Melodrama by Lorde

About the sixth time I listened to Melodrama from start to finish, I was walking along shaded roads, the sky settling into swirls of faded orange and yellow, set against a vastness on the cusp of turning from blue to black. As Green Light swells and bursts into life, its chorus rising and consuming the moment, it was all I could do to not burst into song and dance right there, a la Lorde herself in the song’s music video.

Seguing perfectly into Sober, the conflicting examination of a relationship under the club lights, the universality of the album hits. A 20 year old in a part of the world could relate to what a global pop superstar straddling two hemispheres was singing about, purely through the shared failings and tumbling forward of a frantic youth. Surrounded by alcohol and heartbreak, which 19 year old hasn’t indulged in their early parties feeling like they would be “blowing shit up with homemade dynamite”? But before you know it, you are hurled into the unfamiliar, yet tender and vulnerable time of first love, singing “I’m just the sucker who let you fill her mind” on The Louvre. One of the best songs on the album, the rich bassline and spacey production perfectly complements Lorde’s extolling of her partner, and that wonderful chorus that is so self-assured even through its use of onomateopia.

Therein is the beauty of Lorde’s music. She has grown through times and sorrows so intimately familiar to so many of us, but she refuses to turn cynic while growing up. She’s vulnerable in a way few musicians are, particularly in the mainstream arena of manufactured, marketable personas and brands. As she bares her soul on Liability, the painfully subtle piano nudges Ella’s voice into the foreground, as if she’s reluctant to still fully embrace putting her emotions on display.  When she lets the listener into this fractured part of her soul, it’s impossible for you to not dig up those pieces of yourself. Once you do that, there is no escaping the trance of the album, with all its kissing and killing and fucking melodrama.

The enchantment of Melodrama is in large part to the fact that there is very definite sound to it. The album replicates the mood of the drunk nights spent at parties, as well those spent crying alone in bedrooms, not only through Lorde’s own lyrics and vocals, but through the production. The maximalist, sometimes psychedelic electro-pop production is the perfect nocturnal soundtrack, lit up by strobe lights and disco balls. It shimmers, rather than floods. And when the album does shift into intimate piano ballads, it never feels jarring, but necessary for the powerful emotions to shine through.

It’s also evident that Ella’s synthesia played a huge role in the creation of this album – the silken, dark blues and blacks are prevalent, with flashes of fireworks. There’s also a visual element to the album – thanks to her vivid, poeti imagery, it often feels like you’re with Lorde, in her studio, on her nights out, in her bedroom, in her head. This vulnerability plays out like its own little movie along with the music.

There is a subtle, yet definitive shift in tone once the album reaches Sober II(Melodrama). Ella has reached the turning point in the period post the breakup – the pain is very much alive, burning, but she’s more certain in her strength to move forward. Another of my absolute favourites, Writer in the Dark, is incredible in its emotion, Lorde’s vocals finding a tone she’s never found before – a devastatingly raw tenor that drops all pretenses – it feels well and truly like a punch in the gut that leaves you reeling and lost for words. As she declares her undying love, one that’ she unflinchingly says will last even when he calls the cops on her, she also stumbles on the power to be without him – not his love, perhaps, but him. It’s nigh impossible here on forth to expect Lorde, let alone yourself, to recover, but she does. She turns pragmatist, unravelling the fantasies of her love, the Supercut, finally, firmly telling her ex-lover to “leave.” She’s a realist, not an optimist.

While this is clearly a breakup album, unlike so many other (inferior) albums, Lorde explores the other elements of her life that have intertwined with, and affected her personal relationships. She has the ability to explore her psyche in revelatory ways that unravel an array of sentiments, where her romantic relationship acts as the center of gravity.  On album closer Perfect Places, Lorde acknowledges the indulgent life she’s leading, the travails she’s aware this life has brought her, but questioning “what the fuck are perfect places anyway?” In the midst of all the chaos she finds herself in, she realizes this is her new normal – and she’s determined to make the most of it.

