Artist Profile – Nora Van Elken

Nora Van Elken may not be the most well known amongst her peers, but she has been exponentially growing uniquely within the otherwise colorful deep house and downtempo music. She breaches different territories by allowing her own distinct vocals to have a sense of confidence within, specifically in her debut album and covers, as well as having a beautiful array of conceptual projects. But amongst the plethora of music she has put out, there are few projects of note to check out by this unique house artist, who on her own has made some bold moves in the music she made covers for and remixed, as well changing her musical landscape to be adjunct with the culture that influences it.

The self-titled Nora Van Elken is her only work that has a consistent sonic landscape that emboldens EDM styles. The illustrious percussion notes take you on a trip through an elegant array of one-two steps and upper body dance movement-music, though at times falling into a wrought dance music consistency; it is a unique piece of work that shows an organic evolution, if you start with this and head in a chronological direction. Some of the qualities from the EDM genre have transitioned over, specifically in the elevated and polished percussion pattern, that is mixed prominent in the sonic landscape of soul and jazz/funk music.

The percussion has been a prominent feature; specifically in the way the genre has been able to create more melodic depth into the kind of sonic infusions we get, especially within the singles and EPs she has released as well. The percussion is oftentimes a more chill and relaxed genre (comparatively), but the focus on the percussion to keep a consistent dance vibe, even if you’re doing it alone in your room. And other times her music carries a vibe that doesn’t fully bring you to that headspace, instead giving you an array of elegant production for a calm summer day at that park or sitting on your porch, under an awning, in the middle of a rainy day. That is what her two subsequent albums are.

Skyforest, the follow up to her self titled debut, brings a kind sonic energy that evokes styles in-line with sounds that seems to reveal more unique constructs of a deep house and EDM that is focused more on atmosphere than forcing a dance structure. The smooth transitions are what keep it deterring itself from her vision. And though not every track is perfect on this LP there is a lot to like. One beautiful standout is “Borneo,” which bridges the two different sonic atmospheres by a simple overlay in the synths at the beat drop. It is very different and at times similar to this followup, Sakura, where at times on Skyforest you’ll hear some organic and authentic forest sounds that bring more life, like how Sakura does with Japanese music.

Sakura influence lies in the unique sonic textures of cultural Japan, like high-pitched flutes, somber piano keys, and string orchestration adjunct to their style of musical theater. It is one of the more calm LPs in her collection as its focus goes beyond a consistent sound, and is an overall sonic concept, like Skyforest. It’s hard to make something profound and perfect with a sonic concept because it requires the same, if not more meticulous attention to detail as opposed to artists who do lyrically conceptual work, where the instrumental comes as slightly second nature. Sakura is her best project out of the three albums, mostly because of the intricate detail behind the production and sticking true to the concept in a nuanced manner. 

Outside of her three albums, she has, on Youtube and unfortunately not on streaming platforms, a deep house mixtape filled with a plethora of mixed and unreleased material, that is in part a gift for the fans and as well a slight showcase of her technical and musical skills. This is similarly the case with the choices she makes for covers and remixes, which have brought about a different confidence in her artistry by taking on some high-power pop hits like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.” They may not be everyone’s cup of tea because of the house direction to the original instrumentations, but they don’t take the stage away from the key parts of the instrumentation that make those tracks well known, like the acoustic guitar in the chorus of “Here Comes The Sun.”

Nora Van Elken was a great surprise to discover as the Breaking Dance playlist on Apple Music and diving into her music was an astronomical feeling of wows and musical glee. The way she mixes and orchestrates her music shows continuous promise as she grows and hopefully becomes a mainstay in house and electronic music.

