Arcade Fire – We: Review

With pertinent themes with clever and fantastical instrumentals, Arcade Fire continues to coast with dreary and rhythmic melodies and harmonies over uninteresting songwriting that you almost forget Win Butler is singing, but not Régine Chassagne. It’s constructed with linear focus instrumentally, but when it comes to the way subjects are delivered, your level of attention wanes. It’s disappointing; Arcade Fire has driven on more darkened paths, but their lively shift on Everything Now was a misstep; however, finding that happy medium on We hasn’t offered much of a rewarding presence. There are bursts of tangible tracks that keep your interest afloat but isn’t as rewarding as hearing The Suburbs for the first time. But they stumble on hurdles that divert from the aesthetic that works (Dance-Pop), creating a bridge between some complexions of folk and faltering in the construction.

Arcade fire runs with ideas/themes that speak on aspects of society like our attachment to technology, the “American Dream,” and the effect of the socio-political climate through unique POVs. But it’s muddled with obscurities in the verses that sometimes it feels like they are just singing words without context. It’s evident in the transition in the two-part intro, “The Age of Anxiety,” that establishes how open they will continue to be. On the second one, Win Butler sings: 

“Heaven is so cold

I don’t wanna go

Father in heaven’s sleeping

Somebody delete me

Hardy har-har

Chinese throwing star

Lamborghini Countach

Maserati sports car.”

It establishes this death anxiety, but fears he is too warped into a rabbit hole created by life but feels to build on it emotionally through slightly dronish melodies. It’s inconsistent. They juxtapose intended moods on the livelier dance-pop tracks, and that’s the only contrast between the 1s and 2s. So, when they go into more ballad-centric melodies, it loses that spark, for the most part. There is a smooth transition between “The Lightnings” as Win Butler matches the emotional gravitas, but it isn’t the same with both parts of “End of An Empire” and the first half of the second “Age of Anxiety.” It gets partially attributed to the songwriting, which isn’t as consistently linear like the first of the latter or “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid).” 

They’ve never devoided themselves from exploring beyond a reflection, and going through the black mirror, which adds a dual perspective between the themes and the purported “I.” They’ve done it eloquently in past work, like “Modern Man” on The Suburbs, and parallel, without the “I,” on the eponymous track on Neon Bible. They find ways to blend the two, and it’s the least consistent, especially as it doesn’t leave much of an impact. That impact comes when they liven up the instrumentations, offering a variety of unique constructs to stream with the melodies and sometimes good linear storytelling. It’s the one consistent throughout We. Through this teeter-totter of writing between both lead vocalists, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, wherein Régine’s vocal performances shine with incredible consistency and sometimes act like a proper duet-foil for Win. It is heard in abundance throughout.

Régine Chassagne, as a performer, is the standout for the band, as she commands some of the best parts, outweighing Win Butler’s consistency in the first half. When the production switches from a low tempo to something more energetic, like in “Age of Anxiety II” and for a minute in “End of Empire IV (Sagittarius A).” Though it isn’t to say Win is all lows, at times coming with a solid stream of performances that stays with you, like the chorus and third verse of “Age of Anxiety I” and in the last 4 of 5 tracks. Within this roller coaster ride, you get their best near the end, especially the drive between “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” and “Unconditional II (Race and Religion).” Régine Chassagne shines vibrantly on the latter with infectious melodies and solid songwriting. It gets boasted by the cadence in Peter Gabriel’s backing vocals, which allows you to ride a slight high before the eponymous track, where that high keeps you rolling through a beautiful acoustic ballad.

e has a tiring and slightly modest first half before spearheading into these vibrant melodies and sounds that encapsulate their style blended with dance-pop complexions. It left me disappointed as it seemed they could only go up from their last album, though it slightly did; it wasn’t anything profound. Unfortunately, that stays in the second half, as Arcade Fire leaves you on a high note, albeit not as memorable.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Weezer – SZNS: Spring: Review

Weezer’s constant output has never ceased to amaze me, sometimes it lands, and other times they become mostly forgettable duds. They have had moments where, for every three or so mediocre to okay albums, there is one great one, but fans rejoice for new music–I know I do– there are always a few solid songs that stay with you. For the past two decades, they have seemed to pull all their effort in the first half of the decades than the second–this trend makes it easier for others to know when to come back. 2021 has been a great heel turn for them as they’ve explored new avenues musically, and continue to do so on their new EP, SZNS: Spring.

