Saturday, January 31, 2015

Singles Summary: January 2015


Ellie Goulding // "Love Me Like You Do"
50 Shades of Grey OST, Interscope / Cherrytree
★★★★☆

Ellie Goulding has been working hard on her third full-length studio album to follow up to 2012's Halcyon, but the Goulddiggers now have something new to hold them over until the new album drops: Goulding's contribution to the soundtrack of upcoming romance-erotica film 50 Shades of Grey. While Goulding normally writes her own material, this track was actually penned by Tove Lo and Max Martin, with production credits going to the latter. It is a different pace for Goulding to be singing such a sensual song, but it fits both her voice and the theme of the movie well. With its popularity holding steady, this could be Goulding's next big American follow-up to "Burn."


Charli XCX feat. Rita Ora // "Doing It"
Sucker, Atlantic / Neon Gold
★★★☆☆

It looks like those Iggy Azalea collaborations did a world of good for both Charli XCX and Rita Ora, who have dropped Azalea in favor of a collaboration together. The United Kingdom will be receiving a single remix of XCX's "Doing It," featuring Ora. The pair sound nearly identical in the choruses of this bratty 1980s prom song, but Ora manages to vocally upstage Charli XCX in her own song when she forgoes the second verse solo. Overall, the duet doesn't add value to the song but it doesn't destroy it, either. It does, however, add some more suspense for Ora's upcoming album (her debut here in the United States, and her sophomore attempt in Europe after 2012's Ora.)


Kelly Clarkson // "Heartbeat Song"
Piece by Piece, RCA
★★★☆☆

Top 40 radio airwaves lacked new pop material from American Idol alumni Kelly Clarkson for the past few years, but that doesn't mean that she hasn't been hard at work. She nailed through a greatest hits package in 2012 and a Christmas album in 2013, but now she's back on track with a new full-length album. Titled Piece by Piece, the album is slated for release on March 3 and is being preceded by "Heartbeat Song." The chorus of the Greg Kurstin-produced track gives a strong nod back to Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," which was released well over a decade ago. Overall, though, "Heartbeat" is an average attempt at best by a talented duo that should be able to spark so much more.


Sia // "Elastic Heart"
1000 Forms of Fear, Monkey Puzzle / RCA
★★★★☆

After having the biggest year of her career to date in the United States and nabbing four Grammy nominations for next month's ceremony, Sia wasted no time choosing a new single to follow up to "Chandelier." Her next single choice, "Elastic Heart," was originally released as a duet with The Weeknd on the soundtrack of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire before being released as a solo on 1000 Forms of Fear. The song's video, featuring "Chandelier" dancer Maddie Ziegler and actor Shia LaBeouf metaphorically battling in a large cage, shot the song into stardom early this month, but I'm sure the song's Diplo-crafted production and Sia's shattering vocals will keep it afloat.


Betty Who // "All of You"
Take Me When You Go, RCA
★★★★☆

Despite producing glittery pop tracks that sparkle with '80s influences and radiating strong vocal confidence, Australian native Betty Who silently released her debut album last year and fell through the cracks of the public eye. Her first taste of stardom came from "Somebody Loves You" acting as the soundtrack of a viral gay marriage proposal, but she has now dropped "All of You" as a new single from Take Me When You Go. Oppositely of John Legend's song of the same name, Betty Who's "All of You" is a driving synthpop gem that could catch fire on dance charts. While she is only making small ripples in the ocean of the public eye's radar, she is offering high-quality, feel-good pop.


Fifth Harmony feat. Kid Ink // "Worth It"
Reflection, Epic / Syco
★★★☆☆

As Fifth Harmony approaches the February 3 release date of their debut album, Reflection, the group has prompted the release of a new buzz single. "Worth It" follows "BO$$," which sizzled through the summer, and the radio-geared pop bit "Sledgehammer." This new tracks channels radio hits like Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" and "Wiggle" with R&B influences and a loud, wobbling horn taking over its chorus. While not their strongest track, "Worth It" proves that Fifth Harmony is fulfilling their promise of moving towards a heavier reliance on R&B and hip-hop. 


