Black Country, New Road – Ants from Up There: Review

Last year Black Country, New Road delivered auspiciously vibrant production in their debut, For the First Time. I was captivated almost immediately, from their rustic jazz undertones to experimental instrumental layering within the post-punk genre that it left me slightly optimistic. Unfortunately, that optimism has stepped back slowly upon lead vocalist Isaac Wood’s departure – as for now, Ants from Up There is a remarkable pivot for the band whose last album had minimal variation. It had these different ideas relative to the external nature of song composition instead of adding more depth. On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.

For their debut, Black Country, New Road re-recorded past singles and began to create the mold for its sound. It had chaos; it had ingenuity; most importantly, it had too many ideas, some of which were superfluous. At times, their talent and songwriting tinted my headphones, which covered some of the poor freeform vitamins in the mix. Unlike their debut, Ants from Up There brings bright spots for the darkness. They take out the vitamins and make sure they don’t burn the concoction, delivering a fine fixture of delicious musical plates for indulging. I’ll tell you; it may have left me slightly over-bloated without regret. There are varying elements of different genres not heard in their debut, and mastering new territory to excel, like with Isaac Wood’s vocals, it grasps your ears with a chamber-pop-echo reinforcing the melodic bind between the vocal layers and production.

In an interview with Apple Music, bassist Tyler Hyde said: “We wanted to explore the themes we’d created on that song. It’s essentially three songs within one, all of which relatively cover the emotions and moods that are on the album. It’s hopeful and light, but still looks at some of the darker sides that the first album showed.” She is speaking about the track “Basketball Shoes” – it combines three different art-rock-driven songs into a 12-minute three-part arc that flows tangentially from start to finish. Within the three-song variation, there are nuances to the sonic motifs throughout the album, while mirroring elements of the intro, there is tame chaos. It’s paradoxical, but the album emboldens a beautiful parallel, where the instruments play at an elevated level. We get these contextualized and bright instrumentations while embodying complex, poetic songwriting, a good amount of which are about different things within a failing relationship.

Ants from Up There bridges Isaac Wood’s songs about a relationship with emotional exuberance. On “Chaos Space Marine,” the band plays with joy in every note as Wood sings about taking the next spiritual step into maturity. “Mark’s Theme” overly contrasts “Chaos Space Marine” in tone. Unlike seeing the light at the end of a proverbial journey, this metaphorical light ends for Saxophonist Lewis Davis’s uncle, who passed away from COVID. It’s a dreamy saxophone-centric production that embodies Davis’s emotions. It’s heartwrenching and adds a sense of unison amongst the band. They transform elegantly on “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade;” it takes influence from 70s Bob Dylan in its rustic production and lyrical elements from a song off Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, specifically “I Know There Is An Answer.”

There is a remarkable evolution unfolding on Black Country, New Road’s new album – one where the world is at your fingertips. You can take yourself to a place where the canvas is covered in vibrant colors in different hues, allowing them to transfix you as you divulge themes. Musically speaking, there is an ethereal array of jubilant instrumentations. Charlie Wayne’s percussion brings elements of hypnotic bliss, while Tyler Hyde’s groovy bass lines and Georgia Ellery’s violin playing deliver nuances of the dark chaos at times seen in post-rock. It’s expressive throughout, especially in the track “Good Will Hunting.” It’s a steady progression, leading to the 40-second mark where it blossoms into one of the best songs on Ants from Up There

However, within the confines of Black Country, New Road’s album, you start to infuse yourself within the confines of their sound, “Snow Globes” muddles in the background. The production drowns out Isaac Wood’s vocals, leaving you thrusted into an intense shake of a snow globe. It doesn’t hinder it and works on its own. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the second half that it recaptures your attention for the closer, “Basketball Shoes.”

Black Country, New Road’s shift from the chaotic, jazzy, punk rock hybrids of their debut adds a new light on their talent, especially as they maneuver while making a concert audience cheer louder than before. As they take these elements of art-rock and chamber-pop vocals and blend them into one, it leaves me feeling excited for new music, despite slight sadness from their canceled tour.

Rating: 9 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.

