Panda Bear’s Fifth LP is Daring and Unique

Buoys is an exciting journey through a creative process with far more hits than misses.

Panda Bear is an American singer/songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland. He’s best known as a co-founder of the experimental pop group Animal Collective along with longtime friend Avey Tare. The group has found quite a bit of success since their debut in the early 2000’s and all the while, Panda Bear has kept a fairly solid output of solo work. As far as recent releases, 2011’s Tomboy was his first effort to make it on the the Billboard charts, peaking at 29. He signed with Domino Recording Company and released his follow up, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper in 2015. The record performed slightly worse on the general charts, it made it to number two on the US Indie charts.

He and Animal Collective have spent several years on the cutting edge of psychedelic and experimental pop music, utilizing unique instrumentation, lo-fi production, and creative song structure to build records that are truly exciting and interesting. After such a long career, a strong fire and fanbase remains behind the collective and their independent members. Panda Bear has had a rather prolific career, allowing insight for fans into nearly every aspect of his creative evolution. Buoys is one more daring chapter in that catalog.

The album’s best quality comes in its massive pallet of sounds. From the lasers on “Cranked,” to the abrasive fuzz of the title track, the album leaves one guessing as to what will come next. Nearly every track features more atmospheric samples, which range from natural and pleasing to artificial and grating, than actual instrumentation and it makes for a very unique experience.

Despite the almost whimsical nature of these samples, he’s actually able to strike some surprising tones. Tracks like the opener, “Dolphin,” and the record’s best track, “Inner Monologue,” use subtle production choices to build a haunting overall style. The latter uses a harrowing sample of a woman laughing and crying in the background as the latter uses dripping water and unexpected mixing, but both achieve a cold and distant feeling, which is when this album is at its best.

Subtlety is yet another selling point of this record. A track like “Crescendo,” while benefiting from intriguing leads in the forefront and a jarring intro, is also colored in with a multitude of hidden details that only become apparent on repeat listens. The entire album is full of these, from hidden bass lines to quiet atmospherics, the sonic landscape of the album is extremely layered and detailed.

Beyond all of this, the percussion is also incredibly creative and unique. From the despondent rhythms set by the ever present acoustic guitar to the youthful samples on a track like “I Know I Don’t Know.” Anything and everything is used as percussion at some point on this record, which adds to the otherworldly aura of the project as much as the complex and often hard to parse time signatures.

There are, unfortunately, weak spots. These mostly rear their heads on the slower, more laid back tracks. “Master,” though full of interesting ideas, is far too simple and is ultimately just underwhelming in the face of the rest of the tracklist. The closer and weakest track, “Home Free,” may be the only piece of the puzzle that just legitimately doesn’t work as it seems to be seriously lacking in direction or creative energy.

Beyond this, my complaints are mostly minor. The lyrics and vocal performances are only passible and a few of the melodies feel a bit repetitive, but these aren’t the focal points of the album, and the strengths far outweigh the missteps.

In its very modest runtime, Buoys accomplishes quite a bit. With tight songwriting and a great stereo image, Panda Bear presents his listeners with a project that is equal parts daring experimentation, manic creativity, and accessible songwriting.

Buoys is an exciting journey through a creative process with far more hits than misses.

7/10

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Ariana Grande Raises the Bar on Pop Music with Fifth LP

Thank u, next is perfectly paced, expertly produced, and packed to the brim with fantastic performances, setting a new measurement for what we can expect from Ariana and the pop genre as a whole.

Ariana Grande is an R&B/Pop singer and actress based in New York City. She began her career in the Broadway Musical 13, but found her footing on the national stage with the role of Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s Victorious. After showcasing her vocal abilities on the show, she would go on to break into the world of pop music, taking it by storm with 2013’s Your’s Truly, which debuted at number one and went platinum. After 2014’s My Everything went double platinum and 2016’s Dangerous Woman went platinum, she seemed to have established dominance as one of the most successful pop acts of the day.

