Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug

pjimage

 

#1. Evolve by Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons are at the forefront of the wave of pop/electronic rock bands that can make some great anthems and fill up concerts with their sing-alongs, but cannot for the life of them, put together a great album. Every track on the mercifully short Evolve is driven by stadium-sized drums and vocals, and poppy synths that are earworms at best, and ear-gratingly bad at worst.

Dan Reynolds is a talented vocalist, and puts up an earnest performance throughout. He can lift songs to incredibly satisfying highs when done right, such as on the epic Believer, Whatever it Takes, (where Dan employs a hip-hop cadence on the verses) and Rise Up. Whether these songs are good is debatable, but they accomplish what they set out to do – fill your headphones with an overwhelming passion, that stirs something in you, like it or not.

Where Dan, and Imagine Dragons fails, however, are when they veer into electropop territory. Whatever It Takes sounds straight out of the OneRepublic discography, but worse. I’ll Make It Upto You and album closer Dancing In The Dark are atrocious pop songs that sound like Chainsmoker ripoffs (yes, that bad) and criminally misuses Dan’s vocals.

The most interesting track on Evolve is Yesterday. The way the percussion and keys are arranged is quite different from the other tracks, and the vocals sound much rawer and more emotive. And that monster of a chorus is unabashedly optimistic – it’s just so much fun; the sort of fun too much of the album is missing.

Evolve has some truly enjoyable songs that would make for great singles – some already have – but that’s the niche in which it seems Imagine Dragons will forever be stuck in. Quite simply, this album is not greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a shame, really. I thought I’d be true believer at the end of this LP.

#2. Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 by Calvin Harris

Listening to Slide, the first single off Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, was quite the surprise – this was not the kind of massive EDM/pop club track that Calvin Harris typically churns out. It’s a warm, funky track, the Frank Ocean – Migos collaboration worked splendidly, and the result was the sort of summery vibe that his past superhit, Summer couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be. As the singles kept coming, it was clear that the superstar DJ had a sonic shift in mind. Thankfully, it’s a sound that he seems to know to do well.

Schoolboy Q’s opening line on Cash Out ( party like it’s 1980″) reiterates the direction of the album, throwing back to the post-disco and funk elements of the late 70s and 80s. There’s some thick basslines inspired by the era of G-funk , such as on Holiday, with one of the OGs of the sound, Snoop Dogg. John Legend and Takeoff may not be the first collaborative choices for a song like this, but they sound perfectly at home.

This curation of the right features is Calvin Harris’ greatest asset on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Heatstroke has three vocalists with wildly different styles, from Young Thug’s sing-rapping, Ariana Grande’s pop stylings and Pharrell’s falsetto, but it all comes together surprisingly well. I’d never have expected Travis Scott to indulge the bounce of Prayers Up. There are missteps, such as the awful Skrt on Me with an autotuned-to-hell Nicki Minaj, and Pharrell’s vocals on Feels are a questionable inclusion.

What’s truly surprising about this album, is that despite its star power, there are no mechanically constructed surefire hits. It sounds fairly organic, and one of the best tracks on the album, Hard to Love, has the relatively-obscure Jessie Reyez delivering some memorable, earnest pop over subdued guitar licks. The song has the sort of lowkey appeal to it that is wholly unexpected of a song with Calvin Harris on the boards. With just 10 tracks on here, the album doesn’t run the danger of getting repetitive. It makes for a worthwhile album listen, but nearly every track on here would still work as a single.
Be prepared for Calvin Harris to once again dominate the airwaves for the next couple of months.

#3. Beautiful Thugger Girls (EBBTG) by Young Thug

Young Thug is a musical anomaly – boxing him into a sound or genre is quite simplistic, with his grasp on melody, incredibly versatile vocal ability and ear for production. But how much of an auteur can Thug truly be with his generic lyrical themes? It’s an odd dichotomy that shows once again on Beautiful Thugger Girls. 

