Friday, April 28, 2017

Hard Times (Single) - Paramore

After an extensive period (about 4 years!) without new music, Paramore is finally back with "Hard Times", the lead single from their upcoming 5th album, After Laughter, due out on May 12th. The song sees the current line-up of Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and the recently returned Zac Farro, taking a new direction in terms of their sound and style. "Hard Times" feels very similar to songs by Walk The Moon, such as "Work This Body" or "Spend Your $$$", stepping away from their pop-punk roots and moving more into an alternative-pop sound, especially with the prominent marimba parts in the intro that play off the guitar riff leading into the first verse. The guitars are clean, the synths are more obvious, and Williams' vocals are less edgy and more smooth. She still holds power with her singing, there's no doubt about that. It's just not in the same, angsty manner as she did in the past. The band sounds fresh; the new vibe suits them well without feeling like change for the sake of change. I loved their last album, Paramore (see my review for that album here), but if they put out another album with the same sort of sound that they've been doing since 2005, I would have said it's time to move on. They're keeping relevant with a really catchy song; I don't think it's going to have the same popularity as their surprise hit "Ain't It Fun", but it's in the same sort of vein, so it'll definitely do well. The chorus is my favorite part of the song, between the back and forth nature of Williams' vocals and the gang vocals, the driving drum beat, and the subtle guitar in the background coming together to keep your head bobbing along the entire song. It's not my favorite song by them, by any means; but, I think it's great and I think it's a step in the right direction for them.

Rating: 4/5

Related: Walk The Moon, CRUISR, Bad Suns

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lovely Little Lonely - The Maine

The Maine just recently released their 6th studio album, which also coincides with their 10 year anniversary as a band. They've embarked on a world tour to celebrate both the album and the milestone in their career, and fans have flocked from all over to see them. I personally was able to see them perform at the House Of Blues in Anaheim this past Sunday, April 9th, and it was an absolute blast. The energy going back and forth between the band and the crowd was an incredible cycle to be a part of, and something that was evident in their most recent release, Lovely Little Lonely.

The album is unique, as all of their albums are, but especially in the way it's constructed. They've never really made much use of interludes, but LLL makes big use of these short, non-traditionally structured songs to connect the album from start to finish. The transitions are super smooth and capturing; they make it hard to not listen to the album in one sitting whenever you start a song. It also is somewhat similar to the way The 1975 structures their albums; I'm not sure if The Maine listens to them, but there's an undeniable similarity in the way they hold the album together.

The album also feels a bit unique in terms of Jared's guitar parts throughout the album. His riffs and solos feel very prominent on the album, as well as there being a variety of sounds he seems to try out throughout. From the more traditional rock riffs that push finisher "How Do You Feel?" to the more ethereal arpeggios that start off "Lost In Nostalgia". It's really cool to see the growth of the individual members as well as the band as a whole.

Throughout the album, there are strong tones of nostalgia, both lyrically and musically. Lyrics speak of memories and reminiscing all over the place; songs "Do You Remember?" and "The Sound of Reverie" are explicitly about remembering what happened in a different time. "Lost In Nostalgia" acts as a bit of a contrast, warning the listener to not be stuck in the memories of the past. And even the songs that point to the past don't say to stay there, necessarily; they simply acknowledge what has happened and how it was good.

The opening song, for example, has a very similar vibe to The Click Five's 2005 hit, "Just The Girl", literally feeling like a reminder of another time. They also draw on inspiration from their own past releases, pulling the more rock n roll vibe from their albums Black & White and Pioneer, experimental ideas reminiscent of the risks taken for Forever Halloween, and the polished pop aspect of their first and most recent albums respectively, Can't Stop Won't Stop and American Candy. This album really feels like the culmination of everything they've done; they've pulled all the tools out of the toolbox and made something that moves them forward as a band while still acknowledging where they've come from.

As far as each song goes, there's not a single album-filler on this release. Each song feels deliberately crafted, specifically created for a purpose in each spot on this musical journey. I've spoken about one of the songs, "Black Butterflies & Deja Vu", in a previous review, so I won't touch on it again except to say that it is my favorite track from the album. Each song will bring you to a different place; "Bad Behavior" is full of flirty fun and an irresistible tune, "Taxi" manages to be melancholy and hopeful all at once, "I Only Want To Talk To You" slows things down with striking moments of near silence combined with full and raw emotional climaxes, and "How Do You Feel?" finishes off the album with a series of questions that push the listener to really think about what they're doing with their lives and if it's really what they want.

I could talk about this album for hours, but I'm going to draw the line here. It's easily the best album I've heard this year, and most likely will continue to hold that spot throughout the year. I am really, really excited for how this album turned out, and really proud of all the guys in the band for the work they put in and the effort they make to connect with the fans and make them a part of their family.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended: "Black Butterflies & Deja Vu", "Lost In Nostalgia", "Do You Remember?", "Taxi"

Sunday, April 9, 2017

More Life - Drake

Drake has become fairly successful at dropping new music without any warning, the latest instance being the new "playlist", More Life. The 22 song behemoth features a number of guest artists and spans a variety of sounds and vibes. He gets down and gritty with harder hitting trap-influenced tracks like "No Long Talk (feat. Giggs)", "Portland (feat. Quavo & Travis Scott)", and "KMT (feat. Giggs)", which feel a lot like some of the one off singles he's put out over the last two years. In terms of the more hip-hop tracks that he does, I personally think that this off-the-cuff sound is where he thrives, away from overproduced tracks like "One Dance" and more like his response track "Back to Back". These tracks also feature some well chosen features, such as Giggs (I hadn't heard him before), but each feature really adds to the song they're on. Drake doesn't mind sharing the spotlight throughout the album, and lets each artist have their place without overshadowing their presence.

Where Drake really shines on this mixtape is the R&B tracks, like "Teenage Fever" and "Passionfruit", the later of which might be my favorite track from the album. Despite the fact that he uses a lot of vocal effects, it fits the feel that he's creating with these more chilled out tracks. "Passionfruit" in particular has a really catchy instrumental that manages to get your body moving and your heart feeling emotions all at once. His use of really similar words to begin each phrase in the chorus also helps keep it firmly stuck in your head while also exhibiting his clever wordplay.
"Get It Together (feat. Black Coffee & Jorja Smith)" is another mellow track that plays on Drake's emotional appeal and combines it with an almost mellow house-type instrumental. This one will be a radio friendly song, as will Passionfruit (if it isn't already). "Blem" is a another memorable track that features a hook that'll be stuck in your head long after the song ends. The lyrics stand out, in particular, with lines like "I need you to stop running back to your ex, he's a wasteland" and "You're crazy sometimes, and I'm only with you sometimes"; this showcases Drake's ability to craft subtle and memorable lines.

The strength of this album borrows from the mixtape success of If You're Reading This, It's Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive with the ethereal feel of Nothing Was The Same. Those albums are where I consider Drake to be at his strongest, so this surprise drop of an album was not a disappointment, hitting gold on many fronts. Not all the songs were memorable, such as tracks like "Gyalchester" or "Lose You", but they're also not bad songs; hardly any of the songs felt like filler, which is a pretty great achievement considering the size of the album. Definitely a hit out of the park for this release from the man who's very much one of the best in the game.

Rating: 4/5
Recommendations: "Passionfruit", "Portland", "Teenage Fever", "No Long Talk"