Beach Bunny – Emotional Creatures: Review

Throughout the band’s growth, Beach Bunny has solidified an identity that delivers electric, fun, and raw music with powerful gravitational pulls; you can’t help but find some songs or albums that hit. That’s how it was with me, and it continues to be with their new album, Emotional Creature. Like past albums, they exhume a youthful (instrumentally) yet mature (songwriting) presence in the Rock scene, building these unique instrumentations with fluidity, continuously immersing into Rock at an authentic level. However, that loses importance with the consistency of the instrumentalists Jon Alvarado, Matt Henkels, Anthony Vaccaro, and frontwoman Lili Trifilio as they steer the ups and downs. Emotional Creatures reflects a new direction that mostly strides because of the aforesaid general positives and evolves naturally with its “Sci-Fi” angle–it echoes as synthesizers are now a prominent instrument. The album gives us an artistic improvement with a flurry of wicked great music in a compact product with great songwriting and melodies, despite a few hiccups.

With Beach Bunny’s recent inclusion of synthesizers, the shift isn’t as robotic; it offers a guide for effects, pedals, etc., instead. It adds nuance to the instrumentations as they bounce between pop and punk rock, weaving different tempos and transitions, which gives Emotional Creatures some smoothness. Though I can’t say similarly about all the songs, Lili Trifilio takes us through these perspectives that root into the core of her emotional journies with the people around her. Boasted by the intricate use of the effects and synths, the expressive force in Lili’s voice delivers that oomph, attracting you toward it. We hear that throughout, with a few occasions of insane synergy that tugs you closer and closer, like “Gone” or “Karaoke.” It’s an effervescent feeling throughout the first half, never becoming unwavering as we continuously transition from “Entropy” to “Weeds.”

Those tracks get supplemented by potent songwriting, which buoys a relationship-centric core that takes varying avenues to tell a story. “Fire Escape” beautifully uses these detailed actions to paint a scene in the context of the track; in this case, Lili Trifilio sings about her and her lover’s journey through New York. It’s a consistency that stands out more frequently than not, especially in the first half. We hear these varying trajectories that are distinct and colorful lyrically. Similarly, “Eventually” sees Lili singing about facing your problems as running from them never makes them disappear. The vocal melodies bring whimsical energy that radiates slight pop-punk nostalgia in its rawest form.

That whimsical energy holds their spaceship afloat, containing engaging reminders about the subtle complexities of both sides. Unfortunately, it can get shortsighted with lingering or repetitive notes, but we get a construct that elevates the stickiness which grips us firmly. Though the repetition can mostly feel subtle, it doesn’t weigh down the quality since Lili Trifilio delivers these varying vocal textures. The final track, “Love Song,” sounds more standard, giving this feeling that it’s just a poorer reflection of “Entropy.” Many catch our ears swiftly, keeping fans of rock music, like myself, looping music that comes with slight nuances to 00s pop-punk/punk-rock, like “Fire Escape.” It stays personable while remarking notions that generalize friction or connectivity in its songwriting, allowing the instrumentations to energize and deliver rawness, specifically with guitar and bass. And it’s a reflection of the consistency heard in the first half of the album.

With tracks like “Weeds” or “Deadweight,” there is a looseness toward sonic depth, but they get enveloped in its writing. Beyond taking their own unique approach to the themes, there is a cleverness to their writing. “Weeds” brings back that nostalgia in the form of age, as Lili Trifilio incorporates a Polly Pocket in a beautifully unique way, singing in the second verse: “Tired of giving, giving, living like a lady in distress/But I don’t need someone to save me/Not your Polly Pocket in your lover’s locket/You can’t hold me down, I’m a bursting bottle rocket.” After “Weeds,” we get a bit disjointed musically; Beach Bunny creates these detailed instrumentations rooted in synths and losing the essence of emotion. You’ll predominantly hear it with “Scream;” the synths guide the vocal performance over some mundane drum patterns–similarly, the instrumental track “Gravity” doesn’t try anything new with synthesizers. It left me feeling empty–there was an opportunity, and they missed it. 