Melodrama is the unparalleled portrait of a young woman finding her way in a world that’s intensely unfamiliar to her, but one she stubbornly stumbles through. The gaffes of youthful naivete are there, but so is the maturity that comes with the failing of first love, when the illusions shatter. She’s no longer coyly sipping orange juice at the tennis court, but letting her wardrobe slip to the bedroom floor at the end of a night on the town. And she owns it all. And the beauty of this album isn’t that you need to live Lorde’s life to understand and relate to her; you just need to co-habit the same cracked parts of your heart that Ella does.

Melodrama by Lorde

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Sober – Lorde

The theme of Melodrama is pretty clear now – post the fame of Pure Heroin, Lorde was thrust into a world she didn’t recognize, and it took a toll on her. Sober continues the brutally honest examinations of modern hedonism, the often-contradictory dichotomy of the party culture and alcohol binges, over a pulsating beat. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it all comes together on the album, which is just a week away.

#2. That Far – 6LACK

After blowing up off the back of some great singles, most notably, Problems, and an album, it seems like 6LACK doesn’t intend to take his foot off the accelerator. Keeping to his hazy production and vocals, 6LACK thematically focuses up. Looking firmly to the future while dismissing his distractions, he makes it known that his only purpose is success.

#3. Not Enough ft. THEY. – Lido

There aren’t enough upbeat tracks that are a fuck-you to an ex. Vibrant and fun, with lots of great little harmonies, Lido and THEY. come together for a song that will be a lot of fun to sing along to – possibly a little drunk.

#4. Rain Come Down – Vince Staples

Few rappers can do truly dark, gritty music like Vince Staples can. With a beat that’s haunting and menacing despite its bounce, Vince delivers his trademark descriptive bars, unflinchingly narrating the ruthlessness of the streets. Ty Dolla $ign delivers a great hook, his gravelly singing a perfect foil to Vince’s monotone. Big Fish is shaping up very well.

#5. Someone to You – BANNERS

A great pop-rock song is always welcome. With an absolute anthem of a hook and rousing production, BANNERS is clearly targetting the same audience as Imagine Dragons and Bastille, and doing a pretty good job of it. Watch out for them

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

RELAXER by alt-J

alt-J are a band of their time and place – they’ve got more than a bit of hipster aloofness, but their music sounds volatile enough to be earnest – their indie-gone-global catapult is reflected in their need to make music that is ‘true’ to themselves, yet appealing enough to their wide audience. With RELAXER, while they have created quite a bit of music that reflects that mosaic, along the way, they seem to have have lost the plot.

alt-J’s music has been characterized by harmony and subtlety, sharpened by rougher elements that lend form to the music, lest they wander into inoffensiveness. That balance is often disrupted on RELAXER – there are moments of sheer beauty, and moments of guttural, primal aggression, but not enough of the right blend of the two extremes. The singles remain some of the best tracks on the album. 3WW’s intro immediately intrigues, with subtle textures that nevertheless don’t recede into the background. The vocals are clean and appropriately moody. And then there are bursts of crackling synths that surface when the lyrics indicate a tonal shift. It’s impeccably produced, and a perfect introduction. The next track, and the second single, In Cold Blood, is a contrast; with its pointed soundscape, and lyrics that are rather incongruent, the track is a display of alt-J’s interpretability. But while both these tracks work great by themselves, their sequencing is questionable. The lack of cohesion in sound is repeated throughout the album due to its mere 8 tracks, as if a singular sound that the band wants to home in on has been deconstructed and its individual parts scattered across the length of the album.

Other tracks take alt-J’s notorious self-indulgence a little too far.  House… is melodically beautiful, where the strings create a stunning atmosphere as they pitch up and down with lyrical tone. But there are wordless sections that would benefit from an additional element, but are left hanging. Lyrically, while it’s an interesting take on an old folk song, the chorus is cloyingly ironic. Last Year is overlong and dull – it has probably the strongest narrative on the album, but the production is the boring side of simple, and there’s nothing memorable enough to keep the listener hooked. Adeline picks up and makes a pretty great track about halfway through, but the first half is simply too long. Hit Me Like That Snare, meanwhile, is downright terrible. alt-J simply isn’t a band that can create a great punk track; there is an outright lack of melody, Jon Newman’s nasally voice is at its most annoying, and the outro is baffling – it’s unclear whether this is the band’s attempt at being ironically self-aware, or an attempt to capture the bluntness of great punk, and it fails on being either. Which is a shame, because lyrically, this is the most intriguing track on the album (save the outro.)

