By: Alex Florescu
He might just be fresh off dropping his first album, but Andrew Hozier-Bryne is definitely not new to the music scene – and it shows. His self-titled album Hozier includes his hit song “Take Me To Church,” which caused an uproar for his powerful and public stance against homophobia. The rest of his album keeps this momentum going, with track after track of gritty riffs, smooth twangs and lyrics that could keep you up at night.
Hozier balances on the line where the Black Keys’ bluesy electrics meet Tom Odell’s mournful ballads, all underlined with leather-clad edge. He isn’t afraid to go to dark places, only to have his songs pick back up again like in “Someone New,” a swinging, orchestral track that is among the more upbeat songs on his album.
Many of the tracks are stripped down to a guitar, crisp drum rolls and soulful chapel choir harmonies. Layered together, these create an organic, acoustic background melody to underlie his piercing, bluesy wails in “From Eden” and raspy lupine howls in “To Be Alone.” “From Eden” features what are Hozier’s most impressive vocals to date, displaying his incredible range, vocal control and unmistakably unique bluesy twang.
“Like Real People Do” has such a sweet melody and smooth transitions that you are swept up in the tide, only to realize that the haunting lines: “why were you digging/what did you bury/ before the hands pulled me from the earth” are a chilling metaphor for starting new relationships. “Sedated” takes on more of a quick tempo R&B, rock blend that has the cringe-worthy catchiness of pop without becoming too clichéd. His other track “Jackie and Wilson” blends Arctic Monkey-esque electric guitar riffs with jazz to create one of the bluesiest tracks on the album, and references R&B and soul legend Jackie Wilson.
In every one of his songs, Hozier makes it is hard to reconcile sound with meaning, creating dark, sorrowful tracks that you will want to replay over and over. The biggest struggle in listening to his album is trying to convince yourself that something so dark really can sound so good. “Cherry Wine” is no exception, topping off the list as an airy, acoustic take on dysfunctional relationships. As is “Work Song,” whose lyrics “when my time comes around/ lay me gently in the cold dark earth/ no grave can hold my body down/ I’ll crawl home to her” make it about as heartbreaking as a love song can get.
All in all, Hozier’s first album portrays such real and raw emotion that it simply cannot be ignored. Fans of Hozier will not be let down, and those who have never heard his name before should not hesitate before pressing that download button, grabbing a pair of headphones and plugging in.
By: Chris Chiu
After releasing "Hideaway," arguably one of the biggest tracks of last summer, Kiesza returns with Sound of a Woman, her debut album that offers the same intensity and sound that made her an instant hit and proved her overwhelming potential.
I’ll be honest – as soon as "Hideaway" came onto the radio scene during the summer, I immediately doubted Kiesza’s career. Would she be a one-hit wonder and fade back into obscurity? Would she "sell out" and change her style into the manufactured, predictable, made-for-radio sound like so many before her? These questions were answered loud and clearly in Sound of a Woman: no. The album squashes all of these doubts, as the resulting product is polished, smart, and enjoyable.
In particular, Kiesza's sound blends together a variety of influences that help create something both vaguely familiar, and entirely original at the same time. Although not primarily an EDM/House album, many of her songs are heavily influenced by this realm of music. Often big names such as Avicii or Steve Aoki, the EDM artist receives the credit, with the vocals being pushed into the shadows, so it is refreshing seeing the vocalist be the centre of attention on house tracks.
Due to its heavy house influence, quite a few tracks on her 13-song debut have infectious beats, so expect to hear remixes of these songs for the club real soon. Shifting away from the realm of house music however, Kiesza also experiments with dashes of pop, R&B, and hip-hop, creating a unique and complex listening experience. These unique dimensions allow for an album that is just as enjoyable to listen to while studying as it is on the dance floor.
Despite this, Sound of a Woman suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Half the album gives off a “stop-everything-and-dance” vibe, while the other half seems to ask listeners to “stop-everything-and-think-introspectively.” “No Enemiesz,” “Giant In My Heart,” and “Over Myself” are perfect for a club night or a fashion runway, but tracks like “So Deep” and “Piano” are sensual, heartfelt, and low key – making it more appropriate for studying or a night with your significant other. The juxtaposition between these polarizing sounds causes the album to feel confused, and makes me wonder if Sound of a Woman would be better divided between two separate albums. Still, this choice doesn’t affect the quality of the songs on their own however, as taken separately most songs are masterpieces on their own.