Emile Haynie feat. Lana Del Rey // "Wait for Life"
We Fall, Interscope
★★★★☆

Emile Haynie's list of production credits has grown significantly over the past few years as he opened his market from hip-hop to pop, and now he has been handed the opportunity to release a full album of collaborative efforts under Interscope Records. After producing a vast majority of the songs off of her debut album, Born To Die, Haynie has enlisted the help of Lana Del Rey for "Wait for Life" off of his own upcoming album, We Fall. For this song, Haynie dropped the trip-hop beats in favor of hazy strings and guitar plucks while Del Rey opts for an airy upper register that nods back to some the work on her latest release, Ultraviolence.



Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney // "FourFiveSeconds"
R8, Roc Nation / Westbury Road
★★☆☆☆

She teased us for months with cryptic hints and big expectations for a new studio album, but Rihanna pitched one sad curveball. Just as Lady Gaga did with her jazz expedition last year on Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett, Rihanna uses the acoustic country feeling of "FourFiveSeconds" as her way to prove her own vocal grace. The Barbados native teamed up with the odd combination of Kanye West, who offers duet vocals to the track, and The Beatles front-man Paul McCartney. Rihanna's goal was clear with this song, but sadly the tune just isn't strong enough to carry itself with only vocals and guitar strums. Hopefully, the rest of R8 doesn't take after this song and fall flat on its face.



Marina and the Diamonds // "I'm a Ruin"
Froot, Atlantic / Neon Gold
★★★★☆

Welsh singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis has embarked on a very unconventional promotional pattern for her upcoming third studio album, Froot. The album's release sits at the beginning of April, but up until the album's release, fans will receive one "froot" (or new track from the album) every month. The froot of the upcoming month was revealed to be the lemon, represented by "I'm a Ruin." The song leaked earlier this month. "I'm a Ruin" is a summery track and marks an improvement from the lukewarm "Happy" and "Immortal." The release of this track brightens the outlook for the quality of the rest of the album, which will be the first album with Diamandis listed with production credits on every track. She also wrote the lyrics to every track completely solo.


Allie X // "Catch"
CollXtion I, Label X
★★★★☆

The Internet makes a new star every day in nearly every realm of the entertainment industry. Don't believe me? Just ask Allie X (born Alexandra Hughes), who first sparked interest in Katy Perry when the Super Bowl performer tweeted a word of praise towards Allie's song "Catch." The song has now re-surfaced with a new video and is building steam again as preparations begin for Allie X's debut body of work, CollXtion I. Visually, Allie X comes off as a Tumblr-using reincarnate of Lady Gaga, but soncially, she hugs a light synthpop style that Chvrches is best known for. "Catch" suggests that there are big things to come from this girl; however, until CollXtion I drops, Allie X's three released songs will have to suffice.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reflection | Fifth Harmony


★★★☆☆

Fifth Harmony has followed a long and winding road to the release of a debut album, but the end of that road has finally come for Ally Brooke Hernandez, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane Hansen, Camila Cabello, and Lauren Jauregui. After placing third on the second season of the now-defunct American leg of The X Factor and changing their collective name twice, the group dropped a pre-teen-friendly extended play, ran multiple small tours, and began work on their full-length debut, Reflection. In just over one year, Fifth Harmony has transformed from the headlining act of a Justice clothing store soundtrack to a wholehearted attempt to become America's new favorite girl group. 

Despite shaping a new identity as a sassy, confident female five-some with "BO$$," a full length album proves that, in actuality, Fifth Harmony does not have a sound that is entirely their own. They do more than channel their influences; the group's product is a direct Reflection of many notable acts. In particular, "This is How We Roll" tries so hard to emulate will.i.am and Britney Spears' "Scream & Shout," and the girls have no shame in swiping Beyoncé's style on "Them Girls Be Like" by going as far as referencing Beyoncé's "***Flawless" lyrics: "Hashtag we woke up like this, too." On slightly more original notes, the deluxe edition track "Body Rock" sounds like the product of a lovechild between Jennifer Lopez and LMFAO, "Worth It" follows the resurgence of pompous horns kick-started by Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty," and "Everlasting Love" could have easily been picked up by Ariana Grande if Fifth Harmony had not already performed it.

Meghan Trainor, who already hit the number one spot on the Billboard 200 with her debut album this year, took a step away from her own doo-wop style and wrote three tracks for Reflection. Two of her tracks made it to the standard edition, including the album's synthpop single "Sledgehammer," but Trainor's best contribution to the album was pushed to the end of the deluxe pressing; "Brave, Honest, Beautiful" is the driving self-empowerment anthem that could push Fifth Harmony to new heights, especially with the pre-teen audience that they used to cater primarily towards. After comparisons to the likes of Shakira, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Madonna, the girls tell their listeners that "you're brave, yeah, you're fearless, and you're beautiful."

