Rauw Alejandro – Saturno: Review

After delivering an exuberant delicacy of sounds on Vice Versa, Rauw Alejandro returns with new and expansive soundscapes that shroud over typical reggaeton tracks mixed within. There is no denying Alejandro’s allure of the electronic genre as a whole; from sounds that evolved from regions and eras, Alejandro is using it as an influence during this ascension as a master of the dance floor. He’s finding himself amongst the stars, taking us inside this futuristic hive where reggaeton grows beyond the perreo and dembow, allowing itself to be something grandiose. Saturno, or Saturn, is taking us through varying levels, or rings, surrounding the core aspects of the album and delivering many danceable heaters. Though it’s easy to understand the lyricism you’ll get from reggaeton artists: danceable, flavorful tunes focusing on sex and seduction, amongst similar themes within that realm – it isn’t all black and white, and the depth brought about by luscious melodies and fruitful choruses and verses make it a bewilderingly fun ride with a few missteps along the way.

Saturno, by all accounts, aims to deliver futuristic overtures and undertones, whether through the production or from the vocals, to take us to the stratosphere of his mind, where we see how he musically thinks. It excels at that and some; it’s an album where the essence of reggaeton isn’t lost, but the electronic avenues he takes are astronomical, no pun intended. Sometimes you’re getting hints of dancehall, sometimes Miami Bass or EDM, but the overall vibe leaves you in a trance where you aren’t noticing your body grooving. Though I can’t speak to how you motion per tempo, the transitions between tracks are smooth – save for the interludes/skit. But the lavish futurism expressed through the eyes of a reggaeton artist getting past conceptual pop norms and taking his music to new heights. We’ve heard it done before with the disco and funk elements of Rauw Alejandro’s last album, Vice Versa. Here, he’s taking that influence from the transitional period where Disco became more Post-Disco/House/Electronica with an essence of life with his vision as he runs the pop gambit. 

It predominately flows like a steady river with no rapids; however, that isn’t to say there are bumps along the way, with certain rocks (tracks) spotting up that make you shift, aiming to avoid it, even though it’s still there. But the way these sounds continuously expand and express visual splendor – you hear it from “Verde Menta,” “Corazón Despeinado,” and “Dime Quen?” – it’s an electrifying EDM track, resonant of the late 80s, early 90s Eurodance, an adequate but rudimentary EDM/Reggaeton hybrid, and luscious Miami Bass, respectively. But with that more standard track in the middle, the surrounding songs keep it afloat as Alejandro’s melodies continue to capture that futuristic aesthetic.

Unfortunately, Saturno sometimes retreads particular rhythms and sounds in reggeaton that doesn’t grip you, like on “Lejols Del Cielo” or “Ron Cola,” which barely grows beyond the straight line it follows. Additionally, there is a moment that feels like off-choices in the tracklisting – the skit near the end doesn’t add anything toward the overarching futuristic theme, more so acting like a hype-centered bridge between sections of tracks. It doesn’t fit like two previous interludes with viscerally pungent beats. Its translucent nature allows it to absorb these dark yet luminous synths into its ecosphere, where the engagement is high, and its futuristic tech shines through. In “Más De Una Vez,” we hear these laser synths shoot in the backdrop and through the stars of its Electronic/Reggeaton core. We get the essence of this through varying tracks, as his producers use it to envelope more than its core genre complexions, like on “Dejau,” which adds notes of Afrobeat or “De Carolina,” and its use of light industrial electronica. It isn’t like Vice Versa, where the influx of pop grandeur laid a smooth path of consistency, where you couldn’t help but keep it on a loop. 

