Halsey – Badlands

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We seem to live in the comedown from Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga. A few years ago, a lot of women got on TV with weird outfits and bragged about how much sex they have and how much they drink. The parties didn’t have to look fun. Mostly, it looked like a bunch of cool people trying hard to impress you. What’s important is that you’ll find them profound, strong, going against the norm. As we know, nothing is more rebellious than drinking alcohol and having sex.

Only your mom is actually against partying, and even that population of anti-partying moms is dwindling. Pretty soon a new type of female Pop rose, one that was still about lots of sex and partying but acknowledged the fact that made your Mom despise those parties. Where there are people, there are feelings and getting hurt. People sometimes get hurt before, during or after the party. Sex is fine and all, but it’s not as easy doing vocal acrobatics and calling it a song.

Halsey is a latecomer to this scene, and it shows. Lana Del Rey may have kicked it off, but singers who came later didn’t stick to the formula. For all of the ‘alt girl’ posing on Tumblr, these singers did show there was room for personal expression in Pop music. Compared to what came before, these singers gave a voice to all the kinds of experiences you go through when young.

Halsey may be considered ‘generic’ in that movement, but it’s a movement that’s defined by not sticking only to bragging about sex. In fact, her personality is actually more solid than it first seems. If she seems like a stereotype of the dyed hair, feminist teenager that’s on Tumblr posting better content than you it’s only because she throws herself fully at it.

True enough, we need it. I’m not one to complain about how there aren’t enough Black people in a certain field, or how there are too many males in a different one (As we know, all males are exactly the same). There is something different about these lyrics of youth though, something that’s far from the rage and angst of the male-dominated rock genre.

Instead of tales of hatred, rage, and heartbreak we get tales of confused and confusing sexuality, of drugs that are fun and wrecking at the same. Overall, life is a huge set of contradictions. Now that’s emotional depth for you. In contrast to bands where sex was always a bad thing, where romance lead directly to agony here it’s unclear and blurry. “Strange Love” is about a relationship so messy we don’t even bother to define it. On “Hurricane” she manages to overcome the guy all the girls can’t overcome. All that confidence is gone on “Drive”, a contemplative, atmospheric song that’s soaked in the amorphous and somewhat profound thoughts of an over-intelligent youth.

I know it’s fun to assume young people are idiots – that’s why we got such a moronic educational system. They experience things, though. The best music of youth captures this spark and more. Halsey is at once a young girl who lets herself get carried away by her sexuality, is totally in control of it, utterly confused by it and has the wisdom of a sage – sometimes in the same song. “Hurricane” isn’t the best song here, but it’s the best example of when it all collides at once.

Can these lyrics be anything less than ridiculous? Actually, they’re quite excellent. They aren’t a bunch of vague lines about sex and pain strung together, but there’s a coherent idea connecting them each. The distinct subject matter is what helps the songs stand out. True, “New Americana” is awful, but that’s because it’s the only song where Halsey pretends to be important. Name-dropping Nirvana and Biggie especially sounds stupid. Isn’t she younger than me? Did she feel comfortable listening to “One More Chance”? Statement-making was far more convincing in “Castle”, a slow-grinding song where Halsey sounds like an overconfident youth with all the good that it implies.

She’s actually at her best when she throws herself at an idea. The more contemplative songs, where she sounds too grown for her age can blur together – “Hurricane” and “Roman Holiday” are cute, but “Gasoline” contains lyrics that in any other context would stupid. “Are you deranged like me?” is as attention-wanting as it gets, but it nails the feeling of being misunderstood with others on the internet. “Colors” is the big highlight about loving a guy who’s on the road to self-destruction. The lyrics may be sappy, but being young is about being sappy. If you got the bonus tracks then “Control” is another highlight. I have no idea how it didn’t end up on the album.

People talked about how Halsey is constructed, artificial and is ‘not real’. Is Lady Gaga real? Sure, she flaunted how her imagery was fake but we were supposed to take seriously the idea she’s not real – or whatever postmodern hullabaloo went over there. Music is performance, and what matters is how the performance goes. Halsey is dead-on in what she’s trying to achieve. I met the type of girls who are into this music and heard their stories. Halsey’s lyrics match their stories, if not in precise details but in vibe. In the end music is more about capturing a certain essence of feeling or of experience, rather than the exact details. While it’s true Halsey doesn’t have too many quotables – her peers are much better than her, as a whole her lyrics are fantastic. Few songs get what loving a dangerous and self-destructive guy is like “Colors”.

