Category Archives: New Music

Music to Your Ears – Lorde, Fleet Foxes and Nickelback

Whew, after a week that saw very little in the way of worthwhile music, a flood of new tracks and albums came rushing down the pipeline for Father’s Day weekend. Some old favorites return, some new bands form their debuts and there may not even be enough space to talk about it all.

Lorde – Melodrama

Sophomore slumps can strike at any time. Luckily for Lorde, the Australian singer who vaulted to instant stardom amidst Grammy wins in 2013, she took enough time off that people forgot about her. Not that she minded, since the attention was a bit too much for the then sixteen years old. With her maturity comes a sense of relevance, which allows for a fine-tunes production this time around. The songs, all produced hand in hand with Bleachers creator Jack Antonoff, seem so polished that this can’t possibly be as good as we would have hoped for. But it is, seriously, so much so, that it rivals Bleachers, Spoon and The New Pornographers for album of the year so far. I may go on about this album towards the end of year, but suffice it to say the expected sophomore slump never settles in, as Lorde expands her horizons in ways we never expected. From the pain-filled ballad “Writer in the Dark” to the fun romp through “The Louvre” to an ode to late-night parties in “Homemade Dynamite” – the subjects aren’t too different from her teenage years, but her production has certainly stepped up its game.

Key Tracks: Supercut / Liability / The Louvre / Writer in the Dark

The Killers – The Man

The fear each time The Killers approach a new album is what sounds they’ll be attempting to evoke. It’s a long-standing open secret that frontman Brandon Flowers fancies himself a Bruce Springsteen, if born on the outskirts of Las Vegas. In that case, we sometimes get the worst of him – the posturing of Sam’s Town, a heavily divisive album that turned away many of the dance-pop youth that fell in love with them from their debut Hot Fuss. Luckily the die-hards found themselves in for treats with the next two solid, albeit dull efforts – Day & Age and Battle Born. The latter was more Springsteen, but more well done and less bombastic. Let’s say that was Flowers’ Nebraska, a dialed down love affair for the state of the band’s youth. From there Flowers’ embarked on a solo tour with two albums, one the worst of 2010, Flamingo and the other, 2015’s The Desired Effect, which at last had, well, the desired effect – Brandon Flowers had never sounded more like his hero. So, with all that in mind, we temper our expectations for a new song. Lucky for us, Flowers and the Killers have a ‘Wrecking Ball’ for us in the form of a rollicking new song that epitomizes the best qualities of the band’s history. You can dance, you can hear the masculinity oozing its way through the verses, and you can drive your way out of town to it. That’s all you need in a good Killers song.

Nickelback – Feed the Machine

Forgive me for not understanding the backlash to Nickelback all these years. I’ve always thought there were plenty more bands, mundane as all can be subjectively, that deserved harsher credit. For the Canadian outfit, it became particularly galling, and I think that influenced them even more as vocal cord surgeries and label changes attempted to derail the train. To call them mediocre is to do them an injustice, for if you listen to the lyrics, many are often more profound than any number of pop songs circulating constantly on the radio. Take “After the Rain”, a late entry in their newest album Feed the Machine where revitalized frontman Chad Kroeger yelps “The ticket to life as my mother once told me / Stick with your pride and you’re gonna be lonely”. I’m sorry, that’s better than their punk neighbor Justin Bieber begging for a second chance over and over again. To each his own, of course, but I’ve only ever slighted Nickelback in jest. Silver Side Up, easily their best entry, was the blueprint for the subsequent six albums – and now that they’ve proven their longevity, it’s clear that the band was ready to show off their best work. As a casual fan, I have to say that this is their best work in fifteen years. Rock on, you crazy diamonds.

Key Tracks: Feed the Machine / Must Be Nice / Silent Majority

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

Do not, and I repeat, do not attempt this album if you’re on the verge of slumber. It’s been a long time coming, especially for fans of the eloquent somnambulistic vocals emanating from lead singer Robin Peckold’s throat. However, this is not for the weak-hearted, or the coffee-deprived. While the writing and production value is through the roof, the mood is quite soft. Don’t get me wrong, Fleet Foxes is on top of the world here, coming out with an even more refined version of their previous album Helplessness Blues. If the direction they chose was one more in the vein of The Decemberists, where their folk tales are meant to lull rather than inspire, then they’re on the right track. I just think this is better background music than something for a group listen. Take care before sitting down with this, or worse – driving home at midnight to this. You’ll need a shot of Nodoz.