Snail Mail – Valentine: Review

If you can describe a preferred genre, how would you? For me, it revolves around alternative or indie music with a female vocalist singing about somewhat sad content with glistening nuances of singer-songwriter-alt-rock of the 90s/00s. And when Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan) came across the Apple Music feed, I felt a bit of connectivity, amassing into more intrigue. Snail Mail left a positive impression on me, like a spark that made it clique, making it clear they will grow. They return with Valentine, improving on every aspect of the music, between the production and lyricism. It’s a good album that will make noise amongst the mass-indie sphere, and hopefully more with the blessing of getting the Spotify spotlight in Times Square.

Snail Mail delves deeper into their creative graff as they elevate their plateau. They are starting to play around with different soundscapes that breach past a comfort zone, bringing a bit more personality. With the first two songs, “Valentine” and “Ben Franklin,” Snail Mail is working with synths (former) and profound rock complexions (latter), which becomes a little prominent this time around. However, the consistency doesn’t always stay, with an occasional guitar-driven introspective tune here and there – it mystifies you in a shroud of fog before sending you back. In this fog, the ballad-like songs don’t lose as they offer a little more nuance, but you may find yourself wanting to go back to the slightly more adventurous songs. One reason for that feeling stems from Lindsey Jordan’s (Snail Mail) lyricism, and at times more jubilant melodies. “Valentine” speaks on the tender feelings one gets about the love-lost concept, more derivative of Romantic Comedies, except she plays with immersive relativity. 

That jubilant nature may not always be apparent, but when Snail Mail makes it so, you’re left feeling a sense of reward and connectivity. Connectivity was never a problem for Snail Mail, but trite depressive overtones on Lush drove home a sense of tedious somberness. Unfortunately, “c. Et Al” treads back into the kind of broad somberness in sound; it isn’t easy to return to unless the broken down nature of the guitar-ballad and poetic nature of the verses delivers substance. It feels more like a journal entry than a song, which poorly contrasts the more jubilant “Madonna” and “Glory.” 

When I refer to certain songs as jubilant, they bring slightly livelier energy from Lindsey Jordan while tackling themes like love and relationships and the varying dimension behind the lyrics. “Madonna” sees Snail Mail honing in on themes prevalent to love – more so directed at the idea of love as Lindsey creates these whimsical allusions that overwhelm the limits of the pedestal Lindsey imparts on her hypothetical lover. The title isn’t a reference to the singer, who has countless pop hits about love, sex, and strength, and instead alludes to the original Madonna, which imparts a higher platform onto them. Its beautifully lively guitar riffs and moderately paced percussion patterns add layers of nuance to the production, where the simplicity stands on its own two feet. 

“Glory,” on the other hand, contrasts the slightly up-tempo production with these depth-filled thoughts about Lindsey Jordan’s relationships and the power of control. She seems similarly distraught and disenchanted as she realizes what is and isn’t within reach. It controls the way she maneuvers around these complicated themes with an abundance of emotional gravitas. Similar to “Madonna,” the production has the 90s-rock nuance with an up-tick in the tempo. It isn’t at the peak of “Automate,” where the focus is on the percussion patterns, elevating Jordan’s vocals in conjunction with reverb to extend the atmospheric nature. Beyond the production, the complexions on the lyrics as she weaves around these interesting perspectives on themes. 

Since her debut, Lush, Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan) has never had a problem as a writer, showing that it was her strength as an artist then and continues to be so now. These perspectives weave intricate emotional phases, particularly of a relationship, like on “Forever (Sailing),” where she reflects the emotions that come about from the honeymoon phase where lust is unmatched by any hiccups along the way. She delivers a tender vocal delivery while encapsulating our levels of whimsy with the range and reverb. Some moments are similar, but it’s hard to pinpoint them as standouts with the music being fluid from start to finish.

Valentine is an improvement for Snail Mail, with intricate themes and luscious production. Unfortunately, it isn’t for everyone. There are moments of greatness and moments where the music falters due to steering a little close to the comfort zone, but it still works. I implore checking out Snail Mail, as I’ve yet to find any reason myself,  regret doing so.

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.

