EP REVIEW: ‘She is Coming’ – Miley Cyrus

For anyone watching her career since it’s beginning, Miley Cyrus has been one of the most interesting stars to observe. From wholesome country-pop princess to hip-hop rebel and back again with a weird psychedelic drug filled phase thrown in there, it’s been a real rollercoaster. With each release, it seemed Cyrus had finally found herself until she was onto something else. However, on She is Coming, (the first third of her forthcoming and appropriately titled album She is Miley Cyrus), Cyrus’ numerous personas come together as the most authentic Cyrus yet.

With influences from rock, hip hop and country, She is Coming flickers from genre with such fever and confidence that it feels like being pulled through all of Cyrus’s albums in 19 minutes. ‘Mother’s Daughter’ is a rock influenced anthem while the RuPaul feature ‘Cattitude’ is as campy as one would expect of such a duo. Each track does reminisce to early eras, harking back to tracks like ‘The Climb’ on the closing track ‘The Most’ and ‘Younger Now’ on ‘D.R.E.A.M’. ‘Party Up The Street’ is a real highlight, an super chill, reggae-esque track featuring Swae Lee that is easily the best feature of the three on the EP. RuPaul is good if a bit crude, while Ghostface Killah’s verse on ‘D.R.E.A.M’ is so unmatched to the track at hand it’s a real wonder how it ended up on here. However, Swae Lee and Cyrus’ vocals are a surprisingly perfect combination as they meander along to the gorgeous beat provided by Mike WILL Made-It.

It is a important for artists to develop their sound, and play with where they have gone before and push forward at the same time. While Cyrus has definitely explored, she has never quite done it as exceptional as on this EP. Here, she finally leans into the best of every persona she has adopted over the years and developed them. It’s hard to imagine it can get better than this but if the rest of the album is as good as this EP, then it’s a good thing she warned us she is coming because Cyrus is a truly doing something special.

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TRACK REVIEW: ‘Never Really Over’ – Katy Perry

Several years ago, Katy Perry dominated pop music with an vice grip. With Teenage Dream and Prism, Perry’s rule was undisputed. However, with 2017’s Witness, Perry’s music had an existential crisis leaning away from the sugary pop that made her the star she was and instead attempted to capture trends of political messages, rap features and take down tracks. None of that worked, and the album cycle was a complete misfire.

Two years later, Perry returns to her home and thankfully it’s not only miles better than recent releases, but is arguably stronger than a lot of her back catalogue. The lyricism is noticeably better than a lot of Perry’s music with one of her most ear-wormy hooks and mature exploration of an on and off again relationship. Zedd’s production is anything but sparse, throwing every bit of pop production he has in from throbbing synth to a thudding drumline.

Overall, the track is a great return to form for one of pop’s finest and may not only put her back on the top, but put the genre back where it once was.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Sanctuary’ – Aly & AJ

In the midst of a nostalgia craze, an era that has brought about rebirths for disney stars like the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus’ alter ego Hannah Montana, one would think that the return of the duo behind the ever iconic ‘Potential Break-up Song’ would also benefit. Unfortunately, the return of Aly & AJ, beginning in 2017 (almost a decade after their last release) has gone largely under the radar. Thankfully, that isn’t stopping them from making near perfect music.

On 2017’s aptly titled Ten Years, the sisters dipped their toes quite successfully into the 80s synth pop sound (another nostalgic craze ushered in by high profile releases like Lorde’s Melodrama, Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION and Taylor Swift’s 1989). On Sanctuary, the duo show that they are true masters of it. From the dark vulnerability of ‘Church’ to the pounding synth of ‘Not Ready To Wake Up’, the duo invite you into their safe place, exposing their demons and emotions with absolute disregard. It’s truly something to behold, a perfect display of how to capture the sound, tone and feeling that the era they emulate was all about. Every synth, ever beat of a drum, every vocal, and every clap background bridge is placed flawlessly for maximum effect.

Sanctuary is a marvellously crafted EP, and a gorgeously dreamy five track trip into the world of Aly & AJ, that only leaves you wanting more. While the age of nostalgia and comebacks may well truly be just a way of making a quick buck for some, the craftsmanship displayed by this duo is a true testament to their desire to simply make great music – a desire they are more than succeeding in achieving.