Although Sound of a Woman left me emotionally confused in terms of its direction, Kiesza’s talent is not to be undervalued. The way she belts out the opening notes of “The Love” immediately demands the listeners attention, while producing a rawness and sheer power that is reminiscent of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. This talent continues on the other side of the vocal spectrum, as her raspy whisper in “So Deep” lures you in with a siren-like quality.
The production choices in this album are also noteworthy – especially in her slower, sensual songs. “So Deep” has an incredibly catchy, throwback 90’s R&B vibe that evokes memories of the late Aaliyah. “Piano” is very minimalistic, but the tuned percussion manages to create sexy, interesting textures reminding me of James Blake and Jessie Ware. With two of her R&B tracks, she even recruits two emerging powerhouses in the indie rap game – Mick Jenkins and Joey Bada$$ - who both deliver witty, tongue-twisting verses. The success of these partnerships makes me question why Kiesza hasn’t explored the R&B side genre further – rather than house – as that is where Sound of a Woman is most powerful.
It is important to remember that this is only Kiesza’s first album, and at the tender age of 25, she still has plenty of time to find and perfect her sound. Flaws aside, I would still definitely recommend this album. Whatever Kiesza decides to end up pursuing – R&B or House – we can all breathe a little bit easier knowing that the genre will be in good hands.
There is almost no logical explanation for enjoying this album. The beats are repetitive, the hooks pummel one to death, and the overarching themes of love and sexuality have been treated in far better detail by countless other artists. The essential saving grace of the vast majority of Pharrell’s recent work, this album and other collaborations included, is its incredible catchiness.
The relatively narrow focus of each song in production and lyricism is more than sufficient given how well these earworms are pulled off; some of these songs represent the epitome of pop music.
The only real question to determine your enjoyment of this album is whether you can tolerate excellent segments being expanded and repeated over the course of an entire song. Not enjoying one section of a song can also completely ruin the rest of the song, which represents an all-in strategy by Pharrell. Listeners will absolutely love or absolutely hate parts of the album.
“Marilyn Monroe” starts off the album with a love letter to a beautiful girl. Pharrell proclaims his willingness to abandon conventional symbols of powerful, sexy women throughout history for his subject.
On this note, another saving grace that drives the entire album from potentially mediocre to greatness is Pharrell’s confidence. This shines through when he elevates himself to the level he described the girl at, stating, “We’re so hard, I was so hard that they can’t chew,” which is a play on the phrase, “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
Despite praising this girl so heavily throughout the song, he considers her capable of handling his desires and vice-versa. This line is incredibly important, as it best represents the rest of the album. Pharrell fully believes himself and the target of each song to be engaging in the greatest love and lust the world has ever known.
This is the catchy, confident, must-listen pop album of the year in certain sections. Buying into Pharrell’s ambitions and intentions is absolutely essential, and often easy as a result of Pharrell’s ability to clearly convey his aims. The only potential issue is the collapse of the whole experience due to excessive repetition.
G I R L fully represents Pharrell’s abilities, and shows he is poised for a potential stranglehold over the pop scene of 2014.
Artist: St. Vincent
St. Vincent’s eponymous record is both her most personal and her best yet. Abandoning a tendency for grandiose instrumentation that she may have picked up as a member of Sufjan Stevens’ orchestra-like backing band, Annie Clark strips away the dense arrangements that littered her first two albums in her fourth solo effort to date.
Notoriously protective of her privacy, Clark’s “Rattlesnake” seems a step in a more open direction for the 31-year-old musician. While the jittery synths might inspire nervous foot-tapping, the story that Clark proceeds to paint is more likely to induce laughter. The lyrics recount when Clark, ambling through the secluded landscape of a friend’s West Texas ranch on a beautiful day, shed her clothes in a bid to get closer to nature. Becoming aware of a sound she had taken for the wind, Clark turned and saw a rattlesnake. As she told The Guardian, “I took off running and when I got home had a shot of tequila.”
The frantic guitar solo captures the sheer terror of the episode and is a delightful hint at what comes next.
Morbidly titled “Birth In Reverse” was the first single to be released, and for good reason. After some more humouristic imagery — “Oh what an ordinary day/take out the garbage, masturbate” — Clark reminds listeners that she’s the queen of everything and is not meant to be fucked with. The ensuing scuzzy guitar wizardry is downright nasty and it’s great to see her following in the vein of her wild 2012 Record Store Day releases “Krokodil” and “Grot.”
