Album Review: ‘Camila’ – Camila Cabello

Camila_(Official_Album_Cover)_by_Camila_CabelloThe minute a pop band finds success, the first question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is who will be the first to go solo. In the case of X Factor alums Fifth Harmony, the answer was obvious and came in the form of frontwoman Camila Cabello. From her various solo projects, as well as the less than subtle cracks in the group’s united front, her leave was inevitable. When it came, the question turned to how it would affect both parties. Her former bandmates proved that it wasn’t the best thing for them with their less than successful third album dropping last year. Cabello, however, has had better luck, luck that continues on her debut.

top-bgFollowing the failed launch of ‘Crying in the Club’, Cabello found her footing on the latin-tinged smash ‘Havana’ which is a good indicator of what the rest of the album has to offer. Although the track would benefit without the Young Thug and comes a little too close to sounding eerily similar to Selena Gomez’s ‘Same Old Love’, the track is an undeniable earworm. Its follow-up, ‘Never Be The Same’ is less of an earworm. The album opener is a slow EDM-tinged pop ballad that showcases Cabello’s vocal range marvellously, and even if the love-drug comparison that the lyrics are based upon is a bit clichéd, the production makes it sound fresh.

CC-3The album slows way too fast with its second track ‘All These Years’. A straight up acoustic ballad, ‘All These Years’ never elevates itself beyond being just that and never truly finds its groove. The same can’t be said for the album’s other acoustic efforts. ‘Real Friends’ is a wonderfully sassy yet raw up-beat acoustic pop track that is slightly too coincidental to not be about her former bandmates. ‘Consequences’ provides a marvellous raw moment that is heightened from brilliantly sparse production choices backed up by an unusually low-key vocal performance. However, the album’s highlight comes in the stunning ‘Something’s Gotta Give’. The only song on the album where the lyrics, vocals and production all fire on all cylinders and provides one of the most effecting and swelling pop ballads of recent times.

CC-4The Latin-laced pop of ‘Havana’ is used across the album, to varying degrees of succes. The Shrillex-produced ‘She Loves Control’ uses Cabello’s roots to yield one of the album’s most sure-fire hits but manages to never sound like a desperate attempt to replicate ‘Havana’. ‘Inside Out’ is a more tropical but less mature track that, despite the Latin infusion, oddly sounds less genuine than the tracks that surround it, a problem that occurs on the album’s closer. ‘Into It’ is a safe example of an modern electro-pop track that is overly-sexual and never sounds as real as Cabello sounds on the rest of her debut. That’s not to say electro-pop doesn’t work for Cabello. ‘In The Dark’ is a fabulous pop jam that builds from its slow throbbing verses to its beautiful skipping chorus.

Overall, Camila shows that leaving her group behind truly was the best move for Cabello. It uses its biggest asset to its advantage which is its star as Cabello’s voice encapsulates everything the album is – genuine, unique and raw. While it has it’s weak moments, Camila’s strongest moments make for one of the most exciting and promising pop debuts of the decade.

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Alternatively Pop’s Top 15 Albums of 2017

2017 gave birth to wonderful comebacks, marvelous debuts and brilliant follow-ups, marking one of the strongest years (creatively that is) for pop music. Here are our picks for the top 15 albums this year.

  1. Melodrama – Lorde

melodramaAn immaculate culmination of synths and sorrow, Lorde left only destruction in her wake upon her return to the music industry. An unprecedented triumph, Melodrama ranks among the greatest pop albums since music’s conception and proves that the artist behind it isn’t quite the one-trick pony some thought she was.

 

  1. Reputation – Taylor Swift

taylor coverWhilst her contemporary, Lorde, took a more experimental approach on melodrama, Swift ventured further into the mainstream (with a sprinkle of her own experimentation), and produced the polished and perfected pop that glittered on every second of every track on reputation. A departure from the demure crafted synth-pop of 1989. Swift stretched the very boundaries of pop music, and did so to a great degree of success.

 

  1. Waves – Rachel Platten

wavesA perfect example of an artist maturing into they’re sound. Platten’s Waves delivered on all the potential that its predecessor Wildfire promised. Combining a more vulnerable and sincere approach to the album’s lyrics and a slicker dance-pop production, Waves wipes away the façade and pushes Platten out from behind the clichéd power slogans that were one too many on Wildfire and shows her off for the force of nature that she truly is.

