Carly Rae Jepson’s Fourth LP Is a Blast!!

Dedicated oozes passion and creativity from every note, and makes up for any missteps with thick, indulgent pop sensibilities.

Carly Rae Jepsen is a pop singer/songwriter from Mission, British Columbia. She debuted in 2008 with Tug of War, released on local, Canadian labels and selling just over 10,000 copies in her home country. She went on to build a respectable local following before signing to Interscope and releasing the mega-hit “Call Me Maybe,” in 2011, which reached diamond certification. From here, her next album, Kiss found strong success in 2012 and Jepsen was set on a path for teen pop stardom. However, with a simple life of one-hit-wonder success laid out, she instead made the admirable decision to challenge herself and her listeners with 2015’s Emotion. The record was a tour de force, jam packed with some of the most danceable pop music in years. This was aided by Jepsen’s decision to make a hard turn toward the indulgent, synth-pop of the 1980’s which had been an obvious inspiration on her earlier work. Dedicated largely picks up where Emotion left off.

From the opening moments, its clear that Carly continues to wear her influences on her sleeve in the classiest way. One of my favorite tracks, “I Want You In My Room,” captures the fearless style of the 80’s pop scene while a later cut like “The Sound,” seems to draw from 90’s artists like Alanis Morissette, particularly in her vocal melodies. Throughout the album, she manages to perfectly toe the line between heavy influence and intentional tribute, never quite settling on either.

Additionally, the production is heavily lifted from the same era, especially in its shimmering synths and start drums. The opener, “Julien,” uses this to fantastic effect and will have even the most heartless listener dancing by the half way point, while “Everything He Needs,” dabbles in spacey, psychedelic elements which I hope to see further explored on a later LP. The mix is so bright and the decisions so daring that every song is a treat.

That being said, the record does fall down a bit when it comes to instrumentation. Simply put, the entirety of this album’s instrumental pallet is made up of synths and drums. While I can generally forgive a narrow pallet on a pop album, Dedicated takes it a bit far. It can often be ignored, but on tracks like “Happy Not Knowing,” and “Right Words Wrong Time,” when the hooks are a bit less impressive or no vocal lines are jumping out, it becomes clear that the instrumentals are actually quite uniform.

On the other hand, the percussion is excellent on this album. The slicing snare on “Automatically In Love,” and the quiet but intricate and heavily effected drums on “For Sure,” are just a few of my favorites, but nearly ever cut on the record carries a strong rhythm section which is both well mixed and lively, despite being obviously recorded on a drum machine of some kind.

Like many pop albums, Dedicated lives and dies by its hooks. This is one of the most singable albums I’ve heard all year, driven by songs like “No Drug Like Me,” “Feels Right,” and “Real Love,” which are genuinely impossible to stop humming throughout the day. This is one element which Carly has had in spades from the beginning of her career and its only gotten better with time.

When all else fails, the album can simply fall back on Jepsen herself and one strong, energetic performance after another. The way she lays it all out on a “Now That I Found You,” or “Too Much,” is just infectiously fun. She’s truly a talent in the world of pop songwriting and performance, evidenced by her ability to elevate every track she touches to an entirely new level.

All this aside, there are a few weak points. As I mentioned, much of the instrumentation is repetitive. Additionally, the lyrics leave quite a bit to be desired and the pacing drags now and then on tracks like “I’ll Be Your Girl,” leaving just a few minutes to feel like rehashed elements from earlier in the album.

Nevertheless, Dedicated is a blast to listen to. Carly Rae Jepsen takes the 80’s-esque style from Emotion and develops it fully on this follow up. While it isn’t perfect, any weak moments are quite effectively painted over by shimmering production, powerful vocals, and screaming synthesizers.

Dedicated oozes passion and creativity from every note, and makes up for any missteps with thick, indulgent pop sensibilities.

7/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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LSD Supergroup Drops Fun but Shallow EP

No New Friends is a fun, danceable EP, though it falls well short of its potential.

LSD is a recently formed supergroup featuring Australian pop star Sia, American DJ Diplo, and British singer/rapper Labyrinth. Each member has had quite the career in of themselves. Sia is perhaps best known in the US for her smash hit single, “Chandelier,” but she has eight studio albums, one of which is certified platinum, and she’s a highly respected pop vocalist, known for her powerful belting voice. Diplo is one of the most prolific producers of the modern era, having worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, Lil Pump, and many more. He’s best known for his work with hip-hop and pop artists, and he boasts a handful of Grammy awards and platinum singles. Labyrinth may be the least known of the trio as most of his work is done as a producer and cowriter with artists like Eminem, XXXTentacion, and Ed Sheeran. He does have one solo LP to himself, but he’s best known for his work behind the scenes as a well respected writer and producer. Each of these three artists have had quite a bit of success on their own, and now they’ve joined forces for their first EP, No New Friends.

The record opens with the very fun and danceable title track which at once seems to lay bare every success and shortcoming we can expect on the the rest of the project. Sia gives a strong vocal performance and the chorus features a great hook. My main gripe, however, comes on the instrumental. Diplo’s efforts on this track leave much to be desired in terms of depth, as the track is relatively inoffensive, but very noticeably lacks the depth and lusciousness I would expect from such a team.

“Genius – Lil Wayne Remix,” follows and this is the trio’s debut single, updated with a verse from Lil Wayne that adds quite a bit. I can’t say I enjoyed it quite as much as the original version, which appears later on the project, but Wayne gives a typically energetic verse and Sia once again sounds great on the chorus.

“Mountains,” on the other hand, is easily the weakest of the six songs. Here, not only is the instrumental once again shallow and uninventive, but many of the synths that decorate the melodic hook are just abrasive and irritating. The chorus is certainly enjoyable, but without a strong vocal performance from either Sia or Labyrinth, Diplo’s production is just left to flounder as the main attraction.

This is followed, however, by my favorite track, “Thunderclouds.” Here, we’re treated to two excellent vocal leads, predictably in Sia’s commanding first verse, but also in a surprisingly soulful effort from Labyrinth on the second. It’s one of the most singable and endearing cuts here, and the value of the two strong lead singers and their chemistry can’t be overstated.

“Audio,” is yet another misstep and yet again, it really boils down to whether Sia takes a place front and center on track. In this case, she doesn’t, and we’re left with another fairly shallow instrumental with a somewhat catchy chorus. Most of this project is still fun and danceable, but it doesn’t nearly reach the levels it could’ve had Diplo taken the time to fill out the sonic image and get inventive with the instrumental pallet. Driving, nondescript synths over vaguely interesting drum loops can only go so far.

“Genius,” closes the EP and while I question why this track was even included as it had already been released previously and a remix of the same track appears earlier on the project, it does make for an entertaining closer. Labyrinth gives another excellent verse and Sia is, of course, fantastic. The instrumental is actually somewhat interesting, especially the inclusion of heavily processed violins and the grooving beat. It’s not the best cut on the list, but it’s a strong closer.

All told, No New Friends is admittedly a bit disappointing. With three extremely talented artists joining forces for such a short project once would expect a tightly packed collection of hits, but that’s simply not what was created. That being said much of the project is still fairly enjoyable.

No New Friends is a fun, danceable EP, though it falls well short of its potential.

3/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB