Album Reviews: Katy Perry, Lorde, Portugal the Man

Katy Perry – Witness

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Had I listened to this album based solely on the singles ‘Bon Appetit’, ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ and ‘Swish swish’ I would have been take aback. However, I was ultimately brought to listen to Katy Perrys new album because I spent a half sober night watching her have a one hour therapy session in a live YouTube video. Through listening to her spill her guts about the pressures of functioning as a human being in the chaos of international stardom, I have come to understand her better. Though I almost let the YouTube comments alter my judgement- it struck me as very sincere and very brave-so much respect to you, KP!

‘Witness’ hits a sweet spot between 80s and 90s dance pop, but somehow manages to sound modern. Though even the most upsetting song lyrics are backed by a catchy beat, it embodies the essence of Katy Perrys best assets-her unique voice and her clever, versatile songwriting. Her lyrics have taken a turn from the goofy and become more about urban slang (Swish swish bish?)-but her ability to capture and convey an idea in a song is still strong.

‘Witness’ shows its greatest strength with its soul-as it is also Katy Perrys most relatable piece of work. With songs that cover everything from self love to lost love, it feels mature. It feels open. It feels honest. There is plenty of fun and playful, but there is a lot of human behind all of that.

I may be gushing, but I really fell in love with this album in its entirety moreso than any of her previous. It speaks to me at this point in my life-and I’m sure that it will speak to many others as well.

Lorde- Melodrama

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Not to be silly, but Melodrama is a perfect title to define the vibe of this album- mellow and dramatic.

Lorde gracefully rides the hype train to an album that maintains her unique sound and boasts a maturity and class that justifies her recent once in a lifetime compliment from David Bowie in which he was quoted as calling her “the future of music”. No pressure!

‘Melodrama’ is a moody, vibrant portrait of a hot summer night in the throws of young relationships. It is poetic without being pretentious and it is wise beyond its years without losing its youth- which is a perfect description of the woman herself. Songs like ‘Sober’, ‘Green Light’ ‘Supercut’ and ‘Perfect Places’ are groovy dance anthems that meld perfectly with the brooding, introspective songs like ‘Liability’ and ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’. It is a journey through the ups and downs of love that is guided by Lordes soothing tones and funky beats.

If you were a fan of ‘Pure Heroine’ and the independently released songs that she has released since then-like ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ from the Hunger Games-you will take to ‘Melodrama’ right away. There is growth here, but there is no mistaking that you are listening to a Lorde record. She is such a rare talent who utilizes her deep vocals in a way that feels natural-and it rides the line between alternative and mainstream pop music in an interesting way. ‘Melodrama’-much like its predecessor-is a knockout.

Portugal the Man – Woodstock

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It was a breath of fresh air to finally have a new record from Portugal the Man-since our household has been playing their 2013 album ‘Evil Friends’ half to death in the past few years. Since then, we have seen a couple of random songs popping up-like the deliriously infectious ‘Noise Pollution’ and the equally as addicting single ‘Feel it Still’-both which made their way onto the album. With a short 10 song tracklist filled with their trademark falsetto vocals and hypnotic indie rock style-‘Woodstock’ is less rebellious than their 2013 album, but it is a perfect record to bring into your summer rotation.

While this blend of high vocals and upbeat tempos with an alternative rock edge is barely unique at this juncture-with bands like Foster the People sounding nearly identical-there is something special about Portugal the Man that I cannot quite put my finger on. Their sound has become more refined over the years-arguably leaning more towards the mainstream-and they have really nailed down their offbeat approach to putting together a song. ‘Woodstock’-like ‘Evil Friends’ is solid all the way through and keep your interest piqued with catchy riffs and choruses. You’ll feel good listening to this one.

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Album Review: Paramore – After Laughter

After a group restructuring of sorts for Paramore’s self titled 2013 album, fans were left slightly taken aback by the new direction of their beloved free spirited rock band. Though I count myself in that camp, I have grown to love and appreciate the bold, pop centric persona brought forward-as it continues to showcase the groups signature energy and catchy hooks in a new way. In another surprising twist, on todays new release ‘After Laughter’ Paramore hones their unique blend of pop and rock with an 80s flair that takes you back to a time of neon colors and milkshakes.

