Marcus Mumford – (Self-Titled): Review

Marcus Mumford’s solo debut takes the simplicities of the folk-rock sounds from early Mumford & Sons and rarely evolves past the known–rustic power-driven strings and genial percussion. Titled (Self-Titled), it’s a tongue-in-cheek approach to the content we’re receiving. We’re getting bleak and hopeful reflections on Marcus Mumford’s life–not the folk artist who’s taken unique directions with his band’s albums like their Shakespearean-influenced debut, Sigh No More. As hard as he tries to separate himself from his band, he barely nudges toward an identity unless you count the lack of backing vocals and enigmatic instruments playing something distinct and vibrant. And this is not a knock on Marcus Mumford because he isn’t reflecting that lively energy like playing with friends and instead trying to give us a meditation of sounds and words that wants us to feel and put our hearts on our sleeve. It’s primarily rich in Mumford’s songwriting and vocal performances, but the production isn’t always captivating, leaving us lost in translation before the second half.

Marcus Mumford starts (Self-Titled) on a high note by reeling us with a powerful opening that details sexual abuse done to him as a minor. His detailed writing opens the curtains for the stage, and his words are world-building descriptively, horrifying experience sung in an angering, somber tone. “I can still taste you, and I hate it/That wasn’t a choice in the mind of a child and you knew it/You took the first slice of me and you ate it raw/Ripped it in with your teeth and your lips like a cannibal/You fucking animal.” Mumford never lets up, showing these gripping layers beneath the rustic strings and commandingly emotional percussion that reflects the lingering disdain fueling him beneath the surface. Unfortunately, that’s immediately lost when Mumford, and producer Blake Mills, continue to bring teetering tempos and tones. But when Mumford takes it slow and allows himself to feel vulnerable over loose acoustics, we hear that he is aiming at being slightly different. That doesn’t absolve it from the modest dullness offered.

“Grace,” “Prior Warning,” and “Only Child” reflect the drab dullness that makes you want to skip after a first listen. The acoustics–consistent in tonal inflections–isn’t that rich and leave Marcus Mumford’s performances feeling somewhat empty. His vocals, though not limited, can’t keep the songs afloat, so you’re left mum about the experience. “Dangerous Game” with Clairo is where it starts to gain some traction with these more free-spirited folk-rock productions that moderately shift past certain percussion conventions and allow Mumford to deliver something grand. However, it isn’t matched with significance by some of the featured artists, specifically Phoebe Bridgers, whose feature almost feels like glorified backing vocals. Similarly, Clairo performs somberly throughout, feeling distant in contrast to Mumford’s more colorful performance in the first half. They aren’t like “Go In Light” and “How,” where Mumford finds tremendous synergy with Monica Martin and Brandi Carlisle. They match his energy and add dimensions to the vocal performances as they embody the themes Mumford conveys.

On (Self-Titled), Marcus Mumford is confronting moments of the past–traumatic, moments of regret, and other times, looking at painting a more significant emotional picture using interesting analogies to speak to the invigorated complexities of Marcus Mumford’s person. Here, I’m talking “Better Angels,” which sees Mumford opening his mind to memories and the vigorously potent “How,” where Mumford beautifully connects with Brandi Carlisle–as examples. It’s a dynamic force as a closer that makes you forget the humdrum inconsistencies that preceded it. Unfortunately, having a powerful opening and closing can only do so much when there is much meat in the middle. I had some expectations that I’d find myself attracted to the musical simplicity, and even so, I couldn’t see myself loving it much, despite Mumford hitting it with his performances on a more consistent level. Maybe you’ll get more from it than me, but it was very middle of the road.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Regina Spektor – Home, before and after: Review

Regina Spektor has thread needles of jubilant and poignantly straightforward songwriting that sends the song’s themes to the forefront with clean vibes. “SugarMan” off her latest album, Home, before and after, reminds us of that as she reflects on the deceptive lust money can bring. Using sugar as the analogy gives it different avenues to explore while rounding it out with captivatingly catchy choruses; it gets boasted by Spektor’s vocals, coming across as joyously driven when performing what she writes. Home, before and after, has conciseness to its sound and style, where it makes you feel like it’s getting played during a session of merriment in the creative process. It reminded me of Fiona Apple’s last album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, at times, where the vibrancy came from the naturalistic instrumentation–sans synths–that keeps it centered on its sound. It drives home the potent quality of the new Spektor album, even if it doesn’t tread new territory often.

