ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Sweetener’ – Ariana Grande

It isn’t often that you can say that 40 seconds of complete and utter silence is the most stunning and emotion filled moment on an album. However, this is the case with Ariana Grande’s latest release, Sweetener. Her fourth full length release (and first since the tragic bombing that claimed the lives of 22 of her fans) and is a sumptuous and intoxicating affair that strikes a near-perfect home run, if it weren’t for the few stumbles along the way.

Sweetener is best described as a love letter. Whether it be to her fiancé, her fans or even herself, Grande’s latest record is nowhere near short on love. Tracks like the dreamy ‘R.E.M’, the catchy ‘Everytime’ and the unsubtle interlude ‘Pete Davidson’ declare her undying love. Second single ‘God is a Woman’ is a seductive and defiant pop song celebrating the sexual liberation of womankind, in particular Grande herself as she brazenly declares “when all is said and done/ you’ll believe God is a Woman”. The same celebration of self is explored on ‘successful’, which doesn’t exactly live up to its title. With messy production, mediocre at best lyricism and nothing overly special happening vocally, ‘successful’ would seem like the most basic filler-track if it wasn’t for its bold and offensively cocky concept. While ‘successful’ isn’t the only filler track, Sweetener does a good job and keeping its filler to a bare minimum, as well as keeping the cuts well spread out across the 15 strong track list, with only Blazed’ featuring Pharell and ‘Borderline’ featuring Missy Elliot falling through the cracks. Both tracks suffer from similar issues, with unnecessary features, weird production that sticks out on the otherwise immaculately cohesive unit and poorly constructed hooks that leave a lot to be desired considering the brilliance of the rest of the record. Luckily for Grande, she was smart enough to place them throughout the album. ‘Blazed’ is followed by arguably the most divisive pop song of the year so far, ‘The Light is Coming’. The fourth collaboration between Grande and Minaj is a quirky, sparse and experimental track that has a lot of issues (lyrics and length), but is saved by its undeniable hook that sticks in your head and Minaj’s unrelenting verse.

The album’s second half is home to more straight forward pop forward fare such as ‘breathin”, which is one of the stronger tracks lyrically on the album that would have been a great summer single, and the absolutely stunningly raw one-two punch that is the combination of ‘Better Off’ and ‘Goodnight n Go’, which both fabulously display how deep her love for her soon to be husband is. ‘Better Off’ explores the insecurities that she has in her relationships, while ‘Goodnight n Go’, lays her feelings bare as she coos about how undeniable their connection is. The latter track, which samples the Imogen Heap track of the same name, is truly a marvel, as Grande’s love is infectious as it seeps through every part – from the vocals to the production.

As for her fans, Grande structures the entire album around them. ‘Raindrops’ is a gut-wrenching and fleeting opener that is gone as fast as it came that provides short but beautiful ode to the fans who Grande lost a little over a year ago. Grande closes the album on ‘Get Well Soon’. The album’s longest track, Grande continues the album’s overall vibe and instead of wallowing, she leaves the record on an uplifting note. ‘Get Well Soon’ sees Grande relate to those suffering, and encouraging them to talk about their feelings, declaring that even at the top of the world there are ups and downs. The track ends with a final 40 seconds of pure, uninterrupted silence, bringing the closer to a final running time of 5:22, a subtle but beautiful final reminder of those whose lives were lost.

This final tribute perfectly encompasses Sweetener. The album is an exquisite reminder that life goes on and while you may be preoccupied with what’s going on those you have lost will always be there. Grande’s Sweetener captures her life right now – engulfed in love and relationship. Sweetener is telling us that Grande is moving on, but will act as a constant reminder that she will never forget.


EP REVIEW: ‘Survive the Summer’ – Iggy Azalea

Years since her breakthrough hit ‘Fancy’ made her a household name, Iggy Azalea has fallen far from the heights she once occupied. However with the release of her latest EP, Survive The Summer, it becomes clear that being out of the spotlight suits her. The EP, while not a slam dunk, shows signs that Azalea’s greatest strength is herself.

The highlight of the six-track EP is Azalea’s delivery across all the tracks, especially on ‘Tokyo Snow Trip’, which boasts the EP’s best production and hook, and ‘OMG’, which features Wiz Khalifa, who both adds and takes nothing from what is easily the closest thing to a hit on the EP.

Azalea also shines on the rest of the EP, even when the production becomes so cohesive that it is nearly impossible to distinguish one track’s instrumental to the next. Azeala’s lyricism features some gems (“summer is over it’s a cold front tryna stop me is a witch hunt” being a particular highlight), but is overall lacking in some inventiveness, instead focusing on the usual tropes of the genre.