St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home: Review

St. Vincent has never shied away from exuberating a lust and love for the music she creates; a lot of which have centered around a pop-like subtext, ranging from the noise and art pop of Actress to the glam rock and synth pop rock of Masseducation. She has always been an ever-growing force in music that doesn’t let universal appeal become a drawback into her artistry, and the bold choices she makes on weaving her vocal performances to fit the nuanced funk/soul sounds of her new album, Daddy’s Home, feel like a breath of fresh air. In a way these sounds have allowed her vocal performances to envelop a new stratosphere, where a lot of the key-sonic undertones of early 70s funk, sways her in this nostalgic direction, which shows the visceral strength behind the talent of both St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and Co-Producer Jack Antanoff. 

Daddy’s Home is very personal for St. Vincent, diving deep into the crevices of her life and allowing it to integrate different narrative styles. Whether she is implementing herself in a party to establish a social misery that she masks amongst friends and family or being referential to detail the stress the media induces with certain standards on, she keeps it emotionally resonating with the melodic and melancholic nuances in her vocal performance and its pace. It brings more to the atmospheric and soulful texture over many funk-inspired tracks and the more broken down instrumental like “…At The Holiday Party.” 

One of the few cruxes of Daddy’s Home goes beyond the dimensions of sonic direction. As this is her first foray into these beautiful nostalgic – era defining sounds, it comes across naturalistic and her pain, her determination, and the way life around her interacts, brings about a new sense of clarity musically. Along with Jack Antanoff, she brings a plethora of grooves and melodies that drive home the deepening realism in her themes and performances. The title song brings variant indications that the album will balance its tonal inflections with the production. 

The kind of funk that emboldens various aspects of the production on Daddy’s Home doesn’t always take a renowned approach to the pacing and instead develops a leaner and softer-melodic texture more attune to her strengths. Midway through, St. Vincent takes that unique turn by bringing forth an uptempo with an elevation in the notes of the wurlitzer and the groovy-loud bass patterns, which guides the direction laid out by the opening track, “Pay Your Way.” The funkadelic sounds don’t always get an uptick from the vibrant bass grooves and infectious sequences in the production that comes from the masterful mixing of layers by Chris Gehringer, who has mixed Loud by Rihanna and most recently Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa. His work in creating the final mix has given St. Vincent’s vocals a very open and focused limelight.

Her vocal performances contain ranges in pace, which in most cases takes the emotional gravitas that embodies soul music and gives it character, in this melodic way. But the unique approach to using modulation and effects gives the vocals an elevation that the backing vocals do a little better. The modulation on “Pay Your Way,” gives it that extra level of authenticity to the kind of modulation usage in funk music from artists of yester. However, the effects on “Down,” are subtle; it gives the song and her performance a naturalistic rock approach in the vigorously strong electric guitars and thumping percussion. 

Most times St. Vincent takes the slower and melodic soul vocals and she delivers some buried emotions from the kind of relationship she has had with her father, whose release from prison was the light bulb for this sonically conceptual album. It’s a loose inspiration as she takes it to tell a bigger story that seems to be misplaced for the time. Daddy’s Home is at point literal and abstract in the music, using these stories to tell the bigger picture. But without the nuanced sound, the album’s nostalgia trip is lost within a newspaper from years ago when a white-collar crime got equal notoriety as opposed to others. It ignites the range in emotions hidden beneath. You can hear the anger, the disappointment, and the aspiration to get through the hurdles that encompass the overall being of one.

Daddy’s Home brings an influx of new sounds that make it different from what we are used to from St. Vincent, but she makes it her own and develops a beautiful array of soulful vocal performances. It elevates the emotional grip she has on the words, which become more impactful the more you listen to it. 

Rating: 8 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.

List: Ranking Taylor Swift’s Duets

Throughout Taylor Swift’s career she has had a wide range of duets with different artists she either associated with at the time or with an artist she is a huge fan of, like Bon Iver and The Nationals. She has had her fair share of flops in quality with the way these tracks turn out, but the vocals – for the most part – don’t falter in mediocrity; however the synchronization of the vocals are another story. This rankings looks at both overall construct of the vocals as they harmonize with each other and how complementary they are to the production.

