Harry Styles – Harry’s House: Review

Like his introduction as Eros, Thanos’ brother, in a post-credit scene for Marvel’s Eternals, Harry’s House oozes out Harry Styles’ sex appeal with some horny pop songs. Though it isn’t far from Harry’s usual trove of pop songs, it’s heightened and more fluidly resonates as he takes us on this tour. And this tour isn’t rudimentary, as Harry’s House speaks more about the inner workings of Harry, both musically and where he’s at mentally. His last album, Fine Line, contained the essence of but wasn’t limited. The ratio slightly skews, even though it’s not saying much compared to his vocal performances. Harry’s lusty and sultry vocals get balanced by tender moments, where We hear him break into ballads that carry nuance and some vibrancy even when the content isn’t appealing. Harry’s House sees Harry continuing to stride as we listen to him morph with different styles that have been part of his musical bag. This time, Harry is building toward another essential groove that keeps you focused on his melodies, the production, and songwriting, for the most part.

It doesn’t take long for Harry Styles to lay down luscious vocals while producers elevate the flare on the tracks. Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson bring an essence of style, keeping each aspect of the production interesting as it transitions from verse to chorus, pre-choruses, bridges, etc. It keeps you on a consistent trend upward with the middling ballad to mellow down. It leaves you vibing from shimmering styles that range with smooth progression like on “Late Night Talking” and “Day Dreamin’.” Though there may be some crossover, they each feel fresh, emboldening the identity. It’s the case with the songwriting, where Harry and co-writers can keep it centered on the model without losing your ears, even if it’s sushi or film. 

It’s beneath the production where we hear the essence of his songwriting in certain songs that gets down to the nitty-gritty. In “Cinema,” where he sings, “If you’re getting yourself wet for me/I guess you’re all mine/When you’re sleeping in this bed with me.” Or on “Daydreamin,’” where he sings, “Livin’ in a daydream/She said, “Love me like you paid me”/You know I’ll be gone for so long/So give me all of your love, give me something to dream about.” It isn’t every track, as Harry Styles gets introspective and laments about past relationships through these whirly pop songs that get you on your feet, grooving to the beat. It’s not a transcendent feeling, but you get left with a platter of solid music whose earwormy characteristics gloss over.

Harry’s House is full of different styles that buoy elements of funk, disco, dance, and soul, getting used as these remarkable building blocks over its Pop/R&B core. It gives us exuberant sounds, captivating your ears like previously mentioned songs, “As It Was” and “Daylight.” It’s delivering you synth-pop, dance-pop, some funk-pop, and more with tremendous effect. It’s taking you by the horns and driving you through varying levels of groovy fluidity. Though Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson produce most of the tracks, Samuel Witte delivers some work on the previously mentioned “Cinema,” an Alternative Dance-Pop song that contains nuances of disco and funk, especially with its bassline. It brings back the groove and mood after some ballad/slow songs. Unfortunately, Harpoon and Johnson are responsible for the uninteresting “Keep Driving.”

Harry’s House has more shortcomings, like two ineffective ballads in “Boyfriends” and “Matilda” and poorly delivered concepts, like “Grapejuice.” Despite great production, the melodies aren’t captivating, and the message isn’t transparent. The song’s about taking himself away, with his significant other, from stressors, particularly somewhere with solidarity and a bottle of Rouge (wine). It doesn’t have staying power, like two ineffective ballads that are mundane. “Boyfriends” is this soft acoustic ballad that sees Harry singing about a boorish boyfriend in a relationship but treads typical waters without creating an emotional gravitational pull. “Matilda” sounds like a slightly tedious one that doesn’t stray far from conventions. It has some more emotional impact, but it’s hard to get through a third-person perspective that speaks on how the whoa-is-me of another person. It isn’t like “Little Freak,” which takes root in personal experiences that give you something to latch on to, similarly to the radiant “As It Was,” where Harry sings about feelings of loneliness, looking back at his past in the process.

