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.

Arca – KiCk ii: Review

Arca can evolve as an artist and can grow as a person. But no matter what she delivers, Arca still retains a few quirks that make her, her – now, it’s this unique pitch, aligning with her flows, that builds an expressive hype, and the way she has implemented it in her music has been a strong component of her artistry. It became more noticeable when a few songs on her new LP mirrored the intensity of songs like “Rip the Slit” on KiCk i. It has become more apparent the more Arca grew and created albums of varying degrees, sonically. With 2020’s KiCk i, Arca lets her inner Latina breath; she meshes gritty-dynamic electronic textures with predominately Spanish lyrics. She continues to do so on KiCk ii, exploring different sounds and immersing in her Latin roots more by tweaking with genres that she grew up around.

Listening to KiCk ii for the first time threw me for a spin. After some time, you start to gain sensibilities for what an artist may deliver, but Arca disproves that notion – she gives us a project where the nuances shift in the direction of reggaeton, aligning more with her cultural roots. It’s different, and it doesn’t get held back as electronic sound glimmers on the surface. After a modestly typical opening track by Arca, a gut-punch hits you and spins you around till you land flat on your face. “Prada” and “Rakata” come in as these larger-than-life productions that beautifully complement Arca’s melodies with vocal modifiers. Arca weaves a percussion style more prominent in reggaeton and shifts the outer grooves to align with them – “Rakata,” for example, has these electronic overtones that reflect the shifting style of reggaeton. The electronic complexion begins to seep out a little as the album progresses; Arca steps up to the plate to remind us she isn’t changing, just evolving.

You start to get a sense of Arca’s development through the varying directions she takes a song’s core, like on “Luna Llena,” which includes production from hip-hop producers, WondaGurl, Jenius, and CuBeatz bringing a smooth hip-hop beat underneath toned down synths. “Luna Llena” sees Arca creating parallels between her transition as an artist and as a person – mentally and physically. She uses the full moon as a tongue-in-cheek-satirical analogy, considering the duality in opinion from the outside world. 

Arca writes into existence moods and feelings that bloom into these realized stories and indications about her conflictions that disavow her from feeling free. The previously mentioned “Rakata” – synonymously known as a term in reggaeton, meaning atacar or attack – speaks true to its meaning as she attacks the theme of sexual freedom with ferocity. The production is crisp and stays true to its concept with no bump on the road. But for what Arca delivers, she stays on point and head-on.

Arca’s derelict attention to detail gives us fluid soundscapes and songwriting. It’s no surprise since previous works benefited from Arca’s intuitiveness to create while never waning thin on a concept. And through the sheer force and gravitas within her eerie vocals and intensifying production may sometimes make the words inaudible, but repeating them adds to themes like sexuality and expressionism. But songs like “Muñecas” and “Lethargy” embolden the surface layer of the song titles by constructing the layers of bass and high-tempo grinding-synths, all without adding anything interesting. These songs, along with “Araña,” bridge past the reggaeton landscape, maintaining few nuances but engulfing themselves into the electrosphere. Though, the former tend to have more of a dynamic punch than the latter. However, when Arca finds herself becoming more in tune with the electronic genre, it becomes a bit of an overabundance of cathartic sounds. “Femme” and “Muñecas” lose themselves in a graff of slight redundancy. 

It picks back up with “Confianza,” a happy medium between the two genres/sounds as Arca gets back on two feet. It’s quick-winded by a slight snooze on “Born Yesterday,” which includes guest vocals by Sia. The two have created quality music in the past, but after some time, one can sense what sounds like a typical electro-pop Sia song, and it’s difficult to escape the thought when it hits you. But it ends on an eloquent note with “Andro,” a beautifully soft instrumental (comparatively), which is all you can ask for in an album.

KiCk ii isn’t as much of a roller coaster ride and instead runs through with steady consistency. Fortunately, there is a lot to take from KiCk ii, like her vibrant and confident self. If “Non-Binary” on KiCk i didn’t start to stir the pot for you, then KiCk ii brings it to a boil. There is a ferocity to Arca’s artistry, and she delivers with transparency. The excitement lingers as two more volumes get their release and the musical evolution of Arca grows and grows.

