Showing posts with label electro-pop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label electro-pop. Show all posts

Thursday, November 23, 2017

video review: 'blue lips' by tove lo

Well, this was... mostly disappointing, but eh, it happens. Next up, though... whoo boy, time to handle some old business...

album review: 'blue lips' by tove lo it safe to say I had low expectations going into this record?

Because I remember having the feeling that Tove Lo had so much damn promise coming out of Queen Of The Clouds: clearly ambitious with a lot of personality, aiming to touch on darker, more sexual, more nakedly dangerous and reckless material and with the sharp songwriting and knack for pop hooks that made her a hell of a rising talent in 2014... and then two years later all of that went out the window with Lady Wood, the first half of a two-part project that left a lot of listeners wondering whether the second half would be worth the bother. The melodies had been sucked away, the delivery had shoved the melodramatic impulses and intensity into the murk, and despite clearly trying to convey a potent story, the record felt more conceptually underweight than ever. And that makes for an awkward admission: for as many times as I've listened to Lady Wood, even just a year later I don't remember it at all, and that's not a good sign going into the record's 'sequel'.

Now reportedly this was aiming to be a more emotive and expressive record, less of the dark house elements and more straightforward dance pop - hell, if your lead-off single is called 'Disco Tits', it's definitely clear you're even trying for subtlety this time around! But on the flip side, it wasn't as if she switched up her production or writing teams, so there was a very real possibility this record could wind up as barren and swamped out as her last one. But hey, it couldn't get worse than Lady Wood, right?

Monday, April 24, 2017

video review: 'silver eye' by goldfrapp

I get that there are people who like this... but I just don't see the appeal. It's a wonky release that never seems to come together, feels way too long and underwritten, and overall just kind of boring. Eh, happens, I guess?

But that's still not the last video for tonight... stay tuned!

album review: 'silver eye' by goldfrapp

I have a weird relationship with electronic-leaning dance pop. I don't dislike it by any stretch, but I'll be the first to admit that unless the hooks are top of the line, I don't really gravitate to it in the same way as I might country or folk or hip-hop or indie rock that aim for tighter lyricism, or subgenres within metal or electronic music where lyrics are perfunctory in comparison with musical experimentation or raw power.

What this means is that outside of what I cover on the pop charts, I don't tend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the type of pop that's more likely to chart on the dance charts first, especially if they originate in the UK and aren't strictly in the synth or indie-pop spheres. In other words, it was a real learning experience digging into Goldfrapp, an English electronic duo with whom I had only ever heard in passing - it's not like they ever had a significant impact on the Hot 100. Beginning around the turn of the millennium, they may have drawn on trip-hop, but they took their electronic style across a good half dozen genres over the course of the next decade, from synthpop and glam rock to ambient tones and even noir cabaret, blending retro glam with new, sleek electronic touches. And yet while I found a fair number of their singles enjoyable with Allison Goldfrapp's sensuous cooing set against sharper electronic grooves, I'd also say they're the definition of a singles act for me, as the albums could definitely drag, never quite being sharp enough in the writing or experimentation to stay ahead of the curve. And sure, that wasn't an issue when the most they were compared against was Portishead in the early 2000s, but by the time this brand of electronic dance pop dominated around the turn of the decade, it felt like Goldfrapp was playing catchup again. So after making somewhat of a return to basics with Tales Of Us that got the lukewarm reception it deserved, they did the next best thing: took four years off, and came back with a record that promised to synthesize all of their influences into a new electro-pop record. And hell, given the dreary mess that currently comprises modern pop on the Hot 100, I could use a spark of life: so does Goldfrapp pull it off on Silver Eye?

Monday, October 31, 2016

video review: 'lady wood' by tove lo

Well, this was definitely a real disappointment. Certainly was hoping from more from this record, but instead... well, misgivings were proven correct.

And on that unfortunate note, Kenny Chesney is next (because I still need more time for Avenged Sevenfold), so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

album review: 'lady wood' by tove lo

I've had a sinking feeling about this record for the past few weeks now. And believe me, I definitely haven't wanted that, but the misgivings about this record started coming out early and haven't really stopped. 