Key Tracks: Kept Woman / If You Need to, Keep Time on Me / Fool’s Errand

Queens of the Stone Age – The Way You Used to Do

Ever since I saw Josh Homme get super-pissed being played out during the credits for the 2014 Grammys, I knew he’d be back with a vengeance. Pure rock these days is a bit marginalized in popular culture, and there are enough thinkpieces out there that deny or confirm that thought, so I don’t need to go into it further. My standing is that with a dearth of rock stations, we’re sorely lacking a true rock band to unite behind. Take your Selena Gomez, your A$AP Rocky, your Beyonce – they’re all great, subjectively – there’s no one out there rocking like Queens of the Stone Age still do. You can’t pidgeonhole them in like Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters, who evolved with the times alongside Green Day, Blink-182 and even latter day Brit rock groups like The Strokes, The Kooks and Muse. Suffice it to say, other than those that evolved or dropped out, Queens of the Stone Age maintained that level we all wanted from rock – hard and loud, but with decipherable lyrics. We want to feel something from our music, not ironically, and Josh Homme has provided the 2017 version of that message: “If the world exploded behind us / I never noticed if it done / Let nobody dare confine us / I’ll bury anyone who does”. Just keep us up to date, Josh, and we’ll keep rocking along with you.

Hey Violet – From the Outside

I’ve got some odd feelings about this – it sounds like it’s of a place and time I’m no longer a part of, which I also feel makes me sound a bit old. If you recall the days when Paramoras starting out, about a decade ago, one of the most popular albums was Avril Lavigne’s The Best Damn Thing. Pink was still punk, having just released I’m Not Dead and yelled about fuckboys before we knew what they were. Now that time has passed, we’re on the lookout for the next group to take the charge – perhaps it could be Hey Violet, how about that? With songs like “O.D.D.” and “Hoodie”, they definitely might have the case for crowning a new queen of pop punk. Particularly evident of this women before men stage is “Guys My Age”, an anthem telling us all that nothing changes, dudes will always be complete oblivious jerks not worth your time. Here’s hoping they find a place to celebrate their riot grrrl status, like on a soundtrack similar to the one from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Key Tracks: Fuqboi / Guys My Age / Break My Heart / Unholy

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

Two weeks ago I mentioned how much Dan Auerbach was channeling Van Morrison in his newest album. There’s a bigger contender for that sound later in June, in singer Jason Isbell. Heck, in the song “Molotov” Isbell even remarks that he ‘broke a promise to myself / Made a couple to a brown-eyed girl’ There’s also a bit of Ryan Adams’ voice in Isbell, the one-time singer as part of folk group Drive-By Truckers. In his fifth album with band “and the 400 Unit”, Isbell crafts new heart-fueled folk, a working-man’s thought-provoking ballad album. With songs like “Something to Love” and “Tupelo” Isbell is trying to overshadow his southern roots by evoking all his heroes, branching out across America. Truth is, you’re going to want that chicken-fried down home feeling by the end. He’s just welcoming you home to the Nashville sound.

Key Tracks: Cumberland Gap / Anxiety / Chaos and Clothes / Cumberland Gap

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

If you thought we were done with the Scissor Sisters style sound after the single by Queens of the Stone Age, then you were mistaken. Royal Blood is back, and thicker than ever. If you came to Music for Your Ears today hoping to get some dense rock, some pure drum and bass fuzz, then you came to the right place. What I’ve lamented has been missing from the rock scene is some British sensibility, and here, in lieu of a new Arctic Monkeys album, comes a pair of Brighton boys doing their damnedest to rock our socks off with beats like “Hole in Your Heart” and “She’s Creeping”. They’re at their best when they’re allowing their instruments to take over, but Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher can hold their own with the best of them, spouting lyrics like “Then she drags me by one finger / To her lips / Hook, line & sinker / Honey I’m a sucker when you linger” – oozing danger at every dropped chord. Take a listen, it won’t hurt.