A tour of Harry’s House is a worthwhile journey as Harry Styles beautifully evokes remarkable performances. It’s slightly intuitive but emotionally potent as it weaves this array of modest sunshine. There is enough for a good time and for a long time, as the vibrant production whisks you away into dance-bliss before leaving you with a triumphant synth-pop track in “Love Of My Life” that will keep the mood flowing upon letting it repeat. I know it did with me, and I hope it does with you.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever: Review

Florence & The Machine has always had this machination with musical imagery and stylistic vocal performances that have given them a platform to succeed. Album-to-Album, they consistently brought something unique to the equation and gave us the depth of character the songs evoke. From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever. It takes root in the meaning of choreomania: a social phenomenon of dance fever between 14th and 17th century Europe.  Having those sensibilities in mind, Florence & the Machine transition between danceable vibes and introspective melancholia, where the rich text beneath them elevates them to a new plateau where it’s hard to turn it off.

Dance Fever is full of musical ideas that build upon each other and take different directions; however, what’s different is how it’s pieced together into an album that takes chances and elevates itself by playing with some progressive soundscapes. Within these soundscapes, Florence Welch continues to weave–with co-writers and producers Jack Antanoff, Dave Bayley, Thomas Hull, Thomas Bartlett, and Robert Ackroyd–these personal conflicts that befallen her with complex production that never create an illusion of grandeur, further grounding the music with effervescent connectivity. “Free” sees Florence singing about anxiety, specifically hers, and the disillusion medication may have, as dancing is the budding melatonin that keeps her afloat. Jack Antanoff and Dave Bayley produce “Free” with Florence, creating a sound that fits the title literally. It’s loose and free-flowing, with elements of synth-pop and dance rock connecting through its enigmatic and energetic percussion, that you get left feeling similar energy. 

That energy is felt throughout the album, delivering on the literal meaning of its namesake. It takes chances by budding them with more melancholic production, especially when Florence Welch fluidly transitions between the two on “Cassandra.” For Dance Fever, it gives you a consistent progression of pop that gets you in a spiritual groove, with the few stoppages coming from these centered pieces, like “Back In Town” and “The Bomb,” where she converses with herself. She offers a sense of reality within these mystifying slow songs that counteract and balance the various dance vibes. There’s a significant balance between them and the introspective dance tracks that spread infectious moods with fervor. Florence Welch isn’t creating these dance tracks to divide sides; the songwriting and vocal performances match the emotional gravitas of each song, which allows them to have depth beyond the complexities of the sounds. 

“My Love,” along with “Choreomania” and “Dream Girl Evil,” are a few examples that bridge the context of the lyrics with the emotional bravado delivered by Florence Welch. “My Love,” like “Free,” is an energetic wave of disco-influenced electro-pop that may dance your writer’s block away. Florence’s content understands the divide between its themes and production, allowing us to hear the remarkable juxtaposition between distraught and intuitive notions beneath the music that makes groove. “Dream Girl Evil” is this remarkable Art-Pop-Rock anthem that fights back against misogynistic societal norms seen for women in a satirical fashion, where Florence imparts this notion of turning evil against them. “Choreomania” is another dance-rock song that buoys its emotional energy with the kinetic and unrelenting motion that the production injects into you. It’s a sonic theme that runs through the veins of Dance Fever. It’s progressive and interjects these auspicious themes that make you feel whole.

The complexities of Dance Fever don’t get hidden within the crevices; it’s there for you to breathe in. It begins with “King” and ends with “Morning Elvis,” a beautiful continuation in grounding her humanity. Florence Welch sings about these stories that reflect her core emotions, and also ours, as this relativity keeps us entwined with the music. Unfortunately, it isn’t all perfect. Some of the shorter interlude-like tracks combine a harmonic spoken word vocal delivery with broken down instrumentations, though it’s only impactful on “Heaven Is Here.” The others, “Restraint” and “Prayer Factory,” fit the mold of what the album wants to deliver, but it doesn’t have much-staying power as a transition between stylistic sectors. They feel slightly forgettable as they drown out in-between these luscious dance songs.

Dance Fever is a fantastic record that delivers on Florence + the Machine’s strengths on both ends and keeps us in a constant state of contemplative dance. It does something unique with its sonic concept that keeps you invested; the complexities of the production offer vibrancy that boasts the vibes that got injected into you by it. I left a memorable imprint in my ears, especially “My Love.” There is enough to take away and love, especially when you want to get up and dance alone in your room.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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.

