Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Melodrama - Lorde

When Lorde first appeared on the scene with "Royals", I was somewhat intrigued; ultimately, however, I found myself uninterested in the rest of her debut album, Pure Heroine. I found it too repetitive, each song too similar to the last. So when Melodrama was announced and lead single "Green Light" was released, I noticed it, but again found myself not giving it much attention. However, a few days after the album's release, one of my good friends recommended I listen to it. I was skeptical, but I promised I'd listen and downloaded the album to listen on the way to work the next day.

Boy was I surprised.

In the 4 years since her first album, Lorde seems to have done some growing up; now at 20, she's seen the world and experienced a bit more of life. This album feels more mature, more expansive in the lyrical content and the sounds and structures of each track. There's love, there's loss; vulnerability threads throughout. The whole thing flows from beginning to end, feeling like a story rather than a collection of songs from the same artist. "Green Light" opens the album with energy and a feeling of hope; not necessarily being where you want, but knowing where it is and that you'll get there eventually. It transitions into "Sober", one of my favorite songs off the album so far. It's sensual yet melancholy, thumping along with lines like:

"But my hips have missed your hips
So, let's get to know the kicks
Will you sway with me?
Go astray with me?"

And even though Lorde sings of all the glorious things they'll do and partying and everything else that comes with it, there's the ever present and haunting line in the background: "But what will we do when we're sober?". It's a reminder of what awaits the next day after the parties, when the alcohol and drugs wear away and you're left with the very revealing daylight.

"Homemade Dynamite" answers some of those questions, painting the picture of the next day with vivid images like the second verse:

"Might get your friend to drive, but he can hardly see
We'll end up painted on the road
Red and chrome
All the broken glass sparkling
I guess we're partying"

The pre-chorus also lends to this idea talking about;

"So let's let things come out of the woodwork
I'll give you my best side, tell you all my best lies
Seeing me rolling, showing someone else love"

"The Louvre" is one of the songs that I both love and hate. It starts with a muted guitar strumming The chorus has this cool build to it, slowly getting louder as Lorde repeats the line "Broadcast the boom boom boom, and make your mom dance to it". And it feels like it's going to erupt into something huge and epic and incredible and then it never quite does. It just leaves you wanting more and more, which in itself is very impressive. It doesn't just give you what you want, it leaves you on edge waiting for the next part. Which is why I also slightly hate it, cause it leaves me wanting more.

"Liability" is one of the most vulnerable points of the album, both in terms of lyrics and sound. It's just Lorde and a piano, with really incredibly lines like

"The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy
'Til all of the tricks don't work anymore
And then they are bored of me".

You can tell Lorde's done some struggling as she's worked through fame and what comes with it, in terms of those who are close to her. It feels honest, brutally honest, and it's captivating.

"Hard Feelings/Loveless" starts soft, but you can tell it's going to bloom into something big and bold. The chorus gives you a taste, with the layered vocals singing about dealing with the hard feelings in life before dipping back into the second verse which contains one of my favorite lines "I care for myself the way I used to care for you". The second chorus finally gives way to an instrumental full of distorted noises and a booming drum beat that is one of my favorite points of the album. The last third of the song is where it switches to the "Loveless" part, driven by a hip-hop beat and Lorde's sweet yet somewhat haunting layered vocals singing:

"Bet you wanna rip my heart out
Bet you wanna skip my calls now
Well guess what? I like that"

It continues on as the song fades out, leading into the first of two revisits of earlier tracks: "Sober II (Melodrama)". This one is lead by a string section and piano that give way to showcase Lorde's vocals. It kicks itself up with a huge bassline and hip-hop beat that, when combined with the string section, allow Lorde to showcase a bit of an edgier side.

"Writer In the Dark" follows in the same veins as "Liability", with a piano being the only thing accompanying Lorde for most of the song. This time she laments a relationship that fell apart, yet keeps that hopeful light with lines like "I'll find a way to be without you babe". Her vocals feel like they stretch a bit higher than her usual, prefered lower range, adding to the vulnerability of the track.

"Supercut" picks the pace back up, the pulsing muted bass drum pushing the track along as it's joined by synths that remind the listener of the 80's. This another one of my favorites, with such great use of contrast that give the different aspects of the song so much more power and impact. There's a lull in between the 2nd and 3rd chorus, where everything drops out and it's just Lorde who sings low until she lets herself almost scream and the rest of the track comes crashing back in for one last hurrah before muted vocals and a low synth bass line guides the track to completion.

"Liability (Reprise)" sees Lorde turning the things that people said about her back on them, empowering herself and not succumbing to hopelessness. The instrumentation is still stripped, but it's different; the piano is replaced by a growing synth, and a drum pulses along. This feeds into the album's closer, "Perfect Places", which doesn't let the album go out on a soft note. Despite all the hardships she's faced and issues she's struggling with, Lorde shows that she's not down for the count. She questions the judgement she's faced and asks "what the fuck are perfect places" as the final notes of the song fades out.