13. Me! – Taylor Swift & Brendon Urie

This is an interesting duet, partially because it is one of those rare “bad” songs from Taylor Swift, and mostly because the vocal pitches don’t complement or contrast each other well. It’s one of the more poppy/lively productions, despite wrought, that Taylor has sung over, “Shake It Off” notwithstanding (because it just so damn great). Some of the production notes, like the overindulgent piano and synths, leave much to interpretation and questioning as Brendon Urie and Taylor lack vocal chemistry. Though it has lively production, it doesn’t have that same oomph and stylistic authenticity of “Shake It Off.” Though Taylor does her best, vocally, Urie is still as self reliant on putting the octane on the high pitch, more adjunct to his recent radio hit – at the time – “High Hopes,” and together it is way too meh.

12. Evermore – Taylor Swift & Bon Iver

Amongst the songs on Evermore, unfortunately, the title track doesn’t evoke the same oomph that the album had through its many intricate moments. It is unlike their previous duet, “Exile,” which used the strengths of both artists with slight nuance. “Evermore” is boring, for lack of a better term. Bon Iver’s vocals feel like they weren’t much there to grasp from emotionally, leading to moments you just don’t to latch onto.

The piano keys and guitar riffs of “Evermore” don’t have that same haunting atmosphere and it relies on falling into something more similar to standard folk/indie rock, as the broken down instrumental tries hard not to play third fiddle. The harmonization continues to show a trend of it working with fluidity, but that isn’t enough to save the track from the many problems it carries, specifically in the longish runtime.

11. Safe & Sound – Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars

This is another, modest, track coming from Taylor Swift that she curated for The Hunger Games film. It is broken down with a simple string melody and ghostly harmonization from each member of the Civil Wars, individually, on each verse. These harmonizations is the highlight of the track. It’s hard to dislike the nuanced arrangement, but it does teeter around a slow pacing that doesn’t feel fully invested in, particularly in how it is mixed. You’re just there waiting for any type of shift in momentum, but nothing ever comes out of it.

10. Everything Has Changed – Taylor Swift & Ed Sheeran

“Everything Has Changed” is honestly just fine. There isn’t much to it that makes me think that it is anymore than what you hear on a surface level, especially considering Ed Sheeran doesn’t sound fully “there” on it.. It may be one of the overall “good” (not great) tracks off Red, but when you compare it to the other duet on the album it falls beyond sub-par overall execution in both production and vocal melodies. It’s, in a way, a very typical-kind of duet most people could mirror, considering the basic piano keys.

9. I Don’t Wanna Live Forever – Taylor Swift & Zane

What starts as a middling and slow composition, grows into an elegant orchestration of vocal deliveries. They overshadow the very typical somber percussion that takes mood-influence from the film, Fifty Shades Darker, for which it was made for. Zayn and Taylor complement each other surprisingly well, considering the contrasting – base – range that both vocal pitches encompass. Unfortunately the track really only has gravitas when the production transitions between the first chorus and Taylor Swift’s solo vocals as the shifty percussion adds more color to an otherwise simple gothic-pop atmosphere.

8. Coney Island – Taylor Swift & The National

This song has definitely grown on me after some time, mostly because of the way Matt Berninger’s voice contrasts Taylor Swift’s over a beautiful string and piano arrangement. At the time it felt like a very yawn inducing track that fit the mold of Evermore, sonically. Though the production, at times, leads in some slight bland directions, the vocals from both artists boost the complexion on the track about separation. It is the best duet off Evermore, but that isn’t hard to accomplish when the title track featuring Bon Iver loses touch on the elements that made “Exile” so great.

7. You All Over Me – Taylor Swift & Maren Morris

Though some may think there is some recency bias, it should be known by now that most of the duets Taylor Swift has made don’t always have the greatest sequences in the production transitions. The way Taylor and Maren Morris blend their vocals together is reminiscent of the harmonizations that Nathan Chapman would implement to Taylor’s voice amplification and depth. Morris does that for Taylor this time around, while incorporating her own complementary twang – accents in her singing. 

Aaron Dressner of The National finds a beautiful way to meet two similar sounds, folk and country, halfway. The country/folk blend in guitar strings and percussion embolden the overall atmosphere more attune to the kind of ballad-like constructs that made Fearless such a momentous debut for Taylor Swift.

