Billie Eilish Debuts With a Dark but Fun LP

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Is a mostly well executed debut for a very exciting young artist who could easily go on to be something truly transformative for pop music.

Billie Eilish is pop singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. Her meteoric rise to fame has become something of a phenomena. Her 2016 debut single, “Ocean Eyes,” was certified platinum quickly after it’s release and left fans immediately clamoring for more, which Billie delivered. The track found it’s way onto her first EP, Don’t Smile At Me which is certified gold and peaked at number one on the US alternative charts. By 2018, she was opening for Florence + The Machine before headlining her own massive tour the same year. With a multitude of music videos and a remarkably consistent aesthetic throughout, Billie is able to appeal at once to fans of alternative and mainstream pop, and her music itself, while fairly accessible, incorporates more than a few unique, experimental elements. After rising to the top of the industry in just a couple years, she’s finally released her first full length LP, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

Unlike most modern pop stars, Billie’s music certainly doesn’t live and die by her vocal performance. She does, however, have a few strong showings on this album. On cuts like the softer, “when the party’s over,” or the melodic “wish you were gay,” Eilish’s breathy, haunting lead is an invaluable asset to the arrangement. Overall, while Billie is still certainly not known as a pop powerhouse on the level of an Ariana Grande, she adds to the album in a very unique way.

One can also not discount the value of the aesthetic she has so carefully crafted and continues to grow on this project. The dark but rhythmic flow on the album’s opener and best track, “bad guy,” makes her feel genuinely otherworldly while her lyrics on “all the good girls go to hell,” layered over the chiming church bells and bouncing pianos are almost enigmatic. Over her fairly short career, she’s built what amounts to a fascinating character which bleeds through every second of this album.

This all being said, the true star of this project is Billie’s brother, Finneas, who carries co-writing and production duties on every cut. While I can nitpick a few of the technical aspects of his work, there’s no denying the creative and daring style he holds to. I find myself especially impressed by his willingness to use fairly abrasive sound pallets like the reedy screeches on “bury a friend,” the almost terrifying effects on Billies voice in “8,” or the jarring, twisted keys on “ilomilo,” a track which is entirely saved by great production. Of course, this isn’t a Death Grips record, but for a mainstream pop album, the pallet is quite daring.

Beyond this, his manic energy and meticulous stereo images are absolutely engulfing. The mix of the very clean bass guitar and jazz inspirations with unpredictable vocal effects on “xanny,” makes it one of the strongest tracks on the list, not to mention the wonderful harmonies near the end which also adorn nearly all of the closer, “goodbye,” quite successfully. And of course, the repeated sound bites from The Office on “my strange addiction,” are irresistibly hilarious.

There are a few downfalls on the album however. Most of these pitfalls are due to weaknesses in the fundamentals of the music, namely uninventive lyrics and unimpressive vocals. This is hidden when the full creativity of Billie or Finneas is on display, but that’s not always the case. “you should see me in a crown,” for example, comes off as a fairly bland piece of trap pop, while “listen before i go,” and “i love you,” are back to back snoozers only saved by a strong closer. Essentially, when the production and arrangement is stripped back, the album falters, and while that will likely change as Eilish gains more experience, she does pretty well to avoid that position for the majority of the runtime.

All said, this is a very strong debut outing for Billie. It’s by no means perfect, and at times her lack of experience does shine through, but it’s a fun piece of nocturnal pop that brings something a bit more daring to the mainstream.

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Is a mostly well executed debut for a very exciting young artist who could easily go on to be something truly transformative for pop music.

6/10

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

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The Bouncing Souls Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary with Fun EP3

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

The Bouncing Souls are a punk rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They debuted in 1994 with The Good, The Bad, and the Argyle, and went on to release four albums throughout the 90’s, each finding some level of underground success. Though their catalog lacks any real mainstream hits, it does show every sign of a hard working, old school punk act with 10 studio albums and 15 EPs since their formation in 1989. After beginning with Chunksaah Records, they left to work with Epitaph for the majority of their output in the 2000’s but they’ve recently returned to Chunksaah for their most recent projects including 2016’s Simplicity, which is one of their best selling albums to date. With their 30th anniversary approaching, they’re adding to their extensive catalog with Crucial Moments.

The EP opens with the high energy title track which kicks off the tracklist in style. It’s essentially a straight forward, pop-punk cut driven by Greg Attonito’s impressively clean vocal. The drum fills are fast and exciting and lead guitar is extremely well played. The pulled back bridge, though quite cliche’d, is enjoyable and the crisp production makes for quite the opener, overall.