This is Thug’s “singing album,” and it shows. He might not be the most technically proficient vocalist, but whether it be his deep serenading or high-pitched falsetto/squeals, it all sounds so good. There’s some strangely tender acoustics throughout, picking up elements from pop, RnB and even some country (like when he yeehaw’s on album opener Family Don’t Matter or the acoustic-guitar-driven You Said).

Listening in a little deeper, however, takes away some of the sheen of the music. There are some hilarious punchlines, and some unusually emotional one-liners (“I’m so busy it’s making me feel like I’m in and out my kids’ lives off Daddy’s Birthday), and the featured artists are used sparingly, and perfectly. But there’s only so many interesting ways to describe one’s sexual exploits, and Thugga seems to be circling the same ideas.

Beautiful Thugger Girls isn’t the sonic leap forward for Young Thug that JEFFEREY was, but it’s a solid LP that gives us more of the eccentric, and immensely fun music that Thug is so good at making. It might come off as superficial in places, but it’s important to understand that listening to Thug is about enjoying the music without thinking about it too much. And as unexpected as it is for me to say it, I’m a fan.

 

 

Image

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

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

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

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

#1. Rollin ft. Future, Khalid by Calvin Harris

(full track on Spotify) 

Calvin Harris is on a roll (pardon the pun). With this track, he continues to bring together artists you might not have expected to hear together over warm, bouncy production that is a far cry from his past of big room EDM. Khalid reaffirms his place as a musician to keep an eye on, with an insanely catchy hook that’s a perfect fit for this beat, while Future brings his signature melodic flow and warbly vocals to keep the danceability quotient high. If you’d told me a couple of months back that I’d be heaping such high praise on a Calvin Harris song, I’d laugh; but here we are.

#2. Wildfire by blink-182

Ah, 90s bands that attempt a comeback. They’re always hit-or-miss, and for a while it seemed blink-182 would fall on the side of the misses, which might’ve been a little saddening (All the Small Things is still a great song). But Wildfire is a pretty great track – it’s got the relentless energy of classic blink, but with production and vocals that sound like a band realizing they grew up. Here’s to them finding their place in a new musical landscape.

#3. Shreddy Krueger by MANWOLVES

It’s rare to find a band that makes rap work with live instrumentation – but when it does work, it can make for pretty great music. MANWOLVES takes instrumentation you wouldn’t expect backing most rappers – trumpets and percussion that’s more snares than deep kicks or hi hats. The vocals aren’t the focus – this is truly a band. With that said, they sound at home with the production, and the hook makes for a good sing-along. They might not be the next Twenty One Pilots yet, but MANWOLVES are worth your time.

#4. Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons

It’s hard to call Imagine Dragons great – their hits are inconsistent, and not particularly outstanding musically. But every once in a while, they put out songs that are inescapable – epic tracks with anthemic hooks and rousing production. Whatever It Takes is such a record – Dan Reynolds is an accomplished vocalist who knows exactly what the song requires from him, and the electronic-tinged instrumental drives the powerful pre-chorus and chorus to soaring high. They may not make the most innovative music, but they definitely make some of the most memorable mainstream electro-rock.

#5. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National

It’s been a while since The National put out new music, and it seems like something’s changed in the intermediary years – The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness seems to leave behind the subdued, atmospheric sound of Trouble Will Find Me for a more aggressive, driven sound. Even Matt Berninger’s signature one-liners sound more purposeful – The National seem to have a more definite path ahead, as opposed to the melancholy abstractness of their previous work. I cannot explain it any other way.

 

 

 

Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

Five Songs for the Weekend – V

#1. call the police  by LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem are finally back, and their melancholy dance rock sounds particularly apt for a time “we all know […] is nothing.” The kraftwerkian grooves are as catchy as ever, in contrast to the ponderous brevity of frontman James Murphy’s politically-tinted lyricism. The creators of the perfect soundtrack to dance  away one’s worries are truly back; the new album cannot get here fast enough. 

