Ava Max – Diamonds & Dancefloors: Review

After an artist delivers a less-than-stellar debut, one can only remain optimistic with the positives that seep through the negatives. Unfortunately, Ava Max doesn’t appear to let those positives take command and find better collaborators, instead disavowing our musical comprehension and delivering subpar Dance-Pop stuck in one gear on her latest album, Diamonds & Dancefloors. Ava Max takes us through a 180 spin from her debut, Heaven & Hell, shifting typical electro/synth-pop flair into the same genericism, but with Dance-Pop, with a touch of more personal and reflective content. There is little energy getting exhumed by Ava Max as she tries to sprinkle typical shifts between lower vocals and hitting the fifth octave. She isn’t relishing in the vocal range she can provide and instead teeters between mediocrity and thrill; sometimes, this quality is enough for the listener to find themselves in a trance; I wasn’t one of them.

Ava Max would tell Zane Lowe at Apple Music, “This album is about my life and what I went through in the last year and heartbreak…it’s basically heartbreak on the dance floor,” adding, “It’s gonna make you cry and dance at the same time.” The production is fine on its own, never taking chances in the breaks or choruses, instead relaying the same sonic mediocrity we’ve heard others do, like Zara Larsson, except better.

Diamonds & Dancefloors speaks on heartbreak, focusing on a deteriorating relationship that boasts angst, depression, and reflections on identity, as one wants to distract themselves by dancing through their emotions. It’s not uncommon, with some of the most hypnotic works coming from Eurodance/Electro-pop songs of the late 90s and 00s. From “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay to “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn, and Basshunters’ trilogy “Now You’re Gone,” “All I Ever Wanted,” and “Angel In The Night,” this idea of letting loose and coming into your own, emotionally, which can get derivative. Ava Max tries to tap into that zone, style, but she becomes complacent with its lack of melodic creativity and production that takes that next step to feeling refreshing. There’ve been a few times when a song has given us beats that aren’t bottom of the barrel, like that of “Ghost,” which beautifully taps into aspects of Eurodance hypnotizing synths, despite it being predominantly in the choral sections. 

As non-extinguishing as “Ghost” is, it is one of only a few examples where Ava Max taps into her strengths: creating smooth melodies that will have you singing along. Writing is not one of them, as she shows us that her co-writers aren’t capable of boasting some boring and tried lyrics that take simple directions without making something profound. Ryan Tedder, who has written many hits, helps Ava Max turn “Weapons” into a radio hit, but it’s standard. Ava Max uses this song to focus on an idiom, “Stick and stones may break my bones (but words can never hurt me,” which some may feel that’s true to them. But Max’s song doesn’t reflect or hold that true, and instead, she seems like she can’t take words and would prefer the sticks and stones since there’s a bulletproof vest underneath for so many words. It is direct, as are other songs, with some that loosely thread simple metaphors like “Turn Off The Lights.” Much of what is here speaks to those who prefer it this way, but as someone who can find escapism within the melodies and production, it didn’t happen so often here.

Ava Max sews loose threads together to make a barely engaging album. One minute you’re grooving to some luscious choral melodies, and the next, it gets dourer as Max doesn’t captivate you with depth. When she retreats to another known: the more astute and emotionally protective creative, it still doesn’t feel new. “Cold As Ice” sounds like a tempered and groovier take on her Sweet But A Psycho demeanor that she established with her debut, but it still doesn’t pack a punch. With all these downs, when there should be more ups, but there are still some diamonds gleaming on the edges of the dancefloor, waiting for their moment to shine like Sugar Motta during a performance at Satana and Brittany’s wedding in Glee. The last two songs, along with “Get Outta My Heart,” spearhead some of the best work on the album. It uses minor quirks expected with Ava Max’s vocal style – here, she sounds different; she takes a smoother approach to her melodies while letting the Electronic/House elements create something new. It gets me moving, but there’s so little here for me to enjoy that I couldn’t find these to be anything rather than positives I won’t see getting repeated frequently, unlike “Weapons.”

Diamonds & Dancefloors was definitely made for the latter, but the grooves don’t always want to make you bust out your best moves, instead just free-flowing without a care. It has heart, except it isn’t poignant or carries enough depth instrumentally that you can’t help but push this aside and listen to better pop records from similar artists. As much as I can see something here for the masses, it doesn’t translate to something unique but rather something very apropos and diluted. There are a few tracks to like, but not enough to recommend a full listen.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Ladytron – Time’s Arrow: Review

Ladytron’s latest album, Time’s Arrow, is not as expansive, keeping an almost two-dimensional with many synth patterns and the production’s range in guitar and percussion usage. It takes a while for the wheels to get rolling as lead singer Helen Marnie deconstructs innate reflective points with vigor on many songs. Her vocals add dimensions to each song’s atmosphere and psychedelia tones, seeping into these intricate thoughts that have us viewing some layered dimensions of our being, whether impersonal or not. Marnie, along with co-writers Daniel Hunt, Jonny Scott, Mira Aroyo & Vice Cooler, don’t leave you with ambiguity – the verses speak fluidly through its poetic approach, allowing you to visualize their world, interconnected with yours. It values time beyond the centralized generalizations we’ve heard prior – we get another solid effort that could have gone through another round in the think tank but still a serviceable release.