TRACK REVIEW: ‘ME!’ (feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco) – Taylor Swift

It’s hard to deny that reputation was a defining moment in Taylor Swift’s career. It may not have been as successful (critically or commercially) as 1989, but it was defining. It was dark and edgy and undeniably ballsy. A cathartic, 180 from the persona that made her famous, reputation was full of ambition. Now, on the dawn of her newest era, Swift returns to the aesthetic that made reputation a possibility, and turns it up to an 11. Unfortunately, in this case, it isn’t a good thing.

I feel the need to preface this review with a message: I’ve been a fan of Swift since Fearless, and have followed her career ever since. I consider her among the great legends of music, and always will. With that, comes the knowledge of Swift’s habits. For example, I am fully aware of her tendency to release catchy, fun and light hearted anthems with less than groundbreaking lyrics as the lead single. I am also fully aware of the fact that music can be all those things and still be brilliant, for example, her last three lead singles. In this case, however, I believe Swift has let the ball drop.

Featuring Brendon Urie (of Panic! At the Disco), the TS7 lead single, ‘ME!’, is the antithesis of everything ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ was, not only in terms of sound and aesthetic, but in quality. The campy brilliance of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is missing on ‘ME!’, with a seemingly lack of thought to be the problem. Although catchy, ‘ME!’ seems too generic, too impersonal to be the work of Swift. It’s quite odd given the talent involved. Urie along with Joel Little (frequent collaborator of Lorde) share writing credits along with Swift. Despite her recent essay discussing how personal details make pop music great, ‘ME!’ lacks any of this, instead focusing on being relatable to its own detriment. Even Swift’s staple spoken bridge that features on her lead singles more so than not lacks all the iconic-ness of ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”s “so he calls me up…”, ‘Shake It Off”s “this sick beat” and ‘Look What You Made Me Do”s “cause she’s dead”. Instead she Best she could come up with was “Hey Kids! Spelling is Fun!” before launching into a god awful and nonsensical bridge made of tragic plays on spelling words with the song’s title (in Swift’s defence, she credits Urie as the mastermind behind the bridge, so at least the songwriter part of her reputation remains somewhat intact).

In the song’s favour, ‘ME!’ is rather catchy and features quite a good message, and must have been a relief for Swift to leave the persona of her reputation behind. It also features some great vocal work from both Swift and Urie, whose voices actually mesh better than one would expect. Their back and forth on the song’s second half is quite entertaining and appears and genuine collaboration between two artists, for which the pair has to be given credit given generic one verse feature that has become a trend for anyone looking to make a quick buck.

At the end of the day, ‘ME!’ serves a purpose. It’s designed by Swift and her collaborators to be a fun pop song with little depth other than to make you feel good about yourself. However, as well intentioned as it may be, ‘ME!’ is a poor attempt to recapture the brilliance of previous eras, made look only worse when considered against the body of work that is Swift’s discography with which it must compete.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Cuz I Love You’ – Lizzo

As she belts out the opening line of the titular track from her third studio album, Cuz I Love You, Lizzo sounds like she’s letting out a battle cry. To a large extent, that’s what this album is. Following a career spanning 10 years, with two albums under her belt, Lizzo is finally getting her moment, and be damned those who get in her way. In what could well be career-defining record, Lizzo delivers everything she needs to and then some. As she teeters on the line between fan favourite and mainstream pop star, Cuz I Love You pushes her well into the latter.

If the the title track is a her battle cry, the rest of the album is a perfectly strategised attack led by the army of talents that the 30 year-old singer/songwriter/rapper/flutist possesses. Shifting her way through genres as easy as changing a TV channel, Lizzo makes it known that there is very little she can’t do flawlessly. Her voice is stellar and even in the quieter moments, the production still keeps up with the multiple bangers. Tracks like lead single ‘Juice’ and the Missy Elliott featuring ‘Tempo’ bang harder than most of the chart hits of the last five years combined, while the likes of ‘Jerome’ and ‘Lingerie’ provide more soulful and vulnerable moments. “Like A Girl” is a highlight in an album full of highlights and should give Lizzo a surefire hit if it’s pushed (“Only exes that I care about are in my fucking chromosomes” is an early front runner for lyric of the year).

