Ladytron – Time’s Arrow: Review

Ladytron’s latest album, Time’s Arrow, is not as expansive, keeping an almost two-dimensional with many synth patterns and the production’s range in guitar and percussion usage. It takes a while for the wheels to get rolling as lead singer Helen Marnie deconstructs innate reflective points with vigor on many songs. Her vocals add dimensions to each song’s atmosphere and psychedelia tones, seeping into these intricate thoughts that have us viewing some layered dimensions of our being, whether impersonal or not. Marnie, along with co-writers Daniel Hunt, Jonny Scott, Mira Aroyo & Vice Cooler, don’t leave you with ambiguity – the verses speak fluidly through its poetic approach, allowing you to visualize their world, interconnected with yours. It values time beyond the centralized generalizations we’ve heard prior – we get another solid effort that could have gone through another round in the think tank but still a serviceable release.

Starting strong, Time’s Arrow begins to keep its pacing steady, leaving you mystified by its ambiance and fluid melodies. Unfortunately, the synthesizers sometimes feel less intriguing and more of an added commodity that takes away from the small details that underlie the production coating. It isn’t until the later half of “Faces,” the second song on the tracklist, it starts to make sense of its direction – time is linear, but there are rifts that take you in unique sidesteps. It’s playing a bit loose with this concept, sonically, veering and making moments last long or short. It’s a straight shot of pure reflective bliss that stumbles to make anything imperatively potent with the sounds. There are some memorable notes within the production, but its consistency of impact is lesser than their last album. 

Sometimes Ladytron’s use of synths can over-sizzle, and other times it’s a little stale, but rarely in between. However, they never take you away from lyricism that’s lavishly poignant and resonant with one’s inner journey with themselves on a few tracks. In “Misery Remember Me,” we hear Ladytron looking back at one’s disdain for reflecting a person they’re not; it has gospel influence boasting the ponderous chorus and elevating its sense of self while letting the synths take a back seat. Not every track has this lyrical astuteness. Sometimes it teeters toward mundaneness with depth-less simplicity on “Faces” or the lackluster chorus of “California.” Fortunately, it is within the mid-point where the album takes chances beneath the abundance of synths caught between a drought and a rainstorm. Overlaying its poetically influenced lyricism are waning tempos with the different synthesizers they are using; in the long run, it took me away from finding much intrigue with “City of Angels” and “Sargasso Sea.” It’s a disappointing variation in production that keeps it from having a powerful opening and closing.

That middle sector of Time’s Arrow is where it starts to come to life. Beginning with “Flight of Angkor,” the tone gets set with a more fruitful array of synths that bring twinkles to your ears instead of confusing you. Continuing till “The Dreamers,” elements of Dream-Pop get incorporated to buoy the smooth cohesion between monochromatic ambiance and starry melodies. We don’t hear an overreliance on keeping you reeled with atmospheric electronic bliss. It lets the vocals breathe through the thick layers of synths, letting the backing vocals shine through. Additionally, we don’t get this small cluster of contrasting and complementing synths and percussion like in the title song; it oddly works at points, but comparatively, it’s a weaker-written song than the others. It doesn’t negate the vocal performances that radiate beneath harrowing synths that fail to make you return more than twice. 

Time’s Arrow sometimes feels like a distant memory, and remembering leaves you with some slight disappointment. It has these uniquely fantastic moments, but surrounding it, are some less-than-attractive synth layers. The synths don’t take away from the atmospheric aesthetic it imbues. It keeps a steady play consistency that can get a new listener to flow with it, but for fans of Ladytron, this was a lesser effort I wish I could like more than I do.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time: Review

Playing into the aesthetics, dreams, and life influenced by her time living in California, Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album, The Loneliest Time. It’s apparent and gets heard through these vibrant, dreamy songs that boast the songwriting and her vocals, for the most part. Jepsen has made hits over glamorous synths-filled production that elevate her captivatingly catchy and fun ways. And we get that, but unfortunately, The Loneliest Time doesn’t land as strong, specifically in the second half. At times, it doesn’t feel like Jepsen is giving us that spark we get at the beginning and left with an intriguing concept filled with songs that understand the assignment, but it isn’t all effective. You see it as Carly Rae Jepsen weaves this concept reflective on time– during the day (the first half), it is sonically influenced by being in the sun, having fun, and incorporating happy instrumentations; the night (second half) unwinds more with slower grooves while trying to push the itch to dance. Though it has you grooving, Jepsen isn’t always bringing her all; she’s delivering with little nuance, despite its unique concept, and you’d preferably spin older records.