Aurora – The Gods We Can Touch: Review

From the many popstars to make waves, it’s been hard for me to distinguish between artists like Madison Beer and Anne-Marie; however, some have caught my ear, like Joy Crookes and Aurora. It isn’t hard to distinguish yourself from the bunch – there just needs to be an identity in your sound or approach. Aurora, fortunately, has her identity, and it doesn’t stray far from keeping my ears returning with her use of an ethereal cohesion between the vocal and percussion layers. It perked my ears when I heard “Dancing With The Wolves,” and it perks them higher with her new album, The Gods We Can Touch. What Aurora brings on the album is an elevated experience that shows her maturity as a songwriter, singer, and pianist. 

The Gods We Can Touch is an escalating ethereal experience that continues to keep its tonal benevolence while exploring new factions in other sounds to create this dynamic pop album. There is a linear direction from the production, which adds a subtle duality to the wave-like textures – relative to synths, dark, and gothic in scope – with it, Aurora creates whimsically infectious melodies. “Give In To The Love” shows us that beautiful cohesion: the snares contain an enigmatic presence behind the synth bass, while Aurora delivers hypnotically gleeful melodies to keep us grounded. It’s part of the center fuse for tonal themes throughout the album. It reminds us to appreciate the small things around us and reflect on our relationship with them.

One of these things is self-love, which reflects on the song “Cure For Me.” It continues to illuminate Aurora’s talent without taking away from the impact the song has. It takes the synths and percussion to profound levels where the subtle tempo switches between verse, pre-chorus, and chorus leave you in awe. It’s hard to describe the kind of nuances that detail that part. There is a little bit of jaunty swing from the organs, a bit of island from the percussion, and the synths are the supporting actor; however, it all culminates into this grand anthem that hits close. These jaunty organs make a return in “The Innocent.” It is one of her more chaotic tracks, but it continues this elegant hybrid of electro-pop and wave that lines the album. As one of the many highlights on the album, it’s more than that. It reaffirms the bar Aurora sets, especially as she continues to take new directions. 

Upon listening to her last album again, A Different Kind of Human (Step 2), there is a sense of sonic rejuvenation for Aurora as she begins to express more without relying on tiring modulations and vocal pitches. “Artemis” is one of a few that tries to embrace the melancholic benevolence hidden within the crevices of the strings, albeit distant in sound. Aurora has plenty of ideas she wants to deliver, but it begins to steer from her visceral energy. There are tame ballads that offer stripped-down and driven performances, but these songs are simple allusions that still have unwavering depth, despite weak production. Fortunately, most of these problems tend to have you dwindling in the middle of The God We Can Touch. It’s almost like the locomotive had to pause the coal before it overheats, but with the kind of music Aurora brings in the first and second half, there is no way it could overheat.

The Gods We Can Touch ends by taking us to a fever dream where Aurora improves the mundane aspects of the production halfway through. She also adds another pop banger in “Blood In The Wine,” which uses drums and percussion to give us one more bombastic POP before descending in tempo. It lets us unwind as she delivers these themes with auspicious and visceral lyricism. But as it begins its loop around to the start, you realize how smooth the wavelength is in its transitions. It’s what makes it Aurora’s best project to date.

There is a lot to love about The Gods We Can Touch, but it’s far from perfect. However, one major glow-up is the innate replayability of the songs, whether from the writing and melodies or the production. They infect your ears with these luscious sounds that distinguish themselves within the guise of pop, and that is the highlight of going through this multiple times.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

The Weekly Coos Presents: A Retro Dance Party

When it comes to Dance music two definitions come to mind. It is a genre. It is a label for a song’s specific vibe and correlation to the dance floor. It started with Disco creating a new atmosphere for club-goers, stretching far and wide until it stripped down to sonic style with more synths and bass grooves. It has now become nuanced, along with the second wave of European dominance in the club scene with early House and Eurodance, as we see with the influx of pop stars coming from overseas today.

As people, we have this innate reaction when a recognizable hit or, as some put it, one-hit wonders, starts playing. We start tapping our feet to the groove that comes from our core, leaning into mingling and escaping our comfort zone. Everyone will have their niche taste or the music that will get them grooving; for me, it is Dua Lipa and others, who may listen to Heavy Metal, may still throw down when “Cosmic Girl” or “Virtual Insanity,” by Jamiroquai starts playing. But the dance floor is for all types of music, despite pop trends weighing in what would be a dominating force in clubs.

