Angel Olsen – Aisles EP: Review

This current phase of Angel Olsen’s career has been on an incline with beautifully composed production and auspicious vocal performances. Her last album, All Mirrors, was another transcendent move in her career as she took a path toward chamber pop overtones instead of different shades of indie rock. And it leaves me wondering, how far can this go before feeling worn. The answer is: not long at all. Angel Olsen’s new EP Aisles takes the chamber pop overtones from her last two projects and weaves it with subtle psychedelic undertones, in what is one of the more unique covers projects heard since Weezer’s from early 2019.

Past covers performed by Angel Olsen have shown the authenticity of her performance, giving each song a proper balance of care and fun. Aisles contain some of that authenticity in recorded fashion, but it starts to lack nuance. Most songs get a complete makeover as three songs mirror the original closely without interfering with her vision. Unfortunately, these three songs aren’t enough to shift the overall feeling of Aisles from a fun collection of covers in your pocket to be somewhat forgettable because the minimal efforts to be different don’t stand out as much as an American Idol audition.

Like the Weezer album, Aisles contains covers of iconic 80s new wave and synth-pop songs. The only difference is Aisles checks in with five songs as opposed to ten and is slightly better. Of the songs, the ones you’d expect to translate, with Angel Olsen’s new sonic direction, do, like Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” which already works as a lively synth-pop ballad. Angel Olsen’s rendition follows a similar path and is the one that is as close to the original compared to the rest of the tracklisting. Angel Olsen brings a hollow and operatic tone, taking away the percussion for a nuanced ballad. It is one of the two best covers on the EP, along with “Eyes Without A Face.”

Angel Olsen’s cover of “Eyes Without A Face,” by Billy Idol, ubiquitously stands out. It resembles the original in certain aspects of the production, except for the second half. What is so memorable about the original is how it does a complete 180 in the second half. And like the Idol version, Angel Olsen follows a similar crescendo with her pitches as she switches between similar melodies and the unique take on the second half. While the Billy Idol version does a 180 from a piano ballad to a pure new wave sound, Olsen lets her voice becomes the conductor. It shifts into an operatic and psychedelic vocal solo that takes you to new worlds, like Idol’s did with the fans he surprised with the switch.

As an avid fan of new wave and synth-pop, the level of intrigue increased after seeing the tracklisting. One of the first singles Angel Olsen released was a cover of “Gloria” by Umberto Tozzi, made famous by Laura Branigan three years later. To say it was underwhelming is an overstatement. The track is a total 180 from the original as Angel gives this the chamber pop makeover. Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” has vibrant horn and synth arrangements intertwining with disco undertones, making it a monstrous dance/club song. Olsen’s version is the antithesis as it contrasts the tame soft-disco styling of the original Italian version and the colorful American version. It comes across as a hard listen with atmospheric piano keys and strings, common for chamber pop, while Branigan and Tozzi’s version is charming. It’s the missing piece from her cover, which makes it as forgettable as “If You Leave.”

Similarly, “Safety Dance” fails to translate. “Safety Dance” is a quirky and novelty new wave song about rebelling. Angel Olsen stays in tangent with her current moody and atmospheric chamber-pop sound, albeit missing the mark. The tempo shift makes it hard to distinguish the fun-carefree nature behind “Safety Dance.” Song covers are supposed to be unique and done with the singer’s perspective; however, Angel Olsen gets blinded by style. It follows her along as the song “If You Leave” feels like a placeholder. It doesn’t come across as striking and passes by quickly and leaves you with a great closer in “Forever Young.”

Angel Olsen isn’t privy to delivering forgettable work, but it’s hard to match her spirit in comparison. Trying to understand her vision became excruciating, especially with “Gloria” and “Safety Dance.” It left me wondering why she would make a slightly redundant-sounding EP, considering the best songs have slight repeat value. 

