Harry Styles – Harry’s House: Review

Like his introduction as Eros, Thanos’ brother, in a post-credit scene for Marvel’s Eternals, Harry’s House oozes out Harry Styles’ sex appeal with some horny pop songs. Though it isn’t far from Harry’s usual trove of pop songs, it’s heightened and more fluidly resonates as he takes us on this tour. And this tour isn’t rudimentary, as Harry’s House speaks more about the inner workings of Harry, both musically and where he’s at mentally. His last album, Fine Line, contained the essence of but wasn’t limited. The ratio slightly skews, even though it’s not saying much compared to his vocal performances. Harry’s lusty and sultry vocals get balanced by tender moments, where We hear him break into ballads that carry nuance and some vibrancy even when the content isn’t appealing. Harry’s House sees Harry continuing to stride as we listen to him morph with different styles that have been part of his musical bag. This time, Harry is building toward another essential groove that keeps you focused on his melodies, the production, and songwriting, for the most part.

It doesn’t take long for Harry Styles to lay down luscious vocals while producers elevate the flare on the tracks. Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson bring an essence of style, keeping each aspect of the production interesting as it transitions from verse to chorus, pre-choruses, bridges, etc. It keeps you on a consistent trend upward with the middling ballad to mellow down. It leaves you vibing from shimmering styles that range with smooth progression like on “Late Night Talking” and “Day Dreamin’.” Though there may be some crossover, they each feel fresh, emboldening the identity. It’s the case with the songwriting, where Harry and co-writers can keep it centered on the model without losing your ears, even if it’s sushi or film. 

It’s beneath the production where we hear the essence of his songwriting in certain songs that gets down to the nitty-gritty. In “Cinema,” where he sings, “If you’re getting yourself wet for me/I guess you’re all mine/When you’re sleeping in this bed with me.” Or on “Daydreamin,’” where he sings, “Livin’ in a daydream/She said, “Love me like you paid me”/You know I’ll be gone for so long/So give me all of your love, give me something to dream about.” It isn’t every track, as Harry Styles gets introspective and laments about past relationships through these whirly pop songs that get you on your feet, grooving to the beat. It’s not a transcendent feeling, but you get left with a platter of solid music whose earwormy characteristics gloss over.

Harry’s House is full of different styles that buoy elements of funk, disco, dance, and soul, getting used as these remarkable building blocks over its Pop/R&B core. It gives us exuberant sounds, captivating your ears like previously mentioned songs, “As It Was” and “Daylight.” It’s delivering you synth-pop, dance-pop, some funk-pop, and more with tremendous effect. It’s taking you by the horns and driving you through varying levels of groovy fluidity. Though Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson produce most of the tracks, Samuel Witte delivers some work on the previously mentioned “Cinema,” an Alternative Dance-Pop song that contains nuances of disco and funk, especially with its bassline. It brings back the groove and mood after some ballad/slow songs. Unfortunately, Harpoon and Johnson are responsible for the uninteresting “Keep Driving.”

Harry’s House has more shortcomings, like two ineffective ballads in “Boyfriends” and “Matilda” and poorly delivered concepts, like “Grapejuice.” Despite great production, the melodies aren’t captivating, and the message isn’t transparent. The song’s about taking himself away, with his significant other, from stressors, particularly somewhere with solidarity and a bottle of Rouge (wine). It doesn’t have staying power, like two ineffective ballads that are mundane. “Boyfriends” is this soft acoustic ballad that sees Harry singing about a boorish boyfriend in a relationship but treads typical waters without creating an emotional gravitational pull. “Matilda” sounds like a slightly tedious one that doesn’t stray far from conventions. It has some more emotional impact, but it’s hard to get through a third-person perspective that speaks on how the whoa-is-me of another person. It isn’t like “Little Freak,” which takes root in personal experiences that give you something to latch on to, similarly to the radiant “As It Was,” where Harry sings about feelings of loneliness, looking back at his past in the process.