 

  1. Harry Styles – Harry Styles

harryA cohesive and risky debut rooted in soft and indie rock was not the solo project many expected when Styles began curating following the announcement of his band’s hiatus. However, it is what he created and he truly displayed every bit of talent he had. A record full of interesting tracks with different yet cohesive production makes for a wonderful debut.

 

  1. Rainbow – Kesha

rainbowBoth Lorde and Swift may have made strong comebacks in 2017, but it was the reinvention of Kesha that made for a truly pleasant surprise. Following a very public legal battle, the star returned to her comfort zone – the recording studio – and made a record that, while flawed, displayed her extensive capabilities to dabble in various genres and uncanny ability to write from unique perspectives.

 

  1. What Do You Think About The Car? – Declan McKenna

declan mckennaIn a year of marvellous debuts, McKenna seized the opportunity to capture the views of his generation. Discussing a variety of subjects that plague millennials, McKenna put those issues to an indie rock soundtrack fabulously.

 

  1. Lust For Life – Lana Del Rey

alt pop lanaAs always, Del Rey produced an album full of vintage, wistful and melancholic gorgeousness. While the first half of the album has its let downs, the second half is home to some of Del Rey’s best work to date.

 

 

 

  1. Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa

Dua_Lipa_(album)A tour de force of pop magic that ranges from slower acoustic to tropical club anthems – such as the insatiable ‘New Rules’ – Dua Lipa affirmed that she is the next big power in pop music and she is here to stay.

 

 

  1. Ride – Loreen

Loreen_-_Ride_CoverMoving from her prior EDM driven releases to a more mid-tempo electro-alternative sound in a seamless fashion, Loreen’s Ride gave a darker and mature look at the star’s already unique sound and vocals, bring about one of the year’s best alternative releases.

 

 

  1. Places – Lea Michele

Lea_Michele_-_Places_(Official_Album_Cover)Places is like listening to someone slipping into their old favourite jumper after spending the entire day in an uncomfortable gown. Michele never truly sounded comfortable on her debut (except for the stunning ‘If You Say So’) but that discomfort disintegrates as she steps into her Broadway shoes and her comfort zone on the masterful traditional pop of her sophomore effort.

 

  1. Nervous System – Julia Michaels

268x0wAlthough it is technically an EP, Nervous System is one of pop’s best songwriters make her grand entrance into the singing side of her industry. A fabulous collection of modern mainstream pop that, while not overly unique, is fantastically executed.

 

 

  1. Younger Now – Miley Cyrus

MileyA beautiful but bumpy return to her country roots, Younger Now brought about some of Cyrus’ best work and worst work alike. Tracks like ‘Malibu’ and ‘I Would Die For You’ mark some of the most mature and intentional work of Cyrus’ career and made for an enjoyable listen despite its shortcomings.

 

  1. Ctrl – SZA

1200x630bbA masterclass in modern R&B, Sza explored themes of femininity, what it means to be young and all the issues that come with that with commanding lyrics and breath-taking production that displays a grasp and willingness to push the boundaries of R&B that is beyond her years.

 

 

  1. American Teen – Khalid

1200x630bb (1)Another album based in R&B, American Teen pushes the boundaries of the genre in the exact opposite direction that SZA went in and does it just as wonderfully. Khalid embraces the mainstream influences of pop music while remaining firmly rooted in R&B with brilliance and conviction.

 

  1. Gemini – Macklemore

220px-Macklemore_GeminiA mixed album that feels more uneven than the other 14 albums on this list, Gemini is held together by its brightest moments and the spirit of the artist behind. Every track and every moment, good or bad, feels genuine and earned and necessary and that, is the brilliance of the album.

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘reputation’ – Taylor Swift

Swift marvelously bounces from love to scorn on the a perfect and cohesive pop record that builds on her work but is nothing like anything she has done before.

taylor cover“They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one” isn’t a typical lyric you would expect to find on a Taylor Swift album. Then again, neither is “But I stay when you’re lost and I’m scared and you’re turning away”. However, both feature on the resident queen of breakup anthem’s latest full length effort reputation, where she leaves the relationship post-mortems behind in favour of a mix of angry clap backs and lovesick lullabies. Somehow kept almost entirely a mystery until its release, reputation is Swift’s first record since 2014’s 1989, and god, has a lot happened since then. To her credit, Swift never blinked, she never deviated from her plan. When she said “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation”, she meant it.DIC_q8vUMAA4Yf-

Swift truly allows the music to speak for itself on reputation, and she doesn’t shy away from letting it tell all. ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ is a trap-pop masterpiece, dripping in sarcasm, all but explicitly saying Kanye West’s name. Swift sounds defiant and unbothered, as she fabulously declares “Friends don’t try to trick you/ Get you on the phone and mind-twist you”. This track perfectly encapsulates the record as a whole – it is Swift not caring what happens. She isn’t censored, or worried about saying what she thinks. This attitude continues on album highlight ‘I Did Something Bad’, easily one of the best songs of Swift’s career, where she sneers at the men she’s left behind and it is this confidence that pulls the album tightly together as a cohesive unit.

