Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer Vacation

Miley Cyrus has excelled whenever she attempts new and refreshing within the pop landscape, even if it doesn’t all translate. It’s been that way since her fantastic pop record, Bangerz, continuing through subsequent albums and an EP. Whether it’s the electronic thrill of She Is Coming, island-country-pop vibes from Younger Now, or electro-pop-punk complexions on Plastic Hearts, Miley Cyrus continued to shine during the highs. She finds new ways to create with different styles, like the lavish dance-punk-pop “Night Crawling” off Plastic Hearts. It continues with Endless Summer Vacation, her latest release; we hear Cyrus continuing to try a different aesthetic to Disco/Dance elements of her last album, where it lives more to a summer vibe instead of night club bangers. The distinct style guides you via luscious production, buoyed by the eccentric guitar and percussion layers, keeping the sequencing of tracks focused and on a direct line of listenable consistency. Unfortunately, the songwriting doesn’t match the potency of the varying sounds, feeling more consistent with the choruses and melody structures.

Endless Summer Vacation starts on a high, diluting the Post-Disco influence we heard potently on Plastic Hearts with more lax Dance-Pop/Disco elements like on “Flowers.” It’s a good song that delivers an uninteresting production that maneuvers typical pop angles and solid verses and a vibrant catchy chorus to keep it afloat; it’s after where you get a significant run of tracks eclipsing beyond standard pop tunes. The overhead drives home the strength of the many songs in the first half, like the production, like “Rose Colored Lenses” or “Handstand.” They bring this electrifying energy contrasting the more summery and slightly bubbly “Flowers.” It’s like Cyrus dipped the former tracks into a rejuvenation chamber, only bringing them out after getting supercharged with luscious synths. It gets boasted by Miley Cyrus’ consistent performances that keep the focus high, even when the writing can sometimes be bland, like with “Muddy Feet” and “Wildcard.” They contrast each other thematically, wherein one speaks about wanting love, despite being a wildcard; the other focuses on cheating within a relationship – their attempts at creating analogies and metaphors don’t come as strong, and you’d prefer the more direct approach.

It all gets boasted by Miley Cyrus’ consistent performances that keep the focus high, even when the writing can sometimes be bland, like with “Muddy Feet” and “Wildcard.” They contrast each other thematically, wherein one speaks about wanting love, despite being a wildcard; the other focuses on cheating within a relationship – their attempts at creating analogies and metaphors don’t come as strong, and you’d prefer the more direct approach. Bibi Bourelly, Sara Aarons, or Justin Tranter can’t add much to the depth, leaving much to keeping a sensational chorus to boast the emotional importance of Miley Cyrus’ performances. Her vocals triumphantly glide through the sounds, which never taper off while bringing a smooth cadence through the melodies and harmonies. It helps keep the transitions clean and afloat. 

When it transitions to a more pop-country/folkish “Thousand Miles” from a more synth-pop-heavy “Rose Colored Lenses,” you hear the smoothness by playing with the levels of specific instruments. It’s got me hooked despite these moments of her directness to themes of regret and optimism. With various producers, it can be hard to find balance on an album, especially when it tries to incorporate different styles, like when the pop-rock cadence of “You” after “Thousand Miles” before eventually rearing back into the electric “Handstand.” The consistent tonal rhythm, where it doesn’t stray too far from what it wants to be. But what these producers bring keeps you engaged throughout by bringing something new to the table. Past producers like Mike-Will-Made-It, a recurring producer since her Bangerz days, carry the right touch with the percussion on “Thousand Miles,” “Violet Chemistry,” and synths on “Muddy Feet,” becoming a driving force for their greatness.

