Showing posts with label synthpop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label synthpop. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

video review: 'charli' by charli xcx

First big album review of the week (in a week stacked with some heavy ones), but next up is a frankly monstrous episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 16, 2019

album review: 'charli' by charli xcx

I saw Charli XCX live less than a month ago. I saw her on the main stage at Reading Festival as she blew through so many of the hits she had either created or cowritten and she was dancing her ass off to ramp up the energy for a tough afternoon set... and yet even as I watching, I had the lingering feeling that something was wrong. This should all be working... and yet it wasn't quite getting there.

And when I reflect upon her career and the constant spurt of hype from critics whenever she pushes out another genre-pushing pop project, I'm left with the niggling feeling that Charli XCX has been torn between a few different worlds for a long time. On the one hand, you have the mainstream push where she could absolutely be huge, with the distinctive voice, the theatricality, the knack for hooks, the surprisingly deep well of connections and guests she can pull upon, where she can build a whole set on those moments! But that's not all she is, and where she's mused publicly where she might be better off writing behind the scenes... because the other side of her art is the PC Music and SOPHIE side with the contorted electronics and sounds dragging pop music forward kicking and screaming, where she's grabbed so many critics, but not really the mainstream in the same way, at least not yet. At the festival I left convinced that for a nightclub or theater show she would be far more effective with her experimental work instead of fighting to hold a listless and scorching festival audience mid-afternoon, and fair enough - atmosphere is often one of the hardest things for any artist to control or manipulate, especially on a massive stage where she didn't seem to have a huge team behind her - but at this point I feel like I've been watching Charli's hype for most of the decade, and while I have to applaud her sustainability, you have to wonder why her balancing act hasn't quite blown her up into a superstar yet, especially if the music is good. Some of that I have to blame on her team and label, but when you are an artist ahead of your time with hype that seems bigger than her audience... well again, it's tough.

Now for me, I've never quite been truly 'wowed' by a Charli XCX project all the way through - more of my lingering tonal issues with the PC Music camp which don't always connect - but hey, I do find her a fascinating artist and I did have real hopes for Charli, so did it click this all the way this time?

Friday, September 6, 2019

video review: 'forevher' by shura

And yes, this is way too late, but I'm happy I got a chance to cover it all the same, even if I didn't quite love it as much as I liked.

Next up... hmm, could be all over the place, but stay tuned!

album review: 'forevher' by shura

This has been long overdue.

In fact, I think some of you might be surprised it's taken me this long to get to this album, especially given how much Shura won me over three years ago with Nothing's Real, a debut that came right the hell out of nowhere as one of the most promising slices of tight and immensely rewarding synthpop I've covered this decade. It was one of those rare cases where I had no idea what I was expecting, but given her tasteful update of retro-80s tones and a healthy amount of Janet Jackson worship, fused with terrific melodies, great subtle hooks, and truly remarkable writing delving into romantic intricacies, it's only grown more potent with every passing year.

And thus I was really looking forward to her follow-up... and yet I delayed with giving it a lot of listens. I was nervous how she'd follow it up, to be sure, but also because reportedly the sound had changed ever so slightly as well as dialing into the queer themes that had been moved from subtext to text this time around, and I was desperately praying the tightness had not been compromised in setting that vibe. Granted, the reception and critical acclaim has been potent so I had every reason to hope, but how about it: what did we get from Forevher?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

video review: 'dedicated' by carly rae jepsen

Okay, so this is actually better received than I would expect... huh, interesting...

Anyway, I think it's Tyler coming next, but before that...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

album review: 'dedicated' by carly rae jepsen

I'll admit to being surprised it took this long to get this album.

