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.

Taylor Swift – Midnights: Review

1989 came and went with Taylor Swift delivering a defining statement as a pop star. We heard and saw the fire slowly growing since “I Knew You Were Trouble” off Red. But after that, we started to hear her cool down with the electronic quirks from Reputation, which we continued to see with the electronic-focused tracks of her subsequent album Lover. Taylor Swift seems to come across as creatively stunted when given beats/production that emboldens a chance for Swift to go beyond linear synth-pop. Midnights, Swift’s latest album, seems to express a happy medium where she can flex beautifully over chill-out electronica production. Unfortunately, after a specific point midway Swift starts to come across as creatively stunted on the lyrical end, losing that spark that makes the first half such a breezy, good vibe. Comparatively, a modest disappointment, Midnights is a step back for Swift, exchanging rich text with rich sounds that outshine the writing. It left me feeling like it was missing that special spark we heard predominantly in the first half.

Midnights is this conceptually driven album that revolves around dreams, nightmares, etc., as Taylor Swift’s creative juices begin to flow post-midnight on sleepless nights. But it isn’t always there. Per usual, Swift is developing these reflective stories, hypotheticals that stumble in the second half, either from the writing or melodic choices that Swift makes. We first hear it as she turns the page with “Vigilante Shit.” Swift has done this type of song before on “No Body, No Crime” with Haim; however, that track had nuance, and “Vigilante Shit” feels like a poor extension of the former. From there, you get shimmers of the downward spiral Midnight turns. “Labyrinth” sees Swift tackling themes of heartbreak and growth past them, though it isn’t as gripping, and Antanoff’s backing vocals add little depth to the already simple written song. Surrounding the shard stumbles along the way, the production stays consistent with sonic motifs, particularly from the low pitches from the synthesizers, Mellotrons, and Wurlitzers. 

Throughout the album, it does leave an interesting impression, though not negative or positive. Midnights is Swift’s 6th album working with Jack Antanoff, a fantastic musician/producer; however, the mystique loses fizzle after a while. So your first thought could be, “when do we get an original project without Antanoff, add a different personality behind the instruments and boards. Though the carbonation lasts longer for Midnights, Swift’s and Antanoff’s writing isn’t as captivating with tracks like “Bejeweled” and “Karma.” “Bejeweled” never feels like an individual product, taking cues from past pop hits by Swift. It treads familiar water over this crisp electronica beat that tackles the idea of shimmer as a sound. “Karma” doesn’t have excellent writing, and with oblique melodies, it becomes more of an afterthought in the long run. In “Labyrinth,” the focus is on the atmosphere, but the random drop near the end, though simple and effective elsewhere, doesn’t have that same impact as if you coasted through a track that emphasized more of an emotional core.

The production of Midnight takes from ideas from three “musical eras” of Taylor Swift, the synth linings of 1989, the electronic intricacies of Reputation, and the lyrical complexities of Folklore/Evermore. However, the height of it comes with potent first from “Lavender Haze” to “Questions…?.” Taylor Swift isn’t relying too much on whimsy and fantasy, like confronting people with her boyfriend Karma, instead reflecting on growth. In the blissful “Maroon,” she reflects on a love story that isn’t sparking with youthful fire and rather a humbling tale of togetherness and loss. The use of maroon as the defining color boasts the complexities of its story, like the color itself, complex hues of brown and red reflecting the complex dynamics of a relationship as they express beyond pure honesty. As it is with most of Swift’s songs on Midnight, themes reflect love through different purviews, culminating in varying lessons learned and emotions exhumed.