There’s a lot to love about the new Regina Spektor album, whether it’s the lively vibes or Regina’s fragile and potent vocals. She’s allowing her songwriting to give us these perspectives that elevate the lyrical depth, which gets attributed to how she has taken the horns of the anti-folk genre and offers radiant deliveries. It’s a constant that stays effervescent, even if parts of tracks don’t carry a flurry of captivating melodies heard in “SugarMan” or “Loveology.” We hear this on the enigmatic “Up the Mountain,” where that energy she exuberates gets matched as you take it in. It’s similarly effervescent within most of the tracks on the album, save for “What Might Have Been,” which has her shifting to her apropos nebulous piano playing that can whisk some fans away but isn’t as effective here. 

It’s sometimes apparent throughout the album, outweighing that one time, specifically “One Man’s Prayer,” Spektor’s songwriting isn’t as keen and slightly forgettable. Though it’s one track, others are grounded, which gives us a vibe similar to when you first heard “Wallet” for the first time. Upon hearing her take us through this humbling tale about the contents of a wallet with Blockbuster memberships, it gives us a closer 1:1 relativity instead of having to pick apart various metaphors. Regina Spektor’s vocals uproot these little negatives to keep its front-to-back listen’s fluidity intact. 

Spektor weaves a consistent thread that emboldens her written and vocal technique in music. It allows time to become a small fragment of importance. Some directions that get taken perk up your ears with captivating melodies and harmonies that are keener on her identity, like “Loveology” or the enthralling “Raindrops,” which echoes the DIY Pop/Rock style we heard on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. It isn’t as direct as 1:1, but there is nuance to it, especially as it takes away from aspects of that echoey backing to drive a homely atmosphere. It’s heard a few times with the inner transitions of tracks like “SugarMan” or the opening track, “Becoming All Alone.” In between some emotionally melancholy piano playing–sometimes it’s mundane–there is something that catches your ear. On “Coin,” after some uninteresting piano playing, at the 3:34 mark, a shift gets heard, and some of that DIY Pop/Rock returns. It isn’t on the nose, but the very live and powerful band instrumentation gets driven to new peaks.

It’s the biggest strength of Home, before and after, as it elevates to new plateaus with its instrumentation. Sure, Regina Spektor and producer John Congleton can underwhelm at times–this is true–what shrouds these moments are these fantastic instrumentations that feel cinematic and triumphant. “Up The Mountain” is one of them, and the other is the incredible “Spacetime Fairytale.” Regina Spektor digs into her heart and develops a song about the love she holds for her son, reminding him that the world is vast as she focuses on influences that guide her songwriting and vocal performances. It’s heartwarming, but its continually building production makes the “story” expand. You hear these beautiful twinkly piano keys rhythmically before shifting to more creatively orchestrated pieces of grandeur. It’s more dynamic and viscerally captivating, taking it notches about the already fantastic “Raindrops.”

Home, before and after is another fantastic effort from Regina Spektor. There are some shortcomings, but there is a lot to indulge and get lost in as the instrumentations. I left feeling like nothing has changed since the last album. She continues to explore and cement a foundation for greatness as she has done throughout her career. I’d definitely recommend it as you’ll get what you expect, especially for fans.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Hurray for the Riff Raff – LIFE ON EARTH: Review

Alynda Segarra and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, have always walked the thin ropes of Folk music, slowly shifting from certain norms to evolve the sounds with a blend of flavors. We’ve heard her tackle the traditional side with My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, slowly branching into Americana and then rock with The Navigator. It doesn’t sound as profound on paper, but the depths that Alynda Segarra takes her songwriting and melodies with the band’s instrument playing, offer a whirlwind experience that will have you enjoying the overtures and subtleties that align within her work; it continues to be the case on their newest album, LIFE ON EARTH. The album is rich and earthy, fueled by some naturalistic punk coating that emboldens Segarra’s emotions.

LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many. She compartmentalizes the core – for example: “WOLVES” has a punk aesthetic coating a more tame chord progression before it gets flipped on “PIERCED ARROWS.” Segarra’s ability to weave cohesion shows from the start, slowly acclimating into one colloquial sequence. There are moments that Segarra’s vocals growl with the same energy as the production, which for Segarra and the band, shows a kind of understanding of their core. In the realms of pop music, the production of “ROSEMARY TEARS” would embolden a powerful range from artists like Adele to Mumford & Sons. But for Segarra, she finds parallels that impact at the same level.

“ROSEMARY TEARS,” like other songs, is woven through Alynda Segarra’s mind with visceral imagery, letting the vocal emotions carry the depth. As someone who frequents herbs in the kitchen, rosemary is a faint smell, but slightly potent if brought attention to – similar to, Segarra is singing about how her significant other’s tears and the lack of transparency. In the closing bridge, she sings: “I already know/(You never show up and I’m always heartbroken)/(Had to grow tough skin).” To her, she has an understanding of her relationship, but this small piece of hope still lingers. It’s about inflection, and at times, it doesn’t work as well as “ROSEMARY TEARS.” “JUPITER’S DANCE” is the prime example of this – we hear beautifully rustic strings that echo a hybrid between punk undertones and folk-rock coating, especially with the subtle wind instruments.

For most of LIFE ON EARTH, Alynda Segarra flows through old and present memories that reflect on her life – other times, she creates these larger-than-life stories, reflecting issues resonating with her culture: Latina. “PRECIOUS CARGO” speaks on Segarra’s view of Louisiana, where she resides, through the perspective of family, especially as a Nuyorican who sees how immigrants get treated by I.C.E as they search for thriving new opportunities. In the first verse, Segarra speaks through the view of a provider trying to make it through the waters, swimming, only to get caught and treated like animals. The songwriting matches some accounts we’ve heard about, but she keeps it grounded to pieces, allowing the words to speak louder as Segarra delivers a tired essence to the ordeal. The album has many moments like that – moments I’m left in awe by the songwriting, like with “WOLVES” and “RHODODENDRON.”

“RHODODENDRON” sees Hurray for the Riff Raff at their best: poetically resonant and instrumentally captivating – for the most part, that is what we get throughout the album, albeit my reservations on “JUPITER’S DANCE.” The production embodies a rough and empathetic acoustic rock drive, giving a natural cadence to the kind of rock elements they bring. You hear it at various points in The Navigator as it becomes more pertinent in their craft. We hear it continue through LIFE ON EARTH.

LIFE ON EARTH shines brighter than previous albums, as it continues to prove Alynda Segarra’s penmanship and musicality are at their apex. It reflects a growing presence in artistry that was beautifully glowing over the past decade. Like The Navigator, there is no doubt LIFE ON EARTH will continue to stay on repeat.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

The Lumineers – Brightside: Review

In sports, we have what we call “the glue guy or player;” it is usually that player who molds everything together in the most subtle ways. We’re talking mannerisms that encourage good plays and elevate after bad plays for the team members; they can be a top 5 player or someone on the bench. That usually translates to bands, and for The Lumineers, they have lost theirs, and it has become more noticeable in their sound; it was slightly apparent with their last release, III, and more so on their follow-up, Brightside. For the instrumental ideas that they bring into the fold, you hear the empty void left by cellist Neyla Pekarek, whose subtle string constructions buoyed a cadence between the elevated string and key arrangements on their more uproarious folk tracks. It misses her presence, but the album suffers from other problems, like keeping your attention. Brightside is more traditional than past albums; however, as much as this direction is something I’ve expected to come from The Lumineers, it finds itself slipping on the edge after a strong start. 

Brightside doesn’t limit itself within the parameter of its traditional folk conventions, specifically the vocals by Wesley Shultz. There are elements of alt-rock, as they incorporate more electric guitar to contrast a tame delivery of deep emotions from the mandolin. Shultz takes on us on a journey of self-discovery – one wherein we grasp these mental hurdles that sometimes hold us back, like humbling ourselves during our highs. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t tend to give these emotions justice, leaving us tethered to the neurons that make you zone out. It doesn’t help that it is one of the weaker openings for a Lumineers’ album. It tethers itself to stylings of old without feeling fresh, and sure, you can make an argument that their inclusion of a more electronic soundscape is taking the electric guitar and proclaiming it as such. Fortunately, track 2, “A.M. Radio,” is that cup of water to the face after a failed attempt at being woken up.