Besides comparing their listeners to multiple pop divas, the Fifth Harmony gals compare themselves to Mariah Carey in a track aptly titled "Like Mariah." Integrating aspects of Carey's "Always Be My Baby," the cutesy track finds the girls proclaiming, "Your loving takes me higher, you set my heart on fire / When you touch my body got me singing like Mariah."  The elusive chanteuse herself even seems to approve of the song, re-tweeting multiple positive tweets about it upon the album's streaming premiere on January 27. Other glaring highlights from the album include the aforementioned "Sledgehammer," which earned the group their first Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and the killer opening track, "Top Down."

All of the elements of a successful girl group are in the blend of Fifth Harmony. Whether it has been the severe lack of promotion, unorganized single release timing, or simply the lack of demand for another new girl group, something has not clicked between Fifth Harmony and radio listeners. Although some of their songwriters need a few more lessons and they are dependent on their slew of influences from powerful predecessors, all five ladies clearly have vocal talent, and together they compose a sufficient group. Reflection does not paint a picture of five sophisticated, well-versed young women, but it does radiate with self-assurance and sass. A feel-good album was expected from Fifth Harmony, and that is exactly what has been delivered.

Reflection will be released on February 3, 2015 under Epic Records and Syco Music. An exclusive signed version can be found for a limited time through Amazon.com. It can also be streamed prior to release via iTunes Radio First Play.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Title | Meghan Trainor


★★★★☆

Meghan Trainor, the fresh-faced overnight sensation who came out of left field last summer, is gearing up for a 2015 that was just as busy as her 2014 as she preps the release of her major-label debut studio album, Title. It comes after Trainor's two breakthrough singles and an extended play that was discontinued after this album absorbed the four songs that were on it. The extended play (which somehow shared the same name as this new release) gave us a strong taste of Trainor's infusion of modern pop and 1950s-era doo-wop, but this full-length set also gives us sparks and flares of contemporary singer-songwriter styles, R&B, and light rap. Meghan Trainor had a lot to prove on this album to be seen as more than '2014's Carly Rae Jepsen,' and she may have used enough quirky charm to do just that.

Innocent songwriting and running vocal harmonies are Trainor's specialty. Title's variety of offerings orbit around the teenage fantasy of a perfect husband ("Dear Future Husband," "Title"), cheating and lying boyfriends ("Lips Are Movin'"), accidental one-night stands ("Walkashame"), and M. Train's attraction towards drummers ("Bang Dem Sticks"). Lyrically, she's sufficiently cute with her own set of romantic idiosyncrasies, but her musicality keeps listeners interested for the whole album. While many pop artists save the extensive backing vocals to add depth to choruses, almost every track on this record features simple yet effective harmonies in both verses and choruses to stay true to her doo-wop tendencies. Even the double Grammy-nominated "All About That Bass," as simplistic as people want to make it out to be, hides more aural goodies than an average pop song.

With Title, Trainor effortlessly throws listeners back to the 1950s with her bouncy tracks led by hand claps, jazzy brass blows, and heavy booms of drums while she manages to simultaneously appeal to a modern audience by toying with raps and sexing up some lyrics. (Just imagine the music of Grease being replaced with "Title," though. It would actually fit quite well.) While some are still angry with some of the lyrics of "That Bass" and continually slam her popularity, many listeners have learned to accept Trainor for what she is: a pop singer. She writes primarily to make catchy music, not to promote social justice or to offend others. Whether she's singing smooth doo-wops over a ukulele stem or playfully rapping over some strong drum beats, Meghan Trainor has proved that she does deserve the Title of a starry-eyed chanteuse.

Title will be released January 13, 2015 under Epic Records.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Chapter One | Ella Henderson


★★★★☆

In the United States, the Simon Cowell-lead show The X Factor was a risk that was not worth taking. Even with Britney Spears and Demi Lovato sitting on the panel of judges, the show struggled to compete with The Voice as the leading singing competition in the country. After producing just a few noteworthy acts, it stalled and died in its third season. However, the United Kingdom variant of the show is still going strong in its eleventh season, and has produced successful acts like One Direction, Leona Lewis, and Little Mix. Ella Henderson, who finished sixth in the series' ninth season, has added her name to that list with the release of her debut album, Chapter One, which debuted at number one in the United Kingdom.

