Friday, September 7, 2018

album review: 'bloom' by troye sivan

I'm not going to lie, I'm a little surprised that we've wound up in this place - or more specifically, how Troye Sivan wound up in this place. I'm sure diehard fans remember this, but he started off in the burgeoning LGBTQ vlogger community on YouTube before transitioning into music, and there was definitely a time where I was convinced that the major label system would eat him alive like it has so many other musicians who originated on this platform we reluctantly call home.

And that didn't quite happen, mostly because Blue Neighbourhood went down among audiences and critics with a respectable amount of success, helped along by working with good producers and cowriters and showing Sivan evolving as a songwriter and performer - he never quite wowed me in that brand of pop, but there was a lot of promise. And yet even then, taking three years between albums did raise some questions for me, especially when his lead-off single was released months ago and didn't seem to pick up a ton of traction, even if it did look like he was going to be getting looser and darker. And some of his new production and writing team did raise questions for me: yes, Ariel Rechtshaid is always a promising addition, but seeing Allie X as a cowriter did raise suspicions, especially as I did not really like her project from last year. That said, he kept the majority of his production team from the last album and somehow even netted a featuring credit from Ariana Grande, and he was smart enough to keep this a brisk ten songs near thirty-five minutes, so I had some hopes this would turn out as strong as Years & Years' sophomore project, which played in the same lane and also dropped earlier this year as a modest improvement. So what did we get from Bloom?

Honestly, both more and less than I was expecting, the sort of pop record that I'd be inclined to say is transitional if I had any clue where Troye Sivan wanted to take this in the long term - not so much messy as it is scattered, but in an oddly measured way that seems to pull a deeper punch that Blue Neighbourhood had promised. Maybe it has to do with Jack Antonoff not being on the production team this time around, but this is a pop record that despite sounding assured and streamlined lands less of a punch than I was hoping, a good release for sure but definitely a few steps away from greatness, and I'm not sure if this has earned all the critical acclaim dumped its way.

And pinning down why any of this is the case is kind of tricky, because it's not like the sound or content seems to have changed that much. Yeah, the reverb has thankfully eased back to draw more attention to the warbling layers of synth and touches of dreamy, distant guitar, but it's not like the blocky, programmed percussion isn't still the primary focus to play against Troye Sivan's multi-tracked vocals, and it's not like they kick into the sort of driving bass grooves you'd find from Charlie Puth or Years & Years. Troye Sivan is much more content to linger amidst misty waves of tones that owe a considerable depth to the more restrained side of late 80s, early 90s synthpop and easy listening, just with a sharper, restrained drum machine for the dance vibe... and that could well be enough. The choppy vocal sampling of 'My My My' has only grown on me since it debuted, and when you factor in the guitars touching against 'Seventeen' or the pop-leaning title track and 'Plum' or the buzzy touches around 'Lucky Strike', you've got a selection of restrained but potent pop tunes. Hell, where that restraint really pays dividends is opposite Ariana Grande on 'Dance To This', with a solid electric guitar motif and just enough bite to compliment them both. But it was that song that made me question why Ariana Grande was so much more compelling to me playing to restraint than Troye Sivan was, and it might come down to versatility. You might take issue with Ariana belting in her pop/R&B mold, but it's a string to her bow that Troye Sivan doesn't really have, and what holds many of his dance cuts here back from punching harder is how he never quite shows that raw edge or added notch of intensity in his voice to really hook a listener, with the most obvious case being on the closer 'Animal' where a song about that brand of lust should not feel as sedate as this, and that's before you get the wonky lo-fi beat shift. That's one of a few spots where Troye Sivan tries to add a little more diversity and bite to the production, but I'm not convinced it always works - the touches of organ and what sounds like a flute might click on 'What A Heavenly Way To Die', but the plucked strings just don't mesh well on the overlong 'The Good Side', and incidentally, this is a song that should have been placed further in the track listing because it kills the momentum where it is.

Of course, the other side to this is the content... and if there's a place where I think this record might have stumbled a bit coming off of Blue Neighbourhood, it's here. Now to be fair if you're going for pure, sensuous dance cuts you don't really need a ton of nuance, and Troye Sivan playing into wistful, longing restraint does add tension to cuts like the sexual exploration on 'Seventeen' and the title track and 'Lucky Strike', and on 'Dance To This' the lyrics might feel peripheral but they're all they really need to be. But then we have the relationship songs that seem to be calling for more emotional presence than we really get, like the 'letting him down easy' breakup of 'The Good Side' and 'Plum' or the tension beneath the missed small gestures on 'Postcard'. And while I respect Troye Sivan for underplaying these admittedly smaller or more distant moments with restraint and maturity, I can't help but feel like the writing is lacking that additional element of detail to match that vocal subtlety, or he should have just gone for pop melodrama with a bit more presence. Not doing either falls in a pleasant range, but not one that's all that gripping, and it makes me wish for the lyrics that were for heavier territory coming off of the last album. 

But at the end of the day... look, it's a good pop record, I don't think anyone could deny that, and for the right classy dance club I can imagine these will play well. But I'm left wishing Troye Sivan was aiming a little higher than this in his writing, or had the grooves bring a little more organic tightness, or he was willing to deliver more passion in his delivery. And while there are a few tunes that stand out, the continued focus on blocky, programmed beats over deeper melodies just doesn't click as much as I'd like, and I'm not sure it'll wind up being all that memorable. So for me, it's an extremely strong 6/10 and a recommendation for fans, but if you're not going to miss much if you don't check it out. Not at all bad and I'm curious where Troye Sivan will take this going forward, but I'm not exactly rushing the line either, that's all.

No comments:

Post a Comment