See, when I first heard Tove Lo in 2014, I was pretty impressed with her debut Queen Of The Clouds. Not a great pop album, but I saw buckets of potential from a fairly smart songwriter with a knack for pop nuance and good hooks. And coupled with a forceful and surprisingly layered performance, I thought Tove Lo could easily build herself a potent pop career and give most of her contemporaries some serious competition. And for a while it seemed like she had some momentum: 'Habits (Stay High)' was huge, 'Talking Body' was a very respectable follow-up, and 'Close', her collaboration with Nick Jonas, grew on me a fair bit. And I really liked Tove Lo's artistic persona: wild, reckless, she pushed her lyrics into some dark territory, even if on some level you wished she could take as many chances with her instrumentation and production, or that her lyrics didn't always show the self-awareness to elevate the flagrant irresponsibility, add more subtext.

But while I initially dug her lead-off single 'Cool Girl', with everything else I learned about her sophomore project the more concerned I got, starting with the incredibly on-the-nose album title. Coupled with the fact that she had kept the same production team and the biggest guest star on this record was Wiz Khalifa, plus the fact that she was going for a double album concept on a record that didn't even crack forty minutes...hate to say it, but it rang as trying too hard to shock or grab people's attention. And sure, that's her prerogative and I generally like that forceful personality, but her lack of greater subtlety meant the play to greater sexuality felt all the more brazen... and while many of her younger fans might not remember, I'm familiar with what happened to Madonna in the early 90s - eventually if you try too hard to shock in this lane, people don't get surprised in the same way.

But maybe I'm being too harsh here, maybe there was a place for Tove Lo's directness in 2016, so I took a long hard look at Lady Wood - what did I find?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

video review: 'art angels' by grimes

Well, this was a hard one to crack. Lot of listens, but I think I finally got it.

Next up, it's about time I revisit Eric Church. Brace yourself, folks, and stay tuned!

album review: 'art angels' by grimes

You ever encounter one of those artists that seems to operate so much on their own wavelength that it's difficult to get a clear inroad to how to perceive or understand their art? As a critic, these are always some of the most frustrating acts to discuss - and for the longest time, Canadian electronic artist Grimes seemed to fall into that lane for me. 

Now I've been aware of her existence for years now - I first heard fragments of her music in university when I was going through my darkwave phase, and I've made several attempts over the past five years to try and untangle her artistic persona. On the surface, it might be easy to slot her into the spacious, airy side of dream pop with sparse beats and lots of dark misty atmosphere, somewhere between Enya with a splash of the more eclectic electronic percussion that some have compared to Bjork. But Grimes was more lo-fi and ragged in her presentation, the sort of Garageband-produced material that seemed so fresh online in the late 2000s before everyone started doing it, and the half-heard nature of her vocals and lyrics made things even tougher. I still find her debut record Geidi Primes perversely fascinating, mostly because the deeper reference points to Dune feel simultaneously incomprehensible and yet perfect all the same, the sort of deeply eccentric passion project that you can tell she had zero expectations would catch on. And I'm still trying to make heads or tails out of Halfaxa, which felt less esoteric and alien than her debut but no less impenetrable. I could sketch out reference points to the weirder edges of synthpop, electronica, and indie R&B, but Grimes seemed to exist in her own universe and my grip on it felt tenuous at best. I mean, I liked it, but I had the feeling if I understood it more, I'd like it that much more.

So did things get better with Visions, the first album she released under indie label 4AD? Well, while it might have cleared away some of the lo-fi blur to focus more on the distinctive ghostly electronic scratch paired with more textured percussion, but it seemed like some of the sense of alien mystique was missing. I'm not going to deny that Grimes could handle electro-pop, but the atmosphere wasn't quite as potent. Don't get me wrong, the mid-section of that record comes close to recapturing that feel, but it couldn't help but feel a little individuality had been lost - especially considering that it didn't translate into more of her work being comprehensible! So when I heard things had been cleaned up even more for her newest release after she had scrapped an album that was too dark and negative, I was curious to see where she'd take Art Angels - what did we find?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

video review: 'TRXYE' by troye sivan

Okay, next is Imogen Heap. You all wanted this, you got it.

