Muna – MUNA: Review

At the turn of 2022, among many tracks to get played with immense consistency has been Muna’s “Silk Chiffon,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers. Their instrumentations/production and vocals are captivating and buoyed by strong songwriting, which creates an audible shift from conventional pop melodies. They have creative structures that elevate their music to replayable levels. MUNA has a shaping focus sonically and emotionally. While Save The World saw them working with and creating luscious tracks within the realm of electropop, power-pop, and synth-rock with fluidity, these styles become a subtle driving force in the dance-pop/synth-pop core that guides MUNA to new heights. They have these creative tempo shifts which keep you afloat through sheer lyrical and thematic parallels; the production takes distinct turns expanding beyond the core-base aesthetic, which rounds itself into another special release for the trio.

MUNA is captivating, and there were no doubts about that going into the first listen. Knowing how phenomenal “Silk Chiffon” is, Muna gives new or unknown listeners something to feel energized about as they continue to turn the corner and continue doing what they do best. “What I Want” shifts from “Silk Chiffon” lyrically and sonically, taking us away from a track about the beauty and happiness of queer love, likening a softness within their lover’s aura and body to silk chiffon to one about self-love. “What I Want” brings immersive dance-pop and electro-pop coatings in the waves of synths. It’s an evergrowing narrative filled with emotional complexities that allows you to create a sense of relativity, despite personal angles from band members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson. 

It gives us parallels, one where we can feel free and enjoy the electrifyingly rhythmic tracks while seeing how they continue to extend past certain safety nets. But within, Muna finds a happy medium. Their lyrics reflect the essence of the sound with tremendous effect, like the previously mentioned “What I Want,” which stylistically embraces the lonely dance track like “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn, “Party For One” by Carly Rae Jepsen, or “Big Time” by Angel Olsen. They each embody these different tones, and for Muna, it’s more about the feeling, like “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, and within “What I Want” is the thrill of being yourself in any environment. Lyrically poignant, they continue to grow, filling us with these immersive lyrics and vocal performances that have their consistency in impact. It’s especially the case with the ballad “Kind of Girl,” which brings some twang to the vocals as they sing, reflecting on the kind of girl they are. Its unique placement adds some more frailty between the more dance-like “Home By Now” and “Handle Me,” two tracks that offer keen sensibilities toward vibing, dancing alone in a groove. Unfortunately, they sound too similar, with the former having more of an impact.

Muna has a vibrant cadence in their sound, bringing emotional catchiness while making feelings reflect through complexions heard, like Dark Pop on About U, their debut. It isn’t a focal genre; the production tiptoes between darker lyrics and dreamy, starry production swifts you off your feet as it comes to a close. “Loose Garments” blossoms, bringing a focus to orchestral strings to implement a glimmer to the sequencing of the track, allowing for inner transitions to come across smoothly. That glimmer reminds me of listening to melancholic indie-pop that boosts your mood when you just want to kick back and look at the stars; maybe you want to smoke some pot and let yourself get whisked away. It’s a similar sentiment that has stayed consistent throughout their first two albums, and it continues on MUNA.

Within its dance/synth-pop core, most of the tracks have a synth-dance pop hybrid core, but the overlaying qualities build upon its identity. It is effervescent. When you hear “What I Want,” it highlights 80s-style Disco-synths as it bleeds into, and dances with, the percussion to a jubilantly danceable pop track. And when you hear “No Idea,” you get the jamming synth-rock that has budding energy with the emotional core of the songwriting. It speaks to that unrelenting feeling of wanting to express your real feelings because the person your care for may lose interest in pursuing the relationship further. Driving the potency of the emotional songwriting are impactful vocals that bring weight to the final construct and output of danceable relativity. 

