Category Archives: Reviews

Music to Your Ears: Gwen Stefani, Tove Lo and Sia

Can you believe it’s already nearing the end of 2017? An exhausting time for all makes the time seem to fly. Well this is our last week for regular Music to Your Ears – other than a U2 album coming in early December, we’re going to focus on a recap with our Best of the Year bracket, which you’ll see the first Tuesday of that month, December 5th. For now, enjoy the remnants of what we’ve got in November:

Tove Lo – Blue Lips

Tove Lo gives no fucks, as you may know from her songs “Habits(Stay High)” and “Love Me Like You Do” – upbeat yet somber ballads that lament that love is nearly always fleeting, and with lyrics like “You do your thing never wanted a future / Fuck if I knew how to put it romantic”, you know she isn’t messing around. Late in her new album, “Bad Days” is of the same vein as the first segment of her “Lady Wood” idea, but the rest are harder, faster, meatier hooks, so electric they might knock you out. Tove Lo must be a bit angrier as she reaches her thirties, and I can relate – you’re beaten down by the news, lost love, untrustworthy friends. What else can I say? You want good beats and incisive lyrics? Look no further.

Key Tracks: disco tits / stranger / bad days

Sia – This Is Christmas

For someone who flew under the radar for the better part of a decade, singer-songwriter Sia Furler is doing alright for herself, having snuck into the echelon of great pop of the last few years on the backs of fabulous hits like “Chandelier” and “Cheap Thrills”. So a natural next step for anyone on that level is to put out a Christmas album. One might be worried that she’s “selling out” but I’m here to assuage your fears. This even works as a Sia album on its on, full of original songs meant to delight and inspire. There aren’t as many biting lyrics, meant to flip flop your feelings about lost love, and there’s obviously some winter themed whimsy. I’m pleasantly surprised by this, and you should be as well.

Key Tracks: Santa’s Coming For Us / Underneath the Mistletoe / Puppies Are Forever

Gwen Stefani – You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Gwen Stefani has betrayed me. Where is our pop punk princess of the early 1990s? Somewhere along the way since No Doubt, Stefani transformed past her Harajuku girls and became a Christmas country chaunteuse. Her impending marriage to Voice collaborator Blake Shelton has clearly helped her image, but she’s sort of distanced herself by pandering herself into that middle America pseudo-Christian country style that her beau has squarely positioned himself in from the beginning. It’s great to hear some traditional Xmas music, including a mix of secular and Christian songs, and her voice is as good as it’s ever been. But isn’t this sad for the once stellar sparkplug?

Key Tracks: White Christmas / Santa Baby / Let It Snow

Franz Ferdinand – “Always Ascending”

The past decade has not been kind to Franz Ferdinand. After exploding in 2004 with their self-titled debut, no one seemed to care about their equally fantastic You Could Have It So Much Better except die-hard fans. The following two albums were uninspired, and a questionable team-up with classic British glam-rock group Sparks left everyone asking, “Why did Sparks bother?” Well, now that they’ve even lost founding guitarist Nick McCarthy, who’s spending time with family, the band has moved into “a new phase”. A particularly apt title for their first single, it reminds fans of their early days, but with a decidedly fierce new mood. Alex Kapranos’ growl has never sounded heavier, and McCarthy’s guitar is filled well by new members Dino Bardot (formerly of The 1990s) and Julian Corrie. As it has long been my favorite band, I’m excited to see what new heights they can achieve.


We’ll be a little slight next week, and more likely we’ll be preparing for the upcoming bracket-fueled championship that will find one track above the rest. That’s it, I’ll probably fit in what my favorite songs were for the last three months of the year, showcase a final 16 best of the season, then we’ll get right into the challenges.

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Music to Your Ears – Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez and Sleigh Bells

Bogged down by the cold weather? Treading water till your new New Year’s resolution? Well never fear, there’s more music to distract you from the never-ending torment that is reality!