Julia Michaels – Not In Chronological Order: Review

Some of you may know Julia Michaels as the singer of the hit “Issues,” but for those who need more context – co-writer of major hits like Justin Bieber’s huge hit “Sorry,” and “Lose You To Love Me,” by Selena Gomez, amongst a plethora of pop artists ranging from Britney Spears to Shawn Mendes. As the years progressed, she found equilibrium between her singing aspirations and continuing to be one of the best pop songwriters working in the industry. Within that time she has released a great collection of EPs that have shown her tonal strengths, either vocally or structurally, but they didn’t come with the same visceral strength as the artists she has written for. This isn’t totally the case on her debut, Not In Chronological Order. It brings a galaxy full of electric pop songs and beautifully delivered ballads, despite quick pacing and a short runtime. 

With the range of vibrant and illustrious production on Not In Chronological Order, the album unfortunately leaves you high and dry and yearning for a slightly longer project. One moment you’re starting with “All My Exes,” and eventually you find yourself halfway through. At 10 tracks and 30 minutes, it feels quicker, albeit the slower tempos they use to space out the sonic textures. Before you know it the album starts to end on a high note with both “Undertone” and “That’s The Kind Of Woman.” However, a lot of these songs don’t fully eclipse past the 3-minute mark and it makes the array of great songs feel a little empty, like “That’s The Kind Of Woman.” But the inherent strengths come from her ballads and the production on the sad-dance tracks, like “Undertone,” amongst others.

In the growing presence of sad-dance tracks, there have been many artists who hit the stride, but Julia Michaels is a veteran with glamorous dance tracks like “Body,” off Inner Monologues Part 2. The production of “Pessimist” is a perfect example of the way a song of that caliber should be constructed within that genre. Her “oh-so expressive” vocals is the final bolt that holds it all together, especially on “Pessimist.” This vocal delivery has quicker tempo and stays in constant motion from the track it transitions from.

Julia Michaels’ strength as a songwriter is unbound, both structurally and melodically, but there are those rare moments where she doesn’t bring the strongest choruses, lyrically and at times melodically. These choruses either have a poor delivery or have a standard rhythmic pattern that can start some snoozes amongst some. It isn’t a deterrent, but really noticeable in tracks like “Wrapped Around” and “History,” but not so much in “History,” as it, at least, flows with the rest of the song with fluidity. However, when Julia delivers, she winds up creating these beautiful dance tracks with infectious choruses like on “Lie Like This.” Co-writer Michael Pollack brings an added touch to it, giving it a glamorous coating, like the other few co-writers on the album. 

As a singer and songwriter, Julia’s ear for the right melody further takes her to the accessibility to work with other songwriters. She isn’t always a one-woman force, but when she is, like on her last EP, she doesn’t shy from showing what she can do best, which is structure and creating interesting melodies, with lyrical content coming in at a close third. The construct between the verses and transitional bridges shows these angles, even if the lyrical content of a ballad or dance track takes an interesting turn, like on “Little Did I Know.” This phenomenal ballad centers on love giving you the option between the red pill and blue pill. The track centers on escaping the effect of the red pill as she starts to realize love isn’t as Shakespearean as his love stories were pretty tragic at the end. This track brings out one of the many great collaborators on the album, the piano, but nothing else.

A lot of the collaborators bring their own unique touch of pop from working with various groups and singers, most of which were pop stars/superstars, like John Ryan. He is famously known as one of the many consistently present songwriters throughout One Direction’s career; and what he brings to the table with Julia Michaels are these different type of sonic styles like the atmospheric guitar pop ballad with “Love Is Weird,” and the summer feeling of the slow-melodic electro-pop in “Orange Magic.” 

The work between John Ryan and Michael Pollack are the ones that standout more than the others, but that doesn’t discredit the beautiful production work from The Monsters & Strangerz. Their work with Ryan on the production is what gives a lot of tracks that extra oomph, opposed to the songs she wrote with singer/songwriter JP Saxe, like the over-baked “All Your Exes.” This is where the album slowly falters, as JP Saxe isn’t really bringing much to the table. “All Your Exes,” and the aforementioned, “Little Did I Know,” doesn’t have the strongest delivery, specifically in certain portions of the chorus, like on the second chorus delivery on “All Your Exes.” It doesn’t switch much from the verse’s melody and loses itself as it progresses. Fortunately this doesn’t become the new crazy ex-girlfriend theme.