The Loneliest Time starts strong but starts to lose you with these distinct sounds that don’t acquiesce. You’ll know the difference between what makes “Joshua Tree” a breezy, fun jam and “Shooting Star,” something that feels lost within a world of Disco and Funk as it tries to maneuver similar sonic themes poorly. Though both “Joshua Tree” and “Shooting Star” embolden that dance-pop bravado with captivating grooves and choruses, sometimes they won’t have a similar impact like “LA Hallucinations” and “Party For One” from Emotion and Dedicated, respectively. Despite having the firmness to stand on its own, Jepsen occasionally downplays the vocals in the second half, never taking full advantage of her range and elevating to the strengths of “Surrender My Heart.” It hits you instantly less because of the production and more because Carly Rae Jepsen makes you feel the effusive energy getting brought, unlike “Bad Thing Twice.”

In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Carly Rae Jepsen said, “Loneliness sounds sad, but I think it can be exhilarating and exciting, and I think it can be the most intimate feeling in a really special way.” We heard it before with “Party For One,” but it wasn’t heavy-set on spearheading that connotation as it embodied a confident bravado that is about the dance. With The Loneliest Time, Jespen wants to subvert the preconceived definition that can come with the lonely feeling; she desires to purport it as an intimate and reflective time with turbulence. Think about those moments you yearn for when you turn on do not disturb on your phone, kick back and unwind solo dolo; it’s centering on the emotions that fluster your mind, leaving you with positive or negative notions while still looking for the bright side. From giving a jar of tears with love, through missed time, expressing the confidence someone special got out of you, or commentary on modern dating–these are some examples sung by Jepsen in “Bends,” “Sideways,” and “Beach House,” respectively.

Carly Rae Jepsen brings her trademark upbeat energy that seeps through the melodies, gripping you with a certain catchiness that works more than not. It rarely falls to the production to elevate the performance; it has consistency in its construction, but Jepsen rarely makes an effort to explore it more. “So Nice” doesn’t see Jepsen taking full advantage of the funkadelic grooves, almost choosing to meet in the middle and coasting instead of keeping it interesting. We’re seeing Jepsen shift sonically and attempt to tone down the glam and let the instruments express character; unfortunately, keeping it intriguing and having personality aren’t enough to muddle through bumps on the road. “Talking To Yourself” is familiar to “Surrender My Heart,” except with a guitar solo, and “Beach House” does too much by incorporating raw male vocals to shoe-horn the brutal honesty that fails to make an impact. Jepsen’s writing is slightly flawed and visually dull, delivering stereotypical situations: “Boy number twelve had a look in his eyes/Brought up his ex and he started to cry/Told me he loved me the very first night.” It’s rare, but when it’s noticeable, it devalues the individualized greatness of the production.

Lacking smooth transitions, The Loneliest Time has weird shifts between a vibe into something somber or vibrant. It makes sense when looking at its construction; however, it doesn’t have a seamless transition, as she incorporates characteristics of Country-Pop and Synth Pop on the last two tracks. I loved the stripped-down acoustic guitars contrasting the electricity from the electric guitar with pedals, like in the 15 seconds at the start of the last minute of “Talking To Yourself,” capitalizing on an ecstatic solo, further giving something to look forward to past the tedious chorus and familiar sounds. The synth-pop coating offers a bright contrast to the more club-oriented and disco-influenced “Bad Thing Twice” and “Shooting Star,” predominately due to Jepsen’s effectiveness. It makes sense when looking at its construction; however, it doesn’t have a seamless transition, as she incorporates characteristics of Country-Pop and Synth Pop on the last two tracks.