Saturno is lavish and inspiring, though it’s a little far from perfect. Rauw Alejandro carries an identity he vigorously puts forth as producers eloquently build these electrifying beats with him. Though that isn’t to say it’s perfect, a few issues here and there causes it to lose traction as this steady locomotion of dance bravado. But most times, Alejandro is winding up and delivering a fast one, melodically, almost allowing for the sidesteps to become afterthoughts. They are still there and ultimately take away from the levels this could have reached. It makes a splash and is ready to fire us up as winter dawns, even if it isn’t to the highest temperature, like a 2000s Sean Paul song.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Flume – Palaces: Review

Flume’s production styles fluctuate and replicate a sense of competency, sometimes extending beyond and giving us a wider world of great electronic music. It is evident with past releases, Skins and Hi This Is Flume, and is similarly the case on his new album, Palaces. Unfortunately, it’s poorly conceived, confining itself in experimental lanes of industrial and pop complexions. Flume doesn’t extend beyond his reach. It leaves you feeling empty due to Palaces keening in too much on developing atmosphere and less on constructing something more elevated and vibrant. Getting lost in its sound, it stumbles over poorly constructed tracks with some featured artists and poor cohesion, but a few stood out amongst the 13-tracklist.

Flume is known for creative shifts in production, sometimes creating these dynamic sounds that elevate the plateau his music gets placed. We hear these shifting styles fluctuating core elements of pop and experimental/IDM (intelligent dance music) electronica without great contrasts and instead becomes jarring and off-putting. It’s more so within individual tracks, which it tries to create these unique hybrids without much of a payoff. Occasionally working with certain features, it’s heightened, working more fluidly when Flume comes at these tracks working solo. He offers a sense of nuance to the styles getting incorporated, specifically with how it’s deconstructed to give you a natural feel of the instruments. We hear this beautiful crescendo through tracks like “Jaspers Song” and “Go” while maintaining a grounded sense of musicality. 

But there is nuance to these solo tracks as Flume feels right in his element. He leaves you with this unique pacing that allows you to break apart the layers and straddle onto them as the music whisks you away. The ethereal weight of the sounds is keen on Flume’s strengths instead of creating an overbearing presence with flummoxing styles. Instead of wrought techniques like on “Only Fans,” we are given elegant cadence in the sequencing of tracks like “DHLC.” It isn’t unlike some with features that lose sight of the bigger picture, specifically as Flume tries to emulate without effect.

From the beginning, Palaces doesn’t offer much with the featured artists. There are moments of grandeur where it doesn’t stifle smooth transitions, but it predominantly left me waning on a vibe with distorted IDM that doesn’t fit the tonal direction. It separates the greatness of “Hollow” from the poorly constructed “Highest Building.” “Hollow” has smooth transitions between drops, while “Highest Building” shifts between these starry pop vocals and a slightly off production. Adjacently, there are tracks where its production feels to be mirroring styles from other artists without coming across as natural. “Only Fans,” in particular, tries to bring that energy and virtuoso of an Arca record, failing to do so on various ends, especially with its weak concept. And “Say Nothing” feels like a typical Tiësto track without a captivating progression of sounds. There are mediocre moments that never stood out, becoming just distant memories.

Some of the features on Palaces come and go, like its lackluster production. They don’t come with oomph despite meshing beautifully with the sounds. As they align with the style, the artist becomes complacent since they don’t make but break the track as it turns it into an empty, substanceless plate. Though four of the eight features come and boast the production, creating great tracks that beautifully encapsulate the vibe Flume is spearheading. Including “Hollow,” there is “I Can’t Tell,” “Escape,” and “Sirens” are others that try to break the mold and create these larger than sounds, albeit not being that special. “I Can’t Tell” and “Sirens” bring an overwhelming sense of creativity as Flume tries to stray far from the norm. “Sirens” does something spectacular with the IDM qualities that it transfixes you in a world of wonders. Similarly, “I Can’t Tell” properly blends EDM and IDM qualities as they transition between each other. It adds depth to LARUEL’s elegant melodies.