Not In Chronological Order does what it represents, as the fluidity of sounds don’t come with sequential consistency, but within those roots exists a lot of good to fantastic tracks that will elevate some pop heads and make others feel like dancing. It shows Julia’s ever-growing strength as a vocalist and allows us to see improvement from her first EP.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Karol G Brings Enough To Keep Intrigue On KG0516: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club: Review

2019’s Norman F*cking Rockwell saw Lana Del Rey shining at a high peak, and she continues to stay on a steady balance with her newest release Chemtrails Over The Country Club. The array of melodic – chamber pop like is what you’d expect from someone with the kind of artistry of Lana Del Ray; although on her new album she takes new direction working with sounds, particularly string instruments, more prevalent in country and folk. Bringing along Jack Antonoff is only one of the many reasons this unique direction for Lana Del Rey who continues to weave, in vibrant consistency, the themes around the idea right and wrong duality.

The dreamy reverb/autotune heavy overlays still run through the bulk of Chemtrails Over The Country Club, but it isn’t just there to be there; her range shifts from the unconventional acoustic realism to the uproarious synths, which is what keeps it in this realm all its own. Some of the new musical techniques/directions are reminiscent of her early Americana era, except it immerses the listener in the mood more fluidly.

The opening track “White Dress,” opens delicately strummed as it brings forth the intro to the theme surrounding duality. In this case it is between fame-idealism and reality, along with the spacey overtones accompanying intimate piano keys. Her vocalization is lush with this raspy whisper that relays this emotion of someone who lost her innocence.

Lana Del Rey has this way of making these sounds her own, despite those minimal moments where you start to question, why did they do this on the production. Like on “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” which is mundane in its own way, but the pedal effect in the chorus takes it to another level because it feels just there without reason. The mundane continues modestly in pieces here and there, like “Yosemite,” which Lana makes beautifully cinematic with her vocals. Regardless of some boring moments in the production, like on “Yosemite”, there is this dynamic cohesion in the way she structures the songs amongst the theme.

There are many consistent – great moments, where the theme glows within the subtleties of the tracks, like on “Tulsa Jesus Freak,” where Lana Del Rey talks about the strength taken to fight right and wrong with her lover, all basing itself on one’s commitment to the bible. She slowly reminds him to never forget his convictions, despite the mood she conveys as a woman. It’s soft spoken and the delivery shows how you can’t control the consequences, which she mentions in a moment where the wind blows on her skirt that creates a “nostalgic” image of the charm seen by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.

As Chemtrails continues its path of self worth and idealistic complications, Lana Del Rey starts to work her voice around the authenticity of her emotions and the instrumentals around, slowly easing her reliance on the autotune; for example “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” This consistency starts at “Wild At Heart,” and “Dark But Just A Game” where they create an effervescent sonic theme from dark acoustic strings. It’s on the second half of the album where she continues to portray her innocence in an altered reality, where life was normalized with friends and familial love around. The reality she sees herself in, is one where a life of decadence is broken despite generalized perceptions.

We’ve heard similar perceptions from her in the past, but Chemtrails takes it and weaves the distraction for her as she keeps reminiscing about a ranch through most of these tracks. “Dance Till We Die,” takes us to the ranch, as Lana delivers an emotionally gripping ballad. She takes an interesting approach with the switch of the strings in the bridge, where the soft spoken melancholy turns into this modern alternative-twang reminiscent of rock from the 60s. It’s a thing of pure beauty and one of the two standouts alongside “White Dress.”

Chemtrails Over The Country Club shows the continuous growth Lana Del Rey has gone through since Video Games, allowing herself to evolve the textures that made her standout amongst the many pop artists today. It’s a solid record of intimate and lush production that will hit the ear drums with beautiful streaks of notes and songwriting mixing as one.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

EP Round Up – Dora Jar & Drake

This weekend saw a decent amount of releases; from the surprise hype project for YG’s record label to the over stylish electro pop album by Zara Larsson, there is a lot to digest and enjoy. However, nothing has been as ear grabbing as the projects from Indie songwriter Dora Jar and, well, Drake, who deliver momentum, in their own way, toward what is in store for 2021.