Despite many tracks having various producers, there are two instances where producers tackle productions individually, like Maxx Morondo on “Handstand” or BJ Burton on “Island.” They get enveloped in aesthetics without teetering far from the center. “Island” is a beautiful antithesis to the more mundane “Flowers,” as it lets its tropical influence become a base layer, while Cyrus and the drums keep the subtle flow intact. “Handstand” brings a lot of synth-wave elements, maintaining a vibrant atmosphere to coat Cyrus’ vocals and the fantastic synths and glitchiness between verses. However, all the producers seamlessly create productions that have synergy. Not all, but some bleed out of their comfort zone – it’s ever so rare you’ll hear an artist like Brandi Carlisle singing over Mike-Will-Made-It drums. Predominantly produced by Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson of Harry’s House, they balance between styles, where the summery aesthetic becomes more of a plus and less so the goal, especially with the predictable but great piano ballad to close Endless Summer Vacation.

Miley Cyrus brings a quick breath of fresh air that isn’t poised to make you second guess, but as it replays in your head, some of its weakness become more glaring. It can turn decent songs into forgettable moments in the tracklist. Hindering what could be a seamless pop album drags a little near the end, but that significant high with “Island” and “Wonder Woman” as closers are beyond fantastic. Definitely give this a spin, even if it’s lesser than her last album, Plastic Hearts.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Raye – My 21st Century Blues: Review

Raye is a reminder that music is starting to transcend beyond getting defined by a monochromatic-core genre. We’ll still see artists releasing genre-specific albums, but Raye delivers an impactful review that is off in varying lanes on her debut, My 21st Century Blues. It goes through various avenues of styles, and often, you’ll get caught by surprise. One minute you’ll hear Raye rap – the next, she’s delivering a stellar dance-pop – then some trip-hop or house, it’s a treasure trove of limitless possibilities, and it gets boasted by a poignant personal narrative she takes us through. She sets up this intimate setting – we hear her get up on an old club stage, speaking to an audience before embarking on a significant musical journey that makes us dance, feel, and witness harmonious brilliance in effect. Creating this visual allows the shifting sounds to come with a positive punch, further making you love how fantastic this album is from front to back.

My 21st Century Blues has innate consistency, weaving through contrasting and detailed styles that expand beyond pop. The first few tracks have this gripping sense of musical grandeur, which boasts the impact of the songwriting, like the trip-hop heavy “Hard Out Here,” which sees Raye reflecting on her bleakest moments and weaving infectious confidence about making it out here. So it’s safe to say I was immediately mesmerized by the production; it bolsters Raye’s performance to showcase the emotional density she brings. It reflects in Raye’s melodies, which shift from the more atmospheric Dance-Pop aesthetic of Euphoric Sad Songs to unearthed complexions within and adding some hip-hop flows. We’re listening to that lyrical potency from Euphoric Sad Songs growing into naturally seamless synergy between the beats and performance, creating this larger-than-life book with each page centering on the blues. Raye isn’t sugar-coating the lyrics, coming at it directly while being able to paint the scene for the situation or story she chooses to tell. 

On My 21st Century Blues, Raye sings about varying topics like relationships, getting spiked at the club, body dysphoria, mental escapism, environmental awareness, sexual assault, etc. The songwriting is cognitively steering conversations about situations that happen to many while retaining that essence of sad dancing that artists within pop try to navigate but sometimes fail to deliver. Artists like Ava Max and Madison Beer tend to follow this wave without making something profound, but Raye aims to let their distinct styles flood the stage effervescently. It’s through this tenacity to build a foundation before settling into the story that allows these themes about consent, maturity, doomed relationships, etc., within the complex structure of the production. We hear a clean separation between the sound and vocals, and you sense Raye’s musical aptitude – she co-produces many tracks, predominantly with Mike Sabbath – producer of songs like “Don’t Go Yet” by Camilla Cabello and “Hurts Like Hell” by Charli XCX.