Starting strong, Time’s Arrow begins to keep its pacing steady, leaving you mystified by its ambiance and fluid melodies. Unfortunately, the synthesizers sometimes feel less intriguing and more of an added commodity that takes away from the small details that underlie the production coating. It isn’t until the later half of “Faces,” the second song on the tracklist, it starts to make sense of its direction – time is linear, but there are rifts that take you in unique sidesteps. It’s playing a bit loose with this concept, sonically, veering and making moments last long or short. It’s a straight shot of pure reflective bliss that stumbles to make anything imperatively potent with the sounds. There are some memorable notes within the production, but its consistency of impact is lesser than their last album. 

Sometimes Ladytron’s use of synths can over-sizzle, and other times it’s a little stale, but rarely in between. However, they never take you away from lyricism that’s lavishly poignant and resonant with one’s inner journey with themselves on a few tracks. In “Misery Remember Me,” we hear Ladytron looking back at one’s disdain for reflecting a person they’re not; it has gospel influence boasting the ponderous chorus and elevating its sense of self while letting the synths take a back seat. Not every track has this lyrical astuteness. Sometimes it teeters toward mundaneness with depth-less simplicity on “Faces” or the lackluster chorus of “California.” Fortunately, it is within the mid-point where the album takes chances beneath the abundance of synths caught between a drought and a rainstorm. Overlaying its poetically influenced lyricism are waning tempos with the different synthesizers they are using; in the long run, it took me away from finding much intrigue with “City of Angels” and “Sargasso Sea.” It’s a disappointing variation in production that keeps it from having a powerful opening and closing.

That middle sector of Time’s Arrow is where it starts to come to life. Beginning with “Flight of Angkor,” the tone gets set with a more fruitful array of synths that bring twinkles to your ears instead of confusing you. Continuing till “The Dreamers,” elements of Dream-Pop get incorporated to buoy the smooth cohesion between monochromatic ambiance and starry melodies. We don’t hear an overreliance on keeping you reeled with atmospheric electronic bliss. It lets the vocals breathe through the thick layers of synths, letting the backing vocals shine through. Additionally, we don’t get this small cluster of contrasting and complementing synths and percussion like in the title song; it oddly works at points, but comparatively, it’s a weaker-written song than the others. It doesn’t negate the vocal performances that radiate beneath harrowing synths that fail to make you return more than twice. 

Time’s Arrow sometimes feels like a distant memory, and remembering leaves you with some slight disappointment. It has these uniquely fantastic moments, but surrounding it, are some less-than-attractive synth layers. The synths don’t take away from the atmospheric aesthetic it imbues. It keeps a steady play consistency that can get a new listener to flow with it, but for fans of Ladytron, this was a lesser effort I wish I could like more than I do.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

6 Albums I Can’t Wait To Plug My Headphones Into 🎧!

2023 is finally here, and with it, one hopes for a platoon of exceptional new projects from artists we love and debuts, leading to fresh discoveries. However, since Beyonce released her self-titled album, we’ve been getting many more unique rollouts, far from the apropos single, single, eventual album model. Often, we don’t get announcements till closer to; other times, they just drop surprisingly with a little word in edge-wise. It makes it harder for one to properly talk about what we can anticipate without sometimes looking like Charlie – from It’s Always Sunny – in that meme where he has his hands over a board that’s connecting dots to a mystery. I won’t be him today; instead, I’ll be talking five albums with surefire, or set releases in stone, that I’m anticipating for this year.


Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – Lana Del Rey

While many loved the lavish, overly produced tempo of Norman F**king Rockwell, it didn’t feel as refined, unlike Lana Del Rey’s subsequent album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, which bolstered her vocals exponentially. It hit me instantly on the standout “White Dress,” which continued throughout this album, and the subsequent Blue Bannisters, which continued to let Lana expand her horizons with more minimalist, but decadent production. The first single off the new album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – the self-titled track – opens the floodgates toward this more melancholic and operatic divide. Her vocals have distinct textures within similar stylistic sounds within chamber-pop-like production. It feels reminiscent of the work done early in her career, along with what Lana Del Rey has been brewing since Chemtrails. I’m excited to see what this new album takes us, especially with Del Rey’s unique and petty promotion with the billboard in her Ex’s residential area.

Don’t Be Dumb – ASAP Rocky

When news came out about A$AP Rocky’s upcoming release, pre-name change – from All Smiles to Don’t Be Dumb – my eyes and ears stayed glued to anything relating to the album, especially when we heard Rocky is working with Morrissey. The idea of two arrogant, egotistical, no-filter artists coming together to expand on their musical strengths just sounds like something to behold. Granted, it won’t automatically equate to greatness, but with the music Rocky released over the past couple of months, I was intrigued. We got two singles that maneuver his direct nihilism in flow and lyricism, feeling reminiscent of early 2010s ASAP Rocky – playing less with melodies and more with multi-layers songwriting. It keeps my eyes and ears perked for any news, especially with the hype Rocky has been bringing in performances and more; it’s now only a wait-and-see as fans indulge in his latest two singles and feel the vibe Rocky is most likely aiming for with Don’t Be Dumb.

Cracker Island — Gorillaz

Dropping single after single appears like the new approach for Gorillaz as of the release of their last album, bewildering us with unique tunes and delivering a tracklist with standout features; unfortunately, the wait can be ever-long. Unlike Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, Cracker Island shifts the clock back a bit, looking to release and find equilibrium between its use of features, and retaining a sense of individualized identity on their solo tracks. Here, we see both, but the solo tracks get rounded out by unique features; Gorillaz have shown us how fluidly they can make these combos work, like when they did a song with Elton John and 6lack. Cracker Island gives us a few to hold over, like the funkadelic “Cracker Island,” which incorporates luscious bass grooves and vocals from Thundercat, who adds a decadent, and softened layer that oozes in a soulful undercurrent that keeps Damon Alburn’s melodies vibrant.