Badlands is overall a fantastic Pop albm with everything you’d want – great hooks, great production and enough personality to make it memorable. That personality can annoy people, especially if you’re too busy with authenticity or getting angry over weirdos on Tumblr. It’s also possible you’re too busy looking for things to make fun of rathe than experiencing the world. Irony culture has yet to produce something as fun as “Colors”.

3.5 sexy boys out of 5

 

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Carly Rae Jepsen – Kiss

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Sometimes I wonder if my dislike for a lot of Pop singers is because of misogyny. Nowadays female singers aren’t docile like they used be. They’re aggressive, can rap, can have a guitar here and there and not shamed of having a lot of sex or of telling someone to fuck off. My manhood is threatened, and thus I cannot enjoy when Lady GaGa tells me about how everything is beautiful and that we should all just be ourselves (That’s because we all have the privilege of being skinny, right?). I can’t stand Rihanna because a sexually assertive woman offends me. Submission is a turn-on, and without it I’m nothing.

Or maybe not. My favorite Pop singers include Lana Del Rey, Tove Lo and Melanie Martinez which are all concept-heavy. As for aggression, I also admire Emilie Autumn who directly attacked her sexual abusers. The problem with the singers in the first paragraph isn’t that they were ‘assertive’. In fact, no one should be scared of Rihanna. She’s so conformist that Chris Brown beating here wasn’t the big deal. The problem with these singers is that they didn’t sell you an image or a concept, but themselves.

Compare Taylor Swift’s “22” – which I actually like – to any song here. Taylor uses the song as a vehicle to inform the listener who utterly cool and fucking awesome she is. It’s about her, not about having fun. She has a lot of exes, she has breakfasts at midnight unlike these lame ‘cool kids’ and they dream instead of sleep. The songs’ music videos even confirm it. In “Good Time”, Carly and Adam Young are surrounded by people who actually look different and don’t seem to be doing anything but having fun. Everyone in Taylor’s video looks perfect and skinny. It’s a song about contrasts, not about partying.

When everyone got taken away by EMOTION – and by ‘everyone’ I mean ‘music nerds’ – the shock was hearing a Pop singer who really didn’t care about seeming cool. She did way before “I Really Like You”. From a distance, this and “Call Me Maybe” sound like an artist with one gimmick that milks it. Listen to a whole album, and it’s a modus operandi. If Carly can’t deviate, it’s because she’s having too much fun, doesn’t need and want to and invites you to join in.

Adam Young asides, who everyone seems to hate, “Good Time” is such an inviting song. “Call Me Maybe” may have generated the shitty parodies but that song tells you more about who Carly is. Most of the songs here work in the same sphere only with slightly weaker drums. All the songs are about the excitement of first love and first crush, about a possible future that may happen and if it does it’ll be awesome. It’s not exactly optimistic. Rather, Carly captures that tiny moment of happiness when you’re sure someone really likes you or may like you, and you’re kind of emberassed and unsure but enjoy it all the same. Song titles like “This Kiss”, “Curiosity”, “Tiny Little Bows” and “Call Me Maybe” all display this range of emotions. Merge these topics with dance tracks and you have great party music that’s happy, not tough. People who don’t jump to “Tiny Little Bows” look like they’re trying too hard to reach the Idea of Coolness.

Carly’s performance is also perfect. Another problem of contemporary Pop singers is how much they love show us their voice. Often, the songs aren’t meant to be enjoyed. Even the performance isn’t meant to be enjoyed. Rather, we’re supposed to be impressed, stand aside and admire all the vocal acrobatics. Adele epitomizes it and Sia is the biggest offender. Imagine if Sia sang these songs. Will “Turn Me Up” sound so cute and confused if Sia howled? Would it even be about confusion, instead of about how awesome Sia is? Carly sings so low and calm. She rarely stretches her voice, trusting instead her character shine through her voice. It also makes the song more listener-friendly, making it sound like anyone can sing them.

At times she does stretch her voice for something more profound, but it’s so rare it leads to a weird effect. On “More Than a Memory”, she stretches her voice just a little to suit the song’s more somber mood, and it makes her seem vulnerable and worried. Since she doesn’t stretch it often, she shows us that this moment is more important than others – the relationship might die! She also loses the tune a bit on “Guitar String/Wedding Ring”, and the result is ridiculously cute. The song’s lyrics are a bit nonsense, but they, along with the sparkling, noisy production and Carly’s messy voice expresses the excitement and thrill of love all the more effectively. Music is, after all, acting. I’m sure many can sing that song better technically, but I doubt if anyone can convince me like Carly does.