A tour of Harry’s House is a worthwhile journey as Harry Styles beautifully evokes remarkable performances. It’s slightly intuitive but emotionally potent as it weaves this array of modest sunshine. There is enough for a good time and for a long time, as the vibrant production whisks you away into dance-bliss before leaving you with a triumphant synth-pop track in “Love Of My Life” that will keep the mood flowing upon letting it repeat. I know it did with me, and I hope it does with you.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever: Review

Florence & The Machine has always had this machination with musical imagery and stylistic vocal performances that have given them a platform to succeed. Album-to-Album, they consistently brought something unique to the equation and gave us the depth of character the songs evoke. From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever. It takes root in the meaning of choreomania: a social phenomenon of dance fever between 14th and 17th century Europe.  Having those sensibilities in mind, Florence & the Machine transition between danceable vibes and introspective melancholia, where the rich text beneath them elevates them to a new plateau where it’s hard to turn it off.

Dance Fever is full of musical ideas that build upon each other and take different directions; however, what’s different is how it’s pieced together into an album that takes chances and elevates itself by playing with some progressive soundscapes. Within these soundscapes, Florence Welch continues to weave–with co-writers and producers Jack Antanoff, Dave Bayley, Thomas Hull, Thomas Bartlett, and Robert Ackroyd–these personal conflicts that befallen her with complex production that never create an illusion of grandeur, further grounding the music with effervescent connectivity. “Free” sees Florence singing about anxiety, specifically hers, and the disillusion medication may have, as dancing is the budding melatonin that keeps her afloat. Jack Antanoff and Dave Bayley produce “Free” with Florence, creating a sound that fits the title literally. It’s loose and free-flowing, with elements of synth-pop and dance rock connecting through its enigmatic and energetic percussion, that you get left feeling similar energy. 

That energy is felt throughout the album, delivering on the literal meaning of its namesake. It takes chances by budding them with more melancholic production, especially when Florence Welch fluidly transitions between the two on “Cassandra.” For Dance Fever, it gives you a consistent progression of pop that gets you in a spiritual groove, with the few stoppages coming from these centered pieces, like “Back In Town” and “The Bomb,” where she converses with herself. She offers a sense of reality within these mystifying slow songs that counteract and balance the various dance vibes. There’s a significant balance between them and the introspective dance tracks that spread infectious moods with fervor. Florence Welch isn’t creating these dance tracks to divide sides; the songwriting and vocal performances match the emotional gravitas of each song, which allows them to have depth beyond the complexities of the sounds. 

“My Love,” along with “Choreomania” and “Dream Girl Evil,” are a few examples that bridge the context of the lyrics with the emotional bravado delivered by Florence Welch. “My Love,” like “Free,” is an energetic wave of disco-influenced electro-pop that may dance your writer’s block away. Florence’s content understands the divide between its themes and production, allowing us to hear the remarkable juxtaposition between distraught and intuitive notions beneath the music that makes groove. “Dream Girl Evil” is this remarkable Art-Pop-Rock anthem that fights back against misogynistic societal norms seen for women in a satirical fashion, where Florence imparts this notion of turning evil against them. “Choreomania” is another dance-rock song that buoys its emotional energy with the kinetic and unrelenting motion that the production injects into you. It’s a sonic theme that runs through the veins of Dance Fever. It’s progressive and interjects these auspicious themes that make you feel whole.

The complexities of Dance Fever don’t get hidden within the crevices; it’s there for you to breathe in. It begins with “King” and ends with “Morning Elvis,” a beautiful continuation in grounding her humanity. Florence Welch sings about these stories that reflect her core emotions, and also ours, as this relativity keeps us entwined with the music. Unfortunately, it isn’t all perfect. Some of the shorter interlude-like tracks combine a harmonic spoken word vocal delivery with broken down instrumentations, though it’s only impactful on “Heaven Is Here.” The others, “Restraint” and “Prayer Factory,” fit the mold of what the album wants to deliver, but it doesn’t have much-staying power as a transition between stylistic sectors. They feel slightly forgettable as they drown out in-between these luscious dance songs.