Taylor Swift – Reputation

I don’t know that you’ll ever find anyone more divisive than Taylor Swift in the world of pop culture today. Everybody has a hot take on her reputation, and she seems as though there is a heavily cultivated image set forth by her label and other people. Naturally, Miss Swift has made it super difficult for a simple blogger like myself to obtain her music in order to review. Not that I put a lot of effort in, but coming to write this, I found that there were no ways to even stream a full song other than hoping for songs to come back around with iHeartRadio’s “Reputation Radio” station. It took over four hours and several repeats of “Wildest Dreams”, “Back to December” and “Love Story”. Suffice it to say, that’s a much more annoying way to take in Reputation than I would have liked, but it didn’t cause the work to suffer. Despite the tracks being wildly out of order, I discerned the centerpieces. You might already be well aware of the “I’m Too Sexy” sampling “Look What You Made Me Do” or the recent single release “…Ready for It?” I’ve heard from many friends that this is clearly a forced attempt at darkening her image like Katy Perry did last album with 2013’s Prism and “Dark Horse”. If that’s the case, then it’s shamefully dull of her to copycat. I think she’s still trying to discover where, as a major pop artist, she’ll stand in the echelon of pop culture. I think there are certainly better artists, and Swift herself has done much better (1989 is her best). It was always going to be an uphill battle with the paparazzi, culture and generally because it’s a follow-up to 1989. There are definite bright spots, but this may be forgettable in a year. The irony is that much of the good stuff was written and produced by Bleachers/Fun/superwriter Jack Antonoff, including the best song “Getaway Car” which has several lyrics and beats that seem ripped right out of his own “I Wanna Get Better”. If that’s the case, it’s shameful too, but I kind of don’t mind. She’s still fun, at least, if a bit over-processed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get some lunch at McDonald’s

Key Tracks: New Year’s Day / Getaway Car / King of My Heart

Jennifer Lopez – Amor Amor Amor

One artist I’m surprised I’ve missed is Jennifer Lopez. A stalwart of my high school years, as her image was repeatedly up whenever flashing by MTV – particularly the afternoon benchmark TRL – she sort of faded away from my radar after 2005’s Rebirth. I recall her popping up now and again, particularly as a judge for five of the later seasons of American Idol. I always admired her, especially as an actress (Selena is great), but I never really kept up with her music in the post-TRL universe. I’m glad she’s wrapped herself up in her Hispanic heritage with songs like this, sort of like Shakira has always maintained a Spanish-language first mentality. As for the song itself, it’s catchy and pumped me up on first listen. I could see this getting a lot of airwave time, so perhaps Lopez will re-emerge in my mind for this next album, Por Primera Vez.

Sleigh Bells – Kid Kruschev

This mostly seems like b-sides to last year’s phenomenal album Jessica Rabbit. Many of the tracks could be inserted anywhere in that and not seem out of place. I’m perfectly happy with it, because it’s seven new songs from singer-songwriter Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller. Oh, okay – I looked it up, and apparently the duo moved out of Brooklyn and can’t stop creating music. In addition, Miller says that they “like the idea of putting out shorter records at a more consistent rate, so we’re gonna give it a shot for a while, see how it feels”. Hey, if that means more Sleigh Bells on an annual basis, I am definitely behind it. If you love the band, this is easily worth it.

Key Tracks: And Saints / Florida Thunderstorm

Walk the Moon – What If Nothing

With the megahit “Shut Up and Dance” forcing the band into one-hit wonder discussions, there’s a lot riding on this follow-up to 2014’s breakout Talking Is Hard . Lead vocalist Nicholas Petricca starts off by stretching his vocals, lowering the bass in “Headphones” in order to mirror their high-range dance songs of the previous album. Don’t worry, they haven’t lost their rhythm tenderness, as the next two tracks “One Foot” and “Surrender” prove. If you’re new to them, think of the band as a little cousin to Imagine Dragons.

Key Tracks: One Foot / Kamikaze / Can’t Sleep (Wolves)

Evanescence – Synthesis

This is a neat oddity for Evanescence fans – the group has reworked much of their best material, and rather than forcing a best of album, they’ve crafted a remix version in the best veins of their genre. Lacrymosa now has violins and dripping pianos behind the original synth and vocals. Bring Me to Life is entirely different, orchestrally symphonic – the piece is like a prog version a metal butterfly emerged from the cocoon of their hiatus. It’s not a lot of new material, but people who grew up with Amy Lee’s melodic vocalizations will be enamored with this post-Halloween treat.

Key Tracks: Bring Me to Life / Imperfection (original song!) / Lithium

Seal – Standards

What’s with everyone getting into doing the classics? Recently it was former French first lady Carla Bruni, a year ago it was Bob Dylan. To each his own, I guess, and it’s usually a quick hit with fans and a nice cash grab, even when you’re actually a fan of the standards you’re singing. Seal sounds solid here, and he certainly has always had the chops to perform these songs. Of those recent performers, he’s easily the best. Heck, I want him to do another album already.

