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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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.

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:

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Sucker Punch’ – Sigrid

Pure pop is a dying genre. Pop’s biggest names are quickly dropping the synths that once dominated charts the world over for the trap that is giving every sound loud rapper and their mother a number one. As a result, room for those pure pop artists is slowly becoming smaller and smaller. However, every so often, someone breaks through. Over two years ago, Sigrid wanted to be that someone. Two years on, Sigrid is that someone and her debut effort Sucker Punch is a marvellous introduction to pop’s next big thing.

After a string of hits, a number of which are included on Sucker Punch‘s tracklisting, Sigrid merely had to pull together a few filler tracks and put it out to get a hit debut album. Instead, the Norwegian 22 year-old took her time, and you can hear it across forty so minutes in which she allows us to dance along to her inner thoughts. The LP is fabulous showcase of what makes Sigrid someone to watch as she follows in the steps in some of pop’s finest. Credited on every track on Sucker Punch, Sigrid displays that sheer confessional determination to tell her own stories that made her predecessors like Taylor Swift, Adele and Lorde the global stars they are. Speaking of the latter, Sigrid’s vocals are laced with that same quirky unique tone that has always be a draw to Lorde. The combination results in 12 tracks filled with catchy hooks, pulsing synths and intimate lyricism that makes the singer even more endearing.

Along with the already released hits like ‘Strangers’ and ‘Sucker Punch’, songs like ‘Mine Right Now’, ‘Sight of You’ and ‘Basic’ seem like sure fire hits. That being said, there is something for everyone. ‘Level Up’ and ‘Business Dinners’ offer a more alternative pop that those hooky pop bangers while, ‘In Vain’ and album highlight ‘Dynamite’ provide the album with time to catch its breath as Sigrid strips everything back to just her voice.

‘Dynamite’ is a gorgeous piano ballad that closes the album, exploring herself and her relationship in a breathtakingly moment of pure vulnerability. In fact, the track is a so beautiful that even despite all the big bangers and tongue in cheek lyrics that come before it, this simple piano moment is the greatest sucker punch of them all. The album is meticulous in its detail and you never feel as if it’s the product of anything other than a 22 year old singer-songwriter, but it is this final instant that lets you know that it truly is Sigrid herself that is pulling all the strings in her career and what a career it will be.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘thank u, next’ – Ariana Grande

Thank_U,_Next_album_coverAriana Grande is at an odd point. In the middle of her biggest era of her career thus, less than six months out from her last album release and at the very peak of the industry. Many woman have occupied that spot before her and it’s safe to assume many will after her. However, what goes up must come down. What was once endearing becomes annoying, what was once incredible becomes boring, and so the cycle continues. It will be. An interesting moment to see if, how and when Grande falls. However, with the release of thank u, next, it’s safe to say it won’t be her music that brings about her downfall.

Despite the pressure of all eyes being on her, Grande safely pulls off what could well be her defining album. Her fifth studio album thus far, thank u, next builds on her previous releases, taking the good from her hit and miss Sweetener and ramping up the experimentation. The first thing you notice on thank u, next is the cohesion. Thank u, next is wonderfully diverse yet cohesive unlike the homogeneous-ness of Sweetener that bordered on cannibalism. Here, Grande flicks between genuine ballads, back to fiery trap numbers and even throws it back to her Broadway roots. The album never feels clunky, even in its more filler-esque moments, of which there are a few. ‘ break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’ is not the most endearing moment of Grande’s discography, instead coming off as bit of a nasty attempt to recapture the drama of lead single ‘thank u, next’. ‘make up’ isn’t anything particularly exciting and sounds a bit like a reject from the first half of Sweetener, while ‘bad idea’ is an ok track with no real purpose. The three tracks are quite out of place given the rest of the record, which has a very distinct, and very purposeful voice.  ‘imagine’ is a gorgeous opener that soars into the rafters before bringing us back down to earth and transitioning into the equally beautiful ‘needy’. Grande’s songwriting style is even more clear on the ballads here, as she refuses to switch away from the more informal writing that is typical of the more banger-trap moments. thank u, next’s superior ballad is appropriately haunting ‘ghostin’, which really showcases the emotion in Grande’s vocal, as well as skill of Max Martin and his team. Martin is also all over another album highlight ‘bloodline’, which is fierce, pop-reggaeton banger that offers a moment of pure fun in the album’s track-list. The album’s two singles, title track ‘thank u, next’ and ‘7 rings’ are easily the most commercial offerings here, with the former being arguably the easily marketed tracks ever, and the latter just being a straight up banger. ‘7 rings’ is probably the most out of place track, with its Sound of Music sample and complete display of richness in an otherwise quite emotional album, but the brilliance of the track makes it easy to overlook.

Overall, thank u, next seems as though it’s supposed to be Grande equivalent of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, but given that Grande has far less to say, thank u, next is ultimately more comparable to Rihanna’s Anti. Like Anti, thank u, next isn’t a perfect album, nor is it the industry changer that Lemonade was, however, it marks an important shift in Grande’s career. Here, she seems more in control, more sure of herself, of what she wants to sound like more so than what she needs to sound like. thank u, next probably won’t alter the world as we know it, but it certainly will alter Grande’s world and it’s truly a sight to behold.

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.