Now, “A.M. Radio” is what I expected from The Lumineers when I thought they would slowly transition into being more open to other soundscapes at a limited level. It buoys a powerful acoustic guitar and piano base, giving the electronic soundscape a spotlight as a bridge between verses. Wesley Shultz’s vocals are on full display as he gives us an emotionally potent song about turning back time, using radio as an allusion for an eclipse of time. The Lumineers continue to impress with “Where We Are,” where they continue to balance elements of acoustic folk and synthesizers. It continues for a little bit, but it flusters with maintaining an identity. It isn’t until “Reprise” that we get a sense of old to close out Brightside. But it makes another thing evident about the album: The Lumineers didn’t take notes of how to create consistency from their contemporaries. 

Brightside is to The Lumineers like Delta is for Mumford & Sons: after tweedling with more alt-rock elements, they go about delivering their first immersive transition to a new era/sound. It’s been looming for The Lumineers since Neyla Pekarek left, taking away unique subtle backing vocals and tender care for the strings on the cello. It counterbalanced the uproarious percussion and strings on songs like “Angela” off their second album Cleopatra and “Stubborn Love” off The Lumineers. Though there are great things on the album, it forgets that it needs to have an identity a few times. “Rollercoaster” subverts the notion of the title and allows us to feel it through the emotions in his voice, but at times it stays on a mundane wavelength before poorly executing an overabundance of simple synths and vocal modulations, which wastes two minutes of your time before it concludes with “Reprise.”

For what it’s worth, Brightside doesn’t give us a great first half as a tease; instead, it’s like the ideas start to wane thin for The Lumineers as they try to learn where they fit amongst the soundscape. Unfortunately, they haven’t found their voice in this soundscape, despite flashes. It’s because the sound is over-reliant on blending acoustics that the production has to weave layers and transitions carefully. It’s hard to have it both ways, though it may not always be perfect, like Ellie Goulding’s early years. Unlike III, there is less of a disappointment as there are no expectations for an impactful linear direction. 

Brightside may be a tad better than III, but it doesn’t fully come to its own. It rounds out at 30 minutes, and it breezes by quickly without letting you think for a moment about what you are hearing. But when you do, it isn’t as profound, but it is good enough to keep you feeling warm around a fire. I’m hoping The Lumineers figure it out because what I liked a lot works, and it would give their presence more of a definition than their typical hipster-folk/music label.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Fur – When You Walk Away

Ever since falling into a typical YouTube rabbit-hole, the transfixing quality that exhumed from “If You Know That I’m Lonely” delivered a band with inherent promise, mainly because of lead singer William Murray’s beautiful vocal textures. His voice is like a blend between the crooning baritone-esque structure of traditional folk and amplificated underground rock bravado; it interplays with the contrasting rock-and-roll nature of the production, giving us different plates to expand our palettes. Fur has had an identity formed since their first foray in music like the previously mentioned single – a few singles and EPs later – on their new album When You Walk Away, they continue to eclipse past a few conventional ticks like an off-brand moment of solidarity where the guitar consistently shreds, even though it isn’t egregiously apparent. 

Sometimes bands can get carried away, mentally, and any minimalist-elongated lick or riff can hinder a song a bit, as it does on “The Fine Line of The Quiet Life.” It isn’t to dissuade the value of the song, but William Murray’s unique vocals barely scratch the audible surface as they let that elongated focus at the end become more of a focal point. It’s never detrimental toward Murray’s performance, except for the brash loudness that pushes Murray’s voice aside – occurring more frequently in the first half, it’s harder to pick apart the lyrics, which is a heavy component of Fur’s music. 