The variety of trends that have dominated the pop-sphere have waned and dissipated as new ones arise; however, the influence remains in new trends. I emphasize new trends because they aren’t necessarily new. They are refurbished, slightly better, and catchier variations of what there was in the 90s and early 2000s; this includes more staying power with the trove of singles that became monster hits. But unlike these new artists, the kind of dominance and perseverance these songs have had to stay relevant.

Some of these notable songs and artists include: “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel65, Darude’s “Sandstorm,” and “Rhythm Is A Dancer,” by Snap! One could go on and on about how many of these artists we have had in that time frame, but it’s easier for you to tunnel down that rabbit hole filled with awe and whimsy; the kind of whimsy that Whigfield’s “Saturday Night” brings. That whimsy delivers on other occasions, like the memory of a certain song’s peak on mainstream and hearing it on car rides that played Hot 100 radio.

Some of us remember them for that one song, while others have had a continuous appreciation for their later work; particularly those in Europe. The same goes for other artists, like A Touch of Class or Alice DJ. They leave isolated hits that can turn up the dance floor at any themed party, with an isolated few aging gracefully to stay in the rotation with today’s music. Fortunately, these European artists benefited from the influence it had on American pop stars like Madonna, Cher, and Brittany Spears, with the latter of the two releasing pure Electro-Pop/House albums. I could go on and on about the kind of stimulation this music brought the club when the wavering punk rock scene started to slowly begin its hibernation. And like a bear, we fortunate enough to have them keep waking up and delivering detailed memories of the past.

These songs eventually became epitomized with social trends like Throwback-Thursday and more. With the massive reach from these social media platforms, it has allowed for natural growth in that intoxicating feeling nostalgia delivers. It’s a syndrome filled with intoxicating electronic sounds and swinging grooves. And there is no cure, except for dancing it out. So come dance with me, as we listen to dance songs throughout the years. 

Marina – Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land: Review

It has always been astounding that a talented voice like Marina Diamandis has yet to fully create an album where she finds a proper equilibrium between production and lyricism throughout. She has shown a lot of flashes in her career; specifically on Froot, the third album in her resume. Despite a lackluster fourth release, she has come back full circle to deliver a beautifully vibrant electro-pop album with more hits than duds on her fifth studio album, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land. This album takes a trip down memory lane, both lyrically and sonically, as she delivers tracks that are resonant of her universal pop career through metaphorical landscapes. At times it takes missteps by guiding toward some broad redundancies in the themes/lyrical content, but the production still shines as a co-lead.

There has always been something about Marina’s voice that had me questioning why she kept steering in a slightly generic – dance pop route that never highlighted her strengths. But the more she started to learn and grow, as an artist, the more it started to seem that she is usually at her best when she is in some control of the sonic direction, instead of forcing the production to fit a concept. Though that isn’t necessarily the case with every producer she has worked with, delivering some standouts like “Primadonna,” off her sophomore release, Electra Heart. On a lot of these earlier albums there has been too much of a focus on grabbing the best and putting out glamorized dance records to fit a concept. When she is one of the foundations for the production, whether solo or with co-producers, there is a shift in focus.

The production on Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land is unlike her earlier, more fraught work, weaving these unique dance and electro-pop, some of which doesn’t overly glamorize and allows her words and themes steer the ship. However some tracks steer the ship too far from visceral direction the first few deliver before going into – the at times – redundant subject matter, like on “Purge The Poison,” which focuses on breaking apart the evils in society and America. It keeps going on the off-putting “New America,” which is about the issues with the social problems of America and it is taken into a world of boredom.

Unfortunately the production is the only highlight to come from the aforementioned tracks, amongst others, where the production takes the limelight. The other tracks contain sonic consistency and, despite some decent lyricism, Marina delivers great performances, like on “Pandora’s Box.” It has a tedious message that uses Pandora’s Box as a form of trying to let the emotions flow or if not, what is eventually let out is uncontrollable chaos. And though that’s a little on the nose, Marina gives a subtly beautiful performance over a melancholic electro-pop centric ballad that buoys the echo-backing vocals into organized chaos. 

Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land isn’t devoid of quality from both the production and the writing. The title track and “Venus Fly Trap,” for example, use these radiant metaphors, some of which reflect on Marina’s person and being, to express these warming and inspiring themes about life. A lot of the subsequent tracks start to embody more centric pop conventions, opposed to the glitzy electro-pop. A huge factor comes from the fact that she is keeping it simple and letting the glowing instruments create the backing. One such instrument that gets a boost on the production is the percussion and electric guitar, which carries the load. In doing so, Marina and her co-producers free flow, introducing an array of differently constructed production for the tracks. They take Marina’s vocal prowess and, like in past work, give us the work she flourishes in, the soft-emotional ballads.

Marina is at her apex when she breaks down the comfortable dance conventions coating her music. It’s because her voice is like the most powerful instrument she has always had and with the few ballads she gives us, there are some great ones. However, the individual standout comes from “I Love You More Than I Love Me,” which reinforces the thought that her love is worth more than what happened between her and her ex, Jack Patterson of Clean Bandits. The track that closes Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, “Goodbye,” brings forth a beautiful message to her older self, letting her know about her individual growth as an artist and person. This is evident with the control she had on this album, like she did with Froot.

Through its ups and its downs, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land brings unique perspectives and less-fraught production to deliver a mesmerizing, albeit flawed, pop album that shines like the album cover. It has its moments in the sun and catches you with unique melodies and harmonies you’ll find yourself coming back a bit frequently.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Aly & AJ Brings Many Summer Vibes Early On Their New LP: Review

We’ve been 14 years removed from the release of Aly & AJ’s last album, Insomniatic, but they’ve always been there. For a few years they made music as 78Violet and went back to Aly & AJ in 2015, and just in time for a new rise in popularity from Tik Tok. And as years progressed, since 2007, they haven’t deviated from electrifying pop rock, but has been built upon throughout subsequent EPs. However, their new album, A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, brings that eclectic array of indie-pop rock and synth-pop that carry a sonically thematic summer coating with the electronic-instrument overlays. Though some choices may come off misguided in production choices, there is a lot to digest and love from this after it gets an illustrious first play through.

Going about it once through, you’re mostly handed an eclectic mix of songs that transition well and keep you flowing with a mood, but within those beautiful instrumentations there is depth in the themes Aly & AJ evoke emotionally. There are songs that bring a joyous and fun energy and others that take the tempo and pacing down a notch to deliver these beautiful ballads with strong vocal performances from the two. “Slow Dancing,” for example, keeps it simple as a ballad by relying on fewer instruments in sequences, like the soft transition from the various string instruments to a subtle flute. It ends on a rhythmic solo that keeps reminding you how talented these two are. With the gap between albums and the slightly quiet releases of their EPs, some might not remember; but as well they were given the boost from Tik Tok that popularized some of their older and newer music.

A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun is significantly different from Insomniatic in its approach to the pop genre. The music of Insomniatic gave us a new synth pop rock identity for Aly & AJ, while maintaining the rock from their debut. Unlike Insomniatic, there is more of an identity on this follow-up. The essence of what the feeling of a calm sunset with your thoughts on a California beach is felt and they let the instruments guide the atmosphere, specifically with the synthesizers. Though they rarely go into oblique routes sonically, the little things they add bring more depth to the song, like on “Stomach.” It opens with a folk inspired arrangement of strings before switching into a beautiful electro-pop ballad and giving us the best song on the album.

There are many bright spots to A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, like glamorous synth-pop songs in “Paradise,” and “Don’t Need Nothing.” But they don’t match the visceral strength and nuances of their more pop rock songs, emphasis on rock. These songs have the most consistency on the album as the mixing gives it a slight garage feel in the way the electric guitar is mixed more faintly than other instruments at times. “Listen!!!” in particular, brings a semi-high motored percussion and electric guitars shredding, further bringing in that rock backbone to this potent anthem, all while transitioning smoothly from these vibrant synths in the opening. 