Emotional Creatures continues to showcase Beach Bunny’s talent while expressing new directions. We get some wonderfully mixed rawness/openness from the band as instrumentalists, specifically Lili Trifilio’s dreamy, intimate, and detailed writing and vocals. You get taken to the center of their persona and more as they acquiesce sounds into a clean front-to-back progression, but there are hiccups along the way. As a fan of the band, they deliver tracks I’ll return to frequently, and I hope you do too.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Weezer – SZNS: Spring: Review

Weezer’s constant output has never ceased to amaze me, sometimes it lands, and other times they become mostly forgettable duds. They have had moments where, for every three or so mediocre to okay albums, there is one great one, but fans rejoice for new music–I know I do– there are always a few solid songs that stay with you. For the past two decades, they have seemed to pull all their effort in the first half of the decades than the second–this trend makes it easier for others to know when to come back. 2021 has been a great heel turn for them as they’ve explored new avenues musically, and continue to do so on their new EP, SZNS: Spring.

You may ask, is SZNS: Spring fantastic? It’s not even close, especially when comparing to previous Weezer albums; however, to say it isn’t another fun experience after Van Weezer wouldn’t be doing it justice. SZNS: Spring is like any run-of-the-mill power-pop/rock project from Weezer that offers melancholic fun with the instrumentations and the songwriting, which oozes middle-age dad levels of fun and relaxation. Ok Human had us singing about audible and reading Grapes of Wrath or a fun time at the Aero movie theater, and that is prominent on SZNS: Spring as Rivers Cuomo weaves a tale of “The two angels descend from heaven down to Earth because they’re tired of being so prim and proper up in heaven,” as per his press release.

SZNS: Spring is a flow of power-pop consistency before steering toward more standard rock complexions. Weezer has an idea of where they are spearheading the story, but the production sometimes is too much or Rivers Cuomo misses the mark melodically. When it comes to Weezer projects of this caliber–which I’ve mentioned prior–it starts to downward crescendo into a mundane burger of basic melodies. “The Sound Of Drums” is the first that didn’t hit as well as the others. Rivers brings melodies we’ve heard done similarly and excellently on past albums, but’s simplicity doesn’t hit as smoothly since the production–sometimes–muddles Rivers singing and leads you to the next two songs, one of which shines like three of the first four songs. 

Starting with “Opening Night,” you hear that sense of dad-Weezer taking form as Rivers sings about Shakespeare and how reading his work makes him happy. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the fun use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerto number 1 in E major, opus 8, RV 269, “Spring (La Primavera)”, I: Allegro (in E major), the track would lose its mysticism since we’ve had funner and better songs about loving books from Weezer–If you take away the sample, then you’re left with another track like “The Sound Of Drums.” It barely keeps the interest leveled high for me to return. There are the songs “Angels On Vacation,” “A Little Bit Of Love,” “The Garden of Eden,” which carry nuances to melodies that make them lovable and fun, especially as they remind you of the fun times listening to OK Human and the array of fun piano melodies and synths.

SZNS: Spring is fun, but for an EP, it wears off quickly, with a more concentrated effort given to the earlier songs than the latter. However, this is Weezer and we get entertaining songs for the moment but forgettable in the long run. It’ll stay in my Weezer playlist full of fun songs, but don’t expect me to return swiftly with desire.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Dora Jar – Comfortably in Pain EP: Review

Charisma. Charm. Fun. Emotionally driven. Simple words, sure, but accurate when describing the music of Dora Jar. Every step she takes has been a positive push forward, slowly refining her sound and becoming one of pop-rock’s hidden gems. On her new EP, Comfortably In Pain, Dora continues to hone in the rock sensibilities, blending fun and poignant lyricism that feeds into her quirky demeanor. Upon listening to “Polly” off last year’s Digital Meadow, she drove home these sensibilities with her spectacular songwriting and charming melodies. These qualities kept returning as Comfortably In Pain continued, and I repeat, but I can say without a doubt, there was a lot of enjoyment listening to this project. 