Muna offers compelling consistency, and more so on their latest, self-titled release, MUNA, where the vibes are immaculate. There isn’t a moment you won’t find yourself in a mood to groove as the sounds shift in unique directions that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But within the 11-track album, some tracks have replay value akin to “Silk Chiffon,” while others remind us of how their sonic complexities as artists elevate the sound, whether full-on or subtle. It may not be perfect, but MUNA has a lot to love and enjoy, and I hope you do.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Purity Ring – graves EP: Review

Warping us into new dimensions is what Purity Ring does best, even though the trip can be a bit rocky. As an electro-pop band, they are usually willing to take risks and expand beyond the parameters of a basic melody and simple synth textures. They play with the pitch, exploring new realms with synthesizers, and captivate with seamless transitions; it’s exponentially so with their new EP, graves. Decorated with hypnotic production, you get an enigmatic atmosphere that transports you to a space filled with vibrant colors. Unlike their albums, the seven-track EP offers a compact progression with minor blemishes. It may play coy and mess around with a few complexions of the past, but the work is classic Purity Ring material, the good kind. 

Purity Ring can hook you at any moment. There is a cadence in the way they layer their synths. When weaved together, they bring a harmonic balance that whisks you away. It gets you from the start with the eponymous track off graves. It takes 30 seconds before marveling at the vibey synths that mesmerize you on impact. It continues to create unique transitions within songs and in-between, taking fascinating directions while playing spirited and swift synths and keys, usually around the chorus section. They tweak it in various ways that keep you on a consistent path. It starts to gleam and twinkle from there; then, it picks you up and takes you to an empty stream of consciousness.

Mood is a keyword here as it brings a flurry of low-feeling songs that keep you zoned into your emotions. Instead of creating vibrant, uplifting, and drab poppy electro-pop, Purity Ring focuses on developing sounds that evoke their inner thoughts. “Unlucky” is one of these tracks that are full of life, adding these elements of witch-house and synth-pop that acquiesce easily. Its creative output reflects sentiments that once or still fluster you, like the fear of expressing feelings of mad and sad because it’s wrong–for example. It gets followed up “watersong,” which describes the essence of the void the music finds us in. Vocalist Megan James contributes these harmonic melodies that enchant you within this void, allowing you to engulf everything they deliver. It gets continuously complemented by the varying sequences, like the overly bubbly synths and percussion on “watersong.” No matter the direction, the emotional core of the EP gets reflected tonally.

I speak about a void. This void makes us keen on our emotions, allowing us to groove and dance to the music Purity Ring gives us on graves. But there is balance, which keeps the interest levels high. It did for me, especially as they incorporate these somber tracks that act like a dose of melatonin that holds you until the production picks up. Though there is balance, “nthngsfine” feels lost in the background as it carries the enigmatic synths and keys of the previous track, “nevermind.” It comes off as an extended outro that doesn’t add value to the previous one, unlike the other short, “xsalt.” The harmonic piano keys elevate the closing track tenfold, offering a gleaming transition into the intro, “graves.”

Unlike their full-length albums, graves is compact and more fluid. Purity Ring can be more constructive and let a sonic motif of starry synths drive through the enigmatic moods. It lifts you quickly and takes you on a predominately vibrant vibey journey through music. It’s a solid EP that exceeded expectations, considering their last album, Womb, was a little underwhelming.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

The Weeknd – Dawn FM: Review

We’ve taken an exhaustively fun and thrilling ride from his debut to After Hours; from a front-row seat, we hear The Weeknd encapsulate and transition into 80s nostalgia with composure as the adrenaline rushes high. But The Weeknd, along with co-producers, don’t let nostalgia shroud over the complexities to keep sonic sensibilities modern. Dawn FM continues that, and more effectively. In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.

Fans of The Weeknd are no stranger to his idolization of actor/comedian Jim Carrey and his soft-tender-NPR-like vocals add visceral layers to the slight melancholic sounds for the dance floor. As it transitions from the intro, Carrey’s vocals remind us what’s arriving: an album reminiscent of the deep cuts from the genres from where he’s taking influence. However, more surprises come from its slight detachment from the first single, “Take Me Breath.” 