“You’re On Your Own, Kid” has us listening to a tale of a young person yearning for love, as if it’s this end all, be all; a crutch if you will. As she wistfully drifts into the night, the detailed writing and resonant melodies open your mind to the emotional truthfulness that hits our protagonist in the song. It continues to transfix you like the tracks that precede it. “Anti-Hero” brings forth the past eras of Swift–ones I’ve mentioned before–the livelier synths of 1989, electronic tones like “Delicate” from Reputation, and the lyrical complexities of the Folklore. It isn’t loquacious, and the auditory hand that grips you closer is tender and smooth, unlike the delivery of later songs. Fortunately, after the mediocrity in most of the second half, Swift grounds back into reality and offers something unique with the last two tracks, particularly “Sweet Nothing.” “Sweet Nothing” is instrumentally simple, mirroring her relationship with Joe Awelyn, deconstructing the importance of understanding and growth–she has finally found someone who hasn’t cared about the fame that comes with dating Swift.

Midnights is a minor step back for Taylor Swift, but it isn’t this albatross that fails to hit the mark. Swift came with direction; however, that won’t always constitute a great album. Though linear and coherently consistent, it doesn’t get elevated to the degree past albums have been, specifically 1989 and Folklore. There is a lot to like here, with some solid repeat appeal. Unfortunately, it left me yearning for something more, especially as I sat there listening to Swift sing and elevate the idea of karma to people from her past.

Rating: 7 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.

We Vibin’ – Live DJ Sets To Listen, and View.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard and read conversations on house music and its re-emergence into the mainstream, highlighting Drake’s latest album and Beyoncé’s latest single as primary examples. And I get it, but house music is far from really breaking that mainstream barrier again like it did in the late 80s and early 90s. They are at a peak where they can make the sound trendy, and once it kicks, the singularity will continue since it’s hard to orchestrate a tangential mix like Dua Lipa’s Club Future Nostalgia. But Drake and Beyoncé are on a hierarchy, especially compared to artists who have made or featured over dynamic electronic and house productions. Drake made it work on his album, and Beyoncé delivered a powerhouse Dance-House hybrid that oozes 90s nostalgia, specifically in the percussion. And despite their status, I have doubts; doubts that it will push to exponential heights as its peak during the 80-90s transitional period. But I hope I’m wrong.

See, it’s a genre with uniquely fantastic quirks that artists of Drake’s caliber needed to bring out styles influenced by House–Jersey Club, Hip-House, and Techno–to sustain transitional fluidity within the pop-sphere and the groove. Most of the time, the tracks were fantastic that they showed Drake’s appreciation for the nuances of the genre. These hybrids or transitional sub-genres have allowed artists to create something unique and wonderful. They often get their biggest hits remixed, but this isn’t a genre that will find itself in the trenches of Hot 100 Radio, specifically with new hits monthly. It’s a tight-knit community that is more than just the production; it’s creating an atmosphere and mixing in real-time.

What’s different for Beyoncé is that she has shown that sense within her new single, “Break My Soul.” I’d love to get into the nitty-gritty, but it’s contextually deep. Albeit my doubts, maybe Beyoncé could, as we’ve seen her bridge genres prior. I just have to wait and see. Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan of Switched On Pop delivered an eloquent and thorough breakdown on their podcast, which you can listen to here: Beyoncé’s House. I’m in a different lane. I love the singularity it can take, but nothing hits like a clean mix. House isn’t singular either, as it has branched into varying subgenres and new stylistic directions, like Trance, Dubstep, Techno, and more. The unique talent of DJs is unbound, specifically due to the more real-time, time-sensitive focus to allow for smooth transitions and an ongoing vibe. Here are some of my favorite sets to check out.

Drake – Honestly, Nevermind: Review

You got to love it when artists experiment or expand beyond a comfort zone, where they deliver ambitious sounds that shift the parameters of what’s to expect as fans. Drake consistently does so, but we’ve never heard him embrace a genre fully and construct an album out of it until his surprise 7th studio album, Honestly, Nevermind, where he delves into the world of electronica, with influence from dance, Jersey Club, and house music. It’s a refreshing direction that avoids some lyrical Drakeisms, like name-dropping locations as a flex, which adds to the intrigue even if it reaffirms Drake’s limitations as a singer. It underwhelms the tracks with lush production from Black Coffee, DJ Carnage, 40, and Vinylz, to name a few. Drake may not always keep us on our tippytoes with complex lyricism in the singing-heavy tracks, but the melodies keep us in a groove, especially with a few rap verses to switch it up.