Dora Jar’s witty and vibrant songwriting has been a cornerstone of her charm. With lines like: “​​In the ring, let the red flag billow/Below me is a city, you can call me Godzilla/Cross the road little chicken, wanna stomp upon a bully/’Cause I’m invincible,” on “Polly” it’s easy to find that relativity between her and the listener by picking fantastical elements to replace the norm. She continues to bring it within many songs on Comfortably In Pain, like “Scab Song,” which sees Dora expanding the creative world inside her mind. In the song’s third verse, she sings: “You have green and blue veins/Loopin’ like spaghetti through your body’s traffic lanes/Sometimes I like to pretеnd that your veins have no end/And I can drivе through them,” continuing and developing the style. 

It isn’t just the fluidity of her songwriting that brings anything Dora Jar touches to life. It’s the captivating energy with her melodies, like in “Tiger Face;” she can fluctuate tempos to reflect an emotional core within each section – the verses see her keeping it real with her desires, her likes, and her feelings – while the chorus delivers a playful melody replicating a balance in her relationship. Within these lines, she is signaling her desire to see this person’s fierce side, as it brings some extra spice. The song is complemented by rustic acoustic strings before immersing itself within the confines of the production as it layers with the percussion – drums and piano keys. It is similarly the case with “It’s Random,” where it switches midway, like a random shift that beautifully contrasts the somber acoustic opener.

The production continues to shine, albeit some minimalism in instrumentations. There is an elegant balance between the twinkling guitar strings and rock progression. Dora Jar knows what she wants and tries to encapsulate those sentiments, like the pop-ballad “Lagoon.” It shows that she isn’t always gravitating toward the electronic trend in music; Dora is refining 2000s pop-rock and alt-rock and making it her own by twisting these various elements in the mortar and creating a great blend. It’s a testament to the producers for seeing her vision and adapting their structured approach for something a little more chaotic and fun like she does with “Scab Song” –  a literal song about a scab, with the resounding depth of opposite connotations that distinguish a sense of beauty speaks to the greatness of her craft.

Comfortably In Pain is a whimsical journey through the mind of Dora Jar as she continues to raise her ceiling. She is bringing energy beneath the charm and charisma. But most importantly, she knows herself and it reflects with the music she creates. Each new project is another step on this journey to grow bigger than she is now.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Maisie Peters – You Signed Up For This: Review

Despite having a presence in the music industry, Maisie Peters boldly names her debut You Signed Up For This. Like some pop stars before her, they had confidence and a defined identity, further being the extra boost to keep them within our stratosphere. Maisie has released two EPs and a full soundtrack for the AppleTV+ show, Trying, but unless you’re conscious within the depth of the pop world, she isn’t an artist who you’d immediately recognize. However, You Signed Up For This confidently creates a soundscape that blends pop-rock with acoustic and folk undertones. And with Maisie Peters’, sometimes, masterful songwriting, her debut makes us glad we somewhat signed up for this.

Maisie Peters is one of many pop stars today that focus on honing their craft as a storyteller; she just happens to be one of the few to make improvements year after year. Though she still has some ways to go, as Maisie Peters is someone who can crumble a song under the weight of her creativity. You Signed Up For This contains as much originality as any Charlie Kaufman film, but Maisie sometimes gets derivative with trying to recreate something to a different tune.

“Psycho” and “Villain” fit into the mold of two songs that carry similar themes and scenes, with the latter being better. “Psycho” is a glamorous pop ensemble that viscerally combines a myriad of instruments into one of the best-produced pop songs this year; unfortunately, the songwriting isn’t as strong. It teeters on slight mediocrity, despite Maisie Peters delivering some captivating melodies and harmonies. On the contrary, “Villain” isn’t a vibrant pop banger. Instead, it takes a nuanced and meta approach to be on the outside looking in. Maisie takes this approach to her songwriting and allowing her to have a greater reach relative to her experiences.