Gorillaz’s feature-laced albums are a few in between, but when Gorillaz come with an album that isn’t all Damon Alburn for 50%+ of the album, they have excelled in creating something more artistically profound. We heard it on the fantastic Humanz and Plastic Beach, and hopefully, glimpsing a crisp equilibrium in the tracklist of Cracker Island, along with the singles I’ve heard, leaves me with some impression that it will be a hit like 3/5 of their albums between 2010 and 2020.

Utopia Travis Scott

Utopia has been in discussions for months, and years, seemingly leaving us bewildered by when and what. Travis Scott has released singles like the darkly atmospheric trap track “Highest in the Room,” co-opting collaborations with his label Jack Boys, and settling the fires of the Astroworld tragedy. Being in the public eye can skew decisions made, and it isn’t surprising that his name doesn’t have the lightest presence, further pushing Utopia’s release until 2023. Though, to be honest, it could be a product of Scott’s ever-growing teasing and constant business ventures, from working varying avenues of the music industry to fashion and fatherhood, one could find reasons for the delay. However, the promotion leading to has been nothing short of excellent before the Astroworld tragedy; plus, a week-long residency in Vegas this past September and some Billboards certainly helped too. I’m curious to see how different Travis Scott comes, specifically to see if he slightly reinvents himself sonically to reflect the constant musical growth he’s gone through.

This Is Why Paramore

After a five-year hiatus from making music as a collective, Paramore left 2022 with the news of a new album after the remarkably vibrant synth-pop/dance-punk laced After Laughter (2017). It was a continuation of the aesthetic have them hitting a momentous stride, as you see their musical growth and assimilation with these new influences driving their decisions. When they started releasing singles for the upcoming album, it felt like a slight change of pace from the angsty emo/pop-punk sound of their first three albums. Paramore’s new album, This Is Why, seems to see another shift, or so I assume, with a more expansive influence getting brought to these songs, like the Math-Rock “The News” to the Funk and Dance-Punk latent “This Is Why.” It’s safe to assume we’ll see another shift in sound, which bolsters the band’s chemistry as they mesh new and past sounds from the past two albums that are nothing short of grand. It may be less than a month away, but I’m all souped up to listen ASAP!

Star line Gallery Chance the Rapper

Chance The Rapper hasn’t necessarily been dormant since the criticism and fizzling out of his popularity since The Big Day (2019); the corniness and sometimes overly loose flows and features didn’t offer much of a platform to balance on. Come 2022, we saw a significant year for the Chicago rapper, dropping four singles that have shown us he has chosen to focus and whip up some of that pre-Coloring Book era where the lyricism matched the potency of the production. At first, Chance kept us focused with his intricate lyricism, but he brought me back with “Wraith,” significantly more on “Yah Know.” The bombastic Afro-Beat influence within “Yah Know” takes the listener to exponential lengths as the beat comes rich with a crisp Hip-Hop base, then escalates it with these rich drumlines and boisterous horn section. It’s an experience that feels like it’s yearning for a stage presence, where the sounds can get amplified and further entice the dance nerves in your body to force some jubilant movement.

“The Highs & Lows” and “Wraith” were two of the other four songs dropped by Chance the Rapper in 2022, but I bring these two up because Chance brings this unique cadence in his flows, seemingly guiding the music emotionally as he did with Coloring Book. There are deep seeded conversations within these songs; we hear Chance having with himself and the listener as he balances his faith and stability through life that we’ve seen tackle since the constant clowning post-The Big Day. “Wraith” had us listening to Chance focus on literal and metaphorical layering between bars to distinguish who he is in this world without feeling overly preachy. Similarly, with “The Highs & Lows,” we hear Chance challenging himself to bring captivating flows and lyricism to match the potency of featured artist Joey Bada$$. It leaves a door open full of intrigue as one awaits, like myself, for an album that explores new foundations and sees Chance shifting gears from neutral to Drive 3, or third gear.

2022 Catch Up: Some Albums I Missed This Year

Rina Sawayama – Hold The Girl

Unlike her self-titled debut, Rina Sawayama’s follow-up, Hold The Girl, isn’t as refreshing or profound. It’s almost tiptoeing a line between more by-the-numbers electro-pop without extending her reach beyond minor tweaks here and there within its production, like the guitar riffs on “This Hell.” Beyond inconsequentially detailed anecdotes within the sounds, few songs barely make much of an impression, becoming nearly forgettable because they aren’t as surprising as the debut. That isn’t to say there isn’t something to take away since Sawayama has shown herself to understand the ebullient decisions made to orchestrate lavish paintings on her canvas. Even when songs tend to add a little flare, there is a slight disappointment, like the empty and straightforward “Frankenstein” and “Your Age.” They never get past replicating standard pop overtures that you’d find easily on an Ava Maxx – or Tiesto, Meduza, or any poppy EDM DJ – album.