There isn’t much to Palaces to recommend, albeit the few tracks highlighted. The highs are exponentially high, but the lows feel like being stuck in a broken half-empty pool. It’s astronomically low. It isn’t as concise or constructively intuitive. It’s just there, something you can push off to the side while checking out other electronic artists like Dezza.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Swedish House Mafia – Paradise Again: Review

When it comes to supergroups in music, as fans, you won’t always get what you expected. Talent is derivative when you have multiple great minds working together, and they still deliver an album or song that is forgettable. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again. Though one could forgive giving a benefit of the doubt, Until Now mix of remixes and originals never felt like it had a concrete direction. They had the hype and great music and continue to do so, but in the end, unless bias flows through veins, Paradise Again is another collection of forgettable music. So for every few great songs we get, there are momentous duds that sound half-written. Prior to its release, thoughts lingered, like are we getting a similar flop like Until Now or something refreshing for 2022? Unfortunately, so. Paradise Again has some solid songs, but a predominant lack of energy to grow beyond the standard keeps it from being anything more than an alright album.

The three artists who make up Swedish House Mafia, Axwell, Steve Angelo, and Sebastian Ingrosso, have two sides to their artistry, and both on the craft side. As live mixers and performers, they are some of the best, but as producers and writers, they tiptoe a line between blandness and an illusion of dreary-shadowy ambiance coded in this style of Electronic/House music. As producers, they are 50-50, usually hitting when they create a lavish pop coating, like on 2012’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and or 2021’s “Moth To A Flame.” Paradise Again isn’t devoid of them, and of the ones we get, most end up being great. Some include the vibrant EDM track “Heaven Takes You Home” and the darkly nuanced electro-pop “Another Minute.” The earwormy vocals match the energy–and elevate–the production’s impact.

Of their four singles released in anticipation for Paradise Again, “Moth To A Flame” and “Lifetime” are two that left an immediate impact. “Lifetime” blends melancholic R&B drum beats (subtle), and vocals, with contrasting dreamy and dreary synths. It shifts from some boorish sounds not too far back or forward in the tracklisting. Similarly, “Moth To A Flame” builds a beautiful synth-pop foundation and finds home within bleak overtures that Swedish House Mafia weaves together with The Weeknd’s ambient vocals. Despite hearing and understanding the context of their soundscape, the quality of music is rarer. Sure, parts of the album are grand and progressive; however, it slips with the one-dimensional like “Mafia” or lacks energy, like A$AP Rocky on “Frankenstein.” This lack of energy gets heard during the last third; you get entwined with conservative House and EDM, and you are left feeling underwhelmed–like other singles, “It Get’s Better” and “Redlight” with Sting, which came and went without leaving a burning sound bite in my head. 

“It Get’s Better” gets finicky with the percussion. It’s too warped into this need to get progressive that it loses touch on what was working for the first minute. It’s a rough EDM track with dronish snares and a stop-gap of jarring cowbells midway. However, “Redlight,” which follows suit, also has a similar shift mid-song, but it’s smoother as it retains its sonic motif of dreary ambiance. Interloping the first verse and chorus of “Roxanne” by The Police, Sting’s rerecorded vocals diminish its effectiveness. It has this essence where it would have worked better as an instrumental, like “Paradise Again,” which perfectly delivers a darkened ambient progressive house core. For “Redlight,” it could have had a little more life, and instead, I’m left drowning out Sting or skipping further down the tracklist. 

Swedish House Mafia, as producers, don’t bring many unique ideas into the fray, often showing both hands: one where all plain linings of EDM/House running through their veins, and another that offers more to build off. Think of it like Poker, where one of their hands contains a set of pairs, while you have a classic straight flush in the other. It’s evident how perplexing the differences between what works and what doesn’t are when it comes to the soundscape they give us. But when it comes to the good, and sometimes lavish, songs, they are shifting away from the standard complexions of EDM, like on “Can U Feel It,” or the wrought-house track “19:30,” and shift to production stacked with these various elements from other genres. Upon listening, you’d wish they had consistent energy flowing through their veins, and we’d get more stuff like “Lifetime,” but unfortunately, we’re left shuffling between a few half-assed ideas and superb works of music.

