Jordyn Shellhart – Primrose: Review

It’s usually a musical treat when an artist finally steps past the shadows of artists they’ve written for to take us on a journey that will either affirm stylistic limitations or express a vast grassland of creativity painting over the planes. For Jordyn Shellhart, it’s a balance between the two, teetering towards the latter as her debut, Primrose, tackles apropos content and skews the expected into something emotionally deep and vibrant, allowing the vocals to have this indelible stamp after the song has played. Though it isn’t some landmark Country album that leaves us with something sonically profound, Shellhart’s writing shines under the lights, where the accompanying strings, piano, and drums play eloquently in the back without much hindrance or true pizazz. The focus tends to have more of a presence within the writing, as some instrumentations feel slightly hollow, despite the composition not taking a complex nose dive pivot. Complexity isn’t needed within the core base of weaving the first notes of a Country song – like her contemporaries, Shellhart brings more nuance to the underlying rock and pop textures, keeping attention nigh through some rough patches.

The writing of Primrose tackles themes within familiar territory as most songwriters tread into; however, Jordyn Shellhart tackles it creatively as she relays these personal moments with auspicious storytelling where it isn’t so cut and dry. It isn’t easy for someone to reflect on instances of abuse, co-dependency, cheating, and more, like the persistence of an Ex’s mother in the song “Tell Your Mother I’m Fine,” with a common confident retort after. Though it isn’t the only instance of taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the writing, Shellhart is aiming for a proper equilibrium to flex the range with which she can take verses and choruses, allowing the listener to gravitate toward something captivating. They all carry this vibrant aesthetic within the Country music landscape, keeping in tow with an overuse of the guitar strings to guide the principal emotional bravado within the heart of the song, like the contrasting hopeful rhythms on “Steal A Man” or the spirited and doubtful notes of of “Amelia.” 

There is a broader sense of her musical direction as Shellhart takes us down these intricate paths where we get to hear quality melodies that reflect the poignancy of its themes, like that of abuse on “Amelia” or the overindulgent term for the other in a cheating scenario, homewrecker on “Steal A Man.” But it’s when we get to the second that her writing is reinforced tremendously, like in “Maybe You’ll Have A Daughter,” which looks at being discarded when the feeling of love is high. However, as pivotal as the writing is, through the words, the construction of the melodies and harmonies are equally so, and the unique styles complementing, and sometimes contrasting, each other, allows for a smoother listen than some simple but effective sonic landscape isn’t as fully immersive as say something from the dynamic force within Nikki Lane’s more outlaw country notes. I’m not denouncing the solid instrumentations, as they come with a sense of quality and direction, but sometimes they feel safe. It lacks this want to become something grander, whether transitioning between collective layering or more broken down, like with “On A Piano Bench Getting Wasted” or the tiring moments of “Maybe You’ll Have A Daughter.” But it takes a step back to let it all progress smoothly with the occasional standout.

It’s what makes “Joni” such an intriguing moment; we get to hear the sizzling pop-catchy chorus fluidly moving through the danceable track, which sees Shellhart playing with a popular perspective viewpoint on Joni Mitchell’s music, where one hears her writing style more direct to the emotional conflictions, being more thorough than the allusions created by Jordyn Shellhart. This gets heard in the chorus, where Jordyn Shellhart sings, “First words outta your mouth, “Are we in a fight?”/I sit cross-legged on the bed, you say you’re pickin’ up a vibe/How can I make you understand that everything is wrong?/I don’t think Joni Mitchell would like any of my songs.” Through it, Shellhart notes how the weight bared from past relationships is too convoluted for her to deliver proper direct emotional gravitas, instead leading us through these distinct modest romps that use more detail for an expansive view of the content. Shellhart is letting the themes breathe through the elaborate situations, allowing the storytelling to flatten the let us hear the progressional ferocity of its multi-layered writing.

As it’s heard in “On A Piano Bench Getting Wasted” or through the thematic resonance of gaslighting in “Who Are You Mad At.” There is this resounding presence for world-building that Shellhart doesn’t try to get straight to the point, instead allowing for the situation to highlight the themes through action, like the former, where Jordyn Shellharts takes a moment to sing through a conscious perspective about the feeling of longing as if it is this mystifying haze around love. As she would sing, “I’ve never been the girl dreaming/Of first sight butterflies or I do’s in chapels/Maybe it’s just a full moon or because/I watched Sleepless in Seattle/But tonight I guess I feel different,” you get a contrasting sense of her being, and how wine and a film can shift feelings about it. The depths of her writing add a much-needed refresher from the more expansive, sometimes colorful country sounds. The instrumentations won’t be that memorable, but the melodies will, especially that of “Irrelevant.” 

Primrose is a neat and complex album that goes to the depths by reflecting its themes and making the listener focus more on the writing than the instrumentations. Though it isn’t the most astute production, sometimes, playing it safe sonically, we get an album that offers quite a bit, even if its appeal isn’t as widespread. Fortunately, it has some memorable moments, and Jordyn Shellhart makes a name for herself. It will leave fans of the genre fulfilled and hopeful, especially as this is only the beginning, and there is only up left to go. Give it a spin; did you like it or not? Leave a comment below.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

GALE – Lo Que No Te Dije

Since late 2022, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter GALE has been on the come-up, and music publications have become wary of such. Safe to say, I was also on that delayed hype train quietly amassing for GALE like a Karol G co-sign and a significant spotlight/interview with Rolling Stone. Whether early or late, getting to listen and explore Gale’s artistry has been nothing short of refreshing. She doesn’t try to find herself pushing weight through meandering notes in the ever-growing popularity of Latin-Trap and Reggaeton. Instead, she’s finding footing in pop and weaving styles that fit the artistic vision on her new album, Lo Que No Te Dije, translated to “What I Didn’t Tell You.” For GALE, It doesn’t matter how effective the song may be, as evidenced by the fun cheekiness of some songs, like “D Pic,” a mild-mannered tune that aims at the immaturity of dick pictures through texts – as you dive into the album, for its faults, it’s a refreshing listen, especially as she makes something out of the tried relationship-context for pop songs.