“Prince Johnny” was the last track to be released prior to the album, and stands out as the most musically and thematically interesting of the trio. Less abrasive than its precursors, the regal track is one that brings listeners back to wasting summer days drifting in someone’s backyard pool. As it progresses through a dense maze of caustic bass and drum pads, Clark’s tender vocals woo the listener into a trance only to jerk them out of blissful reverie with a heavily distorted barrage of guitar.
The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint, with the same facemelting goodness found in tracks like “Regret” and “Every Tear Disappears.”
Revenge of the Dreamers
Artist: J. Cole
January 28 was a massive day for J. Cole. He marked his 29th birthday by announcing a partnership between the powerhouse Interscope Records and his own Dreamville Records, on top of a newly released mixtape from Dreamville.
Later that night, his headlining performance at a sold-out Madison Square Garden included surprise guest Jay Z performing a few collaboration tracks. A piece of hip hop history was then gifted – Jay Z gave his original chain from when he first founded Roc-A-Fella Records to J. Cole.
Kendrick Lamar then came onstage as another surprise guest to perform some songs from good kid, m.A.A.d city, and to give praise to J. Cole. “He was one of the first people to accept me in the music business,” Lamar said, “This is not a regular rapper friendship; this is my brother.”
With these votes of confidence, J. Cole had to be feeling on cloud nine. But how does the mixtape hold up?
Though he is considered to ‘play it safe’ relative to other modern rappers, J. Cole still offers crisp lyricism and production on all of his efforts, and members of the Dreamville group, consisting of KQuick, Bas and Omen, manage to hold their own.
KQuick may only show up on the hook and background of the track “Lit,” but his silvery voice singing, “Do you believe in love?” and “What’s your drug?” provide an interesting contrast to lines like, “I never thought that I would fuck Irish hoes.”
Bas spits about New York in “Golden Goals,” about money, weed and girls in “Ceelo With the G’s” and joins J. Cole and Omen on “Bitchez” to talk about pulling even more girls.
Omen provides the surprise of the mixtape in expanding from these conventional themes expected to be associated with a J. Cole project to talk about more personal and introspective matters on “Motion Picture” and “Henny Flow,” which adds an additional layer to his represented persona on the previously mentioned “Bitchez.”
All in all, this is another relatively safe mixtape from a prominent artist expected to put out material like this. J. Cole might not win any new fans, but interest should definitely increase for his supporting crew of KQuick, Bas and Omen, as they hopefully explore new territory with Interscope in the future.
The production, flow, and lyricism are all quite good for what the mixtape represents, but what it represents is content that has already been explored by countless other artists.
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Artist: Albert Hammond Jr.
Discovering Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo material after cutting your teeth on his work with The Strokes was a breath of fresh air. Songs like “Everyone Gets A Star” and “In Transit” revealed him to have a keen songwriting instinct and an irresistible voice.
But the sweet melodies found on his two albums Yours To Keep and ¿Cómo Te Llama? came in stark contrast to his dangerous drug addiction of which Hammond shared the scary particulars in a recent interview with NME. “I used to shoot cocaine, heroin and ketamine. All together. Morning, night, 20 times a day. You know, I was a mess. I look back and I don’t even recognise myself,” he revealed.
Having kicked that habit - kudos to him - he set about crafting what has become a tight little EP simply titled AHJ. Released on bandmate Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records, the collection spans five songs and is an example of Hammond at his buoyant best.
Far from unappealing, the stuttering riffs on opener “St. Justice” invite you in while Hammond experiments with a higher register. “Rude Customer” hurtles forward at a frenetic pace that will excite any fans of early Strokes jams. Though nothing could rival his moment in the spotlight on “Last Nite,” Hammond has a delightful guitar solo on every track.
If left wanting more at the conclusion of “Cooker Ship,” take heart in the fact that Hammond is currently at work on more material and be sure check out his Toronto show at The Phoenix on 10 Nov.
Artist: Katy Perry
In any conversation about music, Top 40 is always the butt of the joke – it’s the genre that music lovers frown upon for viagra mastercard its banal lyrics and repetitiveness. People tend to forget that few artists have actually succeeded in the hard feat of crafting a perfect pop album.
Katy Perry’s 2010 album, Teenage Dream, was one such instance, sending five hits to the summit of the Billboard 100 and tying the record held by Michael Jackson’s Bad. Three years later, Perry has returned with Prism, and while lightning doesn’t strike twice, she does come close.
The album is packed with radio-friendly tracks that each seem to be a 90s sequel to a hit from Teenage Dream. “This is How We Do” is “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” 2.0, with the album’s best laugh-out-loud lyric (“sucking real bad at Mariah Carey-oke”). “Unconditionally” is a more mature “Teenage Dream.” The list goes on.