She’s notable for remarkable control over her whistle notes, an impressive range, and a smokey tone that has worked especially well as she’s continued to incorporate hip-hop elements into her production. She dropped Sweetener in 2018 to very positive reviews, including from myself, and quickly announced that we could expect a second record within just a few months. Over that time and shortly before the 2018 release, her public image seemed to carry some baggage as her long time boyfriend and recent ex, Mac Miller tragically passed away in 2018, and Grande also split with then fiancé, Pete Davidson on less than amicable grounds. While I’d be more than happy to leave all of this information out of a review of her music, she seems more than happy to leave it in as this and more is addressed on her newest release, thank u, next.

First and foremost, Ariana’s vocal performance on this record is absolutely fantastic. Just listen to tracks like the opener, “imagine,” where she even reaches well up into her whistle tones or “bad idea,” where her belt and ability to switch between chest and head voice characterize an excellent chorus. She’s already well known as one of the more vocally talented pop stars in the industry today, and her performances on thank u, next do nothing but showcase that further.

The songwriting on the album is also quite impressive. Songs like “NASA,” and “makeup,” take fairly basic ideas from pop music and write about them from really unique angles. This is a lyrical trick she uses over the entire record, not to mention extremely personal lyrics on “ghostin” where she sings about her remaining love for the late Mac Miller and the effect it has on her other relationships, or the title track where she speaks to her many past relationships, boldly calling them all out by name, and speaks to her need to focus on her self in the future.

Even beyond lyrics, Grande has an incredible talent for writing incredibly catchy hooks and choruses. On the track “fake smile,” for example, her flow and melody is remarkably singable, as is the hook on the surprisingly sexual “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” She’s got such an ear for writing these choruses that keep listeners dancing through the entire runtime.

Best of all, though, is the production. There are specific examples like the layered vocals on “needy,” or the creative stereo image on “in my head,” but the entire album is a pure masterpiece of pop production. The attention to detail on vocal tuning and the overall mix is perfect and allows the producers to craft lush and dynamic instrumentals that surround the listener with a mix of organic instrumentation and well placed, nocturnal trap influences.

Admittedly, there are issues. “7 rings,” while benefiting from a great Sound of Music reference, suffers from the odd, Soulja Boy-inspired flow on the verses which pulls a lot of the momentum out of the track. Additionally, “bloodline,” is probably the weakest track on the record as the instrumental never seems to find its footing and features an awkward horn section. Luckily, these problems are extremely singular, and have virtually no effect on the rest of the album.

With her fifth release, Ariana Grande has not only established herself as the best of the mainstream, pop acts but raised the bar on pop music as a whole. While artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have tried to incorporate trap and hip-hop influences with abysmal results, Grande has succeeded with flying colors and piled on further layers which her contemporaries simply can’t match.

Thank u, next is perfectly paced, expertly produced, and packed to the brim with fantastic performances, setting a new measurement for what we can expect from Ariana and the pop genre as a whole.

8/10

Nina Nesbitt Shows Promise With Sophomore LP

While The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change may suffer from quite a few noticeable defects, it’s a fun listen that hints toward the possibility of an impressive catalog to come.

Nina Nesbitt is a pop singer/songwriter from Livingston, Scotland. She first found fame opening for Ed Sheeran on the European leg of his 2012 world tour. She signed with Universal Records and dropped five EP’s from 2011 to 2013, gaining substantial notoriety and a strong following, particularly back home in Scotland. Her first full length LP, Peroxide released in early 2014 and though it found some success charting at number 11 worldwide and number one in Scotland, it was met with middling to negative reception by critics. While Nesbitt’s lyricism and voice was impressive, any promise seemed to drown in a pool of trendy folk-pop instrumentation and melody. Her subsequent EP releases received similarly mixed reviews until she left Universal and signed with Cooked Vinyl, an indie outfit from London, in 2016.

While her early sound was, admittedly, a bit immature, especially in the prominence of her Sheeran and Swift influences, there was still a bit of promise. She wrote with an interestingly sardonic sense of humor and had a skill for witty turn of phrase, which played well over her acoustic guitar heavy style. With The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, however, she has wholly revolutionized her sound for the better.

Much of her best qualities are still here, including her voice. Tracks like the opener, “Sacred,” and “Chloe,” are made infinitely better by Nesbitt’s excellent vocal talents. Even on a few of the weaker tracks in the runtime, her voice is able to act as a shining center point thanks to a soft and controlled falsetto combined with a powerful lower register. This is a difficult album to front, and Nina handles the burden extremely well.

She also has an incredible ear for melody. The choruses on tracks like “The Best You Had,” and my personal favorite track, “Things I Say When You Sleep,” are undeniable ear-worms that listeners will be singing for days to come. It’s a rare skill to have, but it’s one which Nesbitt uses to her advantage across the entire project.

Her ear isn’t just well tuned melodically, however, but also rhythmically. Her flow on “The Moments I’m Missing,” and “Colder,” fits perfectly, and is rare to hear in the pop world today. Thanks to this, she’s able to keep her audience entertained through her verses as well as her choruses, creating a fully enthralling track when it works well.

The album is at it’s best when all these elements combine on top of the its greatest strength of creative and unique instrumentals. From the soft piano and atmospheric accents on “Is It Really Me You’re Missing?” to the intriguing latin guitar on “Love Letter,” when the beats work, they work. Even the old school, almost Abdul-esque track on “Loyal To Me,” is extremely enjoyable thanks to a few creative touches. Virtually every track is accented with a few subtle and unique sounds that add quite a bit to the songs themselves.

Unfortunately, the instrumentation is also a source of annoyance at times. Tracks like “Somebody Special,” and “Last December,” are all but butchered by abusing the acoustic guitar as a lead, calling back to the cheesy, folk-pop of her early career.

Additionally, the production has a few persistent issues. From beats that don’t seem to fully develop like the weakest track on the track list, “Empire,” to the near constant use of trap drums which takes some life out of nearly every track, especially the closer and title track.

Worst of all, Nina’s vocal is constantly EQ’d extremely poorly, pushing the high end to the point of an irritating hissing noise accompanying much of her performance. It’s a testament to her talent that she still sounds quite impressive despite this, but never really goes away and actually becomes quite noticeable and annoying at a few points on the album.

Regardless of shortcomings, however, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change is a massive step forward for Nina Nesbitt. Having left Universal for a smaller, indie label, it seems she’s finally being given the freedom to step out from the pop-folk shadow and take part in the wild and exciting world of modern pop music.

While The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change may suffer from quite a few noticeable defects, it’s a fun listen that hints toward the possibility of an impressive catalog to come.

5/10

James Blake Drops Fascinating Fourth LP

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

James Blake is a singer/songwriter and producer from London. He found underground success with a series of EPs released in 2010 on R&S Records and turned the buzz into a silver certification for his debut, self-titled LP in 2011. He went on to drop Overgrown in 2013 and The Colour in Anything in 2016, both of which peaked in the 30’s on the US charts and topped the dance music charts. His biggest mainstream success came on a pair of features on the Black Panther soundtrack in 2017.

Despite the lack of a massive hit, Blake is a darling of the music critic world, and for good reason. He’s often hailed for his ability to blend a multitude of genres, which he does with ease and remarkable skill. His understanding of rap music is especially impressive as he seems to understand the genre better than many modern rappers, blending it perfectly with jazz, country, rock, and his folksy roots. Now four albums in, James Blake is crafting one of the most unique and intriguing catalogs in modern music, and that continues with Assume Form.

From the start, the album is very obviously headed in a unique, minimal direction. Tracks like the opener and title track or “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” utilize simplistic instrumentals, relying heavily on looping sound bites. They also play with timing and tempo in an interesting way that leaves a listener feeling a bit off balance. Luckily, though, our ears gravitate so quickly to Blake’s excellent vocals that he’s able to see us through some of the more experimental changes.

Aside from James’ talented performances, there’s also quite a features list here as well. Travis Scott sounds better than ever on “Mile High,” as does ROSALIA on “Barefoot in The Park.” In both instances, featuring artists get to take center stage for an extended period of time as apposed to a single, unrelated verse as is generally the case. The only feature with a criminally short grip on the spotlight gives perhaps the best performance of the list as Andre 3000 of Outkast drops a fantastically complex verse on “Where’s the Catch,” a track that actually feels a bit meandering aside from his appearance.

Additionally, producer Metro Boomin helps out on a couple tracks. The first of these is the aforementioned “Mile High,” which is relatively simple, but the second is “Tell Them,” which features one of the best beats I’ve heard in quite a while. From the excellent loop of Moses Sumney’s haunting voice to the soft, watery synths, the track is just beautifully crafted, and when the violins make an appearance in the final third, it serves as nothing more than a cherry on top.

