Camila Cabello – Familia: Review

Composed and structured, these are a few reasons why Familia by Camila Cabello resonates more musically compared to previous records. Unfortunately, that doesn’t say much as it still misses to hit the mark as a pop album. For the few times my ears perk up, they quickly flatten as Camila tries to blend flavorful Latin Pop within whatever bad ideas flow through her creative mind. It’s as if she tries to find a middle road between earwormy harmonies and melodies and consistently basic songwriting. She’s had some catchy and replayable hits, mostly coming from songs that have some roots in her native culture. Familia lets her vocals naturally materialize over its production and give us a pulse of vibrant Latin Pop textures, but some production and songwriting are still on the opposite end.

Unlike the glitz and glamour of pop that masked Romance, Familia has a more natural feel with its vision musically. It doesn’t get wrapped by overly produced pop textures; instead, it gets stripped, rearranged with the Latin music that influenced Camila Cabello in her youth and during her time with family during the pandemic. There are elements of Rumba, Salsa, Bachata, and Folk, but It’s not exclusive to those as they get blended into whimsical pop tracks with identity. It doesn’t matter the approach Cabello brings; there is synchronization between her vocal melodies, harmonies, and the production, which is the driving hook for more easy replayability. 

Unfortunately, going that route would be more for the synchronization that allows you to listen to 11 of 12 songs without taking a totally jarring detour. It gives the technical aspects of the music traction, even if songs teeter between more conventional or more vibrant, but it’s only as good as the writing. Camila Cabello isn’t known for having deeply enchanting choruses. Her writing can stand out, specifically in her verses, but for the most part, it stays mundane. It doesn’t match her melodies as they come across as radiantly captivating. It’s a happy medium that, despite the direction the production takes, it feels natural. It doesn’t make every song incredible, but it keeps steady for better or worse. It left me wishing she kept it tighter to being open face Latin Pop, but she takes a few directions, one works; the others don’t.

However, that isn’t to downplay some of the standouts on Familia. Opening with “Celia,” Camila Cabello hits the right chords as she evokes her inner Celia Cruz. It builds off the Salsa-like rhythm and creates this hypnotic pop song that mirrors what Celia kept going for us, the addiction to dance. Since Cabello’s solo debut, anytime the production utilized Latin music to guide the style, she’d shine. It was evident with the quality shift from “She Loves Control” and “Havana” to “Inside Out.” We don’t get an inconsistency in style on Havana since any shift in style still carries a consistent piece of Latin music built-in. The subtleties fuel any centric-glitzy pop and give them definition like the use of maracas, and other percussion notes, on the trip-hop-centric “psychofreak.”

Camila Cabello is mostly a hitmaker, and sometimes it shows when certain corners get cut to check off boxes like catchy choruses and earwormy melodies. None of those occasions come from songs about Shawn Mendes, as they tend to the more basic. That isn’t to say that Cabello isn’t capable of writing great verses, shining when she writes Spanish language songs and hybrids. It separates the greatness of “Celia” and “La Vida Buena” with “Quiet” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” The latter two aren’t as profound, embodying a little more conservative electro-pop notes and mundane lyrics, mirroring the simple but effective melodies. Some of the songs are personal, but the vocabulary isn’t always eye-popping like in “Quiet.” In the song’s verse, Cabello tries to deliver a sexy lead-in but falls flat with forgettable descriptions; on the pre-chorus, it’s the same with the lines, “It’s you, boy/I’m cool like an icicle ’til I see you, boy,” and her vocals mask it for the most part. It doesn’t make them good, despite having technical components down.

It’s similarly the case with the last two tracks on Familia. It left me with the same feeling as Camila Cabello’s previous albums, predominately underwhelmed. Through the hurdles of getting caught by catchy melodies, great songs do stand out amongst the others, which continue to show us Cabello’s strengths. It may be fun to get lost in, but it’s very memorable. Familia will deliver some tracks that can fit varying playlists, but those are minimal. Hopefully, Camila Cabello grows from this and makes more Spanish language hits.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Daddy Yankee – LEGENDADDY: Review

2022 has been one helluva of a year–from the postponement of the annual Grammy Awards to April 3rd to Maury Povich retiring and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon performing this summer at Lollapalooza–nothing has churned more emotions than the announcement of Daddy Yankee’s retirement: the architect of who defined reggaeton as a genre. It’s bittersweet for fans, but he leaves with a monstrous send-off on his 8th and final studio album, LEGENDADDY. Being his first album in a decade, we’ve seen reggaeton’s growth from nuanced ballads to pop-bangers which bridge samples of sonic influence. It’s all relative to your cultural roots and the music that inspired you from youth. Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.