That isn’t to say it is devoid of any good music. The title song of Hold The Girl is this rich and darkly vibrant electro-pop powerhouse that bridges symphonic vocals – akin to Lady Gaga – and her mysterious presence. With her debut, you never got a sense of what she is bringing with beat choices, and that kind of mystery isn’t as intriguing here consistently. There are varying songs that hit, like “Forgiveness” and “Imagining,” but it’s a predominantly predictable album that doesn’t feel as intriguing like when I first heard the metal rock influence “STFU!” on her self-titled debut. It’s a forgettable piece of work that defines the sophomore slump. But more so, it puts the album title into perspective as it feels like she restrains herself. It plays it safe, and in some regard, you can get something great out of it, but when you’ve debuted as someone who takes chances, it could have been more explorative on a follow-up.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Arctic Monkeys – The Car

As I further listened to the new Arctic Monkeys album, The Car, I couldn’t help but feel like they were missing the spark. Though I was always keen to see them get further into slower tempo jams after AM, it continues to disappoint as they begin to rely on atmospheric and emotionally sifting vocals by Alex Turner and less at creating dense instrumentations. Their last album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, tried to keep it slightly interesting by exploring new styles like Glam Rock on their lead single, “Four Out Of Five;” other similar moments consistently outshone their slower jams. On their follow-up, the effervescent presence of the slower tempo baroque pop and lounge pop. However, some of the finite details in the rock songs, like the funky undertones on “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.” Unfortunately, it never treads into murkier waters, and some notes become hollow.

Unlike the name of the song “Big Ideas,” there aren’t many here, but the little sparks that shine through give us these whimsically explorative tracks. Additionally, the use of funk in the album is inspired, but they never get FUNKY with it. The tempo stays slow and becomes derivative. It almost makes listening to Alex Turner’s engaging songwriting seem distant in the long run. That isn’t to say you find anything good here. “Jet Skis On The Moat” and “There’d Better Be A Mirrorballs” are some tracks that have stayed with me upon multiple revisits. The way these tracks incorporate the funk into their more loungey fair adds dimensions, unlike “Hello You,” which is broader in its approach. There is a consistency in the instrument playing, as they come with energy, despite the assignment being more a complete 180 from their Alt/Garage Rock days of the 2000s. I found The Car to be a solid effort as they deliver layered lyricism reflecting on memories and lessons learned through countless relationships. Though it may sound standard, Turner’s descriptive, poetic writing adds volumes.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever

As a fan of Daniel Lopatin’s work as an artist under the alias Oneothrixpointnever or his work in films making complementary scores, I jump the gun at anything he does or produces. However, something came over me, and the album he produced for Soccer Mommy flew by, and I forgot to return until recently. I sat beside myself lamenting over my neglect as the production of Sometimes, Forever is astronomically grand as it takes Sophia Allison (Soccer Mommy) to new levels that beautifully contrast the more structured songs of Color Theory. Though instrumental in keeping a core rock aesthetic, we hear more effects and experimentation with the instrumentations that you’re taken aback by some of the in-track shifts. For example, the noise-like guitar riffs at the end of “Bones” or the industrial/singer-songwriter punk-influenced “Unholy Affliction” and “Darkness Forever.” It is melodically rich and buoys fun explorations of different soundscapes, even though it isn’t the most lyrically profound.

Soccer Mommy retreads familiar themes, particularly ones enclosed to situations within a relationship, and almost seemingly loses herself in the moody production. Though the melodies are a strong focal point as they radiate an immense pull into its gravitational center, further entrenching us with fantastic sounds. Fluctuating between surprises and the more linear approach, it isn’t hard to get lost in her enigmatic work; Daniel Lopatin lets bass grooves ride waves of ferocity, taking us through elevated heights of darkness and vibrance. We hear it as it goes from the hopeful and whimsical “newdemo” to the dark and synth-heavy “Darkness Forever,” which sounds like a cross between atmospheric electronic wave music and punk. It’s a Rock album first, but how the two elevate it to be something grander shines a light on the dimensions within its emotional resonance, especially in those self-criticisms when reflecting on relationships or other what-ifs.

Sometimes, Forever is an album that I reflect on with glee. I am glad I’ve only gotten around to it now, as the past few weeks have seen some audacious and bombastic pieces of work that a moody and sonically expressive was what I needed. Despite a step back lyrically, it doesn’t hinder the final product; it leaves you in a foggy mist created by the expansive emotional range Soccer Mommy radiates through different inflections. You’d think Arctic Monkeys’ The Car would suffice, but the sounds are hollow by comparison. I know I’ll be spinning the new Soccer Mommy heavily, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Rauw Alejandro – Saturno: Review

After delivering an exuberant delicacy of sounds on Vice Versa, Rauw Alejandro returns with new and expansive soundscapes that shroud over typical reggaeton tracks mixed within. There is no denying Alejandro’s allure of the electronic genre as a whole; from sounds that evolved from regions and eras, Alejandro is using it as an influence during this ascension as a master of the dance floor. He’s finding himself amongst the stars, taking us inside this futuristic hive where reggaeton grows beyond the perreo and dembow, allowing itself to be something grandiose. Saturno, or Saturn, is taking us through varying levels, or rings, surrounding the core aspects of the album and delivering many danceable heaters. Though it’s easy to understand the lyricism you’ll get from reggaeton artists: danceable, flavorful tunes focusing on love, relationships, sex, and seduction, amongst similar themes within that realm – it isn’t all black and white, and the depth brought about by luscious melodies and fruitful choruses and verses make it a bewilderingly fun ride with a few missteps along the way.