#2. Glam by Walrus

This hazy, psychedelic track with a contemporary indie bent harkens back to the glory days of glam rock – think Queen meets Daughter – with its earworm guitar riffs and drawling vocals, making it perfect for a sunny afternoon.

#3. Bimmer Music by Ishmael Raps

A high-energy, exuberant track whose aim is to simply be as fun as possible. As evidenced by the title itself, this is made to bump while driving, with its booming production and hyped-up flow. A true banger.

#4. Thinking of a Place by The War on Drugs

Guided by the bittersweet ruminations on life of frontman Adam Granduciel, The War on Drugs’ sprawling new single is a self-contained journey through the many crests, troughs and bends of thought, gliding on ethereal instrumentation that flows with Adam’s vocals to create an experience of a song that transports one to the place he seems lost in.

#5. Intoxicate by ZHU

ZHU is one of the most interesting producers out there right now, with a sexy, sleek aesthetic that is as much electroncia as it is modern RnB. He continues this genre-melding with Intoxicate, combining his own falsetto vocals with his subdued brand of EDM. This one’s for the dark club corners that ZHU owns.

Five Songs for the Weekend – V

Five Songs for the Weekend – III

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

#1. Slide ft. Frank Ocean and Migos by Calvin Harris

The excitement for this unlikely collaboration has been extremely high since it was first teased, and thankfully, it delivers. Backed by shimmering retro-pop production courtesy of Calvin, Frank Oceans delivers some fantastically smooth vocals – think sipping on some rum in a hammock by the beach – before the track transitions seamlessly to the melodic rap of Quavos and Offset. It’s reminiscent in parts of of 90s/early-00s rap-RnB collabs, with some distinctly trap stylings. Summer it is not, but it’s one of Calvin’s best songs in a while, and perfect for the summer. (Find the full song on Spotify)

#2. 2 Lovin U by DJ Premier and Miguel

This was unexpected. Premier hasn’t lost a step with the beats – the funk on this is crazy with some rich guitars, the scratched vocal samples adding that signature Preemo touch. Miguel lays on the silken vocals, floating over the production with unmatched swagger. Everything about this song screams a hit.

#3. Incredible by Future

Damn, Future went from underground trapper to straight up alt-RnB superstar in a week with HNDRXX. A true tropical jam, the synths are vibrant, with just a little edge, and the bass-heavy drums give this a deep house vibe. Future’s vocals are at their cleanest, crafting a trap-RnB ode to his woman in a way only he can. This has the potential to be in heavy rotation in the coming months.

#4. Anoxia by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is decidedly one of the weirdest bands out there, and thankfully, also one of the most prolific. No two of their albums sound the same, and their latest, Flying Microtonal Banana is no different. Finding a strange middle ground between desert and psychedelic rock, Anoxia sounds like a snake charmer on acid. Coupled with their lo-fi vocals, esoteric lyrics and impeccable mixing, the track sounds like one’s stumbled into a dimension that straddles the nomad and the shaman. What could they possibly come up with next?

#5. Walk On By ft. Kendrick Lamar by Thundercat

Thundercat is possibly one of the most creative purveyors of the new wave of RnB, and his collaborations with Kendrick are always phenomenal – Walk On By is no different. While Bruner reflects on the disorientation following the end of a relationship, Kendrick continues to paint striking images of the lives of the disenfranchised. The hazy production is an appropriately melancholy backdrop to their verses, and ties together a track that would be a perfect soundtrack to a plodding, sad walk.

Five Songs for the Weekend – III

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

grammy-awards

The GRAMMYs, till date, remains one of the biggest musical events of the year (even though it has its fair share of detractors) making it a good time to take stock of the biggest artists and music of the past year. With that in mind, we’re doing a quick rundown of the major nominees and their chances to take home that golden gramophone.

#1. Record of the Year

Adele is undeniably one of the most successful musicians on the planet, and Hello is one of her biggest hits. It mostly sticks to her formula of powerful, emotional vocals and sparse instrumentation to deliver a pop behemoth. As with most of her work, this has a solid chance of being a winner.