Dance Fever is a fantastic record that delivers on Florence + the Machine’s strengths on both ends and keeps us in a constant state of contemplative dance. It does something unique with its sonic concept that keeps you invested; the complexities of the production offer vibrancy that boasts the vibes that got injected into you by it. I left a memorable imprint in my ears, especially “My Love.” There is enough to take away and love, especially when you want to get up and dance alone in your room.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Jack Harlow – Come Home The Kids Miss You: Review

Establishing himself as an artist with great potential, Jack Harlow delivers less than projected on Come Home The Kids Miss You. Unlike the visceral shiftiness of That’s What They All Say, this follow-up by the Kentucky rapper misses the mark. It’s underwhelming. Jack Harlow is too linear as a lyricist, layering corny rap bars that are nuanced to his character but still lack that oomph of peak creativeness. There is never a sense that Harlow is trying to use his storytelling talent to its max potential. He has matured, but that maturity feels askew as he boasts himself to an established globe-trotter that has amassed a kind of lifestyle mirrored by his analogies. Within Come Home The Kids Miss You, some solid tracks come together by fit, but at times, Harlow sounds like he is drowning in establishing something he isn’t, which is a modest carbon copy of Drake. There are some clean beat-flow switches and some smooth lyrics in the crevices, though ultimately, there isn’t much to herald in high regard. 

When Jack Harlow came through with the first single for Come Home The Kids Miss You, “Nail Tech,” something cliqued that might have made you think Harlow would grow exponentially from a technical perspective. It got subsequently reaffirmed with the boldness of “First Class,” which saw a wicked awesome flip on “Glamorous” by Fergie as he rapped humbly about his growth in music. Though it gets subverted with the slight boredom deriding Harlow’s flows and content–which doesn’t stray from its core themes of excess and success–certain tracks slide over others due to quality, despite not being as great as the two singles. A lot of it becomes more apparent between the more stripped-down production, allowing him to show vanity, but you hear a discerning difference compared to more cross-appeal-driven tracks. On “Poison,” he becomes the third fiddle to the eloquence of the production and Lil Wayne’s fun and short verse. It isn’t the first time for Harlow; the beats take the wheel consistently, even when they are tame.

What’s striking about the production: it stays on a consistent wavelength tonally. It plays with percussion to elevate or deescalate the tempo without detracting you, and it gives enough Jack enough range to switch between trap and direct rap. It’s similar to Jack Harlow’s straight and linear bars that are as corny as lamenting the times he chased after the girls he was attracted to, one that specifically wore Aeropostale and Abercrombie. His creativity wanes, and if you listen closely, it becomes more apparent how poor it is. On “Movie Star,” after it becomes a snooze-fest with his first verse, Harlow raps: “But I’m just so inspired by the way you wear that thong/You know I like to dictate things, Kim Jong/I know that drink strong/You know we keep that bourbon out the barrel, Diddy Kong.” He’s trickling down to using off-color references to make a rhyme connect. That’s only one aspect of Harlow’s poor lyricism on the album, but often it doesn’t get balanced by his flows, as it feels like Harlow is trying too hard to assimilate styles cohesively.

Unlike the production, Jack Harlow’s lyricism makes you take a step back with lines like “I don’t care what frat that you was in, you can’t alpha me, keep dreamin’/Pineapple juice, I give her sweet, sweet, sweet semen” on “First Class.” In “I Got A Shot” amidst flexing, Harlow drops this sidebar: “She think I’m cold, I seen her nipples (Seen ’em).” In “I’d Do Anything To Make You Smile,” Harlow offsets the weirdness with cordial corniness with lines like: “Nice dress but your birthday suit’s a better outfit.” Surrounding these lines, Jack is rapping about women and his successes concerning status without much effect. He never keeps it interesting as sometimes it mirrors aspects of Drake, like the flow switches and writing structures, and the sound of it makes me want to listen to CLB instead, even if it’s as weak as Come Home The Kids Miss You. Though no fault of his, as he tells us early on, he wants to drop the gloves and brush off the humbleness; however, there is no arrogance or emotional finesse to hook you vigorously; he’s simply there, and his features do so similarly. 