What’s unique about Lo Que No Te Dije is its self-reliance on trying new sounds while leaving an empty slot for GALE to bring vocal subtleties through her melodies, giving us to hear a more rounded product. It makes the transitional sequencing feel fluid, like when it shifts from the electronically bombastic “Problemas” to the smooth cadence of the percussion-driven “La Mitad,” which takes influence from Reggaeton in the drums that adds oomph to keep overtures balanced. It then shifts to this excellent acoustic pop song (“Ego”), where GALE flexes her independence from an egotistical and possessional ex. Here, we hear a defining aspect of GALE’s artistry – following the same strength of song-to-song transition, “Ego” sees a similar cadence in language transitions. Many things are working for Lo Que No Te Dije, specifically the energetic and natural catchiness of varying songs, buoyed by solid production from DallasK and Josh Berrios. They bring a transparent layer between sounds, allowing the vocals to feel the importance of backing sounds, heartening the emotional poignancy in the songwriting. 

Lo Que No Te Dije is conceptually thematic, focusing solely on relationships and deconstructing the varying characteristics one experiences, or many times, more personal. It wears its heart on its sleeve, and if it kept that sonic and tonal consistency, GALE could have delivered something more profound, but she takes unique turns that bring forth a vaster range of relativity. GALE can shift the context of a song and make it fit a specific tone without feeling overly hokey. We hear it with “D Pic,” where she takes an empowering and sardonic tone when bashing her man for sending a dick pic in the middle of the night – we hear it with “Killah,” where GALE feels the power, knowing what she loves and the control she wields, using a metaphorical gun and bullet to express it. As standalone tracks, they still show GALE’s talent as a songwriter but don’t feel entwined with the emotional complexities of other songs, especially the dynamite “Problemas” and “Nuestra Cancion.”

Taking into account the varying angles GALE tackles the sounds of this album – one can readily feel disappointed by the slight disjointedness of these cheeky but explorative pop songs that take an inconsistent pivot from the emotional complexities of others. As I’ve noted, the tracks “D Pic” and “Killah” slightly fit the album’s focus on deconstructing a relationship through this vast worldview on living, but these songs don’t bring much to contain that establishment. They are more so there to reinforce GALE’s self-reliance and confidence. “D Pic” is a fun pop romp that wants to focus on the guitars but forgets close to halfway. “Killah” is another Tropical Reggaeton/Pop song that doesn’t feel that ambitious or colorful, reminding me more of a throwaway that’s added so the album doesn’t land below 30 minutes. Fortunately, there are other reasons to enjoy the album, like some of its reference points and influences within the soundscapes.

As it’s been with pop and music in general, use of influential references becomes more apparent within the soundscapes, like the disco flavors in synth-pop or the electronic elements in Latin Trap. It’s this evergrowing way of building and exploring new foundations, shifting how we hear them sonically, like when Melanie Martinez interloped the melody from “If You Had My Love” by Jennifer Lopez on “Brain & Heart.” Here, those moments, at first, become bewildering and then refined and beautifully resonant with outer notes within the progressional melody. The standout moment comes on “Problemas,” which beautifully incorporates aspects of Justin Beiber’s first verse melody on his powerhouse hit “Baby.” It’s subtle but brings an impactful punch, like the EDM synths on “Nuestra Cancion” or the timid but pertinent consistency of the synth-pop rock sounds of the late 2000s on “Triste.” It’s just this prevailing trip to listen to and get lost in as you feel powerful emotions and dance.

Though “D Pic” and “Killah” are slight “blemishes,” they don’t fully take away from the great stuff going for the album, especially its catchiness, which will definitely have me returning again and again. It didn’t strike a chord initially, but as it kept looping, I heard the luscious details imputed into the tracks, bringing forth something multi-dimensional. It’s a fantastic reintroduction to GALE, but it still doesn’t have the strongest landing. It comes with direction and a sense of being – individualization – yet, the hiccups do stand out, and it lessens this to another solid pop album that will stand the test of time, or so I hope.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Avalon Emerson – & the Charm: Review

Explorative and melancholic, Avalon Emerson takes what she has learned via making music and performing music since first tapping into it at an early age, eventually leading to her delivering a fantastic debut with & the Charm. It isn’t a reflection of histrionics and more so a tempered and expansive POV into the mind of someone who aims to take that next step in musical creation, furthering from the more House/Dance aesthetics of past EPs – fewer vocals, more dance grooves – tapping into the corners of varying sub-genres of Electronic music. In doing so, Avalon Emerson continues to dig deeper into the performative aspect of creating an album, one where she doesn’t have to thoroughly rely on the production to form a sense of being as a means for the listener to get instantly catapulted into a positive stupor emboldened by vibes. As you hit play, you get lost within this wormhole of Electronica, some Trance, and Ambient, that Avalon Emerson weaves, allowing us to dig deeper into the complexions of her artistry and sense how poignant her songwriting is.

& the Charm isn’t your ordinary electronic album. It’s composed within this world where the cross-fading mixture isn’t as important as letting the music smooth over as it reflects its themes beyond a danceable mode through viscerally moody vocal performances. It isn’t so much this curated, eclectic mix of songs that fits the specific flow conjectured between genres, whether going from pop or funk to some form of spacey House music or just a mix of tracks that only have an underlying dance motif instead of something viscerally thematic. It takes a more realized approach to a direct conceptual journey you embark on but never truly tire of. When it comes to albums that are the opposite, like from more producer-driven musicians, it can sometimes feel overly hokey, and more often than not, its misses standout out more than the hits. It’s a fundamental distinction that allows Electronic music to have clearer blank canvases to weave their instrumental technical magic from all corners and create something that sounds everlasting, and that’s what we get with & the Charm.