Only one song does stick out where she sounds closer to her contemporaries. That’s “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” which includes an actual bass drop. The noises this time are aggressive instead of sparkling and Carly tries to reach to the top of her voice. It’s also a total success because it focuses on this idea, instead of using these tools as a modus operandi. It’s not another generic club banger but a singer who’s full of pain and needs to let it with singing and loud beats. What’s beautiful is that once the chorus hits, she still sounds vulnerable and hurt. The cries of “getting over you!” aren’t triumphant, but sound like she’s trying to convince herself by constantly repeating it. Many said that “Chandelier” by Sia mixed the whole party-and-depression thing well, but that song, like anything else by her, is about how Sia awesome is. Carly outdid everyone else.

It’s interesting how clean this album is. In a world where singers like Rihanna use misogyny and objectification of women to seem powerful – because being approved by wifebeaters like Chris Brown means you’re strong? – it’s refreshing to hear someone who doesn’t need to go on and on about it. Carly is sexy in her way. She’s not afraid of it, she’s just more concerned with love and having fun. “Good Time” works because, unlike other party songs it’s for everyone – not just people who happen to be sexy. Her excitement in “Tiny Little Bows” is way sexier than anything by Rihanna. Carly was actually older than most singers when she recorded this and many called this ‘immature for her age’, but is it really?

Today Kiss sounds more like a prelude to the brilliant EMOTION, and it’s not as all-encompassing as that albums. Still, what it does it does brilliantly. “Call Me Maybe” is actually buried in a sea of highlight, and there’s a consistent mood that shows Carly always believed that Pop is an album genre. Even the acoustic ballad “Beautiful” doesn’t let down the pace. 12 joyous Pop songs about excitement and love that invites everyone are too much to become viral in this age of irony, but really, if you dislike this you may be trying too hard to seem tough.

3.5 kisses out of 5

Lady Gaga – Joanne

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Many will be surprised at Lady GaGa’s new sound. Yet, you could’ve predicted this album all the way back in the Fame Monster era. Sound is superficial. What’s important is demeanor and purpose. They tell you far more about what sounds the artist will try next and why they work. That’s why it wasn’t surprising Linkin Park turned out to be experimental and not Slipknot. Slipknot may have started out with more outside influence, but Linkin Park’s music truly acted like there were no genres.

What defined Lady Gaga wasn’t her sound, but her personality. As for her personality, it was one of the most insufferable you could find in Pop. It wasn’t until Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear that Pop music had a more obnoxious, pretentious figure. Even when “LoveGame” boasted about disco sticks, all I heard was decent Pop with squicky clean vocals without personality. However, Gaga was sure this shit was profound. She supported LGBT people, which is totally radical. She had a song called “Government Hooker”, which is more bizarre for reminding me of Combichrist than that title. The music videos were long and contained ‘weird’ outfits that all boiled to seeing Lady Gaga scantly clad.

I don’t know. I found La Roux’s semi-androgynous image far weirder, with “Bulletproof” containing more punch than anything Gaga made. She surely had no guts to make something like a CHRVCHES, who made one of the most hateful songs with “Gun”. Instead, she experimented with a bunch of mainstream genres and called it ‘influencing Pop culture’. The difference between her and all other Pop singers is that they focused more on hooks, and she more on her image.

Joanne is hilarious. It’s not bad, but it’s laughable. The only thing keeping it from a self-parody is the fact it’s overall pleasant. Lady Gaga, a singer obsessed with her own image (And not the music) makes an album full of Heartland Rock in an attempt to shed her ‘image’ and become ‘real’. She’s so naive. Anyone who spent some time in music forums is over these cliches. Hell, I know 14-year-olds who listen to Thrash Metal that never had the ‘Pop isn’t music phase’. The album is retro not in sound, but in attitude. It’s a throwback to when people thought guitars were ‘real’ and electronics were not.

God, this album is pretentious. The whole thing is an attempt to sell Gaga as a ‘serious’ artist, buying into every moronic notion of how music that ‘stands the test of time’ should be. Listen to how subdued “Dancin’ in Circles”. It barely has a melody and smack in the middle Gaga breaks into a vocal acrobatic. Why would you howl like a banshee in American Idol in a lighthearted song about masturbation? On “Perfect Illusion”, she instructs the producer to turn down the drums. Although they beat like a club song, they’re anemic. If they’ll bang too hard the song might be fit for dancing, and as we know dancing is silly and moronic. Gaga performs the song with utter seriousness, making sure we’re impressed by her vocals while forgetting the lyrics are supposed to convey pain.

Lady Gaga said she wanted be an actress but music came in the way. You can feel it here. Sadly, she’s not a good actress. Music is an act, in the end. Good singers don’t just sing, but play a character. It’s far more important to sound like you mean what you say, to sound broken and angry rather than sing well. That’s why Adele is so awful, because she sounds far more concerned with impressing the audience than with venting.