“1989” is a much more true blue punk track, all the way down to the terse, 90 second runtime. Instrumentally, there’s no dip in quality to be heard and, in fact, there is the improvement of a very well played bass line on the bridge and an entertaining guitar solo. Unfortunately, Greg’s vocals lack the grit needed to pull off this sound, and the song is at it’s best when he returns to his melodic style near the end. Additionally, the structure of this track is just awkward and it leaves quite a bit to be desired, ultimately.

“Favorite Everything,” follows, driven especially by an ear-worm guitar lead. Lyrically, its a fun love song full of quirky platitudes which are performed quite convincingly. Beyond this, the drums are, once again, excellent, aided by a great rhythm in general. The track’s biggest weak points are the transitions between sections. Choruses just seem to start and end with no noticeable change beyond lyrics, and the track as a whole bleeds together a bit by the end.

“Here’s To Us,” on the other hand, is easily the strongest showing on the project. The instrumental is explosive and Attonito’s vocals are his best thus far. The melody on the chorus is fantastically well written, though the lyrics are a bit juvenile, admittedly. It ends with a soaring guitar solo directly into an exciting passage of doubled vocals. It’s exactly the sound you want to hear out of this band and it’s delivered better here than anywhere else.

The band returns to the traditional punk sound again with “4th Avenue Sunrise,” this time with much better results. Greg defaults to a more charismatic, blues-tinged vocal style which fits the song much better and more importantly, this cut doesn’t feel nearly as incomplete. Each idea is presented and fully fleshed out while the high tempo retains the quick impact they’re going for.

“Home,” closes the album and it’s a relatively enjoyable finish. It features yet another excellent chorus which is very well performed by Attonito. The crunching lead guitars are pure pop-punk and explosive drumming brings the choruses to a head in a very satisfying way. Overall, it’s one of the stronger cuts on the project, not the least of which because of the very strong songwriting.

Ultimately, this is a fun collection of songs, though it’s lacking in more than a few areas. There’s really not a single track that isn’t enjoyable in some way or another. The tracklist is very well paced and the production is slick but full of life.

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

3/5

Hear the EP

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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

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My Thoughts on the Return of the Jonas Brothers!!

What could a Jonas Brothers reunion mean in 2019?

The mid-2000’s are often characterized, musically, by the explosion of pop-punk music and the Fueled by Ramen label. As with any music trend, Disney quickly set to work replicating it.

This fell on the shoulders of one of the most talented classes of musicians in Disney’s history, which included stars like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lavato. While the latter’s debut album captured much of the magic of groups like Paramore, the brunt of recreating the Fueled by Ramen sound fell, by and large, to the Jonas Brothers.

While their debut was fairly nondescript and unimpressive, their self-titled sophomore release in 2007 went double platinum and netted them a Grammy nomination for best new artist. This netted them staring roles in the 2008 Disney Channel smash hit Camp Rock, and from here they were absolute Disney Royalty.

They dropped another double platinum record that year and another platinum album in 2009. For those keeping score at home, that means the Jonas brothers had sold roughly five million copies in just three years. Their last two records peaked at number one on Billboard charts and they’d had a multitude of massively successful EP’s, tours, movies, and music videos. In 2012, however, after several delays had plagued work on a new record, the brothers announced that they were leaving Hollywood Records, their tie to Disney, and began a messy, drawn out process of splitting up.

Nick Jonas, who had already done some minor solo work while the band was still together, found quite a bit of success as a solo act. He abandoned much of the pop-punk influences on which he’d cut his teeth in favor of heavily produced power-pop. Tracks like “Jealous,” and “Chains,” did extremely well on the radio and he quickly became a big name in pop music.

Joe, on the other hand, found the well a bit dry with his 2011 solo LP, Fastlife, but in 2015, he debuted as the front man funk-pop four piece, DNCE, and their explosive single, “Cake by the Ocean.” Their self-titled record the same year was quite impressive and may be the best piece of music to come out of any Jonas Brother. The brothers seemed to be set for somewhat impressive careers in their respective projects.

That all changed on February 28th when the trio announced their return with the release of a new track and music video, “Sucker.” The cut is certainly listenable and a bit more mature than their previous outfit. The video is actually quite impressive, with on obviously large budget and a fairly clear artistic vision, but, of course, the questions are swirling. What will a Jonas Brothers reunion look like in 2019?

There are two key questions when it comes to this reunion, the first being what influence the brothers’ solo work will have on this record. With Nick and Joe having found a voice in genres that are quite different than the sound which brought the trio to their commercial heights, there seems to be an inherent conflict arising. The new track seems to suggest that the work they’ve done over the decade since the band’s last release will inform the new album quite heavily and I think that’s an excellent choice. The bubblegum form of pop-punk they made in the mid-2000’s has simply no place in todays scene, but the danceable power pop of a group like DNCE absolutely does.