When it comes to the unique contrasting routes Raye takes, “Black Mascara” and “Escapsim” come to mind, or “The Thrill is Gone” and Environmental Anxiety.” “Black Mascara” and “Escapsim”  embody two different zones while seamlessly transitioning, despite the separation in style. The former illustrates this centralized Deep-House core while Raye overlays these luscious pop and trip-hop-influenced flows and melodies. The latter centers more on Electro-Pop and Hip-Hop, using more drums and letting them create this captivating pattern that stabilizes the electronic overtones, and the way they transition is smooth. The way “Escapism” blends into “Mary Jane” opens up the room to strings, which then get elevated on the following track, “The Thrill is Gone.” It goes the same for Raye’s more subdued ballad-like performances with contrasting styles, like the summer disco and funk-influenced “Worth it” to the piano-pop, singer-songwriter approach of “Buss It Down.” It’s awe-inducing.

Unfortunately, it isn’t all fluid. Though the track “Environmental Anxiety” is snug in the tracklist, it feels distant compared to the more personal elements of others. Raye does sing about anxiety, but she relegates most of the subject within the confines of climate change. I’m not a climate change denier, but the content doesn’t totally align with the depth of the others. That isn’t to say it’s a poor song, but it doesn’t hit me with that kind of oomph like “Hard Out Here” or “Ice Cream Man.” Without it, the album would be more well-rounded and let the visual of an intimate stage performance setting come off flawlessly. It’s a song (where in this setting) that feels panderish instead of natural.

My 21st Century Blues is fantastic, for lack of a better term. It weaves varying stories and production fluidly that the performance feels more profound within the atmosphere created by the spoken vocal at the beginning and end. It left in awe, swiftly yearning to hit replay and let it sway me all over again. It would have been perfect if “Environmental Anxiety” didn’t get included, but I can’t harp on it when it isn’t even that bad as the album moves from start to finish without as much of a halt in sonic cohesion.

Rating: 9 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.

Beyoncé – Renaissance: Review

The hype behind Beyoncé’s new album Renaissance matches and, for many, has exceeded expectations. Though it’s to no surprise, as Beyoncé has always directed her vision with bravado, incorporating varying subtle notes within the shrouds of the surface genres it imbues. Taking on the current nostalgic disco trend, Beyoncé evolves past certain standard genre constraints today and takes new approaches, like shifting the dynamics between eras of evolution–Disco–House–Dance. With streaming, Renaissance contains subtle crossfades, which delivers a more cohesive mix without the DJ. Using this direction, Beyoncé develops her craft to fit the mold of what she’s giving, and specifically, with the help of her producers, Renaissance is a powerhouse. It isn’t perfect, with “America Has a Problem” becoming entwined within the confines of the style and losing itself in the immersion right before a barrage of great tracks to close.

When we were given a taste with “Break My Soul,” a part of me knew something special, and as you continue through the album, it’s just that. From the beginning, you’re in a skyrocketing trend upward with clearer transformative grooves. It has varying transitions that formulate this essence of being on the dance floor, letting the sounds reflect the kind of dance we do. From “Alien Superstar” to “Energy” and again between “Church Girl” and “Virgo’s Groove,” it aligns the album to such greatness, and it’s in the finite details. It isn’t to say there are stunted transitions surrounding them, but they exhume the distinct identities that let them work solo or within the near seamless play from start to finish. We get varied factions–from the clean-cut dance track to something more structured toward core-House sounds, like the sonic structure of “All Up In Your Mind,” which bridges House with Bass within the vocal complexions. It’s to ease yourself into the energetic synths and heavier percussion that it envelops.

But Beyoncé brings more to the table than seamless transitions, provacious lyrics, and contextual understanding. We get some thorough tracks assembled with more standard structures, like “Summer Renaissance” and “Move” with Tems and Legend/Icon Grace Jones. They get incorporated into the refrain, chorus, and interlude, creating remarkable synergy between the three; it allows Beyoncé’s words on “Church Girl” to ring proper. Those words: “Me say now drop it like a thottie, drop it like a thottie (You bad)/Church girls actin’ loose, bad girls actin’ snotty (You bad).” Spoiler alert; it does, and as you keep the moves going, you start to hear more engaging sound shifts within the beat. It’s an attractive constant keeping you on your toes, especially if you aren’t a Beyoncé fan. Another example is the standout “Alien Superstar,” a House/Dance-Pop hybrid that shifts focus based on section; we hear it when Beyoncé flips between House-centric melodies before shifting to more Dance and Pop with the choruses.

Albums these days aren’t concrete with the genres they are exhuming, and the elements that get incorporated into them deliver fantastic blends that excel its prerogative. Similar to how “Alien Superstar” shifts, others do so within auspicious tangential touches that evolve the surface layer of the sound. The range can be subtle, often more apparent, like “Energy,” where we get shifts between House and Afrobeat subtexts, evolving the contextual bravado we are already hearing. With Beyoncé’s focus and strength at weaving empowering notions in between some flexes and offering a more triumphant output–they carry a duality that allows you to envelop uprooted themes of self-worth, sex, and hedonistic undertones within the pleasure of having it all. It’s potent on “Thique” and “Pure/Honey.” 

Unfortunately, Renaissance isn’t perfect all the way through. It doesn’t necessarily stumble, but one track becomes lost within the confines of the mix at first, and when you return, it turns out to be more of a redundant dud, and that is “America Has a Problem.” It contains an intriguing idea: Beyoncé goes meta, bringing an understanding of her pull in pop, adding a parallel to cocaine, where its popularity resided within clubs that played Disco and later House/Dance/Post-Disco music. It isn’t lyrically strong, often feeling like Beyoncé is retreading past tonal sentiments over an electrifying beat that simply overpowers it. Through flows and melodies, it mirrors elements of “Thique” without enough emphasis on its themes. It’s the only straightforward blemish amongst the 16 tracks, though there are little ticks that didn’t suitably acquiesce with my sense; it most likely will for you, the adequate barebones consistency of “Church Girl.” On the plus side, the latter had me drop it low like a thottie like Beyoncé tells us to.

Renaissance is a fantastic body of work that shows Beyoncé’s own understanding of the genres/sounds she works with and creates auspicious synergy. For the longest, you’re vibing, grooving to these energetic and captivating percussion patterns, and then you take a slight detour down an alley before getting an incredible send-off. It then repeats, and you continue to strive off these sounds, making the most out of your summer now that self-empowering booty popping music is getting new dishes on the menu. I know I’ll be indulging the rest of the summer, as I know you will too, after listening to Beyoncé’s Renaissance a few times.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

The Weeknd – Dawn FM: Review

We’ve taken an exhaustively fun and thrilling ride from his debut to After Hours; from a front-row seat, we hear The Weeknd encapsulate and transition into 80s nostalgia with composure as the adrenaline rushes high. But The Weeknd, along with co-producers, don’t let nostalgia shroud over the complexities to keep sonic sensibilities modern. Dawn FM continues that, and more effectively. In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.

Fans of The Weeknd are no stranger to his idolization of actor/comedian Jim Carrey and his soft-tender-NPR-like vocals add visceral layers to the slight melancholic sounds for the dance floor. As it transitions from the intro, Carrey’s vocals remind us what’s arriving: an album reminiscent of the deep cuts from the genres from where he’s taking influence. However, more surprises come from its slight detachment from the first single, “Take Me Breath.” 

Calling the sounds of Dawn FM melancholic, I’ll put, my perspective speaks on the vagueness of the sound in comparison to past productions. We’ve heard The Weeknd flow in both directions – melancholic or heightened pop – and there is less of the latter. However, It’s something which this isn’t devoid of, evident with “Take My Breath,” produced by Max Martin and Oscar Holter. At first, you get a whiff of the upbeat 80s electronic and new wave dance styles – from the riffs to the synths, I was left in awe by the complexities within the production. It’s bombastic and fluid, encapsulating that visceral “Star Boy” energy while embodying different themes. It comes after the darkly-digital electronic track “How Do I Make You Love Me,” as it weaves these hypnotic melodies with the multi-layered production. It’s a testament to the producers and engineers to craft an album, where if you have your transition setting to zero seconds, it brings one constant flow from start to finish.

