AURORA Drops Starkly Gorgeous and Well Executed LP

A Different Kind Of Human is breathtaking take on pop music with a colder, more alienating tone which contrasts well with the undeniably catchy songwriting and mainstream sensibilities.

AURORA is an indie/electropop artist from Stavanger, Norway. She debuted with her 2015 EP, Running with the Wolves which slipped almost entirely under the radar but built something of an underground fan base. It was her full length follow up, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, which put her on the radar of the indie pop world, topping the charts in her native Norway and even breaking onto the US charts for a moment after she performed on a few American late night programs. This success kicked off a massive tour which ended with the release of her second EP, Infections of a Different Kind, which landed her a spot in festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, as well as serving as the first part or “step,” as she called it, in a longterm series of releases. The second “step,” A Different Kind of Human released earlier this week and on it, Aurora is as entrancing as ever.

The album opens with one of AURORA’s fantastic songwriting on full display in the form of irresistible hooks. Tracks like “The River,” and “The Seed,” feature choruses which will catch the ear of even the most casual music listener and stick in their heads for quite awhile. She ties in clear inspirations from artists like David Bowie, for whom she’s expressed much admiration in the past, in putting together some truly fantastic hooks.

Beyond this, her lyricism is even more impressive. On cuts like “Daydreamer,” and “Hunger,” AURORA simultaneously uses a few interesting techniques. On the one hand, she consistently goes against the thematic grain of modern pop music, criticizing our tendencies to live only in the moment and speaking to the importance of living for the future as well. Additionally, she writes with haunting and almost alien imagery that makes for a fascinating experience when trying to dissect her storytelling.

Vocally, AURORA is also quite strong. While she doesn’t quite have the power of an average pop star, she makes up for this in spades with impressive control and an excellent range. Tracks like “Animal,” and “Soulless Creatures,” benefit tremendously from her excellent work as the front woman, her gentle tone providing an intimacy which acts as a strong counterpoint to the bewildering instrumentals.

All this being said, A Different Kind Of Human, as with most great pop music, leans heavily on its production and instrumentation. Most of the instrumentals feature heavy synths and quite a few unique tones but this is nothing compared to the extremely inventive percussion, most of which was performed by AURORA herself. Songs like “In Bottles,” and “Apple Tree,” while already listenable and interesting in their own right, are elevated to entirely new heights by the quirky and unpredictable percussion that drives their rhythms.

The album as a whole, however, just wouldn’t be what it is without some of the most genuinely impressive production of the year. From the intoxicating simplicity of “Dance On The Moon,” to the otherworldly experimentation of the title track, and even the gorgeous but criminally short closer, “Mothership,” the production team gets it right in every way possible on this one. Technically, their mixing and vocal tuning is spot on and creatively, nearly every second of the album is daring and unique, yet still listenable and accessible for all listeners.

Ultimately, A Different Kind Of Human is yet another breathtaking accomplishment for the Norwegian pop superstar. She’s somehow able to blend fearless experimentation with wonderfully accessible elements to create something truly special. The record is cold and distant, yet starkly beautiful in almost every way. If you’re a fan of great, well executed pop music, this is a must listen.

A Different Kind Of Human is breathtaking take on pop music with a colder, more alienating tone which contrasts well with the undeniably catchy songwriting and mainstream sensibilities.

8/10

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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