Adele
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Thursday, December 8, 2016

50 Favorite Songs of 2016 (Part One)


50. "No" by Meghan Trainor

JUDGE ME. DO IT. JUDGE ME LIKE JUDY. I DARE YOU. While Meghan Trainor has been thrown into quite a negative light since her debut, I'm not afraid to admit her "No" wears its early 2000s pop sensibility on its sleeve and throws us Millennials on one hell of a nostalgia trip. (Yes, before you ask, I know "Me Too" is kind of garbage. Let's just not talk about it, okay? Focus on this track's greatness.)


49. "Make Me..." by Britney Spears feat. G-Eazy

Britney Spears abandoned her theme of opening her album eras with an upbeat pop gem, instead aiming for smooth, sensual vibes with "Make Me." I wasn't crazy (as in "(You Drive Me) Crazy," of course) about it at first, but after a few listens, it was quite easy to get entranced by its chorus as it reaches a peak of euphoria, with her "ooh"s buried in a pool of dreamy synthesizers. This song is definitely a grower, not a shower. (We could all certainly do without G-Eazy, though... and we could definitely do without that "Me, Myself, and I" interpolation from the MTV Music Video Award, but I digress.)


48. "This is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna

The third collaboration between Calvin Harris and Rihanna is about as half-assed as they come, but quite frankly, I don't give a damn. Starring Rihanna and an unaccredited Taylor Swift, this track is a pre-packaged party in a box. Yes, most of it is a sliced-and-diced stem of "ooh"s and a loop of electronic magic, but it's just that infectious. Fight me on this one, if you'd like.


47. "Final Song" by MØ

The trajectory of MØ's career in the wake of her Major Lazer-fueled success has been a bit strange, hasn't it? She shook off the oddities of her debut album, leaning towards a mainstream, marketable approach without a defined sonic direction. Even still, it's mainstream music with grit. Co-written by Noonie Bao and produced by MNEK, "Final Song" finds her encapsulated in a bouncy party song. It strays from the East Asian intentions of "Lean On" and "Kamikaze," giving her another new perspective for her upcoming album.


46. "In My Mind" by Maty Noyes

When she appeared opposite of The Weeknd on the closing track to his sophomore album last year, Maty Noyes became a subject of interest. This year, she dropped her solo extended play and debut single, "In My Mind" – an anthem for the girl whose guy is hung up on her past. The smooth sulk of her collaboration with The Weeknd has shape-shifted into a sexy pout over standard (yet addictive) drum machine-reliant pop production. (P.S. – That little "dah-dah-dah-dah-dum" hook gets me every time.)


45. "SOS (Overboard)" by Joseph

Marketing at its finest, folks: After seeing the three lovely ladies of Joseph on YouTube ads, beside more well-known artists at Target, and at the top of Urban Outfitter's online vinyl store, I finally decided to give them a chance. And it's a good thing I did. An acoustic hybrid of pop and folk is their thing, and they do it quite well. "SOS" is perhaps their liveliest selection, kept alive by an organic drumbeat and guitar strums.


44. "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" by Adele

So listen, I was a bit rough on this song when I reviewed Adele's 25; it was too far from what we were used to hearing from Adele, and my ears just weren't ready for it. But after the tenth listen, I couldn't get enough; I changed my mind. Sue me. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go twirl and brush my shoulders alongside Adele as I karaoke this shit like a pro.


43. "Gold" by Kiiara

If Kiiara and Terror Jr. taught us one thing in 2016, it's that their mutual producer Felix Snow is a one-trick pony, but the former's "Gold" was the first to capitalize on that one trick. It thrives in its simplicity; reeking of effortless swagger, Kiiara transforms the drum machine reliance of Lorde and FKA twigs into a confident, club-ready tune with a chorus that begs to be sang alongside  even if the vocal sampling makes it nearly impossible.