Teasing us with a clean 37-second intro, Drake delves into what the sound of Honestly, Nevermind will be. The drum machine starts to orchestrate mid-tempo hypnotism with catchy rhythms before the overlays of trancey synths. It’s a recurring motif that gives the best production on the album the best characterizations, like the shift in percussion styles from the ore house-focused “Falling Back” to the Jersey Club-focused “Texts Go Green” and “Flight’s Booked” or the dance-infused “A Keeper.” There’s a constant evolution in each track–whether apparent or subtle–in the second half, Drake enthralls on both ends. Unlike the first half, Drake’s limitations don’t halt him, and its inclusion of slick rap verses offers proper diversity. When “Sticky” plays, the momentum shifts, and the consistency mounts on with tremendous force.

As “Sticky” closes, Honestly, Nevermind continues its slick transitions within and between tracks. Drake flips from a stone-cold Hip-Hop banger to a House-Dance banger in “Massive,” which sees Drake fully engulfing the production and giving us remarkable melodies and sequencing. It fits the characteristics of the kind of House style it wants to embody. Instead of blending it with the other sonic complexions, Drake and producers, Carnage, Klahr, and Zastenke bring a constant rhythm with significant gaps between verses to let the sound breathe. It continues to retain that momentum before shifting back into some lush hybrids. However, these hybrids don’t contain slightly detaching Drake vocals; he blends into the rhythm, giving us a connection we can attach to. He’s crisp, delivering great melodies and making up for the abundance of perspectives about relationships with women, amongst other subjects. It levels my view of Drake’s ability to create meaningful singing-centric verses. 

Drake’s talent for creating extravagant and catchy choruses is unbound–sprinkled throughout the album, he creates a gravitating pull that makes you vibe with the production. Despite the not-so-captivating verses, they fade into a range of melodies, specifically beneath some jarring decisions. In the first half of Honestly, Nevermind, producers Black Coffee and DJ Carnage have a great base they are working from, but their choice of adding rusty bed springs of a $50 Motel bed on top of it drowns out Drake’s writing. In “Calling My Name,” the production starts slow; it’s plain for a dance record, but it shifts in the second half with livelier and more gravitating sounds. Unfortunately, it left me wanting a little more, as it only runs for 2 minutes and 10 seconds. It felt like there could have been more both Drake and the producers could have done to round it out and give another banger.

Drake is riding it solo–save for the final track–an antithesis of Certified Lover Boy, which is flooded with features that it lacks some cohesiveness. But Drake riding it solo has made the issues on Honestly, Nevermind more apparent; however, it doesn’t hinder how it’ll ultimately affect you. It’s an album that guides the listener through a distinct era where he’s evolving his production and vocal choices. It allows the album’s only feature, 21 Savage on “Jimmy Cooks,” to feel fresh and impactful, especially as a closer. The two flourish on the trap-heavy sounds from Tizzle, Vinylz, Tay Keith & CuBeatz, relaying bars that encompass their dominance in the rap game. Drake plays with his past using a double entendre in the title, which acknowledges his time as Jimmy Brooks at Degrassi. It adds to the brevity getting delivered throughout.

Honestly, Nevermind is another definitive turning point for Drake, one where he embraces and grows with the sound of today, giving us an essence that usually never misses–think “Passion Fruit” or “One Dance.” It’s vibrant, oozing moods ranging from the loungey to more dance-vibey while retaining a sense of identity. It makes it an album that’s better than it should have been, especially after Drake’s myriad of mediocrity between Scorpion and Certified Lover Boy. And for that alone, it’s given us something that feels slightly groovier through a different lens, making it a more replayable Drake album.

Rating: 7 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.

Arca – KiCk iii: Review

On the second day of December, Santa Arca gave us: volume 3 of the KiCk series. 

