Thursday, April 30, 2015

Singles Summary: April 2015


Florence + The Machine // "Ship to Wreck"
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Island
★★★★☆

Florence Welch and her Machine won't end their continuous stream of new music premieres from the upcoming album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. At this rate, it will be the must-have record of the summer. A snippet of the album's title track, the driving "What Kind of Man," and the ethereal "St. Jude" had all been passed onto fans before this month's release of "Ship to Wreck." This track revisits the lighter sounds of the band's debut, Lungs, and integrates a summery feel that is perfect for a carefree drive by the lake.



MS MR // "Painted"
TBA, Columbia
★★★★☆

"What did you think would happen? What did you think would happen? What did you think would happen? What did you think would happen? What did you think would happen?" That repetition will run through my mind for months to come after I heard the first taste of MS MR's untitled sophomore album. The darker tones of Secondhand Rapture have been scrapped in favor of an upbeat approach, but the duo doesn't lose their identity in the transformation.


Carly Rae Jepsen // "All That"
E•MO•TION, Interscope
★★★★☆

While spending the month promoting her comeback single, Carly Rae Jepsen dropped by Saturday Night Live to perform "I Really Like You" and to premiere "All That." This new track is an intimate synthpop ballad that plays off of subtle '80s influences and impresses with its intimate vocal delivery and subdued production.



Rihanna // "American Oxygen"
R8, Roc Nation
★★★★★

Rihanna just delivered one of the best singles of her career. Originally a Tidal exclusive, "American Oxygen" features the production handiwork of Alex da Kid and chronicles the struggle of the American Dream. She sings about herself ("I say, 'You see, this is the American Dream.' Young girl, hustling on the other side of the ocean. She can be anything at all. America, America I should come see. Just close your eyes and breathe") and the American obsession with wealth ("We sweat for a nickel and a dime, turn it into an empire"), before ending the song in a hopeful chant ("This is the new America. We are the new America.") The song's video adds depth, featuring the most iconic scenes of American history and placing a strong focus on racial inequality.



Ryn Weaver // "The Fool"
The Fool, Interscope
★★★★☆

In the midst of the second wave of popularity for "OctaHate," up-and-coming pop artist Ryn Weaver dropped the second single from her upcoming debut album, The Fool (out June 16). The title track to the album is a summery indie-pop treat that ends in an unexpected synth breakdown. Weaver's vocal delivery gets a bit goofy at times (especially in the bridge as she dips to her lowest notes), but its an enjoyable track nonetheless. With five solid tracks under her belt now, she has proven to be the must-watch rising star of the year.



Avril Lavigne // "Fly"
Original song for the Special Olympics, Epic
★★★☆☆

After a long battle with Lyme Disease, Avril Lavigne has stepped back into the spotlight with an original song written for her own Avril Lavigne Foundation and this summer's Special Olympics. The self-empowerment anthem, titled "Fly," is composed on a lighter pop foundation with a prominent string line. The lyrics are a bit cheesy and cliché, but that is almost expected for a self-empowerment anthem. When in need of a pick-me-up track, this should be a go-to pick.



Neon Hitch // "Eleutheromaniac"
Eleutheromaniac, #WeRNeon ("fan-label")
★★★☆☆

Neon Hitch sat at a stalemate with Warner Bros. Records for four years before splitting away from the label last year. Since then, she has been slowly spilling tracks from her upcoming fan-funded album, Eleutheromaniac. This month, fans received the title track to the album, which glows with Eastern and Bollywood influences. Although fans have donated over $40,000 to the artist, she has yet to deliver the full album. However, at least she's delivering a few decent songs in the mean time.


Zedd feat. Bahari // "Addicted to a Memory"
True Colors, Interscope
★★★★☆

After teaming up with Selena Gomez on the radio-ready "I Want You To Know," Zedd has dropped the club-oriented "Addicted to a Memory" with up-and-coming band Bahari. While "I Want You to Know" targeted mainstream appeal and found Zedd's synths working around Gomez's reverberated vocals, Bahari's vocals float over a madhouse of Zedd's finest production. His orchestration of synths and beats in the final minute could make this one of his best songs to date.