Rating: 7.5 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.

Karol G Brings Enough To Keep Intrigue On KG0516: Review

Karol G has never been an artist devoid of talent and potential; however she hasn’t seemed to take hold of that talent and work harder to define herself. It could be her forceful nature to be musically trendy, and though her last album had the right up-tick for her, it still felt hollow from a songwriting standpoint. KG0516 is no different. It is an eclectic mess that rarely makes the climb to the peak, but when it does there are a lot of great highlights.

KG0516 is ambitious with some choice in the production and Karol G weaves in some solid and catchy melodies and harmonies. It’s primarily the percussion that is a consistent aspect of the production on the album that usually doesn’t feel fresh and at times repetitive. These basic percussion undertones are there to keep that reggaeton flowing through some of the more “unconventional” orchestrations. But there are unique switches in some of the sonic overtures that deliver some unique constructs. For example “Location;” it incorporates percussion reminiscent of a hip-hop/reggaeton hybrid slowly blending in the stew while the guitar steals the show. It is used through varying layers to create a jaunty-country vibe that just oozes enough energy for a modern hoedown. Outside of this a lot of tracks, contextually, is only as good as what you expect on a surface level.

But for the most part, KG0516 is like the new Zack Snyder cut of Justice League where it has a lot of great ideas, but it never progresses past the idea portion. On the surface, the album has a lot of good production where it has a sense like it is accomplishing its goals, which at times seems like it is . Some of these ideas, however, deliver enough like the fun “200 Copas,” which is a nice drunken bar ditty. But Karol G is a pretty bad actress on the microphone, so that outro is least to be desired. But like those moments, there are other key ones that leave a solid impact.

It’s when Karol G begins to steer from the rudimentary drag of the “trendy” percussion styles like the trap heavy “Arranca Pal Carajo.” However, KG0516 isn’t devoid of bangers, there are a decent amount of tracks that have the right momentum and production to keep you returning back, like “Bichota.” It has a steady pace with solid sonic construction and sultry execution by Karol G. It smoothly transitions onto the subsequent track, like how most tracks do on the album. A lot of what makes her a great talent is the range she can take her voice.

She delivers some amazing vocal performances like on “El Barco;” it is an elegant ballad that weave these lush guitar strings and using moments in her life to take a new direction in songwriting. Though the content is tried and most times boring, like on “Location,” the emotion she evokes from the vocal performance brings it all together tightly. Her solo work here shines brighter than tracks where she has an artist featured, except for the solid duet with reggaeton artist Camilo on “Contigo Voy A Muerte.” “Bichota,” “DVD,” and “El Barco” are real highlights on the album, but unfortunately the album has a lot of features.

Many of the features on KG0516 usually outshine her with intrigue, like Nathy Pelusa’s verse on “Gato Malo.” It has an aggressively fun-girl-power-like tone and uncanny flow that fits well with the instrumental. Karol G also brings a solid vocal performance, but it lacks that extra oomph she has stored within. Fortunately it is a step up from the strange features of “Beautiful Boy,” for the kind of song it is. It has a sample of “Beautiful Girl” by Sean Kingston from feature artist Emilee, using atmospheric acoustics, as the chorus and a lazy verse by Ludacris mixed into a slow tempo hip-hop song. And don’t fret if you’re one to listen from start to finish, as the last track is a solid mix of Karol G dueting with many reggaeton legends and some of their most famous tracks. It definitely hits the nostalgia goggles right, despite nostalgia recently being a bit of a cop-out for many things.

KG0516 is not as tight and tuned like her 2019 album Oceans, but it has a fun duality in the style and execution. Unfortunately it doesn’t take a step up to where her potential could be, but there are enough glimpses of something special within that she hopefully brings out in the future.

Rating: 6 out of 10.