When You Walk Away is expressive in the first half, as William Murray’s drowned-out voice is overlooked by near elegance within the differentiating chord progressions and sonic transitions – like shifting from somber overtones with the bass to rock-n-roll with the percussion and guitar. Fur doesn’t allow you to walk in blindly, as they open and end, When You Walk Away, with namesake songs that also have the split duality. The album has a noticeable pivot that comes at the end of “She’s the Warmest Colour In My Mind.” It doesn’t have abrasive undertones in the strings and has an elegant balance between rock and melancholy. 

They’re in tune with their musical influences, and it’s audibly heard with tracks like “She’s the Warmest Colour In My Mind” – it’s reminiscent of older 80s rock – with subdued production during the chorus, instead of elevated percussion and strings in the verses. When You Walk Away is focused on reflection and what it means to have this perspective imparted onto you – where you become entangled in these thoughts that cause constant doubt.

When You Walk Away split is divided at the seams – you hear a consistent sonic theme keeping you in tangent with the reflections written in the lyrics for Fur. Part 1’s reflection point comes from captivating your ears with a sequence of instrumentations that fits the angst coming from young adults. The band lets their contained chaos fixated on being methodically placed, with quirky sidesteps from the lead guitar, like at the beginning of “Anybody Else But Me.” Similarly, in Part 2, Fur brings a consistent atmosphere – there is a cadence between pensive singing and broken down singled out instrumentations like on “Holding Up The Sun.” The acoustic guitar leads the rest as it progresses, intertwining a final mix of hope as it speaks on addiction and one’s lack of faith. 

When You Walk Away is intimate and vast in its approach to storytelling, giving us one cohesive journey from start to finish. It’s a reflection of life and music, as William Murray integrates ideas about love and existentialism. Whether the band is reeling in the differentiating atmospheric tones between the heavier rock elements with esoteric ballads that sometimes hit, except in here, where Murray’s intricate and direct like on “What I Am” – a thematic extension to “Anybody Else But Me” – the underlying difference coming from the levels of the vocal layers. Fortunately, it’s a happenstance that a lot of the songs elevate everyone’s strength. 
There is never a moment where When You Walk Away starts to shift you away – Fur is in tune with their sound, never relying on being like someone else with more pop. It’s heard throughout, especially within the plethora of songs in the middle, like “The Fine Line of The Quiet Life” and “No Good For You,” where it immediately shoots you to the peak. There are a few questionable moments within, but the tracklisting gives it a perfect transition between the two sides of the coin. Though they may not be the best songs because of minor problems, there is no denying When You Walk Away opens on an extremely high note.

When You Walk Away is a solid debut for Fur, delivering fans a blend of sounds that hit both spectrums. Unfortunately, I wish the first half was a little better mixed, but the infectious array of instrumental layers makes up for it. It’s a definite recommendation for fans, especially the curious semi-fan that knows a few of their 2017/2018 singles. They are relatable and bring a triad of marvelously plated components that make one of the better rock albums of the year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters: Review

Lana Del Rey is an artist that barely wets the whistle after the traction of excellent singles that lead into any new release. Very few times did it translate, and when it did with Chemtrails Over The Country Club, the slight excitement boiled over me as Lana seemed to have found a better footing since Norman F*cking Rockwell. Unfortunately, the shrill melancholy and emotional depth that empowered Chemtrails have become mostly absent on her follow-up, Blue Banisters. The few singles that preceded the album left a tender and impactful impression. Though Blue Banisters sometimes fails to hit the mark, it left me feeling hollow, as if Lana kept relying on constructive consistency throughout the recording instead of digging deeper into her core. And it took me away from feeling invigorated as Lana meanders around, trying to reflect topical ideas into the mix.

Lana Del Rey can hook-line-and-sinker you with her track ones; however, it does not mirror in Blue Banisters. Opening with “Text Book,” Lana does not remedy the parallels with care, giving off faux-pa broadness as she sings about dating in an era with movements/protests — name dropping Black Lives Matter as a distinction to separate herself from the pack, albeit coming from and leaning around old money. Though she comes about it with a clear understanding, there is little substance — it is trying to make parallels between ideas like opposites attract, modern issues, and allusions to the past to poor effect. It leaves you wondering why she wasn’t able to make it any more nuanced (in the songwriting), considering she is a great writer. The latter becomes a proponent for later songs as Lana tackles various angles of a relationship.