The album rarely teeters on mediocrity. Sometimes it comes from interesting, but poor execution of some of the instrumental decisions, like the sonically one note “Symptom Of Your Touch,” or the electronic synths and modulations at the end of “Lucky To Have Him.” There are fine vocal performances on the former, but the instrumentation and synths are boring. However, the latter of which starts off on a high note before teetering into a latent closer, but fortunately the track that proceeds it, is a monstrous effort at blending synth pop with simple rock structures, like the small moments of isolated electric guitar notes in between an elegant cohesion of percussion and strings. 

This mouthful of an album does what the title suggests on the bare surface, but within these illustrious songs and not so great songs, the thematic material holds a lot of weight when you go back and break apart meaning. Like aforementioned songs, “Slow Dancing,” and “Listen!!!” break apart conceptions, from wanting simplicity over extravagance or unique details that show a relationship breaking apart and the fear of tackling it head on. The themes don’t sway away much from relationships, love, and California, but there is one constant and that is their ability to naturally bring these elegant vocal performances and great songwriting. 

A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun is contrasting growth in a positive way for Aly & AJ as they deliver an array of songs for varying summer moods and beyond. From infectious melodies and instrumentations, there is a lot of love and take away from this, though after taking off your nostalgia goggles. It hits many strides at various angles, cementing their recent rise in the pop culture zeitgeist with fantastic music.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Julia Michaels – Not In Chronological Order: Review

Some of you may know Julia Michaels as the singer of the hit “Issues,” but for those who need more context – co-writer of major hits like Justin Bieber’s huge hit “Sorry,” and “Lose You To Love Me,” by Selena Gomez, amongst a plethora of pop artists ranging from Britney Spears to Shawn Mendes. As the years progressed, she found equilibrium between her singing aspirations and continuing to be one of the best pop songwriters working in the industry. Within that time she has released a great collection of EPs that have shown her tonal strengths, either vocally or structurally, but they didn’t come with the same visceral strength as the artists she has written for. This isn’t totally the case on her debut, Not In Chronological Order. It brings a galaxy full of electric pop songs and beautifully delivered ballads, despite quick pacing and a short runtime. 

With the range of vibrant and illustrious production on Not In Chronological Order, the album unfortunately leaves you high and dry and yearning for a slightly longer project. One moment you’re starting with “All My Exes,” and eventually you find yourself halfway through. At 10 tracks and 30 minutes, it feels quicker, albeit the slower tempos they use to space out the sonic textures. Before you know it the album starts to end on a high note with both “Undertone” and “That’s The Kind Of Woman.” However, a lot of these songs don’t fully eclipse past the 3-minute mark and it makes the array of great songs feel a little empty, like “That’s The Kind Of Woman.” But the inherent strengths come from her ballads and the production on the sad-dance tracks, like “Undertone,” amongst others.

In the growing presence of sad-dance tracks, there have been many artists who hit the stride, but Julia Michaels is a veteran with glamorous dance tracks like “Body,” off Inner Monologues Part 2. The production of “Pessimist” is a perfect example of the way a song of that caliber should be constructed within that genre. Her “oh-so expressive” vocals is the final bolt that holds it all together, especially on “Pessimist.” This vocal delivery has quicker tempo and stays in constant motion from the track it transitions from.

Julia Michaels’ strength as a songwriter is unbound, both structurally and melodically, but there are those rare moments where she doesn’t bring the strongest choruses, lyrically and at times melodically. These choruses either have a poor delivery or have a standard rhythmic pattern that can start some snoozes amongst some. It isn’t a deterrent, but really noticeable in tracks like “Wrapped Around” and “History,” but not so much in “History,” as it, at least, flows with the rest of the song with fluidity. However, when Julia delivers, she winds up creating these beautiful dance tracks with infectious choruses like on “Lie Like This.” Co-writer Michael Pollack brings an added touch to it, giving it a glamorous coating, like the other few co-writers on the album. 

As a singer and songwriter, Julia’s ear for the right melody further takes her to the accessibility to work with other songwriters. She isn’t always a one-woman force, but when she is, like on her last EP, she doesn’t shy from showing what she can do best, which is structure and creating interesting melodies, with lyrical content coming in at a close third. The construct between the verses and transitional bridges shows these angles, even if the lyrical content of a ballad or dance track takes an interesting turn, like on “Little Did I Know.” This phenomenal ballad centers on love giving you the option between the red pill and blue pill. The track centers on escaping the effect of the red pill as she starts to realize love isn’t as Shakespearean as his love stories were pretty tragic at the end. This track brings out one of the many great collaborators on the album, the piano, but nothing else.

