Showing posts with label AlunaGeorge. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top 10 Albums of 2016

10. Mind of Mine by Zayn

With a debut that clocks in at 20 tracks when deluxe tracks are added into the equation, Zayn Malik gives himself ample space to shape who himself as a solo artist. It seems he's had a lot to say for a long time, and for first time ever, he is uninhibited in his craft. After all, it's much easier to build a badass image over some brooding PBR&B, intricately crafted to be enjoyed in the dead of night, than his former band's bright pop-rock. Sure, he intrudes on some other artists' territory on Mind of Mine – the Weeknd was really the one to make Zayn's genre of choice accessible to pop audiences last year – and that would be a problem if he weren't doing this well. But he is.

Favorite tracks:
"BeFoUr," "BoRdErZ," "LIKE I WOULD," "lUcOzAdE," "TiO"

9. I Remember by AlunaGeorge

Whereas AlunaGeorge's debut album, Body Music, dipped its toes into the pool of mainstream pop, I Remember dives headfirst. Gliding through their stew of influences, Aluna Francis and George Reid have their sights split between a good time and experimentation through downtempo rhythm and blues, warm tropical house, and most often, bonafide pop disguised as banging electronic dance. In many respects, the twelve tracks of I Remember have rendered the duo's debut material, which was at one point deemed "futuristic pop," damn near obsolete. By and large, the album is a prepackaged party, but it's all executed with gusto, swinging smoothly from style to style without losing touch of home base.

Favorite tracks: "I'm in Control," "Mean What I Mean," Mediator," "Not Above Love"

8. Don't You by Wet

Wet's debut album takes the cake for the album that grew on me the most this year, for sure. While all 11 tracks on this record are derivatives of the same cross-breed of PBR&B, dreampop, and synthpop, attentiveness will easily discredit the careless listener who argues that the tracks stagnate as the album runs its course. Distracted listeners will only float at the top of a placid pool, while those who devote undivided attention to the album at hand will be sucked under the surface, encapsulated by the soothing body of water without the worry of grabbing another breath.

Favorite tracks: "It's All in Vain," "Deadwater," "Weak," "Island," "Move Me"

7. Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

Unlike her previous releases, both overloaded with collaborations and hoards of producers, Dangerous Woman is Ariana Grande at her least formulated, at her most genuine. The smoothest transition into an adult image compared to her contemporaries, this album acts as her true sexual liberation. The deep dance undertones help raise the temperature, keeping the album pulsating like neon lights in a sticky nightclub and holding it to a consistent tone. She was a singer before – an extremely talented one, at that. But a record this consistent has finally rendered her an artist. One with a vision, one with a passion, and now more than ever, one with distinction.

Favorite tracks: "Be Alright," "Into You," "Greedy," "Thinking 'Bout You"

6. Long Way Home by Låpsley

Largely a product of suspicion and distress, Long Way Home listens as such. Unlike her two closest vocal equivalents – Amy Winehouse and Adele – she rejects the type of traditional pop production usually paired with her type of soulful inflection, often opting for sparse, self-produced beats and foggy atmospheres. The album, composed of tracks produced within a lengthy two-year span, is a safe space in which the young artist can learn to walk on her own two legs, learning from experience and massaging any growing pains along the way – yet the results of DIY song-making experiments render listeners breathless nonetheless.

Favorite tracks: "Cliff," "Falling Short," "Heartless," "Hurt Me," "Love is Blind"

5. Christine and the Queens by Christine and the Queens

Despite being the result of vigorous study of the superficial mirror of society that is pop music and being the home to a well-placed sample of a 2008 Kanye West hit, the debut album from Christine and the Queens is a well-versed dance record for modern-day philosophers who can never stop thinking and artists who can never stop creating. With an album that is both perceptive and danceable, Christine manages to marry two elements that are often thought of as mutually exclusive: the need for realistic thought and the desire for upbeat sonic appeal. It's a recipe that yields pop music that masks its great intelligence with glamour – but bears that intelligence nonetheless. (Yes, this album was released in the United States in late 2015. But if the great Annie Mac can put it on her 2016 list, so can I.)