You may ask, is SZNS: Spring fantastic? It’s not even close, especially when comparing to previous Weezer albums; however, to say it isn’t another fun experience after Van Weezer wouldn’t be doing it justice. SZNS: Spring is like any run-of-the-mill power-pop/rock project from Weezer that offers melancholic fun with the instrumentations and the songwriting, which oozes middle-age dad levels of fun and relaxation. Ok Human had us singing about audible and reading Grapes of Wrath or a fun time at the Aero movie theater, and that is prominent on SZNS: Spring as Rivers Cuomo weaves a tale of “The two angels descend from heaven down to Earth because they’re tired of being so prim and proper up in heaven,” as per his press release.

SZNS: Spring is a flow of power-pop consistency before steering toward more standard rock complexions. Weezer has an idea of where they are spearheading the story, but the production sometimes is too much or Rivers Cuomo misses the mark melodically. When it comes to Weezer projects of this caliber–which I’ve mentioned prior–it starts to downward crescendo into a mundane burger of basic melodies. “The Sound Of Drums” is the first that didn’t hit as well as the others. Rivers brings melodies we’ve heard done similarly and excellently on past albums, but’s simplicity doesn’t hit as smoothly since the production–sometimes–muddles Rivers singing and leads you to the next two songs, one of which shines like three of the first four songs. 

Starting with “Opening Night,” you hear that sense of dad-Weezer taking form as Rivers sings about Shakespeare and how reading his work makes him happy. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the fun use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerto number 1 in E major, opus 8, RV 269, “Spring (La Primavera)”, I: Allegro (in E major), the track would lose its mysticism since we’ve had funner and better songs about loving books from Weezer–If you take away the sample, then you’re left with another track like “The Sound Of Drums.” It barely keeps the interest leveled high for me to return. There are the songs “Angels On Vacation,” “A Little Bit Of Love,” “The Garden of Eden,” which carry nuances to melodies that make them lovable and fun, especially as they remind you of the fun times listening to OK Human and the array of fun piano melodies and synths.

SZNS: Spring is fun, but for an EP, it wears off quickly, with a more concentrated effort given to the earlier songs than the latter. However, this is Weezer and we get entertaining songs for the moment but forgettable in the long run. It’ll stay in my Weezer playlist full of fun songs, but don’t expect me to return swiftly with desire.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Leon Bridges & Khruangbin – Texas Moon EP: Review

The kind of summertime bliss and whimsy that guided the atmospheric textures of Texas Sun by Leon Bridges & Khruangbin was a needed touch in 2020, especially as we tried to steer our minds away into a world of solace, where the stresses of the pandemic are non-existent. I’m talking cruising down the highway playing their song “Midnight” with the windows down or hanging with friends down at the park or beach while sipping on wine and spritzers; two years later, they take us on a different journey on Texas Moon. Their new EP centers itself by evoking moods stemming from calm nights amidst the surrounding cold. However, behind the atmospheric overtures are spiritually impactful songwriting, which keeps you grounded instead of feeling freeform love from the thrills of rich intake of Vitamin D. Texas Moon has softer complexities on both sides; the production isn’t the armor overlaying the lyricism, and instead, it’s underneath adding more depth to the lyricism on the forefront.

Texas Moon is about longing, and it is about regrets. The feelings are potent, and there is never a moment where these sentiments lose control and steer you toward a pitfall of despair. Instead, these sentiments best get characterized as a kind of retroactive lamenting you have in the middle of the night, in front of a fire, a fifth of scotch on your right, and guitar in strapped as you sing and whisk the mind into the night. Like the immediate waft of a potent fragrance underneath your nose, the opening track, “Doris,” delivers on impact as Leon Bridges and Khruangbin sing about a woman named Doris who changed their life for the better. 

In the first verse, they sing: “Don’t close your heavy eyes, Doris (Doris)/You have so much/So much to leave behind/If you travel to the other side, Doris (Doris),” further delivering impact in the chorus “I’ll be right here holding your hand/You taught me how to be a real man.” 

Connecting multiple layers created by Khruangbin’s haunting vocals, the production parallels a slight sadness as Leon Bridges sees Doris off into the afterlife. These lessons from “Doris” evolve on “B Side,” turning it into this beautiful soul-funk-rock groove that sees Leon Bridges singing about his love and her spiritual accompaniment throughout touring. Unlike the somber and spiritually subtle “Doris,” “B-Side” becomes a lively alternative, giving off a sense of hope blending fun drum beats, funkadelic bass, and congas. Texas Moon balances these two styles and expands them to offer a proper balance with the lengths these songs can go, like with “Father Father.” 