Saturno, by all accounts, aims to deliver futuristic overtures and undertones, whether through the production or from the vocals, to take us to the stratosphere of his mind, where we see how he musically thinks. It excels at that and some; it’s an album where the essence of reggaeton isn’t lost, but the electronic avenues he takes are astronomical, no pun intended. Sometimes you’re getting hints of dancehall, sometimes Miami Bass or EDM, but the overall vibe leaves you in a trance where you aren’t noticing your body grooving. Though I can’t speak to how you motion per tempo, the transitions between tracks are smooth – save for the interludes/skit. But the lavish futurism expressed through the eyes of a reggaeton artist getting past conceptual pop norms and taking his music to new heights. We’ve heard it done before with the disco and funk elements of Rauw Alejandro’s last album, Vice Versa. Here, he’s taking that influence from the transitional period where Disco became more Post-Disco/House/Electronica with an essence of life with his vision as he runs the pop gambit. 

It predominately flows like a steady river with no rapids; however, that isn’t to say there are bumps along the way, with certain rocks (tracks) spotting up that make you shift, aiming to avoid it, even though it’s still there. But the way these sounds continuously expand and express visual splendor – you hear it from “Verde Menta,” “Corazón Despeinado,” and “Dime Quen?” – it’s an electrifying EDM track, resonant of the late 80s, early 90s Eurodance, an adequate but rudimentary EDM/Reggaeton hybrid, and luscious Miami Bass, respectively. But with that more standard track in the middle, the surrounding songs keep it afloat as Alejandro’s melodies continue to capture that futuristic aesthetic.

Unfortunately, Saturno sometimes retreads particular rhythms and sounds in reggeaton that doesn’t grip you, like on “Lejols Del Cielo” or “Ron Cola,” which barely grows beyond the straight line it follows. Additionally, there is a moment that feels like off-choices in the tracklisting – the skit near the end doesn’t add anything toward the overarching futuristic theme, more so acting like a hype-centered bridge between sections of tracks. It doesn’t fit like two previous interludes with viscerally pungent beats. Its translucent nature allows it to absorb these dark yet luminous synths into its ecosphere, where the engagement is high, and its futuristic tech shines through. In “Más De Una Vez,” we hear these laser synths shoot in the backdrop and through the stars of its Electronic/Reggeaton core. We get the essence of this through varying tracks, as his producers use it to envelope more than its core genre complexions, like on “Dejau,” which adds notes of Afrobeat or “De Carolina,” and its use of light industrial electronica. It isn’t like Vice Versa, where the influx of pop grandeur laid a smooth path of consistency, where you couldn’t help but keep it on a loop. 

Saturno is lavish and inspiring, though it’s a little far from perfect. Rauw Alejandro carries an identity he vigorously puts forth as producers eloquently build these electrifying beats with him. Though that isn’t to say it’s perfect, a few issues here and there causes it to lose traction as this steady locomotion of dance bravado. But most times, Alejandro is winding up and delivering a fast one, melodically, almost allowing for the sidesteps to become afterthoughts. They are still there and ultimately take away from the levels this could have reached. It makes a splash and is ready to fire us up as winter dawns, even if it isn’t to the highest temperature, like a 2000s Sean Paul song.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Taylor Swift – Midnights: Review

1989 came and went with Taylor Swift delivering a defining statement as a pop star. We heard and saw the fire slowly growing since “I Knew You Were Trouble” off Red. But after that, we started to hear her cool down with the electronic quirks from Reputation, which we continued to see with the electronic-focused tracks of her subsequent album Lover. Taylor Swift seems to come across as creatively stunted when given beats/production that emboldens a chance for Swift to go beyond linear synth-pop. Midnights, Swift’s latest album, seems to express a happy medium where she can flex beautifully over chill-out electronica production. Unfortunately, after a specific point midway Swift starts to come across as creatively stunted on the lyrical end, losing that spark that makes the first half such a breezy, good vibe. Comparatively, a modest disappointment, Midnights is a step back for Swift, exchanging rich text with rich sounds that outshine the writing. It left me feeling like it was missing that special spark we heard predominantly in the first half.

Midnights is this conceptually driven album that revolves around dreams, nightmares, etc., as Taylor Swift’s creative juices begin to flow post-midnight on sleepless nights. But it isn’t always there. Per usual, Swift is developing these reflective stories, hypotheticals that stumble in the second half, either from the writing or melodic choices that Swift makes. We first hear it as she turns the page with “Vigilante Shit.” Swift has done this type of song before on “No Body, No Crime” with Haim; however, that track had nuance, and “Vigilante Shit” feels like a poor extension of the former. From there, you get shimmers of the downward spiral Midnight turns. “Labyrinth” sees Swift tackling themes of heartbreak and growth past them, though it isn’t as gripping, and Antanoff’s backing vocals add little depth to the already simple written song. Surrounding the shard stumbles along the way, the production stays consistent with sonic motifs, particularly from the low pitches from the synthesizers, Mellotrons, and Wurlitzers. 

Throughout the album, it does leave an interesting impression, though not negative or positive. Midnights is Swift’s 6th album working with Jack Antanoff, a fantastic musician/producer; however, the mystique loses fizzle after a while. So your first thought could be, “when do we get an original project without Antanoff, add a different personality behind the instruments and boards. Though the carbonation lasts longer for Midnights, Swift’s and Antanoff’s writing isn’t as captivating with tracks like “Bejeweled” and “Karma.” “Bejeweled” never feels like an individual product, taking cues from past pop hits by Swift. It treads familiar water over this crisp electronica beat that tackles the idea of shimmer as a sound. “Karma” doesn’t have excellent writing, and with oblique melodies, it becomes more of an afterthought in the long run. In “Labyrinth,” the focus is on the atmosphere, but the random drop near the end, though simple and effective elsewhere, doesn’t have that same impact as if you coasted through a track that emphasized more of an emotional core.