Key Tracks: I Only Lie When I Love You / Hook, Line and Sinker / Don’t Tell


Alright. That enough for you? If you’re not exhausted from reading all of this and raring up to listen to it all yourself, then prepare for next week’s entries – good stuff from Cheap Trick, Portugal. the Man, Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, Beach House and more. We’ll also take amoment and reflect on the waning spring, warming up to summer by picking the best of the season – adding our choices to the end of the year battle.

Music to Your Ears – Katy Perry, Lady Antebellum and Phoenix

This week is a tad short, with three new albums – two from huge draws in Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum, and one of my favorite bands, the French group Phoenix. Who has the best comeback of the three? (They all had nearly four years each between their last albums and this week’s releases). Look below to find out!

Lady Antebellum – Heart Break

Like much of rhythm and blues, rap and house music, I have some difficulty ascertaining whether some country music is better than others. Luckily, Heart Break starts out strong, drawing you in with their title song, that contains one of the snappiest choruses I’ve heard recently – “I’m single for the summer / I won’t rebound / One lover to another / I’ll be tied down”. Those rather simple lyrics are made all the better by frontwoman Hilary Scott, someone who has always made country seem accesible for neophytes like myself. Following her up, fellow Charlie Kelley duets over the single “You Look Good” and proves that Scott isn’t the only moneymaker for the band. The band dials it down subsequently, proving that the composition of this album is its greatest component. While the lyrics and vocals and instrumentals are certainly top-notch for country standards, the producer deserves some of the most credit, as the order of songs clearly lends this album for repeat listens.

Key Tracks: Heart Break / Think About You / Good Time to Be Alive

 

Katy Perry – Witness

A lot has changed for the songstress that once took us into the secret that she had kissed a girl. As often follows a breakout hit, there was a bit of dissolution of the original image, attempts at reconfiguring the brand as edgy, missteps at appropriating other cultures, and of course, the vaunted resurgence at a major awards show compounded with a stellar album release. Now that Katy Perry has gone through all the typical motions of our modern pop star, she’s ready to deliver some of her best work. Unfortunately for us, she’s up to some of her old problems – buying into the idea that production knows best for her, redrafting her as a Miley Cyrus-wannabe who longs to sing like Adele. In tracks like “Pendulum” she gospelizing in front of a clapping choir. In “Deja Vu” and the titular “Witness”, Perry tries to posture as a burnt love victim, although most of her cred stems from her being the firebrand in past relationships. Don’t even get me started on “Bon Appetit”, which you can see in the rather strange video above tries to sensualize Perry in an even stranger way than before. As she sings “I’m spread open like a buffet” her eyes bug out like she’s still on the candy-coated dream cloud set of “California Girls”. Do we want a mature Perry, whose sultry vocals can lend themselves to a moody revelation lyrically? I’m fine with her having fun, it certainly worked for Madonna, who she’s almost always emulated. If she sticks to that, she’s great. When attempting to co-opt others, she isn’t. It’s as simple as that.

Key Tracks: Save As Draft / Miss You More / Chained to the Rhythm

 

Phoenix – Ti Amo

Thomas Mars and company hit it big way back in 2009 with their one-two punch of Lisztomania / 1901, rocketing them to indie stardom. In the right years since, Phoenix released one album and merely cultivated their following by touring and helping our hearts grow fonder in their absence. With Ti Amo, the group re-establishes themselves as the crown princes of manic dance pop, sorely missed in this era of music (from male singers at least). From the start at the title track, we’re immersed back into the slick cool world of Phoenix, bracketed on both sides with am urge to dance until the sun comes up two days from now. The sense of unending joy isn’t futile here, as evidenced in lyrics like “I found out your motive / I could do this all day long / But just a minute, that’s all I want”. While most of the album is in English, Mars forays into both Spanish and his native French. Much like Shakira two weeks ago, you don’t need to know the languages he sings, as you can feel every emotion through the way he sings.

Key Tracks: Goodbye Soleil / Role Model / Fior de Latte


Next week we’ll get the return of Cheap Trick, a long-awaited album from Fleet Foxes, a highly anticipated release from Lorde, and most importantly the latest music from a little Canadian band….Nickelback. I know you’ll be the first back here next Tuesday to hear what we thought at Interjections!