Avalon Emerson doesn’t try to hide within the production despite a few instrumental breaks. She’s letting her vocals become a potent piece of the puzzle – something that envelops the route she set up for herself to through, particularly setting up a melancholic consistency where the vibes become a potent strong point. It’s one thing to get lost in the vibe of the music, almost forgetting that certain parts don’t work entirely, but it’s another when it hits the proper parameters toward what works and doesn’t work for the listener. Though more of something that’s deriving from a personal vibe, it’s very much universal with its sonic appeal that one mustn’t take away from the best element within & the Charm: the live instrumentations, which brings a grounded sense of reality, especially as you heard Emerson sing and create these songs that feel more confined to the roots of intimate pop music than the more esoteric, colorful dancefloor vibe we’ve gotten from various artists, like Nia Archives and Pretty Girl. The eclectic bass grooves bring an emphasis to the subtle dance notes guiding the chillness of the songs, and the music benefits highly from it.

Lyrically, Avalon Emerson treads some familiar thematic territory we’ve heard countless times, but she takes it upon herself to take a differentiating approach instead of being too straightforward and simple. It’s like listening to her perform out of a journal filled with poems that beautifully capture emotional depth within more drawn-out and stylistically atmospheric melodies that boast these notes emphasizing loneliness, love, relationships, and time, particularly how it can shift perspectives on the needs and wants of oneself, through the vocals and production. However, some songs feel more played down and derivative to a fault. It’s like she’s trying to find equilibrium within certain textures, that it rarely dips towards new vocal territory – for the most part, Avalon Emerson finds ways to make it have character, unlike the slightly repetitive  “Hot Evening.” Despite this, running at nine songs, and 40 minutes, it’s more compact as it finds meaning within the conjectures of sound and emotionally resonant performances, whether behind the boards or the microphone. In doing so, it helps build a clear distinction between effectiveness, specifically with its stylistic approach to the melancholy vibes of the final product. It’s what makes “A Vision” more of a standout than “Hot Evening” and “Karaoke Song,” such a hypnotically smooth and empathetically curious performance.

Going into & the Charm, I knew little, having only heard Avalon Emerson’s DJ-Kicks album, but as I kept digging and exploring the caverns of these nine songs, there wasn’t a moment I was bored. It’s captivatingly consistent in vibe and tone, circumventing genre exploration for a direct flow. It’s nontangential, but that isn’t to say it lack depth. There is a lot moving with greatness, from the lyrics to the performance; it opens the door for it to become realized with a sense of personable relativity. I couldn’t recommend this more than the score I give. It was a significant surprise for me, one where I didn’t want to press pause, so there is no denying this is staying in my rotation.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Daughter – Stereo Mind Games: Review

It’s been seven years since the last time Indie Folk/Rock UK trio Daughter released an album, and that absence has been felt; exponentially so, as I went through listening to Stereo Mind Game. They have returned, bringing visceral orchestrations and vocal performances centered on atmospheric tendencies without diluting the lyrical depth driving its poignancy. Thematically focused on directional emotions deriving from moments you reflect on loved ones you miss or separation of self when balancing who you are, for example, taking you on a smooth and respective retrospective journey of enriching sounds. In some ways, the album covers niche grounds where it blends aspects of alternative rock, shoegaze, and dream pop into a lyrically heavy concoction while leaving out catchy pop conventions so you’re engaged through other avenues. It delivers these profound moments where you can stop but keep it playing on repeat as you get entrenched within the confines of its fantastic production and relatable songwriting that will have you returning again and again through that connectivity.

Softening the listener with a melancholy instrumental as the intro, Stereo Mind Game quickly grabs your ears and pits you against a concurrent run of deep songs where its themes come to life like popping out of a book. We’re hearing Elena Torna, lead singer of Daughter, sing about these moments where you feel sullen, unknowing how the world shifts around you as time passes, and the feeling of displacement while motionless on “Dandelion.” We hear her sing about contrasting emotions that come with loneliness, like the peaceful feeling on “Be On Your Way” or the depressive longing that comes from not seeing certain loved ones on a regular on “Isolation.” It continues to build and build with the production elevating the senses further. Reflections of these themes are resonant through differentiating directions and unique constructions where originality becomes a dominant positive. It allows you to dig deep and listen carefully, getting through these auspicious themes that carry semblance from track to track. It extends beyond this, as there are roots within them that build character depth and growth.

Those positives are also definitively true within the production, as Daughter plays around with varying instrumental connections, weaving new sounds on top of its rock/pop core. Sometimes other musicians incorporate particular notes of influence that are more direct and less fun references, like dream pop notes on “Party” or alternative pop on the final track, “Wish I Could Cross The Sea.” These tracks have more of a finite construct as they weave layers to boast Elena Torna’s emotional depth in her vocals fluidly. The production reacts as this component, which flows with enough balance to keep the performances moving steadily. The synthesizers are a constant that keeps it in tow, getting used sometimes to subvert thoughts of tracks treading toward more remedying acoustics. On “Neptune,” its shift from the acoustic strings to a more broken down direction with simple drum patterns and vibrant synth notes – with “Future Lover,” the synths guide the bridge between more enigmatic drum patterns from the drum machine and some subtle guitars playing in the back.