Despite some of the dance floor coating, it plays like listening to a late-night station focused on delivering danceable vibes while keeping your head afloat through the depth of the songwriting, interludes, and production style. Like I’ve mentioned before, The Weeknd has been through countless trials and tribulations, akin to a consistent lifestyle he has portrayed. He’s never shied away from it, and frankly, we have gotten some of his biggest hits, like “Party Monster” and “Low Life,” from it. However, shit starts coming back around, and he’s finding himself in purgatory lamenting. Like his album cover, interjecting thoughts of his wrongs with little rights create an embodiment of a man stuck in the dark. The potent lyrics are as effective as the melodies, which The Weeknd brings plenty.

“Is There Someone Else?” for example, see The Weeknd reflecting on a nudge that has him seeing his partner finding comfort in someone else after constant fighting within their relationship. On the surface, we hear these regrets, his lack of understanding, and that unbearable weight as he tries to define himself. But one thing kept rattling through my head – how does it weave together in the bigger picture? “Less Than Zero” sees The Weeknd adding another dimension to his person, and part of it comes from understanding both perspectives. On “Less Than Zero,” The Weeknd sings: “Remember I was your hero, yeah/I’d wear your heart like a symbol/I couldn’t save you from my darkest truth of all/I know/I’ll always be less than zero,” which could symbolize a few things – his infidelity or his lifestyle.

The Weeknd isn’t always headstrong, but the production doesn’t sway you in opposing directions. The production for Dawn FM comes primarily from Max Martin, The Weeknd, and Oneohtrix Point Never, with an occasional co-lead from Swedish House Mafia. The latter produces the second single and immediate standout, “Sacrifice.” The dazzling production takes a lot of cues from funk/synth-pop hybrids as it incorporates slick electric guitar riffs with a rustic gloss. Unfortunately, I can’t keep gushing about the album without noting what didn’t work for me: the features. Usually, a Weeknd song with a feature hits, or it doesn’t lower/raise the quality, but on Dawn FM, it’s one for two. Tyler, the Creator comes with a little of column A and column B, while Lil Wayne phases in and out. The album maybe could have flourished brighter if The Weeknd went solo. But that is neither here nor there because the features don’t completely diminish the return.

Dawn FM is nearly perfect, even when it is a little loaded with slightly weak archetypal hybrids near the end and one forgettable feature. I was left transfixed through this concept, and it plays to the strengths of the artist and producers. It will see steady rotation, especially as I, along with other fans, dance the night away.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

ABBA – Voyage: Review

With the number of surprises to come about in the musical calendar year of 2021, a new album by ABBA was not one I’d expect to see – it has been 40 years since their last album, you’d probably never expect ABBA to deliver new music – now, here we are with Voyage, an album the sounds like a culmination of styles, which ABBA dominated at the peak of their popularity worldwide. Ranging from the illustrious variations of synth-pop and disco, ABBA has always been one of the centerfold artists of their genre; unfortunately, having pep isn’t enough for this album to leave a significant stamp on their career and with me. Voyage contains a plethora of ballad-centric synth-pop and the occasional disco laced number; it just ends up becoming slightly forgettable, despite a few songs sticking. 

Over the last 40 years, something became apparent listening to Voyage: the dancefloor disco-pop songs don’t have the same gravitas of some of their biggest hits, like “Waterloo” and “Dancing Queen,” but enough to woo you toward the dance floor. It isn’t to say the sound is devoid of nuances, with the band reflecting some of the visceral energy of the latter with songs like “No Doubt About It” and “Don’t Shut Me Down.” That is where the album reaches the tip of the iceberg, as it starts to hit you with memories of the music you’ve been akin to through generational influence. Sometimes they evoke the ticks, which cause your feet to kick in rhythm, all the while forgetting that it is new ABBA. It’s an album that tries to stay on a steady wavelength, despite waning in quality as it loses focus on what it wants to be.