While the album's arrival in the United States sits six months after its release across the pond, Henderson began to impact the country late last year with the push of her debut single, "Ghost." The song is bound for success thanks to production credits given to Ryan Tedder, not to mention Henderson's unbreakable vocals that shatter through the lyrics. While Tedder only worked on "Ghost," his influence lingers through this album. Surprisingly, instead of some cheap imitation of Tedder-produced tracks, we are offered some well-crafted replicas. In particular, "Glow" is a driving mid-tempo track that blossoms into a chanting chorus ("We are fire, we are fire / And our love will burn / The flame will never die") and the uplifting and energetic "Pieces" thrives on its chorus as Henderson belts, "No you can't fake love / Loving the game you play / You played me from the start / It starts to end today."

Henderson's voice is a matured, palatable reincarnate of Christina Aguilera's infamous pipes (minus the roars and strained wails of Legend X), so it should be no surprise that she created her own mid-tempo self-empowerment track that hints back to Aguilera's "Beautiful." The track, titled "Giants," is a flourishing keep-your-head-up track that spirals into a gospel choir-like descant as Henderson repeats, "Don't let the fear keep you from climbing / And if you fall to the ground just keep trying / Head up in the clouds, never looking down / Nothing's gonna stop us this time around / We could be giants." Meanwhile, Henderson's organic vocals bleed with emotion over "Missed," a piano ballad dedicated to her late grandfather. It is worth noting that "Missed" was the song that Henderson used in her initial audition for The X Factor, earning her standing ovation and endless praise from the panel of judges.

Ella Henderson managed to land herself with one of the strongest mainstream pop debuts since Foxes' Glorious last year with an album packed to the brim with radio-ready songs (specifically see: the hard-hitting "Empire," the drum-heavy power ballad "Give Your Heart Away," and the Claude Kelly-assisted "Rockets" that throws her more towards Alicia Keys' side of the field). Every song on the album is specifically crafted to showcase her vocals, much like the focus of Sia's 1000 Forms of Fear. As an artist that stemmed from televised fame, many would say that Ella Henderson's longevity in the music industry is not guaranteed, but there's also a fair chance that she could easily go on to become the United Kingdom's very own version of Kelly Clarkson.

Chapter One will be released on January 13, 2015, under Columbia Records. An exclusive deluxe edition can be found at Target department stores. It can also be streamed in full for a limited time on iTunes First Play.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Most Anticipated Albums of 2015


MEGHAN TRAINOR // TITLE
JANUARY 13, EPIC

Meghan Trainor caught the attention of radio listeners last year with "All About That Bass," a song that promotes positive body image and uniquely blends pop and doo-wop. She dropped a four-track extended play with more doo-wop style tracks before unleashing "Lips Are Movin'" and definite plans for her debut album, Title. Her extended play tanked commercially but contained four quality tracks, including "Bass." With two huge singles and two Grammy nominations under her belt now, can Trainor use this album as a way to prove herself as much more than '2014's Carly Rae Jepsen'? Hopefully so.


ELLA HENDERSON // CHAPTER ONE
JANUARY 13, COLUMBIA

Eighteen year old Ella Henderson released her debut album in the middle of last year at home in the United Kingdom, but this year will see the proper release of Chapter One in the United States. The lead single "Ghost" tested Henderson's waters for American radio airplay last year before retailers quietly slipped out an album release date. Despite the ability to plug Henderson as the next big voice of the music industry's younger population and flaunt her success on the United Kingdom version of The X Factor, her record labels have failed to plug her with much promotion Stateside. It unfortunately won't be the first time a talented artist has been gypped out of guaranteed success in America recently (Foxes, Kiesza), but at least some of us will have a major pop album to look forward to.


FIFTH HARMONY // REFLECTION
JANUARY 27, EPIC

Before our eyes, Fifth Harmony has transformed from the headlining act of a Justice clothing store soundtrack to a wholehearted attempt to become America's new favorite girl group. The young women underwent a image change with last summer's female-empowerment hip-hop track, "BO$$," before announcing plans to release their debut album, Reflection. Fans were also later treated to the synthpop anthem "Sledgehammer," which was penned by "All About That Bass" singer Meghan Trainor and is now wiggling its way up the Billboard Hot 100. If the group's single choices represent the album as a whole, Reflection is sure to be a mixed bag of influences but also an enjoyable listen.