But Jack Harlow has shown us he has earned an elevated status in hip-hop and pop, but the final product shows us differently. It sounds more like an artist delivering on auto-pilot without taking the time to listen to himself. Harlow brings plenty of interesting features to Come Home The Kids Miss You, some of which reflect the hierarchy of his state. Unfortunately, most are afterthoughts like Justin Timberlake on “Parent Trap.” It was a feature–on paper–that immediately piqued my interest but muddled when the chorus hit. Justin Timberlake continues Harlow’s streak of feeble choruses, though it gets interesting in the second half as it implements more break-hip-hop styles instead of the simple soul chords. Other than Timberlake, Drake, and Lil Wayne, bring quality verses and properly outshine Harlow on his record.

Come Home The Kids Miss You is boring, and it’s disheartening; you’d hope Jack Harlow to add more than some standard rap bars about flaunting his successes. But at the end of the day, it’s retroactively forgettable and a step back for him. If you’re a fan, there will be some stuff to enjoy, but ultimately, you’re better off just keeping Future on repeat. I mean that wholeheartedly.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Hatchie – Giving The World Away: Review

Under the twinkling guise of its starry production, Giving the World Away by Hatchie takes us on an emotionally draining listen that keeps a consistent tone, which gets lost along the way. Hatchie’s musical core has linear brevity with whimsical guitar strings and vibrant percussion, which reminded me of listening to Familiars by The Antlers and Lovelife by Lush on those late nights gazing at glow-in-the-dark plastic stars on the ceiling. Unfortunately, these fleeting moments skip a beat with the production. You spend a few moments taking in the Dream-Pop/Shoegaze aesthetic and focusing on her lyrics that the bad meshes with the good. It becomes hard to discern what you like and what you don’t upon your first listens. This inconsistency is prominent in production that has a Dream-Pop core, But Giving the World Away is a decent sophomore effort from Hatchie, crafting these introspective lyrics to match the atmosphere.

Atmosphere has a heavy focus on Giving the World Away. It incorporates elements that reflect psychedelic and rock aspects of a Dream-Pop/Shoegaze aesthetic at its core. Once set, we get these various shifts that keep the nuance of the aesthetic while trying something new. Lead singles “This Enchanted” and “Quicksand” beautifully encompass this by incorporating elements of dance music, mystifying the effects of the instruments in synchronization with an energetic drumbeat in the percussion. They counter each other’s style; the former reflects the shoegaze-like rock elements, while the latter takes a more dreamy-electronic approach–there is some flip-flop, especially in its quality. 

The tracks with elements of shoegaze excel because of the level of ingenuity compared to the dryer dream-pop-like tracks. With something as simple as “Twin,” you hear the difference when you hear the eponymous track or “The Rhythm.” The former goes on a wild journey, playing with the percussion on many fronts, while the latter takes a slower tempo approach, with uproariously psychedelic percussion. These twists and turns are never reluctant and give you enough of a punch to swift you away with ever-changing production. It hits you from the beginning with “Lights On,” which is jubilant and danceable, mirroring “This Enchanted,” which follows it. In brisk moments you find yourself dancing on your own in the confinement of modest darkness. 

You’ll notice that there are two sides to Giving the World Away: ones with overly dreamy tones and nuanced shoegaze-pop. They get jumbled with some linear consistency, albeit not all positive. The tracks tend to lose themselves in the vortex of the atmosphere, shifting into an unduly colorful space. It isn’t to discredit the songwriting and its depth; the production is what befuddles my attention, as tracks like “The Key” and “Till We Run Out Of Air” have these heavy emotional vocals from Hatchie and its production fails to match. Unfortunately, other dream-pop-like tracks aren’t as interesting. I could say there is a balance between the two, but it’s moot when one outweighs the other. They fade into a void that keeps small increments of the music, but you forget it’s playing until a more creative front reopens and you remember who the artist is.