Maisie Peters’ songwriting focuses on a path toward self-reflection/realization, delivering perspectives through dream-like narratives. Maisie breaks down her emotions and details into beautiful components, which make up the whole, like on “Boy,” “Talking to Strangers,” or “John Hughes Movie.” So whenever Maisie isn’t focusing on personal viewpoints, she lets the pen run loose with thoughts and illusions for a life some people wished they could live. Like “Villain,” “John Hughes Movie” is an extension of the few songs about heartbreak throughout the years. They speak to the idea that Maisie is sometimes writing from the outside looking in. By creating these universally understanding songs, she allows herself to flex her storytelling past the overtly personal. 

One example of great storytelling comes from “John Hughes Movie,” which sees Maisie Peters wishing to have a love plotline like the song’s namesake. A John Hughes’ teen film starts with scanty realism until the final moments, where love becomes eternal through a lock of eyes or lips. Like Maisie, I’ve had similar dreams and delusions, and she captures the essence that contrasts the films from everyday life. 

Maisie finds a way to infuse the themes into a relative narrative and vibrant production, with the former being her main strength. But this strength only shines when she isn’t trying to deliver a radio hit.

There is a clear division of sound between the slight esoteric folk-pop hybrids and clear pop bangers she aims to create with a song like “Psycho.” There are aspects of “Psycho” that excel, particularly in the production, and her lyrics are not desirably catchy. She changes the script with a song like “Elvis Song,” where the poppy percussion gives Maisie a chance to sing without any vocal modifiers.

You Signed Up For This carries hyperextended guitar chords on more than 75% of the album, but 70% of the time, it intricately blends with the rest of the production. For Maisie Peters, it’s a strength that gives her the comfortability to be different. The chords have a simple frame, allowing the external instruments to form a direction and create depth. Maisie has a refined sound and identity that her creative juices refill themselves after each conception. The contrasting sounds of previously mentioned songs, “Talking to Strangers” and “Boy,” are a few examples of her sonic identity.

“Talking to Strangers” is rooted in acoustic pop with folk-like guitar notes directing Maisie Peters’ vocals toward the limelight. “Boy” follows a similar path with the string arrangement, but the side instruments take hold of the emotions as the percussion gets louder with each empowerment-like phrase by Maisie. Others come across with a variation of the sounds of these songs while subtly keeping the pop overtones in focus. One that comes to mind is “Brooklyn,” which is a beautiful double entendre on viewing herself as the idyllic female for the suitor while speaking in the third person and indicating that they have to travel to Brooklyn to find her. I felt like it would have been the better closer than the slight snooze of “Tough Act.”

You Signed Up For This delivers on impact with some great songs coming from various directions. It ends on a decent note, but as it quickly repeats from song one, I become immediately transfixed all over again. Maisie has a captivating voice and style that makes her a diamond in the rough for pop and having a refined mentor in Ed Sheeran giving her the tools to make the best album she can.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Marina – Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land: Review

It has always been astounding that a talented voice like Marina Diamandis has yet to fully create an album where she finds a proper equilibrium between production and lyricism throughout. She has shown a lot of flashes in her career; specifically on Froot, the third album in her resume. Despite a lackluster fourth release, she has come back full circle to deliver a beautifully vibrant electro-pop album with more hits than duds on her fifth studio album, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land. This album takes a trip down memory lane, both lyrically and sonically, as she delivers tracks that are resonant of her universal pop career through metaphorical landscapes. At times it takes missteps by guiding toward some broad redundancies in the themes/lyrical content, but the production still shines as a co-lead.