But until then, stay tuned!

album review: 'TRXYE' by troye sivan

Okay, in case most of you who are new here haven't gotten the message, I don't tend to cover EPs. I tend to like looking at fully formed albums that have definitive presence and a theme behind them, which even shallow dance-pop albums can deliver.

And on that note, I tend to be a little cautious when covering fellow YouTubers. I've talked about this way back when I reviewed Karmin's major label debut album, because YouTube is a smaller community than you might think and there's always the chance that whatever I review gets back to the artist in question. Now the conclusion I ultimately drew was that I'm still a critic, and it doesn't matter what platform they started on, they deserve the same level of criticism as any other act, and to soften my typical style would be a disservice to Troye Sivan, because the implication would be, should I go easy on him because of YouTube or because it's an EP or because he's 19, that I don't feel his art can stand in the big leagues, and that's not fair to him. And considering so many of you recommended this guy, I figured I'd do my due diligence and take a look.

So, Troye Sivan. Australian, does a lot of acting and theater work, and a prominent YouTuber who has built a pretty impressive platform. He got his major breakthrough with one of his songs featuring in the hit romance movie of this year The Fault In Our Stars, based on a novel written by author and fellow YouTuber movie. Now I haven't seen that movie, mostly because that particular brand of cancer drama tends to gun for sentimentality that I don't tend to like, but I did hear Troye Sivan's charting single on the lower end of the Billboard Hot 100 'Happy Little Pill' and wasn't exactly impressed. But I kept getting requests for this EP so I figured there had to be something that was gripping everyone and gave it several listens. What did I get?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

video review: 'welcome to the jungle' by neon jungle

Well that was... surprisingly anticlimatic. Sheesh, not really a lot to say about the newest girl group arriving, that's for damn sure.

Okay next up... once again, I've got no idea. That debut album from The #1s looks interesting, but then again, I'll need to cover Spoon, Dilated Peoples, and plenty of others up ahead, so stay tuned!

album review: 'welcome to the jungle' by neon jungle

It's been a while since I've talked about pop girl groups, so let's revisit those again.

As I've said in the past, most girl groups don't tend to be my thing - I'm not saying I don't have a certain amount of appreciation for the roles acts like TLC or the Spice Girls played in modern pop, but they aren't usually my thing. Hell, the reason I like Girls Aloud as much as I do is more for pretty solid songwriting and great production courtesy of Xenomania more than their actual performances themselves. 

But one thing I've noticed over the past fifteen or so years is that girls groups don't so much define the pop landscape as they adapt to what is popular, especially if we're looking at groups originating in the UK. The Spice Girls rode the high-energy plastic dance pop trend throughout the 90s, Destiny's Child coasted on the path TLC already created and throughout the R&B boom of the early 2000s, and the Pussycat Dolls were the concoction of a marketing team that focused on image above all else, looked at the sleazier music of the mid-to-late 2000s and thought, "Hey, how can we make it that much worse?"

And it looks like similar trends are continuing with our current crop of British girl groups. Little Mix moved more towards R&B with their album Salute and while they haven't really gotten the chart success they deserve in the US, it's only a matter of time before the current neo-soul shift snags some of their material. Fifth Harmony, on the other hand, seems to be going for the percussion-heavy hip-hop-inspired pop with their recent single 'Bo$$', a song that I'll deal with whenever they drop that next album, because there's definitely a lot to talk about there.

The third group is Neon Jungle, the newest and arguably the girl group with the least buzz on this side of the Atlantic, one that I discovered by accident on iTunes when buying that self-titled Jungle record that I covered last week. And unlike their competition, Neon Jungle seemed to be going more along the lines of the Spice Girls by appropriating modern EDM trends for their debut album, Welcome To The Jungle. So out of curiosity, I bought the album and gave it a couple of listens: how is it?

Monday, July 21, 2014

video review: 'trouble in paradise' by la roux

Yeah, that Sadistik review isn't happening, I don't think. Every draft of it did not work, so I'm probably not going to cover it unless I get really desperate.