Stereo Mind Game doesn’t overly play with genres but instead with soundscapes that embolden its inner core to keep it molded well. Sometimes they play with sounds that juxtapose perspective, especially with a given context of the song, like with “Party,” which sees Elena Torna sing about inner growth as she seeks to stay sober from alcohol, using the surroundings of a party to paint astute visuals. Unlike what one thinks of when it comes to parties, the production and performance are more somber in contrast to the colorful and loud, like Torna is leaning against the wall in the living room, alone and reflecting on habits she’s bettering herself from. At its definitive core, the music drives behind the wheel of more dream pop and shoegaze elements beneath centralized indie rock percussion; however, there are varying moments where it takes a dip into deep waters and comes out with something distinctively grand. Within the second half of “Dandelion,” it plays with more pedals, shifting from the apropos, like with “Junkmail,” it blends juxtaposing drum beats from Remi Aguilella, drummer of the band, and the drum machine. 

Daughter has constructed a finely tuned album within a great composite of writing and production where each track gets to breathe and feel entwined within the bigger picture, even when the sonic motifs aren’t as open and eloquently subtle. It has this balance where, as long as the atmospheric sensibilities never deter in zones where it’s most effective. It’s significant how the tracks seamlessly transition between each other, like when you get a more typical but exuberant indie rock production in “Swim Back,” leading into a more tempered and contrasting production in “Junkmail.” Unfortunately, there are little moments where I didn’t find myself vibing, loving so much of this album that it’s easy to get lost in some weak moments. For example, “To Rage” comes off as calming and safe, doing little with the synths and feeling a little hollow compared to what has gotten heard leading to it. As you keep this on replay, it camouflages within the vibe that its placement doesn’t feel like it overcooks what Daughter wants to deliver.

Stereo Mind Game is fantastic, for lack of a better term, but where it triumphs is in the synergy and synchronization between vocals and production. It’s like this vast, relaxed, and loudly intimate moment where the music reflects what you’d hear at venues that embolden that bar basement vibe, where one expects nothing but introspective lyrics. It may be a little niche for some, but the music speaks wonders as it pushes beyond their style and expand to new horizons, especially as it sometimes juxtaposes sounds beautifully. Highly recommend the album, even if this is your first time hearing about them, because I can hopefully guarantee this is one great album.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Yaeji – With A Hammer: Review

Growing within the electronic music sphere, Yaeji has continued to amass fans through bilingual performances on EPs and Mixtapes and wicked mixing behind the boards, evident with her 2017 Boiler Room Set. It continues to be the case with her debut album, With A Hammer, even though it tiptoes a safer line between house and pop, instead of what we’ve gotten on previous records, which brought in more hip-hop elements. Though it rarely makes turns, Yaeji’s craft continues to shine through as her more lo-fi, softening vocals bring it all together into this unique cohesion of sounds that start to fit more of an aesthetic instead of being expansive. The moments we get these capricious pivots, they offer this renewed sense of being that fit who Yaeji is, where her sound is less streamlined like “Ready Or Not” compared to that of “Michin,” which uses some fantastic glitch-influenced notes. As you sit back and hit play, you’ll notice some fantastical elements that make the music twinkly, almost like the antithesis of what one would produce with a metaphorical hammer, i.e., less bombastic.

With A Hammer left me underwhelmed as some typical Electronic Dance Music notes weave more apropos dance complexions sounds into their construction, making anything that could add a lavish layer, feel like a second-class citizen as it rarely gets a moment to speak. That isn’t to say it lacks directions to get there; it seems that Yaeji is teetering between her iconographical style/techniques and driving home more pop flavors, especially in the vocal performances, which have a distinct cadence towards the approach. To say the music is one-dimensional or lacking focus is incorrect; however, from what has gotten heard, Yaeji’s music isn’t taking some different, hard-on approach to establish a sense of lo-fi grandeur. In turn, she’s keeping itself tightknit between occasional components from the synthesizers, yet it excels when it gets a little bombastic. While trying to incorporate different sonic palettes overlapping each other – often, sounds grip you by the ears and reel you in through a sonic fishing line. It gets you swiftly in the opening track, “Submerge FM,” which beautifully brings forth unique choices like the flute-synth one-two combo that make better ones stand out, like “Pass Me By.”

As the music begins to fluctuate and shift layers, sometimes gripping you with “For Granted” or losing you with “Fever,” Yaeji’s artistic direction gets reflected poignantly as the vocal performances relay that icing that doesn’t get molded well on top. Sometimes you’ll get this extravagant slice with “Ready or Not,” and other times, getting a slightly melted piece, where Yaeji’s performance isn’t as refined as with the title song, “With A Hammer.” It has this fierce, mystifying production which lets the electronic components breathe efficiently, keeping it in toe from start to finish; however, once you get to the vocals, the dronish performance, though seemingly purposeful, doesn’t land as she probably expected. Unlike “Happy,” there are songs like “With A Hammer,” where the vocal melodies don’t always feel connected with the production, making the abstract feel slightly but minimally forced. Tracks like “Fever,” “With A Hammer,” and “Be Alone In This” don’t help round out the rough edges certain ones may have with their in-song transition. It then becomes unfortunate that the vibe getting presented isn’t that cohesive, middling the fascinating contrast between its directional theme and final product.

Despite having these middling moments, With A Hammer contains a more safe throughline for the musical range that keeps Yaeji focused on parameters set for herself. In doing so, she works around a base stream of music where different sounds get tacked on, building these fantastic soundscapes, like the more intimate “I’ll Remember For Me, I’ll Remember For You” or the more lively and fun “Done (Let’s Get It).” What makes her music more captivating is the flow of the vocal performances as it balances the different notes overlaying it, like the flute and trumpet, which reinforce the visceral strengths of Yaeji’s production. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, they play along with the beat, growing it more and more within its aesthetic, like “I’ll Remember For Me, I’ll Remember For You.” The trumpet leads a triumphant lead-in and closes with a contrasting down pivot where Yaeji’s modest, angelic vocals keep the electronic ballad zoned in and subtly vibrant. 