There has always been something about Marina’s voice that had me questioning why she kept steering in a slightly generic – dance pop route that never highlighted her strengths. But the more she started to learn and grow, as an artist, the more it started to seem that she is usually at her best when she is in some control of the sonic direction, instead of forcing the production to fit a concept. Though that isn’t necessarily the case with every producer she has worked with, delivering some standouts like “Primadonna,” off her sophomore release, Electra Heart. On a lot of these earlier albums there has been too much of a focus on grabbing the best and putting out glamorized dance records to fit a concept. When she is one of the foundations for the production, whether solo or with co-producers, there is a shift in focus.

The production on Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land is unlike her earlier, more fraught work, weaving these unique dance and electro-pop, some of which doesn’t overly glamorize and allows her words and themes steer the ship. However some tracks steer the ship too far from visceral direction the first few deliver before going into – the at times – redundant subject matter, like on “Purge The Poison,” which focuses on breaking apart the evils in society and America. It keeps going on the off-putting “New America,” which is about the issues with the social problems of America and it is taken into a world of boredom.

Unfortunately the production is the only highlight to come from the aforementioned tracks, amongst others, where the production takes the limelight. The other tracks contain sonic consistency and, despite some decent lyricism, Marina delivers great performances, like on “Pandora’s Box.” It has a tedious message that uses Pandora’s Box as a form of trying to let the emotions flow or if not, what is eventually let out is uncontrollable chaos. And though that’s a little on the nose, Marina gives a subtly beautiful performance over a melancholic electro-pop centric ballad that buoys the echo-backing vocals into organized chaos. 

Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land isn’t devoid of quality from both the production and the writing. The title track and “Venus Fly Trap,” for example, use these radiant metaphors, some of which reflect on Marina’s person and being, to express these warming and inspiring themes about life. A lot of the subsequent tracks start to embody more centric pop conventions, opposed to the glitzy electro-pop. A huge factor comes from the fact that she is keeping it simple and letting the glowing instruments create the backing. One such instrument that gets a boost on the production is the percussion and electric guitar, which carries the load. In doing so, Marina and her co-producers free flow, introducing an array of differently constructed production for the tracks. They take Marina’s vocal prowess and, like in past work, give us the work she flourishes in, the soft-emotional ballads.

Marina is at her apex when she breaks down the comfortable dance conventions coating her music. It’s because her voice is like the most powerful instrument she has always had and with the few ballads she gives us, there are some great ones. However, the individual standout comes from “I Love You More Than I Love Me,” which reinforces the thought that her love is worth more than what happened between her and her ex, Jack Patterson of Clean Bandits. The track that closes Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, “Goodbye,” brings forth a beautiful message to her older self, letting her know about her individual growth as an artist and person. This is evident with the control she had on this album, like she did with Froot.

Through its ups and its downs, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land brings unique perspectives and less-fraught production to deliver a mesmerizing, albeit flawed, pop album that shines like the album cover. It has its moments in the sun and catches you with unique melodies and harmonies you’ll find yourself coming back a bit frequently.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend: Review

Continuing to exhume effervescent arrays of shoe-gaze and punk rock music, Wolf Alice finds themselves underneath blue lights as they deliver a thought provoking and emotionally gripping shoe-gaze and punk rock on Blue Weekend, the follow up to the underwhelming Visions of a Life. Like the namesake of the album, its cognitive approach deals with the emotions of the listeners; particularly those with a depth filled understanding of feeling blue. There are tracks that fully gravitate in an unknown direction, and eventually find themselves coming back full circle as the themes vary, but one sentiment stays true. The songwriting and performances of the band keep Blue Weekend on a steady track as it buoys between shoe-gaze and post-punk overtures, while maintaining their brand of authenticity.

Blue Weekend is unlike some of their previous work. There is a steady incline in the quality of the production where they continue to take elements of dream pop and post punk and further create these spacious and riveting rock tracks. Front woman, Ellie Roswell, brings this kinetic energy to her performances, which takes a slight turn as it become one of the unsung hero of their work; specifically in the way she delivers the emotional veracity based on the construct, like standout “Play The Greatest Hits,” which is fueled with angst and punk flair or the melancholic and, at times, dreamy beach themed sounds on the intro and closer – “The Beach.” 

