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.

Olivia Rodrigo – Sour: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

PARIS TEXAS – Boy Anonymous: Review

When I first heard “Heavy Metal,” by Compton duo Paris Texas, there was a lot about it that just clicked on all cylinders. It had this industrial edge sonic coating over these naturalist punk influenced instrumental, while bringing that elevated hip-hop edge. It was a beautifully oblique debut that mirrors something an artist like JPEGMAFIA would do. To further compare their sound to someone isn’t hard to do, but that isn’t who they are since they are not trying to be replicative and instead create unique sounds doesn’t have much of a proper definition. Coincidentally, It flows with the little knowledge there is about about the duo. Their stage names are Louie Pastel and Felix; they are from Compton and they produce their own work. But within the unknown is a flurry of curiosity and immense creativity, which they express fully on their debut EP Boy Anonymous.

When it comes to debuts, artists usually build an elongated hype by flexing their technical and lyrical skills before releasing a compilation or albums and so forth. Paris Texas had none of that. They went from dropping “HEAVY METAL” to an eight-track full of production that contains nuances of the sonic construction behind industrial and punk elements of “HEAVY METAL.” They bring this vibrant and chaotic energy as the EP opens with the closest thing to the aforementioned tracks, “CASINO” and “PACK 4 DA LOW.” These industrial punk raps engulf you with immense hype, albeit running short. 

Louie Pastel and Felix aren’t always delivering raps on this EP. They branch our ears into hearing them create these post-punk songs reminiscent of groups like Depeche Mode and Joy Division. This creative freedom they’ve chosen to implement in this leaves you in awe from the consistency in quality and sound. “A QUICK DEATH” in particular, embodies authenticity in the production that is reminiscent of something Depeche Mode would have made at their peak. Though these tracks highlight the range in which this duo can expand their sonic style, it makes the thought of their overall ceiling more intriguing.

However these “teases” are spread in between glimpses from their fully formed tracks, like “SITUATIONS” and “FORCE OF HABIT,” which encompasses the chorus with new wave elements like vocal modulations for melodies. But it’s when it gets to the rap verses where you start to see the esoteric-like aesthetic in their flows, with one being more consciously-witty and deep, while the other has this grungy braggadocio approach. These styles compliment each other well; although they are offset by differences on the lyrical spectrum. It is the way they deliver and mix the vocals onto the track that shows the beautiful musical cohesion between the tracks.

The length of most of these tracks makes the EP feel a little empty at times. And to it’s benefit they are only making a splash now and they may not want to overflow the market before they release something bigger. These shorter tracks do come from ones I wish we had more of like the melodic braggadocio and conscious rap track “BETTER DAYS” and the braggadocio “PACK 4 DA LOW,” which has this great bombastic and static production. Fortunately it doesn’t suffer from any issues in pacing as it fluidly and wildly goes from start to finish with the array of sounds on here. 

Boy Anonymous comes by as one of the best surprises of 2021, especially for a debut. It isn’t unfounded these days to come across something ambitious that is actually great, opposed to being too ambitious and flopping hard. It’s exciting to hear what they have in store for the future, but for now this EP is around and streaming on major platforms.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

J. Cole – The Off-Season: Review

For a while, I’ve been seen as a J.Cole hater. But he has been on an underwhelming tear since 2014 Forest Hills Drive. There have been some phenomenal tracks to come out of 2014 Forest Hill Drive and the subsequent releases, however the inconsistencies has led to myself going into a new project with low expectations. He speaks more than his actions precede and his innate sense to constantly prove something, like the hip-hop community is anti Cole, can get a little egregious. It has been a crux, and it has been a benefit to Cole when he was breaking records, like selling a million records with no features. This time around he will try to prove he can sell a million, while also messing up search bar algorithms… jokes aside, his new album, The Off-Season, delivers fresh flows and a concise direction, this album has a lot of positives that outweigh the minimal nitpicks within keen construction of some of the tracks. 