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From its first two singles “Hard Times” and “Told You So” it was safe to assume that ‘After Laughter’ was poised to become a perfect summer soundtrack. A blend of nostalgic, synth-centric music behind Hayley Williams crystal clear twang results in something that rejuvenates a group that could easily have been lost in the mid-2000s emo rock movement that has since dissipated.

Although ‘After Laughter’ may have you believe that it is an escape to a rock disco wonderland on songs like ‘Told You So’, ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Idle Worship’-its central theme seems to be the darker side of life behind a smile. ‘Fake Happy’ is one of many chilled out tracks with a morose edge to its simplistic approach to songwriting. It asks just how many of us are pretending to be happy to keep up appearances-much like the tone of this entire album.

The groups evolution from moody, emotional, rebellious stadium rock that began to turn its head on ‘Brand New Eyes’ has certainly landed in a place that many longtime fans did not expect, but some things have not changed. As it is with many bands who are lucky enough to live through more than one “phase” in music, they are trying new things to stay fresh, but there has not been much growth in terms of maturity. In all honesty, in a musical landscape where highly skilled,creative, fearless songwriters are putting out music that is highly accessible at a moments notice- a general lack of substance in Paramores music keeps me at a distance. At the end of the day, Paramore is still fun, and they still wear their heart on their sleeve-love it or leave it.

If you’re a new or old fan, its definitely worth a listen to figure out how you feel about it.

3 Albums That You Should Be Listening to Right Now, Because I Am

The Black Keys – Turn Blue

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I found myself on the ‘Black Keys’ train quite a bit later than most of my peers, but a little music video for a song called ‘Lonely Boy’ reeled me in like a hungry fish. ‘Turn Blue’ was just released in May, and it has since been in constant rotation during my daily drives, cleaning sprees and outdoor activities. Moody and retro cool, it is the perfect soundtrack to relax to. There are hints of 1970’s and Zeppelin-esque influence in songs like “Weight of Love” and “Bullet in the Brain” while songs like “In Our Prime” and “Turn Blue” have a folksy, blues feel to them. In fact, the entire album brings the Beatles to mind, in their eclectic, upbeat overall sound. It is modern but nostalgic, and just flat out comforting from start to finish.

Listen to: Weight of Love, Turn Blue, Fever, Bullet in the Brain

Childish Gambino – Because the Internet

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You may know Childish Gambino by his real name-Donald Glover- or you may know him as beloved Community cast member Troy Barnes. Either way, you will probably be surprised by the music that he puts out. Unless you have heard his crass and playful standup routines, of course. Then this should come as no surprise.

Gambino’s second album has turned out to be the only rap/hip hop album that I have kept in rotation for the last few months, and is one of the most infectious albums of 2014 so far (it came out in December 2013, but for the sake of this article-its a 2014 album). He has created a genre for himself that I would describe as ‘nerd hop’, with references to nearly every facet of pop culture, from TV, to Star Wars to mobile apps like Vine and Twitter.

When he isn’t throwing out insanely clever rhymes about weed, parties, technology and being generally awesome, he is crooning about relationships, solitude and finding yourself in a world where “because of the internet, mistakes are forever”. His openness and unique perspective as a “rich kid, asshole” is fresh and intriguing, and he embraces it with full steam.

I am hooked. 

Listen to: Telegraph Ave, Crawl, The Party, Death by Numbers, 3005

Protest the Hero – Volition

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If there is one album that has changed my musical perspective over the last few years, it is Volition. From the operatic vocals to the elaborate and unconventional instrumentals, this album has everything that I look for in music. It is music that digs deep into your core and reverberates through your nervous system, living inside of your stomach and escaping through your throat in fits of adrenaline. Protest’s lyrics have a political and social voice, with dark tones and tongue-in-cheek sermons on moral fortitude. An album that was conceived with the financial and moral support of their loyal fanbase, they have created what I believe to be their strongest album yet. Even the weakest song on the album is far better than 90% of the music out there today.