The production is a little more sonically pellucid, as it doesn’t tend to waver into wrought complexities and stoned one-note productions too much; even though there are minimal moments wherein the simplicity isn’t as engaging, like the intro section of “How Can I Make It Ok?” The same goes for the “Lipstick On The Glass.” They are the weakest links on the album, but never true deterrents with the contextual meshing it brings on both spectrums. It has this slow – minimalist buildup before it becomes these unique instrumentations.

Having these buildups isn’t that uncommon on Blue Weekend. A lot of the time it works because the songwriting grips you hard through the mixing and engineering of the vocal layers, which elevates the production’s tonal direction more. In turn, within the verses, your ears get eschewed with these vibrant metaphors, elusive Shakespearean quotes, and thoughts about the arrogance of humans, all the while realizing you also just read Vonnegut. It is like how “Play the Greatest Hits,” takes the crazy emotions one gets from hearing their favorite artist’s greatest hits and forgetting your worries as you unabashedly dance around in the kitchen, as Ellie Roswell would sing-scream on the track. Unfortunately it’s one of two tracks that felt like it could have been longer.

Blue Weekend finds itself in a constant mediation in what drives the track’s voice, both figuratively and literally, as the production’s effervescent layering of the instruments overwhelms half of the vocal performances from Ellie Roswell. But it’s to Blue Weekend’s benefit as it constantly grasps you with these captivating instrumentations, leaving you with an urge to flip on repeat and start to process over. This time you get lost in the songwriting and visceral imagery from the band. As you continue on this journey the varying tracks that emote the kind of blue you are feeling at the moment. These flow in unison with other themes on the album, ranging from relationships, motivated depression, and existential crises, amongst others, like on the tracks “Delicious Things,” and “Smile.”

“Delicious Things” broken down instrumentation plays coy with elongated and beautiful patterns on the production. Ellie Roswell writes this beautiful narrative where she feels displaced, the world is upside down, and she is around strange, but familiar, people. She is trying to mask her longing for home. “Smile,” on the other hand, eschews from conceptions as Ellie Roswell delivers a vocal performance that carries with it a rhythmic hip-hop soul from the way she makes the verses flow in a tangent similar to those of the genre. She isn’t singing as much on the verses and saving it for the transitional points like the choruses and bridges where the atmospheric and riveting performance makes you forget what the smile masks.

Blue Weekend is tame compared to past works, but it doesn’t let it become the detractor from creating these bright and clear depth of the songwriting/vocal performance and production. You’ll find yourself discovering tracks that hit you harder than others and that is fine, as the varying themes and structures of the tracks only share one common numerator, a flashing and old blue light overhead flickering that coats the tracks on the album.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Dora Jar – Digital Meadow: Review

Dora Jar’s emergence has been one beautifully organic rise to witness through the Internet. There is an authenticity behind the music; specifically in the way she constructs her music. She isn’t like many independent alternative artists today. She can shift her vocal range to match sounds ranging from rock with angst to pop ballads without skipping a beat; and her writing matches the strength of her vocals. This elevated quality delivered on her debut LP, Digital Meadow, as she continues to show immense growth in her artistry. 

Digital Meadow has moments that are unlike the music she has released prior. There is a focused shift in the lyrical and vocal aspect of the music and less toward the atmospheric strings that embodies a song like “Multiply.” This shift was first heard on the standout “Quiver,” from her debut EP, Three Songs. “Quiver” keeps the contextual atmosphere on a minimal level as she creates ad-lib harmonization between verses and choruses, but the broken and emotional doubt in the performance comes as its strongest component. 

It’s hard to find many faults without being overly picky, like the inclusion of “Quiver” and “Multiply,” on Digital Meadow. These two were highlights amongst the few tracks she has released, and they fit within the concept, which is very much like reading a. These are very well nitpicks, but as it is with concept albums like this it is always about quality over quantity. “Quiver” is a beautiful pop ballad that showed she had more than what “Multiply” delivered. Though a lot of the production takes pieces from these two songs, along with “Look Back” from her EP, and explores them more on the album.

