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Music to Your Ears – Queens of the Stone Age, Fifth Harmony and Taylor Swift

Hoo boy, what a week. Sorry for the bit of a delay, as I was traveling abroad. While away, the newest album from Queens of the Stone Age dropped, new singles from Frank Ocean and Thirty Seconds to Mars appeared, and wait, what’s this? That classic snake Taylor Swift slithered her way back into our world, dropping a single out of the blue and premiering the video at the MTV VMAs. It’s quite the week, and we even snuck in a new Maroon 5 single before press time!

Taylor Swift – “Look What You Made Me Do”

Well, the biggest news of the past week was the debut of a new song by the queen of the news cycle. She started immediately after her trial by tweeting images of snakes, and then announcing a title for her upcoming album Reputation. With plenty of ink spilt over Swift’s deemed character image, one that supposedly has been crafted and cultivated like no pop star ever before, it makes sense that the next step is to call out all the haters. She’s 27, and as you near your thirties, it’s the time a lot of people find themselves ready to ditch the dead weight friends holding them back from realizing their full potential. The one interesting thing here, is that after Kesha’s recent stellar album that celebrating being the most independent woman you can be, it feels like this is a sputter in comparison. I’m not saying that Kesha’s work overshadows Swift’s per se, although there are inevitably people unable to separate comparisons. I think this is good in many ways, as her vocals are still top notch, while the inventiveness around the strange Right Said Fred hook actually allows us to see how much more she’s grown since 2014’s 1989. Besides, the above video is a piece of pop art, genuflecting to her past endeavors. Hopefully now that she’s got this out of her system, the rest of the album will have what she does best, without the vindication.

Demi Lovato – “Tell Me You Love Me”

There’s not much to be said about Lovato’s latest, a slight cut on the more traditional side of her stylings. Where as the last single “Sorry Not Sorry” continued her run of “fuck it throw caution to the wind” ballads, this is more of a small ditty that feels more like a filler track for the middle of the album. Good news is that Lovato gives it her all, belting out lyrics in an almost baritone growl. Despite the pedantic lyrics, this is a pretty solid inclusion for her upcoming album. It just might not be the most memorable, in the end.

Fifth HarmonyFifth Harmony

Unfamiliar with much of their oeuvre, it did not dissuade me from diving into this pop-driven quartet (and yes, they’re a foursome now – I adore the fact they didn’t downgrade their numerical nom de plume) and theire new album. While it’s not my typical cup of tea, there are several bright points on here, and fans of this funk style of pop will certainly be pleased. Interesting to this week specifically, my favorite song on this is the antithesis to Demi Lovato’s new single, and yet they almost say the same thing. Most tracks are romance with a cynical edge, and I can tell they’ve grown since the one song I knew them for, “Sledgehammer”. Maturity suits them, and we know they’ve been there for a while, but the music here is something special.

Key Tracks: Don’t Say You Love Me / Make You Mad / Lonely Night

Thirty Seconds to Mars – “Walk on Water”

I guess winning an Oscar goes to your head sometimes? No, I know, Jared Leto’s lyrics have often been a bit bombastic, so it’s no surprise this Messiah complexplite is the first track from their long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS. After all, Jared Leto must feel on top of the world even with the mixed-reviews for his iteration of the Joker. Who knows? Either way, if you’re a fan of their past work, it’s solid, and I could see some newcomers falling back into their earlier work after hearing this stadium anthem. It’ll be a perfect opening song for their tour, one that amps up the crowd before their meatier stuff.

Queens of the Stone AgeVillains

Ever since the great single “The Way You Used to Do” dropped back in April, this has been one of my most highly anticipated albums coming into the end of summer. Good for us, then, that it delivers on all its Faustian promises. Right from the beginning a howl beckons from the deep, as Josh Homme hopes his “Feet Don’t Fail Me”. Next up is the aforementioned fantastic single, and the roar of Dean Fertita’s guitar bursts forth, elevating the rock to supernatural levels. The eerie tone pervades your headphones, the sparse song count belies a lengthy stay with rock’s crown princes of darkness. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re unfamiliar, let me be the devil on your shoulder. Villains is the best Queens album in years, and perhaps the best pure rock album of 2017.