And sure, some of this comes of a question of momentum, which for a cult act like Carly Rae Jepsen might not matter - and I'll admit it's strange to refer to her as a cult act when in 2012 'Call Me Maybe' was nearly the biggest song of the year but seems to have mostly vanished from even a more nostalgic conversation. But I remember actually being ahead of the curve when it came to E.MO.TION, where I covered it as a fan who was fond of her earliest stuff and then saw the hipster crowd embrace her in spades, which carried into her short follow-up the next year on Side B. And then... well, the singles kept coming and the hype was there, but the reception felt increasingly lukewarm, and it wasn't like mainstream pop was in the best of places for the sort of crossover she probably deserved earlier. So when I started hearing the mixed reception for this album, I'll admit to being worried, especially with no credits from Josh Ramsay or Devonte Hynes. Still, I'm still a fan and I wanted to believe she could stick the landing, so what did we get from Dedicated?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

video review: 'sucker punch' by sigrid

Okay, this was a lot of fun... really enjoyed it, glad y'all pointed me to it.

But now onto a much uglier conversation - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

album review: 'sucker punch' by sigrid

You know, sometimes I get the feeling that some of you pay a little too much attention to my content. And of course I'm not going to complain that much - appreciate the attention, turn on notifications and all that, would prefer to hear it from you than plenty of others - sometimes you're attentive enough that I wind up eating my words.

So Sigrid: young Norwegian pop singer-songwriter signed to Island, and much to my surprise, I had talked about her song 'Strangers' last year around this time on a slow week of Billboard BREAKDOWN as one of my World Hits. And I liked what I heard: some blaring synthpop with a fair bit of intensity and smart songwriting, it was the sort of song that was very easy for me to like as a critic, to the point where I said when her debut album dropped, I'd be happy to cover it... and then like most episodes of Billboard BREAKDOWN, I promptly forgot all about it until you guys started reminding me. And this isn't anything against her, let me stress this - I listen to a ton of music, stuff falls through the cracks, and for pop, you can definitely tell Sigrid is relying more on good writing and sharp composition than flash, and an unfortunate side effect of that is you can lose track of songs and artists. More to the point - and this is a warning sign that labels especially in the U.K. are trying to milk as many singles as possible without a ton of faith in the album - the first Sigrid songs packaged onto Sucker Punch were released as early as February 2017. That was concerning to me... but I did say I was going to cover this and I'm a man of my word, even as I'm still struggling to put my finger on why that Little Simz album isn't quite clicking the way it should. So okay, what did I get from Sucker Punch?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Friday, December 7, 2018

album review: 'a brief inquiry into online relationships' by the 1975

You know, it's a common trope among movie critics that most sequences involving computer hacking tend to suck, because not only do most filmmakers not know anything about hacking in the real world, you're trying to add tension and gravitas to what is, for the most part, just people writing code and running scripts. And while I'm fairly certain other music critics have made a similar comparison, I want to drill into one particular point: I'm really goddamn sick of artists making songs and albums talking about social media. Yes, it can be a toxic waste dump of bad opinions, spam, stupidity and let's not forget the Nazis, but as a whole I still view social media as, if not a net positive, a powerful force in the modern age to be used for good or ill, and as a tool it doesn't make for good subject matter if the person beneath it isn't interesting or compelling. 

Granted, I'm also coming at this from a technical background and a higher-than-usual level of impulse control when I'm not making hot takes or livetweeting from the metal bar or karaoke, but I think my point stands in being able to shine a light upon a worldwide community with the possibility to give a megaphone to anyone - and like any other tool or mode of communication or entertainment, it has its limits and failings and the potential to bring out the worst in people. So while I'm not surprised artists like to target social media in their technological dystopia themes, I rarely see a level of realistic insight that doesn't feel short-sighted or hectoring or technophobic in a really crass way, especially when said acts are going to turn around and use said social media for promotion for their next project. And thus I think I can be forgiven for being skeptical of the newest album from The 1975, with the loaded title of A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships - not only did I hear whatever remaining rock element had been sanded away, I heard it was taking some thematic leaps into this territory. So in other words, I didn't have high expectations whatsoever, so what did we get with this?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

video review: 'simulation theory' by muse

Heh, hot takes galore in this one. Enjoy!

Next up, got some Billboard BREAKDOWN (last episode of this Billboard year!) and then I get to talk about Little Mix, so stay tuned!