Dora and her producers make an effort to sonically and lyrically have focus as the stories that fill Digital Meadow with cohesion. There are various avenues she explores sonically as she gives us a look into her person. On the intro, “Opening,” she lets it be known the kind of body we will find ourselves in throughout this musical journey of hers. And it proceeds as she starts to deliver pieces of her that have been with her before and since her spine re-alignment surgery, which she recently documented about on Instagram.

Using music as a crutch, as well as exuberating ambition to perform long before the surgery, Dora Jar has been able to show a wide array of unique constructs on these five new songs, like the rustic and electrifying “Polly.” It’s an anthem that emboldens individuality and strength of one, especially when you see the world as one with endless possibilities, like she sings in part of the chorus, “Below me is a city, you could call me Godzilla / Cross the road little chicken, wanna stomp upon a bully / ‘Cause I’m invincible.” And conversely she delivers a slightly dark verse before elevating the song with infectious melodies.

Dora Jar continues this on the delicately crafted “Wizard.” She flips and rearranges an inclusion like anthem. The song has this unique hip-hop like rhythm to the verses, in contrast to the felicitously poppy chorus melodies and harmonies. She closes the album on the punk rock ‘Voice In The Darkness,” which is about the plethora of emotions flowing through her mind as her aforementioned spine alignment surgery was a major worry, and understandably so. The way she brings these fears into distressing angst, and at times broken and scared, vocal performance left a tear to this eye as it flourishes from start to finish.

Digital Meadow is an amazing full-fledged debut from New York based indie alternative artist Dora Jar. She has a defined sound that can go places and it showed, from the different types of pop rock ballads and hauntingly rustic rock to expressive vocals makes this one of my favorite debut projects of the year. And even-though she isn’t selling gangbusters now; she has the talent to grow beyond and is someone I’m looking forward to seeing creates more and more.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Favorite Albums – Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Superlatives are as meaningful as they are to you and that is why on occasion I love to talk about an album when it hits a low mark like five years. And frankly this album is older than my age, but Pet Sounds has always been a part of my life and has been one of the defining pieces of musical influence I had growing up. What started with a love for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” grew into learning and understanding the complex sounds and layering Brian Wilson incorporated as the Beach Boys started to transcend past the fun surf rock of yester and into some more awe inspiring music, which had partial motivation from The Beatles dominance internationally. And as we all know, a lot of their later work incorporated a lot of psychedelic sounds into their brand of pop rock. Similarly, Pet Sounds implemented these melodic overtones onto their brand of surf rock, as well shifting the compositions and delivering some impactful music.

Pet Sounds turned 55 years old on May 16, 2021. The tardiness in any piece about it comes from a lack of words to describe how much a single person can love an album from an era where there is no experience and just history. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, surf rock was never part of my overall musical rotation until later in life when I decided to delve deep into the past. You have to understand surf rock was a trend that lasted half a decade (at best) on the charts before being replaced by psychedelia and folk, and eventually disco. My generation was mostly into hip-hop, pop, emo/punk rock, and spring break where you can get loose, stupid and forget your woes for one week, especially if you were in college. It wasn’t in my purview, and having a family that listened to predominantly Spanish language music and genres, didn’t give me something to grow into. Eventually I started to consume a lot and learn how to dissect songs from a non-theorist perspective. 

My full admiration and love for Pet Sounds came when I was in college. I played my hand with some psychedelics and it made certain things clear, but most importantly it made a lot of the performances of Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and Brian and Carl Wilson more weight as you break apart the emotional grip. I first heard Pet Sounds in full when I was 11, but I was privy to what I knew and that was elevated jangle-pop-like fun and so “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” I was never privy to understanding that “God Only Knows,” was used in misappropriate ways in the media, as it romanticized the idea of suicide due to a break up; or how “I Know There’s An Answer” had to be re-edited as it correlated too much to drug use, which it was and at the time drugs were also a touchy subject as it became a cornerstone of the counterculture of 1960s. 