The production of Midnight takes from ideas from three “musical eras” of Taylor Swift, the synth linings of 1989, the electronic intricacies of Reputation, and the lyrical complexities of Folklore/Evermore. However, the height of it comes with potent first from “Lavender Haze” to “Questions…?.” Taylor Swift isn’t relying too much on whimsy and fantasy, like confronting people with her boyfriend Karma, instead reflecting on growth. In the blissful “Maroon,” she reflects on a love story that isn’t sparking with youthful fire and rather a humbling tale of togetherness and loss. The use of maroon as the defining color boasts the complexities of its story, like the color itself, complex hues of brown and red reflecting the complex dynamics of a relationship as they express beyond pure honesty. As it is with most of Swift’s songs on Midnight, themes reflect love through different purviews, culminating in varying lessons learned and emotions exhumed.

“You’re On Your Own, Kid” has us listening to a tale of a young person yearning for love, as if it’s this end all, be all; a crutch if you will. As she wistfully drifts into the night, the detailed writing and resonant melodies open your mind to the emotional truthfulness that hits our protagonist in the song. It continues to transfix you like the tracks that precede it. “Anti-Hero” brings forth the past eras of Swift–ones I’ve mentioned before–the livelier synths of 1989, electronic tones like “Delicate” from Reputation, and the lyrical complexities of the Folklore. It isn’t loquacious, and the auditory hand that grips you closer is tender and smooth, unlike the delivery of later songs. Fortunately, after the mediocrity in most of the second half, Swift grounds back into reality and offers something unique with the last two tracks, particularly “Sweet Nothing.” “Sweet Nothing” is instrumentally simple, mirroring her relationship with Joe Awelyn, deconstructing the importance of understanding and growth–she has finally found someone who hasn’t cared about the fame that comes with dating Swift.

Midnights is a minor step back for Taylor Swift, but it isn’t this albatross that fails to hit the mark. Swift came with direction; however, that won’t always constitute a great album. Though linear and coherently consistent, it doesn’t get elevated to the degree past albums have been, specifically 1989 and Folklore. There is a lot to like here, with some solid repeat appeal. Unfortunately, it left me yearning for something more, especially as I sat there listening to Swift sing and elevate the idea of karma to people from her past.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time: Review

Playing into the aesthetics, dreams, and life influenced by her time living in California, Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album, The Loneliest Time. It’s apparent and gets heard through these vibrant, dreamy songs that boast the songwriting and her vocals, for the most part. Jepsen has made hits over glamorous synths-filled production that elevate her captivatingly catchy and fun ways. And we get that, but unfortunately, The Loneliest Time doesn’t land as strong, specifically in the second half. At times, it doesn’t feel like Jepsen is giving us that spark we get at the beginning and left with an intriguing concept filled with songs that understand the assignment, but it isn’t all effective. You see it as Carly Rae Jepsen weaves this concept reflective on time– during the day (the first half), it is sonically influenced by being in the sun, having fun, and incorporating happy instrumentations; the night (second half) unwinds more with slower grooves while trying to push the itch to dance. Though it has you grooving, Jepsen isn’t always bringing her all; she’s delivering with little nuance, despite its unique concept, and you’d preferably spin older records.

The Loneliest Time starts strong but starts to lose you with these distinct sounds that don’t acquiesce. You’ll know the difference between what makes “Joshua Tree” a breezy, fun jam and “Shooting Star,” something that feels lost within a world of Disco and Funk as it tries to maneuver similar sonic themes poorly. Though both “Joshua Tree” and “Shooting Star” embolden that dance-pop bravado with captivating grooves and choruses, sometimes they won’t have a similar impact like “LA Hallucinations” and “Party For One” from Emotion and Dedicated, respectively. Despite having the firmness to stand on its own, Jepsen occasionally downplays the vocals in the second half, never taking full advantage of her range and elevating to the strengths of “Surrender My Heart.” It hits you instantly less because of the production and more because Carly Rae Jepsen makes you feel the effusive energy getting brought, unlike “Bad Thing Twice.”

In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Carly Rae Jepsen said, “Loneliness sounds sad, but I think it can be exhilarating and exciting, and I think it can be the most intimate feeling in a really special way.” We heard it before with “Party For One,” but it wasn’t heavy-set on spearheading that connotation as it embodied a confident bravado that is about the dance. With The Loneliest Time, Jespen wants to subvert the preconceived definition that can come with the lonely feeling; she desires to purport it as an intimate and reflective time with turbulence. Think about those moments you yearn for when you turn on do not disturb on your phone, kick back and unwind solo dolo; it’s centering on the emotions that fluster your mind, leaving you with positive or negative notions while still looking for the bright side. From giving a jar of tears with love, through missed time, expressing the confidence someone special got out of you, or commentary on modern dating–these are some examples sung by Jepsen in “Bends,” “Sideways,” and “Beach House,” respectively.