Music to Your Ears – Bleachers, Halsey and Foo Fighters

Welcome back to this week’s version of Music to Your Ears, where we’ve got some tunes for your listeners. This week had a few surprise singles, as well as some inspired albums. Take a look:

Foo Fighters – “Run”

It’s been a while since the last Foo Fighters album, the Saint Cecilia EP that appeared briefly on our radars a little over a year and a half ago. For proper album music, we have to go back to 2014, so this is a welcome surprise in a week we’ve been hungry for escapism music. At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the repetitive message – “Run” – that blared over a low-key chorus. It sounded to me like more of the same, and Foo Fighters might just be spinning their wheels. Then an aggressively metal sounded voice threatened to break through from the other side of the microphone, as Dave Grohl’s old self came along to let us know that the same guy can learn new tricks. The true chorus of the song is still a bit rock-2010s standard, but it’s still a welcome thought to have that Grohl and company are back, making the most of their talents.

Arcade Fire – “Everything Now”

Like most bands of the ‘aughts, Arcade Fire’s sound has evolved, particularly since their first album, the ethereal Funeral, which contained one of my favorite songs from that time period, “Neighborhood 2 (Laika)”. That track, one that contains the adolescent innocence of two neighbor kids discovering each other as well as the paranoia of a world waiting to crush them both down, is not exemplary of what Arcade Fire has become, although that probably tempers their emotions while playing live. “Everything Now” re-defines the message the band is going for, and like many groups playing into their thirties and beyond, accepts the fact that they didn’t die young and beautiful, but must figure out what that means for their longevity. An acceptance of that soul-crushing world is subtly creeping below lyrics like “Every inch of space in your head / is filled with the things that you’ve read”. They’ve just gotten better at masking the pain it details below danceable music, like a more prophetic Ra Ra Riot. Here’s hoping this title track is as good as the full album.

Halsey – hopless fountain kingdom

Okay, Halsey. You can start your album with the prologue to William Shakespeare’s most famous play, but I’m gonna think you’re really damn pretentious. Though, when one thinks about it, isn’t Romeo and Juliet one of the most effective narratives of artistic entertainment? Why not have it, when it’s clearly well known and there’s a reason the thing is popular? It will absolutely have an effect on the listening of your album, as it will color every track with a sentiment that you might have not only been inspired by the Bard’s classic, but that you yourself felt the same emotions that young Montague and Capulet shared in their brief time together. Shut your blinkers in “Eyes Closed” and you’ll wonder if Juliet was truly up for her romance. Listen between the late-90s inspired violins on “Walls Could Talk” and the lyrics remind you of Juliet’s nurse regretting what she’s done. While there’s a lot to read into, it’s obvious that Halsey has put out a well-defined production. All in all, the best part of this is that the album keeps going long before you’ve realised it, albeit in a slight 48 minutes. Even though this is her sophomore performance, Halsey is a welcome addition to those rebel chanteuses bursting on to the alternative electropop scene. This is a delightful precursor to Lorde’s upcoming album as well.

Key Tracks: Eyes Closed / Heaven in Hiding / Sorry

Bleachers – Gone Now

The Solomon Grundy lyrics that effuse themselves behind the opening track to Gone Now, “Dream of Mickey Mantle” tell its listeners that they’re in for something a bit different, albeit the obvious next step for Jack Antonoff in his storytelling since leaving band Fun behind. My friend Mike Duquette (founder of the stellar reissue blog and label The Second Disc) summed it up best after listening to the album this past weekend – “Imagine if Bruce Springsteen got way too into synthpop before Tunnel of Love“. In my opinon, the album as a whole reminds me of late-era Ben Folds after leaving behind his five. He almost talks to you like Folds did, and Antonoff includes several friends in semi-secret cameos, such as Lorde on the second verse of “Don’t Take the Money” or Carly Rae Jepsen joining in for the chorus of “Hate That You Know Me”. Those cameos elevate the songs, not that Antonoff needed it, for his vocals are indeed like Bruce in the prime of his career. If there’s any faults to find here, it’s that the back half of the albums slumps a bit, much like his first album Strange Desire. Also, while I’m satisfied with what I’ve heard, there’s a good and a bad take here. I like Strange Desire better as a whole, but Antonoff is at least attempting to branch out stylistically with each song. Most tracks from the former sound virtually the same, something I didn’t mind at the time, but I have a feeling Gone Now will resonate longer.

