Alvvays – Blue Rev: Review

Alvvays has amassed an intriguing identity that balances the apropos of pop rock with extensive string arrangements that boast starry, spacey, synth-fueled jams that resonate with the soul. As such, they’re weaving this unique blend with characteristics of pop and rock and delivering a vibrant and expansive release in Blue Rev. Their third album has poignant themes over elegant instrumentations that keeps you enthralled, albeit with some minor issues. However, these minor issues don’t take away from this great leap forward in sound and style– Molly Rankin’s vocals and slick rhythmic playing eloquently beneath the other empathetic playing from her fellow bandmates. It keeps you engaged and vibing throughout, layering these colorful tracks that speak further to an evergrowing synergy, despite some turnarounds that don’t sidetrack where they’ve grown from since their last album, Antisocialites, five years ago.

What struck me quickly about Blue Rev is the jubilance that rides through on crisp sonic waves–an emotional coaster where the production is grand and varied. Sometimes you get more indie rock-fueled tracks like “Pharmacist” and “Pressed,” and other times, you’re getting more shoegazey with tracks like “Easy On Your Own?” and “Bored In Bristol;” what’s pertinent is the varying sonic subtexts from its hard-hitting bangers. They use pedal effects, computerized distortions, and more to implement psychedelic undertones to round out the instrumentation with personality–it exhibits that with how easily it reels you. “Easy On Your Own?” and “Very Online Guy” are two tracks that embody that shoegaze aesthetic beautifully, making them stand out significantly, like some of their songs with indie rock sensibilities. Alvvays are going through styles like someone changing wardrobes ten times before heading out into the world for the day; however, of its 14 fits, or songs, on the album, it contains many standouts like the previously mentioned and others that communicate fun within themes of loneliness, love, amongst others. 

Unfortunately, it isn’t all this one acquiescing force you can get lost in since some songs get weakened due to its standard approach to some instrumentations, like the two-dimensional and summery “Velveteen.” It benefits from clever, illustrious songwriting, but the sound isn’t always accompanying the vocal’s oomph. There is a cadence in Rankin’s voice; it offers a clean listen that lets you coast through and grip the essence of Alvvays lyrical depth, despite some of its less-than-appealing instrumentations, like on “Belinda Says.” It’s centered on rudimentary percussion, incorporating lesser bass grooves, leaving you less fulfilled, despite having this spiritual guidance influenced by The Go-Gos. The music speaks closer to Molly Rankin and how she imbues these sonic anecdotes, but it doesn’t so powerfully. Like “Velveteen,” it’s one of two tracks that never acquiesced within its compact space, almost feeling a little empty despite the solid energy from the band.

So you’re there, listening to Blue Rev; you get this feeling that you’re there, front row listening to them perform vigorously, giving it this raw aesthetic that lets them spread their wings. Having gone through a few bandmates and replacements, it becomes a testament to Alvvays’ craft that there isn’t an absence or faulty delineation of a sonic identity as they stay headstrong and keep their jovial playing become part of their center-core. That fun can come from hearing these plucky strings building enthusiastically over each other. And with “Lottery Noises” and “Pomeranian Spinster” have these unique, contrasting tones molded by Molly Rankin’s potently emotive delivery. The former sees Rankins lamenting on a past relationship, relating his presence and sound to that of the lottery machine making noises, indicating she’s taking a gamble with luck. The latter sees a different tone as Rankin comes across with sheer confidence and vigor about how she may be perceived, singing, “I don’t wanna be nice/I don’t want your advice/On the run in my tights/I’m going to get what I want/I don’t care who it hurts.”

Written by Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, what gets brought to the table are an array of unique stories with colorful depictions that mold their emotional deliveries into something grander than expected. Many are visually engaging, taking you through these dailies that offer layered duality to themes getting approached. “Tile By Tile” sees Rankin doing busy-body work, letting her mind wander to the time she dropped the L (love) word on a ride with someone with who she feels this affection, but it’s nonreciprocal. It leaves her feeling like she left a good thing slip and seeing her anxiety shift with specific actions, like when she sings, “Am I still giving off the wrong impression?/I shouldn’t have ever dialed you up,” in the outro. 

“After The Earthquake” plays with the idea of distinct reactions that may happen post-quake–as Molly Rankin told Stereogum, “the approach was based on this Murakami short story collection called After The Quake…The earthquake itself can trigger little epiphanies and make people realize that life is short and [people] make important decisions based on these natural disasters. I thought that it would be interesting to write a song about how there is this earthquake, there are all these different chaotic, really traumatic life events, but the thing that’s actually at the front and center of the song is what is happening with this deteriorating relationship.” It’s telling; the care getting brought to the record as they explore these tangible sounds that take you to a realm of musical harmony. It’s something you start to love as it loops, and the instrumentations begin to feel fresh like it’s the first time.

