or "Booty," either; we're talking about the type of erotica that you would discover on the Bump N' Grind compilation disc that is hidden in the back of the glove-box of your mom's old minivan. Tinashe has realized that she fits the niche well and runs with that the style until it's well-worn by the end of Aquarius.

Aquarius is streaming now for a limited time on iTunes First Play and will be released on October 7, 2014 under RCA Records.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Playlist: October 2014


"Yellow Flicker Beat"
Lorde

Last year was arguably the year of Lorde after the spontaneous success of "Royals" and "Team" from her debut album, Pure Heroine. Although she's just a few months shy of 18 years old, Lorde was thrown into an expected position this year: the lead curator of the soundtrack to the highly-anticipated film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. (She has already appeared on the soundtrack to the previous movie in the series, covering "Everybody Wants to Rule the World.") She has also been graced with the honor of penning and recording the lead single to the soundtrack, "Yellow Flicker Beat." The song's lyrics are written in the mindset of Katniss Everdeen and sonically combines elements of Lorde's original drumbeat-heavy sound while also providing a lush, expansive chorus. The soundtrack is set to drop on November 18, just days ahead of the movie.


"Go"
Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds

Hated by pretentious hipsters that only like to listen to white noise and guitar strums but loved by everyone else, "Go" is Grimes' movement from obscure synthpop to a killer mixture of electronic dance and synthpop. The track was originally written with Rihanna in mind, so it's obviously a step into a more mainstream realm. However, the step to that sound definitely isn't the wrong direction for Grimes to go.




"Booty"
Jennifer Lopez feat. Iggy Azalea

When a new album fails, it's time to turn to controversy for success. Following this formula, Jennifer Lopez has now called in the help of the voice of this summer, Iggy Azalea, for a music video that one-ups Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" clip. The two divas wet down their hind-ends and proudly exclaim their pride for their luscious glutei maximi (looking up the plural form of "gluteus maximus" was really awkward, by the way.) The song is great urban bop with or without the video, so be sure to check it out soon.


"My Song 5"
Haim feat. A$AP Ferg

Although I've known and loved "My Song 5" since the release of Days Are Gone, it was finally dropped as a single back in August. I can't get over the genius video, which channels a fictitious show similar to Maury or The Jerry Springer Show and is star-studded with cameos from Saturday Night Live's brilliant Vanessa Bayer to the feline-friendly Kesha (formerly Ke$ha). I have to admit that the additional verse from A$AP Ferg seemed like a strange combination, but he made for another good cameo in the video. The song itself is a grungy, gritty ode to revenge, which opposes most of the summery, light-guitar fueled tracks on the album.


"Chasing Time"
Azealia Banks

After over two years of delays and disappointments, the contents of Azealia Banks' musical pipeline are starting to flow again. At the end of July, "Heavy Metal and Reflective" was dropped through Banks independently after her split from recording industry giants Interscope Records and Polydor Records. Last month, "Chasing Time" was leaked by a mysterious pop music website, forcing Banks to rush-release the song through YouTube and SoundCloud. Although we have heard the song through low-quality recordings of recent live performances, those videos don't do justice the studio version. This banger of a track is perhaps the most infectious Azealia Banks bop since "212" and when paired with "Heavy Metal & Reflective," it is clear that the (still) upcoming Broke with Expensive Taste will be a force to be reckoned with... whenever it finally surfaces.