For all his faults, including some redundancy, he has never shorted his delivery when it comes to the lyricism in his songs. He is dominant force – as a lyricist when he defies conceptions, like the copious flexes on this album. Though there are moments where it can come off a little ignorant like the line “I got more cribs than habitat for humanity,” on the track “Punchin’ The Clock.” It’s cool to flex the amount of houses you have, but to compare it to a nonprofit organization that helps the impoverished with homes, it doesn’t really bode well. But that is only a small blemish on one of the better tracks.

Sometimes he can be too on the nose, like on “Applying Pressure,” where he goes on a long winded speech about the Nike motto – “Just Do It,”  but with it’s too wordy and unnecessary. It’s what separates the best part of this album as opposed to the worst parts, like the lead up to the speech in “Applying Pressure,” which has one of  Cole’s better flows, recently.

His flows are very in and out of quality and engagement, where most of the time is better than not. It’s one of the better constants next to his lyricism, which escapes a lot of conscious atmosphere and goes into an aggressive and introspective braggadocio direction. Though there are times he does tread into redundancy, he keeps a momentum flowing. It isn’t like his previous work where he tried to go deep with a track about folding clothes. Unlike those projects, the production doesn’t come as audaciously vibrant or with range.

The production on The Off-Season is handled by a lot of great hip-hop producers, but given that J. Cole had a sonic concept in mind, a lot of the production carries more redundancy than Cole’s verses. The first two tracks have some of the better production, adopting a solid gritty atmosphere, before a lot of those overtones, on subsequent tracks, are burnt and start to feel less characteristic and more of just being there. This isn’t like some of the features on the album, which come with the same hunger to shine in their own right, unlike the three times Bas comes on. However 21 Savage’s verse on “My Life,” is a breath of fresh air as he has been turning out an array of good material, DJ Khaled album notwithstanding. 

Unfortunately The Off-Season teeters into forgetfulness in the beginning of the second half, but he closes hard with one of his most lyrically astute tracks in “The Climb Back,” though it has been around for a while. So its placement just boosts the quality for those, like myself, who prefer to listen from start to finish. It has a good flow where the best stuff fleshes out more in your ears, while the forgettable tracks flow in tandent and doesn’t cause much of a sonic hindrance. These forgettable tracks, “Pride Is The Devil” and “Let Go My Hand,” have some keen details that lose you like the guitar loop on “Pride Is The Devil,” which was used previously on the Amine track, “Can’t Decide,” and the sheer focus on it makes you think of a better use of it. The Lil Baby feature does bring a fresh take on the boring production and weak chorus melody from J. Cole. “Let Go My Hand,” has a second half flies by without notice, after a strong intro and verse from J.Cole. Along with the interlude, it gets yawn inducing before he reels you back in “The Climb Back.” 

This album brings about a special feeling. It doesn’t feel like most J. Cole albums, mostly due to the lack of trying to bring light to the problems in society. This special feeling comes from a constant hunger to show that he is still in his prime, something he makes note of on the track “100 Mil,” with fellow Dreamville artist Bas. Instead of proving his worth as an artist, like he did with 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only with having no features, he is here just being himself, which is bringing some of his better verses.

He uses artists to fully envelop his character and embolden the themes of grandeur and fatherhood, amongst others. Though it flows between expressing his earnings and status or trying to defend his knowledge and feeling about the world. In doing so he gives respect to Diddy, while also reminiscing on an incident where it shows that J. Cole never really came like a bloodthirsty game. This is due to the reason behind it, which was Diddy creating an issue with Kendrick behind the stage of an awards show about Kendrick’s proclamation that he is King of New York. This track is the aforementioned “Let Go My Hand,” and unfortunately the Diddy feature on the outro doesn’t do what the other features do.

The Off-Season brings a lot to the table and at the same time leaves you with enough to indulge. But it isn’t without its problems. Fortunately these problems don’t hinder what J. Cole tries to get across. He has good concepts that come across well, without hiccups; it’s just the little things that you can’t ignore. Though that isn’t to say this album wasn’t any good. It is his best since 2014 Forest Hills Drive and that is a pleasant surprise for 2021.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Weezer – Van Weezer: Review

Weezer was supposed to release Van Weezer back in May of last year, but due to COVID-19 it got shifted a whole year and it may have been for the better. In January, they released OK Human, which was an amalgamation of baroque pop rock and thematic for a time where isolation was easing and normal habits started recurring like commutes and the easing of restrictions at food and beverage locations. However Van Weezer comes in as the complete opposite, in sound and tone, from OK Human. Rivers Cuomo writes these songs in the lyrical and thematic style of glam metal/hair metal from the 80s, taking cues from Van Halen, Whitesnake, and Night Ranger to name a few. It’s youthfully energetic and complete joy to listen to, even when it starts teetering at the end with songs that feel empty and forgettable. 