Perry, on top of the pop throne, doesn’t break any new ground sonically, but the Bollywood tinged “Legendary Lovers” and Hip-hop/Pop hybrid “Dark Horse” with Juicy J suggests she is still somewhat trying.
Perry’s highly publicized divorce from comedian Russell Brand makes its presence known in the back half of the album. The Lykke Li inspired ballads here are not particularly bad, just remarkably average. Nothing approaches her strongest vocal effort in “Thinking of You” from her mainstream debut One for the Boys.
Katy Perry has always been at her best with her inspirational and tongue-in-cheek party anthems, and in that sense, Prism still delivers.
I, like many readers, have heard the chart topping song “Royals” by Lorde. It is catchy, creative and deserving the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. What I did not know, however, was that it doesn’t end there.
Let’s make it clear; Lorde is in no way a one-hit wonder. Her debut album, Pure Heroine, proves that “Royals” is not the only exquisite song the 16-year old solo artist can create. Yes, you read that right; this girl is only 16 and is already making her name in the music industry.
Her age is actually what makes Pure Heroine such an interesting album, as it represents a culmination of multiple contemporary influences, including Kanye West, Bon Iver, SBTRKT, Alt-J and others. The result is a sound that nonetheless feels fresh, giving Lorde a distinct style that separates her from the rest of pop music. Her writing partner and producer, Joel Little, complement this youthful vibe. Little’s experience in the industry and Lorde’s creative energy makes the album fantastic.
If you liked “Royals” you will love Pure Heroine.
Pusha T’s My Name is My Name and Danny Brown’s Old should be your front-runners for hip-hop album of the year. It is honestly that simple. Contrasting both, however, provides perspective on two entirely different experiences and styles that operate on opposing sides of the hip hop spectrum.
Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name is classic hip hop lyricism with modern production. He balances being faithful to the streets that raised him and his new found prosperity, a classic dichotomy for rappers. These themes are further supplemented by the production from a more established tier of artists, primarily Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
Pusha T raps about his place in the music scene and how this is his time to rise up to greatness. He raps about women and, more often than not, with surprising emotional sincerity. He raps about pushing drugs to get by in the streets and how these drugs affect strangers and friends. Though these are all relatively common themes in hip hop, the overall polish of his craft and the production leave this album achieving relative greatness.
Danny Brown’s Old, however, combines alternative lyricism with alternative production. XXX, his previous mixtape, was essentially about his personal experiences with hardcore drugs and his realizations about what these seemingly positive experiences were actually doing to him.
Old represents the relapse and breakdown of Danny Brown into the person he used to be. The escapism that drugs provide from his struggles, such as near-suicidal depression, takes control and consumes him. Unlike the beginning of XXX, he is fully aware of the consequences of taking these drugs, but does not care because the benefit of temporarily forgetting his experiences keeps him in the vicious cycle of dependency. It is a harrowing experience to hear him speak from his heart about all of his conflicting emotions and experiences. Fear, depression and pain are the core of this album, though they are masked under the veil of drugs and the resulting trip.
The contrast between these two albums demonstrates how hip hop can achieve greatness through multiple approaches, and how the genre allows for a wide variety of stories to be represented. If you are just a casual fan of hip-hop, the recommendation is that you experience and attempt to internalize both of these albums.
After two strong albums in Beacon and Tourist History, Two Door Cinema Club, the three-piece indie rock band from Northern Ireland is back with their new EP, Changing of the Seasons.
The EP retains elements of their older music, while showcasing an emerging new style. The title track, “Changing of the Seasons,” is by far the most similar to their past output, with bright, catchy guitar riffs alongside a killer beat. This, however, is where the similarities end, as the remaining two songs potentially mark the emergence of a different style for the band.
“Crystal” is a perfect example. The pacing is slower, featuring drum pads and even a vocoder backing Alex Trimble’s voice, while the guitars and punchy beats fans are familiar with are nowhere to be found. Regardless, the song shows off the band’s ability to create strong melodies, proving they are not limited to one style.
Similarly, “Golden Veins” mixes it up, showing off the voice of guitarist Sam Halliday, something not previously emphasized by the band in the past.
So, what does this mean? Well, given the size of the four-song EP it’s hard to tell if these songs represent the emergence of a new approach for the band, or are simply outliers that do not fit the style of their next project.
Either way, fans should be happy. Two Door Cinema Club has once again proven they know how to make remarkable music.