Calling the sounds of Dawn FM melancholic, I’ll put, my perspective speaks on the vagueness of the sound in comparison to past productions. We’ve heard The Weeknd flow in both directions – melancholic or heightened pop – and there is less of the latter. However, It’s something which this isn’t devoid of, evident with “Take My Breath,” produced by Max Martin and Oscar Holter. At first, you get a whiff of the upbeat 80s electronic and new wave dance styles – from the riffs to the synths, I was left in awe by the complexities within the production. It’s bombastic and fluid, encapsulating that visceral “Star Boy” energy while embodying different themes. It comes after the darkly-digital electronic track “How Do I Make You Love Me,” as it weaves these hypnotic melodies with the multi-layered production. It’s a testament to the producers and engineers to craft an album, where if you have your transition setting to zero seconds, it brings one constant flow from start to finish.

Despite some of the dance floor coating, it plays like listening to a late-night station focused on delivering danceable vibes while keeping your head afloat through the depth of the songwriting, interludes, and production style. Like I’ve mentioned before, The Weeknd has been through countless trials and tribulations, akin to a consistent lifestyle he has portrayed. He’s never shied away from it, and frankly, we have gotten some of his biggest hits, like “Party Monster” and “Low Life,” from it. However, shit starts coming back around, and he’s finding himself in purgatory lamenting. Like his album cover, interjecting thoughts of his wrongs with little rights create an embodiment of a man stuck in the dark. The potent lyrics are as effective as the melodies, which The Weeknd brings plenty.

“Is There Someone Else?” for example, see The Weeknd reflecting on a nudge that has him seeing his partner finding comfort in someone else after constant fighting within their relationship. On the surface, we hear these regrets, his lack of understanding, and that unbearable weight as he tries to define himself. But one thing kept rattling through my head – how does it weave together in the bigger picture? “Less Than Zero” sees The Weeknd adding another dimension to his person, and part of it comes from understanding both perspectives. On “Less Than Zero,” The Weeknd sings: “Remember I was your hero, yeah/I’d wear your heart like a symbol/I couldn’t save you from my darkest truth of all/I know/I’ll always be less than zero,” which could symbolize a few things – his infidelity or his lifestyle.

The Weeknd isn’t always headstrong, but the production doesn’t sway you in opposing directions. The production for Dawn FM comes primarily from Max Martin, The Weeknd, and Oneohtrix Point Never, with an occasional co-lead from Swedish House Mafia. The latter produces the second single and immediate standout, “Sacrifice.” The dazzling production takes a lot of cues from funk/synth-pop hybrids as it incorporates slick electric guitar riffs with a rustic gloss. Unfortunately, I can’t keep gushing about the album without noting what didn’t work for me: the features. Usually, a Weeknd song with a feature hits, or it doesn’t lower/raise the quality, but on Dawn FM, it’s one for two. Tyler, the Creator comes with a little of column A and column B, while Lil Wayne phases in and out. The album maybe could have flourished brighter if The Weeknd went solo. But that is neither here nor there because the features don’t completely diminish the return.

Dawn FM is nearly perfect, even when it is a little loaded with slightly weak archetypal hybrids near the end and one forgettable feature. I was left transfixed through this concept, and it plays to the strengths of the artist and producers. It will see steady rotation, especially as I, along with other fans, dance the night away.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart: Review

After the release of The Colour of Anything, one thing flowed through my mind, can James Blake be as complex and ethereal as this album? The short answer — somewhat. From Assume Form to his mini-project released last year, he has been on a steady path of consistent okay-ness. Unfortunately, it continues on his new album, Friends That Break Your Heart. It wanes between delivering with the same cadence James has brought in past work and also middling on forgettability — after some time, it sonically stays on a tangent, and you forget what just played as they begin to sound a little too similar. With co-production from Jameela Jamil and others like Take A Day Trip, Dominic Maker, and Metro Boomin, to name a few, they bring additions to the respective work, keeping James mid-way to the mantle he once sat on calmly.