But then again, we're now entering the point of the year where nothing is coming out. So expect some odd shit over the next few days, so stay tuned!

album review: 'trouble in paradise' by la roux

Someday when pop culture historians sit down to write about the rise of EDM in the United States, they'd be wise to keep in mind two very important factors. The first is an admission that despite some of the genres roots coming from the discos and club scenes in Detroit and Chicago, it wasn't the US that was responsible for turning EDM into the worldwide phenomenon it is today. For that, you need to give the majority of the credit to Europe, who had been engaging in fluorescent explosions of pounding bass and gleaming synth lines for decades before rave and festival culture reappeared the Atlantic. For me, the years that always jump out as the 'peak' of said scene was the very late 80s and early 90s, especially in England with the moves to fuse the baroque weirdness of synthpop of all stripes with dance music. 

The other factor, of course, is the club boom, an era from approximately 2009 to 2012 where mainstream culture gravitated towards nightclubs thanks to a resurgence in synthpop and the success of mainstream hip-hop in pushing that lifestyle and sound. What tends to get glossed over in this story is that after several years of mainstream radio generally ignoring European music, several synthpop acts from other markets broke through around this time. These are acts like Robyn, Ellie Goulding, and the artist we're going to be talking about today, La Roux, who smashed onto mainstream radio with 'Bulletproof', a song all hard-edged synths and a fiercely dynamic vocal performances by Elly Jackson. What made the album stand out for me was the razor-edged balance between raw vulnerability and confidence, and much sharper lyrics than you normally see in this brand of synthpop - in other words, La Roux for me was the proto-CHVRCHES.

And yet after 'Bulletproof' and world-wide tours, La Roux dropped off the face of the earth. Elly Jackson admitted she wasn't ready for the insane fame that comes with such a hit and took a step back, eventually parting ways with her longtime producer partner Ben Langmaid, but not before writing a few songs for the new album Trouble In Paradise, an album coming five years after their self-titled debut and into a very different pop and dance music climate. So, how does it hold up?

Monday, May 5, 2014

video review: 'sheezus' by lily allen

Well, glad I could finally get this out. Fascinating album and definitely worth listening through if only to talk about it, because I get the feeling this one will inspire some real debate.

Okay, Lykke Li up next. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

album review: 'sheezus' by lily allen

I've got a complicated relationship with Lily Allen.

See, for the longest time, she was one of the most frustrating artists I've ever listened to, an act with very clear talent in instrumentation and songwriting, and I could tell she was genuinely clever and had a knack for incisive, biting songwriting. But every time I'd go back to that first album Alright, Still, I despised it more and more every single time. The rational part of my brain was telling me it wasn't a bad record, but for the life of me, I hated the framing of that album, overloaded with vapid, spiteful bitchiness that screamed of self-aware hypocrisy but didn't have the nuance or depth to really justify it. I'm told this is a British thing in how Lily Allen is supposed to be funny, but for me it was aggressively the opposite. My issue was always in the framing, which was trying to paint Lily Allen as at least a flawed protagonist figure who was skewering shallow mainstream culture, and while there was some self-awareness at how awful she came across, it was never enough to support her hollow justifications and I never felt her rather inert delivery was cute or charming or interesting enough to ignore it.

Thankfully, she seemed to clue into this problem in time for her second album It's Not Me It's You, which I liked a bit more in making Lily Allen a little more sympathetic and the framing a little more intelligent. But at the same time, the songwriting went broader in its portrayal of her newfound maturity, and her stabs at 'deeper' topics like religion and politics were shallow at best, almost cartoonish to the point of not being able to take seriously. On top of that, her instrumentation was even more of a mixed bag, displaying more influences and styles but some seriously obnoxious hooks. And the more I listened to the album, the more I got the impression that Lily Allen was never really trying or had her heart in her music - which she flat out admitted after the release of that album and then proceeded to take a five year hiatus. 