As an actor, Lady Gaga is awful. She’s awful not just because she’s a bad actor, but because she can’t seem to imagine herself actually walking in those characters’ shoes. “Hello” is a lackluster act, but Adele at least sounds like she’s aware she should be believable. Lady Gaga never tries to sound genuine. Everything is dripped in insincerity, in awareness that music is just an act. “Hey Girl” has an otherwise beautiful melody, but it begs for a singer that’s less full of itself. Imagine if Carly Rae Jepsen sang it. It may not be as impressive technically, but Carly has more warmth than Gaga can ever conjure. Lady Gaga can’t divorce herself from being an actress, too afraid of jumping headfirst into genres and sounds. The irony is, the fear of being trapped leaves her without much personality or diversity.

Many of the songs are the audio equivalent of a magician explaining his tricks and while performing. Worse, it’s a pompous magician who thinks his tricks are really clever and put him above everyone else. “Sinner’s Prayer” isn’t so much about being a heartbreaker, but about Gaga’s vocal acrobatics and a token song about rambling. Lady Gaga’s overblown sense of self-importance rears its head the most in the ballads. “Million Reasons” and “Angel Down” just beg for you to take her seriously by using sparse arrangements, but for what?

The musical backdrops reek of tokenism, instead of genuine experimentation. Although she uses a few guitars, she never slides next to like Drive-By Truckers, Steeldrivers or even early Taylor Swift. You can use these sounds for a remix of “Marry the Night” and it wouldn’t feel any different. Despite showing off her connection to ‘real’ music, the purpose remains the same. The music is about how awesome Lady Gaga is. Changing the instrumentation slightly means nothing. It’s no surprise “Government Hooker” is one of her best songs since that one actually pushes her to the back.

It’s far from awful, and that’s because it’s not too serious. Lady Gaga can’t separate herself – and doesn’t really want to – from her partying and lots of sex. So “John Wayne” ends up the album highlight, where Gaga sounds like she means what she says instead of just acting. “I’m so sick of their city games/I need a real wild man” – that line jumps, because it’s sung dripping with sexuality and no attempt to impress. It’s also the song that jumps into its genre with the most conviction. I can imagine some Colt Ford dropping a rap verse there, or that girl who was in Drive-By Truckers singing it. It’s a lone moment of sincerity that makes you wonder if, perhaps, Gaga should stick to country for the sake of it.

She’s also more restrained than she should. If it’s a deliberate decision, then Gaga isn’t all hopeless. She often used her voice to prove how ‘serious’ she is – just check the atrocious piano version of “Poker Face”. Her performance here is more restrained, with acrobatics appearing sporadically. Sometimes, they even fit. “Come to Mama” and “Hey Girl” have these indulgences, but it fits the feel-good nature of these songs. If she’s happy, she should have the energy to belt out like this. A track like “Diamond Heart” would’ve been destroyed by Sia’s bullshit, but Gaga never loses track of the melody. She strains her voice just enough to show strength but stops short before the melody’s gone.

The problems with Joanne run deeper than song quality. They’re mostly okay, with only “John Wayne” and “Diamond Heart” being keepers. The problem is, it proves Lady Gaga was nothing but a buffoon with zero self-awareness. I know it’s harsh, but we’re talking about an artist trading in EDM for pseudo-Heartland Rock to show us she’s serious. Even the album title and cover reek of smugness, as if giving a person’s name and posing ‘casually’ is somehow profound. Gaga mistook style for substance, and this is the first time she wanted to have more substance than style. I can forgive her because the album isn’t the trainwreck that is Any Recent Sia Song, but some pleasant Heartland Rock by a person who cares ore about appearing ‘serious’ isn’t my idea of a good time. Lady Gaga needs John Wayne, but I need a Carly Rae Jepsen.

2 perfect illusions out of 5

“Perfect Illusion” – The Downfall of Lady Gaga

When Lady Gaga first broke, I heard decent but not unique Pop. Then the The Fame Monster and Born This Way came and suddenly, she was some sort of icon for outcasts. Her fanbase was called ‘monsters’. The myth was, Pop was a genre with zero originality and weirdness dominated by conformists. Lady Gaga brought a revolution and made Pop accessible for the nerds, goth kids, ugly people and so forth. If you were ever bullied in school or didn’t fit in, Lady Gaga was here to elevate you.