However, Cuz I Love You isn’t just a major achievement for the artist behind it, it’s a major turning point for the industry, as a plus-size woman celebrates exactly who she is without a care in the world. The record’s title track may refer to a man, but the album is a love letter to herself, with almost every track dripping in appreciation for the brilliance of Lizzo. A guide in self-belief, the sheer confidence that drenches every cut on Cuz I Love You is infectious to the point of sheer delusion. Lizzo’s display of not only self-belief and ambition, but the talent to back it up, establishes her as both an undeniable tour de force, and a defining artist of our generation.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘portraits’ – Greyson Chance

greyson-chanceGreyson Chance’s career has been one of turbulence. A child star who was left dissatisfied with his work as he developed from a child to an adolescent with his own thoughts. His first album since his debut 2011, Chance’s portraits is his return to music after leaving the industry for college. Since his debut, Chance has developed well beyond the artist he once was as a child star, having even said that he regards portraits as his actual debut album, and this can be felt on the record. Gone is the auto tune and artificial songs about defying the world, instead replaced with a thinly veiled look into Chance’s life framed by gorgeous synth-pop.

In a recent essay discussing song writing in pop music published in the March 2019 edition of ELLE UK, Taylor Swift said “I thrive on the challenge of sprinkling personal mementos and shreds of reality into a genre of music that is universally known for being, well, universal”. From portraits, it is clear Chance thrives on that exact same challenge. Following in the footsteps of artists like Swift and other queer artists like Hayley Kiyoko, Chance allows us an intimate look into his life across the 12 tracks on portraits, perhaps an even more intimate look than Swift or Kiyoko have ever given their audience. The album sounds like a diary put to music with a number of quick anecdotal interludes just to increase the intimacy.

For the most part, portraits is an album about love, as most records tend to be, but Chance manages to do what many fail to, making the subject feel fresh once more. The album is melancholy, heartbreak, love and anger all wrapped up in a beautifully produced and performed package. Chance’s writing is among the best, emulating Swift’s ability to drop small, undeniably personal details between the most relatable of hooks. Chance must be commended for his unrestrained use of male pronouns and exploration of the more intimate parts of same sex relationships such as on album highlight ‘black on black’. Chance’s own Justin-Timberlake-Sexy-Back moment, ‘black on black’ holds no punches as it slithers and slinks through a tale of sexuality and sensuality. While songs about sex aren’t hard to come by, it has to be said that songs like ‘black on black’ are breaking new ground in mainstream queer expression and will influence young queer people to not only express themselves but express themselves with the same unashamed attitude as their non-queer peers have done for decades.

Chance’s portraits is not only commendable for its themes though, instead being a well-constructed, sonically cohesive and all around brilliant piece of work. Every thud of a drum, every touch of a piano key and every falsetto is perfectly crafted to produce the most perfect sounds possible. portraits may not be his actual debut, but it is hard to debate the fact that this Greyson Chance is not an entirely different artist to the one who broke out eight years ago, and if this is the type of music he is going to produce, then thank god for that.

Watch the music video for Greyson Chance’s ‘yours’ now below:

TRACK REVIEW: ‘Sally Walker’ – Iggy Azalea

If there is one thing the world loves more than to watch someone fall, it’s to watch someone make a comeback. Five years since The New Classic and the various hits that made her a household name, Iggy Azalea has been to career hell and back. The public tore her down as fast as they made her and her former record label had no clue what to do with her after she decided she wanted to leave the pop collaborations in the past (see the scrapped sophomore album and the abysmal handling of 2018’s Survive The Summer). But with ‘Sally Walker’, Azalea is making up for lost time.

The first single off her upcoming sophomore record In My Defence and the first released through her own record label Bad Dreams Records, ‘Sally Walker’ marks Azalea taking control of her career and if the pure campness of the track’s concept and its video are anything to go by, she’s back with a vengeance. Azalea’s ideas are pretty smart lyric wise with the verses using some nice pop culture references and full of flex in the vein of every other rap song getting any airplay these day but the highlight is the true brilliance of the hook. Referencing a nursery rhyme is one thing but basing your entire track and flow around somehow making it one of the catchiest choruses of the year so far is a whole other level.

The production is quite similar to every other trap song in the top ten but you can hear the influence of J. White from a mile away. In fact, the production is quite close to White’s recent Cardi B effort ‘Money’ but the presence of actual personality on ‘Sally Walker’ saves it from the same fate as that track, instead being one of the catchier efforts from a female rapper since Cardi’s own ‘I Like It’ – and that’s damn impressive. In fact, ‘Sally Walker’ may just be a fun banger on the surface, but its ability to not only stand next to its contemporaries, but to do so without the backing of a major label (or even a minor album for that matter) is the ultimate flex.