Like the final song, “For You,” the length of Paradise Again is overlong. The 67-minute album could have gotten trimmed down for a fluent progression in sound, but it’s disjointed and underwhelming. Though there are a lot of great tracks on here, and “Lifetime” will see an “exhausting” amount of replays, I won’t find myself returning to it from start to finish anytime soon.

Rating: 5.5 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. 

Artist Profile – Nora Van Elken

Nora Van Elken may not be the most well known amongst her peers, but she has been exponentially growing uniquely within the otherwise colorful deep house and downtempo music. She breaches different territories by allowing her own distinct vocals to have a sense of confidence within, specifically in her debut album and covers, as well as having a beautiful array of conceptual projects. But amongst the plethora of music she has put out, there are few projects of note to check out by this unique house artist, who on her own has made some bold moves in the music she made covers for and remixed, as well changing her musical landscape to be adjunct with the culture that influences it.

The self-titled Nora Van Elken is her only work that has a consistent sonic landscape that emboldens EDM styles. The illustrious percussion notes take you on a trip through an elegant array of one-two steps and upper body dance movement-music, though at times falling into a wrought dance music consistency; it is a unique piece of work that shows an organic evolution, if you start with this and head in a chronological direction. Some of the qualities from the EDM genre have transitioned over, specifically in the elevated and polished percussion pattern, that is mixed prominent in the sonic landscape of soul and jazz/funk music.

The percussion has been a prominent feature; specifically in the way the genre has been able to create more melodic depth into the kind of sonic infusions we get, especially within the singles and EPs she has released as well. The percussion is oftentimes a more chill and relaxed genre (comparatively), but the focus on the percussion to keep a consistent dance vibe, even if you’re doing it alone in your room. And other times her music carries a vibe that doesn’t fully bring you to that headspace, instead giving you an array of elegant production for a calm summer day at that park or sitting on your porch, under an awning, in the middle of a rainy day. That is what her two subsequent albums are.

Skyforest, the follow up to her self titled debut, brings a kind sonic energy that evokes styles in-line with sounds that seems to reveal more unique constructs of a deep house and EDM that is focused more on atmosphere than forcing a dance structure. The smooth transitions are what keep it deterring itself from her vision. And though not every track is perfect on this LP there is a lot to like. One beautiful standout is “Borneo,” which bridges the two different sonic atmospheres by a simple overlay in the synths at the beat drop. It is very different and at times similar to this followup, Sakura, where at times on Skyforest you’ll hear some organic and authentic forest sounds that bring more life, like how Sakura does with Japanese music.

Sakura influence lies in the unique sonic textures of cultural Japan, like high-pitched flutes, somber piano keys, and string orchestration adjunct to their style of musical theater. It is one of the more calm LPs in her collection as its focus goes beyond a consistent sound, and is an overall sonic concept, like Skyforest. It’s hard to make something profound and perfect with a sonic concept because it requires the same, if not more meticulous attention to detail as opposed to artists who do lyrically conceptual work, where the instrumental comes as slightly second nature. Sakura is her best project out of the three albums, mostly because of the intricate detail behind the production and sticking true to the concept in a nuanced manner. 

Outside of her three albums, she has, on Youtube and unfortunately not on streaming platforms, a deep house mixtape filled with a plethora of mixed and unreleased material, that is in part a gift for the fans and as well a slight showcase of her technical and musical skills. This is similarly the case with the choices she makes for covers and remixes, which have brought about a different confidence in her artistry by taking on some high-power pop hits like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.” They may not be everyone’s cup of tea because of the house direction to the original instrumentations, but they don’t take the stage away from the key parts of the instrumentation that make those tracks well known, like the acoustic guitar in the chorus of “Here Comes The Sun.”

Nora Van Elken was a great surprise to discover as the Breaking Dance playlist on Apple Music and diving into her music was an astronomical feeling of wows and musical glee. The way she mixes and orchestrates her music shows continuous promise as she grows and hopefully becomes a mainstay in house and electronic music.