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Favorite Albums – Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Superlatives are as meaningful as they are to you and that is why on occasion I love to talk about an album when it hits a low mark like five years. And frankly this album is older than my age, but Pet Sounds has always been a part of my life and has been one of the defining pieces of musical influence I had growing up. What started with a love for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” grew into learning and understanding the complex sounds and layering Brian Wilson incorporated as the Beach Boys started to transcend past the fun surf rock of yester and into some more awe inspiring music, which had partial motivation from The Beatles dominance internationally. And as we all know, a lot of their later work incorporated a lot of psychedelic sounds into their brand of pop rock. Similarly, Pet Sounds implemented these melodic overtones onto their brand of surf rock, as well shifting the compositions and delivering some impactful music.

Pet Sounds turned 55 years old on May 16, 2021. The tardiness in any piece about it comes from a lack of words to describe how much a single person can love an album from an era where there is no experience and just history. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, surf rock was never part of my overall musical rotation until later in life when I decided to delve deep into the past. You have to understand surf rock was a trend that lasted half a decade (at best) on the charts before being replaced by psychedelia and folk, and eventually disco. My generation was mostly into hip-hop, pop, emo/punk rock, and spring break where you can get loose, stupid and forget your woes for one week, especially if you were in college. It wasn’t in my purview, and having a family that listened to predominantly Spanish language music and genres, didn’t give me something to grow into. Eventually I started to consume a lot and learn how to dissect songs from a non-theorist perspective. 

My full admiration and love for Pet Sounds came when I was in college. I played my hand with some psychedelics and it made certain things clear, but most importantly it made a lot of the performances of Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and Brian and Carl Wilson more weight as you break apart the emotional grip. I first heard Pet Sounds in full when I was 11, but I was privy to what I knew and that was elevated jangle-pop-like fun and so “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” I was never privy to understanding that “God Only Knows,” was used in misappropriate ways in the media, as it romanticized the idea of suicide due to a break up; or how “I Know There’s An Answer” had to be re-edited as it correlated too much to drug use, which it was and at the time drugs were also a touchy subject as it became a cornerstone of the counterculture of 1960s. 

“I Know There Is An Answer” had to have the title and verbiage in the chorus changed in order to take away from direct LSD reference when Brian Wilson’s haunting vocals sing “Hang On To Your Ego.” It was influenced by LSD and the effect it has on people like Brian where, once, he proclaimed he saw god after a full dose. Because of this, he engaged in more and has expressed a lot of Pet Sounds production and writing from them as it would bring out his insecurities, which correlates with the unusual timbres and harmonies that embolden the music’s broken down tones, like “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders).”

But as you listen to it more, you start to understand that Pet Sounds can fill you with a modest roller coaster ride of emotions, slowly filling your mind with songs evoking hope. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” gives us a song that expresses this fantasy we have of never growing old. As Brian and Carl sing in the in the bridge, “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true / Oh, baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do / Oh, we could be married (Oh, we could be married) / And then we’d be happy (And then we’d be happy) / Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?” It brought the melancholy to the slightly depressive “God Only Knows,” which was the B Side to the single record released prior. 

These songs were always present in my youth, whether in film or in the media I consumed. “God Only Knows” was a prominent component of the popular holiday film, Love Actually, and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was prominent in 50 First Dates, amongst other tracks. At the time Adam Sandler was a major component of my youth and it distinguishes me from my other film friends. Adam Sandler is my favorite comedic actor and going to see 50 First Dates was a beautiful memory. It was my first major I’m not old for this film with my father in theaters and a lot about it has always resonated with me, especially “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which opened the floodgates for discovering more. And from there my love for Pet Sounds grew more and more.

The height these songs reached would amass a lot of hype and it delivers, despite the experimental nature within some of the production. It elevates the themes that come from the lyrics like how “That’s Not Me” is about maturity through the eyes of a man who tries to prove his worth to people from his past, keeping it simple and having more depth than a Twenty One Pilots record. 