Carly Rae Jepsen brings her trademark upbeat energy that seeps through the melodies, gripping you with a certain catchiness that works more than not. It rarely falls to the production to elevate the performance; it has consistency in its construction, but Jepsen rarely makes an effort to explore it more. “So Nice” doesn’t see Jepsen taking full advantage of the funkadelic grooves, almost choosing to meet in the middle and coasting instead of keeping it interesting. We’re seeing Jepsen shift sonically and attempt to tone down the glam and let the instruments express character; unfortunately, keeping it intriguing and having personality aren’t enough to muddle through bumps on the road. “Talking To Yourself” is familiar to “Surrender My Heart,” except with a guitar solo, and “Beach House” does too much by incorporating raw male vocals to shoe-horn the brutal honesty that fails to make an impact. Jepsen’s writing is slightly flawed and visually dull, delivering stereotypical situations: “Boy number twelve had a look in his eyes/Brought up his ex and he started to cry/Told me he loved me the very first night.” It’s rare, but when it’s noticeable, it devalues the individualized greatness of the production.

Lacking smooth transitions, The Loneliest Time has weird shifts between a vibe into something somber or vibrant. It makes sense when looking at its construction; however, it doesn’t have a seamless transition, as she incorporates characteristics of Country-Pop and Synth Pop on the last two tracks. I loved the stripped-down acoustic guitars contrasting the electricity from the electric guitar with pedals, like in the 15 seconds at the start of the last minute of “Talking To Yourself,” capitalizing on an ecstatic solo, further giving something to look forward to past the tedious chorus and familiar sounds. The synth-pop coating offers a bright contrast to the more club-oriented and disco-influenced “Bad Thing Twice” and “Shooting Star,” predominately due to Jepsen’s effectiveness. It makes sense when looking at its construction; however, it doesn’t have a seamless transition, as she incorporates characteristics of Country-Pop and Synth Pop on the last two tracks.

“Go Find Yourself or Whatever” is a Country-Pop song that feels grounded and better than most songs Jepsen has delivered on the album. The captivating melancholy stays in your mind, especially if you stop there. The Loneliest Time ends with a duet/feature performance by Rufus Wainwright on the eponymous track, which continues that melancholy, somber tone but feels displaced as the closer. It doesn’t have captivating grooves and feels like something that could have gotten left off. Though it isn’t what many expected, it still offers a semblance of something refreshing, unlike her Dedicated Side B, which felt like a slightly uninteresting extension of a superior A side. There is enough to enjoy on The Loneliest Time, but it isn’t the strongest effort by Carly Rae Jepsen and is a disappointment in the long run.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Alvvays – Blue Rev: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Feid – FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM: Review

Continuing to soar through the Latin-Pop soundscapes, Colombian Reggaeton/Pop artist Feid has amassed popularity and a foundation that plateaus some of his contemporaries. Though he isn’t a powerhouse like the global superstars in his realm, he has been able to pave a path with crystalized glass reflecting the nature of his talent from varying angles. Feid’s vocal performances are just a fraction of that talent, as we witness the craftsmanship in his song structures, which see complementing melodies and harmonic transitions that enthrall the senses. We’ve heard Latin artists push past the perreo–the conceptual promiscuity, to develop depth within the confines of magnetic pop/reggaeton hits. He continues to stride on his follow-up to Inter Shibuya – La Mafia, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM, which continues to shift the playing field. It weaves intricate overtures and subtleties within the production, creating more foolproof vibes that keep you enticed from start to finish, despite being the weakest component.

An album that imbues some sense of celebration, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM is an expression of Feid’s lows and momentous highs through a musical reflection that transcends past surface-level club bangers. It builds hype within the first few tracks, notably the first two, where spoken audio elevates the potency of its delivery, making us bow to the rhythm. It grows and grows, keeping your body in motion, but the engine starts to putter along a semi-rocky ride. But that ride comes with significantly dynamic highlights you can’t help but find consistent replayability, whether it comes from the hypnotic melodies or the crisp lyricism, as the beat is there to back up Feid. Like on the captivatingly fun “Feliz Cumpleaños Ferxxo” or the enigmatic “Si Te La Encuentras Por Ahí,” we’re getting swaggering harmonic and melodic earwormy hits, and they stockpile on top of each other, despite lesser beats comparatively.

The production isn’t the most compelling aspect of FCFTPEA; however, that isn’t to say there aren’t any spectacular moments. The consistency isn’t as forthcoming as on Inter Shibuya – La Mafia–we still get moments like “Nieve,” “XQ Te Pones Así,” and “Quemando Calorías” shift the paradigm of conventionalism concerning the core influence that the beat takes from and embodies. “Nieve” is this radiant House track that sees Feid flexing while subtly showing his heart on his sleeves as he recounts who he is to this significant other. “Quemando Calorías” brings kinetic drum beats and nuanced electronic tones that escape the trappings of simple reggaeton. It’s a consistently unique surprise to hear these sonic shifts that take us away from the predominantly familiar but effective reggaeton hits. It isn’t like “XQ Te Pones Así,” which incorporates nostalgic percussion patterns that elevate the strengths of Feid and Yandel’s vocals.