Like Assume Form, Friends That Break Your Heart carries a few things in common, besides being a spiritual tonal-successor to the former. One, in particular, is the first half, which comes out strong, followed by one and a half solid songs in the second that is only okay to good. What defines the strength of the first half is James Blake’s tender vocals, as the reverbs and other modifiers create a crescendo with his different deliveries. It matches the smooth and steady production from Blake, Dominic Maker, and Jameela Jamil — who’ve also had a steady hand in the production of Assume Form. Their connected mind resonates with the stylistic choices made by Blake, but after some time, it dwindles on mediocrity.

The first half contains many highlights — some more so than others — before slowly shifting into slight mediocrity. A lot of it stems from James Blake’s directness, weaving ways to let his message linger without losing focus from the simple complexions in the production. Unfortunately, James Blake’s directness begins to wane away meaning from the big picture. He barely plays with metaphors and analogies, losing sight of making the themes have more relevance. 

However, “Coming Back,” “Frozen,” and “Life Is Not The Same” demonstrates James’ capabilities of finding unique concepts outside of the simple synths, percussion, and the occasional string instrument. “Coming Back” and “Frozen” do the most with the percussion, elevating the hip-hop elements of these songs — it gives us these unique parallels with the featured artists bringing him out of his comfort zone and into something repeatable. 

“Coming Back” features James Blake in a duet with SZA, creating two sides to the production, elevating their respective vocal ranges. As Blake begins with somber — dark-like synths — and slow progressions, it picks up steam as the percussion turns beautifully bombastic, comparatively. Like “Coming Back,” “Frozen” sees Blake taking a step outside his comfort zone, using distortions and a hip-hop-centric percussion to let JID and SwaVay go off on their respective verses. And It’s disappointing when SwaVay shines brighter than Blake. He is an artist who has never been on my radar, but his verse on “Frozen” packs a hard punch — he blends metaphors smoothly into his storytelling style: “Took him to JJ’s and had him turnt by the end of the day/End up hittin’ the lick for two nights and then went to the banks.”

However — In the second half — James Blake isn’t breaking new territory, like “Coming Back” — most importantly, he isn’t fully immersing himself in the music, despite trying to keep his voice centered. As it begins to break apart, two songs leave a lasting impact. “Foot Forward” and “If I’m Insecure” sees James leaping, extending the simplicity of the atmospheric textures. Though, his innate use of synths starts to drown the production as it shifts in different directions, like the melancholic sounding, “Friends That Break Your Heart.”

“Foot Forward,” co-produced by Frank Dukes and Metro Boomin, adds intricate percussion styles, leaving room for James Blake to immerse himself in the production and deliver one of his better performances. The array of percussion and piano keys plays as James Blake croons about forgetting the past and leaping forward for his mental health.  The production on“Foot Forward” mirrors the percussion patterns of “Life Is Not The Same” —  the best aspect of the latter. It isn’t a complete parallel, but it integrates different percussion styles until it loses focus due to Blake’s dry delivery. Like “Life Is Not The Same,” others that follow a similar style of vibrant percussion patterns bring enough to sustain your attention, and Blake fails in that regard.

But for the most part, James Blake stays thematically and tonally consistent, that he barely teeters off the path. Unfortunately, like the two songs I previously mentioned, it seems rare for him to keep me invested throughout the whole project. The lapses in mediocrity make you want to hit skip immediately. And as it breaches into the second half, more songs become just that. Friends That Break Your Heart was something I was looking forward to, and it didn’t hit the mark as it should have. But there are a few songs that do, and most of which aren’t because of James.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10.

Chvrches – Screen Violence: Review

Ever since Chvrches debut, they’ve had this elegant veil that has allowed them to differentiate from other synth-pop bands making music today. They know who they are, as opposed to consistently reworking their image after each album. It shows Chvrches confidence on both ends as frontwoman Lauren Mayberry and bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty have great synergy; more so today with the process behind recording their new album Screen Violence. Despite having to record in different locations, Chvrches envelop the whimsy delivered on their debut.

The synergy within Chvrches is effervescent on every song, even when it doesn’t land smoothly. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty possess an understanding, which allows them to have a similar wavelength for the sound that derives from hearing Lauren Mayberry’s lyrics. It has shown a distinct range in the production style, and one particular case — incorporating Robert Smith from The Cure. “How Not To Drown,” featuring Robert Smith, speaks on a time Lauren sincerely contemplated leaving the band as she felt like she was drowning from the pressure to produce. Fortunately, this didn’t end up being the case.