Dora Jar – Three Songs (Single)

Dora Jar came onto the radar from an Instagram post by Pigeon and Planes, where they highlight independent artists and mark possible similarities to other artists. This is for the purpose of growing a listeners’ base with similar tastes, but from the few songs she has released prior to Three Songs – Single has shown strength through her ability to flow easily through lower-medium vocal pitch-like instrumentations of “Multiply.” Though the title seems to have some misconception with the single tagline, the three songs on Dora Jar’s Three Songs is equivocally more immersive and beautiful than the title suggests.

In keeping with the overtures from rustic acoustic guitar riffs, from her previous singles, the EP adds depth to the three songs. Dora Jar brings different archetypal layers that elevate the emotional grasp she initially gets you with, like on “Quiver.” The opening track has an eclectic array of simple strings and percussion that build upon the mood – re-enforced by Dora Jar’s strong vocal delivery and lowly piano keys. 

“Believe,” unfortunately doesn’t hit as hard as “Quiver” and the closing track, “Look Back.” This is mostly due to the simplistic acoustics that drowns out any undercoating the production has. Dora Jar doesn’t disappoint as a writer. All three tracks have an emotional cadence from her delivery of the words on paper, with each track tackling innate insecurities Dora has/what her listeners can relate to. This and the production is what makes “Look Back” such an eloquent song to cap off the “EP.”

Elevated by a strong opening and ending track, Three Songs – Single is a better-set introduction to her artistry and the music to come as she grows into her own.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Drake – Scary Hours 2

There has been great consistency from Drake when he delivers smaller projects and this is because it allows him to be more concise and structured as opposed to “trying to do too much.” This has been the case for his recent album, but EPs like Scary Hours and The Best In The World Pack have been a completely different animal. Scary Hours 2 continues that trend with a monstrous delivery and insane production. The EP takes Drake back to his more astute lyricism, that he tends to hold back in order to create a grander landscape with the music, but there is more impact this go around.

Scary Hours 2 is a collection of three songs that bring various perspectives about the grandeur-scheme behind success and the way it affects those within the light, like on the standout “Wants and Needs,” featuring Lil Baby. The production has a crisp ambiance that is less reliant on a 1-2-3 1-2-3 base beat pattern, and instead takes on a somber coating to the BPM. The subtlety allows Drake’s infectious chorus delivery to immerse the listener deeper into the context of the themes/contents of the track. Lil Baby’s energetic flow adds a lot of vibrant colors to the track elevating as the best of the EP.

The other two tracks have their own way to create great energy, like the Trap-centric “What’s Next,” and the fully defined “Lemon Pepper Freestyle,” which has Drake and Rick Ross pitting themselves against the pen and paper and giving us introspective lyricism that hits harder on a beach in Miami, with the powerful drums patterns eclipsing the smooth ambiance from underlying vocalizations and soft, but impactful hi-hats.

Scary Hours 2 is a phenomenal tease-hype EP for Drake, whose capability of creating concise and tightly structured mini projects glows on this. Though there are reservations about the upcoming release from Drake, mostly because of the title Certified Lover Boy; however this offers enough new bangers to keep you satisfied until the album.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Goody Grace Brings 2000s Nostalgia on Don’t Forget Where You Came From: Review

Nothing has gotten these ear’s attention faster, this year, than the new album by alternative artist Goody Grace, Don’t Forget Where You Came From. The music he creates with emo-rock and hip-hop understates the depth the music carries front and back, especially through a nostalgic lens. Unlike the ambient – moody R&B-like Pop trends from his debut, Infinite, his follow up explores slightly more than the thin layers his base style is commonly known for, like basic guitar riffs and loose percussion. Don’t Forget Where You Came From is a plethora of varying shifts in the emo-rock/hip-hop hybrid that amass to an elegant portrayal of emotional angst, that we’ve rarely seen done well in the past. 