Key Tracks: Hate That You Know Me / I Miss Those Days / Don’t Take the Money

Dan Auerbach – Waiting on a Song

This is what we all needed this week, a chill folk guitar hammock album. When I worked in Best Buy from 2009-2012, I would listen to a handful of records on my Zune (dating myself of course) when I put new signage up before the store opened. One of those was Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and the Black Keys’ Brothers. Those two albums always felt intrinsically linked, and here Auerbach has somehow melded the feel both prior efforts captured for me. As he opens his thoughts to us, I can’t help but to think of Morrison’s humming a tune about how much his woman loves him. Auerbach has a way of stylising himself as a second coming of that era in American culture that we were looking for an outlet to both express ourselves against the man while also chilling out beneath the shade of an apple orchard. This album certainly encompasses that feeling, from the trumpets slipping between “Malibu Man” and lazily wandering around “Never in My Wildest Dreams” to the acoustic temperament of “King of a One Horse Town”. The only oddity here is the single “Cherrybomb” that definitively sounds more like a b-side from the Black Keys last album Turn Blue. It feels slightly out of place, despite it being a solid entry in Auerbach’s overall output.

Key Tracks: Livin’ in Sin / Stand by My Girl / King of a One Horse Town


Remember to come back next week to see new hits from Katy Perry, one final album from the impossibly timeless Glen Campbell, and maybe a few surprises?

I’ll also leave you with this brief (and better) review of Dan Auerbach, attached to that Bleachers comment from Mike Duquette:

Music to Your Ears – Shakira, Linkin Park and Carly Rae Jepsen

HiNew music for new music listeners, I hope? Remember to comment responsibly below if you have a particular song or band you want me to check out – I’ll review it in a future article! For now, here’s the latest for May:

Noah Cyrus – I’m Stuck 

Who would have thought I would be talking about not just one, but two of the Cyrus girls in the month of May? Miley’s single “Malibu” was definitively heading for our sweet sixteen at the end of the year, but now I’ve got a familial challenger for the spot – little sister Noah has emerged on the musical scene, following in her siblings’ footsteps (older brother Trace is the frontman for pop-punk outfit Metro Station). Without the needless comparisons to her two elders, Noah certainly comes out on top immediately, progressing towards pop stardom with her first effort. Another single, “Stay Together” was decent, but “I’m Stuck” pins her for potential song of the summer status. She gets exactly what her future and present fans want, and delivers with aplomb. A tinder that sparks from its first moment, yet allows itself to be tender as the chorus rises, Cyrus is due for greater things on her own.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut to the Feeling

Before listening to this, I saw a lot about how there’s a strange stigma surrounding Jepsen since her breakout hit “Call Me Maybe”. It seemed that she would be a one-hit wonder, and when she wasn’t, people dismissed her even further, pretending that she was nabbing other pop stars’ images (Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc). After that, she continued to infuse her ebullience in everything she did despite the naysayers. Here, she elaborates on that, bringing one of the sharpest pop hits of the year. Unfortunately, critics still attempted to knock her down, pretending this would be one of those awful earworms along the lines of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” or Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”. While it doesn’t help that this has a similar title to the latter, I don’t care. So what if it ends up being the anthem to one of those disposable Dreamworks’ animated films? It’s even better than the aforementioned earworms, and if we didn’t have songs to overplay on the radio, we’d get sick of everything. For once, this one also isn’t a track to get sick of. It’s one to dance until the sunrise.

Grizzly Bear – Mourning Sound

There are some bands you struggle to love, despite them being obvious up your alley choices for friends to introduce to you. I did enjoy 2008’s “Two Weeks” enough, but it never really outlasted that time period like other bands of their ilk did (Sunset Rubdown, Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective). Then they mastered the soundtrack for the great film Blue Valentine, and while I thought I enjoyed it at the time, it’s moreso that the songs really work well within the film and not elsewhere. It may just be me, because they have a solid following, and their new album will likely be near the top of year-end lists. Following that line of thinking, it’s a pleasant surprise that I’ve enjoyed their first single off of the album, “Mourning Sound”. Simple lyrics, steady drums, and a dreamy warble from Edward Droste satisfies even this curmudgeon.