Ironically, these kinds of songs are typically some that Lana excels in, creating these fantastical paintings with her words — it is absent here. She weaves these songs that don’t congregate in a single file line, with an occasional tick walking off the beaten path. It derives from lacking any depth or creativity with the performances, and when it becomes experimental, it begins to lose sight of its strengths — the plucky guitars and twinkly piano keys, with subtle percussion beats underlining the rhythmic direction. There isn’t a moment where Lana catches me by surprise with what she incorporates into her vocal performances. When I hit play on Chemtrails Over The Country Club, it immediately transfixed into a different realm with her sultry and raspy voice on “White Dress.” A mirroring moment comes on “Dealer.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t hit like “White Dress,” leaving you feeling like you can take it off, and it would make it a better album.

“Dealer” is unlike most of the production on Blue Banisters. It has a more bombastic percussion and aggressive strings that fail to hit the mark. Lana, and featured artist Mile Kane, deliver a song that has a wrought perspective of what seems to be an emotionally abusive relationship — or that is what came about it as Miles Kane manipulates his emotions against Lana, going on what may be a binder to escape his woes. He goes about telling her that she’d be better off avoiding these other points of contact as the importance is slim. But the song doesn’t falter because of incompetency. “Dealer” has a great idea behind it with some great production and solid vocal performances, but you’re bewildered why it isn’t better. Fortunately, there are a few songs that brought out Lana’s best complexions.

“Thunder” does what “Dealer” tries, but better as it stems from a deeper center, vocally and lyrically. The latter forms from a trite perspective that doesn’t buoy its themes well, while the former elevates emotions and speaks about a relative subject to many in a relationship. It isn’t to say that “Dealer” doesn’t; however, its broad and direct nature leaves one feeling tired halfway through. On “Thunder,” Lana hones in on her vocals, echoing a soft-spoken demeanor — usually seen in reflexive-perspective songs. In the song, she sings about how her significant other’s two-faced persona has her gripping close to the reality that this person isn’t 100% in, despite the copious talk of rolling thunder or flexing bravado. It is one of two songs that captivated with a first listen — the other is “Arcadia.”

“Arcadia” throws the first punch when Lana takes her first breath, and the first verse begins. She weaves together these intricate analogies to her body, her personality, and all that makes her with idyllic locations being representations. Arcadia, California, is what she sings of — it is a place for her to retreat to and reflect on her career when the stress is high. It has some niche relativity as someone who hasn’t been to those locations will only understand if they compose with their state. However, the production and tender switches in her vocal deliveries keep it flowing with eloquence, especially coming after the powerful ballad “Blue Banisters.”

Blue Banisters left me feeling underwhelmed compared to Chemtrails Over The Country Club, as Lana seems to focus tightly on a single note. The music has its fair share of depth, but there are a few that carry weight. If you’re a fan of Lana, there is enough for you to like; however, Blue Banisters is nothing more than a slight retread of Chemtrails.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Ángela Aguilar – Mexicana Enamorada: Review

Throughout the years, there have been some genres that I don’t usually embrace as openly — mostly because I prefer to hold them tight and indulge in music that isn’t as universally loved by pop. Traditional and Regional Mexican Folk and Pop music has been that for me recently, and my enjoyment rings true with my love of artists like Aida Cuevas and Los Tigres Del Norte. This past weekend, Ángela Aguilar, daughter of Mexican Folk/Pop legend Pepe Aguilar, has released her anticipated follow-up to the radiant Primero Soy Mexicano. Her new album, Mexicana Enamorada, continues to explore themes of love and nationalism (sonically), the latter of which made Primero Soy Mexicano such a beautifully composed and delivered Regional-Mexican album. It is full of Ranchero and Mariachi overtones, like the lively strings and hypnotic blending of horns, which transfer over to her new album, giving us a more pop-focused album.