42. "Close" by Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo

I smelled some record label pressure from the very beginning when I heard that Nick Jonas and Tove Lo paired up for this track, but who knew they would have this much chemistry? With those two begging to be as close as physically possible, this track is so hot that it drips in sweat; there's even an unexpected authenticity behind Jonas' cries of "close, ooh, oh so close."


41. "Starving" by Hailee Steinfeld and Grey feat. Zedd

I was a bit worried about Hailee Steinfeld post-"Love Myself." While "Rock Bottom" was sufficient, nothing on her short extended play quite matched the heights that her debut single did. "Starving," however, puts her back in line for pop greatness. Building off a single guitar riff, the track somehow blossoms into an electronic dance track by the middle-eight in a much smoother fashion than expected.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another Very Important Post About Some 2016 Singles

The time has come once again for me to break out of my "very composed amateur critic" persona and fangirl hard over some current hot tracks. Enjoy my ramblings.


"Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" by Adele: So listen, I hated this song when I first heard it. After the tenth listen, I couldn't get enough. I changed my mind. Sue me. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go twirl and brush my shoulders alongside Adele as I karaoke this shit.


"Mean What I Mean" by AlunaGeorge, Leikeli47 and Dreezy: CERTIFIED BANGER™. That is all.


"Fuck With Myself" by Banks: Y'all don't realize just how badly I needed new Banks material in my life. I audibly screamed when she announced the release of this track. It's dark and ultra-badass. And it's kind of everything. (Plus Ellie Goulding and Dua Lipa both endorsed it, so you know it's good shit.)


"Mind Games" by Banks: This is even more important than "Fuck With Myself."


"Gemini Feed" by Banks: This is most important.


"Good Grief" by Bastille: You know how I just said I really needed new Banks material in my life? I needed Bastille material even more -- and these kings delivered. "Good Grief" is a bit of a new sonic territory for Dan Smith & Co., but it's brilliant. If the rest of Wild World lives up to this, the band will have easily provided album of the year material.


"Closer" by the Chainsmokers feat. Halsey: The lyrics are so Halsey, the production is so Chainsmokers... and the song is so great.


"Backbeat" by Dagny: I was lukewarm upon first listen to this. Now, I'm here screaming, "BACKBEAT, COUNTING TIME. PICK IT UP AND TELL ME IF YOU REALLY WANNA DANCE SOME MORRRRE." I recommend a few listens before forming a definitive opinion.


"Hotter Than Hell" by Dua Lipa: Dua Lipa, third in line for the queen of pop throne, blessed us again with what is arguably her best track yet. One late night in a tired stupor, I made a list of things that makes this song the tropical house banger to end all tropical house bangers. Let's review that list and check it for accuracy, shall we?

  • The swaying synth lines that take you to a whole new dimension. True.
  • The uncontrollable steel drum hits. True.
  • When the last chorus comes in sooner than expected from the bridge and CLOCKS you. True.
  • The last chorus when the phrase "when I'm not there and you're by yourself" is intensified tenfold by the additional production. True.
  • Whatever is happening vocally between "than" and "hell" that does not sound healthy but does sound, in the words of Britney Spears, pretty cool. True.
  • Oh, and all the vocals that queen of deep, musky vocals Dua Lipa delivers here. True.
  • The electronically modified ad-libs in the chorus. True.
  • Steel drums were already mentioned but are still very important. True.
  • It's the perfect banger to BLARE and dance to while driving or in traffic jams. True.
  • The stares you get when you blare this and scream the lyrics in a traffic jam on the interstate. True.

So folks, it's decided. "Hotter Than Hell" is, indeed, the most underappreciated banger of the year. It's essentially 2016's "Run Away With Me." And that's saying something.


"Body Say" by Demi Lovato: Okay, so wow. Just days after I proclaimed her to be the Queen of Making Better Memes than Music, Demi Lovato sure clocked me. To coincide with her joint headlining tour with Nick Jonas, she dropped "Body Say," a surprisingly impressive track that oozes sex appeal. God bless. And let's be even more thankful that she's given up that god-awful scream-singing racket (whoever told her she sounds impressive on "Stone Cold" needs to be fired) for a smoother pout, even if that approach was ripped from Selena Gomez's most recent work. This song does not need to be deleted, fat.