Plenty of tracks fit within this model, though slightly more elevated; it’s like this rejuvenating sensation that comes from hearing aspects from the past see growth with new releases where the synergy between percussion and synthesizers as they take on different sonic contexts. In most cases, the synths make a grander stand as they deliver oodles of electronica bliss, like on “Away X5,” where Yaeji’s minimalist vocals flow smoothly through the kinetic synths. But as it treads through these unique directions, the quality of its artistic direction shines through the rough patches, adjudicating a different side than her more colorful and lively nature on What We Drew, her debut Mixtape. You’ll find something here to love, that’s for sure, and maybe more so as they hit a safe zone for the sounds of the genres instead of being more expansive.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Blondshell – Blondshell: Review

After finding unhappiness with the direction of her pop music career, Sabrina Teitelbaum took the time to grow, ridding herself of addictions, finding herself musically and mentally, and started writing music that speaks more to her being than what professional writers could provide. Beginning when she was cooped up in an East Los Angeles apartment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it eventually became a fantastic debut under a new name, Blondshell. Unlike the pop music Teitelbaum made prior, the sound of her self-titled debut is a complete 180 from what indie fans would’ve expected when she released “Olympus” last year. Blondshell comes and goes ferociously, bringing resounding depth lyrically while expanding the horizons of apropos Alternative Rock, adding some edge to make the emotional complexities feel heard. As one to never hold high standards for debuts, Blondshell was a sheer surprise, not because it fits within the musical sphere that my sensitivities are privy to, but because it’s different. It has clear direction, and as it rounds the bases from beginning to end, captivating pivots will have you returning, especially between the tempos and vocal performances.

After giving Blondshell a few listens, one element of the music’s appeal became evident, the lure it uses to grip the listener. It keeps us hooked by letting the songs flow on repeat without focusing on forcing something to be catchy, whether it’s the hook or lightly layered melodies and rhymes. It’s centered on the performance and the multi-faceted layers beneath the vocal performance, where the instruments elevate and evolve the music exponentially. It makes it known instantly with the riotous “Veronica Mars,” placing a stamp on a type of aesthetic that will get heard again later in a listen-through. In between tracks of that ilk, Sabrina Teitelbaum brings some tempered balance with these downshifts, letting us hear the depth of her artistry with some stripped-down but layered instrumentations that balance modest pop vocals with its indie rock core. As we listen to her deliver themes of heartbreak, anger, toxic relationship dynamics, addiction and substance abuse, and social anxiety, there is this rich sense of understanding amongst varying levels. Though it may be a lot of themes, Blondshell never feels bloated or over-sizzled, as Teitelbaum keeps a steady balance between performances. 

Much of the album’s greatness comes from a consistent balance between vocal performances and production, especially when the leading artist is more of the singer-songwriter as someone else produces. Though Sabrina Teitelbaum’s input into the composition is here and pivotal, producer Yves Rothman brings it to life, allowing us to hear these multi-dimensional songs carrying viscerally raw emotions. Whether it’s dreary and dark like “Salad,” where Teitelbaum sings about contemplating murderous revenge on a friend’s abusive partner, or somberly speaking on sobriety and relapse on “Sober Together,” the way these tracks’ production contrast each other shows depth between styles. Though these have their own sense of being and flow, keeping in tow a consistency of sound, the more rockified pivots with “Veronica Mars,” “Sepsis,” and “Joiner” boasts the angst within, letting feel entrenched with her emotions, allowing us to feel the kinetic synergy between the two as you fall in love with captivating aesthetic and melodies that are occasionally more deadpan than vibrant, but fits her true sense of self.

Though the originality stays nigh to it, one gets two songs that aren’t as profound: the second and second-to-last, which don’t feel as refined, tiptoeing some standard indie rock complexions without teetering too far into being unique. With “Kiss City,” the mood stays strong, and the performance is sheer mellow-gold; however, the production doesn’t seem to carry steam, like the love Sabrina Teitelbaum writes about, until the last 20 seconds when the chorus gets a kick from louder instrumental arrangements. “Tarmac,” the second-to-last song, parallels its deadpan-like performance with an equally simple indie-pop layout that offers little to the imagination. They aren’t inherently poor songs, but sometimes the delivery feels slighted, as the production can sound more hollow than not. Its construction tempers beautiful insight into the effect of addiction and how seemingly it can overcome the levels of importance. As Teitelbaum sings, “I can’t stay away from my new friends/I think that I’m losing myself/I’m in love with a feeling/Not with anyone or any real thing.” We hear and read her as she laments how much she loves the high, losing sight of the world around her, reflecting a sentiment carried throughout.

An outstanding debut, Blondshell is a breath of fresh air amongst the many indie rockers debuts these days. It’s more that Sabrina Teitelbaum has found a composite direction that relays the potency of her vocal strengths, levying a profoundly smooth falsetto between the deadpan-ish delivery and the melodic rock avenue. The writing is the strong point, as we hear Teitelbaum weave different perspectives and stories to relay what she’s feeling and what she’s overcome. It’s all interconnected within her sphere, even when she sings about her close friend’s relationship. It’s further bolstered by gripping parallels and connections between similar themes, like drug use or abuse, and its effects on life, as she beautifully composes with Yves Rothman on “Joiner.” Ultimately, Blondshell gets one of my more enthusiastic recommendations, especially if you were big on the Boygenius debut.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Boygenius – The Record: Review

Entwined with the seismic grasp of indie rock’s guitar-centric oeuvre, Boygenius has found a way to bring more value than some systematic construction, especially within the areas of the choruses and bridges. Much of that comes from members Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers, who are equally adept at writing these auspiciously poignant songs that turn into something expansive from common themes it imbues, bringing dynamic lyrical and melodic depth over whimsical strings. What separates Boygenius from others is their ability to create polished production through this subtle rough studio aesthetic that pushes the instruments toward an individualized spotlight. They continuously showcase the elements of rock, conjoined through the motions of the trio’s collective musical characterizations. It gives fans a sense that each brings this unique touch, whether coming from the slower emo textures of Baker & Bridgers or the more nuanced singer-songwriter vocal aesthetic from Dacus. The vision Boygenius has is evident as it gets delivered powerfully on their debut album, the record.