Key Tracks: Luck Be A Lady / Autumn Leaves / I’ve Got You Under My Skin


Apparently next week we’re seeing the Revival of Eminem, that Trump-slaying raconteur, and we’ll be getting some Blue Lips from songstress Tove Lo. We’re also finally into the Christmas season, as Sia has an Xmas album, while we’ll finally review Gwen Stefani’s month-old dip into the holidays. Stay tuned…

Music to Your Ears – Maroon 5, The Fratellis and Weezer

Yes, it’s been a bit of a time – much like last year, October and November see a dip in both quality of releases and my interest in them. Luckily, there were a handful of pick-ups you just have to hear from the last few weeks:

Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues

I don’t want to lower my expectations for this album, but we all have to face the fact that while Maroon 5 has “grown” as a band, they’ve clearly distanced themselves from their original rock sound. This is definitively a product of the current pop scene, best represented by frontman Adam Levine’s extended stint on The Voice. While we can’t say any of the band members are untalented, particularly Levine, they’ve sort of sold out too. There’s nothing wrong in it, as I’ve always hoped for the greatest of successes for one of my favorite bands. The truth is that their first album, Songs About Jane will be the only truly ‘rock’ infused work by Maroon 5. From then on they were reaching for the stars, and now that they’ve gotten there, they’re sort of dull. Sure, they’ve got massive hits, but the hooks propelling them are more intriguing when their guests join in (Kendrick Lamar in “Don’t Wanna Know”, SZA in “What Lovers Do”, Julia Michaels in “Help Me Out”). I’m sure the boys are still as talented as ever, they just don’t get a good showcase here – particularly James Valentine, so good on the first two or three albums, but pushed to the background by boops and whistles. At least he’s rich beyond his wildest dreams. Also, I can’t hate on Adam Levine if he’s willing to dress as a mascot bug to reference Kafka in his videos. The guys are still a least a little clever.

Key Tracks: Denim Jacket / Girls Like You / Don’t Wanna Know

The Fratellis – “The Next Time We Wed”

As the harbingers of the Chicago Blackhawks’ approaching dynasty, “Chelsea Dagger” was played constantly for the six years that team dominated the National Hockey League. Hoping to avoid one-hit wonder status, The Fratellis have plugged away touring and writing music, turning up now with their first single from the upcoming In Your Own Sweet Time, out March 9th next year. While it doesn’t have that hammer hook shout along of the older track, this is still a fun time. “Give me half a chance and you can be my next obsession”. Knowing that major radio stations have latched on to Fitz and the Tantrums and Portgual the Man in recent years for their “indie rock of the month” this has a chance to catch on over the winter months as a bit of an alternative infatuation to your moody Taylor Swift driven journeys.

Weezer – Pacific Daydream

Weezer has long made it a tradition to throw caution to the wind and make the same damn album nearly every year since 2008. They’ve been riding the coattails of their much better early work, which can seem to be the same thing as what I accused Maroon 5 of doing above. That, of course, is different here as I believe Weezer doesn’t really care about their public image, instead turning in song after song about lazy beach rock, reveling in their ability to maintain the mundane. That being said, they’re phenomenal live performers, and to churn out such dreck does not diminish the concerts they endow upon us. Of course, there’s still highlights to be had here, which entitle them to a few more songs in their playlists. Rivers Cuomo will live it up as long as he can, and more power to him – it’s almost as if he’s trolled us all into realizing Weezer is still a legitimate rock band.

Key Tracks: Weekend Woman / Feels Like Summer


That’s it – hopefully the rest of November picks up the same, but if it doesn’t, don’t fret – you can look forward to the Music Bracket Challenge, where you can pick which songs are the best of 2017! I’ve mentioned it in three previous articles, where I’ve chosen the best of each season:

 

When December rolls around, we’ll have a final twenty to add in to the mix, and from those four chapters we’ll cull four each to make a sweet sixteen symphony! I’m looking forward to it hopefully as much as you will be, so stay tuned!

Music to Your Ears: Pink, St. Vincent, Robert Plant, and Stars

It’s been a strange week as it’s cooled down – baseball is winding down, hockey is warming up. I didn’t really feel like writing anything about basketball because, frankly, I’m no expert in the sport. I can’t definitively discuss what it takes to make it in the NBA. It also doesn’t really interest me, especially when you have super-teams forming left and right, forcing parity out of the window. What I do love to discuss is music, so I’m sticking to that:

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

Annie Clark has slowly metamorphized into one of the most artistically dynamic artists in pop music working today. Similarly to her contemporary – the enigmatic Sia Furler – the sound of St. Vincent has evolved from bare-bones romanticism to full-fledged grandiose. Discordant trumpets and embellished synths are her instrumental calling card, and in her previous two albums, 2011’s Strange Mercy and 2014’s self-titled effort, she used them to great success. Here she expands on that cacophony of sound, a synthetic symphony that doesn’t let up until the last drop beat. The most interesting thing here is how diabolically sinister the whole album feels. I talked a few weeks ago about The Mynabirds album Be Here Now, and how singer Laura Burhenn wrote it with the fresh American election hanging heavily on her mind. It’s certain St. Vincent has followed suit in that regard, among other intensely personal experiences that have influenced the stories within Masseduction. She’s turned out what could potentially be her greatest album, but I may need a few more listens before I decide – yet that’s obviously worth it.