Key Tracks: Head Like a Haunted House / Domesticated Animals / Fortress

Frank Ocean – “Provider”

So I never really got into Frank, although I completely get why people do. He’s chill as hell, speaks truth, and generally has everything you’d want in an entertainer. I still don’t find him to be my cup of tea, and I can’t really categorize him into something in order to say what I like better. I just know he’s one of the greats of our time, even if it does nothing for me. “Provider” has pretty much what you’d expect from his previous stuff, albeit there’s an interesting section towards the end where he nearly whispers out the remainder of his soul for us. Quiet, contemplative music has a place in today’s market, and I’m glad it’s not like he’s selling out by forcing a stadium sound out of his brand. Lucky for us, there’s been plenty to go around of Ocean, so despite my taste, there’s plenty to look forward to for fans.

Maroon 5 – “What Lovers Do” (feat. SZA)

If you’re ever hoping for a return to form for Maroon 5, that ship sailed in the last decade. With Adam Levine’s superstar shooting into the stratosphere, there was never going to be anything but pop fluff left for the band that once nearly disbanded because there was “nothing left to say”. Clearly the words remained, but the band more or less looks like a cash machine these days. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the band I expected them to turn out to be. Much like Coldplay, the group has formed themselves to be an entertainment vessel, capable of performing generic pop beats at the drop of a hat. Kudos to them for monetizing their sound, but even with this newest forgettable hook, there’s nothing left to redeem them.

Beyond this, new tracks from Beck, Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus and Sleeping with Sirens anticipate their fall albums with aplomb. Tune in next week when we have the full-length return of LCD Soundsystem, catching up with Iron and Wine, and plenty more.


Music to Your Ears – Kesha, The National, Cut Copy and Pink

Given that there was no podcast this past weekend due to the resonating effects of the Cars 3 debacle, I’ve thought long and hard about what’s to become of this if Cory never recovers from Pixar-related atrocities. Frequent guest James Milliron has suggested filling in for some time and discussing pop culture as a whole, and given the state of our country – something that’s been on our minds for a long time has been to discuss current events outside of entertainment. We do interject, after all, don’t we?

Let us know below if you think this might be a good way to go for the Interjections medium, as usual commenting responsibly. As for now, enjoy the latest edition of Music to Your Ears, which features the return of one of my favorite artists:

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Kesha, The National, Cut Copy and Pink

Music to Your Ears – ‘Murica Edition

All hail the stars and stripes – sorry to our international readers, but we’re all about America here today. Well, probably by the time I finish this write-up, it’ll be the 5th, a far more important holiday (Tristan’s birthday). However, we here at Interjections find music as American as apple pie, so without further adieu, we present you with our top four picks from the spring season, packaged and ready for the final sixteen at the end of the year:

In addition, I wanted to highlight the only new items worth mentioningfrom the past two weeks (besides the oft on repeat Baby Driver soundtrack):

Imagine Dragons – Evolve

With a solid following already devoted to the band, what more could we want to add to this already strikingly impressive band? Well first thing’s first, they want to provide us with a collection of catchy tunes to help us rock the warm nights away. What better than having Dolph Lundgren join you in your first music video from the album? There’s not much more to say, but this is definitely one of the most average rock albums of the year, and that’s saying a lot given the state of “rock” albums. A lot of the album sounds similar, and while I’m not sure it’s outstanding for any casual fans, there are some highlights here, and big fans of the band will be pleased.

Key Tracks: Believer / I Don’t Know Why / Whatever It Takes

Sorry for the delay, but we’re all ready to dive right into the summer, aren’t we? Next week there will be the second full HAIM album, as well as the comeback of Broken Social Scene, as well as some likely surprises!

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.