Favorite tracks:
"iT," "Narcissus is Black," "No Harm is Done," "Safe and Holy," "Tilted"

4. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975

Shocking entrants to the list, English pop-rock band The 1975 delivered an album this year that seeps with Tumblr-chic aesthetic, but within that aesthetic also lies substance. Frontman Matt Healy and his band members thrive in spicing everyday thoughts with some unorthodox topics of conversation, then covering it in glossy production tactics that cover any imperfections like sonic Instagram filters. While it's quite obvious as to why people like the sound of their tracks, their lyrical shtick validates listeners' experiences but pushes them into a degree of escapism – a pleasantly addictive sensation.

Favorite tracks:
"UGH!," "She's American," "Somebody Else," "The Sound"

3. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Both chronicling personal turbulence within a marriage and examining societal race issues from the standpoint of a black woman, Lemonade is a surprisingly concentrated piece of work that makes unprecedented statements from a mainstream artist – an archetype that normally does not stray from the status quo in fear of draining her listener pool. But Beyoncé is not par for the course in stardom; she has made it quite clear that she is Beyoncé, in a class of her own. This year, she dropped an album that has set a new precedent for independent women without another installment to her straightforward girl-power tracks. Life gave her lemons, and she did, indeed, make some of the world's finest Lemonade.

Favorite tracks:
"Pray You Catch Me," "Don't Hurt Yourself," "Daddy Lessons," "Formation"

2. Nothing's Real by Shura

The magic of Shura's debut album stems from the authenticity in her commitments to achieve a perfectly imperfect reimagination of porous, spacey '80s synthpop: Fuzzy layers of white noise, heavy reverberation, vocal filters, and succinct 808 hits make for an album that channels a decade with unbelievable execution for an artist who didn't even live through it. The album's competitive advantages can be found in its space age meandering, refusal to abandon a midtempo pace for a more marketable livelihood, and overt sincerity and pensive nature. Essentially, Nothing's Real is Shura's very own personal time capsule, crafted with care and filled with memories, home video tapes, and a heap of pop records that predate her by ten years, and we listeners have been invited only to marvel as it's cracked open.

Favorite tracks:
"Nothing's Real," "What's It Gonna Be?," "Touch," "Make It Up," "White Light"

1. The Altar by Banks

With its metamorphic narrative and natural sonic experimentation, The Altar was all but guaranteed to take the gold against its competition upon first listen. A masterful recalculation of her debut's heartbroken conclusions, the album resolves Banks' former insecurities with the reigning confidence she promised to have all along. It is represented by a title that, without context, hints at either of two extremes: unconditional or unrequited love. But because Banks opens the record with the snide "And to think you would get me to the altar," we enter the album with the understanding that the title does not represent the devotion (or lack thereof) to another. It is a devotion to herself: as an artist, as a sexual being, as a woman. And it is through that mindset that she truly reigns supreme.

Favorite tracks: "Gemini Feed," "Lovesick," "Trainwreck," "This is Not About Us," "Poltergeist"

Sunday, December 18, 2016

50 Favorite Songs of 2016 (Part Four)

20. "Life Itself" by Glass Animals

Glass Animals brought driving junglebeat back strong with "Life Itself." A commentary from the standpoint of a loner on the fringes of society, the track chronicles a struggle to adapt to the standards of the civil world and the desire to overcome it; the apathy of its verses and the urgency of its choruses reveal a harsh contrast, suggesting an inner dissonance between continuing life uninspired or breaking free of self-imposed barriers to a better life.

19. "Fever" by Carly Rae Jepsen

After delivering the holy grail that is E•MO•TION to us common men last year, the immortal pop legend CRJ decided to keep the party going this year with E•MO•TION: Side B, a collection of tracks that didn't make the original album's cut. From it, we were blessed with eight great tracks, including the neon-lit "Fever." The Jespenator really delivered here, folks. She progresses from heartbroken fragility in the track's verses to rise-above acceptance in the killer refrain. (I will note, though, that "The One" put up quite the fight to take this spot from "Fever." I blame humanity's only hope Carly Rae Jepsen for that dilemma. After all, she is in the business of crafting too many perfect tracks.)