The instrumental pallet is nothing to dismiss either, as tracks like “Into the Red,” and “Are You in Love,” use everything from violins to baroque pianos to woodwinds and synths that seem ripped directly from a 1980’s Nintendo game. Even more importantly, though, is the way these organic, folk-inspired instruments are given new life being weaved in and out of what is ostensibly trap production. The heavy bass and snapping hi-hats contrast perfectly against the physical instrumentation in an extremely rare way.

He also plays with a dreamier, more smooth style of production on tracks like “I’ll Come Too,” which seems built from the ground up on a very jazz-inspired foundation, and “Don’t Miss It,” which is driven by a fascinating speed effect on Blake’s lead vocal and decorated by an operatic backing voice that is simply chilling. While this isn’t a style he pursues all that often on the record, he never the less delivers quite impressively when it’s used.

All this is not to mention Blake’s impressive lyrical chops, his ability to write vocal melodies that are completely unpredictable, the fantastic pacing of the album, and the remarkably even balance he strikes between manic tempo and melodic changes and minimalistic grooves. However, there are a few blemishes.

Namely, near the end of the project, there are two weak entries. The first is “Power On,” which seemed packed full of interesting ideas, but instead meanders from section to section without bringing his ideas together cohesively. This is far superior, however, to the closer and worst track, “Lullaby For My Insomniac,” which just seems to lack completely in the creativity department, waisting somewhat interesting lyrics on a weak track that never quite finds it’s footing.

All told, Assume Form is fantastic! James Blake’s ability to meld genres, experiment with tempos and production, and break the mold of conventional song form all while remaining relatively accessible is simply astounding.

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

Maggie Rogers Debuts With Creative LP

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

Maggie Rogers is a pop/folk singer and producer form Easton, Maryland. She found some fame when she was featured on Parrell Williams’ masterclass from New York University. She presented the track “Alaska,” which would go on to feature on this album, to Williams who was blown away and called it “singular.” Thanks to the viral explosion of the clip, Rogers was courted by several record labels in a way that is somewhat rare today. In the end, she signed with Capitol records and dropped a debut EP, Now That The Light is Fading, in 2017.

Her sound is quite unique, as Pharrell Williams pointed out. Raised in a rural area, Rogers  has strong folk influences and even played more straightforward form of folk music earlier in her life. Today, however, the folk roots remain, but filtered through very genuine dance and synth-pop lenses for an extremely unique sound. Excitement was high for her major label debut, and Rogers certainly didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps her most important talent is obvious immediately, that being a special knack for crafting vocal melodies. Particularly in her verses, each line is extremely singable. Tracks like the opener, “Give a Little,” and “Retrograde,” showcase this quite well as I found myself humming the verses well after my first few listens and enjoying choruses even more.

Additionally, her lyricism is very impressive, and it may be where her folk sensibilities shine the brightest. Much of her writing is very visual and often draws on gimmicks while turning them on their head for interesting nuances. Tracks like “The Knife,” and the closer, “Overnight,” showcase her writing exceptionally well, but the album as a whole benefits from her consistency in tone and aesthetic while crafting unique lyrics for each track.

Above all, Heard It In A Past Life is made infinitely better thanks to Rogers’ fantastic production abilities, particularly in terms of designing beats. Tracks like “Say It,” and “On + Off,” have obvious hip-hop influences, especially in their drums. On the other hand, tracks like the aforementioned “Alaska,” and “Burning,” have more natural pallets and utilize harmonies extremely well to build very unique and yet accessible songs.

On the other hand, her mixing abilities are a bit more questionable. While harmonies are extremely tight and well mixed, plenty of tracks seem to bury the vocals quite a bit, and the tracks overall could do with some brightening up. Some of this is a bit understandable as a strong focus is meant to be placed on the admittedly exceptional beats, but this synth-pop sound still draws a listener’s ears to the lead vocal and burying it just comes off as frustrating all too often.

Additionally, her voice itself is something of a mixed bag. While she gives incredible, powerhouse performances on tracks like “Fallingwater,” and the closer, “Back In My Body,” she falls short in two key ways on other cuts. Firstly, she simply doesn’t have the voice to command the more traditional, top 40 sound of a track like “Light On.” A more pervasive problem, however, is her strange pronunciation on long vowels and seeming refusal to open her mouth on a few tracks, the most egregious of which is “Past Life.”