121369reputation experiments with the synth-pop of 1989, with cuts like ‘Getaway Car’ and ‘Gorgeous’ retaining that fizzy 80’s influence that was so affluent on 1989. The former track is a marvellous sequel to 1989’s ‘Style’, with low, brooding verses that build with Swift’s passion filled vocal performance to a heavenly chorus. Speaking of heavenly, Swift incorporates the slightest of gospel tinges on the dark and beat heavy ‘Don’t Blame Me’,  and less so on the ever so fragile ‘Delicate’, where layering her own vocals over and over again results in a hauntingly beautiful opening that releases into a tropical beat. That tropical influence also appears on ‘…Ready For It?’, the album’s second official single. The track is a pounding assault of bass and brilliance filled with Swift’s breathy vocals and incredible production that transcends the track to new heights, while simultaneously producing one of the best lyrics of her career, referencing the overexposed but defiant love of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

taylor-swift-look-what-you-made-me-do-868x680In fact, the lyricism of reputation is where, unsurprisingly, Swift truly shines. Swift’s writing has grown with her and her maturity is evident on tracks like ‘So It Goes…’, where she recalls “scratches down your back”, and ‘Dress’, which she only bought “so you to take it off”. Notably, the album’s closing track ‘New Year’s Day’ sees Swift return to the realm of balladry. Here, Swift quietens to a mere piano and her voice. Yet, somehow, the ballad is just as loud as any other track. Swift’s skill as a writer is on full display here, as she returns to her country roots to tell a story before crooning “Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you”. Ultimately, that line summarises the album. It is about not forgetting, whether it be the good or the bad, you should hold onto things. You should hold onto the moments you feel angry, when you feel sad, when you feel defiant and especially when you feel loved. Swift doesn’t deny or confirm her reputation on this LP. She instead owns it and every single emotion that comes with it. And it is truly something to behold.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘The Thrill of it All’ – Sam Smith

Ultimately, Smith’s second album, The Thrill of it All, is a solid effort with more brilliance than mediocrity, but is burdened by the growing pains of leaving his prior effort behind.

alt pop sam smithSam Smith is a music industry tale as old as time. A voice first heard featured on some inescapable song (Disclosure’s ‘Latch’), followed up by their own even more inescapable stand-alone hit (‘Stay With Me’) and the blockbuster album that follows (‘In The Lonely Hour’). However, on his sophomore effort, Smith strays from the formula, because The Thrill of it All, unlike many second LPs, is nothing close to a disappointment.

The Thrill of it All builds on everything that worked so brilliantly on its predecessor, exploring themes of heartbreak and longing that just match the marvellous voice behind them. But Smith does not remain stagnant, instead experimenting and developing his sound. Notably, the electronic-tinged ‘Say it First’, that sees Smith plead for someone to tell him he loves him, and the doo-wop, motown-esque flow of ‘One Last Song’ and ‘Baby, You Make Me Crazy’ that sounds marvellously like Amy Winehouse.

The album has moments where you wonder just how far Smith has developed his sound. ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’ and ‘Midnight Train’ sound like tracks that were cut from In The Lonely Hour, the former being a grating, hollow track with a choir backed chorus that just doesn’t work. SamSmith_avatarIn fact, the use of gospel choirs on this album is anything but subtle. It works slightly better in the final chorus of ‘Burning’, a piano ballad that, along with ‘Palace’, bridges the gap between Smith’s debut and sophomore efforts that are neither brilliant nor terrible.