Let’s not mince words: we’ve heard singles throughout the last few years, each showing different directions with auspicious production and captivating flows and melodies as Daddy Yankee ignites a flame into these new, younger artists who he’s influenced. LEGENDADDY features some of these artists as they match wits with the DY, expressing themselves within the sounds they’ve refined themselves. Myke Towers joins Daddy Yankee for “PASATIEMPO,” a stellar dancefloor electro-pop/reggaeton anthem that incorporates more melodies than the reggaeton-trap hybrid “ZONA DEL PERREO” and “HOT.” Whenever Daddy Yankee is trying to command the dancefloor, he juxtaposes these sounds to give us an essence of his range in style. Following “PASATIEMPO,” Daddy Yankee sings and raps over tropical-laced percussion on “RUMBATÓN,” taking away the house-pop sample for authentic representation. 

We hear elements of salsa, bolero, or bachata in its rhythm phase of the 2000s, to its hip-hop side and trap/perreo side of today. It’s organized chaos, allowing us to marvel at the work he delivered throughout the years. The production is as vibrant as ever, and each track has its value on the dance floor. Unfortunately, not every track lands on all notes. “ZONA DEL PERREO” suffers from redundant lyricism; it’s a simple track about dancing, particularly perreando or dancing Doggystyle. The production is lush and feels like a waste, as Natti Natasha and Becky G become forgettable with poor mixing and autotune. It isn’t like “AGUA” with Rauw Alejandro and Nile Rodgers, which precedes it. “AGUA” mixes the complexions of reggaeton with disco, bringing a slightly funky bass to round it out while Daddy Yankee and Rauw Alejandro rap and sing in a beautiful tangent.

Daddy Yankee is more than the surface layer reggaeton tracks we hear. Beneath the production, Daddy Yankee rarely takes a step-back with his lyricism, as he flexes and expresses these emotions in coded melodies that have us gyrating whenever we stop doing the 1-2-3 step of Bachata. Within these songs, we hear Daddy Yankee flexing his status as a legend, his humble beginnings, and aspects of relationships–like “IMPARES,” which sees Daddy Yankee lamenting the emotional distance between him and his wife due to his mistakes. Following the previous song, Daddy Yankee raps about his imperfections while finding acceptance in his faults as he justifies opposites attract–this gets juxtaposed by how it expresses hiccups within the relationship. The multiple layers on these tracks come from commanding confidence behind the board and microphones, as Daddy Yankee and his producers create these productions that feel fresh and different than last.

Beyond proclaiming his status on “CAMPEÓN,” Daddy Yankee takes the time to reaffirm it. After a few danceable and emotional bangers, Daddy Yankee comes with “UNO QUITAO Y OTRO PUESTO,” which encapsulates his youth with potent energy in an attempt to lay down his legacy in music form. It’s a true reggaeton-hip hop hybrid that he is known for–it has been one of the reasons I’ve personally been in awe of his talent, from the “Rompe Remix” to “Gangsta Zone” and “TATA Remix,” there isn’t a moment that he fails to show how extensive that utility belt is. This energy is rampant throughout LEGENDADDY, showing in different ways, but nothing as mesmerizing as tracks where he drapes it with powerful verses, like on “ENCHULETIAO,” where he raps about being hooked to the hustle.

LEGENDADDY is a triumph. It shows why Daddy Yankee has been the driving force behind the escalation of the genre today with his influence for the next generation, bridging many genres and languages together. We forget Daddy Yankee was making songs with Fergie and Snoop Dogg before we saw Bad Bunny make a song with Will Smith or DeLaGhetto making a song with Fetty Wap. It’s a fantastic album that plateaus him higher than most pop artists, and his name will remain in the ears of many for years to come.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Natalia Lafourcade – Un Canto Por México Vol. 2: Review

Natalia Lafourcade’s expressive and eclectic talent has never been lost within the many reviews of her work. When she releases a project, she comes in with an established direction, differentiating projects between an effervescent array of beautiful pop ballads and keen traditional Mexican folk music. This has been ever-present since the release of 2017 Musas, which has been odes to the musical influences that has been with Natalia since the start of her love for music. This continuation on both volumes of Un Canto Por Mexico has been nothing short of amazing. With Vol. 1 she delivers livelier-traditional performances, while Vol. 2 brings a slightly melancholic direction sonically, allowing for the guitars to play bare as Natalia and her musical guests flourish from start to finish. 

The whole process behind the two volumes have been focused on establishing a light on and helping those working to rebuild the cultural buildings, and city of Puebla, after the September earthquakes of 2017. In an amazing way, it gave Natalia Lafourcade a chance to help her community by building a charitable bank to donate from the money received off these two albums. And as a double-edged sword, has given her new motivation and influence to deliver new updates of her music, affluent in the popular sound she grew up around.

Un Canto Por México Vol. 2 opens with a beautifully haunting and nuanced acoustic cover of “La Llorona,” Natalia Lafourcade sets the stage for the album to take shape. As she bends the corner, she delivers a nuanced collection of songs that will take some Mexican listeners down a trip of remembrance with the elegant production that is established on the album. She enlists a treasure trove of artists to accompany her and elevate these new updates to new heights.

Amongst the treasure trove of musical guests, nothing caught my ear quicker than her update of “Recuerdame” from the Pixar film Coco. On this broken down take, she takes away the accompanying vocals from Miguel and instead duets with Mexican Pop singer Carlos Rivera, as well as expanding the length by double and adding more beautiful harmonizations. Rivera’s vocal inflections bring memories of listening to classic Vincente Fernandes, when he wasn’t fully in his feelings and letting the world know how he felt. But the songs on Un Canto Por Mexico Vol. 2 are full of beautiful guest vocal performances from legends from her country, like Aidas Cuevas on “Luz De Luna,” and Pepe Aguilar on “Cien Años,” where they bring the vibrance behind the history of the Mexican music scene from Pop to Regional. 

Un Canto Por México Vol. 2 is like the first, where it contains updated versions on past songs, along with covers and some unreleased material. It ranges from the traditional covers like the aforementioned “La Llorona.” Though this time, there is less unreleased material and more beautiful new updates on songs, primarily from the phenomenal Musas Vol 1. & 2. It astounds me with the kind of consistency Natalia Lafourcade has at creating these unique varieties of music since her rocker days in the 2000s. But as she continued into the 2010s, a lot of her music has been an arrangement of carefully crafted pop ballads and traditional folk influenced tracks, and it continues into 2020 she has taken that beautiful turn into delivering more traditional-regional music akin to the past. It bleeds into the music she updates.

The way the production/instrumental arrangement isolates the folk-pop aspects and flips it with to subtly underlie the traditional and regional-pop twists. It elevates the music to newer levels that you start to become distraught on which version is better. However this isn’t much of a surprise considering Kiko Campos has been a solid and consistent producer of her work, dating back to Musas. The regional take on “Luz De Luna,” on this album is a lot more elevated in emotion opposed to the somber-pop take from her 2017 album Musas. This is similarly the case on “Tu Si Sabes Quererme,” which adds a bit of a salsa undercoating from the dueting performance she has with Cuban artist Ruben Blades. It takes a beautiful twist when Mexican poet and hip-hop artist Mare Adventecia, comes in the third act with a stunning verse that flows in beautiful tandent with the visceral horns in the backdrop.

There are very few moments that Natalia Lafourcade comes on to deliver solo performances and when she does, it’s like seeing future Mets legend Pete Alonso hitting a dinger out the park. With the elegant and haunting acoustic rendition of the traditional “La Llorona” she brings forth nuance and lets herself feel bare and free behind the microphone. Though this isn’t a commonality for her, especially since she has been able to elevate that soprano range to new heights. On the lovely mix of “Alma Mía/Tú Me Acostumbraste/Soledad y El Mar” her new approach by breaking the production into a lovely breed of acoustic guitar, that eventually elevates with overlaying melodic strings and horns that evoke that regional Musica Mexicana Tradicional. She has this unsung beauty about in her voice that just makes the mouth drop with consistent awe as she gives us this, on top of the many duets and more on Un Canto Por México Vol. 2

Un Canto Por México Vol. 2 is an astounding album and one of the best things released this year. However it may not be for everyone considering the niche nature of the music and beyond. But Natalia Lafourcade is continuing to prove that she isn’t going away we should embrace the talent and the music she constantly gives us.

Rating: 10 out of 10.