Overall, there’s a lot to like about Heard It In A Past Life. Maggie Rogers has meticulously built an extremely distinct and exciting major label debut. Her production skills along with her more traditional folk background have fused in a way that has me extremely excited for the future.

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

6/10

HEAR HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE: https://open.spotify.com/album/5AHWNPo3gllDmixgAoFru4

The 1975 Capture Millennial Apathy With Third LP

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

     The 1975 is a britpop/pop-rock act from Manchester, UK. They debuted in 2013 with a self-titled LP which received mild critical praise but very quickly built a rabid cult following that rocketed the band to superstardom in the US. This was followed by their 2016 which sported this cringeworthy title: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Despite the title, the record debuted at number one, perhaps helped by their signing to Interscope, and became The 1975’s second straight platinum album.

   Despite the commercial success and strong base, however, the band has received rather middling reviews over the years and developed something of an image problem, being seen as a quintessential hipster band. Mainly, they’re criticized for their thoughtful, experimental aesthetic being absent in their actual music, which is mostly glossy britpop with psuedo-intellectual lyricism and a unique 1980’s influence. Personally, I’d found their previous efforts bloated and lacking in substance, but not devoid of enjoyable moments. However, with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the band seems to have matured quite a bit, finally bringing much of their potential to fruition.

   The record opens, as does every 1975 album, with a short interlude baring the band’s name as a title. This one interesting, borrowing the hectic, chorusing effect which was notable used by Bon Iver in his track, “CREEKS.” It’s used slightly less effectively here, but the track is still enjoyable. It doesn’t hold a candle, though, to the albums other interlude, “The Man Who Married a Robot/A Love Theme,” a cynical dark comedy which both laments the apathy and dissociation of our generation and perfectly incapsulates Matt Healy’s authorial tone on this album.

   Lyrically, Healy writes sardonically, comedically, and with a strong dedication to the project’s general aesthetic. The seamless blend of genuineness with black comedy on tracks like “Give Yourself a Try,” is unique and engaging, and it contrasts with “Inside Your Mind,” which mock’s it’s own roots in pop power balladry by following a man who loves a woman so much he wants to split her head open to see her inner thoughts. Even beyond this, the album’s highlight “Love It If We Made It,” gorgeously satirizes the modern would with a level of desperation that taps into that of The 1975’s very young demographic, making the song’s “modernity has failed us,” hook ring especially poignant.

   Sonically, the album covers a wide rage, most of which is quite enjoyable. They’re certainly at their best on tracks like “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “I Like America, America Likes Me,” or “It’s Not Living.” The glitzy, gloss pop instrumentals and the shimmering production is perfectly juxtaposed against the songs’ dark subject matter, that being infidelity, gun violence, and heroin addiction respectively. 

   Even a few of their more genre bending tracks work well. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love,” is a George Michael-esque, power-soul ballad, complete with chimes and what Healy called “a real key change.” On the other hand “Mine,” is a lounging jazz tune which, despite weaker lyrics, is infinitely listenable and features an amazing saxophone solo. This is also very well done on the closer, “I Always Wanna Die,” which would’ve felt right at home in the early 2000’s, among the likes of Oasis. Here, the band wears their influences, unashamedly, on their sleeve and craft loving tributes to these inspirations.

   However, a few of these experiments fall short. “Sincerity is Scary,” is at least respectable in it’s attempt to dip a toe in the waters of groovy soul music, though it feels a bit awkward and doesn’t really fit in the tracklist. This is more than I can say for tracks like “Be My Mistake,” or “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” two stripped down, folksy tunes which feel like bland left-overs from the previous two records, and who’s heartfelt lyrics seem to be mocked by the rest of the album’s irreverent cynicism. The worst of all these tracks is “How To Draw/Petrichor,” which feels like an aimless, Planet Earth sound track which relegates the previously used chorus effect to near novelty status.

   As the near 60 minute runtime draws to a close, my mind is drawn to The 1975’s previous efforts, both of which are roughly as long. Where they felt like psuedo-thoughtful slogs, Brief Inquiry feels like a genuine commentary on modern times. It isn’t perfect, but the infusion of punk attitude and black humor has brought The 1975 to a truly respectable stage in their development.

