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.

All The Single Ladies of 2016 Music

2016 has been a shit year in so many aspects. We’ve lost so much. Women in particular have had a challenging year-but I truly believe that if women take a stand and support one another that we can rise to any occasion. Being confident in yourself and lifting other women to do the same is one of the most effective ways that we can come together to be stronger. Lets do this.

I was inspired to highlight all of the amazing music that has come out this year from talented and inspiring female musicians once I realized how much of my recent playlists have comprised of women. All of these women are known for their incredible voices, their songwriting, and their positive energy that they bring to an industry that criticizes women left and right. Coincidentally, most of them are mainstream pop singers-therefore the subject of alot of media scrutiny. The themes and the messages that they explore in these records all cry out for the same things-confidence, independence and the need to overcome. I have found inspiration in all of them in times that I have needed a spot of confidence in my own life.

Albums are listed in order of release.

  1. Rihanna – Anti 

When it comes to confidence, sexuality and catchy hooks-Rihanna is the expert. On her eighth studio album ‘Anti’-which she served as a songwriter and executive producer on- she blends elements of reggae, R&B, dance and hip hop in a style that is signature Rihanna. She brings in influence from her Barbadian roots in songs like “Consideration” and “Work” and goes right into left field with a soulful, hypnotic cover of “Same Ol Mistakes” by alternative rock band Tame Impala. Her unique voice has grown and improved dramatically since her first record and ‘Anti’ is a perfect example of her strengths. This is a fantastic album to wind down to at the end of the day.

2. Sia – This is Acting

If you find yourself struggling with your demons, your past, or your identity, ‘This is Acting’ is a healthy dose of medicine that is sure to penetrate your shell. Sia articulates her personal battles to become herself in spite of her past and those who may get in the way of personal growth in an album full of powerful vocal performances and brutally honest lyrics. Right from the first track ‘Bird Set Free’ she muses about empowering herself through her music-while the soaring ‘Alive’ is a passionate proclamation that she has survived-and thrived. Though most every song maintains the irresistible hooks that she is known for, the lyrics remain some of the most genuine in her genre. Things turn to the lighter side on songs like “Cheap Thrills” and “Move Your Body” in a roller coaster of emotions.

Standout tracks: Alive, Unstoppable

3. Gwen Stefani – This is What the Truth Feels Like

Unfortunately for Gwen, her strength as a songwriter has always come from heartbreak.  That emotion is what drives ‘This is What the Truth Feels Like’ through songs like ‘Used to Love You’, ‘Me Without You’ and revenge tracks ‘Naughty’ and ‘Red Flag’. Fortunately, the musings of a jilted ex are outweighed by the feeling of being happy and vulnerable again with a new love. Many of the strongest songs on the record talk about bouncing back from betrayal and trusting someone again-subjects that she approaches in an relatable and optimistic way. Things get a little weird when she tries her hand at rapping halfway through, but if you get past that, this is one of Gwens strongest albums of her solo career.

Standout tracks: You’re My Favorite, Send Me a Picture

4. Meghan Trainor – Thank You

Anyone in need of a confidence boost can take a cue from Meghan Trainor. This young artist takes constant flack for her figure, but she has something to say about it. The entirety of ‘Thank You’ is an homage to self love and to love in general. With a fantastic blend of infectious hooks, foot stomping beats and rock solid vocals, Trainor shines from beginning to end. ‘Watch Me Do’, ‘Me Too’ and ‘I Love Me’ boast a confidence that is spectacularly refreshing for a young woman-while tracks like ‘Kindly Calm Me Down’ and ‘Better’ explore the importance of supportive and healthy relationships. Things get a little silly towards the end with a cheery dedication to Trainors mom-simply titled ‘Mom’, and a goofy tribute to dancing Dads (‘Dance Like Your Daddy’). Overall, ‘Thank You’ is a beacon of positive energy that is genuinely uplifting and contagious.

Standout tracks: Watch Me Do, Kindly Calm Me Down, Better

5. Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death

I recently fell in love with T&S’ seventh album ‘Heartthrob’ right before ‘Love You to Death’ was released. It carries very closely along the same themes and follows their recent foray into dance/pop music. The result is a unique blend of indie-alternative and mainstream pop that is a departure from their roots, but a successful one. One constant remains-and that is the vulnerability of their songwriting. Every song rings out about love, loss, longing and accepting your own role in these. Complicated relationships are a common theme, and these girls sing about them with honesty and little bravado.

Standout tracks: That Girl, Stop Desire

6. Lady Gaga – Joanne

As a woman at the forefront of spreading love and acceptance, ‘Joanne’ shows us a side of Gaga that is stripped off her flashy stage persona and electronica/pop style that lets us see the real her. Everything about the album speaks of coming out of the other end of loss and heartbreak-the loss of her aunt Joanne (the inspiration for her albums ‘cowgirl’ persona) and of a longterm relationship. She expertly weaves back and forth between the highs of independence and self worth-to the difficulty of dealing with tragedy. Although the sound of this record will come as a surprise to fans and skeptics alike, it sports a confidence that comes from her recent venture into jazz music and focuses less on production value and more on vocal capabilities. This is a welcome surprise for everyone.

Standout tracks: Diamond Heart, John Wayne, Perfect Illusion

7. Alicia Keys – Here

From the first few minutes of listening to this album all that I could think was “this has SOUL!”-and it does. Keys blends her signature soul flair with hip hop, blues and slam poetry that speaks to “truth” in every song. “Truth” is something that has become evidently influential in everything from her personal style to her musical inspirations. The best way that I can describe the experience is “groovy”.

Standout tracks: The Gospel, She Don’t Really Care

 

I’m sure that I missed a few-but these are the ones that I listened to the most this year. How about you?

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