Don’t Forget Where You Came From has a continuous momentum of crisp Emo-Punk within the few tracks that the overall comfortability gets looser, allowing Goody Grace to fully embrace his musical mind to the fullest. This collection of beautiful rock tracks emblematic metaphors, shows the depth he brings, especially with the orchestration of the features that helps bolster the atmospheric components. Like the final track “21 & Jaded,” which features stunning vocalization from Mr. Hudson and elegant bass work from Anthony Fantano or TheNeedleDrop.

When the comfortability starts to set in, Good expands his styles into varying genres like on “Not Coming Home,” brings the power rock overtures to the fold that further shows the beauty between the songwriting. This continues on the track “North” featuring Juicy J in a rare appearance that shows a more eloquent and calm demeanor from the Memphis rapper. It’s the first real descent into Hip-Hop territory that Goody Grace has always shown strengths in as well.

Goody Grace’s various turns on Don’t Forget Where You Came From feel like tiny breaths of fresh air. The hyper-stylized emo-punk track “Scumbag,” featuring Blink-182 in a fun and angsty pop ballad that has early 00s nuances, like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte. And “Grape Swisher,” brings that essence effervescently with its style reminiscent of the mid-00s shift into dark-glamour skinny jeans era of punk rock. 

The features are abundant on the second half of the album, with the strongest coming on the tracks “On Repeat,” featuring Greg Gonzalez of Cigarettes After Sex & Lexi Jayde and “Winter” with Afrobeat-Reggae artist, Burna Boy. “Winter” sees Burna Boy in a subdued way from the overtly glamorous afrobeat and reggae sounds we usually hear from him. It allows his voice to deliver with delicate cadence, complimentary of Goody Grace’s ability to camouflage within any instrumental. The lowly melodies and subtly bombastic percussion makes the hip-hop centric track explode amongst the many.

Of all the features, the only deterrent is the lazy and yawn-inducing track with G-Eazy and Juicy J, who could have been left at the cutting room floor and it would have made a made a solid difference. It’s fortunately the only real big “hiccup.” Not every track carries a sonic complexity and sometimes it can be a slight distraction from the vibrant songwriting, like on “Grape Swisher,” a ballad about relationships and marijuana. The instrumental is slightly tame in comparison to others and it keeps you pondering where the aggressive guitars are.

Don’t Forget You Come From works predominantly well given a lot of the sounds it takes influence from and makes. At times the simplicity in the instrumentals muddles some of the intricacies Goody Grace adds into the fold of 10 of the 11 tracks. However, with its varying sounds to Emo-Rock to Pop-Punk and even Hip-Hop, there is something here for everyone.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

List: Ranking The Weeknd Discography

8. My Dear Melancholy

Not even Gaefflestein can make this album enjoyable. It’s a real snooze fest from front to back. Upon its release I remember a very lukewarm reaction to the EP, but that was just giving him the benefit of the doubt. This new revisit, however, showed missteps along the way to deliver something that was once his strongest construct in his music. 

The Gaefflestein instrumentals elevate the two songs with them, but nothing can really save the barely drawn out and yawn inducing My Dear Melancholy.

7. Kiss Land

There is a lot that can be said about Kiss Land. After three critically acclaimed mixtapes and a hype unseen from a Canadian artist since Drake in 2008 (Sorry Carly Rae Jepsen). His attempted insertion in the major pop stratosphere was lackluster to say the least. It plays it safe by sticking to his dark mood – synth wave R&B style, but without the depth seen on his previous projects. It always feels like he is treading too many familiar waters instead exploring these luscious sounds more.

It is perplexing how on the surface it met the criteria of what was to be expected from The Weeknd, and especially on his major label debut. With a bigger budget there would be an expected elevation in production, but even with the long runtimes and moody stories that are enveloped in the instrumental didn’t match the quality of his three earlier mixtapes.

There are a number of solid standouts like “The Town,” and “Wanderlust,” which has the most polished and unique instrumental of the bunch. “Wanderlust,” in particular lets the 80s style guitar strings create the overall feel for the synth-pop track. It’s the small nuances like these in the Kiss Land that make if a good debut.

6. Thursday

Thursday is the “weakest” of the trilogy of mixtapes that make up The Weeknd’s first compilation album. It takes too much focus on redundant slow melodies interluding these more bombastic songs that standout (by early Weeknd standards).

Thursday’s highlights include “The Zone” featuring Drake and “Lonely Star.”

“The Zone,” has one of the more colorful instrumentals on the tape and buoyed gravitas where it doesn’t sink you too deep, but allows the immediate enjoyment from the subtle strings underneath powerful drum patterns.

Like most of Thursday, the instrumentations steal the show, which in turn allows the Weekend to play around more the music. It is the most ambitious tape of the initial three, specifically with the consistent styles brought by the drum patterns like on “The Birds Pt. 1,” and “Pt. 2.”

The variations include dream-pop like sequences like on “Lonely Star,” to the downtempo dubstep use in tracks like “Life of the Party,” and the title track. And to that effect it makes great use of what they work with, but at times feels like there is more that is missing. It could have just been expectations at the time

5. After Hours

Though one of the biggest albums of 2020, After Hours carried was a sense an essence more attune to the term overrated. However, It doesn’t apply for the second half of After Hours, which finally makes solid use of the new-wave sounds of the 80s. He brought it to the forefront (for the certain niche population of him) with modern takes on instrumental patterns from the era and opening new doors.

The first half slows the tempo of the music by delivering some elegant soft and slow moments, but the overall progression becomes slightly forgettable. It could mostly be that The Weeknd has not predominately hit with his slower-tempo’d pop tracks in recent memory. But it isn’t devoid of great moments/songs like the moody and instrumentally simple “Scared to Live,” which shows The Weeknd’s vocal talent in ballad form. There are a lot of moments where The Weeknd disregards the typical sensitivities based around cold emptiness and channels more longing and heartbreak.

But if we are being honest, After Hours really benefits from having illustrious instrumentations from the producers, and especially legend Max Martin. His bass, drum, keys and guitar work, along with programming gives After Hours it’s own stage to shine in those moments, specifically on “Blinding Lights,” which is a real masterwork.

The prototypical new-wave pop track that exhilarates the drum and synths patterns by focusing it on a 171 BPM speed, which was very common for most drum beats of the 80s. You can hear that kind of consistency in the hits of many bands of the time, like Duran Duran and Joe Jackson.

4. Starboy

Starboy was a real turning point in The Weeknd’s long and effervescent career. After ending a triumphant run in the R&B/Pop – stratosphere with Beauty Behind the Madness, his new direction incorporated more new-wave and synth new-wave elements into his music.

Like the recently released After Hours, the new-wave influence The Weeknd brings is a call back to 80s Pop music that once lost footing with more artists steering into an electric-centric direction. But artists like The Weeknd, and others, infuse the unique qualities of 80s music into the instrumentation and modernizes. “I Feel It Coming,” is a strong component of that by bringing smooth disco textures and new-wave synthesizers into the echo chamber and mixing together a lush instrumentation from The Weeknd and his core, plus Daft Punk.

Other highlights of 80s synth new-wave include “Party Monster,” and “Secrets.” The latter of which is this remarkable cut produced by Doc McKinney, The Weeknd himself, and Cirkut (producer of Dark Horse and Roar by Katy Perry) that feels like a remnant of the 80s brought into the light by the virtuoso of the people involved. 

However, there are slight shift into the electronic side of the new-wave genre/sound gave The Weeknd many instances to switch his deliveries from certain conventions, like on “False Alarm.” The track opens to The Weeknd breaking down his verses with a hyper stylized melody and the chorus line shifts into a fire alarm going off, but its instead of the blaring noise it’s The Weeknd yelling the title. The smooth transition in the instrumental from the verses to the chorus lines are like a stellar bomb of lights playing the music in your head visually.

Starboy does extend long at 70 minutes, but most of the time the pace is in constant motion and the way you breeze through the tracklist isn’t an afterthought. The underlying currents of the instrumentation reels you with hypnotic consistency.