"Go Off" by M.I.A.: So if I'm not mistaken, M.I.A. mentioned something about including a swan song of sorts on her upcoming (and supposedly final) LP. I don't think "Go Off" is that track, but it sure makes a banging send-off.


"Final Song" by MØ: Even in spite of the drags I'm going to endure from fans who have been with MØ since the beginning for this, I'll declare that I liked "Kamikaze." And I like this track even more. That drop hits me like a brick wall every time.

Friday, December 4, 2015

50 Favorite Pop Songs of 2015 (Part One)


50. “Hypnotic” by Zella Day

Western-tinged alt-pop is strange hybrid of sounds, but this song just works so well. Its title is fitting, seeing that it hypnotizes listeners with a combination of that underlying shoot-'em-up cowboy movie guitar line, spurts of synths, and pouty voice.


49. "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor

This has been Meghan Trainor's year, and while she has had to share it with Taylor Swift, Adele, and Justin Bieber, she has still made quite a name for herself with a number one album and four top 20 singles. "Dear Future Husband" is quintessential Meghan Trainor; it's cute, doo-wop-dominated, and self-assured. Of course, it hasn't been without the accusations of being anti-feminist for its music video's imagery and mention of typical '50s housewife duties, but let's get real: the Internet finds something new to be offended over every day.


48. “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King

Pop radio grabbing a hold of a girl with a voice that belongs on an '80s rock band album? Better believe it. Elle King found her success this year by burying a pop-worthy hook in old school rock and roll production that seems nearly authentic of decades past.


47. “Where Are Ü Now” by Jack Ü with Justin Bieber

The move that nobody expected from Justin Bieber: a decent electronic dance takeover. Skrillex and Diplo craft a spacious digital atmosphere behind him before bringing it home with a breakdown composed of Bieber's distorted vocals -- it's a style that actually suits Bieber well.


46. “Sparks” by Hilary Duff

Hilary Duff hasn't aged at all -- musically or physically. "Sparks" is a slice of sugary synthpop heaven, complete with a bouncy beat and a trend-conforming whistle post-chorus. An dance-worthy little bop, it is.


45. “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato

Woah, Poot Lovato sure has changed. Her mature-content breakout comes a bit later than her former Disney girl counterparts, but she sure pulled out all of the stops: a new vocal technique accented by warm, seductive breaths, a grinding Max Martin production, and the shouted belts that make her identity clear again.


44. “Hello” by Adele

The lead single to Adele's record-breaking 25 may be the best that it has to offer. It is the proper punctuation mark at the end of her last album's affairs; a strong display of her well-supported vocals that brings closure to 21's chapter. And of course, it has been certified meme-worthy, too; just ask Miss Piggy.


43. "Borderline" by Tove Styrke

I had to cheat a little bit for this one to make the list, using the excuse that Styrke's full-length debut didn't get released until this summer. Her nasal-tinged sneer cuts through an off-beat, tribal-sounding track before she spirals into a strange little "ah" vocal run.


42. "King" by Years & Years

Years & Years' American breakthrough never happened, but this song was the group's best shot of doing it. It introduces listeners to the trio's silky-smooth take on faceless synthpop with one of their best melody lines and infectious synth runs.


41. “Love Myself” by Hailee Steinfeld

At first, it seems like your basic pop song, perfectly manufactured for immediate breakthrough success. Upon closer listens, its clever and infectious nature begins to reveal itself. White moms love it for the mirage of self-empowerment; we love it for being the first song to go over every radio listener's head, even though the clear meaning is on display right between those bombastic choruses. It may just be the best song out there about... self-servicing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

25 | Adele



"Hello, it's me..."