   A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

8/10

HEAR A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPShttps://open.spotify.com/album/6PWXKiakqhI17mTYM4y6oY

Imagine Dragons Floods the Airwaves With Another Boring Album

Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.

     Imagine Dragons is an alternative rock/pop band from Las Vegas. They gained popularity in 2012 with their double platinum debut LP, Night Visions. The strong push from Interscope Records and the massive popularity of singles like “Radioactive,” and “On Top of the World,” were important in their success, but the most important factor was Imagine Dragons’ ability to tap into the growing EDM wave which was cresting at this time, and give it a more accessible slant. This ability netted them two more platinum releases in 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors and 2017’s Evolve.

   While the group hasn’t exactly been a critical darling over the years, their commercial success is hard to deny and the lead up to this album is no exception. With four singles released ahead of time, including one written for the upcoming Wreck It Ralph sequel, Imagine Dragons has once again overtaken the radio in preparation for this LP. Now that it’s finally here, I must say, it’s a pretty weak outing.

   The production, of course, is well done. Working with Interscope Records, it’s virtually impossible to put out a project which isn’t well polished and put together. Origins is no exception. This isn’t nearly enough to save the album, but for so-so tracks like “Cool Out,” or “Bad Liar,” it’s enough to push them over the hump into listenable territory.

   Dan Reynolds’ vocals also have a few shining moments. The opener, “Natural,” has a genuinely impressive bridge, and actually got my hopes up far higher than they should’ve been. Throughout the album, Reynold’s vocals, even when performing obnoxious melodies, are one of the only redeemable qualities of this album.

   When we come to lyrics, there are exactly two well written tracks which are, puzzlingly, stuck on the very tail end of the ridiculous 50 minute runtime. “Burn Out,” tells a fairly conventional story of battling stress and depression, and though the song is certainly hindered by an abrasive instrumental, the sentiment is expressed well. The best track on the record is the closer, “Real Life,” the only of the fifteen tracks to cover a remotely interesting topic. It follows a man as her attempts to hold his marriage together in spite of the horrors of the modern world. It’s an interesting look at how the terrors of the external world, namely 9/11 and the Boston Bombing, effect the personal lives of those who aren’t directly involved. It’s a unique topic, and it’s handled well, lyrically.

   Lyrics, however, are a great place to start on my criticisms of this record. Aside from the two I just mentioned, virtually every other track could’ve been written by a computer. Tracks like “Only,” or “Zero,” are just meaningless. Even a track like “West Coast,” which is genuinely singable, is poisoned by a constant flow of pseudo-meaningful lyricism.

   When the lyrics do try to mean something, however, I’m left missing the soullessness of the previous tracks. Perhaps the most egregious here is “Love,” in which Reynolds drones on about the evils of racism in a series of platitudes, ignoring the real issues of institutional and generational racism, to simply point out that we all have the same blood and that skin color doesn’t matter. It’s naiveté borders on disrespect and it’s easily the weakest track of the bunch.

   The only common theme that can be found throughout appears heavily in tracks like “Machine,” “Digital,” or “Bullet in a Gun.” That is this idea of being an “outsider,” and dealing with the pressures to conform and give up their artistic integrity. Now, ignoring the fact that this band’s debut album went double platinum by essentially commercializing a sound which was popular in the underground before them, even these tracks are purely top 40 style, pop hits. This, along with very poor writing, makes these songs feel particularly disingenuous. The bridge on “Bullet in a Gun,” in which Reynolds shouts “sell out,” at himself nearly made me turn the record off.

   Beyond these lyrical and thematic issues, the instrumentals and hooks are just dreadful. “Boomerang,” borders on unlistenable, “Birds,” is smothered with decade-old trap cymbals, and “Stuck” is driven by an annoying drum track and vocal line that ruins whatever there may have been to appreciate.

   When Imagine Dragons hit the scene, their sound was flawed and a bit watered-down, but their youthful energy and catchy delivery masked most of their short comings. Half a decade later, all of that has faded to leave a boring shell of a group.

   Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.

2/10

HEAR ORIGINS: https://open.spotify.com/album/3JfSxDfmwS5OeHPwLSkrfr