I never bought that. Sure, her music videos featured a lot of weird outfits. They were also always sexual outfits. Lady Gaga confirmed nicely to the ‘sexy woman’ imagery. No matter how weird an outfit was, it always provided people something sexy to jerk off to. She didn’t look weird or dress weird. Her music was even worse. It was as generic as Pop can get. Lady Gaga has a nice, smooth voice with no real personality. She sang about sex, but so did everyone else. All her teasing and tough girl posturing are hardly any different than what Rihanna or Katy Perry did.

Lady Gaga isn’t just unconvincing because beneath lyrics of ‘be yourself’, she’s as conformist as you can get. Her image is misguided. She took desirable traits – strength, beauty, dancing – and wrote songs about them. What defines outcasts are undesirable traits – vulnerability, weirdness, perversion, anger, intellectualism. ‘Vulnerability’ is a key trait. Vulnerability is undesirable for evolutionary reasons. A vulnerable individuals is a burden on the pack, and we learn to hide our pain and weaknesses so we won’t get cast out of the tribe.

Artists who did sang for outcasts, or at least had such a fanbase were proud of this. Compare her to Marilyn Manson who also predicted his fame in Antichrist Superstar. His stomping anthem, “The Beautiful People”, is hateful, angry and a cry of distress. He sang from a position of weakness, of being ugly and undesired. His whole image is about that. His look is, on purpose, disfigured and often androgynous. While Gaga sang about the virtue of sex, Manson mocked us with “User Friendly” and “Slutgarden”. Manson also had a raspy, slightly mechanical voice so that every song he sang would sound odd. The newbie that is Melanie is another great example. Song like “Cry Baby”, “Dollhouse” and “Pity Party” take all these undesirable qualities and bring them to the surface. When Martinez makes strength anthems, she takes pride in admitting how vulnerable she is. Lady Gaga never does it. She’s everything we expect from a Pop star – in love with guys, perhaps girls, having a lot of sex and dancing at parties.

Imagine if the excellent “Government Hooker” was performed by Manson or Tove Lo, artists with a better sense of darkness than she. Songs like that hinted that perhaps there was a weirdo there waiting to come out. There is aggression flowing through that song, chopped vocals and a sense of dread that the sex isn’t all positive.

The new song is ironically titled “Pefect Illusion”. It describes Gaga perfectly. All my suspicions about her were confirmed. She got tired of posturing like a party girl, pretending that drinking and sex is new. So now she imitates Sia. Sia was already a pale imitation of Lady Gaga, singing with ultra seriousness, showing off her voice without a hint of emotion (“Chandeliar” isn’t about alcoholism but about Sia’s ‘awesome’ voice).

Lady Gaga looks back on the disco songs of heartbreak and triumph. She takes the sound and themes with none of the fun. The song barely has a melody or a chorus. The hook is a repetition of “It wasn’t love/it was a perfect illusion” and behind it only a banging drum. If this sounds minimalist, it’s not on purpose. You’re supposed to dance to that dull drum. Gaga sings with technical finesse, pointing out that she’s, in fact, not that hurt at all. Heartbreak may have been tough, but she can still try to impress the judges at American Idol.

Truth is, even if she brought actual pain to the song it wouldn’t be anything original. A little after Gaga came Lana Del Rey, who was sexier, more vulnerable and more dangerous. She was also a party girl, but she stared straight at the dark side of it too. If “Perfect Illusion” was the comedown from her image, she’ll just be running against Lana. That’s a race she can’t win, since Lana has a concept she develops and plays with. Lady Gaga has anthems of strengths and seriousness, like any other Pop star.

In the past, Lady Gaga at least tries to be weird. It was easy to see through, but there was effort. “Bad Romance” had scat singing. “Government Hooker” has already been mentioned and it’s quite excellent. She took influence from Latin music on “Americano” and other songs – “LoveGame” and “G.U.Y.” were unbashedly about sex. It wasn’t subversive, but it wanted to be and if you’re unfamiliar with Pop music it is attention grabbing. “Perfect Illusion” is a regression to “Just Dance”, a song so unimaginative that it becomes memorable because of that. Remember, that song had the lyrics of “Just dance, gonna be okay, dodododododo”. I love songs about dancing, but they need to be passionate about dancing.

To her defense, it’s better than her competition. If Lady Gaga tries to amaze me with her voice, she does a decent enough job. There is vulnerability in that song that’s startling and more naked than Sia. She doesn’t hide the weak lyrics. Hearing her bellow out “I can still feel blow” sounds like she’s dying to be over it. Although her singing is triumphant, there’s something very noisy about it too. Some said the song is about a recent break-up, which wouldn’t surprise me. It’s generic, derivative and nothing original but Gaga occasionally sound like she’s trying to heal herself with singing. Maybe that’s why it’s so original. It’s a vehicle for Lady Gaga to vent. At least she beats the horrifying Sia in her own game.