Giorgio Moroder feat. Sia // "Déjà vu"
Déjà vu, RCA
★★☆☆☆

At 74 years old, Giorgio Moroder could be considered the grandfather of dance music. He has reemerged with plans for a new album packed with features from Britney Spears, Foxes, Kelis, and more. The title track has dropped, featuring vocals from Sia. Her voice is one of the most powerful in the industry, but that might be why it doesn't mesh well with the production of this song. While strong and beautiful, her vocals overpower the tinny synthwork laid down by Moroder; even her collaborations with EDM producer David Guetta evoked darker undertones. Moreover, a peppy disco track seems strange for Sia, especially after coming off of the tear-stained 1000 Forms of Fear.



Adam Lambert // "Ghost Town"
The Original High, Warner Bros.
★★☆☆☆

After years of playing the frontman on a worldwide tour with Queen, Adam Lambert is back to catering to his solo career. The EDM-fused "Ghost Town" acts as the lead single to his upcoming third studio album, The Original High. While the song is generally enjoyable and it's great to hear Lambert's voice in the pop world again, the transfers between the lonely guitars in the verses and the chilled synths in the choruses are awkward.


Jessie J // "Flashlight"
Pitch Perfect 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Universal Music
★★★☆☆

Coming off the lackluster performance of Sweet Talker, Jessie J has latched herself onto the newest addition to the Pitch Perfect franchise. "Flashlight," a power ballad co-penned by Sia, acts as the lead single to the soundtrack of Pitch Perfect 2. Like the movie series it stems from, the song is sufficient but unmemorable. Jessie's vocal delivery is very reserved, but she lets loose as she wails over the final chorus. The melody line is surprisingly not as taxing as most ballads stemming from Sia, especially considering that it was written for a powerhouse like Jessie J.


Bebe Rexha // "I'm Gonna Show You Crazy"
I Don't Wanna Grow Up, Warner Bros.
★★★★☆

Walking the same lines as Sia Furler and Bonnie McKee, Bebe Rexha has worked behind-the-scenes for other artists and has written pieces heard by millions of Americans. This year, she is making her own voice heard. "I'm Gonna Show You Crazy" was dropped last December, with the official video dropping this month in preparation of an upcoming extended play. The chorus hits hard on this one, as she exclaims, "I'm gonna show you / Loco, maniac, sick bitch, psychopath / Yeah, I'm gonna show you / Mental, out my brain, bat shit, go insane," over a driving synth backdrop.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Unguarded | Rae Morris


★★★☆☆

After features with Clean Bandit and Bombay Bicycle Club, Rae Morris has stepped out solo. Though unknown in the United States, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter has been building steam in the United Kingdom for years thanks to her collaborations and a string of extended plays. With producers Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX) and Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding, Christina Perri) in tow, Morris released her debut album, Unguarded, earlier this year.

Due to production styles and vocal tone, listeners have already drawn comparisons between Morris and outlandish songstress Kate Bush. Morris's pop magnum opus, "Under the Shadows," seems to justify all of the suspicions. Everything about the haunting song, from Eliot's powerful production to Morris's vocal delivery, ooze influence from Bush's "Running Up That Hill." (Morris actually knows of the comparison, and is flattered.) Other '80s pop and dance influences are alluded to throughout the album, and they take control on "Love Again" and "Closer." The former shimmers with dance beats, while the latter targets adult contemporary radio.

Elsewhere, Morris continues to wow with her airy, delicate vocals. Her voice is embedded in a progressive dance instrumental on "Do You Even Know?," and it echoes over the brooding production of "Cold," a duet with Fryars. That flexible voice often soars and charges through her production, but occasionally, it is placed at the forefront. It is most stunning as it drifts over "This Time," and it is most fragile on the heartfelt "Don't Go" as she reflects on a relationship: "Don't go, don't feel like you have to. Only if you want to. Fill my world with hope again."

