Zayn
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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.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mind of Mine | Zayn



Like Beyoncé or Rihanna, Zayn needs not a last name for distinction. Like a cool kid on AIM or Yahoo! Messenger back in the day, he needs not your judgement for using alternating caps on his song titles. And like any young entertainer with a drive for more, he needs not four other band members dragging him down, as he's out to prove with his own solo debut, Mind of Mine.

The blueprints for a departed boy band member's solo album and a maturing child star's breakout album are nearly identical: spit the bubblegum -- bubblegum pop, that is -- out of your mouth, let those hormones write the hypersexual lyrics for you, and show them all that you're not a little kid anymore! Following a good portion of this recipe for success, Zayn went for edgy without the spectacles. Let's put it this way: if Bangerz was Miley Cyrus' way of telling the world that she's all grown up, Mind of Mine is Zayn's way of showing it.

He's an attractive 23-year-old male of considerable fame who is romantically connected to a model, so these tracks focus on the topics that you'd expect: Women, lust, love, and his Internet #haters, with emphasis on those first two. Needless to say, lead single "Pillowtalk" (or "PiLlOwT4lK," whatever) set an accurate stage for what was to come. Spare outlying piano power ballad "Fool For You," his drunken sexcapades unfold on Frank Ocean's alternative R&B turf -- and this seems to be the playing field he belonged in all along. Need proof? Check out "Wrong," where Zayn is at his most assertive and sensual; he and featured artist Kehlani (vocally, she's Tinashe and Tove Lo's lovechild) drive into the chorus in a fashion not unlike the Weeknd on "The Hills."

Being the only one of its kind on an album filled with smooth electronic R&B, that piano ballad track does falter, but don't think that Zayn's voice can't hold its own and drive a song. His vocal melodies make "Bordersz" and "It's You" as great as they are; the delicate acrobatics on the latter provide some reasoning as to why he is the first One Direction boy to get a solo break. Same goes for "Rear View," especially when those airy vocal stems pile on top of sharp electronic drum clicks at the song's back end.

Although moody R&B is totally Zayn's thing now, he hasn't lost that pop sensibility from his One Direction days, whether he likes it or not; the evidence is sprinkled throughout this bad boy. These tracks, minus "Lucozade," which plays more like a constant stream of consciousness than a formulated song, are still hook-reliant; they're just much dirtier than before. Speaking of which, "Befour" goes hard, kept alive by a constant drumbeat and thin synth murmur. Better yet, neon-lit banger "Like I Would" and album closer "Tio" go even harder. ("Like I Would" does not appear on the standard edition of the album, which is a tragedy in every sense of the word and merits the purchase of the deluxe pressing, and "Tio" does not represent "uncle" in Spanish. Just a heads-up.) 

All deluxe and retailer-exclusive tracks in, the album stretches to 20 tracks -- a feat that has become less daunting in an era when deluxe editions and repacks are unapologetic in pushing track listings well over that number. With such a lengthy debut album, Zayn 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 this is the first time he has been 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 -- the Weeknd was really the one to make this genre accessible to pop audiences last year -- and that would be a problem if he weren't doing this well. But he is.

Mind of Mine is available now under RCA Records. Standard, deluxe, and Target exclusive versions are available.

© Aural Fixation
Maira Gall