Shakira – El Dorado

Much like earlier this month when I mentioned how fantastic Kendrick Lamar’s new album was, I feel that I can’t exactly expound upon Shakira’s newest album – as it’s mostly in a language I don’t know. Despite this, I can still guarantee the melodies and the instrumentals are a delight, and Shakira remains at the top of her game. Even with sporadic English, I understand the ardor and passion that Shakira’s words effuse, and with collaborators like Colombian stars Carlos Vives and Maluma, it’s wonderful that she returns to her homeland often to ensure her international stardom. One thing’s for sure, Shakira is still one of the greatest pop stars touring today.

Key Tracks: Perro Fiel / Amarillo / Comme Moi

Linkin Park – One More Light

At moments reminiscent of a past life, Linkin Park attempts to rekindle past glories with a grand return. Unfortunately, like some of our other favorite bands from our youth, it’s just never going to be the same. There are certainly some bright moments, like when Pusha T guests in a swift rap battle on “Good Goodbye”, but they just aren’t the Linkin Park that gave us “In the End” and “Numb”. That isn’t to say this is a good band, but most of the tracks sound like Imagine Dragons-lite, which is strange seeing as Imagine Dragons always seemed like a band inspired by Linkin Park’s original sound. I’m glad they’re still around, but much like Gorillaz and Franz Ferdinand, they just aren’t the same. Worth it to completists, but not to the casual Linkin fan.

Key Tracks: Talking to Myself / Sorry for Now / Battle Symphony


Next week we’ll cover some new albums from Bleachers, Halsey and Dan Auerbach.

Music to Your Ears – Land of Talk, Muse, Selena Gomez

Another week, another One Direction solo artist attempts to cash in on his own singularity. Unfortunately for Liam Payne, he’s no Harry Styles, so we’ll just skip over him to the good stuff.
Muse – Dig Down

After 2015’s Drones, and finally being able to see Muse live, I was convinced of the fact that Muse would never be the same band they once were, grinding away at subdued space rock in stuff like “” and “”. Sure, with the grandiose production of NAME and NAME, Muse transcended the satellites they once gazed upon from down on Earth and vaulted themselves into the arenas they so richly deserved to play. Unfortunately for some original fans of their work, it lent a certain air of disconnection. The production was too overdone in some tracks, and while the lyrics were always snappy, it wasn’t until Drones that they reminded me once again of what great music they could create. It looked like they were beginning to return to that subdued sound. Here, though, they seem to be taking a step in the opposite direction. It’s not horrible, but what do they expect when they allow the chorus to merely be a repetitive yelp bellowing from Matt Bellamy’s throat? The guitar does them no service either, whining and grinding distortion mechanically, like a spaceship working its way through the sky. The overproduction returns, and don’t even get me started on the strangely suggestive title. Strange all around, I have to hope they’ll improve on their next single, and this will merely be a blip on a well done album.
Land of Talk – Life After Youth

What an unexpected surprise it was to find out that Land of Talk, a band I enjoyed in college, was returning with a new album. Back in 2002, their debut album Some Are Lakes set me on a path towards shoegazing pop that found me falling in love with other similar bands like Silversun Pickups, The Head and the Heart, Matt and Kim, Sleigh Bells and Chvrches. To say this is the godfather of them all is understated, at least for my musical journey. Well, with Life After Youth, they’ve returned to form. Singer Elizabeth Powell’s ambient vocals power the fuzz and guides down a river of noise-pop dreams. Much like Grandaddy’s recent return, Land of Talk feels like an old friend that came back for a visit and it feels like no time has passed at all.

Key Tracks: Spiritual Intimidation / This Time / Heartcore

Selena Gomez – Bad Liar

I was ready to dive into what apparently is a frontrunner for ‘song of the summer,’ Crying in the Club by Camila Cabello. Before that, I started with another new single by Selena Gomez, Bad Liar. Now, I had long dismissed Gomez as another manufactured Disney darling, a money machine for the Mouse that would eventually fade away, leaving us with distant memories only of her fling with Justin Bieber. Luckily, that’s not the case, and I’ve been proven very wrong. Bad Liar should have been the hit crowned a full month before summer even starts, as Gomez’s staccato chorus pumps you up and lets you down roughly when you realize the shade dwelling beneath the words. Gomez hasn’t stopped pulling the punches since her equally decadent hit Can’t Keep My Hands to Myself from two years ago. I have to say, Selena may be the real deal, and even though I must be jumping on the train long after it left the station, this may continue her run of star charting singles.