With three words, the ashes and rubble remaining from the spontaneous combustion of Adele's career were rekindled, four years removed from the release of the miracle album that blessed her with seven Grammy awards, four multi-Platinum singles in the United States, and 30 million album sales worldwide. Now, enter 25, the album equivalent to an admittedly average freshman entering high school under the ubiquitous shadows of her overachieving older sister who graduated from the same institution the year before. It's clear that Adele understands that 21 was a storm of success that comes only once in a lifetime, but she sure is doing her damnedest to double dip into the pool of popularity. 

Take away her commercial success, and Adele is *gasp* no more than your average pop star: four chords per song, lyrics of love and heartbreak, and a well-supported, two-and-a-half octave voice. Since the last time we've heard from her, she has been blessed with a child, a steady relationship, and more fame than she could ever imagine, yet she has somehow ripped away most of her powerhouse climaxes and regressed to more melancholy soundscapes this time around. She nearly teeters along the border of pop and soulful adult contemporary -- an area that can so often be dangerously dull to explore.

Adele herself calls the album a "make-up" companion to 21's "break-up." The emotion is still there, but it seems self-restricted, if not nearly mechanical, to wallow in the same affairs of its predecessor, despite "Hello" seemingly bringing long overdue closure to that chapter last month. "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" is Adele at her her perkiest, but it seems like one last shot at the man who was already swiftly kicked in the groin over a billion separate times in the past few years: once for each time "Rolling in the Deep" or "Rumour Has It" played on the radio to broadcast his guilt to every breathing creature on the face of the planet.

She further bogs down the album when she throws herself into autopilot mode and croons through some typical, soul-tinged acoustic ballads: "Million Years Ago" plays Lana Del Rey's "loneliness in fame" card -- one of the few off-steps from the thematic redundancy that would be universally slammed if it had been pulled by an artist who hadn't been able to muster 30 million sales of an album in a time of pitiful album sales numbers -- and "Remedy," "All I Ask," and "Million Years Ago" are all color-by-number acoustic ballads that just feel like more of the same -- nameless faces in her discography, if you will. Adele's voice is a powerful weapon when put to use in engaging songwriting -- the problem with some of these songs lies in that last part. 

With the record's downfalls set aside, 25 has clear highlights that make the record worthwhile. Again, "Hello" is the proper punctuation mark at the end of her last album's strapping statement. Her voice takes center stage over production that swells in all the right places as she wails, "Hello from the outside / At least I can say that I've tried / To tell you I'm sorry, for breaking your heart / But it don't matter, it clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore." Impending second single "When We Were Young" and sultry standout "River Lea" take the right approach, nailing down nostalgia without saturating themselves with the soggy remorse of the past. Meanwhile, "Sweetest Devotion" asserts itself as the crowning jewel of this album by forgetting the past entirely and focusing on her young son, Angelo. She revels in a love that is guaranteed to last a lifetime, belting over the album's most expansive production: "You will only be eternally / The one that I belong to / The sweetest devotion / Hitting me like an explosion / All of my life, I've been frozen." 

Don't be mistaken: 25 isn't a bad record by any stretch of the imagination; there are plenty of pleasing moments to merit a purchase. In fact, many of the record's lowest points are still pleasing to the ear despite being frustratingly underwhelming. Adele's show-stopping voice, which has taken a slightly fuller tone since her vocal cord surgery in 2011, takes center stage throughout, and her lyrics are still masterfully crafted to seem autobiographical while also retaining the malleability for a typical single person to relate them to his own life and passive-aggressively post them on Twitter while eating his way through a gallon of Ben & Jerry's on a Saturday night. The glaring problem, though, is Adele's comfort in safety, crossing all of her Ts and dotting all of those Is precisely -- too precisely, that is -- to follow the blueprints to success. Judging by the outtakes from the album that were co-written and re-recorded by Sia Furler for her own upcoming album, the path towards powerful pop growth wasn't eliminated, but instead just wasn't chosen, which is disappointing.

So in many ways, 25 is that new girl at the high school who must live up to her sister's legacy of being head cheerleader, field commander of the marching band, fan-favorite choir soloist, captain of the tennis and volleyball teams, and class valedictorian. She's a good girl at heart; she's an ordinary student towards whom everyone gravitates due to her charm and outward personality. Yet her biggest fault is that she tries far too hard to be just like her sister, whose standards she'll ultimately, and unfortunately, never supersede.

