Taylor Swift – Midnights: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard: Review

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Pale Waves – Unwanted: Review

Turning back the clock with Unwanted, Pale Waves reinvigorates the sounds that hooked us with My Mind Makes Noises, which felt slightly faint on Where Am I? Instead of reeling towards general rock complexions, Pale Waves ignites their emotions and lets them ride like waves as they shift between chords and effects. The strings are transparent and potent, allowing the drums and synths to be the sandpaper smoothing out the rough edges. It’s gripping at various moments–other times, we’re vain to the sounds that aren’t as triggering and leave us humdrum with esoteric genericism in the pop-punk aesthetic blanketed over the album, and the slight side-turns into acoustics. Though they teeter in this direction, it centers on taste, and it didn’t hit the proper tastebuds; the few missteps can get glossed over by the sheer consistency heard compared to their last album. And that isn’t to say I haven’t had this on repeat–cause I have exponentially, further showing how easy it is to get lost within that realm of sounds.

The realized consistency in Unwanted is as potent as ever, keeping you enshrined in this confined temple of relativity where Heather Baron-Gracie’s captivating melodies and the band’s overall riotous instrument playing keep you glued as it comes from multiple angles. It’s immediate with “Lies” and its tremendous drop, creating an identity toward the emotive tenacity these tracks will deliver. There is angst, and their fiery limits aren’t confined, giving Baron-Gracie the range to evoke emotions fluidly. She doesn’t get invariably angered by situations, sometimes getting lost within existential thoughts that get reflective based on personal social experiences. But it’s when Baron-Gracie truly immerses herself with these feelings, which are reflective amongst the best tracks on the album. “Lies,” “Jealousy,” and “Alone” are some that come with a fierce punch, propelling the straps to grip you into your seat and rocking to these sentiments we are or aren’t focusing on, especially with the latter two. “Jealousy” ferociously captures that essence of jealousy Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” exhumed, just not as vanilla. The melodic strings and gripping drum patterns in the chorus bring out your inner emotional mosher, one where the body speaks on the production’s bravado. 

Unlike “Jealousy,” “Alone” reinforces a disdain for anyone who embodies an overly touchy persona and eagerness beneath that they can’t get beyond simply understanding someone’s preference to be alone. Heather Baron-Gracie exhumes these sentiments with personal integrity that you forget the universal appeal it brings; it’s akin to empowering anthems about being alone and striving, except it’s being alone, so she doesn’t have to deal with varying “repercussions.” Like she said in an interview with Apple Music: 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as brutal as I am on this track. It’s about when you say no to someone and they just don’t leave you alone. So many times—in clubs, in bars, in goddamn Tesco—where someone comes up to you and they’re like, ‘Can I buy you a drink? Can I get your number?’ And you say, ‘Sorry, I’m not interested.’ And they still get all handsy and physical with you. Do you not get the message? Don’t touch me.”

– Heather Baron-Gracie

: there is an essence of being without becoming overly preachy, especially in the context of rejection songs. There is a balance that never downplays the themes, though not all tracks have gripping production, sometimes feeling like composites of other styles without adding anything distinguishingly new to set itself apart besides any catchiness within the chorus or melodies. 

Fortunately, we’re steering towards a triumphant set of tracks to close the album, especially as they imbue these exhilarating sounds that shift the parameters by allowing some of the simplicity to feed into the depth of the performances or the intricate production that steers you away from current pop-punk tones. “You’re So Vain” and “Reasons To Live” begin to ignite and exhume fumes of creative integrity. It’s pertinent to one’s enjoyment of the album as they slowly shift toward the sounds of Where Am I? except with stronger compositions that keep your ears glued. It caught me by surprise, with the final track finding itself on heavy rotation. Baron-Gracie has noted how negatively emotional Unwanted is and transcends the emotions loosely, like on “Clean,” which gives us some crisp, fun positivity where her sense of love gets explored physically and vocally. You hear and feel it when she sang: “I bang my hеad against the wall/Until I hear your voice/Yеah, I’ve come undone/I’m hooked and I’m withdrawn/And I don’t really care if it’s my fault,” as this composite of metaphorically intense love, and it’s delivered beautifully.

Amongst the wind of radiant consistency, some tracks minimally stunt progression or feel like a sonic retread of others that have done it better, which is the case with the more somber, acoustic-driven “The Hard Way” and “Numb.” They don’t sound like something special at first, as you get predominant lead-ins toward these crazy closers of rock bliss, but those lead-ins aren’t all effective and leave you feeling mum about the last 70 or so seconds of the tracks. “Only Problem” is not like them; it is one of these composites that feels like a poorly constructed throw away that doesn’t retread themes, instead sounding poor in comparison with what follows. These tracks have merit contextually lyrically, but the layering between vocals and production isn’t equally as strong, and that’s what keeps you engaged.

Unwanted is fantastic, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. It delivers what fans want and love and more, and from speaking to a few–post thought collection, which has been potent in our conversations. It keeps their formula intact as we shift in emotional range, becoming reflexive between vocals and instrumentations–we’re in a daze as we align with riotous melodies that make us feel heard during our inner personal jam session. And if you bypass the ineffective tracks, there is more to obtain from the sheer transitions within the pitch, style, and more, which will leave you with a rewarding listening experience.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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.