We’ve had the opening track, ”The End of The Game,” available since 2019 and it proved to be an indication of what is to expect from Van Weezer. The band, and especially Rivers Cuomo, brings a youthful energy that was lacking from their cover album, The Teal Album. The electrifying guitar strings embolden the monstrous percussion and vocal performance from Rivers, who is just having a great time along with the rest of the band. And this is something that felt absent from their covers album.

Unlike their cover album, Van Weezer takes the plunge into being focused on the sonic textures and small details that separates the genre of glam metal from the others. It comes primarily from the instrumentation and vocal deliveries, which are embossed by the echoed melodic reverbs in the choruses. They keep this in the forefront, while in the background they deliver another standard Weezer album, lyrically. But thematically there are some similarities, the content of the storied lyrics are approached with relevance to the kind of music they have been delivering recently, so it’s refreshing to hear this new sonic approach.

This is slightly new territory for Weezer as they don’t always elevate their sound to mirror the power of metal and specifically glam metal/stadium rock. But they have been able to prove otherwise when they delivered an excellent piano rock album earlier this year. Though, Weezer’s slight backdrop in power pop initially took away some doubt before clicking play, but they really understand the undertow sounds of glam metal by properly incorporating the unique guitar riffs and powerful solos. The music is elevated to exponential levels that you’ll find yourself at odds with as you head bang to Weezer songs, but that is what they do here.

The sonic elevation is audacious throughout, with many high points like the unique interpolation of “Crazy Train” on “Blue Dream.” But Van Weezer reaches its peak too early and as we bend the corner to the last third, we start to see a decline in the quality. It starts to feel more of the same as the beginning, with similar and repetitive instrumental patterns that have you feeling like hitting skip till it starts at track one. However, throughout the first eight tracks there is so much visceral power that you forget Rivers Cuomo is singing some geeky fun and introspective lyrics.

The simple beauty behind the geeky and nerdy charm comes naturally inside the powerful rock anthems, as Rivers Cuomo brings it with his vocal performances, which try to come off as part of the era. As the year progressed he has been able to adapt to the content of the music, like how January’s OK Human was mostly filled with songs about what they would do in quarantine and sometimes in life. It was simpler than some of their more try hard projects, like The Black Album, which tried to replicate some of the sonic success of The White Album. And on Van Weezer Rivers channels that charm to elevate the music to amplify a stadium. A lot of the melodies and lyrics are fun and infectious that hardcore fans will find the enjoyment in listening to every word; however the balance in solos/instrumentations to vocal performances makes it an album that can bring crowds who want post-modern nostalgia.

The first two thirds of the album have their own beautiful execution of originality with smooth transitions, like the one between “Blue Dream” and “1 More Hit.” But the last two tracks deescalate the whole rock show vibe, which some shows do in elegant fashion, but the slower melodies of the piano rock “Precious Metal Girl,” and the retreading “She Needs Me,” don’t hit the landing. And even though these tracks don’t carry the weight all the way through to keep you attention for all the 33 minutes, Weezer at least brings their strongest component, the charm. 

Van Weezer is a pure delight that will have you mirroring the fun Weezer has performing it. It isn’t their most profound work, lyrically, and brings enough to keep you engaged and yearning for stadiums to fill up like before. This is the kind of music that will make more of an impact live, but if not, your audio system will be enough to head bang and play it loud.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Green to Gold – The Antler: Review

Following a quiet seven years, The Antlers have made a return with their new album Green To Gold. At the time, the problem I had with their previous album, Familiars, was the length of tracks, some of which didn’t have any rewarding payoff at the end. Though it was not much of a hindrance with it’s array of unique dream-pop overtones taking the driver’s seat after a dance with chamber-pop on the remarkable Burst Apart. Green to Gold, however, is a slightly new direction for the duo from Brooklyn. It brings the aspects of the dream pop sounds and blends it with a progression of the alternative rock style of their past to create this array of beautiful cohesion from start to finish.