3. Beauty Behind the Madness

Contrary to the predominant style/approach on Kiss Land, The Weeknd shifts from the blues to the rhythm. The dimensions brought about by The Weeknd’s bombastic overtures that he creates with his producers.

Full of sultry and sex-fueled anthems you wonder how “Can’t Feel My Face,” got a nomination for a Kids Choice Award. Did kids love cocaine in 2016? If only there was an answer. But in all seriousness, like the follow up to this, Starboy, it comes at you full force with great track after great track. There is the luscious and melodic “Often” that takes parallel look on fame and the tinted glasses based on it, and the moody despair of the story evoked in “The Hills.”

The production had definitely tightened in the transition from Kiss Land to this. It could be that with more producers and instrumentalist there was sheer focus on the alignment of the music to The Weeknd’s vocal BPM delivery brings a lot to the forefront. “Can’t Feel My Face” does so by adding the disco speed to the funk centric track.

Though not every track comes off 100% perfect, the amount of what could otherwise be considered skippable songs keeps you head over heels with hypnotic instrumentals and stellar melodies that keep your ears racing for more. It makes you overlook some of the rough patches along the way. 

2. House of Balloons

House of Balloons is The Weeknd’s debut mixtape that defined the low-profile hype. It embodies the necessity to show patience, as the detailed instrumentals and moody – morning after despair and regrets paint pictures of a night that leaves the mind weak, amongst other themes. 

It does so by commanding moods and sequencing the instrumentations to lay out the cohesiveness from both producer and artist. There are flashes where The Weeknd’s vocals don’t correspond to certain niches of R&B, but what positively deters it from them are it’s unconventional choices instrumentally. 

The sound is not as compartmentalized as other standards within the realm he was trying to break into is. There is more groove and emotional weight blended in two. House of Balloons, however, steers more into the blues aspect of the genre and uses alternative sounds to create a zoned in/spacey atmosphere. It’s what separates it from the other artists making music in the genre at the time, since it was heavily pop focused to create superstars. Its neck and neck with Echoes of Silence as one his best works to date.

1. Echoes of Silence

Echoes of Silence is not completely devoid of the typical lyrical content of a Weeknd project, but instead of expressing cold emptiness he is coming from a place of pure heartbreak and despair. It uses the dark-embroidered overtures to deliver with cadence. “XO/The Host,” and “Montreal,” builds upon this brooding mood created by his take on “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson.

Echoes of Silence gets the best components of House of Balloons and Thursday and builds upon them further. “Same Old Song,” is an embodiment of it, with croonish despair in his voice as he tries to flex his success it doesn’t match emotions held of his lost love. He plays it off like it is the same old song, but those emotions are deep rooted. He slowly builds his confidence back up to see the future, and Juicy J reaffirms that at the end with the hype man cameo. It is a great representation of the mixtape and The Weeknd as artist.

5 of the Best Super Bowl HalfTime Performances of The Last 20 Years

Most sports eclipse through the year, though they are considered for the year in which the season started. So for Football, teams play into January for its regular season. But it works as it allows for momentum to build for the gladiator fights of the modern times in what is the Super Bowl. As we reach the winner for the 2020 season, let us remember in the time honored and more culturally relevant HalfTime Show Performances of the last 20 years. And what better way to do so than by making a list where in the end it is a competition because after viewing hours of performances, I believe I have come up with 5 of the best – overall performances.

But first some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Madonna and Cee-Lo 

What can I say that doesn’t involve nostalgia glasses taking mold for this. I wasn’t alive for the height of these songs, but as a child of adult contemporary music Madonna was a definitive name in my own zeitgeist. So when she brought out Cee-Lo Green to perform the last three numbers, but nothing as significant as the harmonizations brought about in “Like A Prayer.”