The Record starts and continues innate consistency, but a little after the midpoint, some songs become modestly underwhelming. It downplays the emotionally stimulating indie vibes you’ve been vibing throughout. Though Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers can carry a song solo, they bring their flavor to differentiate the aesthetics and let them all explore different sonic foundations. We hear it potently on the dynamic slowcore/garage-rock production of “$20,”  containing a more punkish vocal aesthetic; the immediate shift from the melancholic performances that precede and succeed the track comes through naturally. Though it has its taste of melancholia with Baker’s performance in the first half, it eventually leads to a whirlwind of chaos. Becoming the opposite with many other songs, “$20” is an antithesis to the calming sense behind the buoying theme of togetherness, empathy, and individualized growth. Through it, they are using specific aesthetic bases to boast the content of the music, like with “True Blue” and Lucy Dacus’s more decompressing, and journey-weary vocals, as she laments on her journey through music and loyalty.

It’s a testament to the trio’s gifted writing, which extends beyond its emotional textures, weaving stories through beautifully direct narrative structures. Like “True Blue,” we’re given these stories that personify Dacus’s life in and around music. With “Emily, I’m Sorry,” we hear the empathy of Bridgers as she laments about a past love. “Anti-Cure” relays a story surrounding trauma as Julien Baker reflects on her near-drowning incident in Malibu. On “Satanist,” the trio looks to bring that sense of togetherness outward as it asks, “Will you be a Satanist with me?/Mortgage off your soul to buy your dream/Vacation home in Florida.” The unique tongue-in-cheek lyrics allow you to get the feeling of communication between performer and listener. It leaves us hearing these auspicious directions the music can take, especially in the one it gets intaked from listener to listener. Usually, it’s more of a one-way street, with the performer looking like the reader in your library circle and telling you these stories that offer a sense of connectivity. That connectivity allows us, as listeners, to bridge these interwoven rock styles that sometimes shift in sonic complexions, like when it goes from something more classical and poppy on “Leonard Cohen” to the more punk-infused “Satanist.” 

Unfortunately, as you’re gliding through such rich songs, you feel a pivot at “Revolution 0,” where the music becomes more of an underwhelming reflection of a slower indie rock aesthetic, except it gets carried by the writing. These songs, “We’re In Love and “Anti-Curse,” don’t always adequately reflect the gravitas of the vocals or boast the production forward, despite resoundingly deep writing, where it comes down to whether the production works for you. They become more of an embodiment of what has been heard, except not as impressive or innovative. Whereas “$20” does something intricate with the guitars and vocal arrangements, “We’re In Love” doesn’t do much beyond the ballad conjectures, as its construction isn’t as refined and more self-reliant on the acoustic strings. “Anti-Curse” goes from this decent pop-rock production (comparatively) to a more toned-down instrumentation that feels lesser than other songs following similar tempos. One of these songs is “Letter To An Old Poet,” which beautifully builds character as it balances ballad-like melodies and is more refined, especially at the end with these twinkly and fiery notes.

At 12 tracks, and 43 minutes, the record flows with a crisp and smooth pace that your first few listens will feel insightful and rewarding. This sentiment goes tenfold for fans that get these artists’ styles, especially as you hear about their growth since their self-titled debut in 2018. It doesn’t matter who you are when approaching the music because it speaks for itself in quality and through poignant and resounding poeticism. Whereas they construct these narratives with clear prose, the way it bridges together allows it to have these defining moments within the vocal performances, especially in the choruses, which balances the performers on the production and lets them feel enriched as they deliver it to you. But as you sit there, reflecting through all of it, you see the brilliance within the music as Boygenius produces a fantastic debut.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd

Imagine walking through said tunnel, and the arraignment gets fixed to include remnants of sparkling, twinkling lights guiding you through between ends while following a musical rhythm that emboldens the imagery visualized from the listener. Now, while in that tunnel, you notice a few stones loose like threads on a simple but character-filled dress held together by some quality stitching that makes it look brand new. That’s what it feels like taking the journey through Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, the new album by Lana Del Rey. A lot of that comes from Jack Antanoff, whose production has become more of a weary point of emphasis, despite matching middling effort to contort Lana’s approach toward this intricate narrative that’s self-reflexive. It’s rewarding as it is inconsistent due to some poor pacing between tracks. But we get significant highlights when someone else brings something instrumentally besides Del Rey and Antanoff; you get enough here to satisfy the ears with bountiful music that hits the right chords.

Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd sometimes doesn’t incorporate sounds that reflect Del Rey’s strengths, aiming to shift slightly known. These sounds become lost in obscurity as it brings some trap notes or an oversaturation of electronica without adding depth to the core of its production. Fortunately, these moments are merely sparse, becoming slight components that get forgotten, yet, how it gets incorporated makes it harder at first. The various high points take away from the off-kilter choices that take her through these uncharacteristic avenues, showing the minimal limitations of the areas Jack Antanoff can reach in pop. He brings trap notes at the end of “A&W,” a track I thoroughly enjoyed but loses that spark that made the first five minutes so radiant – additionally, the Trip-Hop Griminess elements of “Taco Truck x VB” aren’t deeply explored. It’s the same with “Peppers,” a Father co-produced track that brings some imagination to the beat the trap/hip-hop undertones, but Lana Del Rey doesn’t align with the conjectures of the sound, feeling like an afterthought next to Tommy Genesis, at time.