Overall, Survive the Summer, instead of pushing the boat out to more ambitious waters, nearly drowns in the shallow unoriginality of trying to fit into the current music climate, relying heavily on the pure charisma and delivery of its star to keep it afloat.

EP REVIEW: ‘Where Now From Here’ – Cable Street Collective

where now fromAn EP is an odd entity. A single exists entirely on its own, relying on its own merit to portray the story it intends to tell. An Album, on the other hand, relies on every track to act as an extension of the tracks around, to blend together and create one cohesive unit. An EP exists in that odd space between a single and an album. It has to have the cohesion of an album but cannot afford to have one of its tracks fail to succeed when singled out. Some EPs fail to find its cohesive footsteps despite being filled with brilliant cuts, while are too cohesive to even single out one track from the other.

Where Now From Here, the latest release from Cable Street Collective, falls slightly into the second category but manages to save itself by sheer charisma. The EP’s production is its biggest problem. It is not bad by any means, instead, it fails to vary from the stuttering and skipping combination of synth and instruments that is evidenced across its 5 tracks. The closest it comes to variety is on ‘Anyway’, the EP’s centre track and its highlight. Initially slowing down to a slow beat before ramping up to a similar speed to the rest of the EP, the track is allowed to stand out from its counterparts, and stand out it does. The track is raw and vulnerable that showcases the vocals of lead singer ____, and the incredible lyricism that is displayed across Where Now From Here, especially on ‘So We Go’, where clever writing fabulously blends with the equally clever production and vocal performance to create a sense of a fast-paced life.

Unfortunately, the strong lyrics and vocals aren’t enough to create enough of a distinctiveness around the remaining three tracks on the EP. ‘Nobody Smokes Any More’ and ‘The Very Best’ suffer greatly from near homogeneous productions. ‘Wonderland’, while close manages to avoid becoming lost in the derivative instrumentals of the EP’s more close cuts.

Overall, despite its cohesion issues, Where Now From Here is a fabulous exhibition of the tremendous talent that the Cable Street Collective possesses.

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ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Pendulum’ – Aisha Badru

cover_1517398909257757.jpgSomething that much of music releases seem to lack is honesty. Aisha Badru’s debut album, Pendulum, is not one of them. A raw, and organic collection of tracks that drips in genuineness, Pendulum provides its listener with soft, folksy ballads that rise and fall in all the right places.

Opening with ‘Mind of Fire’, a stunningly gorgeous ballad that showcases Badru’s delicate indie vocal that contrasts nicely with the rebellious subject of its lyrics, Pendulum is immaculately crafted from its beginning. The albums early tracks focus very heavily on actual instruments, allowing you to hear each strum of the guitar in ‘Navy Blues’ and every key in the simple piano ballad ‘Just Visiting’. ‘Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Happy Pretending’ combine those fabulous instrumentals with the a soft use of synth that never takes you out of the album or seems to throw the balance of the album off instead blending fabulously into the natural instrumental, particularly on the latter, where the violin/piano/synth for sublimely together.

The album’s highlight comes in its second last track ‘Splintered’. With its fast paced acoustic guitar instrumental, Badru evokes the feeling of splintering with her raw, strong vocal that contrasts beautifully with the dark and rotten lyrics that provide a marvellous commentary on human beings.

All in all, Aisha Badru’s debut album, Pendulum, never falters in its mission on providing and a calming and beautiful half an hour of natural and stunning thoughts captured in song.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Invasion of Privacy’ – Cardi B

artwork-for-cardi-bs-invasion-of-privacyCardi B exploded onto the pop culture landscape in a flurry of one-liners and reality TV dramatics. Taking that infamously sharp tongue and using it to start a rap career, Cardi B flew from a B-list reality star to a rap sensation. Following two mixtapes, ‘Bodak Yellow’, the first cut from her debut, smashed its way to the top of the charts, and rightfully so. ‘Bodak Yellow’ was a bold breath a fresh female air in an overly male music scene. Invasion of Privacy, unfortunately, suffers a similar problem.

‘Bodak Yellow’ was ambitious, hinging on Cardi B’s performance to elevate it above the crowd. Similarly, Invasion of Privacy is at its strongest when it is being driven by Cardi B and her female peers and at its weakest when its focus shifts to the male features. The album’s highlight is ‘Thru Your Phone’, a raw and stripped back cut that provides something different that isn’t completely out of cohesion. ‘Ring’ featuring Kehlani is an instant hit with a hook to die for, while ‘I Do’ featuring SZA is a confident collaboration that expands Cardi B’s arsenal of one-liners with her declaring, “Pussy so good I say my own name during sex”.