6. Lover (Remix) – Taylor Swift & Shawn Mendes

Unlike the unconventionality of Taylor Swift and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver’s vocal synchronization, Taylor and Shawn Mendes have a unique happy medium with the way they harmonize. However, as a song, there are many parts where it goes from being on a high to going down low in execution, like the moments where Shawn free forms – non verbal melodies – which comes off a bit extra. It is a beautifully designed duet that works more than it doesn’t, and particularly because Shawn Mendes complements Taylor Swift, vocally. On the bright side, the production maintains it’s elegant, melancholic guitar and piano-centric combo flowing with ease, but regular version of “Lover” is slightly better.

5. Half Of My Heart – John Mayer & Taylor Swift

The vibrant harmonizations match the simpleness of the melodic/melancholic acoustics, backing the neatly designed pop-rock track from John Mayer. “Half Of My Heart” is a solidly constructed song, from the luscious twang in Taylor’s voice to the verdant foundation of the pop overtones Mayer creates with his producers. “Half Of My Heart” delivers with finely tuned mixing, allowing both vocalists to bring their own bravado in their performances.

4. Breathe – Taylor Swift & Colbie Cailat

This beautiful guitar ballad brings the best of both worlds, as Colbie brings soft and elegant harmonizations to Taylor Swift’s melodies, specifically in the way she elongates the word for emphasis. Colbie Caillat has a voice from the heavens and her quaint summer innocence in her voice adds much to the pop-shy Taylor, who seems to take a lot of notes of the way Colbie creates her melodies, resonate of her work like “Bubbly,” and “Realize.” “Breathe” is part of the small collective of songs that transgress against the underlying quandary we had at the time; is she pop or is she country? This song, instrumentally bridges a gap more parallel to that of folk-pop with the somber guitar strings that conduct the tempo and rhythm of the rest of the production.

3. Two Is Better Than One – Boys Like Girls & Taylor Swift

This beautiful and timely piece of music-pop culture history, where the paradigm shift of emo-rock and pop-punk became more infused with pop rock, that the songwriting didn’t help imply context. It was also one of the few times we saw two genres of the opposite spectrum link and create a song together. This song or ballad is full of vocal decadence with the way they paint the emotional cues, specifically in the chorus. Before this, from Fearless, Taylor balanced pop sonic subtexts in some songs, like “You Belong With Me,” but this is her real first foray into pop without ever feeling derivative of underlying, wrought, emo/punk sub-texts. 

2. Exile – Taylor Swift & Bon Iver

The atmospheric nature that loomed over Taylor Swift’s sonic shift on Folklore brought about one of the greatest songs of 2020. And unlike the duet Taylor made with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on the title track of Evermore, the song “Exile,” from Folklore, is a breath of fresh air. It brings varying degrees of lush and haunting-gospel like sonic execution in the production and vocal textures “Exile” works by incorporating all the aspects that usually embolden their vocal textures; specifically Justin Vernon, whose melodic baritone pitch orchestral amplification contrasts Taylor’s honeyed vocals. The focused piano keys adds atmospheric overtones, which allows the reverb to develop the haunting mood of a track more aligned with themes of separation, like Taylor slowly did from the country roots of Nashville and transitioned into pop. The added depth, vocally and thematically, brings this track forth with enough momentum it will leave you shivering.

1. The Last Time – Taylor Swift & Gary Lightbody

Simply put, “The Last Time” is emotionally draining. Though that doesn’t come as a surprise, considering Taylor Swift created this with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and legendary rock producer Jacknife Lee. In a way, this acts as a precursor to some of the stylistic/sonic overtures of Folklore, specifically in the notes/sonic-influence she takes from the bands she happens to be huge on, aka folk-alternative rock. “The Last Time,” however, takes all these sonic undertones to bridge together the power ballad about a relationship cycle. The moody electric guitar riffs, builds the momentum of the story, while the piano invigorates the atmospheric surface.

Gary Lightbody’s baritone, like Justin Vernon’s, is a beautiful complement to Taylor’s middling soprano range. This allows for Taylor to find her own comfortability parallel to her partner’s delivery and together they created one of the best songs in Taylor’s whole discography.