Alternatively Pop’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

As the dawn of a new year begins, the world takes a moment to reflect on the year gone by. Here at Alternatively Pop, we take that as our chance to reflect on the music released this year. Without further ado, here are Alternatively Pop’s Top 10 Albums of 2018.

1. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monaé

dirty computerAfter topping our Top Tracks of 2018 list, Janelle Monaé proves once again as she takes the top spot here as well. An immaculate collection of fun, fierce and fabulous pop-funk-R&B magic layers itself over heartfelt, raw and pure lyricism, Monaé’s Dirty Computer perfectly captures the unique experience and outlook of Monaé, as a queer WOC in a culture that puts up walls against her. Dirty Computer isn’t just an album, it’s an experience, and only after you are done will you realize the masterpiece that Monaé has created.

2. Look Up Child – Lauren Daigle

220px-look_up_child_(official_album_cover)_by_lauren_daigleA stunning ode to the power of not only faith but pure belief, Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child is an otherworldly set that doesn’t get bogged down in its desire to be overtly Christian. This, allows the album to serve multiple purposes, as an expression of Daigle’s own religious beliefs, as well as just a fabulous album about passion and faith for those who don’t practice. Look Up Child is a gorgeous album that showcases a voice that deserves to be heard.

3. Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves

golden hourCountry’s reigning queen of acclaim truly did it again with Golden Hour. With what may well be her crowning achievement, and is by far her most accomplished effort thus far, Musgraves has created an emotional knockout, a cohesive record full of heartbreak, healing and attempts to capture the beauty of life that picks you up, takes you in its arms and hugs you for 45 minutes before setting you gently down.

4. The Kids Are Alright – Chloe x Halle

the kids are alrightA mature debut from one of R&B’s most promising acts swings in many directions. From bangers to ballads, from catchy to pure experimental, the sister duo does it all and somehow retain cohesion. The album makes for a perfect breakthrough album that showcases the gorgeously diverse vocal ranges of the pair, and their ability to coin a lyric or two. If The Kids Are Alright is anything to go by, Chloe x Halle is a duo to watch.

5. Palo Santo – Years & Years

palo santoOne of the LGBTQ+ community’s most prominent acts, Years & Years have been producing great music for a while now. Palo Santo builds on that. A bare it all album, Palo Santo is pure pop escapism that aptly captures the experiences of the queer community. The record is sexy, intimate and vibrant from its get-go, and the band never second guess themselves, going all in with their explorations of sexuality and it’s complexities.

6. Expectations – Hayley Kiyoko

expectations2018 was a great year for Hayley Kiyoko and one of her crowning achievements is the release of her debut album. Expectations is a gorgeous and catchy walk through pop perfection as Kiyoko rolls out bangers and ballads across the album’s 14 tracks, perfectly painting her feelings across the lyrics and beats for an intimate debut.

 

7. LM5 – Little Mix

lm5With their final album as a SYCO act, Little Mix left the generic beat drops and trend attempts in their Glory Days. With LM5, Little Mix embraced experimentation and went all in with the album. The result is the quartet’s greatest and most importantly authentic album of their careers. It’s by no means perfect, but songs like ‘Wasabi’, ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘The National Manthem’ finally crack the potential this band has had since day one, and hints at the brilliance they could finally achieve now they are free of SYCO.

8. No Shame – Lily Allen

no shameLily Allen has had a hard life, but she ain’t afraid to sing about it. No Shame truly lives up to its title as Allen spills her guts on subjects like drugs, divorce and motherhood. The album is a wonderfully unique record that is so acutely specific and detailed but together creates a marvellous story of a woman’s life.

 

9. Bloom – Troye Sivan

bloomTroye Sivan can be added to the history books as he becomes one of the few artists who have avoided the sophomore slump. 2018’s Bloom was anything but a slump, instead, it is full of vibrant life as Sivan meanders through the past and the present exploring the modern experience of being gay. The album is unapologetic, and deliciously positive, the perfect follow-up to Sivan’s Bloom.

10. By The Way, I Forgive You – Brandi Carlile

by the way i forgive youA gorgeous delve into Americana, Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You puts her signature vocals to the test as she soars from high pitches to the lowest of whispers in the space of the words. The record is full of delicate acoustic and crashing drums back up Carlile as she beautifully and emotionally discusses hope and forgiveness in a rare, but a fabulously positive move for the singer.

Advertisements

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.

Make sure to let us know what you think of The Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy below.

For more reviews, go here.

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.

Alternatively Pop’s Top 20 Songs of 2017

We count down our picks for the top 10 tracks of 2017

2017 was an… interesting year. Albeit not the best year in other areas, at least the music was good, even great in some cases. We were blessed with some brilliant songs this year. These are (subjective to opinion) the best of those.

  1. Praying – Kesha

Simultaneously, a piercing battle cry and heart-breaking anthem of pain, Kesha’s first release in almost five years came as nothing less than a triumph.  A stunning return to the industry and a musical 180, ‘Praying’ was the perfect encapsulation of the hurt and rage that the Trump-era has brought upon the world, as well as the personal turmoil of the voice that brought the track to life.

2. Bad Liar – Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez is not the first name that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue when it comes to experimental pop songs. However, Gomez’s ‘Bad Liar’ was an immaculate pop song that stopped critics in their tracks with its simplistic production paired with Gomez’s sensual and breathy vocals. Written over the bassline of the Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’, Gomez put herself well and truly on the map with this one.

3. Green Light – Lorde

A champion of everything weirdly brilliant, Lorde knocked everything she had done out of the water when she returned with ‘Green Light’. Marvellously rousing, ‘Green Light’ is like a jigsaw put together incorrectly but fitting perfectly all the same. Mismatched song writing over a flawlessly building pop beat, Lorde made sure her return was as perfect as it could be.

4. Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

Although it’s follow-up ‘…Ready For It?’ is sonically superior, it is ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ that truly shows off the brilliance of its creator. Arguably the most divisive song of the year, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ was the comeback heard on every corner of the globe, and only in the wake of its flickering and savage arrival, could one appreciate the genius behind it. From the choice to make the pre-chorus build to nothing to the risk of interpolating Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’, Swift made sure her return came singed with the rage and anger only pop’s most hated person could muster.

5. The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home – Declan Mckenna

On ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’, Mckenna perfectly captured what it is to be tethering on the line between youth and adulthood in a world where so much is so unsure. The raw vocal of Mckenna paired with the pondering almost conversational lyrics make for an impeccable indie-rock track that sounds like stepping into someone’s thoughts.

6. City Lights – Blanche

The Eurovision song contest is assured to give you two things – camp over the top performances and awkward instances of countries giving their neighbour points. However, every year, there is some songs that stand out among their sub-par competitors. Belgium’s entry to the 2017 contest was one of those rare shining diamonds. An impeccably crafted pop song, ‘City Lights’ relies on its simplicity, in both production and vocals to truly make it epic and god, does it succeed.

7. Sign of the Times – Harry Styles

God only knew what the hiatus of the world’s biggest boyband would bring about and while his bandmates went in reasonably predictable routes, Harry Styles shed his mainstream cocoon and dove head first into the world of rock. A sweeping soft rock ballad that Bowie would have been proud of, Styles showed exactly what he was capable and flexed his creative muscles to their full extent for what may well have been first time in years.

8. Love – Lana Del Rey

On the lead single from her fourth full length, Del Rey returned to the vintage greatness of tracks such as ‘Young and Beautiful’. ‘Love’ arrived wrapped in a bow and dripping with Hollywood glamour to deliver an awe-inspiringly cinematic testament to the beauty of young love in a way that only the voice of Del Rey can conjure.

9. Disco Tits – Tove Lo

A sexually charged club anthem, ‘Disco Tits’ held nothing back as Tove Lo bared it all. The EDM tinged dance-pop pounds and bounces unapologetically and lets it all hang out – literally. The song draws on disco as well as more modern influences and explores a care free attitude and approach to the world – and its fabulous.

10. Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

A retro track from a little known alternative band is an odd thing to find within the top 40, never mind the top 10, and yet that’s exactly where Portugal. The Man found themselves this year with ‘Feel It Still’. This funky hit harkens back to 60’s groove in both production and lyrically, resulting in an impossible to ignore earworm.

11. Love is Alive – Lea Michele

Michele truly created something special with the release of ‘Love is Alive’. A stunning broadwayesque power ballad that reaches to the skies and fabulously showcases the vocal talent of Michele, the track perfectly captures the essence of the star who created it.

12. Watch – Billie Eilish

Speaking of talent, this fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter is one of the best things to emerge in music in 2017. Perfectly capturing the dramatic nature of teenage love and over the top feelings that come along with it, Eilish displays a masterful touch on this pop masterpiece that throbs as though it is a recording of the broken heart that inspired it.

13. Lost Without You – Freya Ridings

In a similar vein to Blanche’s ‘City Lights’, Riding’s heart-breaking ballad thrives on its simplicity. Reduced to merely a piano and the gut-wrenching voice of Ridings, ‘Lost Without You’ displays the brilliance in the less is more mantra as its quietest moments are in fact, its loudest.

14. The Cure – Lady Gaga

After the dramatic departure from pop that Joanne took, Gaga returned to her comfort zone with this track. Debuted during her Coachella set, The Cure is a flawlessly fashioned radio hit with a chorus that is undeniably addictive and annoyingly irresistible.

15. Uh Huh – Julia Michaels

One of pop’s most prolific songwriters, Michaels had one of the best breakouts of the year with her hit ‘Issues’. However, it is its follow-up ‘Uh Huh’ that impeccably shows off her genius as a pop mastermind. With a guitar instrumental backing up the verses, it is the drop right into the chorus that makes this one of those unskippable ones that sneaks into very corner of your brain.

16. ’71 Charger – Loreen

Rooted in alternative music, ‘’71 Charger’ broke new ground for the Swedish hit maker. The track draws heavily on minimalistic beats and production, showcasing the voice of Loreen, who makes the bold choice to match and double down on her minimalistic production, with an equally minimalistic but mystifying vocal performance that can only be described as brilliant.

17. Drew Barrymore – SZA

I always believed that Drew Barrymore was the superior Charlie’s Angel and thankfully, R&B’s newest prodigy agrees. SZA cites Barrymore as an inspiration as she played the roles that SZA herself identified with such as the girl who couldn’t get the guy and the track perfectly captures that as SZA asks her lover is she is enough for him.

18. Waking Up Slow – Gabrielle Aplin

A brilliant and overlooked talent, Aplin has developed and coined a unique sound since her debut English Rain. ‘Waking Up Slow’ is fabulous new-age synth driven dance track that is alight with euphoria as bright as the sun.

19. I Know – Aly & AJ

From the pop royalty that brought us the legendary track that is ‘Potential Break-up Song’, Aly & AJ continued to deliver on their potential a decade after their last release. The track was yet another notch in the marvellous year that experimental female pop music has had. A dream pop song that has its head in the clouds and its production in 80s synth pop, ‘I Know’ plays like candy floss and vintage shops.

20. Lost in Your Light – Dua Lipa

Another breakout star of 2017, Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ was absolutely everywhere as it dominated airwaves, its predecessor was equally worthy of adoration. A catchy hook, peppy beat and interesting feature from Miguel makes for an all-around dance-pop banger that was, sadly, ignored.

Listen to all the tracks on this list on Spotify here

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.