Overall, I was very impressed with how Lorde has matured and the way in which she approached making this album. She's shown that she's not a one-hit wonder, and she's not going to just churn out the same thing again and again. The musicality of the album, the sound choices and lyrical depth are all astounding for a "pop" album. Definitely not something I expected to enjoy, let alone find myself listening again and again. Congrats on an incredible sophomore album Lorde, and cheers to what I believe is the start of a truly remarkable career.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: Sober, The Louvre, Hard Feelings/Loveless, Supercut

Related: Halsey, Sigrid, Banks

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Heaven/What's Wrong - Pvris

I discovered Pvris (pronounced "Paris") while I was studying abroad in Lithuania in the spring of 2015, and since then I've become an avid fan. Their star has certainly been rising, with opening slots on tours for the likes of Fall Out Boy, Muse, and 30 Seconds To Mars, as well as their own headlining tours (they're absolutely phenomenal live, highly recommend it). And the momentum continues this August as Pvris will be releasing their sophomore album, All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. They've released two singles so far; "Heaven" on April 30th and "What's Wrong" on June 13th.

"Heaven" opens in a very stripped down manner, simply Lynn Gunn's vocals over piano chords, but quickly builds into something much more massive than their previous material. It's less distorted, more electronic elements, but still the same edge and fire that their debut album White Noise brought to the world. The piano and electronic drums drop on the second chorus and are replaced by a drumset and guitar that push into the huge chorus. The bridge shows off some of Lynn's best vocals to date, with her combination of power and grit coming through on the repetition of the line "you took my heaven away". The song does a great job of exploiting contrast, from the quiet intro into epic chorus and the heavy bridge stripping down halfway through while still maintaining its intensity.

"What's Wrong" continues in the same vein, showcasing more electronic elements while still keeping the band's dark and edgy vibe very much alive. The intro guitar line is quite haunting in the few moments it's alone; it's quickly joined by a beat and Gunn's shouts in the background. The song is really driven by the beat and the warbling synth, with Gunn's vocals floating throughout the track. The highlight of the song would have to be the bridge, with the slow build and Gunn telling the listener that, despite those who might think so, "No I never sold my soul". She starts out almost just saying it, but as the instrumental builds, her singing climbs higher and higher until she's screaming the line again and again.

Both of these songs really show what Pvris is capable of, and the direction they've chosen to push themselves. The inclusion of more electronic elements is a natural progression; they showed this in the two songs they released for the deluxe version of White Noise, "You & I" and "Empty". They've still retained their darker vibe and their ability to delve deep into their own darkness. I think their rise has just begun, and that they have the potential to climb even higher than they already have.

               Heaven: 4.5/5
               What's Wrong: 4/5

Monday, June 12, 2017

Last Young Renegade - All Time Low

I've listened to All Time Low on and off since the early days of high school, with their album Nothing Personal being the first record of theirs that really caught my attention. They've always had their energetic pop-punk sound that has captured the hearts of the fans they have acquired over the course of their career. My interest rose and fell over the years with their different albums, but they hadn't quite put anything out that really stood out for me in a way that made me stop and reconsider my perception of them.

Last Young Renegade managed to do that.

My first inclination that this album was going to be different was the lead single, "Dirty Laundry", which felt more somber and grown up compared to most of the other material they had previously released. Alex Gaskarth seemed to push himself differently with the vocals for this song, and the musicality of the song was very different, with electronic elements and a slow building throughout the song that gave it an edge I was not expecting from All Time Low. The way the song climaxes into the final chorus is impressive and captivating. I wasn't as similarly captivated by the other singles, "Last Young Renegade" or "Nice2KnoU"; they felt a little more similar to their older material, although when the whole album released, I found myself enjoying the songs much more in the context of the rest of the tracks.

The first couple of listens through the record gave me an immediate and clear impression that this was not the same All Time Low of the last few albums we had seen from them. This was not a group of kids, pining over girls and living for the next part. This was a group of men who had lived through a bit now, who had experienced real relationships and understood a bit of what the important parts of life are. They've grown a bit more worn down from everything, still determined to carry on but affected by some of the things they've experienced. The partying didn't leave, either, but it's now expressed in a different way; songs like "Life Of The Party" talk about some of the aspects of fame that are not so appealing, being surrounded by strangers and moments of self reflection and revelations of internal changes that cause Gaskarth to sing about how he "can't find me anymore".

The past is reflected upon quite a bit throughout the album, with songs like "Good Times", "Nightmares", and "Last Young Renegade" all talking about different aspects of nostalgia and reminiscing about what was and will never be again. "Last Young Renegade" focuses on a specific relationship, one that Gaskarth laments letting go. "Good Times" even references one of their old songs, with the line "underneath the stars we came alive" bringing to mind "Six Feet Under The Stars", and carrying a general mood of remembrance for the way things used to be when they were younger. It feels like the band isn't necessarily wishing that things were the way they used to be, which is nice; instead it's a reflection on the parts of the past that were good, but not a desire to live in those times again. "Nightmares" seems to deal with the trauma of something harmful in the past, with there being "a ghost in the back of this room" and how he's "still having nightmares". This one is a stand out, not only for the lyrical content and vocals but the dark tone overall. It starts with a very lonely guitar riff (probably intentional for the imagery) and feels fairly edgy compared even to some of the other songs on the album.