Nepotism aside, Ángela Aguilar makes use of what she has to establish her identity as an artist. And for a 17-Year-Old artist, it can be strenuous to do so as their career still has a long path before finishing. She is like some of her contemporaries in America — Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo. They have been able to understand what they want without succumbing to bubblegum-pop trappings like JoJo Siwa. And for Ángela, the power and range of her voice shake up the dynamics behind what she can and cannot sing over — it shows significantly throughout her new album, as it slowly delves into these unique pop sounds and elevating what to expect from this new wave of Mexican artists.

Mexicana Enamorada centers itself on exploring love through different machinations — Ángela Aguilar speaks on her family, mirroring the love that inspires her, and as well, Mexico, albeit being born in Los Angeles, California. She doesn’t let herself become misguided by American culture and establishes herself amongst music that comes from the heart. It has given her an edge in the Latin community, and her duet with Christian Nodal, another young Mexican star, “Dime Cómo Quieres,” proves to be that. As the Latin community fawns over Christian, he is put in the back seat as Ángela takes the wheel. His vocal performance stands on its two feet, but some of his melodies come across as a bit pedestrian in the beginning. It picks up steam as the song hits the first chorus, unlike most songs on the album, which has consistency from start to finish. 

The music shifts on a whim, slowly incorporating pop-ballad-like percussion onto Mexican-Folk making songs like “Fuera De Servicio” and “Te Quiero Pa Mi” such beautiful standouts. These types of songs carry themselves tremendously. However, they aren’t like the ranchero hit, “En Realidad.” As soon as “En Realidad” hits, it immediately transfixes you into this world where the guitars and horns take a slight melancholic approach, illuminating the love ballad to new heights. For some of us traditionalists, we may easily find ourselves doing 1-2-3 dosie as the production keep you two light feet. If you’re one for a more lively Ranchero dance number that makes you want to grab your significant other for a lovely dance, then she has “Dime Cómo Quieres” for you to play.

Despite great individualized highlights which represent her Mexican identity, her pop-focused songs have more control. The softening vocals by Ángela Aguilar are different from her last album, giving her more vulnerability as she slowly slides into a new direction opposite her Dad’s mainstay — Traditional Pop-Ranchero. “Ella Qué Te Dio” and the opening song, “Ahí Donde Me Ven,” take hold of pop archetypes and edit them to fit within the other influencing sounds on the production — i.e. the traditionalistic lively horns and strings of the genre. The former is co-written by Latin-Pop superstars Jesse & Joy as they navigate the elegant pop ballad to make Ángela be front and center instead of Jesse & Joy’s remarkable harmonization. 

It’s to note that despite Ángela not writing all of her music, the writers have a sense of her style and give her a boost, like Latin-Pop icon Ana Bárbara who wrote “En Realidad.” However, the songs Ángela writes still have a beautiful cadence to them, like the previously mentioned “Fuera De Servicio.” 

Beyond Ángela Aguilar’s luscious vocals, the production holds equal weight, despite the second to last song becoming lost amongst the others. The production is handled predominately by her father Pepe, and as consistent as he is, you sense the small contribution the co-producers respectively bring. Uniquely, Pepe doesn’t allow himself to overshadow them on few occasions, like on “Ella Qué Te Dio,” which is co-produced by Cheche Alara — known for his production on the collection of Musas album by Natalia LaFourcade. His elegant string orchestrations and lowly piano keys keep the ballad focused and far from the loud and loverly vibe of others. Even with the mildly forgettable “Inevitable,” the production still holds barring.

Mexicana Enamorada is a beautiful follow-up for Ángela Aguilar, but despite having an identity, she still has a lot to travel before she engulfs herself further in the music. I thoroughly enjoyed this album — some songs in pieces and others as a whole, but there is enough to keep 7 of 9 in rotation. As well, she has shown that she can take the wheel and control the song when others may be waning your interest. If you’re a fan of this type of music, I implore you to seek her workout and others, as this music beautifully resonates with their culture.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Yebba – Dawn: Review

It may not be apparent, but Yebba has been around — quietly delivering elegant performances through different genres of music; however, many know her as the female vocalist on “Same Drugs” by Chance the Rapper — when he performed on Saturday Night Live. I’ve gotten to know her work by burrowing through a landscape decorated with a history of appearing in songs in Hip-Hop, Pop, Funk, Soul, Folk, Rock, and more. Having worked with artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Mark Ronson, and Mumford & Sons since 2016 has given her a clearer slate to draw on as she finds her sound and individualizes herself from contemporaries. Her debut, Dawn, speaks to that as Yebba delivers sweet flavorings to the songs, which range in style — most of which are unique to Yebba, except for few moments that get lost when going grandiose.

