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. 

Marina – Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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.

Julia Michaels – Not In Chronological Order: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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.

London Grammar – California Soil: Review

Many indie/dream-pop artists evoke these glossy – sparkly – electronic overtones in the music, but London Grammar bleeds into the complexities behind their melancholy strings and minimalist percussion and electronic subtleties to build atmospheric overtures. This never falls into a repetitively basic tonal (poppy) trend, which makes them a unique presence in this “genre’s” stratosphere; however when it didn’t fully hit on their sophomore release, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, the experiences since then has allowed Hannah Reid, lead singer/songwriter, to reflect further and create these spacious and luminous – electronic-dream pop cohesion with the rest of London Grammar (i.e. the instrumentalists, outside of Hannah) on California Soil.

The new album by London Grammar switches up base constructs of simple production cues, with a mixture of piano and varying electronic sounds taking more centerstage, like the vibrant snares on “Lord It’s A Feeling.” As a whole it doesn’t rely much on an expansive synth base to overlay instrumentations. It’s what separates it from their last album, where a slight boredom arose from the lack of musical depth and engagement. But California Soil fixes that with the way it evokes its tonal and emotional notes in smooth transitions that the album rarely loses touch on what it is. 

London Grammar stylistic approach is similar to that of Beach House and Florence Welch, wherein the emphasis is put into the vocal delivery and parallel production. It is what drives the emotional force that has you feeling what she does, down to the core of her heart. And this is what makes California Soil such a profound deviation from the wrought sound from others; even though the deviation is more subtle than it appears. Part of that deviation comes from the way Hannah Reid flexes her vocal range on each song, which mirrors the tone behind the way she perceives each thematic inspiration, like on the title track, which centers around nature and landscape – comforting images with deeper meaning. 

A lot of these stories derive from the emotional complexities of the experiences and emotions had from them since the release of their last album. Like it, it has a constant motion with flipping pros and cons of relationships, mostly cons, and the overall emotional tear it can cause; for example on “All My Love,” a song in which Hannah Reid delivers this soft-spoken and powerful performance that sounds like a broken soul singing and playing guitar to herself in her room. But this is all part of a mixture of different sonic constructs that lets the little things pop out, like the minimalist – melancholic strings and percussion and spacey additions from the electronic instruments/effects. 

California Soil goes beyond the dream-pop textures. The electronic-instruments create a coating, which makes the music range in pop style, while staying consistent in tone. When it shifts into tracks that breathe an essence of a pop trend that evokes the kind of mood for those who like sad dancing. This style usually has a repetitive production pattern, specifically in the percussion, where most times it never feels like anything new. Their last album teetered on this consistently, that you try to stay with it for the vocal performances instead of the boring production that is a part of that trend.

California Soil doesn’t fully disregard this, but shifts the sonic construction to have an overall cohesion of sound behind the lyrics from Hannah Reid. These tracks with the sad dance-style have a solid constant that keeps them in a different spectrum from the ones who are vibrant and poppy for airplay. But instead these tracks become more nuanced like on “How Does It Feel,” where the upbeat portions aren’t trying to be glamorous through an overall happy-sad production approach. 

“Baby It’s You,” does so similarly, with an eloquent construction of instruments that keeps you engaged, except for the times it shifts into the chorus and her repetitively hollow lyrics become apparent, but the production makes up for it by keeping the flow interesting. This is the same essence behind “Lose Your Mind,” which has co-production from house musician George FitzGerald, to give it that soft-sparkly cover to the rest of the production. 

California Soil is adventurous, from a POV of the kind of sonic standard they have imparted on themselves, but doesn’t go off the beaten path to deliver a spread of obscurity. It’s not an everyday kind of album where you can just pop it on. But when it calls for it, the album has a lot of depth that you’ll always be left in awe by the lack of pure exposure amongst the masses. It isn’t that they aren’t popular, it is that this brand of indie-pop isn’t as big as other variations out there. And here’s hoping California Soil gives them another boost internationally.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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.