The sounds of “Father Father” are similar to “Doris,” the strings and percussion subtly boast the emotional core without sacrificing in scope the depth of these sonic layers interwoven beneath heart-aching lyricism. In the song, Leon Bridge weaves a conversation between him and God, where he admits that the shame of his faith has led him down a road of sins. He has shown the backside of his hands, which glimmer with hope and prosperity, while his palms hold the dirt from his sins. In church, they sometimes tiptoe a line between the levels of bad sins are, and Leon’s regretfulness looms as he continues with similar thoughts, despite God telling him otherwise. The beautiful parallels within the songwriting and vocal performances reinforce the outer armor, as the guitar strings reflect his broken-down feeling. These kinds of sonic elements are what Texas Moon by Leon Bridges &Khruangbin a resoundingly fantastic project.

So whether it is smooth and sexy “Chocolate Hills,” the southern charm of the string potent “Mariella,” or the fun in “B-Side,” the Leon Bridges & Khruangbin have a formula that works. It transcends the parameters of their sound, allowing for minimalism to breathe and shape itself underneath the remarkable melodies and words written by Bridges and Khruangbin, so albeit the love, there is a part of me that wishes it ran longer, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Black Country, New Road – Ants from Up There: Review

Last year Black Country, New Road delivered auspiciously vibrant production in their debut, For the First Time. I was captivated almost immediately, from their rustic jazz undertones to experimental instrumental layering within the post-punk genre that it left me slightly optimistic. Unfortunately, that optimism has stepped back slowly upon lead vocalist Isaac Wood’s departure – as for now, Ants from Up There is a remarkable pivot for the band whose last album had minimal variation. It had these different ideas relative to the external nature of song composition instead of adding more depth. On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.

For their debut, Black Country, New Road re-recorded past singles and began to create the mold for its sound. It had chaos; it had ingenuity; most importantly, it had too many ideas, some of which were superfluous. At times, their talent and songwriting tinted my headphones, which covered some of the poor freeform vitamins in the mix. Unlike their debut, Ants from Up There brings bright spots for the darkness. They take out the vitamins and make sure they don’t burn the concoction, delivering a fine fixture of delicious musical plates for indulging. I’ll tell you; it may have left me slightly over-bloated without regret. There are varying elements of different genres not heard in their debut, and mastering new territory to excel, like with Isaac Wood’s vocals, it grasps your ears with a chamber-pop-echo reinforcing the melodic bind between the vocal layers and production.

In an interview with Apple Music, bassist Tyler Hyde said: “We wanted to explore the themes we’d created on that song. It’s essentially three songs within one, all of which relatively cover the emotions and moods that are on the album. It’s hopeful and light, but still looks at some of the darker sides that the first album showed.” She is speaking about the track “Basketball Shoes” – it combines three different art-rock-driven songs into a 12-minute three-part arc that flows tangentially from start to finish. Within the three-song variation, there are nuances to the sonic motifs throughout the album, while mirroring elements of the intro, there is tame chaos. It’s paradoxical, but the album emboldens a beautiful parallel, where the instruments play at an elevated level. We get these contextualized and bright instrumentations while embodying complex, poetic songwriting, a good amount of which are about different things within a failing relationship.

Ants from Up There bridges Isaac Wood’s songs about a relationship with emotional exuberance. On “Chaos Space Marine,” the band plays with joy in every note as Wood sings about taking the next spiritual step into maturity. “Mark’s Theme” overly contrasts “Chaos Space Marine” in tone. Unlike seeing the light at the end of a proverbial journey, this metaphorical light ends for Saxophonist Lewis Davis’s uncle, who passed away from COVID. It’s a dreamy saxophone-centric production that embodies Davis’s emotions. It’s heartwrenching and adds a sense of unison amongst the band. They transform elegantly on “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade;” it takes influence from 70s Bob Dylan in its rustic production and lyrical elements from a song off Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, specifically “I Know There Is An Answer.”

There is a remarkable evolution unfolding on Black Country, New Road’s new album – one where the world is at your fingertips. You can take yourself to a place where the canvas is covered in vibrant colors in different hues, allowing them to transfix you as you divulge themes. Musically speaking, there is an ethereal array of jubilant instrumentations. Charlie Wayne’s percussion brings elements of hypnotic bliss, while Tyler Hyde’s groovy bass lines and Georgia Ellery’s violin playing deliver nuances of the dark chaos at times seen in post-rock. It’s expressive throughout, especially in the track “Good Will Hunting.” It’s a steady progression, leading to the 40-second mark where it blossoms into one of the best songs on Ants from Up There

However, within the confines of Black Country, New Road’s album, you start to infuse yourself within the confines of their sound, “Snow Globes” muddles in the background. The production drowns out Isaac Wood’s vocals, leaving you thrusted into an intense shake of a snow globe. It doesn’t hinder it and works on its own. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the second half that it recaptures your attention for the closer, “Basketball Shoes.”