Beyonce and Bruno Mars Steal the Show from ColdPlay

Most HalfTime shows seen have been predominantly closer to night allowing a bigger spectacle of colors and screens. And as colorful as their concerts have been, this is a different beast to tame. Unfortunately the beast tamed them and the performance was extremely forgettable, except for one moment that saved it. Beyonce and Bruno Mars bring show stopping performances by having contrasting choreography and then implementing that into a B-Boy like battle for the ages.

Katy Perry’s Intro

This highlight speaks more through visuals and than the hooting and applause you’ll receive from me.

The List

Jennifer Lopez & Shakira

This performance benefits from multiple factors like area demographics. But what do you expect when you get two Latin MegaStars in the heart of Miami. 

Unlike previous performances this goes over to the 15 mark as both artists bombard us with a plethora of hits that keep the vibes going. Shakira takes a trip backwards through her hits as Jennifer Lopez takes us forward from the beginning. They don’t shy away from the music that predates their upward trending Latin-Electro Pop sound of the past decade. When you see Shakira rocking that guitar solo and backing up Jennifer Lopez on the drums are all great surprises full of glee.

The elegance of the show comes from the choreography since the Latin community has enormous pride in dancing with influential styles deriving from the music of their culture like Salsa, Tango, and Cumbia. 

And benefitting all that is special guest appearances from two Latin Superstars in Bad Bunny and J Balvin that bring much needed flair for their younger crowds.

Lady GaGa

Despite the obvious looking wires holding her as she descends and performs/dances at tremendous heights, or rather tremendous for this guy, Lady GaGa opens her performance with cadence and monstrous momentum as she really gets the party going when “Born This Way” is performed. 

The very ARTPOP-like choreography and decoration makes the performance shine and standout. If not for curiosity, but also for the quaff attention to detail as she transitions from tracks that at times contrast each other. It leaves you in awe how she goes from shredding on the keytar to rocking a piano and delivering a beautiful rendition of “Million Reasons.” 

Her performance is one of the more formidably memorable ones. 

PS: Look at the girl she hugs near the end… your heart strings will be plucked hard. 

Beyonce

If there is any knock against this performance is the audio levels or the possible inflection of voice that Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams have as Beyonce brings them to perform two hits from the Destiny’s Child era. 

Almost everything about this performance is perfect, from the choreography to Beyonce’s hypnotic and powerful voice. But as it is with multiple trends in these HalfTime shows is the inclusion of a ballad-like number to unify the audience before the beefy and burly men tackle each other for glory and rings.

The Destiny’s Child performances play off nostalgia with modesty and ferocity. It definitely got all the boys hollering… sorry Kelis.

Prince

What makes this iconic? It could be that the set list was primarily 80s era Prince where the fiery funkadelic guitar took the radio waves by storm. Or it could be that he implemented that with some sick covers all the while rain downpour on him and the band throughout the performance. It was electrifying to say the least. He commanded a crowd and did it on his own terms by keeping as close to his aesthetic as possible.

He opens the performance to the momentum builder “Let’s Go Crazy,” and closes with the beautiful ballad “Purple Rain.” But as the performance goes from point a to point b there has to be something for them to fill in between. And Prince definitely knew how to do it. He weaved these amazing melodies of his songs with others to create smooth and beautiful transitions like going from “Baby I’m A Star” to “Proud Mary.” 

Man, I could gush and gush about this for days, but it is best if you witness it for yourself.

U2

I was only seven years old when the towers fell on September 11th. I didn’t understand then, but understanding now shows how uproarious and unifying U2’s performance was in relation to the time. 

Their performance came at a peak, at both the careers of U2 and the NFLs attempt to keep themes relevant. U2 was not particularly the type of showstoppers we have today, but at the time the trend in music made them that. It was unconventional to say the least and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

It opens to a mind altering performance of “Beautiful Day” where reality isn’t within feet or inches in front of us and we can just escape. And it ends with a powerful rendition of their 1987 hit, “Where The Streets Have No Name,” on a heart shaped stage all the while a list of all the people we lost on the tragic event of 9/11 scrolls. In a way it made us feel pride and triumphant as we are able to continue to see the light despite tragic loss. Sports as a whole allowed us to see that and U2 added to that.