Monday, November 19, 2018

album review: 'simulation theory' by muse

Honest question: when Muse rolled out their plan to make a 80s-inspired synth-driven pop rock album, did anybody think it was a good idea?

Well okay, in principle it wasn't the worst idea - I'd prefer Muse do this than try to make reggae or hip-hop or bluegrass - but I've seen this sort of 80s pop pivot a lot in the 2010s and Muse aiming to capitalize on nostalgia this blatantly seemed like a weird move, especially as their experimental tendencies tend to push them in very different directions. Say what you will about the mess of The 2nd Law with its warping dubstep touches or the grinding sludge of Drones, at least they felt contemporary and moves that made credible sense coming from Muse, even if neither worked in their entirety. Going for 80s synthesizers and softening their edge even further for a retro pastiche... look, Muse is too weird and earnest to consider something like this a cash grab, but as someone who has always been hit-and-miss on this band, I was concerned this could get ugly, especially given the polarized critical response I've seen. And my feelings weren't assuaged by the production team: Shellback, Timbaland and Mike Elizondo, are they making an 80s pop rock project or something that would drop in the late 2000s? But fine, what did we get out of Simulation Theory?

Monday, October 29, 2018

video review: 'honey' by robyn

Well, this was kind of underwhelming... still good, but it should be better.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and it looks to be short (hopefully), so stay tuned!

album review: 'honey' by robyn

Even before I knew I was a fan of pop music - hell, before I even had firm context surrounding what pop music was - I was a fan of Robyn.

And yes, I know that's a bizarre thing for me to say, especially coming from someone not from Europe and who only got passing snippets of what Robyn creating in the late 90s and 2000s... but we did get a few pieces, and the majority of them have held up amazingly well. I'll freely admit that when I was a child and heard 'Show Me Love' I didn't have the slightest clue who Robyn was - and let's be honest, most folks who were adults in North America didn't know either, her distribution and name-recognition stateside has always been shaky - but I knew the song connected on a fundamental level. Fast forward over a decade later and I'm hearing 'Dancing On My Own' in HBO's Girls and while the vocal timbre had subtly changed, the ridiculously intricate and tight pop music remained the same. And that prompted me to go back through whatever albums in her back catalog I could find and it's honestly a little astonishing how consistently great Robyn has been. There have been missteps - I might be one of the few people who find the hip-hop elements on the self-titled album to have aged pretty badly and hurt the album as a whole - but for the most part I've been a consistent fan of her terrific sensibility around melodic grooves and her remarkably keen sense of emotional dynamics.

And thus the past eight years where we haven't had full Robyn albums... well, it's been a long wait. Yes, I heard those EPs with Royksopp and La Bagatelle Magique, but they felt compromised, not nearly the clear organic creative vision I knew Robyn could deliver, and thus I was thrilled to get a chance to hear her newest project, Honey - was it everything we could have hoped for and more?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

video review: 'afterlife' by alterity

You know, I will say I'm surprised this did not wind up on the Trailing Edge for me... but to be honest, I wound up having plenty to say on this one, so I'm okay with a review even if it doesn't get a lot of traffic.

Next up, let's deal with Ella Mai - stay tuned!

album review: 'afterlife' by alterity

So just so you all understand my point of reference, let me describe how I handle artists who are more of a Bandcamp/independent stripe that wind up on my schedule. Most of it would seem self-explanatory: unless they absolutely blow me away or I literally have nothing else to talk about on my schedule - like in early January - I typically put these artists on the Trailing Edge. And for the most part folks have been fine with this: the acts are just starting out or are very underground, after all, and sometimes bringing down my full critical scrutiny can be a lot to handle, and while there's often a consideration on my part when it comes to traffic, there's also the acknowledgement that a lot of these acts don't exactly give me a ton to say.