Like Chvrches’ past albums, the first half comes in strong before teetering into a blend of mediocrity and good. This time around, Chvrches keeps it going for two-thirds as they come with twists and turns on each track, diving deep into the roots of their influence — screen violence through three different perspectives. From “Asking For A Friend” to “Good Girls,” Chvrches come with a clear focus that allows each song to have individuality while fitting into the bigger picture.

Screen Violence’s loose concept takes tones and conventions from horror and noir films, specifically, between the 40s and 90s. The songs on Screen Violence still have the Chvrches DNA, particularly their balance of synths and live instruments, but they incorporate subtle changes to set a platform for them to breathe. However, the big difference comes in the way they direct the music to create a looming sense of fear and loneliness — two big themes. Of the two themes, loneliness speaks more from the context of the songs. One song, for example, “Final Girl,” takes the concept of the final girl trope in horror films and attributes it to Lauren Mayberry’s life, despite a lack of horror elements. 

Lauren Mayberry finds herself carrying burdening weight from everything that has culminated until now, as both an artist and female in Los Angeles. She puts herself in a scenario where she is the film’s final girl, going through hurdles of stress and trauma only to find herself at the butt end of a hunt/chase till the final scene. It buoys a double meaning, between having all eyes chasing her due to her status as an artist and as a beautiful female who men deem a sexual object instead of someone with feelings.

Despite a focused concept, it doesn’t bleed into their direction for the production. It is one of the rare cases where Chvrches find themselves less reliant on the loud and operatic synths and instead allowing themselves to free their mind with unique concepts like “California” and “How Not To Drown.” They contain the Chvrches DNA subtle to keep the attention of old and new fans who get hooked by the vibrant melodies. 

“California” does so to keep a focus on Lauren’s songwriting and themes — loneliness — it reflects the dark side of our starstruck dreams. We’ve heard songs about the glamour deriving from success; however, Lauren takes a different approach and gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to fail in Los Angeles, especially for someone whose home is MILES away. Chvrches juxtapose the lyrics with colorful percussion and dreamy guitar chords attuning the song to conventions of California Dreaming-like music. The production doesn’t fully encapsulate a sound we’d expect from the band, and instead, they show us the range sometimes hidden for a safer approach. 

“How Not To Drown” swims further away from Chvrches DNA, as it nixes an abundance of synths for a nuanced 80s new wave/punk rock sound that elevates Lauren Mayberry’s vocals to match with the incomparable Robert Smith. It is reminiscent of a song made by The Cure with modern tweaks, particularly in the blending of the guitar strings and percussion. It is the definitive highlight on the album, second to “Good Girls.”

On “He Said She Said,” the production goes from the standard synth-pop arrangements to the percussion and chords becoming the focal point. It builds up aggression as the whimsical guitar chords lead us to feel the panic attack nature from the production. It acts as a double entendre to one’s psyche in a time of isolation while implying a similar feeling that derives from gaslighting, which Chvrches have been privy to in the past. These double meanings are the cornerstone of Chvrches’ songwriting, as they find ways to eclipse the story into new territory. They take the known and break it apart to piece with the production, which is why you’ll hear similar melodies and harmonies. However, they embody the calculated nature of Chvrches’ creative process.

It isn’t uncommon for Chvrches to focus on bleak tones and concepts, but unlike some bands, they keep themselves from falling back into past norms that made their sophomore effort feel a bit redundant. It rarely happens in the first seven songs, like on “He Said She Said,” however, it becomes more apparent in the last three songs, which are fine. The first of two alternate between tempos while aligning with past styles done by Chvrches. The songwriting is clever and is the highlight of these songs, particularly “Nightmares,” but lacking the same impact as previous songs.