Blue Rev is an exquisite time from front to back–some few hiccups here and there that didn’t agree with the rest, but there is a consistency to the depth of Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley’s writing that keeps your ears glued at those moments. It left me with glee and enough to influence multiple spins, which I hope reflects with you as you go through this album a few times.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg: Review

After “Chaise Longue” got released in 2021, it became a viral hit. However, because it is a viral hit doesn’t mean the quality is good, as evident with what they bring to the table on their self-titled debut. “Chaise Longue” comes from various angles; lyrically, it’s fun and innocent with verses containing sexual innuendos that aren’t explicitly dirty; adjacently, the production evokes consistent tones that feel taken from the pages from more basic punk rock bands, like Dirty NIL, who don’t thread the needle with that kind of instrumentation. Fortunately, it is a slight tumble as you cruise through the tracklist that improves on the simplicities of “Chaise Longue,” giving us a variety of melodies and instrumentations that define Wet Leg as a band. Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.

When it comes to debuts, sometimes you have to match the levels of your first hit; if not, find ways to reinvent the wheel by evoking your artistic voice. For Wet Leg, they restructure and create parallels between vocals and production, predominantly focusing on melodies to reel us into great songwriting. Sometimes we’ll get a song about wet dreams or getting high and splurging–while acting fool–at a supermarket. It’s an effervescent consistency that gives us a sense of glee hearing how they can create potent lyricism while staying true to themselves instead of pushing for a more direct approach. As Rhian Teasdale sings on “Too Late Now:” “Now everything is going wrong/I think I changed my mind again/I’m not sure if this is a song/I don’t even know what I’m saying,” it continues to punctuate the kind of aesthetic driving the songwriting. It’s like being hit with an array of bright lights, and your only directive is to be yourself.

At its core, though, Wet Leg is creating a bridge between us and their music as the topics are relative aspects of our youths. For the most part, it works, and it’s easy to hear where it doesn’t. A definitive difference that shows its discernible quality is their youthful angsty songwriting which feels maligned when likened to more melodically driven songs. One of these differences comes from tonal shifts in the production; they juxtapose each other poorly, which causes a slight stoppage in the consistency. “Chaise Longue” is one of two that initially caused me to tune out a few seconds after playing; the other is “Oh No,” an explosive rock track that does little to make you feel that angsty annoyance of being home alone, though the lyrics don’t help either. It’s unlike “Ur Mom” or “Too Late Now,” which shows and uses a progression of sound or melodies as it goes on to round it out. They also play it more tongue-in-cheek with a lot of emotional depth where you can see yourself in their shoes.

Beneath the hiccups are strings of melodically driven pop-rock that entices a consistent return, considering they have great consistency. It’s ever so rare that these kinds of tracks have cross-appeal, where their authenticity stays keyed in making these infectious melodies without having to cut corners lyrically. They find a happy medium, where they make improper structures–sometimes venting, sometimes having fun–sound as refreshing as ever. I mean, their biggest song has them singing, jokingly, about the d or making a Mean Girls reference as Rhian Teasdale then sings about a chaise longue. She comes at most of these songs with cadence, and energy, painting luscious pictures through words. Though, none of it is possible without the vibrant range of riffs from Hester Chambers: Wet Leg’s lead guitarist. Beyond being the crux of the production, its guitar-heavy approach allows them to wane between emotional layers, like on “Ur Mom,” which plays over the last minute. It can come vibrantly like on “Piece of Shit” or “Convincing” or even full of character, like on “Angelica.”

Ultimately, Wet Leg reminds us that MGK is naive; guitar rock never left, and one of many bands reminding us of that. As far as debuts, it’s a thrill ride that offers some surprises and oh-so luscious melodies that I can’t help but have tracks like “Too Late Now” on heavy repeat.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Maisie Peters – You Signed Up For This: Review

Despite having a presence in the music industry, Maisie Peters boldly names her debut You Signed Up For This. Like some pop stars before her, they had confidence and a defined identity, further being the extra boost to keep them within our stratosphere. Maisie has released two EPs and a full soundtrack for the AppleTV+ show, Trying, but unless you’re conscious within the depth of the pop world, she isn’t an artist who you’d immediately recognize. However, You Signed Up For This confidently creates a soundscape that blends pop-rock with acoustic and folk undertones. And with Maisie Peters’, sometimes, masterful songwriting, her debut makes us glad we somewhat signed up for this.