Unlike albums I’ve mentioned earlier, Giving the World Away’s inconsistency wanes hard on the final product. So, while “The Key” and “Till We Run Out Of Air” have great vocals, the production makes these tracks forgettable, blending into blandness. It doesn’t benefit from poor pacing, as tracks tend to run long like “Twin” and “Take My Hand,” even if it only extends a melodic retread of the chorus. As a whole, Giving the World Away stumbles and fades into an abyss where the sonic shades can’t offer proper visuals of what we are ingesting. Many times, you’re lost hearing mundane melodic vocals or drab production that drowns out other aspects of a song. It leaves you with hollow spaces that could have gotten filled with tracks that had more shoegaze/rock sensibilities.

Giving the World Away treads toward forgetfulness, leaving some good tracks that embolden styles it takes for influence. Hatchie brings great melodies for steady flows; however, along with some production, it isn’t enough for an okay album. I’d recommend the few tracks I positively highlight, but it isn’t worth diving into because there is little reward. One minute you’re listening to “This Enchanted,” and next, you hear faint choruses coming in and out before reaching “The Rhythm,” continuing the unique production on tracks with that shoegaze aesthetic. These moments fill you with life and energy while the others are lifeless drones of pop that barely offer anything interesting. 

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Camila Cabello – Familia: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Swedish House Mafia – Paradise Again: Review

When it comes to supergroups in music, as fans, you won’t always get what you expected. Talent is derivative when you have multiple great minds working together, and they still deliver an album or song that is forgettable. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again. Though one could forgive giving a benefit of the doubt, Until Now mix of remixes and originals never felt like it had a concrete direction. They had the hype and great music and continue to do so, but in the end, unless bias flows through veins, Paradise Again is another collection of forgettable music. So for every few great songs we get, there are momentous duds that sound half-written. Prior to its release, thoughts lingered, like are we getting a similar flop like Until Now or something refreshing for 2022? Unfortunately, so. Paradise Again has some solid songs, but a predominant lack of energy to grow beyond the standard keeps it from being anything more than an alright album.

The three artists who make up Swedish House Mafia, Axwell, Steve Angelo, and Sebastian Ingrosso, have two sides to their artistry, and both on the craft side. As live mixers and performers, they are some of the best, but as producers and writers, they tiptoe a line between blandness and an illusion of dreary-shadowy ambiance coded in this style of Electronic/House music. As producers, they are 50-50, usually hitting when they create a lavish pop coating, like on 2012’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and or 2021’s “Moth To A Flame.” Paradise Again isn’t devoid of them, and of the ones we get, most end up being great. Some include the vibrant EDM track “Heaven Takes You Home” and the darkly nuanced electro-pop “Another Minute.” The earwormy vocals match the energy–and elevate–the production’s impact.

Of their four singles released in anticipation for Paradise Again, “Moth To A Flame” and “Lifetime” are two that left an immediate impact. “Lifetime” blends melancholic R&B drum beats (subtle), and vocals, with contrasting dreamy and dreary synths. It shifts from some boorish sounds not too far back or forward in the tracklisting. Similarly, “Moth To A Flame” builds a beautiful synth-pop foundation and finds home within bleak overtures that Swedish House Mafia weaves together with The Weeknd’s ambient vocals. Despite hearing and understanding the context of their soundscape, the quality of music is rarer. Sure, parts of the album are grand and progressive; however, it slips with the one-dimensional like “Mafia” or lacks energy, like A$AP Rocky on “Frankenstein.” This lack of energy gets heard during the last third; you get entwined with conservative House and EDM, and you are left feeling underwhelmed–like other singles, “It Get’s Better” and “Redlight” with Sting, which came and went without leaving a burning sound bite in my head. 

“It Get’s Better” gets finicky with the percussion. It’s too warped into this need to get progressive that it loses touch on what was working for the first minute. It’s a rough EDM track with dronish snares and a stop-gap of jarring cowbells midway. However, “Redlight,” which follows suit, also has a similar shift mid-song, but it’s smoother as it retains its sonic motif of dreary ambiance. Interloping the first verse and chorus of “Roxanne” by The Police, Sting’s rerecorded vocals diminish its effectiveness. It has this essence where it would have worked better as an instrumental, like “Paradise Again,” which perfectly delivers a darkened ambient progressive house core. For “Redlight,” it could have had a little more life, and instead, I’m left drowning out Sting or skipping further down the tracklist. 