Come back next week for the newest from Shakira, Bleachers and Halsey!

Music to Your Ears – Paramore, Harry Styles and April Showers

As part of the recent hiatus, I was feeling a little burnt out, and I hit a week where there was only one significant album release – Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. I don’t consider myself an expert, only because my listening extends to passing by some stuff on the radio and Childish Gambino. I expect to expand my knowledge, branch out a bit, and I’m starting with this. Truth is, it’s likely one of the best entries into rap I could have. It’s one of the meatiest albums I’ve listened to, period, and I expect this to be cited as one of the best of the year. If nothing else, I can tell it’s good, even if I’m not relating to it.


As for the rest of the April, I have a few words for some releases:

Incubus – 8

Glad to have them back, and Brandon Boyd brings a sorely missed vocal tremble, unsettling in its core and at the same time soothing lyrically. The band is still chugging along after all these years, and while they may not be as crazy as their youth, the maturity lends itself to some more serious fare, and the anger brimming on the surface in years past is still there, just deep down in their experienced souls.

Key Tracks: Glitterbomb / Nimble Bastard / Throw Out the Map

Gorillaz – Humanz

I may be in the minority, but this is a missed opportunity. I think it’s great having guest artists, but it’s simply too dull to even register. At this point, I’d rather have Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett focus on what they bring to the table. This all feels like a cash grab, more like the band got bored and played session behind a bunch of incongruent collaborators. In some ways, I’d rather they’d retired after Plastic Beach.

Key Tracks: Let Me Out, I guess…it’s all rather disappointing.


For this week, a few new instant classics debuted:

Paramore – After Laughter

Isn’t it interesting when a guilty pleasure becomes a beloved treasure? Anyone out there have a band like this? I dismissed Paramore after 2007’s “Misery Business”. I figured that would be a fun piece of my summer, but little did I know how much of an impact the badn would have on my seven years later with their seminal self-titled album. The songs contained within that record became so integral to my life that I still tense up at the memories brought on by certain tracks. So you can understand how hotly anticipated this album was for me, and I’m actually glad that it dropped earlier than I expected, a bit of a surprise this past weekend. Hayley Williams continues to exemplify the awkward balladeer, forcing me to re-examine my own current emotions on life. Listening to several tracks, I shook my head and thought about how much I could relate. If nothing else, Paramore took the mantle of what emo music began to leave behind with bands like Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy. Their brand of self-immolation sparks a certain cynical optimism that belies the cheeriness evoked from every melody. I’m glad to have fallen in love with them after all, it was well worth it.

Key Tracks: Forgiveness / Told You So / Pool / Fake Happy

Harry Styles – Harry Styles

The Twitter world was abuzz with the hot takes on now solo frontman Harry Styles’ debut album, and for good reason. While I’m not sure what he styles (natch) himself as, Harry certainly has the bravado in check, as he lays his heart on the table for us to hear. In a brief story showcase – there are a scant ten tracks here – Styles blossoms is way in the one direction (natch) he could go – up. ‘Sign of the Times’ is a standard breakout single, radio ready and full of lyrics like “we never learn, we been here before”. For someone I didn’t expect much from, given he’s this generation’s version of Justin Timberlake, he’s proving himself more like that success story than others like his fellow bandmate Zayn Malik. (clearly the Chris Kirkpatrick, right?) The good news is that Styles will almosts certainly be able to build a career off of this, albeit slowly, as this album isn’t the be all and end all that Twitter is crowing about. I give him credit for being a rugged songwriter, but if he can harness that voice of his to better prove his point, he’ll take the world by storm

Key Tracks: Two Ghosts / Kiwi / Ever Since New York / Sweet Creature

Miley Cyrus – “Malibu”

Cory’s girl is back with some of the most delightful tones I’ve heard in a while. Gone is her bad girl persona, which is an obviously manufactured move, but who cares? Pop stars these days always have to reinvent themselves, and Cyrus is a master at it. If this is the direction she’s headed in, I’m all for it – she can handle the Katy Perry stadium shows and still feel down to earth, but not end up your prototypical acoustic songstresses like my girl Rachael Yamagata. Miley’s husky contralto does not overwhelm her here, as she discovers a new register to wax poetic on a fluffy memory of a day by the ocean. Let’s hope that the rest of the upcoming album is as demure as this, she’ll be putting her money where her mouth is.