With similar odds of winning is Beyonce’s Formation  – a fierce, political record that uses of-the-moment references and trap production to deliver an unapologetic statement by a Black feminist and a legendary artist. Given the record’s controversial nature, (among angry conservatives, mostly) giving Bey this award would make for quite the moment.

Stressed Out by twenty one pilots – how far Twenty One Pilots have come – arguably the biggest song of their career is probably the least pop song in contention, but also one of the strongest songs. The sparse but fitting production and contemplative mood have tapped into the psyche of the generation its written for – possibly a surprise winner?  7 Years by Lukas Graham and Work by Rihanna, featuring Drake have been inescapable pop songs throughout the year, but their snatching this victory is doubtful.

#2. Album Of The Year

25 by Adele was the fastest selling album of 2015, and a massive success in every way. You know what you get with Adele, and she has few naysayers. Strong contender. Bey’s Lemonade  was similarly successful – for multiple reasons – and is considered one of, if not the, best album(s) of her career. And she’s a Grammy favourite, so there’s a solid shot.

Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is the standard left-of-field contender in the AotY category. A beautiful album with some of the best songwriting of the year, it has the potential to be one of those surprise victories.

Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Drake’s Views were both mediocre albums that were presumably slotted in because of their creators’ stature. Pass.

#3. Song Of The Year

Adele’s Hello is a great song, but its strongest suit isn’t its penmanship. This could go either way. Formation is raw, unfiltered and makes powerful statements in sharply delivered verses. Possible winner. Mike Posner’s I Took a Pill in Ibiza was a smash hit, but owing to the popularity of its remix, the lyrics were (unfortunately) secondary. Still a great song, though.  7 Years by Lukas Graham and Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself aren’t written as strongly as the others – standard pop fare.

#4. Best New Artist

Ideally, this should go to either Chance the Rapper or Anderson .Paak – .Paak came out with one of the best RnB/soul albums in recent times and is incredibly talented, while Chance has finally been recognized as a mainstream artist, along with having an insurmountable year of success. There is, however, a chance that The Chainsmokers will take this one home, given the success of their singles and the Grammy’s tendency to be myopic with these choices.

#5. Best Pop Solo Performance

This is Adele‘s all the way home. No other nominee has her vocal chops, and Hello has her using them at their best. Hold Up is a great song, but it simply doesn’t have the same levity.

#6. Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

This is truly a tough pick. Closer by The Chainsmokers is pop perfection, while Cheap Thrills by Sia featuring Sean Paul and Work were pop songs with distinct dancehall flavour that made for some immensely danceable music. But both 7 Years and Stressed Out were driven largely by their vocal performances, which brings them closer to the victory than the others.

#8. Best Pop Vocal Album

Nearly every contender here (sorry, JB) has a vocal style their own that puts them in contention for the prize, but as with the Pop Solo Performance, the clear victor here is Adele’s 25. You can fault her songwriting and production as much as you’d like, but you cannot deny the emotive strength and range of her voice.

#9. Best Dance Recording

This is one of those categories that doesn’t have much to sift through – fortunately or unfortunately – since it typically goes to the most popular of the lot, the honour here belonging to The Chainsmokers’ Don’t Let Me Down featuring Daya. With that being said, Flume’s Never Be Like You featuring Kai is the better of the successes, with shimmering bass-driven production complementing Kai’s fuller vocals. Maybe the jury will think the same way.

#10. Best Rock Song

Please give this to Blackstar . The David Bowie track is a reminder of Bowie’s genius, with its surrealist lyrics backed by intricate jazz-rock instrumentation – this is a tribute Bowie deserves. With that being said, Burn The Witch and Hardwired are brilliant tracks, w in their own right, by two of the best rock bands around, with the former’s imagery being particularly compelling. Heathens is a solid song, but it simply can’t match up to the other contenders.