Swedish House Mafia, as producers, don’t bring many unique ideas into the fray, often showing both hands: one where all plain linings of EDM/House running through their veins, and another that offers more to build off. Think of it like Poker, where one of their hands contains a set of pairs, while you have a classic straight flush in the other. It’s evident how perplexing the differences between what works and what doesn’t are when it comes to the soundscape they give us. But when it comes to the good, and sometimes lavish, songs, they are shifting away from the standard complexions of EDM, like on “Can U Feel It,” or the wrought-house track “19:30,” and shift to production stacked with these various elements from other genres. Upon listening, you’d wish they had consistent energy flowing through their veins, and we’d get more stuff like “Lifetime,” but unfortunately, we’re left shuffling between a few half-assed ideas and superb works of music.

Like the final song, “For You,” the length of Paradise Again is overlong. The 67-minute album could have gotten trimmed down for a fluent progression in sound, but it’s disjointed and underwhelming. Though there are a lot of great tracks on here, and “Lifetime” will see an “exhausting” amount of replays, I won’t find myself returning to it from start to finish anytime soon.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg: Review

After “Chaise Longue” got released in 2021, it became a viral hit. However, because it is a viral hit doesn’t mean the quality is good, evident with what they bring to the table on their self-titled debut. “Chaise Longue” comes from various angles; lyrically, it’s fun and innocent with verses containing sexual innuendos that aren’t explicitly dirty; adjacently, the production evokes consistent tones that feel taken from the pages from more basic punk rock bands, like Dirty NIL, who don’t thread the needle with that kind of instrumentation. Fortunately, it is a slight tumble as you cruise through the tracklist that improves on the simplicities of “Chaise Longue,” giving us a variety of melodies and instrumentations that define Wet Leg as a band. Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drums patterns and electric guitars riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.

When it comes to debuts, sometimes you have to match the levels of your first hit; if not, find ways to reinvent the wheel by evoking your artistic voice. For Wet Leg, they restructure and create parallels between vocals and production, predominantly focusing on melodies to reel us into great songwriting. Sometimes we’ll get a song about wet dreams or getting high and splurging–while acting fool–at a supermarket. It’s an effervescent consistency that gives us a sense of glee hearing how they can create potent lyricism while staying true to themselves instead of pushing for a more direct approach. As Rhian Teasdale sings on “Too Late Now:” “Now everything is going wrong/I think I changed my mind again/I’m not sure if this is a song/I don’t even know what I’m saying,” it continues to punctuate the kind of aesthetic driving the songwriting. It’s like being hit with an array of bright lights, and your only directive is to be yourself.

At its core, though, Wet Leg is creating a bridge between us and their music as the topics are relative aspects of our youths. For the most part, it works, and it’s easy to hear where it doesn’t. A definitive difference that shows its discernible quality is their youthful angsty songwriting which feels maligned when likened to more melodically driven songs. One of these differences comes from tonal shifts in the production; they juxtapose each other poorly, which causes a slight stoppage in the consistency. “Chaise Longue” is one of two that initially caused me to tune out a few seconds after playing; the other is “Oh No,” an explosive rock track that does little to make you feel that angsty annoyance of being home alone, though the lyrics don’t help either. It’s unlike “Ur Mom” or “Too Late Now,” which shows and uses a progression of sound or melodies as it goes on to round it out. They also play it more tongue-in-cheek with a lot of emotional depth where you can see yourself in their shoes.