Screen Violence is Chvrches best album since their debut, The Bones Of What You Believe, offering enough to retain on rotation those days you’re feeling down. The luscious synths, and relative themes, and songwriting bring you closer as you feel the synergy. It is my second favorite album of theirs and a definite recommendation of mine.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Porter Robinson – Nurture: Review

Porter Robinson has always stood out from some of the newer electronic artists emerging today. He has this ear for music where he can learn, adapt, and create these intricate electronic numbers that keep you in somewhat of a consistent awe. His debut Worlds showed his versatility with its array of bass heavy electronic music, most of which stemmed from a genre he coined as complextro (glitchy heavy bass at 130 BPM). His follow up, Nurture, is a complete shift for Porter as he breaks down barriers and delivers an array of beautifully complex and melancholic production, steering away from aspects of the complextro – sonic structure.

Nurture is in many ways different from Worlds. With a grounded concept it keeps a consistent sonic tone, even when it branches out with some naturalistic glitch-pop. This is a testament to Porter Robinson’s intuitive style flourishes from the production’s key attention to distinguishing itself from the rest. However, the one constant that brings a different light to this is the use of organic nature sounds as the sprinkles for this electronic sundae. 

The standard BPM is a different shift, as well, with an uptick in its varying levels for the track. It mostly keeps at the average pop levels of 115, but sometimes it flows up and down with loops, like a beautifully scenic roller coaster trail; and the cars is the engineer showing, or in this case, hearing the final products. The way it blends, like that, allows the atmospheric overtones to emboss itself with glittery synths and glitchy electronic analog instruments, specifically on the track “Wind Tempos,” which is an escalating instrumental of pure glitch-bliss.

While some tracks, like “Wind Tempos,” and “Get Your Wish,” break from some songs of the stylistic consistencies, like atmosphere, for a delivery of unique sonic constructs that make up Nurture – i.e. glitch-pop and electro-pop. It allows the creative freedom to breathe through Porter Robinson’s mind as the music catches our attention quickly through a hidden power, known as melancholy. “Mirror,” boasts that complex layering with key twists on the verses that elevates the dance status, keeping it in line with some of the other danceable numbers on the album. 

Nurture’s array of full-bodied highlights of commanding swoons from piano keys and synths, like on “Look At The Sky.” Porter modulates his voice to add a layer above his keen falsetto to deliver a beautiful electronic ballad about hope, particularly with the stress coming from comparisons to the early predecessors. Ironically, the album demonstrates a new level of quality from an artist with immense potential; and this album might fall into being a hidden gem for the ever-growing landscape, specifically with the varying genre-bending sounds that sometimes contrast the mood evoked from the lyrics. 

“Something Comforting” mirrors a beautiful sentiment to the kind of struggles a human being can go through, even when we only see them at a surface layer. The track’s production has an escalating tempo that leads to a dynamic drop, which plays into the comfort zone (sonically) that Porter puts himself in with his piano. Like some of the other tracks, this gives us a solid collection of tracks that work for sad-dancing, mood-trends, and maintaining a nuanced production landscape.

From “Sweet Time” to The Kero Kero Bonito lead-sampled track, “Musician,” the vocals become a dominating focus, as the production fits with the ambiance of the sonic themes. The melancholic approach carries over on a lot of tracks, including “Sweet Time,” and that is where Porter’s vocals shine. It doesn’t match wits with the vibrant vocals from Sarah Bonito on “Musician,” but that is due to the modulations lacking depth as we don’t hear his pain and anguish, as opposed to “Something Comforting.” Fortunately the album ends on a high note with two glamorous hybrids in “Unfold,” which has elements of EDM and House, and “Trying To Be Alive,” which is a beautiful sad-dance closer that contains elements of synth-pop and EDM.

Nurture shows an artist growing into his own, after contemplating about his person and the kind of music he makes. It is more adjunct than Worlds when building upon themes and sonic structures and it shows with Porter Robinson’s wall breaking on the grassy plains. This album has a designed mood, and it delivers it with enough consistency and virtuoso to keep afloat amongst the other electronic artists with bigger platforms.

Rating: 8 out of 10.