It may come from the notion that the music contains stylistic influence that has been unreleased since ABBA’s prominence in pop (the 70s). But that is only the case for “Just A Notion,” which contains pieces of the whole – I mean, with the differentiating sounds between pop-ballads and synth/disco-pop, you’d be in disbelief knowing 99% of Voyage contains recordings dating back to 2017. It’s why some of the Disco-laced songs have the kind of dancefloor-like gravitas oozing from the seams with natural fluidity. It mirrors the ballads as well, though a few times, you’re left wondering why it doesn’t have that same feeling.

It isn’t to say that all of the ballads are repetitive and lifeless, but the ones that do make it known. “Little Things” is a lifeless ballad that tunes into emotions of happiness that arise Christmas morning. It has no direction within the big picture as it tries to replicate positivity with a genre that walks in too early and overstays its welcome. It isn’t like the opening track, “I Still Have Faith In You,” which weaves varying layers of vocal inflections from lead singers Agnetha and Anni, who give it a duality between the tender lead-in to the uplifting and hopeful bravado mid-way.

But Voyage is a fun album with plenty of hiccups, and they aren’t hard to ignore as the ballad-centric songs don’t have that emotional grasp from the lyrics. Benny Andersson provides the production with unique touches, especially the more up-tempo songs like “Keep An Eye On Dan.” Themes aside – these songs lack a proper line between what it wants to be and how it wants to reflect it. For the most part, we hear ABBA reflecting over the years as their career has transcended the sonic landscapes at the peak of their era. They are now humbling themselves, paving a path of music that eclipses some of the latent and overstuffed Disco trend evolving in pop. It doesn’t typically work for them when it’s sprinkled influence inside the undertow of the production, instead of giving them an open path to let some songs creep by into rotation, like “Just A Notion.”

“Just A Notion” tackles uplifting and rejuvenating positivity, reflecting on the moods that the music has brought fans throughout the years. In doing so, they give it a fun tongue-in-cheek approach. It makes fun with the notion that their music creates that funny feeling, which grasps you by the hands and soon-after you’re boogie-ing with a smile on your face. It’s a sentiment that breathes its essence amongst a few songs like “Don’t Shut Me Down,” which elevates the bombastic nature of the Disco elements, from the percussion to the twinkling piano keys. Benny Andersson, along with Björn Ulvaeus, demonstrates that they haven’t completely missed a step. The melodies and harmonies are consistently vibrant and encapsulating; unfortunately, they aren’t enough to make this album any more than what it is on the surface – just fine.

Voyage feels like a short voyage, compared to the elevation ABBA’s past work has been, but there is enough to return. There are smooth Disco songs that are matured on the outer while retaining an essence of the ABBA that has swooned us throughout the years, even when they don’t have enough ticks to find a spot in the memory bank currently occupied by 70s ABBA.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

A New Era For The Weeknd – Talking “Take My Breath”

80s nostalgia has been a new trend in pop music that hasn’t fizzled as more artists begin to steer toward it. In 2020, Dua Lipa and The Weeknd embraced it and elevated the sound, further launching them to megastardom. Recently, many artists have begun to embrace this trend and morph with their style, like Marina and her nostalgic shift on Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land. However, many artists haven’t been able to make the kind splash Dua Lipa and The Weeknd. The Weeknd continues to have an impact with his new single, “Take My Breath.” We hear an expansion of his range as we see a dynamic shift from his last album, After Hours, as he conquers a new nostalgic decade.