A lot of the collaborators bring their own unique touch of pop from working with various groups and singers, most of which were pop stars/superstars, like John Ryan. He is famously known as one of the many consistently present songwriters throughout One Direction’s career; and what he brings to the table with Julia Michaels are these different type of sonic styles like the atmospheric guitar pop ballad with “Love Is Weird,” and the summer feeling of the slow-melodic electro-pop in “Orange Magic.” 

The work between John Ryan and Michael Pollack are the ones that standout more than the others, but that doesn’t discredit the beautiful production work from The Monsters & Strangerz. Their work with Ryan on the production is what gives a lot of tracks that extra oomph, opposed to the songs she wrote with singer/songwriter JP Saxe, like the over-baked “All Your Exes.” This is where the album slowly falters, as JP Saxe isn’t really bringing much to the table. “All Your Exes,” and the aforementioned, “Little Did I Know,” doesn’t have the strongest delivery, specifically in certain portions of the chorus, like on the second chorus delivery on “All Your Exes.” It doesn’t switch much from the verse’s melody and loses itself as it progresses. Fortunately this doesn’t become the new crazy ex-girlfriend theme.

Not In Chronological Order does what it represents, as the fluidity of sounds don’t come with sequential consistency, but within those roots exists a lot of good to fantastic tracks that will elevate some pop heads and make others feel like dancing. It shows Julia’s ever-growing strength as a vocalist and allows us to see improvement from her first EP.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Demi Lovato – Dancing With The Devil… The Art Of Starting Over: Review

When an artist digs into the roots of their person and lets their demons dance their way out through the music they create, that they deliver a mix of various sounds that all have one dynamic – thematic cohesion from start to finish. Demi Lovato is no stranger to the darkness and she is no stranger to the glamorous pop banger. As illustrious as her career was, her music always felt stuck in the bleachers, opposed to court side. Her new album, Dancing With the Devil… The Art Of Starting Over, upgrades from the bleachers and we finally see Demi delivering a very personal album that takes the direct approach in telling her story and incorporating themes of loneliness, substance abuse, and love within them. 

Dancing With The Devil opens with an odd construct of songs that feel like many forewords before the note from the author hits you (in the “Intro” titled track) and then you can finally start getting to the meat of the book. But these songs vary in two distinct stylistic core we will get more of later on in the album. There are the moody piano ballads, echoing with Demi’s vocals in the underwhelming “Anyone,” and the powerful vocal performance on “ICU,” and the electro-dance-punk “Dancing With The Devil.” It delivers a backdrop to the effervescent array of songs to follow that carry a lot of emotional and spiritual weight, contextually. 

The one aspect of Demi Lovato that always shined in, was her ear for production. Since her ascension to Hot 100 in the earlier half of the 2010s, with songs like “Give Your Heart A Break,” and “Cool For Summer.” So it comes to no surprise that a lot of the production on Dancing With The Devil is exceptionally great; from a mixture of glittery pop-punk dance ballads, acoustic pop-rock, and acoustic bedroom pop, Demi digs deeper into her roots. These different sonic structures don’t always mirror standard traits of direct genres, it breaks it into pieces and delivers it in varying ways, further showing the kind of artistic singer that once felt trapped in trendy pop.

Demi Lovato’s creative direction and inner musical ferocity shows as she finally lets loose and delivers the kind of music she wants to make. However, there are times where the songwriting can be too direct and without underlying subtleties to back the themes and stories. When it switches up by evoking a concept that focuses on dissecting her mental break from the negatives, even taking a mini jab at the mouse himself. You can hear it within the beautifully infectious “Melon Cake,” that has a groovy percussion underlying these simple and well mixed pop overtones, like the bass lines and tempo. It’s Demi grabbing the sounds that shines with her style and vocal flexibilities, considering she isn’t bellowing like it was echoing from Mt. Everest.