Opening with a pure and elegantly arranged orchestration of sounds on the song, “Strawflower,” which takes certain influence in the patterns more resonate with the undercoats of jazz music with the alternative rock overtones, like the more rhythmic upward bass with slower patterns and electric guitar with pedal effects. It sets up a tempo for what to expect as it progresses. Balancing sonic styles with the lively atmosphere and looming dark piano keys contrasting, leaving room open for the contextual mood it wants to set forth. What is ultimately delivered is tonal shifts that evoke hope and longing, amongst other themes in various ways, but as cohesive constant. 

The production Green to Gold is dreamy and atmospheric, deriving from chamber and dream-pop like subtexts in the guitar riffs; and the percussion plays into being simple – vibrant undertones to keep a fluid rock-like rhythm, while also allowing room for the varying orchestration of instruments to progress the pop-vocal dynamic. This has been a strength for The Antlers, specifically Peter Silberman’s vocals. It’s raspy and atmospheric melodies, sounding at times defeated, bring forth the themes/content within the songwriting.

Within the context of the songs, The Antlers dive into their themes and stories with an array of rock songs, where the story flows like an elegant night café rendition, but with better production value. There is an ongoing concept about certain thoughts we have that eclipse the change we sometimes never see for ourselves going forward. This is told through the story of man’s existential journey through stagnant memories over the years, but with smooth thematic transitions.

“Solstice,” focuses on a story about a summer fling, where it came and went with some lasting memories, but it doubles as this notion that one can have those dark thoughts or demons within and still find ways to keep you positivity up and your mental status balanced. It’s like a glimmer of hope for individual change and the following song “Stubborn Man,” beautifully contrasts this by being the existential quandary of “should I continue to poop, or get off the pot.”

Like Familiars, some songs start to trend up into longer orchestrations, but it blends in a way where it doesn’t linger on a “thought.” The title track, “Green to Gold,” is seven minutes long, but it never starts to feel like it wrought experience waiting for it to end like on the song “Revisited,” off Familiars. It isn’t like “Green to Gold,” simply because the trumpet-closer feels like an idea without depth, as oppose to “Green to Gold,” having a smooth and definitive end. “Green to Gold” is about transition, using seasonal change to tell the everlong process one can go to, to better oneself mentally. The production is uncanny on the surface, as much about the instrumentations doesn’t seem to be ever changing, but the subtle changes are there in the vocal pitches and the soft-dreamy guitar riffs.

Green to Gold’s instrumentations are reminiscent of the work they’ve done in the past, but with the depth filled in an uncanny way. The broken down instrumentations add a lot to the projection of Silberman’s vocals and the writing has a distinct cadence that you just get lost in the dream as flower pedals sway softly in the wind over spring flowers. It stays on that flow as Green to Gold cycles back from the closer, “Equinox,” a lively and hopeful instrumental that shows us a light at the end of our tunnel.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Kota The Friend and Statik Selektah – To Kill A Sunrise: Review

Kota has always been a rapper with a unique mystique behind his rhythmic pattern, flowing multi-syllabic lines with ease, like on “The Cold,” off his new album with producer Statik Selektah, To Kill A Sunrise. His flows have these intricate pauses that enforces the period and comma with what he wants to get across. That has been an M.O. of his through his career with albums, mixtapes, and loosies of two minute or less songs of verses that never made a cut. And while last year’s Everything is the better project by Kota recently, the amount of effort put in by both artist/producer is on wave all its own.

Statik Selektah opens To Kill A Sunrise with these melodic undertones on the percussion centric production on the track “Wolves,” as Kota the Friend demonstrates a mental flex, that resonates with the strengths to match wits with his toughest critics. It shows his endurance mentally as his critics take him down. Something that becomes a common approach throughout the album. And the smooth DJ scratches during the last third of the track leaves an imprint for a modern nostalgia many “old heads” of hip-hop still yearn for. It’s these DJ scratches and at-times subtle saxophones and trumpets weave the story with Kota the Friend. He lets the instrumental act as the holster, while his flow is the pistol and the wisdom in his words as the bullets.