Rihanna – Anti

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Rihanna wasn’t supposed to last this long. She’s talented and charismatic, but not enough. Her voice sounds unique now only because we’ve heard it in a dozen songs. She doesn’t have the iimmediatepersonas of other artists like Carly Rae or Melanie Martinez or Lana Del Rey. She always had good hooks and connections with famous DJ’s. That’s why so later in her career she could still make a crappy song like “We Found Love” a hit.

Her best songs were never creative. She just had good vocals and hooks. What makes Anti sounds so weird at first is because there was no build up to such an album. There was nothing weird or wild about Rihanna. She was always a conformist, so much so that she pretend to be a tough rapper on “Bitch Better Have My Money”. Even Bieber’s move to AltR&B makes more sense. He was huge. Rihanna doesn’t feel as huge as him, but just a talented vocalist with good hooks.

As brave as this album is, it’s misguided and pointless at the end. For a while I was sure it was incomplete, with the accidental leak at all. It takes a while until you realize “Kiss It Better” is pretty good. “Consideration” and “James Joint” are interludes which feel more like B-Sides recorded for the heck of it, just to try it. The pounding drums of the first track are interesting, but the novelty wears off quickly. There’s not much there besides Rihanna telling us she’s independent and we should respect her for who she is.

Who is she, though? When you adopt cliches that tell me you’re artistic, how artistic and original are you, anyway? Bieber didn’t just adopt the atmospherics of AltR&B. He experimented with it, putting the stripped-down “Love Yourself” right next to the moombahton of “Sorry”.

Anti is artistic and experimental in a predictable way. Instead of adding new things, it just removes club-friendly beats for ‘atmospheric and minimalist’ beats’. Instead of hooks, we get vocal acrobatics. Just because these things aren’t so radio-friendly doesn’t make them good.

These elements aren’t supposed to make your record inaccessible, anyway. Anyone who thinks experimental music is meant to be difficult on purpose never heard great experimental music. Experimental music ism’t merely different, but it find a way to make its difficulty and oddness enjoyable. Experimental music isn’t so much about ‘being difficult’, but about finding new ways to enjoy music.

Rihanna can’t find something to replace her club-bangers with. The last three tracks are all a throwback to ‘Good Ol’ Soul Music’ with vocal acrobatics. It’s just an obvious attempt to cater to ‘serious listeners’, sort of like how “Titanium” was for a while the only acceptable EDM song. What’s their point, though, besides being a throwback? Can’t I just listen to “Good Ol’ Soul Music” instead of Rihanna’s copy? Just compare “Never Ending” to “Stay”. The former is ‘stripped down’ by only having an acoustic guitar doing something in the background, and Rihanna doesn’t sound interesting. She just sounds serious.

Seriousness is another problem. A common misconception is that ‘quality music’ is always serious. It’s the sort of stupidity you expect from young people who just discovered guitars. Rihanna thinks that by never having fun we will respect her, but all it makes is for a joyless, boring album. The best tracks here are the most fun. The guitar of “Kiss It Better” and the bravado of “Desperado” are a lot of fun. Both are progress. They take the toughness of Rihanna and put it in a more melodic, soulful direction. It’s this mix of soulfulness and aggression which makes it genuinaly experimental, weird but fun.

You can imagine Rihanna in the studio, scowling like a character from Texhnolyze writing off ideas. A producer suggests bass wobbles there. Another one points out to Korn’s remix of “Bitch Better” and suggests adding a metalcore breakdown. Another one thinks that maybe she should try to rip off Black Moth Super Rainbow. “No,” Rihanna says. She’s a serious artists now, so we must not do something too crazy. Let’s just make everything vaguely atmospheric using a lot of small sounds and sings low-key. Let’s make none of the songs stick out, because serious artists make albums and not songs.

Too bad Korn’s addition of guitars to “Bitch Better” is wilder than everything here. Even if you take an album-centric approach, you still need songs that make the album worthwhile. I could enjoy an album full of “Kiss It Better”‘s and “Desperado”‘s. They may not be big singles, but they sound like complete songs with hooks. “Yeah, I Said It” just sounds like a collection of pseudo-atmospheric sounds and vocals. It’s almost a parody of alternative R&B.

Or maybe Rihanna just smoke a lot of weed and the whole album is meant to be enjoyed in a drug-induced haze. There are a lot of psychedelic albums that are very enjoyable without drugs, so I don’t see how it is a defense.