Unlike some or many, you find yourself coming into Dawn blind. But like many, I’ve been aware of Yebba’s guest appearances and features; however, what comes to light in Dawn is sometimes unlike what we’ve heard before. Whether Yebba is delivering softened background vocals that compliment the lead artist or as a vibrant lead on Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings, Yebba finds ways to distinguish herself from others — further asking the light to center on her presence in front of, and behind, the microphone. She makes it apparent on Dawn as she paints her slate with the influence of sounds from the vast array of genres of her past; she hits the nail more often than not.

Yebba heightens her emotions to give each song brevity — this allows the music to stay direct for better playback. She lets the influence guide the pen, letting loose unique themes like emotional growth. In 2017, a week after Yebba released her first single, her mother, unfortunately, passed after struggling with depression. It’s been a driving force behind Yebba’s fearlessness in her vocal performances, but it has been a hindrance as it seems like she is always performing in front of a silhouette of her mother. 

Yebba opens Dawn with a plea to herself — how many more years? She is continuously distraught that she hasn’t been able to keep happy memories without leading toward tears of sadness that constantly blinds her future. It could come from some hesitancy that guides any hiccups from grasping your emotions tightly, which shows on each song. But on “How Many More Years,” it is something else. Listening to Yebba’s soft and broken vocals gives us a sense that she grasps her emotions firmly, delivering them in doses to keep us invested. She does so without draining us to our core, though “October Sky” came close. 

As one of the most beautifully captivating and tragic songs on Dawn, “October Sky” takes us through a recurring and happy memory she has of her mom. As it is with most of the album, Yebba adopts lingering feelings and notions about her heartbreak, despite knowing this is the start of something great. She embraces her moment and finds ways to show us her vulnerable side.

Yebba lets her voice guide us through her emotions, providing a deep meaning beneath, a sometimes thin, surface. Usually, it starts to be the case on Dawn, as some of the production weaves thin simplicities within the percussion. It initially feels off-putting since Yebba received help from producers like Kaytranada, the Picard Brothers, and Mark Ronson, but the small details make up for it. Despite being known for their electric percussion, it’s one of the weaker components in the album; however, it never gets to a point where it makes the whole production yawn-inducing.

Fortunately, Yebba and her co-producers start world-building on top of the songs, which deliver some glamorous standouts like “Boomerang.” It takes influence from the roots of old-country and folk — breaking apart styles derivative of cowboy-western country dinghies, roots rock, and an effervescently soulful vocal performance, “Boomerang” elevates into it. Similar to “Boomerang,” Yebba brings a similar cadence on “Louie Bag” featuring Smino.

Subtly, “Louie Bag” is like many songs on Dawn, wherein the influence comes from subsections of the musical south, from Hip-Hop to Folk-Country. “Louie Bag” has string and piano key arrangements focusing on Yebba’s verses, while the percussion emboldens a simple hip-hop beat, allowing for a smooth blend in this ode to their youths in their respective cities. It creates a smooth unification of the two, as we hear them performing while in their A-Game. In the song, They burn bridges that have been vandalized on each journey to succeed in their work. Smino’s verse contains more gravitas, as opposed to A$AP Rocky — the other featured rapper. His presence on “Far Away” is from someone standing afar from the living room window.

Fortunately, through captivating performances, Yebba is placing us in her shoes. Most times, you’re taken through the wringer as she lays out what passes her subconscious in these times. And intermittently, with songs like “Louie Bag” and “Far Away,” Yebba distinguishes herself in pop, barely straying from the overall construct of the sound. It’s reflective of Yebba’s trajectory as an artist, with Dawn acting as a stepping stone in showing us her true self. She assimilates into these different types of production that I’m wondering what’s in store as she continues to explore and grow as an artist. If you’re into an enjoyably emotional listen, you’ll leave this album wanting more of Yebba soon.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.