Most of the production carries antiquated notes that sometimes don’t feel as unique within the beat because it gets bolstered by the performance of Lana Del Rey, like on “Kintsugi,” where the piano isn’t as pronounced, despite being a focal point. “Fingertips” doesn’t feel like anything new or intriguing, despite solid songwriting and performance. For the most part, the production is good, but it becomes more of a balancing beam for Lana Del Rey and the featured performers. They use their moments triumphantly, even in the bad, as they deliver beautifully poignant and potent performances that further become resonant of a more creative, streamlined narrative structure where we get an essence of creation while Lana’s breaking walls around her. The featured artists match that potency, even in the weaker songs, from Jon Batiste to SYML and Tommy Genesis; there isn’t a moment where the quality of their addition isn’t compelling. She lets others get through, bolstering the thematic pertinence about her character, family, and the world around her in the immediate. 

The themes flow fluidly throughout; whether it’s reminiscing on family and the Grant ancestry on the “The Grants,” reflecting inner growth in “Sweet,” or detailing a secret love affair on “Let The Light In,” you hear who Lana Del Rey is as an artist, especially as she weaves a thematic throughline with the interludes. One significant highlight comes on “Fishtails,” which showcases the remarkable talent within Lana Del Rey; she bridges two different threads of family and relationships through the same path creating this vibrantly wistful path where the synergy between vocals and production excels. Though the orchestration is comparatively weaker, Del Rey continuously elevates it further with the writing and vocal performance. She excels through the elevated atmosphere from these otherworldly ingredients, almost as if she wants to bring us together within that central theme regarding the love and virtues of one’s family. One of these ingredients is the consistent studio or outdoors-like ambiance breaking down the performances before our eyes; it makes the “Jon Batiste Interlude” and “Margaret” such joyous and fulfilling arrangements. It’s a different level of catchiness, where it becomes less reliant on a melody and more on the vibes.

By having the kind of catchiness it does, Lana Del Rey keeps you entrenched in the sounds her producers make, as the words she sings blossom through your ears, despite its lack of a consistent pace. It can sometimes push you away as songs run long, which is typical for Del Rey; however, unlike past songs, this ballad-like pacing doesn’t translate to a predominantly smooth listen, despite rarely shifting off path. It creates a slight impatience as the album slowly dampens the speed and tempo in the middle and end, progressively getting so. Though noticeable, getting through the tracks at such a pace can equally be as rewarding. Fortunately, having producers other than Jack Antanoff allows Lana to tap into these oeuvres of different string rhythms where you get some exuberant moments like Zach Dawes’s bass playing, which adds dimensions to the production he works on, like “The Grants.” It’s making that first and possibly second listen rewarding.

Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd delivers, and on some tracks, pushing further than expected based on what you heard through singles released. Significant highs stand out viscerally, but the lows are tolerable as it goes the limits to make it work, falling short of delivering something unique. It leaves you with an album bloated from these sidesteps, specifically from the pacing within tracks that can turn anyone impatient. But as it rounds out, It’s there, with many quality Lana Del Rey albums – as memorable as Chemtrails Over the Country Club and Lust For Life, reaching the highest peak for something that is replayable, despite bringing a lot to the table.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Aly & AJ – With Love From: Review

Aly & AJ’s return to music hit a momentous high on their excellent follow-up to some remarkable EPs: a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun, and that consistency shined through and through. It keeps us fans, but as fans, we also understand what we like and don’t, so for their follow-up, With Love From comes with incredible highs, continuing that consistency with potent new directions that elevates the craft beyond pop. Shifting from the more summery pop-rock to pop that carries the influence of Americana and Country music on its sleeves. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t stay with this throughout, sometimes shifting back to a more pop-rock-focused sound, even when they aren’t as bad. These pop songs woven within the tracklists feel like it panders to the pop music fans have gotten to love when they could have had more consistency by keeping the aesthetic constant. But With Love From is one solid album that expands beyond the acoustic-driven fortitude of its sonic influences, creating an emotionally potent album.

The music of With Love From isn’t devoid of pop sounds as it plays a vital part in its central core as it guides the varying melodies that lavishly coat the occasionally twangy production. There’s a softening cadence, which heartens the slower tempo rhythms of the strings, allowing one to get engulfed within the twinkling acoustics and slow, methodical percussion that makes you feel like you’re in the room as it’s performing. It’s their liveliness within the performances, which eloquently contrasts the emotionally rich array of sounds. Though it’s a little more direct and nuanced with the first two tracks, Aly & AJ take it a step forward with the beautifully captivating “After Hours.” It powerfully balances styles, allowing the pop-rock notes to engulf the melody while the instrumentations elevate the twangy, danceable moods to keep the spirits high. It’s like a slight anti-thesis to the music getting presented prior and immediately after with the elegant, stripped-down ballad “Blue Dress.” This fantastic four-track run is one of the ones to remember within the album, as some short strings of pop-rock take away from the heavy influence overhead.

“Love You This Way” and “Talking In My Sleep” are the two that don’t feel suitably resonant in the track list as they lean too much into pop, taking away from the remarkable Americana/Country influence and a consistent ride from front to back. “Talking In My Sleep” feels more akin to something from their last album – more glitzy and poppy, the slight identity shift in the strings can’t boast it further, making one lost within the flow. The former is more standard, never seeming to find strength on either side of the musical aisle as the songwriting and melodies aren’t as strong as others. But as they come into your musical stratosphere, they detract from the strength surrounding it through other songs like “Sunchoke,” which audibly brings you front and center with the aesthetic influence behind the lyricism. It’s all reflective, talking about emotional aspects of relationships and life; they give us a take on closing time, delivering an anthem about allowing yourself a moment to reflect and stay positive through the nights. 