Porter Robinson – Nurture: Review

Porter Robinson has always stood out from some of the newer electronic artists emerging today. He has this ear for music where he can learn, adapt, and create these intricate electronic numbers that keep you in somewhat of a consistent awe. His debut Worlds showed his versatility with its array of bass heavy electronic music, most of which stemmed from a genre he coined as complextro (glitchy heavy bass at 130 BPM). His follow up, Nurture, is a complete shift for Porter as he breaks down barriers and delivers an array of beautifully complex and melancholic production, steering away from aspects of the complextro – sonic structure.

Nurture is in many ways different from Worlds. With a grounded concept it keeps a consistent sonic tone, even when it branches out with some naturalistic glitch-pop. This is a testament to Porter Robinson’s intuitive style flourishes from the production’s key attention to distinguishing itself from the rest. However, the one constant that brings a different light to this is the use of organic nature sounds as the sprinkles for this electronic sundae. 

The standard BPM is a different shift, as well, with an uptick in its varying levels for the track. It mostly keeps at the average pop levels of 115, but sometimes it flows up and down with loops, like a beautifully scenic roller coaster trail; and the cars is the engineer showing, or in this case, hearing the final products. The way it blends, like that, allows the atmospheric overtones to emboss itself with glittery synths and glitchy electronic analog instruments, specifically on the track “Wind Tempos,” which is an escalating instrumental of pure glitch-bliss.

While some tracks, like “Wind Tempos,” and “Get Your Wish,” break from some songs of the stylistic consistencies, like atmosphere, for a delivery of unique sonic constructs that make up Nurture – i.e. glitch-pop and electro-pop. It allows the creative freedom to breathe through Porter Robinson’s mind as the music catches our attention quickly through a hidden power, known as melancholy. “Mirror,” boasts that complex layering with key twists on the verses that elevates the dance status, keeping it in line with some of the other danceable numbers on the album. 

Nurture’s array of full-bodied highlights of commanding swoons from piano keys and synths, like on “Look At The Sky.” Porter modulates his voice to add a layer above his keen falsetto to deliver a beautiful electronic ballad about hope, particularly with the stress coming from comparisons to the early predecessors. Ironically, the album demonstrates a new level of quality from an artist with immense potential; and this album might fall into being a hidden gem for the ever-growing landscape, specifically with the varying genre-bending sounds that sometimes contrast the mood evoked from the lyrics. 

“Something Comforting” mirrors a beautiful sentiment to the kind of struggles a human being can go through, even when we only see them at a surface layer. The track’s production has an escalating tempo that leads to a dynamic drop, which plays into the comfort zone (sonically) that Porter puts himself in with his piano. Like some of the other tracks, this gives us a solid collection of tracks that work for sad-dancing, mood-trends, and maintaining a nuanced production landscape.

From “Sweet Time” to The Kero Kero Bonito lead-sampled track, “Musician,” the vocals become a dominating focus, as the production fits with the ambiance of the sonic themes. The melancholic approach carries over on a lot of tracks, including “Sweet Time,” and that is where Porter’s vocals shine. It doesn’t match wits with the vibrant vocals from Sarah Bonito on “Musician,” but that is due to the modulations lacking depth as we don’t hear his pain and anguish, as opposed to “Something Comforting.” Fortunately the album ends on a high note with two glamorous hybrids in “Unfold,” which has elements of EDM and House, and “Trying To Be Alive,” which is a beautiful sad-dance closer that contains elements of synth-pop and EDM.

Nurture shows an artist growing into his own, after contemplating about his person and the kind of music he makes. It is more adjunct than Worlds when building upon themes and sonic structures and it shows with Porter Robinson’s wall breaking on the grassy plains. This album has a designed mood, and it delivers it with enough consistency and virtuoso to keep afloat amongst the other electronic artists with bigger platforms.

Rating: 8 out of 10.