The themes and stories from Pet Sounds are direct and broad in the way you can find ways to correlate it into your own life, like “Caroline, No,” which is a ballad about losing trust in someone, particularly the significant other in your love affair due to an unexpected change where both POVs differ. Or the conflicting “Here Today,” where Mike Love leads the cynical song about love through the eyes of an older man as he talks to the younger man about love. He brings notes about how he’s been with her prior, meaning someone similar, and to be careful about falling head over heels in swift motion because she could leave you at any moment. 

One can go about and speak about the visceral brilliance of Pet Sounds. Like the way it shifts from surf pop to an elevated form of chamber pop, and the depth of the themes from beautifully simple lyricism is on another level. But that would be another retread of what others have talked about in previous writings, which you can find anywhere. Especially something extremely intricate about how the title song was supposedly for a James Bond flick and if so that song would have had some weird animal sounds. There is a nuance to it because it doesn’t make it a focal point. It is added in the distance to implement this idea that the song is being recorded and played to an audience of animals at a farm. 

However, despite some of the intricacies I mentioned, I’m writing this because I love Pet Sounds more than anything I’ve ever heard in my life. Not because I want you to think on a deep level about the meaning of these songs or so forth, even though it’s brought up. This is just me talking about my favorite album and key parts that make it so. And hopefully influencing you to seek it out on all major streaming platforms. 

I then ask myself what does Pet Sounds mean to me? It means a lot. They were introduced to me by my favorite comedic actor in Adam Sandler and it was one of the first albums I heard front to back. That feeling was like eating a beignet for the first time at a New Orleans joint and first bite of soft dough with that sugary kick from powder sugar exploding and melting in your mouth with immense flavors or like when the concert you attend brings out a plethora of special guests. Either way, if you haven’t listened to it do yourself, and I, a favor and go enjoy its greatness and brilliance.

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club: Review

2019’s Norman F*cking Rockwell saw Lana Del Rey shining at a high peak, and she continues to stay on a steady balance with her newest release Chemtrails Over The Country Club. The array of melodic – chamber pop like is what you’d expect from someone with the kind of artistry of Lana Del Ray; although on her new album she takes new direction working with sounds, particularly string instruments, more prevalent in country and folk. Bringing along Jack Antonoff is only one of the many reasons this unique direction for Lana Del Rey who continues to weave, in vibrant consistency, the themes around the idea right and wrong duality.

The dreamy reverb/autotune heavy overlays still run through the bulk of Chemtrails Over The Country Club, but it isn’t just there to be there; her range shifts from the unconventional acoustic realism to the uproarious synths, which is what keeps it in this realm all its own. Some of the new musical techniques/directions are reminiscent of her early Americana era, except it immerses the listener in the mood more fluidly.

The opening track “White Dress,” opens delicately strummed as it brings forth the intro to the theme surrounding duality. In this case it is between fame-idealism and reality, along with the spacey overtones accompanying intimate piano keys. Her vocalization is lush with this raspy whisper that relays this emotion of someone who lost her innocence.

Lana Del Rey has this way of making these sounds her own, despite those minimal moments where you start to question, why did they do this on the production. Like on “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” which is mundane in its own way, but the pedal effect in the chorus takes it to another level because it feels just there without reason. The mundane continues modestly in pieces here and there, like “Yosemite,” which Lana makes beautifully cinematic with her vocals. Regardless of some boring moments in the production, like on “Yosemite”, there is this dynamic cohesion in the way she structures the songs amongst the theme.

There are many consistent – great moments, where the theme glows within the subtleties of the tracks, like on “Tulsa Jesus Freak,” where Lana Del Rey talks about the strength taken to fight right and wrong with her lover, all basing itself on one’s commitment to the bible. She slowly reminds him to never forget his convictions, despite the mood she conveys as a woman. It’s soft spoken and the delivery shows how you can’t control the consequences, which she mentions in a moment where the wind blows on her skirt that creates a “nostalgic” image of the charm seen by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.