Listen to: Animal Bones, Clarity, Skies, Drumhead Trial, Tilting Against Windmills 

Music That Has Influenced Me From A-Z: D is for Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional sings the songs that the hopeless romantic inside of each of us would sing. Songs of longing, heartbreak, hope and desperation.

I can barely recall the first time that I heard Dashboard Confessional, but I do remember hearing their songs in the background during episodes of “Undergrads”, which I watched on a nightly basis for at least a year. Turns out that they were huge MTV darlings at the time, as I came to discover.
 
I remember being instantly drawn to the clarity and power in Chris Carrabba’s vocals and the simplicity of the music, which at the time was primarily acoustic or centred around guitar. There wasn’t a whole lot of music out at the time that I was aware of that sounded like it. If there was, it just didn’t have the same magnetism. These songs were vibrant, original and passionate.
 
I saw Dashboard Confessional play with City and Colour right after the song “Vindicated” was featured in Spiderman 2, and it was a fantastic live show. Both artists were terrific live, with great energy and a pitch-perfect delivery that was just as good-if not better-than their album sound. 
 
For being the soundtrack to my love starved youth and being a constant source of positive nostalgia, Dashboard Confessional is the ‘D’ of my musical influences, from A-Z.
 

Music That Has Influenced Me From A-Z: C is for City and Colour

No surprise here, to anyone that has known me for more than a week.

Dallas Green has a very special place in my heart. His band, Alexisonfire, is the catalyst that prompted a love affair with heavy music that has gone on for twelve wonderful years. His majestic voice, expert guitar playing and insightful songwriting is one of the main reasons for it.

In the beginning, from his EP work to his first studio album ‘Sometimes’ Dallas was what at the time we all so eloquently called “emo”. He was sensitive, heart wrenching and just plain sad in most of the songs from his first album. However, his second album ‘Bring Me Your Love’ immediately projected a more mature and confident man with a more full bodied instrumental sound backing him up. Though still emotional in its tone and subject matter, it seemed that his priorities has shifted and his worries where placed in a very different set of values, namely in the sorrows of being in love instead of the pains of a broken heart and a lonely life. One of the biggest treats on the album, for me, was ‘Sleeping Sickness’ which is actually a very old track that he recorded before his first album was even released. The new, vibrant update starred a stronger voice and a more solid foundation, not to mention a beautiful verse by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip.


City and Colours 2011 album ‘Little Hell’ was a complete turning point for his entire musical style, in my opinion. Suddenly, there was this luscious, impressive fullness to everything from the production value to the harmony of the instruments and vocals. It felt like Green had found his stride. ‘Fragile Bird’ still stands as one of his most beautiful and powerful songs to date. There is a heaviness to the tone of the entire album and an unmistakable authenticity to the talent of the artists.


Recently, City and Colour released ‘The Hurry And The Harm’ right around the time that Alexisonfire announced they were disbanding. There is a lot of speculation that it is directly as a result of City and Colours growing success and yearning to focus on the side project. Though I was all but heartbroken, this album helped me to understand. At first listen, I was unsure of what to think, but perhaps it was because of the chip on my shoulder. As always, I gave it another try and immediately fell in love. The pride, the confidence, the humble poetry and the passion behind the music is intoxicating at its best. The focus continues to shift towards the musicianship of the band and the growing strength of Dallas Greens vocals. The song ‘Harder Than Stone’ seems to be a direct reference to his role in Alexisonfire, with a few lines taken directly from their song ‘Born and Raised’ from the ‘Old Crows/Young Cardinals’ album. That alone was enough to make me an emotional mess.

 

Albums aside, after seeing City and Colour perform live on three separate occasions, two in the past year, I can honestly say that he is one of the most impressive live performers that I have seen. Listening to him live is very much like listening to him on vinyl record. The rawness that you hear on his albums translates perfectly in his live show, which is understated and always outlined with a perfect set list of audience favourites and live stunners. His voice never misses the mark and the band sound is amped up to such a seductive way that I often find myself thinking that I’d rather listen to them live than through my stereo.

I could go on all day, but because of his raw talent, his beautiful voice and his constantly maturing ear for music, City and Colour is one of my most influential musical idols.

Listen to: Fragile BirdSleeping SicknessThirstWeightlessDeath Of MeThe Lonely Life