Anti is an important album, but only the surface. Rihanna officially becomes a ‘serious artist’ in the worst ways possible. It’s serious, uses the most predictable techniques to inform you it’s artistic but doesn’t contain an actual novel idea or weird. It doesn’t really challenge you or startle. It’s just boring and joyless most of the time. Rihanna could make a great album if she looked to “Desperado” but here, it’s mostly just posturing.

2 bitches who owe Rihanna money out of 5

 

Best Songs of 2015 – Part II

Here we go. This is why I’m excited to be alive for a new year. Who knew music can be so good?

14. Jason Derulo – Cheyenne

I couldn’t believe Jason was capable of such a song. He was a technically skilled singer who made boring ballads and silly sex songs. ‘Cheynne’ is a song that’s as catchy as it is powerful. Jason still sounds like a sex icon but a confused one. It’s a song about falling in love after getting used to getting girls easily and the shock of it all. Even if the title girl goes along with him (“You’re secure to make it”) he’s still overwhelmed by the fact that, for once, he ‘can’t stop’, he’s not in complete power. The musical backdrop suits it, too. A thumping dance track that also sounds a little menacing.

13. Hollywood Undead – Take Me Home

What genre is this, anyway? Hollywood Undead were a great, trashy band at first. This dirge-like song doesn’t sound like they imitate the Metalcore bands that influenced them. The song relies on a stomping drumbeat that makes it all sounds like a funeral march. The hedonistic nihilism now doesn’t sound so attractive. Also, although it has an anthemic side it never explodes into pure stadium-ness. It remains subdued, showing sadness that feels more genuine than any of their previous ballads.

12. Bring Me the Horizon – Happy Song

It’s scary how well it sums up the Nu Metal attitude. It’s emotional release through singing loud and cursing. The use of ‘fucking’ suits the song so well. Sykes sounds depressed, singing weakly throughout the verses and only bursting at the chorus. Sykes never sounds positive or like he’s out of his depression, but he sounds like he’s trying when the band slams and he shouts the album title. It’s one of the best songs about depression. It acknowledges the fact you might be able to solve it, but fuck it, let’s try anyway.

11. Hollywood Undead – War Child

The best example of Hollywood Undead’s attempts at blurring genres. It’s a confusing track which way you look at it. It has a bass drop, only a loud guitar dominates it. The verses are Hip-Hop and the chorus is Pop. All this genre-bending means there isn’t an audience for this. It’s too Rock/Dance/Rap depending on your audience, but it’s also proof you can make music that’s both creative and fit for parties.

10. Everclear – You

Social justice is a big thing now and people now acknowledge males also get raped. This isn’t an MRA anthem about how male victims are proof we don’t need feminism. It’s a chilling song. There haven’t been a song like this since Korn’s “Daddy”. The contrast between the driving riffs and Art’s vulnerability gives us the mix of anger and sadness the situation creates. Everclear always great lyrics, but now they reach a new levels.

9. Grimes – Realiti

We have this perception that reality is harsh. ‘Welcome to reality’ is a phrase we tell people to let them know they need to acknowledge terrible things. This sounds so joyous, though. Reality can be beautiful with mountains to climb. Someone once said Grimes sings like an anime girl and there’s cuteness to her vocals that makes this song even more blissful.

8. Fall Out Boy – Immortals

It’s like “Centuries”, only more friendly. It doesn’t make it any less brilliant. The band’s new found aggression made for an album that’s mostly too loud for its own good but the cockiness here is great. You can imagine the band playing this at a festival, and every band that will play after them will be out of spirits. The vocal acrobatics Stump does destroys anything by Sia or Adele. Vocal acrobatics are a sign of strength, not sorrow.

7. Everclear – Complacent

You’d think Everclear would’ve ran out of ways to write about depression and failure. They had something that no one else had. Failure after failure makes you detached eventually. On “Complacent” they throw themselves headfirst into that idea of giving up. You can hear how Art desperately tries to convince himself that he’s ‘not angry anymore’, but when he sings about not wanting to be that guy he’s weak and faithless. He promises he will try, there’s no hope it will work. It’s not even the best song the band made this year.

6. Everclear – The Man Who Broke His Own Heart

They say that no one will love you until you love yourself. This is a heartbreak song from the point of view of a man who has nothing. He can barely lash out at his heartbreaker. He ruined it all by first hurting himself over and over. Bad lovers aren’t just assholes who use you only for sex. The guy who can’t stop hating himself is just as undesirable, even if it’s less politically correct to admit it. This both gives him a voice, but explains why it was reasonable to dump him. What a pessimistic song.