Okay, I know that didn’t have proper rhythm, and frankly, it resembles the stagnant and slightly forgettable nature of volume 3 of KiCk by Arca. It isn’t to say that it is an empty void that feels like a stoppage gap between 1 & 2 and 4 & 5. But it isn’t as vibrant as the former. Arca is diving back to her old self with outlandish and spectacular chaos; unfortunately, it never feels as refreshing as 2, considering this new foray into a hybrid of reggaeton, cumbia, electronic, and techno. Here, Arca is diluting the new – leaving it as a subtle presence through her rhythms – becoming retroactively keen on the old as the essence of noise and deconstructed dance breathes over most of the album. KiCk iii is a step back for Arca, showing some growth with her instrumentals – it is forgettable, only containing a few songs of note.

Unlike KiCk ii, KiCk iii didn’t hit me with the same feeling, and instead, I kept wondering if I was stuck on one cohesive loop since the songs mesh into mild redundancy. Most of these songs work, but instead of finding glee in returning, you’ll want to figure out what works for you. Fortunately, it never feels like a chore as Arca stays inventive. After a semi-lackluster start, it becomes more consistent. “Bruja” comes and goes, meshing into “Incendia,” which is a solid track on its own. It emboldens dance music overtones in the instrumental, creating a blazing rhythm – it will have you up on two feet quickly. The energy and keen attention to detail when layering the danceability base with jabs of noise add fuel to some highlights. It is especially the case with some songs mid-way through the album.

From “Fiera” to parts of “Ripple,” Arca reeled me with glamorous musical production, though it’s hidden with the excess of noise overtones that sometimes work and sometimes sound redundant. It doesn’t work on “Fiera,” but it does on the following track, “Skullqueen.” It’s because it isn’t a repetition of the same frequencies. It’s a blend of slow-tempo and fast-tempo pitches and in many ways reminiscent of glitch-hop. The noise continues to elevate and dissipate, dependent on its usage; for example, aspects of “Ripple” tend to remain entrenched in a mood instead of a song with unique patterns, like the songs that follow.

“Electra Rex” and “Señorita” come to mind swiftly. “Electra Rex” sees Arca returning to rapping with this noise-infused banger that continues to explore themes from the last KiCk while expressing itself with grace and beauty. With “Electra Rex,” Arca subverts the story of Oedipus Rex and reworks the ending to create a visceral tale about self-love and identity – Arca creates Electra as this person that fights the complexities of identity, especially in gender. In an Instagram post about the song, Arca said, “Electra Rex is the union of masculine and feminine. It kills both mother and father and has sex with itself. The hermetic androgyne is recognition of both the ancestral and futuristic, a merger possible because of the similarities.” She focuses on creating these songs that breathe life into a community that expresses a feeling for a future with no constraints.

“Señorita” continues to exhume that veracity – Arca raps-sings with an aggressive tone as she flexes her confidence, using analogies involving sex and references to a past song: “Non-Binary,” from the first album. The production/instrumental does a great job of balancing the intensity of the percussion and noise before leaning into a softer outro. It then hits you with the incoherent mess “My 2,” but what Arca finishes the album with is a strong point I want to highlight. When the KiCk iii comes to a close, Arca shifts the production from being noise-centric to incorporating more intimate orchestrations like the classical on strings on the final two tracks – more specifically, “Joya.” The title translates to jewel in English, and the way the production uses a somber glitch-overlay that synchronizes beautifully with the strings as it emboldens Arca’s message to the listeners that we are one; we are all jewels. It’s a monstrous and warming ending that boasts these feelings of understanding and growth relative to you.

KiCk iii is a slight step back, though it isn’t all bad. Arca still has a lot that works and stuff that doesn’t. But the way she intricately creates great noise-glitch hybrids adds a different complexion to the album and decent follow-up to ii. Unfortunately, I’ll see myself returning more to i and ii before iii.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever: Review

From her auspicious debut to the more grounded and mundane follow-up, Billie has yet to make the kind of impact that exists outside new artist hype. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? made her presence known, albeit having moments that bore. Unfortunately, it continues on her follow-up album Happier Than Ever. Billie delivers some inspiring work that elevates my thoughts on the others. Unfortunately, others fall into mediocrity as her delivery resembles Kate McKinnon’s parody of Jodie Foster from Silence of The Lambs.