Unfortunately, the beats aren’t as consistent as they’ve been in the past, instead of leveraging the slightly experimental nature of the album. Feid expresses bravado with his songwriting prowess, allowing the production to coast fluidly, but sometimes you can’t overcome some of its simplicities. “Lady Mi Amor” is too plain and suffers from being less than interesting after teasing something mystifyingly electric. Similarly, “Aguante” gives us these harmonious pianos and synths to start–when the drop occurs, the synths never change, keeping a consistent rhythm–later becoming more cumbersome to the simple but effective reggaeton beat. There’s modest consistency in that regard; it further leaves it up to Feid to stitch it all together. He couldn’t do so with “Normal,” another track with a less–than impressive beat but enjoyably pertinent lyricism. It makes you reflect on past work, notably the imbalance between excellent and meh. There’s a continuous show of highlights that you almost forget the aforementioned nothing burgers. Instead, you could be indulging in the vibrant “Belixe,” an EDM/Reggaeton hybrid that hits the right notes of sunset dance vibes. I know I’ll be.

FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS FERXXO TE PIRATEAMOS EL ÁLBUM is fun and whimsical, at times, transformative, but it isn’t the quality one would expect after his last album. But that isn’t to say it was a cluster of a mess. I found myself lost in the rhythm, letting it replay with ease, but as it rounds out, I would still rather revisit the colorful flurries we get on Inter Shibuya – La Mafia. It’s still a big recommendation from me if you’re eager to explore more of the Latin-Pop/Reggaeton world.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard: Review

It’s been five years since The xx dropped an album; however, that hasn’t stopped the flow of music from the respective members, whether it be singles or EPs, and so forth. Oliver Sim is next at-bat with his debut album, Hideous Bastard–it speaks volumes lyrically but is often faint as the production by Jamie xx doesn’t boast his Sim’s vocal abilities beyond a safe zone. It’s ominous and compelling, adding layers beneath slightly mundane synth patterns. Sim noted in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Two thirds in[to the process of creating Hideous Bastard], having a good idea of what the record was about, I realised I’d been circling around one of the things that has probably caused me the most fear and shame. My HIV status. I’ve been living with HIV since I was 17 and it’s played with how I’ve felt towards myself, and how I’ve assumed others have felt towards me, from that age and into my adult life.” The album is about growth through reflection and boasting Sim’s confidence to express himself fluidly without worrying about the stigmas that underline who he is and what he has–though, without consistent production, it begins to fluctuate in its effectiveness.

On the surface, Hideous Bastard is adjacent to the known–hauntingly delivered compositions that emotionally grip you through varying perspectives, instead of the love-centric work of The xx–but the production’s consistency isn’t the most gripping. Sitting down and indulging the album, the beats never lean toward the make-or-break factor, but it’s something that aligns with preference. It sonically shifts depending on the approach Oliver Sim has to the central theme, like on “Sensitive Child,” where he notes being called a sensitive child as a kid, which has its unique connotation today. With being called sensitive today, he reflects on how that term made him feel like he got hardly acknowledged. Today, getting called sensitive may lead to people tiptoeing more frequently on what gets said in your presence; the acknowledgment may sour depending on said group. However, he fights back that notion with his vocal melodies and the production, where he’s more outspoken, playing more passionately. And Sim continuously reminds us that his songwriting ability doesn’t skip a beat, specifically in tracks like “Romance With a Memory” and “Saccharine.”

Unfortunately, there are tracks like “Confident Man;” it displaces tone with drab-avant-garde-like electronic components over slightly distinct piano keys and other percussions. Connecting to the album’s central focus–blossoming from a hardened shell of fright–“Confident Man” sees Oliver Sim singing about performative masculinity, wherein one shifts their demeanors to deflect harmful stereotypes about the gay community. There is something emotionally compelling here, but it doesn’t have smooth transitions, particularly in the second half, taking you through slight detours from this haunting sonic presence and delivering an explosive but meandering closer. It’s supposed to reflect a release from these fears, these doubts, but it doesn’t come across naturally. Unlike “Confident Man,” the aforementioned tracks and “GMT” have smoother transitions between its minimalism and modestly flirtation synth notes. Though the production continues to trek through with slightly mundane consistency, it doesn’t hinder Sim’s delivery. 

Oliver Sim isn’t frenetic as he lets his vocals guide you through wavering narratives that are more like questions. “Unreliable Narrator” makes that known; his music speaks with lyrical bewilderment that floods through these questions with no answers. Like “Confident Man,” it poses the thought on why they have this facade, using personal experience to reflect his questioning. “Never Here” has him questioning his memory and how growth alongside technological advancement has shifted our perception of memory. “Can we trust ourselves to relay what we know since one couldn’t document the past as efficiently as it is now?” In the chorus, he sings: “Pictures fade, technology breaks/I know the moment don’t exist within its colour and shape/I take it in just to throw it away,” adding connotations to his sentiments. Sometimes subtle, sometimes more apparent like the ones mentioned and the intro, “Hideous,” with the subtlety heard on “GMT.” The song sees him questioning this yearning for home during an escape from seasonal depression (aka winter). He ponders this notion of missing home–as in the city he grew up in, London–which has imparted various lessons and memories, building this creative love that has bled onto his music. He has beautiful bursts of sunshine every day, but it doesn’t boast that creative juice as potently as being in London at this moment.

It’s a flurry of emotions that I wish had more impact, but as I heard Oliver Sim’s words, I couldn’t help but feel the production doesn’t do him justice. It’s focused on one sonic theme, that the few times it shifts like “Romance With A Memory,” which brings out more of a rock aesthetic. It comes with some zeal, but I felt more disappointed in the production of Jamie xx. It isn’t perfect, though I find myself more captivated by his writing and performing than the production. So, if you sit and pay attention to his words, they can become a pushing wind that you can bypass to indulge in some of the remarkable reflections Sim delivers throughout. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.