Beneath the hiccups are strings of melodically driven pop-rock that entices a consistent return, considering they have great consistency. It’s ever so rare that these kinds of tracks have cross-appeal, where their authenticity stays keyed in making these infectious melodies without having to cut corners lyrically. They find a happy medium, where they make improper structures–sometimes venting, sometimes having fun–sound as refreshing as ever. I mean, their biggest song has them singing, jokingly, about the d or making a Mean Girls reference as Rhian Teasdale then sings about a chaise longue. She comes at most of these songs with cadence, and energy, painting luscious pictures through words. Though, none of it is possible without the vibrant range of riffs from Hester Chambers: Wet Leg’s lead guitarist. Beyond being the crux of the production, its guitar-heavy approach allows them to wane between emotional layers, like on “Ur Mom,” which plays over the last minute. It can come vibrantly like on “Piece of Shit” or “Convincing” or even full of character, like on “Angelica.”

Ultimately, Wet Leg reminds us that MGK is naive; guitar rock never left, and one of many bands reminding us of that. As far as debuts, it’s a thrill ride that offers some surprises and oh-so luscious melodies that I can’t help but have tracks like “Too Late Now” on heavy repeat.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Kilo Kish – American Gurl: Review

Kilo Kish is authentic to her craft, as she adds realized perspective in her songwriting. It has been a keen aspect of her talent; she has been able to draw up down-to-earth vocalizations and an array of whimsical, electro-grunge-R&B/Hip-Hop grooves that acquiesce in tangential bliss. 2013’s K+ put a spotlight on her because of it, and she continues to control it from mixtape to albums, including her new album, American Gurl. Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.

American Gurl is vibrant, switching styles and trying different ways to incorporate overarching themes that personify Kilo Kish’s life since her debut album in 2016. It’s a loose concept wherein she focuses on themes beyond what affects her on a personal level, as she creates parallels to her perspective on the “American Girl,” using themes like consumerism and personal freedom. She can give it to us with vibrant production and more dour-electronic synchronization between vocals and production, as it creates intricate transitions. We hear it through similar themes or ideas reflected in the songwriting or the production style. It’s a significant strength that shrouds over consistent details that already make her a great talent. Significantly, the stronghold of these songs is Kilo Kish’s intricate and hypnotic melodies, acting like the glue holding many of the tracks together.

American Gurl is great, and another reason is that Kilo Kish makes bold choices, specifically with her features. Unlike standard features, Kilo Kish uses them to elevate the sonic platform and add nuance to her vocals. She does this twice with “Death Fantasy” and “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money.” “Death Fantasy” has Miguel delivering these ghostly vocals, which bring life to the song’s theme of death, like the death of a faux-pas physique that doesn’t reflect your inner. It speaks to more than self-worth, like how privilege–generally speaking–shields you from genuine freedom. “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money” uses Vince Staples as a hype man for her unique flows and swagger.

There are varying transitions, whether through continuing to build on themes or by its production. “Distractions III: Spoiled Rotten” continues to build upon these illusions we have of attaining grandeur life to satisfy our insecurities; it’s expressed more personally in “Death Fantasy.” However, the transition in production delivers an interesting contrast to the more experimental “Death Fantasy.” While “Distractions III” uses elements of electro-pop, adding catchier melodies while retaining that experimental glitz, “Death Fantasy” is barer. It uses a balance of atmosphere and low synths to evoke its presence–something that is subtly vibrant beneath most productions.

The steady consistency in which Kilo Kish keeps turning heads comes from having an individualized identity to the songs on the tracklist. Like Rosalia’s Motomami, American Gurl has a different sound that barely parallels what we get. “Bloody Future” evokes an elegant island vibe; the cohesion between percussion and synthesizers is what spearheads it–that’s its identity. It continues as we get “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money,” an experimental hip-hop track that explores more industrial electronic overtones over hip-hop-centric drum beats. The everchanging production breathes enough character that you’re left mesmerized by each direction it takes. It’s as if she took the best aspects of K+ and the best of Reflections In Real Time, and she, along with producer Raymond Brady, found a way to build something profound, though I can’t honestly say that about every track. 

As you navigate American Gurl, the moments that get you perked up, and sometimes those moments aren’t as consistent–positively speaking. “Choice Cowboy” with Jean Dawson is overly ambitious with its electronic notes, that you get lost in this uninteresting techno-dance-pop hybrid that can easily get skipped. It’s the most jarring, comparatively, as it lacks smooth melodies that keep you entwined from start to finish without taking focus away from her songwriting. It’s the only instance that turns me away and causes this from being a perfect album. 