Maisie Peters is one of many pop stars today that focus on honing their craft as a storyteller; she just happens to be one of the few to make improvements year after year. Though she still has some ways to go, as Maisie Peters is someone who can crumble a song under the weight of her creativity. You Signed Up For This contains as much originality as any Charlie Kaufman film, but Maisie sometimes gets derivative with trying to recreate something to a different tune.

“Psycho” and “Villain” fit into the mold of two songs that carry similar themes and scenes, with the latter being better. “Psycho” is a glamorous pop ensemble that viscerally combines a myriad of instruments into one of the best-produced pop songs this year; unfortunately, the songwriting isn’t as strong. It teeters on slight mediocrity, despite Maisie Peters delivering some captivating melodies and harmonies. On the contrary, “Villain” isn’t a vibrant pop banger. Instead, it takes a nuanced and meta approach to be on the outside looking in. Maisie takes this approach to her songwriting and allowing her to have a greater reach relative to her experiences.

Maisie Peters’ songwriting focuses on a path toward self-reflection/realization, delivering perspectives through dream-like narratives. Maisie breaks down her emotions and details into beautiful components, which make up the whole, like on “Boy,” “Talking to Strangers,” or “John Hughes Movie.” So whenever Maisie isn’t focusing on personal viewpoints, she lets the pen run loose with thoughts and illusions for a life some people wished they could live. Like “Villain,” “John Hughes Movie” is an extension of the few songs about heartbreak throughout the years. They speak to the idea that Maisie is sometimes writing from the outside looking in. By creating these universally understanding songs, she allows herself to flex her storytelling past the overtly personal. 

One example of great storytelling comes from “John Hughes Movie,” which sees Maisie Peters wishing to have a love plotline like the song’s namesake. A John Hughes’ teen film starts with scanty realism until the final moments, where love becomes eternal through a lock of eyes or lips. Like Maisie, I’ve had similar dreams and delusions, and she captures the essence that contrasts the films from everyday life. 

Maisie finds a way to infuse the themes into a relative narrative and vibrant production, with the former being her main strength. But this strength only shines when she isn’t trying to deliver a radio hit.

There is a clear division of sound between the slight esoteric folk-pop hybrids and clear pop bangers she aims to create with a song like “Psycho.” There are aspects of “Psycho” that excel, particularly in the production, and her lyrics are not desirably catchy. She changes the script with a song like “Elvis Song,” where the poppy percussion gives Maisie a chance to sing without any vocal modifiers.

You Signed Up For This carries hyperextended guitar chords on more than 75% of the album, but 70% of the time, it intricately blends with the rest of the production. For Maisie Peters, it’s a strength that gives her the comfortability to be different. The chords have a simple frame, allowing the external instruments to form a direction and create depth. Maisie has a refined sound and identity that her creative juices refill themselves after each conception. The contrasting sounds of previously mentioned songs, “Talking to Strangers” and “Boy,” are a few examples of her sonic identity.

“Talking to Strangers” is rooted in acoustic pop with folk-like guitar notes directing Maisie Peters’ vocals toward the limelight. “Boy” follows a similar path with the string arrangement, but the side instruments take hold of the emotions as the percussion gets louder with each empowerment-like phrase by Maisie. Others come across with a variation of the sounds of these songs while subtly keeping the pop overtones in focus. One that comes to mind is “Brooklyn,” which is a beautiful double entendre on viewing herself as the idyllic female for the suitor while speaking in the third person and indicating that they have to travel to Brooklyn to find her. I felt like it would have been the better closer than the slight snooze of “Tough Act.”

You Signed Up For This delivers on impact with some great songs coming from various directions. It ends on a decent note, but as it quickly repeats from song one, I become immediately transfixed all over again. Maisie has a captivating voice and style that makes her a diamond in the rough for pop and having a refined mentor in Ed Sheeran giving her the tools to make the best album she can.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend: Review

Continuing to exhume effervescent arrays of shoe-gaze and punk rock music, Wolf Alice finds themselves underneath blue lights as they deliver a thought provoking and emotionally gripping shoe-gaze and punk rock on Blue Weekend, the follow up to the underwhelming Visions of a Life. Like the namesake of the album, its cognitive approach deals with the emotions of the listeners; particularly those with a depth filled understanding of feeling blue. There are tracks that fully gravitate in an unknown direction, and eventually find themselves coming back full circle as the themes vary, but one sentiment stays true. The songwriting and performances of the band keep Blue Weekend on a steady track as it buoys between shoe-gaze and post-punk overtures, while maintaining their brand of authenticity.