As Chemtrails continues its path of self worth and idealistic complications, Lana Del Rey starts to work her voice around the authenticity of her emotions and the instrumentals around, slowly easing her reliance on the autotune; for example “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” This consistency starts at “Wild At Heart,” and “Dark But Just A Game” where they create an effervescent sonic theme from dark acoustic strings. It’s on the second half of the album where she continues to portray her innocence in an altered reality, where life was normalized with friends and familial love around. The reality she sees herself in, is one where a life of decadence is broken despite generalized perceptions.

We’ve heard similar perceptions from her in the past, but Chemtrails takes it and weaves the distraction for her as she keeps reminiscing about a ranch through most of these tracks. “Dance Till We Die,” takes us to the ranch, as Lana delivers an emotionally gripping ballad. She takes an interesting approach with the switch of the strings in the bridge, where the soft spoken melancholy turns into this modern alternative-twang reminiscent of rock from the 60s. It’s a thing of pure beauty and one of the two standouts alongside “White Dress.”

Chemtrails Over The Country Club shows the continuous growth Lana Del Rey has gone through since Video Games, allowing herself to evolve the textures that made her standout amongst the many pop artists today. It’s a solid record of intimate and lush production that will hit the ear drums with beautiful streaks of notes and songwriting mixing as one.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Weezer – Ok Human: Review

As fans of Weezer go, nothing is as great as when they deliver something worth giving them another chance. Especially now, since 2019 handed fans two lackluster projects in The Black Album and The Teal Album. And though both albums had some tracks of note, they were very forgettable. Fortunately, that is not the case with Ok Human. It has infectious singing and a type of simplicity that turns some complex themes into relatable music that you can enjoy, even at a surface level.

What’s great about Ok Human is that the chorus line in the opening track, “All My Favorite Songs,” lays out the kind of stylistic influence in atmosphere and tempo. 

They subvert that slow aesthetic (of sad songs) rhythmically in the percussion, piano and cello, while mostly having fun with analogies and delivery of his themes and Brian Bell adds light with the guitar. In a way it’s very lively chamber pop and baroque pop.

Throughout Ok Human, Rivers Cuomo takes us on a journey inside his subconscious, giving us songs akin to “standard,” growth in various forms. Themes like escapism and isolation are twisted into a very simple and direct style. It’s within the things Rivers Cuomo talks about, allowing it to be enjoyed on a surface level.

“Grapes of Wrath” and “Play My Piano,” deliver on just that with subverting those ideas into things a lot of people may enjoy. The former has Rivers singing about rocking Audible by Amazon and drifting off to Cloud 9 of the literary mind. And the latter follows similarly, though instead it’s the zone one gets in when they start that mental groove and the fun Rivers has singing them over the instrumentations is highly infectious.

And with that infection flowing through most of the first half of Ok Human, unfortunately most of the second doesn’t land as strong. Some songs falter by going back to certain basics or by just being poor in execution, like “Screens.” It’s a try hard at regarding Tech for the way people act today (mindless zombies for brief seconds). But the instrumentation is pretty solid, even if the context is tried and they do nothing new with it.

When Weezer lean into sadder notes, it dissuades from what works to what does not. Outside, “Bird With A Broken Wing,” there isn’t much of note. This is the case for most the second half. A lot of the tracks have pieces that are better than the sum of its parts, like the piano on “Here Comes The Rain” where it’s the only memorable aspect of that song. At least they are as bad as the crooning on “Numbers” in the first half.

Ok Human has a lot of great things going for it with its fun demeanor (for the most part) and distinct sounds that highlight a sound that works. Even when tracks don’t land, just remove “Numbers,” and you could listen to it from front to back without noticing and honestly you probably won’t even be mad.

Rating: 8 out of 10.