Key Tracks: Young Lover / Happy Birthday, Johnny / Los Ageless

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Music to Your Ears – Wolf Parade, Cults and Marilyn Manson

Now that we’re heading into fall, hoping the unseasonable warmth evicts itself from our lives, let’s dive into what the music world has for us:

Cults – Offering

Cults literally saved my life in 2011. No, I didn’t fall in with the wrong crowd and discover how to be true to myself or any of that bullshit. The synthpop duo of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion formed earlier the year before in New York City subsequently dropped a bomb on my heart, in the form of their self-titled debut. Songs like “Go Outside,” “Oh My God” and especially “You Know What I Mean” broke me down and formed the person I would soon become, self-loathing and bittersweet rolled into a ball of complicated neuroses and overfeeling idosyncracies. Anyway, enough about me – the band helped me through a lot of personal distress and move on from it, empowered. So my hopes were real high on their second album, Static, which debuted in 2013. Obviously I would be a little let down after the first album had rapidly become one of my favorite all-time records, but Static was still more from the same band I’d fallen in love with, albeit a bit dull. The whole thing felt a bit rushed, and only one or two tracks still find themselves in my rotation. Now that some time has passed, the group is back with their latest, Offering. While it is again more of the same sound, the work is a linear piece, like one long song. Some may find that detrimental, and I expect to mostly want to listen to this in one sitting rather than include songs in playlists, I think it works well (and better than Static). Follin warbles further feelings such as “Drifting through the silence/ Searching for guarantees” and continues the hopeful nature of the previous two albums by claiming we all have the answers within us. For me, it’s a welcome relief to know they’ve continued to manage such affectations and maybe more fans will turn up to discover the fuzz-pop wonder within this cult of sound.

Key Tracks: Recovery / Natural State / Clear From Far Away

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Wolf Parade, Cults and Marilyn Manson

Podcast October 9 – Batman and Harley Quinn, Hell or High Water and The Last Jedi Trailer

Like a certain Jedi character from the end of The Force Awakens, Cory has been missing for some time. In his stead, while we search the endless universe for his whereabouts (hoping he will some day do the right thing and return to save the galaxy), Jimmy has ably stepped up to discuss new movies and recent events.

This go-around, Tristan and Jimmy watched one of last year’s Best Picture nominees, Hell or High Water, a potboiler that stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as modern cowboys sticking it to the bank by heisting them to pay their loan back to the same bank, while sheriff Jeff Bridges attempts to track them through the Texas midlands.

They follow that up with a discussion on the most recent DC animated film, Batman and Harley Quinn, which features Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester returning to their ’90s animated roots as Batman and Nightwing, and co-stars Melissa Rauch (Big Bang Theory) as the titular clown queen who teams up with the pair to help stop her good friend Poison Ivy from doing the wrong thing and turning every living creature into plants.

Afterwards, they discuss some current events – like the weekend ouster of Harvey Weinstein from his own company after sexual harassment allegations actually worked to stop an offender from continuing to benefit from silence.

The final segment, the pair watch live the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer and analyze it just a bit too much…

Listen in below, and remember to comment responsibly!

Music to Your Ears – Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Shania Twain and Wolf Alice

Yeah, yeah I know, another day, another week of falling behind. Life comes at you fast, you gotta know when not to mind that last week’s music is now this week’s music. Here’s some reviews, enjoy:

Miley Cyrus – Younger Now

I have been lauding the genius of songs “Malibu” and “Younger Now”, the title track off of Miley Cyrus’ newest edition. What I wasn’t ready for was that these would be the only two great tracks. Don’t get me wrong, Miley is making some good stuff, but it all sort of blends together. After you get past those two singles, a strangely indigestible duet with Dolly Parton pops up, “Rainbowland”. It stops the album flat and you’re not quite sure if you care to continue. The effervescence of the first two songs never truly returns, as songs like “I Would Die for You” and “Bad Mood” re-hash many of the same notions and never really attempt anything exciting instrumentally. Eventually the whole thing fades into the background and you may find yourself wishing for the younger Miley, one that was more fun and entertaining.

Key Tracks: Malibu / Younger Now / Inspired

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Shania Twain and Wolf Alice