An interesting inclusion is a cover of the Tears for Fears single, “Mad World.” Hers, however, takes more influence from the cover by composer Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules, which was made for the film, Donnie Darko. She brings with her a lot the slow-tempo melancholic vocal pitches, which works to her strengths, specifically the broken down nature of the instrumental that is more aligned with the version from Donnie Darko.

Demi Lovato brings with her different artists that bring a different touch, but more often than not they don’t always hit. The Ariana Grande feature feels too on the nose and Demi feels shoe-horned in her own song that feels a little more like a lesser Grande-like pop track. Saweetie delivers a verse later on in the track “My Girlfriends are Boyfriends,” which is like the production and context of the song – aka female empowerment. The electro-pop track overdoes the percussion to the point where it just stays on a boring loop. It happens intermittently throughout the album, specifically where the songs start to get too into the warp space of standard pop, like on “The Kind of Lover I Am.” But fortunately there is one amazing duet that comes from the varying features, and that is on the track “What Other People Say,” with UK singer Sam Fischer. It is a unique take at a gospel like orchestration that has great melodies from the two.

Despite some varying hiccups, Demi Lovato’s Dancing With The Devil… The Art of Starting Over delivers true to her vision. It may come off as niche, since her varying pop sounds don’t correlate with standard sensitivities, but there is enough for the many. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Zara Larsson Shines As Her Own “Poster Girl”: Review

First impressions are always key, especially for an artist. That is why in the past, turning on the TV to MTV Hits at 6 in the morning allowed for a simple variety of music. Unfortunately artist Zara Larsson gave off one of the worst impressions with the standout – and abhorrent sad-anthem “Never Forget You,” with UK electro pop producer/singer MNEK. Its wrought with simple deviation into nonsensical base pop was not all that pleasing for the ears. Thankfully Zara Larsson has matured, both as a writer and singer, to deliver an array of elegant dance-pop on her sophomore effort Poster Girl.

The way pop has modernized the disco sound within the past few years have been reminiscent of 20 years ago when pop stars took those same disco grooves and modernized it into a new electro dance pop hyper wave, turning out a unique array of pop stars. A lot of these artists today, like Zara Larsson, have blended the two into a unified and beautiful hybrid. It’s part of the underbelly that have made Poster Girl a definitive shift and overall fun delivery in 2021.

Zara Larsson has always been able to shy away from conventional bubblegum-synth-pop like trends and elevate her artistry by weaving contagious hooks/choruses within finely mixed production. However, Poster Girl starts opposite of this with a very lackadaisical pop track about love, but as the subsequent track eases with a slightly decadent and simple flow/verse from feature artist Young Thug, it starts to get the momentum going. In keeping with an ongoing pop trend of disco resurgence, the underbelly of these two tracks and the rest of the track list have illustrious disco-sounds that elevate the overall final product.

Poster Girl excels when it has clear direction in the construction from front to back and start to end. Tracks like “Poster Girl,” and “WOW,” counter two various dance-pop/disco trends with the former creating that boogie-down vibe and the latter has a deep emotional synth pop-like gravitas. Though the similarities may only keep it at the type of groove each embody, the way the album seems to embolden these sonic themes is followed by an awe expression from earlier haters, like myself. 

The strongest work, on Poster Girl, comes from tracks “FFF,” and ”Ruin My Life.” “FFF,” embodies these lush disco overtures throughout the BPM shifts and vocal transitions aligning with the production’s transitions. The verses have this insane and uproarious funkadelic horns that shifts into dance-pop choruses, allowing an effervescent stew to cook in the ears. “Ruin My Life,” is one of Zara’s catchier tracks on the album and productions use of hi-hat overtures that intertwine with lowly piano keys are out of this world.

Poster Girl doesn’t deviate as much from its sonic focus and unfortunately that caused some production to falter in derelict simplicity, like “Stick With You.” The BPM is at near average for the kind of dance-pop the album evokes, but it is nothing more than just a simple percussion pattern and boring vocalizations. This happens a bit on other tracks like “Love Me Land,” and “I Need Love;” the latter of which adds some weird robotic distortions from a poorly thought out use for autotune.

Poster Girl amasses a quality – fuel doses of fantastic dance/disco-pop tracks that bring forth catchy choruses and elegant production. It has it’s hiccups, but there is enough to add to any dance mix and keep the party going.

Rating: 7 out of 10.