Blue Weekend is unlike some of their previous work. There is a steady incline in the quality of the production where they continue to take elements of dream pop and post punk and further create these spacious and riveting rock tracks. Front woman, Ellie Roswell, brings this kinetic energy to her performances, which takes a slight turn as it become one of the unsung hero of their work; specifically in the way she delivers the emotional veracity based on the construct, like standout “Play The Greatest Hits,” which is fueled with angst and punk flair or the melancholic and, at times, dreamy beach themed sounds on the intro and closer – “The Beach.” 

The production is a little more sonically pellucid, as it doesn’t tend to waver into wrought complexities and stoned one-note productions too much; even though there are minimal moments wherein the simplicity isn’t as engaging, like the intro section of “How Can I Make It Ok?” The same goes for the “Lipstick On The Glass.” They are the weakest links on the album, but never true deterrents with the contextual meshing it brings on both spectrums. It has this slow – minimalist buildup before it becomes these unique instrumentations.

Having these buildups isn’t that uncommon on Blue Weekend. A lot of the time it works because the songwriting grips you hard through the mixing and engineering of the vocal layers, which elevates the production’s tonal direction more. In turn, within the verses, your ears get eschewed with these vibrant metaphors, elusive Shakespearean quotes, and thoughts about the arrogance of humans, all the while realizing you also just read Vonnegut. It is like how “Play the Greatest Hits,” takes the crazy emotions one gets from hearing their favorite artist’s greatest hits and forgetting your worries as you unabashedly dance around in the kitchen, as Ellie Roswell would sing-scream on the track. Unfortunately it’s one of two tracks that felt like it could have been longer.

Blue Weekend finds itself in a constant mediation in what drives the track’s voice, both figuratively and literally, as the production’s effervescent layering of the instruments overwhelms half of the vocal performances from Ellie Roswell. But it’s to Blue Weekend’s benefit as it constantly grasps you with these captivating instrumentations, leaving you with an urge to flip on repeat and start to process over. This time you get lost in the songwriting and visceral imagery from the band. As you continue on this journey the varying tracks that emote the kind of blue you are feeling at the moment. These flow in unison with other themes on the album, ranging from relationships, motivated depression, and existential crises, amongst others, like on the tracks “Delicious Things,” and “Smile.”

“Delicious Things” broken down instrumentation plays coy with elongated and beautiful patterns on the production. Ellie Roswell writes this beautiful narrative where she feels displaced, the world is upside down, and she is around strange, but familiar, people. She is trying to mask her longing for home. “Smile,” on the other hand, eschews from conceptions as Ellie Roswell delivers a vocal performance that carries with it a rhythmic hip-hop soul from the way she makes the verses flow in a tangent similar to those of the genre. She isn’t singing as much on the verses and saving it for the transitional points like the choruses and bridges where the atmospheric and riveting performance makes you forget what the smile masks.

Blue Weekend is tame compared to past works, but it doesn’t let it become the detractor from creating these bright and clear depth of the songwriting/vocal performance and production. You’ll find yourself discovering tracks that hit you harder than others and that is fine, as the varying themes and structures of the tracks only share one common numerator, a flashing and old blue light overhead flickering that coats the tracks on the album.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee: Review

Michelle Zauner, or better known as Japanese Breakfast, has shown in the past that her talent may have been one-note tonally, and there will be a lack of light. Her first two albums had sonic range from the lo-fi dream rock and pop that encapsulated the emotional direction of her work, and it is on her third release that she slightly redefines herself. Zauner’s debut and follow-up, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds From Another Planet, evoked themes of love and death and moving on, while retaining this inner joy from spiritual connectivity; specifically her debut, which was made in the midst of grieving the loss of her mother in 2014. Hearing the lighter tones and instrumentations on Jubilee leaves me with a sense of glee. It chases the joy in life, despite tumultuously honest viewpoints, and allows that to embolden the themes, while on a juxtaposed journey of self-exploration. 

From the first track (“Paprika”) on, Michelle Zauner lays the groundwork on how the lyrical construct of Jubilee takes throughout the album. These moments shine with visceral imagery from her songwriting, which takes a new life all its own. On “Paprika” Zauner eclipses past generalizing individualism and embraces her status in her own hierarchy of popularity. It is a testament towards artists who brush off a “Yummy” and keep being authentic even as you make music akin to popular styles, like pop music’s recent uptick of 80s New Wave and Disco influences underwritten in the production. It uses the 2006 Japanese Anime film Paprika as a loose inspiration to elevate the dimensions in which we understand artistic and mental control, and she delivers it with confidence. From here – on Jubilee is filled with themes and writing that demonstrates these contrasts through unique perspectives. 