MADONNA // REBEL HEART
MARCH 10, INTERSCOPE / BOY TOY

Madonna tried to keep her album plans under lock and key as she planned not-so-secret studio sessions with English singer-songwriter Natalia Kills and posted cryptic messages via Instagram hinting at new music, but it didn't work. Last month, a full album's worth of demos spilled on the Internet and Madonna geared to counteract her "artistic rape" by rush-releasing an announcement and dropping a third of her upcoming album, Rebel Heart, on iTunes. The six songs that have already been released from the 19-track set make it clear that Madonna wants to follow the electronic dance trend with help from Diplo and Avicii, expanding on the electronic undertones of 2012's MDNA


MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS // FROOT
APRIL 6, ATLANTIC / NEON GOLD

The gay Tumblr community may have broken the Internet when Marina Diamandis formally killed off her Electra Heart alter ego in 2014, but they surely tried to do it again when she dropped "Froot," the title track to her upcoming third studio album. Taking a creative approach to this album cycle, Diamandis decided to treat fans who pre-ordered the album with a new "froot," or new track from the album, every month. Using this system, we will have heard half of the album's material by the time it is released in full. The real concern here is if the dropped "froots" can withstand the test of time and remain completely fresh by the time we hear the album as a whole bushel.


GWEN STEFANI // TBA
TBA, INTERSCOPE

Just when we thought Gwen Stefani was only going to be a permanent member of pop-rock band No Doubt from this point on, we were wrong. After a push from previous collaborator Pharrell Williams, Stefani unexpectedly jumped back into the solo pop life with "Baby Don't Lie" and "Spark the Fire." Everybody lovingly remembers Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and The Sweet Escape, but has Stefani aged as well sonically as she has visually? "Baby Don't Lie" puts her back in the book as a force to be reckoned with, while "Spark the Fire" is a confusing nod back to "Hollaback Girl." Her upcoming album could be a toss-up based on her single choices thus far.


FERIE // TBA
TBA, INTERSCOPE

Doesn't everyone remember when Fergie took over the pop music industry with one solo album before receding back to her Black Eyed Peas territory? Much like Gwen Stefani, she's back with an attempt to regain control of the charts and public eye. Sadly, "L.A.Love (la la)" didn't live up to its high expectations. However, a full length album with collaborators other than DJ Mustard might bring something magical to the table. Despite her lead single's lackluster performance, keep an eye out for Fergie: she may have a few new tricks up her sleeve for this next album.


ELLIE GOULDING // TBA
TBA, INTERSCOPE / CHERRYTREE

Ellie Goulding hasn't released a full body of work since 2012's Halcyon, which was re-released in 2013 with its companion piece titled Halcyon Days, but she still managed to keep busy in 2014. She played a key role in the score and soundtrack to the film adaptation of Divergent, ended her monstrous tour to promote Halcyon, and wrote and performed features on tracks with Iggy Azalea, Calvin Harris, Seven Lions, and DJ Fresh. She also declared plans for her next full length album, tentatively planned for this year. She hinted the album would draw from her "affinity with electronic music, classical music and folk music," much like Halcyon successfully did.


RIHANNA // R8*
TBA, DEF JAM
*tentative title

Somebody sound an alarm: we've officially hit a Rihanna drought. From 2007 to 2012, the Barbados native systematically released a new body of work annually, whether it was a full length album or a reissue with new material. After that, the singer went silent as "Stay" and "Right Now" slowly began to recede from the charts and radio airwaves. While her yearly albums filled with disposable pop delicacies seemed like nuisances at the time, two years without Rihanna's voice on the radio has been slightly depressing for pop music fans. If her previous album are any indicator to what R8 may sound like, expect a blur of catchy pop bits and songs aimed towards Rihanna's urban and R&B fans.


ADELE // 25*
TBA, COLUMBIA / XL
*tentative title

Adele's 2011 check-list: Release the biggest album in well over a decade, sweep the Grammy Awards, and then go silent for a few years. She hasn't released anything since her Diamond-status 21 and subsequent live set from Royal Albert Hall, which has left music fans worldwide on the edges of their seats as to when she will drop her next full length. Pop singer Taylor Swift has the key to album sales in the palm of her hand as she now holds three albums that debuted with over one million sales each, but Adele has a much more daunting task: managing to match the success of 21 as the public eye watches closely. It is doubtful that she will stray from her soulful pop power-ballad format, but it will be interesting to see what a committed relationship and motherhood will bring to her lyrical content.