Of course, there are exceptions where I do have a little bit more - I'm sure some of you are familiar with my Eric Taxxon reviews by now - but Alterity is a bit of a different case. A duo of producers who also happen to contribute to my Patreon - no guarantee of a positive review or not winding up on the Trailing Edge, for the record - they've patiently voted this up the schedule and I'll freely admit after checking out their debut EP I was pretty sure this was going to wind up on the Trailing Edge too. Not that it was bad, but more that I was generally a little underwhelmed by their sound and approach, of which I'm very familiar and have some pretty strong tastes on what I like in this collection of subgenres. But okay, what then is there to say about their follow-up Afterlife?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

video review: 'i'm all ears' by let's eat grandma

So apparently the general response here is that nobody really gives a shit about this album and me covering it. /sigh

Anyway, next up... hmm, we might have a surprise coming, stay tuned!

album review: 'i'm all ears' by let's eat grandma

So this is going to be a strange one - and this time, I don't have any excuses, I put this on my schedule myself when I started seeing the critical acclaim rolling in. And I'll freely admit that when I discovered this was an indie pop duo from the UK who met as children and starting writing reportedly these strange, off-kilter songs, I thought I had a firm idea what I was getting into.

And after listening to their debut... well, I still think I do, but that's more because the weird kaleidoscope of sounds that Let's Eat Grandma incorporates does make a strange sort of sense. Yes, the obvious comparisons can be made to the dream pop scene with the spacey textures and extended song structures that all go on way too long, but the more obvious comparison was a subgenre I haven't touched on in a long time: anti-folk. You know the types, the ones that take the more earnest songwriting tropes of folk music and bend them until they snap, and considering how much of the debut read like an extended, slightly twisted subversion of fairy tales - and how much pop has disappeared up its own ass in the 2010s, even in the mainstream - Let's Eat Grandma was intriguing but not particularly gripping, at least for me.

But that debut, mostly comprised of songs the girls had written in their younger years, got a lot of attention, including from experimental pop producer SOPHIE who keeps showing up in my reviews this past month. And given that she was stepping in alongside David Wrench on production made me think I'm All Ears might be a sonic departure, heading towards more glittery synthpop than the anti-folk that gave Let's Eat Grandma such a distinctive presence in the scene. But hey, considering all of the critical acclaim I was certainly curious, so what did we find on I'm All Ears?

video review: 'pop 2' by charli xcx (5th year anniversary!)

Okay, this was a treat to cover (lot better than the anniversary video I was stuck with last year...).

Anyway, now that Billboard BREAKDOWN is out of the way, I think I'm in the mood for something kind of similar to this... stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

album review: 'pop 2' by charli xcx (five year anniversary!)

I'm not surprised this beat out everything else on the docket by a considerable margin. Yes, J.I.D. and N.E.R.D. got close and thankfully those sadists who wanted me to review Heartbreak On A Full Moon never really got groundswell, but if there was a project that attracted considerable attention very late last year, it was this one.

And when you think about it in a traditional context, it's a strange one too, but that's more because Charli XCX's entire career has been bizarre. Her debut True Romance in 2013 never really got traction - mostly because it was painfully mediocre - but she still had 'I Love It' with Icona Pop and her follow-up Sucker a year later had a genuine hit with 'Boom Clap' and seemed like the perfect project to break her through into the mainstream with a distinctive sound and style... and then that didn't happen. Instead, she decided to join the cutting edge of modern pop production by linking up with the P.C. Music crew and SOPHIE, which led to a lot of critical acclaim and a diehard cult following, but not really any hits. Instead, we got EPs like Vroom Vroom and mixtapes like Number 1 Angel and the one we'll be talking about today, Pop 2. And given that I only opened my schedule to EPs and mixtapes as of this year, I didn't really weigh in on either project, so let me handle that now: they're pretty good. I will say it's notable how much SOPHIE's sound has evolved since her production work on Vroom Vroom and that Number 1 Angel definitely had its high points - most notably when cupcakKe showed up - but for as much hype as Charli XCX has gotten for this work, I was a little underwhelmed. Granted, I'm the weirdo who still thinks 'Need Ur Luv' is her best ever song by a considerable margin, but I think my larger issue is that the main synth melody lines felt kind of undercooked when we got them at all. But hey, neither of these have received the level of hype that Pop 2 got, so hopefully that was the one that really clicked, right?