Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beyoncé - 4

In a world where a good majority of the biggest Top 40 artists would go extinct without the help of studio production, it's nice to hear someone who can actually belt out some powerhouse notes.  There's no denying that Beyoncé has the vocal strength to handle any song thrown at her, this was evident ever since Destiny's Child.  The main struggle that occasionally distracts her from success would be bad material.  Simply shallow songs or filler material.  Others have also faced the "good voice/bad song" syndrome and never manage to overcome the problem, I'm looking at you Xtina.

After I Am... Sasha Fierce, where would Beyoncé go?  She was branded with the "Single Ladies" image and caught in her own signature black and white picture.  She headed back to the studio for over two years with an overwhelming amount of new songs and producers.  The end result is 4, a new sound that may be her best idea yet.

4 is heavily influenced by the sounds of late 80's to early 90's R&B music. Everything from Prince to the Jacksons can be heard.  On the flip side, the album contains heavy marching percussion elements that resemble a bolder hip-hop dancehall hybrid style.  Major Lazer samples are heard on "Run The World (Girls)" while "1+1" is an instant classic for her catalog.

Contrary to what the lead single may have you believe, the core of the album is made up of sing-your-heart-out ballads.  As previously mentioned, "1+1", the opening track, is the standout item.  Although some lyrical choices are odd (algebra is always awkward to sing), the song bundles together her best vocals into a "Purple Rain"-esque single.  "I Care" stands on the fine line between ballad and Sasha Fierce, and yet another guitar solo is present. Whether it's devotion or heartbreak, love is the continuous theme on 4.

The second official single, "Best Thing I Never Had",  is a more pop focused part of the record.  Vocal distortion is heard during the intro and Beyoncé's vocals leading into the chorus sound like something from Dreamgirls.  "Party" features André 3000 and is one of 4's weaker spots.  It's a mid-tempo number that feels simply like an all too common featured artist piece.  "Countdown" is Beyoncé at her fiercest and will most likely spawn a wild live performance piece.

Compared to her past work, Beyoncé's vocals are noticeably more raw on this album.  There's more grit and less polish.  This allows room for more emotion, something that other pop albums often lack.  You shouldn't judge this record based on what you heard from "Run The World (Girls)". The album has so much more to offer.  4 has the sentiment and attitude without the Sasha Fierce double-disc package.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Björk - Crystalline

Björk, the Icelandic musician extraordinaire, has revealed the first single from her upcoming album, Biophilia.  "Crystalline" is something between Vespertine and "Hyperballad".  The cold chimes are as present as ever, along with the unforgettable melodies.  The track has an electronic beat, but it's quite different from the sounds of Volta.  A massive chaotic beat drops in right as the song ends, categorizing the single into "amazing".  Biophilia is expected to be released later this year.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cults - Cults

Just last year, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion were two students in New York trying to find a home in the film industry.  As a hobby of some sort, they casually started writing music together and posted the outcome of a three track EP online.  This EP would not only capture the internet's attention, but also make Cults one of 2011's most anticipated acts.  Soon after the band's initial impact, they were signed to Columbia Records.  Their debut self-titled album just hit shelves this month and it's a massive burst of retro-pop.

Borrowing from the sounds of 1960, Cults mixes echoing reverb with sing along girl-group melodies.  It's something that captures the undeniable charm of oldies radio while still keeping with the modern times.  Follin's vocals are sweetly innocent as she dances with the extensive amount of ringing chimes. She sings of frustration and heartbreak.  "You Know What I Mean" borrows The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go" to create the most addictive song to sulk to.  The throwback sound makes a good portion of the album sound like reinvented classics.

A few of the tracks are proper duets, containing vocals from Oblivion.  They share back and forth banter on "Bumper", leaving the listener waiting for Oblivion to take on the role of lead vocalist for a song or two.  Unfortunately, that never happens.  However, Follin's vocals do the job perfectly.

While it may seem odd, Cults will appeal to many generations of listeners. Those who where around to hear the band's influences at their peak would find an appeal in the music.  At the same time, a younger crowd of hipsters and eclectic music junkies will devour this record.