“I Know There Is An Answer” had to have the title and verbiage in the chorus changed in order to take away from direct LSD reference when Brian Wilson’s haunting vocals sing “Hang On To Your Ego.” It was influenced by LSD and the effect it has on people like Brian where, once, he proclaimed he saw god after a full dose. Because of this, he engaged in more and has expressed a lot of Pet Sounds production and writing from them as it would bring out his insecurities, which correlates with the unusual timbres and harmonies that embolden the music’s broken down tones, like “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders).”

But as you listen to it more, you start to understand that Pet Sounds can fill you with a modest roller coaster ride of emotions, slowly filling your mind with songs evoking hope. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” gives us a song that expresses this fantasy we have of never growing old. As Brian and Carl sing in the in the bridge, “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true / Oh, baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do / Oh, we could be married (Oh, we could be married) / And then we’d be happy (And then we’d be happy) / Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?” It brought the melancholy to the slightly depressive “God Only Knows,” which was the B Side to the single record released prior. 

These songs were always present in my youth, whether in film or in the media I consumed. “God Only Knows” was a prominent component of the popular holiday film, Love Actually, and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was prominent in 50 First Dates, amongst other tracks. At the time Adam Sandler was a major component of my youth and it distinguishes me from my other film friends. Adam Sandler is my favorite comedic actor and going to see 50 First Dates was a beautiful memory. It was my first major I’m not old for this film with my father in theaters and a lot about it has always resonated with me, especially “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which opened the floodgates for discovering more. And from there my love for Pet Sounds grew more and more.

The height these songs reached would amass a lot of hype and it delivers, despite the experimental nature within some of the production. It elevates the themes that come from the lyrics like how “That’s Not Me” is about maturity through the eyes of a man who tries to prove his worth to people from his past, keeping it simple and having more depth than a Twenty One Pilots record. 

The themes and stories from Pet Sounds are direct and broad in the way you can find ways to correlate it into your own life, like “Caroline, No,” which is a ballad about losing trust in someone, particularly the significant other in your love affair due to an unexpected change where both POVs differ. Or the conflicting “Here Today,” where Mike Love leads the cynical song about love through the eyes of an older man as he talks to the younger man about love. He brings notes about how he’s been with her prior, meaning someone similar, and to be careful about falling head over heels in swift motion because she could leave you at any moment. 

One can go about and speak about the visceral brilliance of Pet Sounds. Like the way it shifts from surf pop to an elevated form of chamber pop, and the depth of the themes from beautifully simple lyricism is on another level. But that would be another retread of what others have talked about in previous writings, which you can find anywhere. Especially something extremely intricate about how the title song was supposedly for a James Bond flick and if so that song would have had some weird animal sounds. There is a nuance to it because it doesn’t make it a focal point. It is added in the distance to implement this idea that the song is being recorded and played to an audience of animals at a farm. 

However, despite some of the intricacies I mentioned, I’m writing this because I love Pet Sounds more than anything I’ve ever heard in my life. Not because I want you to think on a deep level about the meaning of these songs or so forth, even though it’s brought up. This is just me talking about my favorite album and key parts that make it so. And hopefully influencing you to seek it out on all major streaming platforms. 

I then ask myself what does Pet Sounds mean to me? It means a lot. They were introduced to me by my favorite comedic actor in Adam Sandler and it was one of the first albums I heard front to back. That feeling was like eating a beignet for the first time at a New Orleans joint and first bite of soft dough with that sugary kick from powder sugar exploding and melting in your mouth with immense flavors or like when the concert you attend brings out a plethora of special guests. Either way, if you haven’t listened to it do yourself, and I, a favor and go enjoy its greatness and brilliance.

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.

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.