With Love From is a harmless but radiant and vibrant pop album that shifts the dynamic from what fans have gotten to hear from them, giving us something different than what one would expect. It isn’t your typical pop-rock album, so the more it progresses, the more you get entrenched in the fantastic melancholy of the string rhythms. Though Aly & AJ are the primary instrumentalists behind the strings, the producers bring forth the dimensions to round out the songs in these songs within the fantastical Americana/Country vibes that have slowly gotten reflected amongst some indie pop artists, like Clairo and Angel Olsen. A lot of credit goes to Aly & AJ’s producers, especially recurring collaborators Ryan Sparker and Yves Rothman, whose resume within this sphere isn’t vast. But they deliver exemplary work with an understanding of the direction taken by its lead artists, and it shows from the giddy-up catchiness of “Tear the Night Up” to the more classical take “Baby Lay Your Head Down.” It’s a continuous feat of great music that gets stumped along the way through more pop-like songs.

There was much enjoyment in listening to Aly & AJ’s album, With Love From; the music gets adjusted to work potently within the confines of its sonic sphere and excel beyond. It left me with surprises and an enjoyable trip to return to whenever the vibe calls for it, considering one can do worse. I’d recommend this highly; fan or no fan, what they build and deliver is beautiful. You’ll leave satisfied without feeling bloated, and that’s all one can ask, as it does change the pace from more loaded hip-hop and pop albums.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The Blaze – Jungle: Review

It’s been five years since the release of Dancehall, the debut album of French Electronic duo The Blaze. Since, they’ve remained predominately quiet, almost seeming to calculate the direction of their follow-up Jungle, which takes form as this antithesis to the livelier, more dance-driven work of Dancehall – creating a space to delve into differentiating emotionally resonant performances that formulate beyond tonal vibes. Whether vocally or through sound, the music carries some thematic depth beneath these atmospheric complexions reflective of Electro-Pop and French House of the 2000s and early 2010s, letting recent nostalgia elevate their craft as they build around it with exponential bliss. The visceral layering of the instruments keeps Jungle afloat through the rangy and mystifying vocals coated with mirroring leveled synths, amplifying the direct delivery of these tracks and letting you feel the impact of its words. The writing isn’t spread out and detailed like most narrative-driven music in pop and Hip-Hop – their identity rings differently. It holds everything together through the dainty trips; even when the writing is more simplistic, it remains potent in its delivery.

Like their first album, Dancehall, it doesn’t take long before the production puts you in a zone without shifting toward something more obtuse beyond a consistent breadth developing through the percussion and synths. You get this quick whiff instantly as Jungle opens to a track resembling something from an early 2010s Bon Iver or STRFCKR album; however, its production shifts the parallel further from it. The vocals are airy and coated behind this screen of atmospheric electronic textures, which creates a nuanced take on pop and French House, almost taking it as a guiding principle and establishing sounds that accentuate with cadence. Whether it’s on the opening track “Lullaby” or the subsequent “Dreamer” and “Lonely,” it separates itself from the production, becoming its own thing where the landscape shifts between being more percussion or synth focused. While it establishes its core direction, one can easily get lost in its vibe, but as you swim through the ten-track album, it’s like exploring new avenues of rich sounds.

Jungle opens strong and continues to build in the middle before ultimately petering at the end as the journey guides you. There is so much to take away, especially its use of synthesizers, which can shift in expression at any moment. Whereas “Madly” brings a louder, glitchier approach with synths flow in BPM with some erratic, consistent tendencies, “Haze” is atmospheric toward its construction as the synths shift between the overlay or underlay. The use of live instrumentations within the construct of its production helps these seamless switches between different sounds; whether it’s more Electro-Pop or more of a derivative of House/EDM, the ambiance is the potent component subtly shrouding the album. “Bloom” is one of many that imbues this sense remarkably, teetering into this captivatingly sonorous moment where the vocals become more of an add-on to balance the luscious electronic oeuvre notes that keep you in this great daze that is as effective.

Unfortunately, all good things aren’t meant to last, so as Jungle comes to a close, it starts to readjust poorly. “Dust” closes the album – it’s a five-and-a-half-minute doozie that encapsulates everything heard, triangulating the strengths, making them all blend, hearing especially through particular, sometimes subtle percussion notes. However, it becomes lost in some repetitive, timid synths, slightly diluting the effectiveness of “Eyes” as a lead-in. It’s as if “Haze” was turned on its head and became a repetitious sound with a singular focus, never playing around to create something more grandiose. It’s a disappointing downturn that makes you appreciate the work coming prior, relishing in these starry components and becoming a sort of skeleton to show us what got taken and explored, just not as dense. Having a weak closer doesn’t hinder it, as there is some semblance of a song, specifically with that slight uptick in the second half. It’s a slow start that gets slightly redeemed at the end. Additionally, it left me wishing they’d build on the songwriting more instead of treading within typical vocal structuring and styles. It’s close to blissful equilibrium, but the minimal imbalance pushes me to feel as entrenched as their debut, but the happiness of these remains intact.

Listening to Jungle was a thrill that builds as sounds expand visually and create unique twists from more apropos Electronic-Pop complexions. It’s a little simplistic, as it’s a more direct, streamlined album that hits many of its notes. I was left vibing and continuing to replay without hesitation. It may not be effective for some, as they don’t delve into more bombastic catchiness and keep it consistent with their identity. Give it a spin; you’ll definitely feel the rich emotional vibes they deliver and more.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.