The best tracks, then, are the ones where alt-J’s newer ideas are polished and come together perfectly. Deadcrush is dark and foreboding, the production combining a noticeable edge with impeccably earworm-worthy melodies – the hook succeeds with Newman’s nasal inflection what failed in Hit Me… Overall, the song is just fun – something that can’t be said for enough of the other tracks. Pleader is an ethereal, hymnal track that is an absolute joy to listen to despite its length, thanks to the many sections the track flows through effortlessly – it’s dynamic, but never jagged. And it’s the perfect closer to the album.

alt-J hasn’t really changed. Their esoterica is thankfully intact – who else would open their track with a lyric in binary?! There are musical choices that few other bands can pull off – the marching rhythm of the “ya, ya, ya” choral bridge in Adeline shouldn’t work. but it simply does. But the band is having something of a crisis of faith. They are unsure of their direction, and have faltered along the way. To their credit, they’ve definitely made some bold choices. Some of them don’t work, but when they do, the reward is immensely enjoyable. If they take their successes, and remold and improve them, alt-J’s next album will truly be a worthy payoff. Till then, RELAXER has enough great music to tide us over.

 

 

RELAXER by alt-J

All The Beauty In This Whole Life by Brother Ali

Brother Ali is a rare voice in hip-hop, one of positivity and thoughtfulness, delivering personal and social commentary through lucid lyricism. Given the uneasy social climate prevalent in the USA, this album comes as a shining beacon of light and optimism that acknowledges Ali’s trials, but focusses on seeing ‘all the beauty in this whole life.’

The tone is set on the opening track, Pen to Paper, that acts as an accelerated trip from his childhood to Ali’s current time in life.  Immediately, he explores the ideas of using rap as an outlet for his ideals, while touching upon the troubles that this activism brought upon him and his career. As if to indicate to the listener that he does not intend to dwell on his past, the next track is a celebration of life, with Ali’s animated flow and warm guitar riffs and bright instrumentation courtesy of longtime collaborator Ant (who produces the entire album). It’s impossible to not be affected by Ali’s infectious joy. His Muslim faith is a cornerstone of Brother Ali’s music, and he explores the role it’s played in his attitude towards life and himself in a manner that never comes off as preachy or moralizing, instead showing the listener how it’s been essential to his optimistic worldview.

This isn’t to say the entire album is a saccharine affair – there are sober moments that offer a nuanced take on America’s racial problems in a deeply personal context. The incredible Dear Black Son is a beautiful letter to his titular son, offering advice on navigating the trenches of America’s societal and police discrimination, and wisdom on what it means to be a parent. It’s a wonderfully all-encompassing song that explores the psyche of a minority parent. Before They Called You White is thought-provoking, laying out the origins and consequences of race prejudices and ‘whiteness.’ There is the danger of such a song turning into a sermon in the hands of a less-capable MC, but Ali handles it with grace, extending a hand to the oppressors and seeking peace. What distinguises these tracks is a sense of optimism and looking towards the future, despite the powers-that-be, in whatever form, attempting to bog people down.

A few other standouts include Uncle Usi Taught Me, a fascinating retelling of Brother Ali’s trip to Iran, resulting in legal tangles and a hurried escape from the country. No spoilers, but it’s a testament to Ali’s storytelling skills that the track keeps the listener gripped throughout. Similarly, Never Learn is an absolute winner, combining braggadocio with Ali’s signature appreciation of those ideas greater than himself. The beat is alive, while Ali soars over it with a melodic, dynamic flow. This will be on loop for a long time.