In talking to Apple Music about the music, Michelle Zauner talks with expression about the joy and meaning behind each song. In it she mentions her love of “Kokomo, IN,” as it is her favorite off the album, and one of the lowkey standouts. It feels more inspired by the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” more than she thinks. “Kokomo, IN” uses its loose narrative approach to bring light into the melodic – beach pop ballad. Like the Beach Boys song, the tale about love involves youths with maturity in the way they see life. It continues through contrasts on the song “Posing In Bondage,” by taking a somber and metaphorical approach to the wait-and-see dynamic behind relationships. They both bring stylistic POVs and sounds to tell similar stories except with different amounts of depth, as one speaks more through a fictitious boy and the other is her.

There is no particularly clear direction, sonically, with Jubilee. Despite the melodic synths and strings on the songs, they all have lush pop coatings that give the album a lot of fluidity. Michelle Zauner develops these sounds with her producers and instrumentalists by bringing a sense of confidence based on their propitious within each release. It isn’t hard to stick to your guns and create efficacious elements of these genres she redefines. Though, when she directs the music into more of a mainstream pop sonic construct on “Be Sweet,” it is like fireworks on the fourth of July. It is the only direct pop song, while others have that overlay which makes you think it is, but then the production picks up and you get these different arrays of sounds. It blends with the radiance in her vocal range as it is used in the amplification as backing vocals. It’s catchy and never feels forced as it transitions to the aforementioned “Kokomo, IN.”

There are many tracks that bloom with radiant light in the effervescent vocal performances from Zuauner, even when the songs don’t have bounce. There are a lot of great moments and off moments, like on “Savage Good Boy,” which has her becoming one of those rich and less exaggerated villainous businessmen we’ve read about in articles. She turns this manic story of villainy into an eclectic mess, like the electronic opening to poppy middle and closing on a wicked guitar riff. The subtleties in the string arrangements on some songs never feel fully authentic, but when it’s a focus we get brighter spots in the music. It allows for her to run free and deliver interesting and emotionally grand moments. The closing track, “Posing for Cars,” is led by a beautifully emotional performance by Zauner, as she sings this ode to her husband. It then shifts into this monstrous and focused guitar solo that speaks more words than you could imagine. 

Jubilee is a whirlwind of emotions, stemming from a creative mind and the inspirations around her, like her husband. Michelle Zauner, or Japanese Breakfast, brings a new light to her artistry and in an inspired direction. There is this beauty behind the many instruments that align the production and it keeps it tighter than before. It is definitely one of my favorite records of the year.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Dora Jar – Digital Meadow: Review

Dora Jar’s emergence has been one beautifully organic rise to witness through the Internet. There is an authenticity behind the music; specifically in the way she constructs her music. She isn’t like many independent alternative artists today. She can shift her vocal range to match sounds ranging from rock with angst to pop ballads without skipping a beat; and her writing matches the strength of her vocals. This elevated quality delivered on her debut LP, Digital Meadow, as she continues to show immense growth in her artistry. 

Digital Meadow has moments that are unlike the music she has released prior. There is a focused shift in the lyrical and vocal aspect of the music and less toward the atmospheric strings that embodies a song like “Multiply.” This shift was first heard on the standout “Quiver,” from her debut EP, Three Songs. “Quiver” keeps the contextual atmosphere on a minimal level as she creates ad-lib harmonization between verses and choruses, but the broken and emotional doubt in the performance comes as its strongest component. 

It’s hard to find many faults without being overly picky, like the inclusion of “Quiver” and “Multiply,” on Digital Meadow. These two were highlights amongst the few tracks she has released, and they fit within the concept, which is very much like reading a. These are very well nitpicks, but as it is with concept albums like this it is always about quality over quantity. “Quiver” is a beautiful pop ballad that showed she had more than what “Multiply” delivered. Though a lot of the production takes pieces from these two songs, along with “Look Back” from her EP, and explores them more on the album.

Dora and her producers make an effort to sonically and lyrically have focus as the stories that fill Digital Meadow with cohesion. There are various avenues she explores sonically as she gives us a look into her person. On the intro, “Opening,” she lets it be known the kind of body we will find ourselves in throughout this musical journey of hers. And it proceeds as she starts to deliver pieces of her that have been with her before and since her spine re-alignment surgery, which she recently documented about on Instagram.

Using music as a crutch, as well as exuberating ambition to perform long before the surgery, Dora Jar has been able to show a wide array of unique constructs on these five new songs, like the rustic and electrifying “Polly.” It’s an anthem that emboldens individuality and strength of one, especially when you see the world as one with endless possibilities, like she sings in part of the chorus, “Below me is a city, you could call me Godzilla / Cross the road little chicken, wanna stomp upon a bully / ‘Cause I’m invincible.” And conversely she delivers a slightly dark verse before elevating the song with infectious melodies.