Black Country, New Road’s shift from the chaotic, jazzy, punk rock hybrids of their debut adds a new light on their talent, especially as they maneuver while making a concert audience cheer louder than before. As they take these elements of art-rock and chamber-pop vocals and blend them into one, it leaves me feeling excited for new music, despite slight sadness from their canceled tour.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Prince – Welcome 2 America: Review

When word spread of a non-collection of demos and records from Prince’s vault, the world felt a sigh of relief to receive new music without fearing for a producer’s intervention. We heard that this album, Welcome 2 America, was one that Prince had shelved after its recording. And after some rough years with tragic releases that undercut artists’ legacies, like Michael Jackson and Pop Smoke, there were worries that this new album could potentially deliver something similar. However, that isn’t the case. Welcome 2 America is this groovy-funkadelic soul journey that takes through histrionics of culture’s control in society.

Most of Welcome 2 America reminds us of what we’ve been missing over the last half-decade. Prince has had a presence everywhere, despite minimal hiccups within some of the instrumentations. There isn’t a moment where the music feels fully dated. He speaks on the influence social media and the internet have on creating biased opinions. But it isn’t like Prince is equating to the meme – The Simpsons Predicting Things. Instead, Prince has a keen eye on the stimulation consistent backslaps from the judicial system, and more can create amongst a crowd. 2020 was a testament to that momentous uproar amongst the community.

Before the start of Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour, his band accompanied him in the studio to record some music, particularly about the social-political climate in America and more. He distinguishes the rights of one and the view imparted on them based on blind societal construction. In the opening song, Prince delivers in spoken-word / singing hybrid delivers this wide range of ideas that flowed through his head as he saw the world progress. It continues to elevate throughout the album, taking away aspects of the dance movements for electrifying emphasis on the songwriting.

This is effervescent on the songs “Same Page, Different Book” and “Running Game (Son Of A Slave Master),” which breaths onto life’s recurring redundancies. It speaks on the changes needed as these redundancies become a more glaring issue. It finds ways to fix a community presence to keep the attention of the listener through the instrumentations.

Prince has had a consistent procession with rockabilly sensibilities behind his various eras, from disco to funkadelic power-rock and others. It isn’t missing here as Prince takes us back to a moment where this sound rang supreme for him. So there will be an urge to groove to the rhythm, despite the deep meaning in the songwriting. For example, In the song “Born 2 Die,” Prince creates a parallel to living-free as he speaks about the dangers that could kill a character, like external temptations. Prince approaches these subjects carefully to create the right atmosphere amongst the collection of tracks. It makes the transition between songs that bring out a two-step and ones that bring out your inner beret-wearing-coffee-drinker sensibilities (musically). 

The songs that follow a similar path to “Born 2 Die” come across with beautiful bravado. “Yes” and “Hot Summer,” in particular, are these breaths of fresh air with commanding gospels that create unison from those who dance around with glee. It stems from a looser sensibility that comes from an elongated sunset and calming weather of the summer. “Yes” gets you up on two feet as you rejoice with the band in this unified mix of glee and happiness that stem from trying and seeing new pastures.

Unlike “Yes,” “Hot Summer” is a delicate summer fling that doesn’t boast the tracks around it. Others feel part of a bigger collective, while this feels too focused on being a summer anthem. From the infectious percussion and harmonies by Prince and his band, this small stoppage gap delivers behind Prince’s strengths. It’s a highlight from the album that isn’t fully there. To its merit, one could easily find themselves grooving to this on any given day or whenever your focus isn’t to play this from start to finish.

These transfer over to other songs like “1000 Light Years From Here.” This song contrasts themes with the instrumentations. It blends lively sounds with serious songwriting that speak about the prototypical American Dream. For some, it is a true dream that becomes a reach, while others create their own far from the gravitational center of society. 

The songs that fluctuate instrumentally around similar sentiments are usually the best. One of my favorites songs on the album, “Stand Up And B Strong,” delivers on all cylinders. It builds momentum by fueling the internal desire to feel heard and capitalize on unified strengths. Like on “Yes,” there is an overwhelming sense of wanting happiness and determination that brings us closer together. 