However, the album’s second half contains some of Smith’s strongest work to date, as it takes a more passionate approach, replacing the mournful vocal that Smith is so accustomed with and replacing it with a more powerful, raw and angry vocal as he muses about religion. ‘HIM’ is the album’s strongest track lyrically, adopting a similar story-telling technique to that of Taylor Swift’s earlier work, addressing Smith’s experience in openly loving someone of the same sex and the judgement that comes with that. ‘Pray’ also discuss Smith’s relationship with religion and incorporates a trap-like beat and gorgeous deep vocals. The album’s lone collaboration, featuring YEBBA, is a polished pop song that matches a spectacularly chill beat to the pair’s passionate vocal performance, a pairing that works incredibly well on the album’s standout track.NO REUSE Sam Smith Credit: Ruven Afanador

Ultimately, Smith’s second album, The Thrill of it All, is a solid effort with more brilliance than mediocrity, but is burdened by the growing pains of leaving his prior effort behind. That being said, the album only further proves Smith’s incredible talent as a vocalist and when he wants to be, a great songwriter.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: P!nk – Beautiful Trauma

Beautiful Trauma is a fitting title for the latest LP, because ultimately, the album’s tracks can be separated into two categories – Beautiful and Traumatic

pink-beautiful-trauma-thatgrapejuice-600x600After the first half of 2017 saw unbelievable chart dominance by male artists, their female counterparts have begun to resurface with a flourish of fervour. Five years since her last effort, P!nk (born Alicia Moore) has returned to the spotlight with Beautiful Trauma. Beautiful Trauma is a fitting title for the latest LP, because ultimately, the album’s tracks can be separated into two categories – Beautiful and Traumatic.

The album’s lead single “What About Us” was an inoffensive combination of inspiring sayings plucked from Hallmark cards and poor, generic production. However, who knew that would be the case for many of the album’s tracks. In many instances, it seems like Moore is merely ticking boxes with the inclusion of cuts such as the title track, a bad attempt at a pop love song that leaves a bad taste in your mouth for the songs that come after it.

The album’s biggest offender comes in the form of “But We Lost it”, a piano ballad that doesn’t offer any growth in terms of experimentation with the genre. The lyrics of this track are horrific, not fitting to its instrumental support and sounding forced together rather than a seamless blend of lyricism to music. Moore’s vocals struggle on this track sounding uncomfortable in the song’s verses. “Better Life” is a sore mix of gospel and pop that doesn’t really work, but Moore’s delivery is substantially better than prior tracks.

PINK-PRESS-PHOTO-2017-cr-Ryan-Aylsworth-billboard-1548Moore’s conviction and vocal are really the album’s saving grace, particularly in the album’s second half, making tracks like “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” and “You Get My Love”. P!nk’s vocals are marvellous, notably on “Whatever You Want” and “For Now”, the album’s strongest love songs. “For Now” and other album highlight “Barbies”, a breath-taking discussion about growing up, benefit massively from the touch of upcoming singer-songwriter Julia Michaels.

“Where We Go” and “Secrets” fly in the face of the abysmal effort to replicate current pop music that was “What About Us”, brilliantly capturing the epic and experimental nature of the current pop landscape. The album’s true highpoint comes in the form of “I Am Here”, a wonderful pop-folk blend that soars on the strength of its production and Moore’s vocal performance.

la-et-ms-pink-beautiful-trauma-20171011Beautiful Trauma is an assorted bag, split into songs that truly capture the brilliance of the artist who sings them and songs that are an insult to the fabulous and experimental work that Moore’s contemporaries have produced this year, from Lorde’s Melodrama to Kesha’s Rainbow. It is a step backwards from her prior work and for that reason it’s a disappointment. A disappointment that is only highlighted by just how great its better moments are.

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Younger Now – Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus’ Younger Now’ serves as an ode to both of her past selves and embraces her future.

Miley

Miley Cyrus has been through the ringer. Born into music royalty, and with the determination to follow in her father’s footsteps, Cyrus was a working adult at the age of fifteen, churning out episodes and soundtracks at a ridiculous rate. That all culminated in her imploding and producing her incredibly successful and even more controversial Bangerz era. Since then she’s grown her hair and grown up, which is ever so evident on her ironically titled sixth LP Younger Now.

Sonically, the album bounces from country to pop to a blend of the both. A perfect example of this, the album’s lead single, ‘Malibu’, a magical reinvention following the antics of her Bangerz era and the complete off the wall weirdness of her Dead Petz era. A slow, yet pounding number, Malibu served Cyrus on multiple levels. It was refined and well-constructed, taking her craftsmanship to a new height, but also put her prior mistakes firmly in the past.

This genre blending is also noticeable on ‘Thinkin’’, a country-rock-pop hybrid that demands attention with its earworm chorus that sticks in your brain with a vengeance. That same vengeance is present on the darker, folk-infused ‘Bad Mood’, where Cyrus’ vocals attack, perfectly matching with the brooding, intense production.

 

Miley-Cyrus-Malibu-3

Despite the more forgettable tracks (‘I Would Die For You’, ‘Week Without You’ and ‘Rainbowland’), Cyrus proves that when she is good she’s great. ‘Younger Now’ and ‘Inspired’ both embrace a more traditional country ideal, affirming her return to her country roots and wholesome image.Lyrically hollow, both tracks’ real standout element is Cyrus’ soaring voice.In fact, Cyrus’ vocals are breath-taking on every track, notably on cuts like the beautiful ‘Miss You So Much’, a marvellous testament to love set to a undulating acoustic instrumental that truly showcases Cyrus’ talent as a singer-songwriter and album standout ‘She’s Not Him’, a spectacular ballad about Cyrus’s inability to fall in love with anyone except her muse.

Ultimately, ‘Younger Now’ is a strong return to form from Cyrus. The album serves as a goodbye to her rebellious image of a bad girl and adopts wholeheartedly the inner flower child she left behind so many years ago. It is mature, yet young. It is strong, yet vulnerable. Whatever it is, it is unapologetically Miley.

ALBUM REVIEW: Rainbow – Kesha

After almost five years, Kesha returns in a fluorescent and raw flurry of colour

kesha-rainbow-album-hdSeven years ago, the world saw one of the fastest and meteoric rises to fame in history, when Kesha (then Ke$ha) blasted onto every chart in the world. She was everything that music critics hated – sleazy, auto tuned and seemingly uncaring about what she sang. However, those were in fact not decisions made by a bunch of corporate suits trying to create a star, but instead aesthetical choices made by an artist who wanted to have fun. That same artist has spent the past five years since her last release locked in legal battle against her former producer and alleged abuser. However, that same artist has come out the other end, changed for the better but still herself, a fact that is evident on Rainbow.

A very mixed and diverse album, Rainbow is an important change of pace. She embraces the country roots that she comes from but doesn’t forget the auto tune heavy party music that was her staple. Tracks like the punk-rock influenced ‘Let ‘Em Talk’, and the KESHA_Press-Shot-Credit-Olivia-Bee-low1-660x330similarly-influenced ‘Boogie Feet’, make it known that the she hasn’t lost herself in her self-discovery. They are cut from the same “Balls out” cloth that put her where she is, but have a maturity to them that elevates them beyond her prior work. An album highlight comes in the funk tinted and feisty feminist anthem that is “Woman” furthers the notion that the dollar sign remains in Kesha’s heart if not in her name as she declares she’s a “motherf-ckin’ woman”.

However, the album is laden with tracks unlike most cuts in Kesha’s back catalogue. The lead single ‘Praying’ is a brilliant and raw power ballad that packs a punch of emotion with every word, while slower tracks like ‘Bastards’ and ‘Spaceship’ discuss her inability to fit in and her journey to accepting that one day she will find her place. The album’s title track levels it’s listener with an emotional thwack that is both the quietest and most unnerving part of an otherwise very self-assured and empowering record.

The album’s more country tinged moments also provide a blend of new and old. The indie-folk ‘Finding You’, harkens back to ‘Past Lives’ from 2012’s ‘Warrior’, 5691-031A 001while ‘Hunt You Down’ which adopts a similar viewpoint as the title track of 2010’s ‘Cannibal’. The latter of the two is one of the LP’s strongest moments, providing a cinematic and modern take on what would otherwise be a parody of the genre. Dolly Parton provides the most satisfying of the album’s features, a wonderfully modern cover of a track made famous by Parton herself and written by Kesha’s mother, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)”.

The album’s less impressive moments are few and far between, however they are still there. The synth-pop ‘Hymn’ fails to match the genuineness and believability that similarly themed tracks possess in spades while the oddness of ‘Godzilla’ makes it stand out as random and tacked on. Finally, ‘Boots’ captures the essence of Ke$ha but lacks the maturity and conviction of the same artist five years later.

Overall, the album is a triumph. It is a triumph from an artistic viewpoint, remaining true to the sound that produced her career while growing in maturity. It is also a triumph from a personal standpoint. Kesha may be forever altered by the legal case that will plague her name and music, but, here, she proves herself. She proves that she can tackle near anything and make it sound like she’s been doing it for years. She proves that she is not merely a party girl, instead that is one of the many aspects of a complex and extremely talented individual. Finally, she proves that even after everything she’s been through, she is still unapologetically herself.