The first half of To Kill A Sunrise has loose interpretations of themes based around stories and faux-pa knowledge of his standing as a musician, like doubt of success from the critics. He expresses the doubt he gets along the way, but it’s all love for him. The kind of rapper Kota is, isn’t the one to hit mainstream radio waves in the same way artists like Pop Smoke and DaBaby do. But he ignores it to paint pictures the only way he knows how to. 

On the other half, the music/content evolves into demonstrations where Kota mirrors his success and stature to that of the past with his ever growing presence today. Through his chill approach the words emphasize with the flow of the beat, showing a lyricist hungry to be one of the best of his class. He is at his peak where everything begins to meld in transition where it feels like a constant flow without those second pauses the music player gives you in between tracks. 

Statik Selektah’s production is a continuation of his consistently great repertoire that maintains great equilibrium with the rappers he works with. With releases of many albums, his connections hold no bounds and seeing who he wants to work with only boosts the quality we receive. The jazz-boom bap production that flows with the grooves of the horn sections is a perfect background body to attach to Kota’s brains, even with typical young rapper mistakes like the weak choruses. And that’s the only true deterrent, wherein Kota does his best to fit with the pattern and most times the delivery is choppy. It makes you forget the man is really on here spitting wicked great rhymes.

Working with Statik Selektah has allowed him to evolve his sound beyond the “chill” demeanor of his sonic textures. And though it shows evidently, the production has given him a new platform, which mixes the old soul within with instrumentals more akin to his strengths like the jazz orchestrations. 

To Kill A Sunrise delivers on what Kota fans should expect from the rapper and most times a bit more with his own individual growth. He might not amass equivalent popularity as the New York drill scene has amassed through recent years, but has the capability to stand on his own to mirror the success of similar rappers like the Flatbush Zombies. However his ceiling is higher and will continue to be a growing force in New York Hip-Hop.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Nick Jonas Takes Us On A Stellar Journey On Spaceman: Review

Through the Jonas Brothers’ collective and individualized discographies, Nick Jonas has always been the one to grow from his strengths and leave centralized pop music behind, for the most part. His previous album Last Year Was Complicated had a plethora of unique creations stemming from collaborators Evigan and Max Martin – to name a few, but never felt like anything special. And though the album chopped in some unique pop infusions, Nick showed immense strength when he dove into more R&B centric production and let his high sultry pitches and slightly raspy low vocalizations create beautiful contrasts in sound. His new album Spaceman takes these strengths, and along with producers Greg Kurstin (Adele’s “Hello”) weave this elegant array of spacious R&B tracks that add a little pop in the choruses to keep the infectious sounds going. 

Spaceman is a slightly new and more intimate direction for Nick Jonas, as the R&B sonic overtones takes the music to new heights by implementing coats of varying instruments to heighten the song’s themes. Like the track  “This is Heaven,” which incorporates these angelic and orchestral horns that bring light to the scene Nick paints on the song as he talks about his conflicting relationship with religion and life. These sonic themes evaporate and consistently recycle the drenching rain of variety the album takes from the 80s. 

Many tracks take stylistic influence in the way the structures are written and each song’s undertones, except for the title track which breathes Life On Mars with exasperation. This is because there are some people, who without looking deep into the title, won’t immediately sense the David Bowie ghost dueting with Nick in your ear. The orchestral strings intermittently throughout the instrumental brings a lot of life to the song. This is an ever growing strength on Spaceman, which comes and soars with applause like it was the recent shuttle that took the Mars rover less than a month ago. 

Spaceman deserves the applause with the way Nick Jonas has been directing his career recently and not letting the other work around him hinder the quality of his new music. The songwriting has matured substantially through the years and on this album, Nick shows a lot of flashes of master work in the structure from the choruses to bridges. This burrows these great and infectious melodies that stay with you the more you hear them. “Deeper Love,” brings forth that with the elegant percussion and melody reminiscent of late 80s power pop-ballads that were once dominant in the mainstream, especially the esoteric synthwave sounds that remain subtle. As well, that Foreigner melody sample from “I Want To Know What Love It” is very on point.