The Bronx Native’s snappy lyrics are the highlight of a number of the album’s cuts including ‘I Like It’ where her delivery and lyrics like “run this shit like cardio” elevate an otherwise average track. However, Cardi B’s talent is not enough to save all of her debut. ‘Brickenhead’ and ‘She Bad’ featuring YG suffer from uninspired production while ‘Be Careful’ and ‘Money Bag’ are complete misfires with the latter being a tragic attempt to replicate ‘Bodak Yellow’.

Overall, Invasion of Privacy isn’t an immaculate debut but it is a strong showcase of a talent that is coming into itself. Buoyed by her unabashed talent and female features, Invasion of Privacy makes for a mixed bag of brilliant and boring cuts that all point to the potential for great things in the future.

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ALBUM REVIEW: ‘My Dear Melancholy’ – The Weeknd

The WeekndThere is a very fine line between sonic cohesion and a boringly homogenous album. Unfortunately, for The Weeknd, he failed to walk it with his latest effort, My Dear Melancholy. The EP isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t necessarily good either instead landing between the two sides somewhere near serviceable.

My Dear Melancholy fails to build on the inspired strength of Beauty Behind the Madness and Starboy, marking the first time The Weeknd has failed to elevate the genre in which he exists. The opening track ‘Call Out My Name’, while lyrically more raw than usual for the star, is predictable in its production and the vocal performance that the R&B star provides. A similar tempo and production appears on ‘Try Me’ and in parts of ‘Wasted Times’ and ‘Hurt You’.

The lyrical content of the EP is it’s strongest aspect, particularly on tracks like ‘Privilege’. Although not overly inspired, the lyrics have some nice moments that when paired with the atmospheric and almost homogenous production of the 6-track offering makes for a decent effort from the Canadian.

Overall, My Dear Melancholy is too structured and too uninspired to ever elevate itself above any other R&B EP that could be released any day. Although it is perfectly serviceable, the EP lacks the flair and identity that usually brands The Weeknd’s music like a hot iron.

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ALBUM REVIEW: ‘As She Pleases’ – Madison Beer

IMG_1334The music industry has become very crowded in recent times and as a result, it takes a very distinct personality to elevate an artist. With the release of her debut EP As She Pleases, Madison Beer takes a shot at being the next big thing, and, to a large part, she succeeds. The 18-year-old YouTube sensation turned recording artist was discovered and signed by pop superstar Justin Bieber after he posted a Youtube cover of hers to his twitter. The young star spent the last few years finding her footing releasing singles here and there. As She Pleases proves that was a smart move on Beer’s part.

As She Pleases is a fabulous debut that is teeming with promise and attitude. The opening track, ‘Dead’, is a slick, minimalistic R&B-tinged, tropical toe tapper. ‘Dead’ cleverly plays on the age old phrase “I can’t live without you”, savagely asking “You say you can’t live without me, then why aren’t you dead yet”. ‘HeartLess’ is throbbing, skittering pop-R&B number that harkens to modern hip-hop hits such as Post Malone’s ‘Rockstar’ while referencing vocal styles like Ariana Grande and JoJo.

Elsewhere, Beer incorporates a variety of other styles. ‘Tyler Durden’ is a tender, soft acoustic ballad about unrequited love that is beautiful but relatively uninspired. The floaty ‘Teenager in Love’ adopts a doo-wop/pop sound that songs like Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About The Bass’ and Stooshe’s ‘Black Heart’ brought back into the mainstream. Beer channels the success of Dua Lipa on both ‘Home With You’, a straight up tropical-pop song that is elevated by its unbothered delivery, and ‘Say It To My Face’, a sassy, acoustic pop cut.

The EP is amalgamation of every popular branch of pop music that really shouldn’t work, but it really does. The execution of every track makes it seem fresh despite being done before. Every track hinges on Beer, with her vocal performance and overall confident and genuine delivery heightening the material given to her.

‘Fools’ is the EP’s highlight. The track is an unashamed pop song packed with strong lyricisms and interesting production choices. This is where Beer sounds the most comfortable, sliding up and down her register. The experimental use of vocal alteration on the bridge makes the track even more of a standout.

Overall, Beer uses everything in her arsenal to make her debut EP as strong of a showcase as she possibly can, and she succeeds to a large degree. As She Pleases is a sonic mess that sounds like a perfectly cohesive unit because of the voice of its star, relying heavily on her talent to make it work. And god does it work.

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