18. "Still Falling for You" by Ellie Goulding

All hail the soundtrack queen. After she told fans she was going on a brief hiatus upon the conclusion of her Delirium World Tour, Ellie Goulding proved once again that she an unstoppable music-producing machine. Crafted by the same team as her "Love Me Like You Do," Goulding's contribution to the Bridget Jones's Baby soundtrack isn't as outwardly explosive or frankly romantic as the worldwide smash; it chronicles the much lighter and brighter side of love, especially a long-term love that has been rekindled or strengthened.

17. "Wish That You Were Here" by Florence + the Machine

Like Ellie Goulding, Florence + the Machine is a gift that never stops giving. This year, Welch gave to us her full long-form music video, The Odyssey, three tracks for the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XV, and "Wish That You Were Here" for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. While the lush masterpiece that is "Too Much is Never Enough" put up a good fight to take this spot on my list, this track snatched it. The chorus jumps off the minimalist, somber verses and into light but driving production with an upfront plea: "I never minded being on my own, then something broke in me, and I wanted to go home, to be where you are."

16. "Not Above Love" by AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge's I Remember makes some striking steps forward for the duo. Once the quirky cousins of mainstream pop, Aluna Francis and George Reed debuted in the nosebleeds of the electronic dance arena. This year, they proved themselves to be a versatile pairing as they broadened their own horizons. On "Not Above Love," Francis widens the appeal of her voice from her typical high-pitched bounce to a smoother, soulful radiance, and with the help of Rock Mafia, Reed stretches his abilities past pure electronica.

15. "BoRdErZ" by Zayn

Allow me to be blunt: this track is the musical personification of making love. It begs for more than physical intimacy; through it, Zayn pleads for the destruction of all barriers, physical and emotional, in pursuit of becoming as close as possible to his partner as possible while getting hot and bothered – an intimate sentiment that is hard to come by in today's mainstream pop landscape. Oh, and those vocal runs are as smooth as a flowing stream and that sneering bass can rattle teeth out of your mouth at the right volume.

14. "Move Me" by Wet

A lot of the material from Wet's Don't You – namely standouts like "Deadwater" and "Weak" – could have made a surprise appearance on this list, but technically, a lot of its tracks were released last year or the year prior. "Move Me," however, is a fresh cut from the album that is quintessential Wet. Kelly Zutrau pleads in her ever-so-fragile voice over a simple guitar loop until a swaying bass kicks in and sweeps listeners away – and by the time the track closes on subdued synth sparkles, listeners are left hypnotized. (It's important to make mention that there was another close competition for this spot: The trio's newest single, "The Middle," was neck-and-neck with "Move Me.")

13. "Go Off" by M.I.A.

Let's be real here: M.I.A.'s AIM was not as controversial or as upfront as last year's "Borders" suggested it was going to be. That doesn't mean, though, that she didn't deliver. "Go Off" is swan song of sorts – masked as a Skrillex and Blaqstarr-cosigned banger. Between the supercharged drops, she questions her legacy and the impact of her decade of broadcasting politically charged, controversial ideals via rap music.

12. "Work from Home" by Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign

Many are quick to discredit successful Top 40 tracks on year-end 'best of' lists, but this one most definitely deserves its spot here. Part Rugrats theme song and part sexy club bop, "Work From Home" sparks a desire in me to become a hypersexual construction worker with killer dance moves... you know, if I had the body for it. While it does jump on the abuse of the word "work," it's too hot not to sing along to every single time.