There aren’t many songs that feel minimally off. But there is a reason Welcome 2 America got shelved in 2011. It isn’t perfect, and the humility it adds to Prince as a musician leaves you feeling comfortable and warm about its perception later down the road. Welcome 2 America takes itself seriously and is vibrant enough that most will enjoy the many songs on this, while others may feel lukewarm – understandably so. This album is fun and a nice relic of the past; however, it would have been understandable if it remained shelved.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love, and Rage: Film Review

The beauty and whimsy of 1970’s Woodstock is something the few to many have experienced once in their lifetime. It captured the calm and effervescent unity amongst the festival-goers. 30 years later, we would see the reverse happen at Woodstock ‘99. The festival defined a cultural shift in society that didn’t parallel the 1994 festival. They direct partial blame toward pop music, which didn’t fit the mold of the 90s counterculture. Garret Price’s new film Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love, and Rage delivers dueling cases for the horrors and beauty of the festival.

Garret Price delivers an informative horror flick and concert documentary full of ideas that have a thin veil, like most true crime documentary series trending today. What they bring into the fold are these ideas about the raging toxic masculinity that has allowed many acts of sexual assault to go undermined in the aftermath, the auditory response from the audience, and the lengths to which a performer knew what they were brewing. 

As the documentary stacks idea after idea, there are moments where the film starts to tread between pieces of information undercut by stunningly restored footage of the concert from the various archives  – MTV/Pay-Per-View/Print media. However, it cuts corners to keep intact the most glaring issues, one of which culminated from an underlying motto of the original festival: FREE LOVE

Free love wasn’t necessarily free in 1999 unless you were one of many aggressors who chose to redefine the term free. 1999 had people violating females, ages as young as 14, and the idea of free love on both ends was an expression of love of one’s body with the amount boobs present and the toxic-rape culture with the amount of sexual assault reported. In the documentary, Moby mentions that within the nu-metal and rap, the understanding was absent and picking apart what they like: misogyny and homophobia, which fueled frat boy rape culture.

Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica weren’t on a tight leash. The underlying issue stemmed from a callous nature when performing. It was a matter of trying to find equilibrium between an image and the safety of the attendees. It shifts the perception of the concert as this wild rage-fueled event, and it undermines performance highlights and any positive discourse throughout the past 22 years. These discussions spread from the infrastructure to the pre-established sentiment created by MTV in the fight between the uproarious and bombastic rap-rock/nu-metal and the new age of fun and hyperactive teen-pop, amongst others.

Garret Price creates juxtaposition by breaking nostalgia glasses and forcing us to see glaring differences between the three festivals. Unfortunately, despite the number of beautiful highlights, there isn’t much to digest outside of nu-metal and Limp Bizkit made white boys extra harsh and rapey.

Piece-by-Piece, more issues get passed over in simple mentions by the interviewed artists, attendees, and music critics. It makes the marketing of the film slightly manipulative as it breezes through topics swiftly. There are moments the film shows you the all-night party for fans of electronic music and Moby, which gets tossed aside like a salad on pizza night.

The film takes the time to show the chaos, but it lacks proper cohesion in the editing shifting around these topics like a commercial right before the climax. There have been exposés and articles revisiting and detailing the events of the festival. At a point in the film, you hear Rolling Stone Magazine’s music editor, Rob Sheffield, remember having to sleep on white pizza boxes for its linear comfortability and piss visibility. The amount of trash and debauchery preceding the peak of the chaos, with grace and debilitating nausea, became an afterthought. The many attendees had a mindset that mirrored those from the 94 festival: one last hurrah before adulthood. 

Garret Price does a solid job telling you this horrific and chaotic story that formed the wrong kind of unity and demonized an ideal that held for years. It’s filled with beautiful restorations of performance and unique interviews from critics and festival-goers. I recommend this to whoever enjoys a solid music documentary that shies away from an individualized artist.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Clairo – Sling: Review

It isn’t every day a creator comes out with the consistency to elevate any artist to new levels, further finding something that has yet to be unlocked. Max Martin comes to mind quickly when the music is centered on pop and Jack Antonoff has become that for this age of alternative artists. As he did with artists like St. Vincent, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde, he continues with Clairo on her sophomore album, Sling. Clairo has been quietly making noise in lo-fi/acoustic bedroom pop music, but she has yet take make a splash. Sling is different compared to her debut, Immunity, which felt like this bland array of melancholic-emotional downbeat pop tracks that never felt immersive. Sling shifts into a range of elegant folk and pop instrumentals that continuously captures the attention even when Clairo still finds the remedy with a consistent tone and mood.