Everyone knows that Billie Eilish has a beautifully strange voice, but it leaves you questioning: why does she continue with the same schtick? She has a range and can create whimsical pop songs with new territorial peaks alongside her brother. For example, “Everything I Wanted” encapsulates the nuances of dance-pop, which rarely works with lower-tempo singers unless the production has glamour. At some point, you begin to make the differences obvious, and unfortunately, that is rarer here than on her last album. Dua Lipa and Charli XCX are perfect examples in which you can see the contrast. Charli has the range, while Dua Lipa commands the stage with presence, poise, and an empowering backing production. Billie isn’t like them, and her path seems to be reminiscent of artists who predominately stick with the motto: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve seen the appeal and have been boasting Billie Eilish’s talents since &Burn, but her growing pains become too apparent. For Billie, it’s evolving past that dark-trap pop singer and giving the world the range her voice can reach. But she has a style focused on emoting relativity, which has been commonly heard in emo-music today. This stems from the post-production work, which lessens the backing vocals and creates a brooding mood. However, there are a few moments where we see Billie glow, as we hear the maturity from albums 1 to 2.

“Oxytocin” is one of these rare instances. These moments transpire when Billie Eilish hops out of her shell, expanding the parameters of the walls that surround her. And this is speaking in regards to her overall sound as she has been vocal about slowly shifting away from singing about her public image. As a result, she shifts away from moody pop sounds to industrial electro-pop. Stepping away from an ASMR approach on Happier Than Ever has lifted some weight off her shoulders as she tries to deliver something different than her last album. And it shows.

But despite elevating to new heights on some of the production and performances, there are few songs where Billie Eilish’s voice gets a boost. “Lost Cause” does so by delivering an awe-inspiring range of vocal inflections. The way she can shift her mood on a song has been an empowering dynamic of her appeal. People feel connectivity and see the teen-pop icon as transcendent as Britney Spears was in the initial rise and domination of teen-pop on the charts. She delivers assuring work, but there is rarely a moment where I become Leonardo Di Caprio Pointing at the TV when I hear something different.

One of these songs is “Billie Bossa Nova.” The name is a bit on the nose, but it delivers. Finneas O’Connell shows his growth as a producer with smooth transitions in styles, which can be hard to do when you’re shifting from a focused electro-pop dud to a beautiful bossa nova record. He has produced predominately in the pop realm, and Bossa Nova is far from pop; however, Billie’s voice fits the characteristics beautifully, and Finneas shows he can do more than core pop songs. In songs like “Therefore I Am” and “my future,” her vocal performances elevate the contrasting side-eye gripe feeling she brings on the former and the soft-self awareness of the latter.

Unfortunately, the few highlights that stand out can’t make up for the slight-bore the rest of the music delivers. You often miss out on solid songs upon a first listen, and Happier Than Ever contains some. The song “GOLDWING,” for example, sees Billie Eilish delivers with an overly soft voice you forget she was singing. It happens on occasion with other songs like “Everybody Dies,” which are as forgettable as your late-night bill after a drunken meal. It doesn’t play off the irony contextually, and it becomes derivative amongst the grouping of songs. 

There is no proper balance on Happier Than Ever. In most cases, I find myself falling asleep to the mundane. Billie Eilish has given enough to keep interests high, especially since her debut with “Ocean Eyes” at 14 years old. In a way, she is giving her fans what they expect. For others, they will hear the objective fluidity in the post-work, which makes that craptacular string arrangement on “I Didn’t Change My Number” sound clean, despite how it comes across. Would I recommend Happier Than Ever? Only If you’re a fan.

Rating: 6.5 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.