Anyway, glad to be back. We’ll perhaps see some more tunes next week, as old favorite Land of Talk reemerges from the ashes, plus more!

Music to Your Ears – Betty Who, Gorillaz and The Jesus and Mary Chain

At first as I noticed what was up for this week, I thought I was going to take a two week break – the list of new releases was quite scant. I’m not sure why, but nothing really caught my eye, but by mid-day Saturday I’d found three things that I could definitively expound upon:

Betty Who – The Valley

The titular song that starts this album is so dull that I was ready to dismiss this album and call it one of the most disappointing points of the year so far. Luckily, “Some Kinda Wonderful” lifts you out of the doldrums and by the time you get to the first single “Mama Say” you will realize that this Australian chanteuse’s sophomore effort is a sparkling delight baked inside pop confections so sweet you’ll know that she’s due for stardom. Like a Katy Perry-lite, you’ll find yourself swaying in your seat, hoping to head out on the dance floor as soon as hunaly possible. While it isn’t a perfect album – that first track, and some slower moments bring down the excitement – you’ll hopefully indulge in things like her collaboration with Warren G and of course, her megahit cover of Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever” – which closes the album.

Key Tracks: “Beautiful”, “Human Touch”, “Free to Fly”, “You Can Cry Tomorrow”

 

Gorillaz – “We Got the Power”

I begrudgingly accept that Gorillaz will never be the same. Much like the rollercoaster you can hear in Ben Gibbard’s voice and songwriting through his years as frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, outside events have affected mastermind Damon Albarn’s creative juices. In my opinion, renewed friendships aren’t always perfect. While it worked wonders for Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor for the sequel to Trainspotting, Albarn’s reunion with Jamie Hewlett is proving rather boring. I’m not sure if it’s just that there’s no verve behind the music, or that the collaborations are overshadowing what could have been something special, but I’m just rather annoyed at what they’ve put out so far. First, “Ascenion” appeared back in January and underwhelmed mightily. Now we have a power ballad that sounds like Noodle is attempting to branch out on her own as a hippie wishing free love upon her old bandmates. Here Savages singer Jehnny Beth and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher cameo, hoping to inject life into the lyrics that limp along over braindead instrumentals. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, as frequent podcast guest Jimmy thinks it’s some funky good stuff, but I have a high bar that Gorillaz has typically vaunted over effortlessly. I don’t want Albarn diminishing past art with mush like this.

 

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

I have a sort of a soft spot for The Jesus and Mary Chain as my college film featured one of their songs, “The Hardest Walk” over the end credits. So after believing Betty Who and Gorillaz had let me down, I turned to this Scottish alt-rock group hoping for some nice surprises. Turns out that was a great choice, as the smooth folk sounds were just what I needed for a calm and quiet Friday evening. If you’re looking for something chill, this is just what the doctor ordered, especially to start. Of course, knowing how the rest of the weekend had gone, it might come as no surprise that towards the back end things get repetitive – which is only a minor letdown. Luckily this will sooth your ears, to be paired with an oaken whiskey.

Key Tracks: “Song for a Secret”, “The Two of Us”, “All Things Pass”

 

I also decided to create a “Best of Winter” playlist for the first three months of 2017 – back in the summer last year I attempted a halfway mark article to designate the best tracks and albums so far, but it turned out to diminish my interest in a best of the year article towards the end of 2016. So I still have interest in that this year, I’m going to do a best of quarterly and hope that updating it periodically will only keep my interest (we also have to hope there are some quality options in October and November, as that sort of killed anything for last year’s second half). Anyway, here’s what I have on near constant repeat so far this year:

 

 


See you next week for that long-awaited Bob Dylan album and one more go around with my favorite metal band, Mastodon!