But now she's back with an album titled Sheezus, a title modeled off of Kanye West's controversial and critically acclaimed album that came out last year. And honestly, I was intrigued where she was going with this, because there are recognizable similarities between both artists. For one, they both have a tendency to mix genres in unconventional ways, they both can be insightful and somewhat self-aware songwriters about how terrible they can come across, and yet they both have egos the size of the British Isles and can be overwhelmingly full of shit. So I figured even if the album sucked, it'd still be interesting, so I gave it a few listens - how did it turn out?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

video review: 'by nicole' by frankmusik

Well, this was fairly quick to take in.

Okay, I still need more time before covering Lykke Li, Epica, or Lily Allen, so either Lindsey Stirling or that Ought band Pitchfork went crazy about. Stay tuned!

album review: 'by nicole' by frankmusik

One of the very first video reviews I ever did was one that caught me by surprise in a good way. The album was Colette Carr's debut album Skitszo, and while I won't deny there were significant issues with that album, it did showcase a promising talent with a lot of personality, and 'No I.D.', a song from that album, landed on my year-end list of the Top 50 songs of 2013.

What's interesting is that that song didn't technically debut in 2013. In fact, the song was originally placed on the album of her main collaborator Frankmusik, a synthpop musician and producer who released that album Do It In The AM in 2011. Admittedly, this proves more than a little frustrating for me, but the song is still great and giving it a chance to get it and Colette Carr some additional recognition is all a good thing. Plus, given the fact that Skitszo was assembled from numerous assorted EPs and other songs, I'm inclined to give it a pass.

But what about Frankmusik, the male singer on the track? Well, after parting ways with his record label in 2011, he set off to make synthpop albums on his own label, first with Between in 2013 and now By Nicole this year. And I'll admit I was curious - I liked the slick glossiness of his production, he had a taste for solid melodic progressions, and he was a convincing presence behind the microphone. So I gave the new album By Nicole a few listens - how did it go?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

video review: 'sex and love' by enrique iglesias

Well, that was easier than I expected it would be.

Next up... ugh, Foster The People. Hold on, folks, this won't be pretty.

album review: 'sex and love' by enrique iglesias

So back in the 90s after grunge fizzled out all too early, pop music went through something of an identity crisis in terms of what music would chart. Pop punk, swing dance, the ska revival, Europop, boy bands, nu metal, post-grunge, adult alternative, and all manner of other genres competing for cultural dominance. It was a swirling mess of confusion that led to all manner of one-hit wonders and acts that would fizzle out dramatically in the early 2000s after 9/11 when the charts got a whole lot darker and angrier.

And one of those crazes of the time was the Latin revival, and leading the charge was Enrique Iglesias. Son of Julio Iglesias, one of the most famous and successful Latin music acts of all time, Enrique broke into English radio after two well-received Spanish albums thanks to the recommendations of Gerardo (the mugging asshole who sang 'Rico Suave'). And for a brief few years, Enrique Iglesias' fusion of Latin romance and high-energy dance tracks were a pretty potent force on the pop charts. And I'll admit, I bought into it: the production had flavour, Enrique's sincerity and passion overcame some of the questionable lyrics, and the man did have some real charisma. The man has made some killer songs that I enjoy to this day, and I won't apologize for it.

But the pop charts have always been fickle, and a few years later, Enrique Iglesias' career on English radio seemed to sputter out. His 2007 album went nowhere even though he was experimenting with a darker style, and even critics who had supported him in the past weren't exactly fond of it. So in 2010, he continued his reinvention from the smooth Latin lover into more of the club VIP, and thanks to collaborations with the other reinvented Latin artist Pitbull (people forget he used to make crunk music), he managed to leap back into the spotlight. This time, however, I wasn't onboard - the love-struck sincerity seemed less genuine now, and coupled with lyrics that were worse than ever in songs like 'Tonight (I'm Loving You)' or 'I Like It' or 'Dirty Dancer', and an abundance of sterile modern production and that sucked away his humanity, I was just about done with Enrique Iglesias.

So to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to covering this new album Sex and Love. Every step towards a rougher club/dance sound had made his music get worse, and considering initial buzz on this album was that it was sleazier than ever, I expected the worst. So what did I get?