This reflects symmetrically on the production, which never feels redundant and grows into these intricate pieces of R&B / Pop hybrids. These effervescent sounds come in full force on the track “Delicious,” which oozes lush Huey Lewis & The News vibes. These adjunct influences slide into some other tracks on the album, like the aforementioned “Deeper Love.” But the way it keeps feeling fresh and different adds new tunes for the jukebox and become bonafide potential club tracks. 

However Spaceman is far from the gushing awe and uproarious reactions. Some songs dwindle plainly into the realm of forgettability, but they easily mix in without a hindrance on the overall product. This is more apparent in the second half of the album, with tracks like “Sexual” and “Nervous.” “Sexual” is this lustry and deliciously smooth sex track for those playlists, but the melodies and songwriting are more of an afterthought.

Spaceman is more than what meets the eye, especially from the many who had preconceived notions of the artist based on his early Disney days. Nick Jonas has fully grown into his own and has unabashedly made one of the best albums, so far, this year. It fills the room with vibrant electricity, you can’t help but have most of the songs on repeat.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Selena Gomez’s Delivery Isn’t Much Of A “Revelation” on Revelación: Review

In pop music, there are some artists who show fright when it comes to leaving a comfort zone. If they make it unique and akin to their style, like Dua Lipa’s foray into disco from electropop, it is to be admired; the others push out products of lesser quality in order to have mainstay in relevancy, based on trends. This isn’t necessarily the case on Selena Gomez’s new EP Revelación. She delivers an array of music in Spanish, which is, at times, as hollow as Kevin Bacon in The Hollow Man. Like the film the output is fine, but you just never care for much of it. There are a lot of colorful instrumentals from the production team and some fine features from two of reggaeton young stars, but they aren’t enough for some of the bland vocals from Selena.

Selena Gomez is no stranger to singing in her “ native tongue,” with previous excursions involving stagnant lines here and there, as well as her cover/duet producers mixed together on a rerecording of “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” by Selena. She has shown the ability to flow with rhythm without butchering pronunciations, but her range when singing in English has a more flourished and vibrant sound. Like Rare last year, Selena shows strength as a co-writer on Revelación. This EP isn’t devoid of bland sequences, chorus melodies and source material, but the co-writers on some of the songs help deliver on the overall sonic textures as they mix it all together (save for a mediocre chorus).

On the track “Baila Conmigo,” Selena Gomez  turns on the snooze button consistently with her dull delivery. It makes the track have slight equilibrium since it loses you with Selena, but brings you back with Rauw Alejandro. The other feature/co-lead artist brings unique grandstand moments like Myke Towers smooth and decadent flow on “Dámelo To,” and DJ Snake’s glitzy production on “Selfish Love.” The latter of which, is a phenomenal standout with the tropical percussion and the elegant transitions between Spanish and English. The writing is especially strong on these two, with the additions by co-writers Julia Michaels and Kat Dhalia respectively.

A lot of the co-production is handled by Tainy, whose success and consistent turn out of quality in the reggaeton genre has contributed to the affluent grandeur of the current pop/Billboard chart zeitgeist. Fortunately Selena Gomez only delivers two mediocre vocal deliveries, as it lacks that next level Selena can achieve. “Selfish Love” succeeds by working around her strengths with the melancholic BPM. “Adios,” also stands out as one of the few spanish tracks that has Selena working with her vocal strengths, with the glamourous pop production.

“De Una Vez,” shines as a melancholic latin-pop ballad that continues with beautiful bliss on “Buscando Amor.” The contrasting charm of the production elevates the dance floor with a level percussion pattern. It adds cadence to the range she evokes, which on most of the album doesn’t land as strong on some of the later tracks. 

Selena Gomez opens and ends the Revelación on high notes, with the middle of the pack having too many instances of mediocrity. It’s a solid mark on her career that shows she can take a leap and create different and unique songs in Spanish and grow her artistry more.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.