Dora Jar continues this on the delicately crafted “Wizard.” She flips and rearranges an inclusion like anthem. The song has this unique hip-hop like rhythm to the verses, in contrast to the felicitously poppy chorus melodies and harmonies. She closes the album on the punk rock ‘Voice In The Darkness,” which is about the plethora of emotions flowing through her mind as her aforementioned spine alignment surgery was a major worry, and understandably so. The way she brings these fears into distressing angst, and at times broken and scared, vocal performance left a tear to this eye as it flourishes from start to finish.

Digital Meadow is an amazing full-fledged debut from New York based indie alternative artist Dora Jar. She has a defined sound that can go places and it showed, from the different types of pop rock ballads and hauntingly rustic rock to expressive vocals makes this one of my favorite debut projects of the year. And even-though she isn’t selling gangbusters now; she has the talent to grow beyond and is someone I’m looking forward to seeing creates more and more.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Olivia Rodrigo – Sour: Review

When “Driver’s License” first hit, it took a while for me to embrace its brilliance. It felt like an auspicious push by her record and fanbase, as it was hard to believe that she wouldn’t turn out another phenomenal hit. As the weeks eagerly passed since, Olivia Rodrigo kept pushing the limits, delivering and performing hit after hit after hit; and the momentum hasn’t stopped – as evidenced by the amount of hype behind her debut album Sour. It doesn’t feel like any debut I’ve heard in a while, particularly because it does not feel like one. Olivia Rodrigo has a keen ear as a musician and singer-songwriter as if she has been in the industry for years. And that is what spread throughout Sour, as it is engulfed by illustrious pop and indie rock anthems and ballads that all intertwine into one long and thoroughly written introspective piece about maturity, adolescence, and love, despite falling short due to some ballads feeling redundant.

Sour doesn’t like to mince words. As a Disney star, sometimes there are limits to where you can take aspects of your artistry. There is an image that the company wants from some of their heavy hitters, fortunately for Olivia it didn’t happen till the momentous reception to her follow up to “Drivers License,” which takes the extreme by making love extreme with the word fucking prior to the word. She opens Sour with two tracks, “brutal” and “traitor,” that quintessentially provides backstory to the themes and directions Olivia will take on the album as you let it play. 

“Brutal,” is this crazily audacious punk-garage rock anthem that takes mold from this generational trauma that befalls people from the stresses of stardom. Her vocals take an exceptional leap from “good 4 u,” which just feels like the angsty version of “Drivers License.” It brings a different edge, as opposed to “brutal,” which is reminiscent of the uproarious stylistic vocal performances that made artists like Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette have a different footing and push into stardom-their own way. 

“Traitor,” is the complete opposite of “brutal.” It takes a different approach to “Driver’s License,” where instead of recalling how her ex would play coy and flirt on the side with his ex-Disney star sidepiece and how Olivia let herself become mistaken, further believing that there was some chance. The melancholic melodies weave a constant push-back for her emotions, in the way she beautifully exuberates confidence in her feelings, letting the vocal performance tell us all. It is unlike the other ballad-like tracks as there is more instrumental depth.

As it continues tracks like “Driver’s License” and “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” come and deliver with vibrant moments of nuance, like the piano bedroom pop ballad that is usually missing now from some other prominent artist. “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is similar to “Drivers License,” but like the Saturday Night Live skit, this song feels more like a girl singing to herself with a piano in her room since it doesn’t focus too much on using effects to elevate the backing vocals. It continues on “enough for you,” as the piano plays second fiddle to Olivia’s lyricism, which is at its most relative. It details how Olivia tried to do things like read and learn about things that made her ex seem like an intellectual savant – compared to her and this growing fear he’d find her boring in the long run. 

Unfortunately Sour is a lot of the feeling Olivia brings to songs about her ex, but the subject becomes oversaturated by the time it reaches the end. There are a lot of bright spots and other times  It makes you start wondering when she will fully leave the bedroom and deliver a more bombastic indie rock record. Though there has been a lot of praise, a lot of the songs hit more in one aspect as opposed to the other, whether instrumentally or lyrically. So while Olivia Rodrigo immerses in the music with main producer Dan Nigro, known for writing and producing some songs on Conan Grey’s self-titled debut and Carolina Polatchek’s last album Pang, a few tracks don’t quite hit a run. What he brings is this vibrant array of acoustic guitar riffs that don’t overshadow the underlying subtleties from the other instruments used in some songs and using it as a guiding force, like on “enough for you.” 