Clairo’s vocals always had this rustic authenticity that made her debut, Immunity, somewhat tolerable, despite the music’s production not working to her strengths, which is similar to English artist Birdy. Birdy came onto the public eye with her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” but her foray into artistic and pompous pop didn’t resonate as much as her follow-up. Like her, Clairo goes in that direction as Sling highlights her vocal strengths, matching with the sad lyricism she usually writes. It didn’t leave much of an impression, though her follow-up kept it flowing. A part of it could be that it resonates with a style many female vocalists attempt at some point in their career, and that is a heartbreak album taking influence from Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which always perks interest.

On Immunity, Clairo’s vocal range innately slips into melancholic broadness, which can leave a track sounding soulless and tiring. But Jack Antonoff shifts our perception, allowing her voice to capture the emotional gravitas that was sometimes lacking on her debut. Though it isn’t to say this new project is exponentially better than it, the improvement shows in terms of effectiveness. Previously you’d be able to grasp her songwriting strength, but the production never kept you engaged 100%. It’s the complete opposite on Sling, which doesn’t have latent production. It is a continuous testament toward Jack’s genius as a producer, as it matches fittingly with Clairo’s vocals and more so the lyrical content of her music.

Sling is an amalgamation of her life since the release of her debut, amongst the influence that persisted in the making of, i.e. at an estate on top of Mount Tahoe in upstate New York. The atmosphere around her has given us a new direction, sonically, that has Jack Antonoff and Clairo working together to create these beautiful rustic sounds. As Clairo takes a step forward a digs into a variety of themes, like the persistent pressure that goes behind societal norms with motherhood and varying aspects of a relationship. The latter of these can become a bit redundant, as the themes overlap you get lost with certain tracks sounding too similar. Fortunately, this is a minimal deterrent midway, which almost causes a standout track, “Blouse,” to be part of the mix. 

“Blouse” has two bookends, “Zinnias” and “Wade,” bogged by typical Clairo conventions. “Blouse” is a beautiful orchestration that displays nuance toward an apparent stigma that still lives today in the world of social dating apps. Or simply put, we’ve all been conflicted within a relationship about whether or not this person is with you for your looks, opposed to your core. She persists in displaying this within the confines of her music, usually succeeding with other tracks like “Amoeba,” which is a continuation in tone and theme to the opening track “Bambi,” except marginally better as the production is more refined and apparent.  

Sling shows Clairo discovering herself as an artist, branching into a world that makes sense with her low barring vocals and evoking the emotional gravitas that was lacking. Clairo finds new traction, even though it doesn’t keep you completely engaged all the way through. As much as I enjoyed this follow-up, Clairo still has ways to go as an artist, and fortunately, with her youth, there is nowhere to go but up.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Hobo Johnson – The Revenge of Hobo Johnson: Review

Hobo Johnson has always kept the attention of many due to his erratic and anxiety induced emo-spoken word raps that dives deep into themes of depression and love, amongst the globalized discrepancies in the social divide from wealth. In many ways Hobo Johnson is like if comedian Mike Birbiglia took his early comedy bits and turned them into quirky raps that carry enough gravitas to reel you in, albeit his uncanny flows and musical production. In past albums, Hobo Johnson has had a more wound and concise scale of production, until Hobo Johnson further got in his emotional and literary bag further delivering breaths of fresh air in music. Instead of delivering music from an emotional core, Hobo Johnson’s new approach his music distinguishes problematic issues today and personal issues to deliver a thematically derivative album in The Revenge of Hobo Johnson.

Hobo Johnson isn’t one to dwindle or mince words when he performs/delivers his vocals. His tonal shifts lay out emotions and thoughts spread thinly across a long coffee table, where it’s reconstructed into a fantastic mess. This inherent quality has been passed from album to album, further defining his linguistic delivery into fully formed thoughts in music that make these spoken-word hybrid raps more gripping, as if it were coming from something more conventional. His music isn’t for the universal pop masses, and it shows.

The Revenge of Hobo Johnson trades much of the quirky fun raps we’ve come to know of him in the past, like “DeMarcus Cousins and Ashley” or “Subaru Crosstrek,” for empathetic quirkiness. The closest thing to his esoteric quirkiness comes on the track “I want to see the World.” This has Hobo Johnson rapping about places he wants to visit based on preconceived notions of the culture he finds great and cool, like mentioning the French’s keen attention to dancing and rhythm, as well as great soda (according to him). But it comes with twists, as he starts to express the problems imposed on the world by others, criticizing what has been done unfairly to the people, like when he mentions the farmers of Honduras and the monetization of their farmland. Although his quirkiness is part of his vocal nature, it’s the way the subtleties are delivered that create the varying depth in his music; specifically in the subject matter that he tackles.