The second and more pressing question that arrises is one of marketing and fanbase. This reunion is, obviously, an incredible economic opportunity for many people. Similar reunions for groups like New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men have made millions by playing the hits to the same crowds that supported the groups in the first place. This is the route which I would’ve expected the brothers to go, but it doesn’t seem they are for a few reasons. Most noticeably, “Sucker,” sounds absolutely nothing like the hits that made them famous, but another clue can be found in the fact that they’ve signed Republic Records instead of returning to the Hollywood label owned by Disney. It may be possible that the trio is gearing up for a serious push toward creating new and interesting music together under the moniker which once stamped them as property of the Disney Channel.

These questions will likely be answered quickly as Republic will want to strike while the iron is hot, and it is white hot after an ecstatic reception by the internet of the “Sucker,” video and track. One can only hope we’re in for a new and unique experience on their first album in a decade.

HOMESHAKE’s Fourth LP is Full of Ambition but Lacking Ideas

Helium may be a promising sign for the future, but in the present, it’s hardly worth a second glance.

HOMESHAKE is a lo-fi, indie pop singer/songwriter from Montreal, Quebec. He debuted in 2013 with two mixtapes, The Homeshake Tape and Dynamic Meditation. He gained something of an underground following which eventually lead to his departure from Mac DeMarco’s band in 2014 and the release of his debut LP, In The Shower. His follow up, Midnight Snack came about a year later followed by Fresh Air in 2017. Over the years, he’s transitioned from a slightly indie-tinged, guitar pop act to a more lo-fi experimental project. Helium is his latest effort, and it leaves quite a bit to be desired.

The album does have quite a bit going for it, not the least of which is ambition. The Seinfeld-esque bass guitar on “Like Mariah,” is a creative touch and “Other Than,” utilizes an interesting siren loop which fades in and out across the entirety of the track. There are plenty of moments like this, where HOMESHAKE seems to have the ambition needed to experiment with a large pallet, and though they don’t always work all that well, it’s fun to hear him try new things.

There are even a few genuinely well put together cuts on Helium. “All Night Long,” is an enjoyable, lo-fi track that features some great, subtle instrumentation. On the other hand, “Just Like My,” and “Nothing Could Be Better,” range from shimmering to ethereal, each full of strong creative decisions and set to fun grooves.

There are even a couple impressive interludes. “Heartburn” is relaxed and features a pleasing roll of wind chimes, while the most daring piece on the record comes in the form of the 90-second, “Salu Says Hi.” The chaotic spoken pieces drape over the droning instrumental well and the bouncing effects near the end are quite intriguing. Unfortunately, it’s on the topic of interludes where we find our first issue.

It should stated that there are far too many of these short instrumentals between tracks, and several of them seem either to be padding the runtime or like they’d fit better as intros to the next track. Beyond this, the opener, “Early,” for example, is just plain boring, with almost nothing happening for the entire 90 seconds.

Boring is a term that applies to much of this album. “Anything At All,” and the closer, “(Secret Track),” are perhaps the worst offenders as their entire runtime seems completely devoid of ideas. One great quality of electronic and lo-fi music is the many subtle layers, each with its own progression, leaving much to be uncovered on repeat listens. Much of Helium however, seems to be the absolute bare minimum, with little thought put into the melodies or especially the underpinning pieces.

In addition, The vocal performances are most just passable at best and frustrating at worst. “Another Thing,” for example, has some of the worst vocals on the album. Some of this may have worked the vocals had been heavily produced and used as another element, not the focus, but with a relatively dry lead, the shortcomings just can’t be ignored.

Worst of all, though, is HOMESHAKE’s insistance on repetitive sound effects, worst of all, the static. Several tracks are saddled with this backing static, though the “Trudi and Lou,” interlude and “Couch Cushion,” spring to mind as especially egregious examples where one, bland static is played behind the entire track. Something like waves on the ocean may have done this slightly better as at least there is some variance, but this static is omnipresent in the mix and absolutely lifeless.

As the album wraps up, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. While I’ve never been massively invested in HOMESHAKE’s work, Helium did seem to be striking on a vein that could yield very unique and interesting results. Unfortunately, he stops short and only delivers a surface level collection lo-fi wallpaper with only the hint of further depth.

Helium may be a promising sign for the future, but in the present, it’s hardly worth a second glance.

3/10

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

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

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