11. "The Greatest" by Sia

Right on the heels of the success of "Cheap Thrills," Sia delivered another prepackaged party – one that's even better than her sole number one hit. A makeshift tribute to the LGBT+ community in the wake of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting, "The Greatest" is a pounding tropical house track that buries its grief with optimism and a superb melody line. And yes, yes, I get it: tropical house is allegedly on its way out. But I don't want to hear about how dated this thing is going to sound, because it's a bona fide banger no matter how you split it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

I Remember | AlunaGeorge

Upon their entrance to the industry in 2012, Aluna Francis and George Reid were the quirky cousins of electronic pop music. With their chunky club beats and slew of influences, the two were the haughty alterna-man's answer to pop music. Reid has since taken to seclusion, contributing only to production value and leaving Francis to brunt most of the touring and promotional manpower behind the AlunaGeorge moniker, but the duo's second album shows signs that they have only grown stronger – and closer to the heart of the genre they once side-stepped.

Whereas Body Music dipped its toes into the pool of mainstream pop, I Remember dives headfirst. Gliding through their stew of influences, Francis and Reid have their sights split between a good time and experimentation through downtempo rhythm and blues, warm tropical house, and most often, bonafide pop disguised as banging electronic dance. Meanwhile, the range of Francis' voice, once employed as just an immature, childlike pout, is tested. Her tone has matured ever so slightly through some stronger support as she's thrown into these new environments.

At the time of its release, the lead single from the set, "I'm in Control," seemed like AlunaGeorge's most ballsy move yet: alienating those fans who revel in viral oddity pop, they jumped aboard the tropical house trend after finding sudden overnight success Stateside with the DJ Snake re-work of "You Know You Like It." While the track didn't replicate American (or British, for that matter) radio success as it should have, the full album now reveals that "Control," though representative of the sleek, polished finish throughout, might be one of the safer tracks of the era.

"Mediator" and "Not Above Love" are perhaps their most experimental, both clutched onto rhythm and blues with all their might. "Heartbreak Horizon" pulls some horns and deep drums out of left field, making for a (strangely successful) marching-band-meet-club-banger aesthetic. But on more expected fronts, "Mean What I Mean" jumps into a full sugar rush, as Francis plays it cool over some pulsating beats before featured rappers Dreezy and Leikeli47 rip into their respective verses, and "Hold Your Head High" and "Jealous" get their kicks from trendy altered-vocal patterns.

In many respects, the twelve tracks of I Remember have rendered the duo's debut material, which was at one point deemed "futuristic pop," damn near obsolete. Is the material here a bit trend-chasing? Perhaps; by and large, the album is a prepackaged party. But it's executed with gusto, swinging smoothly from style to style without losing touch of home base. It's clear that the two halves of AlunaGeorge have grown exponentially – Francis as a vocalist, songwriter, and lyricist; Reid as a songwriter and producer – since we last heard from them, and this album is nothing if not proof of that.

I Remember is out now under Interscope Records.

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.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Obligatory Informal Chat About Some 2016 Singles

I know, I've been unintentionally mute over the handful of singles to have come out this year. My mess of a personal life used and abused me since the turn of the year. Now it's May and I have some free time, so I have no other excuses to delay this little kiki. Let's catch up on some pop music without the formalities of a full album review, shall we?

"I'm in Control" by AlunaGeorge: Body Music was pretty good in its own little way, but this single proves that AlunaGeorge's next album is going to be next level. ("I Remember" and "My Blood" are fire, too, so check those out.)

"Team" by Iggy Azalea: Don't turn on me two songs into this list, but I'm an Iggy Azalea apologist through and through. This song is a jam, especially that little ditty of a bridge that comes out of nowhere. I regret nothing.

"The Big Big Beat" by Azealia Banks: Azealia's Slay-Z mixtape is okay, but we all know she can do much better, don't we? Even my girl Iggy's single is better than this, and we all know who the superior female rapper is supposed to be in the eyes of critics.

"Reminds Me" by Noonie Bao: Now, this woman knows how to make a pop song, yet nobody seems to have taken notice. It's time to notice, people.

"Formation" by Beyoncé: Um, it's Beyoncé and it's politically-charged. So it slays. It slays hard. Just like she does. NOW LET'S GET IN FORMATION.

"Work from Home" by Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign: Part Rugrats theme song, part bondafide bop.

"Here's To Us" by Ellie Goulding: Ellie is the gift that just keeps giving. Even after releasing a 400 track album, she still has another track to contribute to a soundtrack. And it's pretty great.

"Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande: This is a new direction for Ariana Grande in so many ways: the sultry guitar solo, the sexy midtempo rate, the lack of ponytail. Oh, and for the second time ever, there isn't a featured artist or unaccredited shouting black man on an Ariana Grande single. It's quite a treat. (And go get your life from "Be Alright," too. It's possibly one of the best things that Ariana has gifted us with.)

"This is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna: Capital Y-A-S. This is the Rihanna we all expected on Anti but definitely did not get. So yes, this is exactly what I came for.

"Boy Problems" by Carly Rae Jepsen: She's flawless and we just have to accept it. Also, go read my open letter to global sax-repopularizing singer of song Carly Rae Jepsen and buy "Run Away with Me" on iTunes. Thanks in advance.

"Close" by Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo: Holy mother of YES. I smell some record label pressure to get Tove on this track to spark a new interest in both artists with just one music video budget, so it's a good thing she meshes perfectly with our Nick Jonas here. (P.S. - "Champagne Problems" is also catchy as hell.)

"Gold" by Kiiara: Her full EP is kind of disappointing, but this song goes hard. She's effortlessly badass and this track reeks of swagger. I love it.

"Be the One" by Dua Lipa: Possibly the best single to come from this year thus far. (I know it didn't technically come out this year, but it has found its livelihood in the past few months. Just shush and let me flaunt third-tier queen of pop Dua Lipa for all she's worth.)

"Last Dance" by Dua Lipa: Okay, also super amazing. (I know there's a Dua Lipa single right above this. I did it on purpose. Don't sleep on this girl, y'all.)

"Rewear It" by M.I.A.: Leave it to M.I.A. to make a track for an clothing advert and end up conjuring straight fire.

"Just Like Fire" by P!nk: I feel like every time P!nk comes back with a new single, it's like discovering her for the first time all over again. She's so low profile in between album cycles that it's hard to remember she exists. This song's alright but forgettable -- which is not in P!nk's usual nature. It's a soundtrack song, though, so I guess it's a forgivable offense.

"I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)" by Mike Posner: I'm not really sure how Mike Posner, creator of forgettable late 2000s Top 40 anthem "Cooler Than Me," regained relevance or when he became an acoustic singer-songwriter, but he has. Normally, only uneducated trash prefer radio mixes over original versions of songs. But I suppose this one can be an exception, because it's really damn good. I apologize for being uneducated trash.

"No Broken Hearts" by Bebe Rexha feat. Nicki Minaj: What happened to Bebe Rexha and who replaced her with a carbon copy of Rita Ora? In comparison to last year's I Don't Wanna Grow Up extended play, this track from Bebe Ora is just dreadful.

"Work" by Rihanna feat. Drake: It took me six weeks to nail down what Rihanna is uttering in the chorus. After that, the song and I have had a much more positive relationship than when I could only mumble the melody. After all, what good is a Rihanna song if you can't sing along? ("Kiss It Better" makes me want to do naughty things, by the way. Don't ignore that one, either.)

"Rock Bottom" by Hailee Steinfeld feat. DNCE: Look at that, faceless little songbird Hailee Steinfeld got herself another moderate hit. This was the second-best cut from her debut extended play, so God bless her record label for pushing this one.

"Boyfriend" by Tegan and Sara: Tegan and Sara are very much pop now, but they haven't lost the passive-aggressiveness that allowed them to thrive in that Avril Lavigne-y pop-punk space that they dwelled in for so long. That's what makes this such a great tune.

"No" by Meghan Trainor: Okay, this bad boy channels the early '00s pop scene, like, really well? She's saying "no," but I'm giving the track a solid "YAS."

"True Colors" by Zedd feat. Kesha: This track is incredibly important because WE GOT OUR KESHA BACK (kind of). Oh, and it's remarkably better than the version included on Zedd's album of the same name last year.
© Aural Fixation
Maira Gall