A lot of Hobo Johnson’s new album contains tracks where he mounts a 3-inch high soapbox and delivers perplexing ideas about the world and its influences, whether broad or tightened, like on “Song 9 (The Government’s Not Great).” This has him these angst-driven and slightly over the top delivery, where you start to lose sense about where this is going as he takes jabs at his “competitors” Twenty One Pilots and The 1975. The plus side of this is that now we have a firmer grasp at what kind of artist Hobo Johnson is, considering his fluidity with the sounds he emboldens in his music. 

This kind of work can sound preachy if not approached with care and intuitiveness, which Hobo Johnson usually applies, but he delivers it with screaming ferocity, you start to wander off into selecting something new. “You Need Help,” does this without nuance or encapsulating factors to keep you reeled in. He has moments where these types of tracks have weight on them like “My Therapist” and “Prequel To Animal Farm,” both of which take jabs at capitalism and fundamentalism in the world of business. He draws scenes, using George Orwell’s Animal Farm as a way to distinguish the working class to the upper, more affluent, class that has control over the livelihood of someone. The way he incorporates the themes of the novel into this track is a definitive lyrical highlight.

Regardless of the consistency from the content within the music, it isn’t where Hobo Johnson shines. While he delivers these auspicious themes on tracks like “I want you Back,” despite not having the same gravitational pull as his more personal tracks, like the acoustic ballad “You Want A Baby.” The production is simple, crisp, elevating the emotional grip Hobo bears, from proclaiming his unwavering love for his current girlfriend and trading his own happiness for the love and spirit of his girlfriend’s happiness that continues to give him reason to continue. These kinds of sentimental beats have always been where we see the broken nature of his being splattered all over the microphone. It meshes with the tender production sprinkled throughout the album and gives it an identity on this third chapter closing for him.

The Revenge of Hobo Johnson doesn’t deliver with the manic bravado that his last album had, but still has its bright spots where you’ll still find enough to go back to. It’s approach to creating stories and analogies that transpire into this range of universal themes with slight redundancies.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend: Review

Continuing to exhume effervescent arrays of shoe-gaze and punk rock music, Wolf Alice finds themselves underneath blue lights as they deliver a thought provoking and emotionally gripping shoe-gaze and punk rock on Blue Weekend, the follow up to the underwhelming Visions of a Life. Like the namesake of the album, its cognitive approach deals with the emotions of the listeners; particularly those with a depth filled understanding of feeling blue. There are tracks that fully gravitate in an unknown direction, and eventually find themselves coming back full circle as the themes vary, but one sentiment stays true. The songwriting and performances of the band keep Blue Weekend on a steady track as it buoys between shoe-gaze and post-punk overtures, while maintaining their brand of authenticity.

Blue Weekend is unlike some of their previous work. There is a steady incline in the quality of the production where they continue to take elements of dream pop and post punk and further create these spacious and riveting rock tracks. Front woman, Ellie Roswell, brings this kinetic energy to her performances, which takes a slight turn as it become one of the unsung hero of their work; specifically in the way she delivers the emotional veracity based on the construct, like standout “Play The Greatest Hits,” which is fueled with angst and punk flair or the melancholic and, at times, dreamy beach themed sounds on the intro and closer – “The Beach.” 

The production is a little more sonically pellucid, as it doesn’t tend to waver into wrought complexities and stoned one-note productions too much; even though there are minimal moments wherein the simplicity isn’t as engaging, like the intro section of “How Can I Make It Ok?” The same goes for the “Lipstick On The Glass.” They are the weakest links on the album, but never true deterrents with the contextual meshing it brings on both spectrums. It has this slow – minimalist buildup before it becomes these unique instrumentations.

Having these buildups isn’t that uncommon on Blue Weekend. A lot of the time it works because the songwriting grips you hard through the mixing and engineering of the vocal layers, which elevates the production’s tonal direction more. In turn, within the verses, your ears get eschewed with these vibrant metaphors, elusive Shakespearean quotes, and thoughts about the arrogance of humans, all the while realizing you also just read Vonnegut. It is like how “Play the Greatest Hits,” takes the crazy emotions one gets from hearing their favorite artist’s greatest hits and forgetting your worries as you unabashedly dance around in the kitchen, as Ellie Roswell would sing-scream on the track. Unfortunately it’s one of two tracks that felt like it could have been longer.