 

All The Beauty in This Whole Life is a truly beautiful album, expressive in the range of human sentiment. Coupling Brother Ali’s powerful lyrics and creative flows with partner-in-crime Ant’s complementary production, with its lush, live-instrument based sounds, has birthed one of Ali’s best albums to date, and easily one of the best of the year. It’s telling that the album is not explicit, with the rare cuss being bleeped out. Brother Ali had clearly set out to create a source of hope in a time that sorely needs some, and he’s succeeded in leaps and bounds. This is hip-hop at its finest, and worthy of every accolade that comes its way.

All The Beauty In This Whole Life by Brother Ali

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

With the way music is consumed continuously changing, the way it is created changes too – artists have found new and exciting ways to destroy the limitations of genre, meld an array of sounds together and shape it into music that pushes boundaries, while still retaining the core of musicality. This charge into a genreless future is being led by a few stellar artists, each in a class of their own while defying categories.

#1. Danny Brown

Danny has been a flag-bearer of irreverence since his breakout XXX mixtape, melding punk rock aggression and energy with hardcore punchline rap over harsh electronica. His drugged-up vocals had no real melody to them, but he flows over any instrumental through a form of controlled chaos, like a hulking rugby player bouncing off the punches of a musical pinball machine. His form of vocal delivery might be rapping, but his music has brought together aspects from an array of genres – from EDM to industrial to electropop – to form a genreless hybrid.

Also listen to: Dip25 Bucks 

#2. Bon Iver

Bon Iver began as Justin Vernon’s intimate acoustic project, expanding his sound on the next album with more layered production, alongside delicate, beautifully measured vocals. But the biggest left turn came with his decidedly weird 22, A Million. Legitimizing ‘folktronica’ with an unconventional blend of acoustic guitars and soft keys with ambient synths and electronicized percussion, the album is this generation’s Kid A. It’s quintessentially indie in its disdain for mainstream genre conventions, and Bon Iver has thus made music all the better for it. 

Also listen to: Skinny LoveHolocene

#3. Flying Lotus

FlyLo is the definition of a musical autuer – he can envision cohesive, stunning genre-melding like few other musicians can, and reject every notion of genre to create niche subgenres all his own.  From instrumental hip-hop, to IDM, to ambient electronica,  to contemporary jazz, he takes existing sounds and infuses them with his own contrarian tendencies, creating experimental music that is never comfortable sticking to established tropes. Flying Lotus represents the rebellious voice of this generation of music, thus laying the foundation for the future.

Also listen to: MmmHmmPutty Boy Strut

#4. Young Thug

Young Thug is a divisive figure, earning as much hate from hip-hop purists as love from the newer generation of the genre’s fans. But restricting him to the genre of hip-hop itself might be a mistake – his singsong voice is unlike any other, and he modulates it to be hilariously fun, a crooner or noticeably sneering. The production matches his tone – fromn trap bangers to smooth, glittering pop and RnB jams, Thugga’s repertoire of musical talent defies every box fans and critics alike have tried to put him in.

Also listen to: Best FriendDigits

#5. Kaytranada

Kaytranada, unlike FlyLo, has a definite sound – dominated by deep bass and hip-hop sensibilities, his base template acts as a blank slate into which Kay paints in strokes of a number of genres. He draws from soundscapes that date back decades, and brings them into contemporary music in a decidedly revisionist manner – he doesn’t assimilate funk, RnB and soul into his music as much as breathe new life into it while respecting its roots. Kaytranada makes music like a true fan – acknowledging the past while looking firmly towards a creative future.

Also listen to: Holy Hole Inna DonutDrive Me Crazy

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. 3WW by alt-J

alt-J could’ve stuck to their indie art-rock vibe for another album, and most fans would’ve loved the album nevertheless. But this gorgeous, subdued track sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, while reminding the listener in subtle ways that this is the band so many of us fell in love with – the gentle folktronica, Joe Newman’s unmistakable voice all remain. Few bands do esoterica that remains immensely enjoyable like alt-J does, and this track gives us plenty of reason to be excited for Relaxer. 

#2. Third of May / Ōdaigahara by Fleet Foxes

It’s been 6 long years since Fleet Foxes came out with an album, and no band has quite been able to fill the gaps they left behind. But Third of May / Ōdaigahara makes the worth seem wholly worth it. The sprawling track is a poetic masterpiece, a meditation on life’s ups and downs in a musician’s voice, with a warmth that feels like the quiet woods on a cloudy day. The instrumental outro section might be one of the loveliest pieces of music Fleet Foxes have constructed, and it’s a great sign of the music to come.