25 is out now under XL Recordings. An exclusive deluxe pressing can be found at Target department stores.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Singles Summary: October 2015



Adele // "Hello"
25, XL Recordings
★★★★☆



Justin Bieber // "Sorry"
Purpose, Def Jam
★★☆☆☆



Alessia Cara // "Wild Things"
Know-It-All, Def Jam
★★★★☆







Ellie Goulding // "Something in the Way You Move," "Lost & Found," & "Army"
Delirium, Interscope
SITWYM: ★★★★☆ // L&F: ★★★★★ // Army: ★★★★★



Ariana Grande // "Focus"
Moonlight, Republic
★★★☆☆



Grimes // "Flesh Without Blood"
Art Angels, 4AD
★★★★★



 // "Kamikaze"
TBA, RCA
★★★★☆



One Direction // "Perfect"
Made in the AM, Syco / Sony
★★★☆☆



TĀLĀ feat. Banks // "Wolfpack"
Malika, Sony UK
★★★★☆



Tinashe feat. Chris Brown // "Player"
Joyride, RCA
★★★★☆


Troye Sivan // "Talk Me Down"
Blue Neighbourhood, Capitol
★★★★☆



Gwen Stefani // "Used To Love You"
TBA, Interscope
★★★☆☆

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Most Anticipated Albums of 2015


MEGHAN TRAINOR // TITLE
JANUARY 13, EPIC

Meghan Trainor caught the attention of radio listeners last year with "All About That Bass," a song that promotes positive body image and uniquely blends pop and doo-wop. She dropped a four-track extended play with more doo-wop style tracks before unleashing "Lips Are Movin'" and definite plans for her debut album, Title. Her extended play tanked commercially but contained four quality tracks, including "Bass." With two huge singles and two Grammy nominations under her belt now, can Trainor use this album as a way to prove herself as much more than '2014's Carly Rae Jepsen'? Hopefully so.


ELLA HENDERSON // CHAPTER ONE
JANUARY 13, COLUMBIA

Eighteen year old Ella Henderson released her debut album in the middle of last year at home in the United Kingdom, but this year will see the proper release of Chapter One in the United States. The lead single "Ghost" tested Henderson's waters for American radio airplay last year before retailers quietly slipped out an album release date. Despite the ability to plug Henderson as the next big voice of the music industry's younger population and flaunt her success on the United Kingdom version of The X Factor, her record labels have failed to plug her with much promotion Stateside. It unfortunately won't be the first time a talented artist has been gypped out of guaranteed success in America recently (Foxes, Kiesza), but at least some of us will have a major pop album to look forward to.


FIFTH HARMONY // REFLECTION
JANUARY 27, EPIC

Before our eyes, Fifth Harmony has transformed from the headlining act of a Justice clothing store soundtrack to a wholehearted attempt to become America's new favorite girl group. The young women underwent a image change with last summer's female-empowerment hip-hop track, "BO$$," before announcing plans to release their debut album, Reflection. Fans were also later treated to the synthpop anthem "Sledgehammer," which was penned by "All About That Bass" singer Meghan Trainor and is now wiggling its way up the Billboard Hot 100. If the group's single choices represent the album as a whole, Reflection is sure to be a mixed bag of influences but also an enjoyable listen.