Blue Weekend finds itself in a constant mediation in what drives the track’s voice, both figuratively and literally, as the production’s effervescent layering of the instruments overwhelms half of the vocal performances from Ellie Roswell. But it’s to Blue Weekend’s benefit as it constantly grasps you with these captivating instrumentations, leaving you with an urge to flip on repeat and start to process over. This time you get lost in the songwriting and visceral imagery from the band. As you continue on this journey the varying tracks that emote the kind of blue you are feeling at the moment. These flow in unison with other themes on the album, ranging from relationships, motivated depression, and existential crises, amongst others, like on the tracks “Delicious Things,” and “Smile.”

“Delicious Things” broken down instrumentation plays coy with elongated and beautiful patterns on the production. Ellie Roswell writes this beautiful narrative where she feels displaced, the world is upside down, and she is around strange, but familiar, people. She is trying to mask her longing for home. “Smile,” on the other hand, eschews from conceptions as Ellie Roswell delivers a vocal performance that carries with it a rhythmic hip-hop soul from the way she makes the verses flow in a tangent similar to those of the genre. She isn’t singing as much on the verses and saving it for the transitional points like the choruses and bridges where the atmospheric and riveting performance makes you forget what the smile masks.

Blue Weekend is tame compared to past works, but it doesn’t let it become the detractor from creating these bright and clear depth of the songwriting/vocal performance and production. You’ll find yourself discovering tracks that hit you harder than others and that is fine, as the varying themes and structures of the tracks only share one common numerator, a flashing and old blue light overhead flickering that coats the tracks on the album.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Dora Jar – Digital Meadow: Review

Dora Jar’s emergence has been one beautifully organic rise to witness through the Internet. There is an authenticity behind the music; specifically in the way she constructs her music. She isn’t like many independent alternative artists today. She can shift her vocal range to match sounds ranging from rock with angst to pop ballads without skipping a beat; and her writing matches the strength of her vocals. This elevated quality delivered on her debut LP, Digital Meadow, as she continues to show immense growth in her artistry. 

Digital Meadow has moments that are unlike the music she has released prior. There is a focused shift in the lyrical and vocal aspect of the music and less toward the atmospheric strings that embodies a song like “Multiply.” This shift was first heard on the standout “Quiver,” from her debut EP, Three Songs. “Quiver” keeps the contextual atmosphere on a minimal level as she creates ad-lib harmonization between verses and choruses, but the broken and emotional doubt in the performance comes as its strongest component. 

It’s hard to find many faults without being overly picky, like the inclusion of “Quiver” and “Multiply,” on Digital Meadow. These two were highlights amongst the few tracks she has released, and they fit within the concept, which is very much like reading a. These are very well nitpicks, but as it is with concept albums like this it is always about quality over quantity. “Quiver” is a beautiful pop ballad that showed she had more than what “Multiply” delivered. Though a lot of the production takes pieces from these two songs, along with “Look Back” from her EP, and explores them more on the album.

Dora and her producers make an effort to sonically and lyrically have focus as the stories that fill Digital Meadow with cohesion. There are various avenues she explores sonically as she gives us a look into her person. On the intro, “Opening,” she lets it be known the kind of body we will find ourselves in throughout this musical journey of hers. And it proceeds as she starts to deliver pieces of her that have been with her before and since her spine re-alignment surgery, which she recently documented about on Instagram.

Using music as a crutch, as well as exuberating ambition to perform long before the surgery, Dora Jar has been able to show a wide array of unique constructs on these five new songs, like the rustic and electrifying “Polly.” It’s an anthem that emboldens individuality and strength of one, especially when you see the world as one with endless possibilities, like she sings in part of the chorus, “Below me is a city, you could call me Godzilla / Cross the road little chicken, wanna stomp upon a bully / ‘Cause I’m invincible.” And conversely she delivers a slightly dark verse before elevating the song with infectious melodies.

Dora Jar continues this on the delicately crafted “Wizard.” She flips and rearranges an inclusion like anthem. The song has this unique hip-hop like rhythm to the verses, in contrast to the felicitously poppy chorus melodies and harmonies. She closes the album on the punk rock ‘Voice In The Darkness,” which is about the plethora of emotions flowing through her mind as her aforementioned spine alignment surgery was a major worry, and understandably so. The way she brings these fears into distressing angst, and at times broken and scared, vocal performance left a tear to this eye as it flourishes from start to finish.

Digital Meadow is an amazing full-fledged debut from New York based indie alternative artist Dora Jar. She has a defined sound that can go places and it showed, from the different types of pop rock ballads and hauntingly rustic rock to expressive vocals makes this one of my favorite debut projects of the year. And even-though she isn’t selling gangbusters now; she has the talent to grow beyond and is someone I’m looking forward to seeing creates more and more.

Rating: 9 out of 10.