On After Hours, The Weeknd found proper equilibrium amongst modern styles and the sonic tenacities of pop music in the 80s. From “Save Your Tears” to “Heartless,” you can hear how these young producers have the will to learn and harness a style, further adding weight to their range. Like Mark Ronson mentioned on a recent episode of the podcast, Switched On Pop: while working with Amy Winehouse, he wasn’t aware of the music she wanted to emulate, but he learned, and they made dynamite songs together. The slow and tempered jazz music didn’t fit within his limits of comfortability before, and he makes it work. It makes the production of After Hours stand out more than his previous works. Fortunately, he had Max Martin to polish the electric-nostalgia overtones. 

As one of the most notable pop producers since the 90s, Max Martin has been elevating pop year by year, which is rare to see in a producer. It continues to translate as he blends the synths with bubbly percussion and a groovy bass lick. Co-Producer, Oscar Holter, helps blend layers, which shift the parameters between disco and synth-wave. None of these have been inherent strengths of Max Martin, with Oscar filling in the talent with synths. It makes the production of “Take My Breath” breathtaking as you see masters at work.

Mirroring the style of Eurodance and Electronic music from the 90s, which focused on catchy grooves instead of memorable choruses, has given this song a different platform that it wouldn’t have had. It is like “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap, which perfectly defines this notion of the groove, opposed to the catchy chorus. Like most songs of that caliber, from the 90s, it was about the sound, and we’ve seen it with songs like “Better Off Alone” by Alice DJ. Adding to the nuances of the 90s is an elongated opening that teases the listener before the drop. Its translation throughout the years in pop and electronic music is as dynamic as gun noises in hip-hop production. 

However, underneath these luscious overtones are remnants of 80s synth-wave acts like Nena and John Carpenter. The vibrant synths carry their weight as we embark on this new sonic journey with The Weeknd, which continues to be as transcendent as the few instances on After Hours – “Save Your Tears” and “Too Late.” Like those songs, he grabs what he is given and elevates them to a higher ceiling, especially on the dance floor. I’ve never felt such passion within the confines of its BPM. It isn’t like the bold colors of the dance floors that once ravaged nightclubs during the 70s and 80s. What he does is transfix our muscles to groove to a smooth Michael Jackson-esque groove, and at the end of the day, that’s all we could ever want. 

Assuming the album is similar to the sound of “Take My Breath,” it will be different than After Hours. The Weeknd’s fixation on lights, especially from the stark beauty of Sin City, were mood changers for the music that mixed the gutless partier and the emotional romantic. “Take My Breath” sparks the romantic inside, with temptation and passion fueling his desires. I, for one, cannot wait for the release of The Dawn as he drives home new sensations that come from the lights that shine on you.

Check Out “Take My Breath” wherever music is streaming or on YouTube.

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. 

Discovery – 20 Years Later: Elevation On The Dance Floor

Vibrant instrumentals that dive deep into the roots of music that once elevated the dance floor.

Grooves that never stop. And as much as you want it to stop, your hips keep it going. 

These are some of the many reasons we should always remember the dance floor that Discovery began to inhabit, with varying differences from styles and artists at the time.

From the bells tolling and bass lines on the synth-dominated “Aerodynamic,” to the funkadelic “Harder, Better, Faster,” made it more conventional for artists to dive deeper into their sonic roots. “Night Vision” delivers a melodic uptic in the robotic kinesis that made their image more profound. They incorporate a sample of the guitar riffs that embody 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” into this lowly embodiment of melodic themes in their music, which you can also hear further in decadent “Something About Us.”

Daft Punk bridged a divide that genres have been doing forever – like the shift from a dominant traditional pop – doo-wop hybrid to the more orchestrated and dynamic sounds of rock and roll. They created a bridge centered on the sensationalization in the production of disco/dance-club hits from Billy Ocean and Haddaway and the complexities of the synchronization within rock and roll, specifically from the new wave, pop/art rock and funkadelic areas to weave the sounds we hear on Discovery.