American Gurl is fantastic; we see it blend an essence of life with musical progression. We get infectious melodies and unique percussion patterns that keep you attached to the lure, digesting what she sings about. It’s an album I recommend seeking out, along with her other work. More importantly, her words are grounded in reality and poignant.

Rating: 9 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.

Gushing Over Norah Jones’ Debut Come Away With Me: 20 Years Later

If we look at the winners of the Grammy for Album of The Year throughout the past few years, there have been few outliers that pushed away from pop. However, before its dominance in the 2010s, the 00s had musically rich nominees and winners from different genres and sometimes a subversion of pop. Amongst these winners came Norah Jones and her remarkable debut, Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me has been part of my weekly rotation for the longest, as it embodies sentiments that become begotten when the sun shines, and some of your worries scurry into the shadows. But that isn’t necessarily the case with every song, as some bridge a line of twinkling hope – one of my all-time favorites, “Feelin’ the Same Way,” does so to balance the scale of pop bliss and intricate reflexive songwriting. Norah Jone’s debut brings these sonic elements from jazz, soul, traditional pop, and more to lay a foundation for a constant atmosphere while having the freedom to take on different pitches and styles. She has this ubiquitous laid-back demeanor that makes you feel heard and seen when you’re in the middle. The songwriting guides us through a watery path caused by the storms that flew over as the mind assimilates to a balanced level of serotonin. Norah Jones broadens her vocals by allowing the melodies to counteract the loverly instrumentation beats in the strings and percussion. 

Before escalating toward more pronounced Jazz and Traditional Pop ventures, the levels of emotional subtlety Norah Jones uses to guide Come Away With Me left an impression where the loop never ended. I remember it was a darker and rainy Sunday afternoon, and as I sat in the backseat, I almost forgot I had an iPod Classic. I’ve heard “Come Away With Me” and “Don’t Know Why,” but Norah started driving home what this journey would be with the subsequent tracks that succeeded the primary singles – which I just mentioned. What I got was a blend of original composition and covers of songs by Hank Williams, John D. Loudermilk, and Glen Miller.

Now, when I say that Norah Jones has been making more pronounced Jazz and Pop, it’s speaking toward the instrumental side. Come Away With Me has production balancing nuances of mostly deconstructed Acoustic/Traditional Pop, where the rhythm is pertinent with the vocalist instead of overly sizzled drumlines or multi-layered strings that weave a driven sense of acute obscurity. Come Away With Me has songs that are more than just highlighted acoustics and somber piano keys; it integrates subtleties from other percussions – with this, Norah Jones can align unique melodies against compromising cymbals and snares. It separates the creative popstars from the generic ones, though I’m saying this loosely. When the album adds some instrumental definition with bass and drum grooves, it doesn’t deter from the subtleties which align with most songs. It builds upon the core it has created, and it subverts focus from one of many guitar strings to percussion (bass grooves too). 

However, what is most pivotal is we hear each song’s identity, whether it comes from the production of “Lonestar” or the vocal complexions of “Nightingale.” Identity is pivotal in Come Away With Me, especially when incorporating its themes – longing, dreams, relationships – Norah writes various narratives that focus on specific aspects – loneliness in “Shoot the Moon” or unrequited love in “I’ve Got To See You Again.” In “Painter’s Song,” she sings about paving her path through paint metaphors. The production sets a sunnier tone with the piano and doubling down with beautiful accordion play in the second half. 

At this point, I assume you may be asking yourself, “where is he going here?” I just listed a deconstructed barrage of reasons, from the intricacies of her singing, the songwriting, and production, but I’m not critiquing. Most importantly, I kept gushing and spewing about these intricacies that it seems there is no coherent argument outside of getting you into listening to this album and marveling at what I was marveling at in the past and now. Come Away With Me has been with me for the longest those are just some of the reasons why. I play it when it rains; I play it at night when I want to drift into melancholia. I just want you to feel the same as you listen to Norah Jones’ phenomenal debut.