Some of the songs definitely feel a bit more upbeat in terms of the sound and energy, such as "Dark Side Of The Room" and "Drugs & Candy". "Dark Side of Your Room" has these pulsing verses that erupt into a huge chorus that feels like something straight out of a movie. Gaskarth seems to push himself to extremes with the vocals for this tune, singing fairly low and subdued on the verses and then giving a bit of a growl to the chorus as he yells and pushes the energy levels higher and higher over an instrumental that keeps pace in terms of the power. "Drugs & Candy" opens with one of my favorite lines from the album "I can't take another hollow-point conversation", which I found to be very relatable and just such a poetic way to talk about shallow conversations. Lyrically, this song is not super upbeat, but it's one of the catchier songs on the album in terms of the music and way the instrumental pushes through the darker aspects of the words.

The album closes out with "Ground Control (feat. Tegan and Sara)" and "Afterglow", the former of which is interesting mostly for the choice of featured artist, as the female vocals help bring a different feel to the track, and the latter feeling very different for All Time Low in terms of the sounds they explore. Both songs are a bit more experimental for the band, through the direction each goes and the sound of each. They felt a bit weaker compared to the rest of the album, but are still good for the band in terms of the ideas and sounds they push for in each track.

Overall, I was much more impressed with this album than I expected. It really feels like the band grew up a lot with this album, both lyrically and sonically. They let themselves move past the places they were most comfortable with, and the risk was definitely worth it. The final result is an album that I know I will be listening to for a while, and possibly one of the best to come out this year so far.

Rating: 4/5
Recommended: "Dark Side of Your Room", "Dirty Laundry", "Nightmares", "Drugs & Candy"

Friday, June 9, 2017

hopeless fountain kingdom - Halsey

When Halsey announced her new album, hopeless fountain kingdom, and released the lead single, "Now or Never", I was curious as to the direction she would move with her sophomore release. Her first album, Badlands, was gritty, dark alternative-pop that was surprising and refreshing, and relatively unknown until "New Americana" blew up on the radio. The release after the breakthrough album is always one to watch, because it can establish the tone for the rest of that artist's career.

From it's opening, hopeless fountain kingdom establishes that it is an epic story, a musical journey that Halsey takes the listener on over the course of the 16 tracks. "The Prologue" set the stage, with Halsey reciting the actual prologue from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. It lets the listener know that this is not simply a collection of songs, but a tale of lovers and tragedy. 

hfk finds Halsey experimenting much more than she did on Badlands, moving beyond her darker sound and exploring different aspects of pop music and other genres. Songs like "Don't Play", "Eyes Closed", and "Lie (feat. Quavo)" give off stronger hip-hop vibes than her other material, which is not surprising considering how much hip-hop music she posts about listening to. Her opening track, middle interlude "Good Mourning", and the closer, "Hopeless (feat. Cashmere Cat), are all examples of Halsey pushing herself into songs that are not necessarily traditional in terms of structure. She also goes more into the full pop mode, giving us an almost throwback to mid 2000's pop (maybe a dark Britney Spears) with "Walls Could Talk", a short and stripped song that utilizes very few elements to make a catchy song that leaves you wanting more. Another standout track is "Sorry", the piano driven, stripped down song that has Halsey lamenting about the mistakes she made with handling her "unknown lover". 

Halsey not only experiments with sounds but with her range, with her vocals throughout seeming to show a growth and push towards the limits of her capabilities. Songs like "Angel On Fire", "Devil In Me", and "Bad At Love" feel her voice soaring higher than we've previously heard. It feels like she's grown more comfortable, more confident in her singing and in herself. It comes off in a lot of the lyrics of her songs and in the way that she delivers them; she doesn't hold back in talking about her exes ("Bad at Love", "100 Letters") or in talking about the things she has discovered about fame and what comes with it ("Alone"), . She also touches upon something more personal about herself; her sexuality. She has publically stated that she is bisexual, and it comes out often in the wording of her lyrics. It's really cool to see someone talk about it without hiding it or being subtle, like on the songs "Strangers (feat. Lauren Jauregui)" and "Bad at Love", the later of which she references failed relationships with both men and women. 

Overall, I'm really impressed with the way that Halsey approached her second album. She knew the kinds of expectations that came after her first album released, and it didn't seem to affect her in terms of putting out an album that people were expecting. She did what she wanted to, musically, and retained her musical freedom while still making something that she knows that her fans will enjoy and something that tells a story in the process. 

Rating: 4/5
Recommended: "Walls Could Talk", "Bad At Love", "Strangers", "Heaven In Hiding"