“Go Find Yourself or Whatever” is a Country-Pop song that feels grounded and better than most songs Jepsen has delivered on the album. The captivating melancholy stays in your mind, especially if you stop there. The Loneliest Time ends with a duet/feature performance by Rufus Wainwright on the eponymous track, which continues that melancholy, somber tone but feels displaced as the closer. It doesn’t have captivating grooves and feels like something that could have gotten left off. Though it isn’t what many expected, it still offers a semblance of something refreshing, unlike her Dedicated Side B, which felt like a slightly uninteresting extension of a superior A side. There is enough to enjoy on The Loneliest Time, but it isn’t the strongest effort by Carly Rae Jepsen and is a disappointment in the long run.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2: Review

Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 lacks a track that captivates and tingles the senses of summer’s cadence. When we think of summer, the vibes that radiate are crisp, danceable, smooth, and sometimes percussion-heavy, and with Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1, we got just that with the opening track, “Slide.” The gravitas behind each element is like that first bite of your favorite snack after a long-winded day that doesn’t resonate on Vol 2. There are some decent–at times–solid tracks, but the poor construction from an artistic lens gives us an essence of what could have been otherwise better moments. It’s evident with “Obsessed,” a track that becomes lost in third-rate vocals from Charlie Puth, or opening with “New Money,” which offers a lackluster intro that wastes 21 Savage’s talent. It says a lot about the parallel between albums, and though there isn’t much to it, a few highlights are there for you to pick out and play on repeat.

Though it wasn’t a major standout, Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1 dropped with a dynamic one-two punch to start it off. That first punch,” Slide,” is something that has yet to get reflected in quality since its release. There was this whimsical synergy between Frank Ocean and Migos, along with beautifully incorporated percussion patterns at a minimalist level; there was a reason the mood and vibes equated to grandeur. It had the POP from beautifully delivered melodies and a verse from Frank Ocean, an otherwise surprising collaboration between two different sounds. The closest we get to that feeling that comes midway through the album on “Stay With Me.” It’s a memorable funkadelic-disco track that grows on you the more you listen. At first, it may not acquiesce with your senses, but as you focus, you hear these unique transitions between the different vocal styles of Justin Timberlake, Halsey, and Pharrell. A part of me wished there were more of a connection between it and the 1:24 minute “Part 2,” which would make an elegant and indulgingly longer dance track. Unlike it, others had me questioning the decisions behind each. It begins with a jarring mix between 21 Savage and a synth pop-rap beat where the two don’t blend well, and 21 just feels muted.

After you get past it, presented to you are an array of tracks that don’t aggressively range in quality, but some decisions shift the final outcome. “Obsessed” begins with forgettable vocals by Charlie Puth before Shenseea grabs the steering wheel and makes a powerful argument about removing Puth’s vocals–more so when he delivers a slightly pale and mundane vocal performance in the second half. Similarly, “Somebody Else” contains an imbalance with the potency of the performances/verses, but not enough to make me question the addition of Lil Durk as a foil for Jorja Smith. Durk delivers a smooth flow that blends with the production, but his verse isn’t as captivating, teetering more on decent comparatively to the various rappers who tackle this subject. It isn’t offensively bad and meshes well with the vibe, but it isn’t anything profound. Jorja Smith’s vocals have beautiful consistency, but it doesn’t get used well. It’s like “Potion,” which reminds us of Young Thug’s chameleon-like nature as he offers a great partnership with Dua Lipa. Unfortunately, their talent gets misused over an uninteresting EDM/Post-Disco Pop track.

Though Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 isn’t all confusing decisions and lackluster mixes, some highlights round out the tracklist. From “New To You” to “Nothing More To Say,” there is a crisp progression of tracks that offer something of quality, whether its the 80s R&B/Dance nuance of the former or an absorbing hype track in “Ready or Not,” which stays on a steady wavelength, agreeing with the kind of intensity the songs after offer. Among this string of tracks is the aforementioned “Nothing More To Say,” a definitive highlight that brings forth the strengths of all involved instead of plastering prevalent artists and seeing if they can make it work. The latter is evident with the lackluster concoctions we hear at the beginning and end, whether from production or artists involved. It’s particularly disheartening when Calvin Harris brings along Pusha T and fails to meet in the middle, further becoming a middling closer after two more forgettable tracks. It’s a cluster of mediocrity that never sees the light and instead keep shifting the faulty one with older, worn, but slightly effective ones.

Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 isn’t anything to write home to, especially as it leaves you feeling mum toward the whole listen. It felt more like a chore than anything else, and we’re left thinking about how it went wrong. And that’s because it comes across as something pushed through fan pressure allowing it to not flow naturally like the first. However, that’s also an issue he had calling the first Vol. 1, which in turn caused more hype and demand to reflect that hunger, and it’s safe to say I was not satisfied.

Rating: 3 out of 10.