#3. Meditation ft. Jazmine Sullivan, KAYTRANADA by Goldlink

Goldlink is master of the bounce – he’s been making dance-floor rap for a while now, without having to resort to generic trap or club bangers. Meditation is mellower than his usual offerings, but thanks to a deep, bass-heavy instrumental by the incredible Kaytranda, it’s bound to get you vibing along nevertheless. Add in Jazmine Sullivan’s jazz vocals, and you have a smooth track more than worthy of a dance.

#4. Liability by Lorde

After the upbeat and bittersweet Green Light, the piano ballad that is Liability is a tidal wave of insular melancholy. It wears its sadness on its sleeve, exploring parts of Lorde’s psyche that she herself admits to have not written into her music before. As with so much of her music, it feels like it’s written for her audience as much as for herself. This is beautifully simple, moving song – if Melodrama sounds like this, it will cement Lorde’s status as one of the best musicians of our generation.

#5. Red Mercedes by Aminé

Red Mercedes is definitely not the song you’d have expected from Aminé after Caroline – this is a more traditional rap track in terms of melody, but it certainly retains the light-heartedness of the first track, albeit with an audible sneer post the success of Caroline. Aminé’s flows on the track with ease, the grimy production appropriate for the track’s mood. It’s going to be interesting to see where the budding artist goes next.

 

 

 

 

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

Divide by Ed Sheeran

es-divide-final-artwork-lo-res

When the lead singles off Divide came out, I was torn. I’m a huge Ed fan, but there was a glossy layer here that I did not expect. Castle On The Hill was lyrically beautiful, with doses of wonderful nostalgia, but was overproduced. Shape of You was the worse offender, with generic pop production and basic lyrics that I thought Ed to be better than. It is with quite some trepidation that I waited for Divide to come out. And while the album is far from his strongest work – the shadow of commercialized pop looms heavy – there are quite a few memorable songs on here that satiates the Ed fanboy in me.

Much of the album is Ed Sheeran at his sappy best – or worst, depending on how you feel about it – with tracks like Perfect and How Would You Feel (Paean) being unabashedly saccharine. These are songs that you cannot help but give in to when you’re the right kind of mood – it’s pretty much a given that Perfect is going to play at weddings everywhere, after Ed’s very own Thinking Out Loud. But you can’t help but feel like you’ve heard these songs before from him; there’s a certain spark missing, the one that you felt when you first heard his music. The production has gotten safer, and the lyrics a tad more pedestrian. I’ll certainly be listening to these songs quite a bit, but I doubt they have the memorability of some of his earlier work.

Dive and Happier, for example, are moving songs and personal favourites that have echoes of some of Ed’s best songs. The former has Ed imploring the woman of his affections to be true to her words; he’s falling for her, but is unsure if he should be. The hook makes for a perfect sing-along, and the intensity with which he sings them stirs up emotions locked away. The latter, meanwhile, is a melancholy recollection of nights at the bar and happiness from times past, on a song that speaks to all the cracks in all of us. They’re passionate, emotional songs – but it lacks the visceral sadness that came with listening to Give Me Love or Photograph for the first time.

It’s also at this point that you realize that Ed is trying to appeal to every part of his fanbase, albeit unevenly. Tracks like Galway Girl, New Man and Nancy Mulligan are catchy and a lot of fun, and represent the range of Ed’s influences, from his Irish roots to disses worthy of a modern rap track – unfortunately, they are rather incongruous with the rest of the album, worsened by the track sequencing.

Ed Sheeran has clearly stuck to a formula with Divide – there isn’t much here that Ed hasn’t done before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the new music isn’t worthy of your time. Even the biggest detractors will find a couple of songs here more than enjoyable; and for a fan like me, there are enough great songs here to keep me satisfied till the next album cycle.

BONUS:

I live-tweeted my first listen of the album. Check it out:

 

 

Divide by Ed Sheeran