Morris's voice enchants listeners on her piano-driven ballads, but she delivers better products when that voice is surrounded by lush production ("Under the Shadows," "Cold," "Love Again"). Stronger production album-wide would have shot its quality to the sky and would have made it more appealing towards American tastes. (The United States lacks prominent adult contemporary pop artists today, but the United Kingdom has a clenched grip on artists like Rae Morris and Indiana.) However, all criticisms aside, Morris's debut is a decent introduction.

Unguarded is available now in the United Kingdom under Atlantic Records. It can be imported to the United States through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Love Stuff | Elle King


★★★☆☆

Teenagers today are enamored of the iconic imagery of the past. "I wish I was a teen in 1950s," they tweet, without a thought given to the regression of social issues and civil rights. However, singer-songwriter Elle King is truly trapped in the wrong generation. At a time when hip-hop and synthpop have taken center stage, 25-year-old King has turned back the clock by channeling the likes of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Johnny Cash on her debut album, Love Stuff.

Breakthrough single "Ex's and Oh's" is the quintessential Elle King track, filled with rough-edged vocals, badass attitude, and nostalgia-soaked '80s rock influences. More often than not, she marries classic rock and country for products that bleed red, white, and blue. The foot-stomping "Where the Devil Don't Go" opens the album with rugged production and a sing-along A-B-A-B lyric pattern, and "Last Damn Night" could be blended into classic rock radio rotation without the bat of an eye.

With the grit of Janis Joplin and the grace of Amy Winehouse, King is equipped with a unique set of pipes. She is able to rip into her most intimidating songs without fear, but she can also push the attitude away to reveal a lighter spark to her tone. Her smooth vocal tone, talents as a banjoist, and country tendencies take authority in tracks that are stripped of the hard rock finishing, such as "Kocaine Karolina," "Ain't Gonna Drown," and "Make You Smile."

Elle King borrows from a long list of influences to paint a unique self-portrait of a bold American woman on this debut. As those inattentive teenagers continue to post their admiration for Marilyn Monroe and malt shops on social media sites, King takes matters into her own hands and actualizes her classic rock dreams. Her heart may belong in the heyday of rock and country, but she makes a fine twenty-first century rocker.

Love Stuff is available now under RCA Records.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

CollXtion I | Allie X


★★★☆☆

The Internet has found its new musical enigma to latch onto. Clearly a product of the pompous Tumblr generation, up-and-coming synthpop artist Allie X (born Alexandra Hughes) takes melodrama to the next level. Her visuals only exist for bizarre aesthetic appeal, and her release strategy integrates a confusing, fabricated saga about a group of "anti-X" hackers that supposedly corrupted the master files of her debut extended play, CollXtion I. However, all seven tracks were released digitally without a hitch in select countries on April 7.

Her viral breakthrough track, "Catch," remains one of her most palatable and enjoyable offerings. The purest area of her vocal range is displayed at the forefront, and the production borrows equally from both '80s and contemporary influences. Her vocals are arguably the strongest on "Catch" and opening track "Hello," in which Allie's voice glides over the glistening synths. Despite the strong qualities of her mid-range, she fancies her tinny upper register on many of the offerings on CollXtion I. The highest shrieks of "Sanctuary" and "Tumor" portray Allie as a weakened replica of Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry, and she employs a bratty shout on the uber-catchy "Prime" as she sings, "Forget what I need. Give me what I want, and it should be fine."

Minus the gritty, eccentric track "Bitch," CollXtion I is an enjoyable suite. Her smooth, sugarcoated synthpop production is wisely crafted to give clearance for her sheer vocals, but any harsher production would drown her out entirely. Regardless of her hit-or-miss vocal performance, she does follow the first rule of pop music by ensuring that her tracks have all of the right kicks in the all of the right places. She is nowhere near the cutting edge of pop music, but Allie X has made a solid step into the music industry with a few Xcellent tracks under her belt.

CollXtion I will be released to remaining countries, including the United States, on April 21, 2015 via Sleepless Records.