Cults' recent rise and specialty sound reminds me of Sleigh Bells.  Both bands had similar unexpected success stories and, in a bizarre way, have sonic similarities.  Cults could be considered a softer version of the noise-pop duo.  She & Him is another name that comes to mind, particularly with "Never Heal Myself".

The album is in no way lacking in infectious melodies.  At barely over thirty minutes, the record ends before you know it.  That causes multiple listens during one sitting.  However, this album is the perfect length.  Any longer might ruin the energy of the Cults experience.

Steel Train Album Giveaway

To celebrate the first birthday of their eponymous record, Steel Train is offering the entire album as a free download.  For one week you can get the full album and enjoy this quirky piece of indie rock.  If you already have the album, there are still a couple reasons for you to take advantage of this offer.  Included in the package are two b-sides that up until now have only been heard on vinyl. That sounds like a pretty good deal.

Steel Train have toured with Tegan And Sara over the years, and you can hear a decent number similarities between the two bands in terms of vocal melodies.  They also have connections with fun., Jack Antonoff being the common factor.

The album is quite upbeat and still sounds just as fresh as it did last year. The download comes with their twelve track album and two b-sides, "Shapeshifter" and "Terrible Thrills".  You also get a complete set of artwork and lyrics.  Simply enter your e-mail address below and enjoy the album.








Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CSS - Hits Me Like A Rock

CSS' third studio album, La Liberacíon, is set to be released on August 29 and today they released the record's lead single, "Hits Me Like A Rock". The track features some backup vocals from Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and should get you properly excited for the album.

Those of you who have listened to more than just "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" know that CSS strayed from the synth and grabbed the guitars with their sophomore album, Donkey.  "Hits Me Like A Rock" is a nice chunk of synth-filled paradise.  It sounds like summer and may give you the urge to sway back and forth like a tipsy partygoer.  This single should (and probably will) be blared in the car with the top down.

You can download "Hits Me Like A Rock" below, for the cost of your e-mail address.  Remember to look for La Liberacíon on August 29.








Thursday, June 16, 2011

Skylar Grey - Dance Without You

Whether you realize it or not, over the last five years, you've heard Skylar Grey's voice.  The singer and songwriter previously went by her birth name Holly Brook, when she sang the hook to Fort Minor's chart topping 2006 single, "Where'd You Go".  She went on to release a solo album under the same name.  Unfortunately, that album failed to create much buzz.

Flash forward to 2010.  Holly is now known as Skylar Grey, and she's written one of the year's biggest songs, "Love The Way You Lie".  Over the last year, her voice was plastered across radio stations due to her ability to sing an incredibly catchy chorus.  She showcased this on Diddy-Dirty Money's "Coming Home" and "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and Eminem.

Earlier this month, Skylar released "Dance Without You", a solo track.  It's the first single from her upcoming album, Invinsible.  The song isn't a hip-hop single.  It's less conventional for Top 40 radio with distorted guitars and a beat that won't be in the dance clubs.  It isn't a perfect single.  During the chorus, her voice resembles Rihanna a bit too much.  She sings "Let me lose myself", and we really only get to hear that in the bridge.  While the song may not turn many heads, it's enjoyable for the melody and scattered beat.

"Dance Without You" is a nice introduction to the reincarnation of her solo career.  Skylar doesn't sound quite as mesmerizing as she did on "Coming Home", but the new style may take some time to settle in.  Skylar's album, Invinsible, is out later this year and her next single by the same name is out later this month.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nat Baldwin - Lifted

Nat Baldwin's latest release, People Changes, came out late last month. The bassist and singer, who many may know from Dirty Projectors, has a knack for simple melodies and random fits of free jazz.  "Lifted", which can be found on his new album, combines the power of his bass with various elements that seem out of place upon first listen to create a perfectly jumbled track that will surely turn heads.

The core of the song is Nat's steady double bass.  It's played in a swaying motion that compliments his wavering voice.  Everything about the song seems calm and mellow until about thirty-five seconds in.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, irregular intervals of snares and horns create chaotic blasts of jazz. These instruments then come together for a soaring melody that some would call a chorus.  This up and down pattern continues throughout the song up until a smashing end.  A strange idea of inserting sporadic splashes of jazz into the otherwise steady song showcases Nat's unconventional style of arrangements.  Some may say it sounds too cluttered, but you should really give "Lifted" a listen and decide for yourself.