MADONNA // REBEL HEART
MARCH 10, INTERSCOPE / BOY TOY

Madonna tried to keep her album plans under lock and key as she planned not-so-secret studio sessions with English singer-songwriter Natalia Kills and posted cryptic messages via Instagram hinting at new music, but it didn't work. Last month, a full album's worth of demos spilled on the Internet and Madonna geared to counteract her "artistic rape" by rush-releasing an announcement and dropping a third of her upcoming album, Rebel Heart, on iTunes. The six songs that have already been released from the 19-track set make it clear that Madonna wants to follow the electronic dance trend with help from Diplo and Avicii, expanding on the electronic undertones of 2012's MDNA


MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS // FROOT
APRIL 6, ATLANTIC / NEON GOLD

The gay Tumblr community may have broken the Internet when Marina Diamandis formally killed off her Electra Heart alter ego in 2014, but they surely tried to do it again when she dropped "Froot," the title track to her upcoming third studio album. Taking a creative approach to this album cycle, Diamandis decided to treat fans who pre-ordered the album with a new "froot," or new track from the album, every month. Using this system, we will have heard half of the album's material by the time it is released in full. The real concern here is if the dropped "froots" can withstand the test of time and remain completely fresh by the time we hear the album as a whole bushel.


GWEN STEFANI // TBA
TBA, INTERSCOPE

Just when we thought Gwen Stefani was only going to be a permanent member of pop-rock band No Doubt from this point on, we were wrong. After a push from previous collaborator Pharrell Williams, Stefani unexpectedly jumped back into the solo pop life with "Baby Don't Lie" and "Spark the Fire." Everybody lovingly remembers Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and The Sweet Escape, but has Stefani aged as well sonically as she has visually? "Baby Don't Lie" puts her back in the book as a force to be reckoned with, while "Spark the Fire" is a confusing nod back to "Hollaback Girl." Her upcoming album could be a toss-up based on her single choices thus far.


FERIE // TBA
TBA, INTERSCOPE

Doesn't everyone remember when Fergie took over the pop music industry with one solo album before receding back to her Black Eyed Peas territory? Much like Gwen Stefani, she's back with an attempt to regain control of the charts and public eye. Sadly, "L.A.Love (la la)" didn't live up to its high expectations. However, a full length album with collaborators other than DJ Mustard might bring something magical to the table. Despite her lead single's lackluster performance, keep an eye out for Fergie: she may have a few new tricks up her sleeve for this next album.


ELLIE GOULDING // TBA
TBA, INTERSCOPE / CHERRYTREE

Ellie Goulding hasn't released a full body of work since 2012's Halcyon, which was re-released in 2013 with its companion piece titled Halcyon Days, but she still managed to keep busy in 2014. She played a key role in the score and soundtrack to the film adaptation of Divergent, ended her monstrous tour to promote Halcyon, and wrote and performed features on tracks with Iggy Azalea, Calvin Harris, Seven Lions, and DJ Fresh. She also declared plans for her next full length album, tentatively planned for this year. She hinted the album would draw from her "affinity with electronic music, classical music and folk music," much like Halcyon successfully did.


RIHANNA // R8*
TBA, DEF JAM
*tentative title

Somebody sound an alarm: we've officially hit a Rihanna drought. From 2007 to 2012, the Barbados native systematically released a new body of work annually, whether it was a full length album or a reissue with new material. After that, the singer went silent as "Stay" and "Right Now" slowly began to recede from the charts and radio airwaves. While her yearly albums filled with disposable pop delicacies seemed like nuisances at the time, two years without Rihanna's voice on the radio has been slightly depressing for pop music fans. If her previous album are any indicator to what R8 may sound like, expect a blur of catchy pop bits and songs aimed towards Rihanna's urban and R&B fans.


ADELE // 25*
TBA, COLUMBIA / XL
*tentative title

Adele's 2011 check-list: Release the biggest album in well over a decade, sweep the Grammy Awards, and then go silent for a few years. She hasn't released anything since her Diamond-status 21 and subsequent live set from Royal Albert Hall, which has left music fans worldwide on the edges of their seats as to when she will drop her next full length. Pop singer Taylor Swift has the key to album sales in the palm of her hand as she now holds three albums that debuted with over one million sales each, but Adele has a much more daunting task: managing to match the success of 21 as the public eye watches closely. It is doubtful that she will stray from her soulful pop power-ballad format, but it will be interesting to see what a committed relationship and motherhood will bring to her lyrical content.
© Aural Fixation
Maira Gall