“One More Night,” bursts with disco flair as it evolves the bassline sample from the Eddie Johns track “More Spell On You.” And “Digital Love,” brings a soulful elevation with the sampled keys from George Duke’s “I Love You More.” There are varying samples that elevate the framework exponentially on the album that further down the line electronic music would find ways to make grandeur in their own way.

For Daft Punk, this brought an element of authenticity to their music. The live instrumentations brought some inner respect from the musicheads and loose cannons, while the disco and electronic sounds brought in the younger crowd nostalgic for a time they never lived in. The various instruments envelop the production’s essence in being different. 

This cohesion of sounds created, between the various samples and instrumentals, a hidden norm that allowed many electronic artists to bridge their own gap in pop trends by working with popular artists, both globally and nationally within the United States. This made it easier for the genre to create their own hybrids and start new trends that effervescently grow, like dubstep and folktronica to name a few. A lot of the electronic music in the new age has shifted in many directions and allowing new sounds to be discovered, like the glitch-hop electronic sound of the artist Machinedrum.

Upon the time of Discovery music wasn’t that far off from still the being nostalgic of disco era. A lot of pop records would use isolated sounds and styles to influence the bigger stage. But for most it was less funkadelic and more synth, percussion, and vocal heavy, the latter of which is the reason we get simple lines stuck in our head. So the way Daft Punk shifted some the conventions of the music’s height into new sounds that elevated dance floors globally.

This was Daft Punk’s main contribution in Discovery to the ever growing genre in the US, along with music from artists like Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers, whose big beat sounds has some resonance of the boom-bap percussion of hip-hop and the electronic sounds weaving them into a strong universal club song that can be played almost anywhere. 

So while other artists, like Four Tet, evoked more dialogue in the live jazz and R&B overtones and undertones, they were not dominant names in the club scene in the United States. If you’re walking through Europe in 90s, you’d find people who would know the greatness of artists like Jaydee and Basement Jaxx, while the US you’d find the more vocal-centric work as people are more likely to remember a catchy vocal flow than intricate instrumentations of 1993’s Plastic Dreams by Dutch DJ Jaydee and the 1999 album Remedy by Basement Jaxx.

The thing was that a lot of the electric music that crossed bridges here were not like the aforementioned artists, with some of the more popular club songs being like ATC’s (A Touch of Class) “All Around The World (La La La)” or Eiffel 65’s “Blue.” Eurodance was already a hot commodity here that it was easy to pass those barriers with their simple – electric sounds. This pop standing eventually got the boost from American pop stars like Madonna and Cher, who had two monstrous albums at the end of the 90s, especially Cher and her notable club hit “Believe.”

Allowing them to slowly introduce American audiences to the kind of sounds to expect from these artists from across the sea. We are so mental about having something (in music) that we can repeat vocally that it allows for a melody to stick with instrumentals in our head. But when it is just the instrumentals can make it harder from the detailed layers.

Discovery did not shy away from this and they effectively weaved it into songs “Digital Love,” and “Superhero,” they let the instrumental patterns create that catchy musical memory. The vocals they added on these tracks are finely tuned to with high-pitch distorted vocalizations, that sound more natural the ways artists mostly used autotune on their records.

These stacking sonic elements of Discovery brought about a variety of influential trends in many genres we see today, and specifically the pop genre. They adapted main archetypes of disco into a unique hybrid that sound modern, but at the same time able to camouflage if you were to play it in 1976.

At the end of the day, Discovery can simply be described as one of the most accessible and inspirational albums of the genre that cemented a name for the two robots. It brought new ears to a popular genre in Europe that weren’t glued to cheesy pop overtures and instead let the synths and bass take you away through the colorful dance floor. It is by no means a perfect album either. It’s hard for an album to be objectively perfect, but there is beauty behind the imperfections.

The Digital Love playlist is a culmination of some amazing electronic music, new and old, for you to sink your mind and ears into.