Dan Nigro mixes Sour to have cohesion when it transitions from song to song, creating a short rollercoaster ride. The tip of the ride comes from standouts “DeJa Vu,” which is a fun psychedelic pop that embraces the drum and synthesizer and maximizes it to a bombastic overtone. It takes over as the drop hits after the first chorus and emboldens the rest of the track. However, It’s a disappointment that the two producers Dan Nigro brought to co-produce two tracks, ended up being some of the ones with weaker production. Jam City co-produces “jealousy, jealousy,” and it seems like the only real contributions are boring drum patterns and off putting modulations to her vocals.

Sour delivers at a level of expectancy and goes above and beyond that as well. From the opening track and on, the different styles that she approaches succeed with virtuoso. Olivia Rodrigo didn’t hold back and it is great to hear as we await what she brings to us in the future. For now I’m going to kick back and listen to “Deja Vu,” on repeat.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Aly & AJ Brings Many Summer Vibes Early On Their New LP: Review

We’ve been 14 years removed from the release of Aly & AJ’s last album, Insomniatic, but they’ve always been there. For a few years they made music as 78Violet and went back to Aly & AJ in 2015, and just in time for a new rise in popularity from Tik Tok. And as years progressed, since 2007, they haven’t deviated from electrifying pop rock, but has been built upon throughout subsequent EPs. However, their new album, A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, brings that eclectic array of indie-pop rock and synth-pop that carry a sonically thematic summer coating with the electronic-instrument overlays. Though some choices may come off misguided in production choices, there is a lot to digest and love from this after it gets an illustrious first play through.

Going about it once through, you’re mostly handed an eclectic mix of songs that transition well and keep you flowing with a mood, but within those beautiful instrumentations there is depth in the themes Aly & AJ evoke emotionally. There are songs that bring a joyous and fun energy and others that take the tempo and pacing down a notch to deliver these beautiful ballads with strong vocal performances from the two. “Slow Dancing,” for example, keeps it simple as a ballad by relying on fewer instruments in sequences, like the soft transition from the various string instruments to a subtle flute. It ends on a rhythmic solo that keeps reminding you how talented these two are. With the gap between albums and the slightly quiet releases of their EPs, some might not remember; but as well they were given the boost from Tik Tok that popularized some of their older and newer music.

A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun is significantly different from Insomniatic in its approach to the pop genre. The music of Insomniatic gave us a new synth pop rock identity for Aly & AJ, while maintaining the rock from their debut. Unlike Insomniatic, there is more of an identity on this follow-up. The essence of what the feeling of a calm sunset with your thoughts on a California beach is felt and they let the instruments guide the atmosphere, specifically with the synthesizers. Though they rarely go into oblique routes sonically, the little things they add bring more depth to the song, like on “Stomach.” It opens with a folk inspired arrangement of strings before switching into a beautiful electro-pop ballad and giving us the best song on the album.

There are many bright spots to A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, like glamorous synth-pop songs in “Paradise,” and “Don’t Need Nothing.” But they don’t match the visceral strength and nuances of their more pop rock songs, emphasis on rock. These songs have the most consistency on the album as the mixing gives it a slight garage feel in the way the electric guitar is mixed more faintly than other instruments at times. “Listen!!!” in particular, brings a semi-high motored percussion and electric guitars shredding, further bringing in that rock backbone to this potent anthem, all while transitioning smoothly from these vibrant synths in the opening. 

The album rarely teeters on mediocrity. Sometimes it comes from interesting, but poor execution of some of the instrumental decisions, like the sonically one note “Symptom Of Your Touch,” or the electronic synths and modulations at the end of “Lucky To Have Him.” There are fine vocal performances on the former, but the instrumentation and synths are boring. However, the latter of which starts off on a high note before teetering into a latent closer, but fortunately the track that proceeds it, is a monstrous effort at blending synth pop with simple rock structures, like the small moments of isolated electric guitar notes in between an elegant cohesion of percussion and strings. 

This mouthful of an album does what the title suggests on the bare surface, but within these illustrious songs and not so great songs, the thematic material holds a lot of weight when you go back and break apart meaning. Like aforementioned songs, “Slow Dancing,” and “Listen!!!” break apart conceptions, from wanting simplicity over extravagance or unique details that show a relationship breaking apart and the fear of tackling it head on. The themes don’t sway away much from relationships, love, and California, but there is one constant and that is their ability to naturally bring these elegant vocal performances and great songwriting. 