#11. Best Rock Album

It would seem, like it’s happened so many times before, that the Grammy committee has missed out on several gems this year in this category. However, among the albums that make the cut, the cult favourite Gojira’s Magma is the strongest contender for the prize, although Cage The Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty could make the cut too – it’s got the alt-rock sound the jury loves, and it’s far more emotive than the other records here.

#12. Best Alternative Music Album

Easily the hardest choice to make here. David Bowie’s Blackstar, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, and Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool are some of the finest albums of 2016, each uniquely brilliant. Blackstar is an experimental masterpiece, and a fitting close to Bowie’s legendary career. 22, A Million is Bon Iver’s most left-field album yet – which is saying something – and creates a space in music all their own. But A Moon Shaped Pool is perhaps the strongest album here, its atmosphere capturing cosmic moments like none of the others do. The jury is out on this one.

#13. Best Rap Performance

Say what you will about Desiigner and  Panda, its energy is undeniable – this is truly a rap performance. No Problem, All The Way Up and  That Part are memorable, inspired tracks and some of the best work the respective rappers have been involved with – but purely based on how Desiigner sounds, the winner seems pretty clear.

#14. Best Rap/Sung Performance

Another tough category; while it is clear, unfortunately, that Drake will take this one home with Hotline Bling because of its unparalleled success, Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam is some of the finest music he’s created (Famous was pretty great too, if the jury can get past that Taylor lineand D.R.A.M’s Broccoli, featuring Lil Yachty’s best verse to date, is arguably catchier than even Hotline Bling. Maybe the Grammys will throw up another surprise here, though.

#15. Best Rap Song

Give Drake his Rap/Sung gramophone, but this one must go to Ultralight Beam. There is no other track in this category that matches up to its musicality. Kanyeezy did it again.

#16. Best Rap Album

Drake’s Views, as it happens, might be given the award simply because of his pop appeal, while Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is a great album, but fat from his best. ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP , on the other hand, is his best work, but it doesn’t have the numbers or notoriety to win, sadly.

But Chance the Rapper has lobbied for, and won the right to be included in the Grammys, a moment that will change the face of the music industry. He’s a trailblazer, and Coloring Book is one of his finest hours. He deserves this trophy.

 

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

Five Songs For the Weekend

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

1. Believer by Imagine Dragons

 

 

An anthemic earworm of a hook, rousing electro-rock production, and lead vocalist Dan Reynolds’ powerful vocals – Believer has all the ingredients of an Imagine Dragons hit. There’s an interesting bit of hip-hop influence here, with Dan adopting a rap-like flow over marching drums reminiscent of the ones on Kanye’s Black Skinhead; after a mediocre sophomore album, this is almost enough to make one a believer in Imagine Dragons again. 

#2. BagBak by Vince Staples

Vince Staples is undeniably one of the best, and smartest, rappers of this generation, and BagBak continues his streak of fiercely unapologetic sociopolitical rap, standing up for people of colour and sticking it to the Man over booming production bubbling with aggression – proclaiming quite succinctly “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.”

#3. Comb My Hair by Coast Modern

The aptly-named Coast Modern is a wonderful new band that’s been putting out consistently great, summery tunes reminiscent of the beach rock of Wavves, and Comb My Hair is their latest. There’s a hint of psychedelia, and the drawling vocals deliver the decidedly weird lyrics in an oddly endearing manner. Quite the trip.

#4. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano by Sampha

This gorgeous track from Sampha’s long-awaited debut album is a testament to the intense emotions the incredibly talented musican can evoke – accompanied almost entirely by the titular piano, Sampha reminisces on times gone by, using the full breadth of his stunning – yet somehow delicate – voice. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this without a lump in your throat.

#5. Random Haiku Generator by Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason

The video description for this beauty perhaps describes this song better than we could: it’s a “confusing commentary on modern life” that is “one part electronic power ballad, one part delusional fantasy.” It’s just as wonderfully weird as it sounds, and thanks to musicians like Örvar Smárason (from múm) who are adept at making the weird sound serene, this track is bound to be on the soundtrack to your ruminative evenings. 

Five Songs For the Weekend