A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun is contrasting growth in a positive way for Aly & AJ as they deliver an array of songs for varying summer moods and beyond. From infectious melodies and instrumentations, there is a lot of love and take away from this, though after taking off your nostalgia goggles. It hits many strides at various angles, cementing their recent rise in the pop culture zeitgeist with fantastic music.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

girl in red – if i could make it go quiet: review

Within the slightly dominant (indie)world of bedroom/dream pop, there have been many great artists emerging and creating these clean breaths of fresh air as they expand on their sound. Norwegian indie pop rock artist, Girl in red, is one of those artists. From her early days of complex (thematically) bedroom pop to her the ever-expanding array of different sonic directions, this vibrant cohesion between her vocals and instrumentations are at center stage on her new release if i could make it go quiet. This indie rock album is full of emotional depth and bombastically vibrant rock and pop instrumentals, as we are given unique perspective on mental health and relationships.

We all know how difficult 2020 has been, and because of it there has been a slightly bigger focus on mental health, especially amongst the upper echelon. But even behind the celebrity-like coating, we share these wrought problems. Musicians and other artists have shown their emotions through it with new releases, from Folklore to How I’m Feeling, there has been an expression of their lives, physically and mentally throughout the pandemic. Girl In red never shies away from making music that captures the intricacies behind the social stigma behind the idea of mental health and that is what lets the album shine and stand apart from many artists doing similarly.  

Girl in red has taken emotional moments/events that came about in her life, during the pandemic, and has created these songs that break apart the effects it has on her being – oft times taking different approaches to the overall projection, like on “You Stupid Bitch,” which sees her talking to herself in third person. She breaks apart these hallucinations she’s been having about love and connectivity, and further showing the importance of self-love. Her writing takes a constant step up, though it wasn’t ever something she struggled with. The production with Norweigan instrumentalist Mattias Tellez, shows a continuous growth, even if you aren’t always getting a lush array of new bedroom pop.

If I could make it go quiet doesn’t completely deter from dream/bedroom pop-overtones that have been a focal point of her sound since the beginning. Starting with the illustrious rock anthem “Serotonin,” it sets a mood for the production notes of the tracks we’ll get. It carries an amplification of the electric guitar to empower the vocal performance of Girl in red, which then balances with some indie-pop vocalizations on other songs, like on “I’ll Call You Mine.” But the detachment from some oversimplified electronic (non guitar) notes, takes center stage like how “Serotonin” does as the opening song and reeling you further into the music.

“Serotonin,” has an extra layering of rock subtexts by co-producer/writer Finneas O’Connell. Its namesake is the kind of natural chemical that balances out the imbalance within mood and the lack of is one of many potential reasons for one’s depression. The way she delivers the chorus takes an uproarious approach with her rock anthem projecting vocal mixing, which continues on subsequent tracks in different ways, specifically in the songs “Did You Come” and “Rue.” 

The instrumental landscape has a focal point of the electric guitar that adds a second emotional coating to Girl in red’s vocal performance. Her vocals evoke a similar style to it, with a rough-patch overlay, which in some songs sounds like she is singing from afar. It’s the way she has been able to keep certain moody-melodic transitions smoothly from song to song. The moments of deviation from a rock – core allows her to fully dive into the roots of her emotional being and seeing it fleshed out through the various sonic contexts of the songs. At times we hear these nuances to garage rock with the way the instrumental and vocals are mixed. It switches between that and the polished work on songs like “Midnight Love.” It can deter you slightly; even though the transitions are remarkable with the way it uses the vocal performances to key in sonic transitions.

Songs like “hornylovesickmess” and “.” evoke keynotes in the transitional delivery from verse to chorus, eventually closing with a bedroom-dream pop overlay on the outro. This example only notes the complexities between the song-to-song transitions. “Midnight Love” is what follows “hornylovesickmess” and it starts with a melancholic vocal textures, which aligns more with the preceding song’s outro and it ends with a uproarious rock instrumental that aligns more with the rock sound of “You Stupid Bitch.”

The further the album progresses, the more the curtains open as she distinguishes these stories with the burgeoning emotions from the events in her life. At times the content of the song is reflective with the tonal mood of the instrumentation, like the vibrant-pop rock instrumental of “Apartment 402,” which shows a contrasting glee from the dark and broken aspect of the apartment. This apartment has allowed her to feel certain ways and lead to a kind of happiness that equates to a kind of solace if she were to die in her comfort zone. The way she dives into her subconscious allows for a beautiful cohesion of sounds in her music and as it starts with “Serotonin,” she solidifies it with “Apartment 402,” as it maintains a lingering thought in our mind.

Girl in red has always shown her strengths in minimalist detail and expands her tonal melodies to empower the thematic meaning within these cohesion of songs. That is what makes If I could make it go quiet a loud centerpiece that reaches into the core of many who relay their own connectivity and will create more intrigue for the newcomers. 

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.