5. Melanie Martinez – Mrs. Potato Head

A lot of pop singers tell us we’re beautiful despite what people say. It’s easy to say it when you’re pretty. Melanie is the outcast, and on “Mrs. Potato Head” she finally tells society to fuck off. It’s been a while since someone made fun of our obsession with beauty. Someone needed to write the line “No one will love you if you’re unattractive”. The best thing is how serene Melanie sounds. She’s sneering at society throughout the song and doesn’t even view the Beautiful People as someone worth fighting. They’re just ‘mrs. potato heads’.

4. Celldweller – Heart On

It’s epic. Why Celldweller doesn’t score all sci-fi films? Maybe because they’re not worthy of his music. “Heart On” is a Progressive-Bass-Rock-House music whose every drop is different until it climax in an anthem that sounds pretty hopeless. Klayton sings about all the things he’ll do for the girls, isn’t needing to do all that means she doesn’t care much? The song moves from section to section, never losing its focus. A genius is someone who can connect unrelated things, and here Klayton finds a balance between Progressive, House, bass wobbles, rock and even a pseudo-rap verse.

3. Faith No More – Superhero

It’s worrying at first when Patton screams. We had enough of him doing silly things with his voice. When the chorus kicks in the song reveals itself to be something else. This is the good Faith No More who made angst rock, but weirder. What makes this song so good is how it moves from a simple Nu Metal song to a more progressive atmospheric one. The shift isn’t even sudden. The bridge between the two parts takes the anthemic chorus and the atmospherics of the later part and gives us a smooth transition. Patton also sounds very hateful.

2. Enter Shikari – Aneasthetist

A pattern appears, but then again it’s an ideal one. Songs that encompass multiple ideas and genres are often the best. “Aneasthetist” is barley three minutes long but it manages to do so much – Hip-Hop, Metalcore, Big Beat and sounds effects from a hospital. It’s just the variety. The breakdown is one of Shikari’s best, with hospital sounds making accompanying the saw-like riffs. There’s always fear Shikari will revert to making generic rock (Because this is ‘unoriginal’ because it doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin) but so far, they’re only getting weirder.

1. Celldweller – Jericho

It’s not as progressive as anything else on the album, but it’s unique. Most songs about wishing for someone’s downfall are anthemic in a way that invites everyone to do vocal acrobatics. “Jericho” always remains subdued. There are no guitars but just a bassline and a stomping drumbeat. All this makes it sound more sinister. Klayton’s vocals doesn’t need to explode, he doesn’t need to convince himself. He sings like he knows that the subject’s person walls will fall, and there’s a cruel smile all over the song.

0. Periphery – 22 Faces

There isn’t anything profound in this song. It’s just perfect. Every part, every line contributes to the whole. The structure is verse-chorus-verse, only every verse and every chorus is different. It makes me wonder why bands who just want to rock out don’t make songs like this. On the final chorus the singer everything explodes, a ‘fuck me’ that sounds spontanous and the riffs hit even harder. There might not be anything emotionally deep here, but this is everything I want in Rock music.

Best Songs of 2015 – Part I

It’s been proven countless times. Music today is terrible, unlike music of the past. There’s no reason to listen to Enter Shikari’s experiments, Skrillex’s frantic energy or Martinez’s outcast pop when you can listen to Bowie’s outdated glam or Zeppelin’s pseudo-blues. Still, there are some good songs made today. This is the first part.

30. CHVRCHES – Leave a Trace

CHVRCHES’ first album was mainly songs about telling people to fuck off using cutsy synthpop. The new album is more varied but this song shows where their strength is. As always, it’s not explicit but Lauren’s harsh tone makes the line “Take care to leave a trace of a man” sounds so cruel. Lauren sounds hateful. She can barely view the guy who broke her heart as a man.

29. Barely Alive – Rough & Rugged

The Bass Music was scene was disappointing this year. The experimentation wasn’t as wide-eyed as before. Barely Alive still sound like it’s 2013, taking wobbles and mixing them in different types of beats. “Rough and Rugged” belongs in that unique house genre we don’t see enough of. It has a more complex, Hip-Hop influenced drumbeat. Plus, it’s full of tempo changes which gives a sense of structure. It’s a brilliant dance song, not just a DJ tool.

28. Of Monsters & Men – Wolves Without Teeth

This is the ideal music to play Skyrim to. ‘Glacial’ is the best word to describe it. Was playing Skyrim inspired them to switch to a colder sound? Everything sounds like icicles shivering in a cave. “Wolves Without Teeth” has the best melody of all the songs there. It helps it’s slightly warmer and less towards the epic side. It’s the perfect song to stroll in a snowy forest to.

27. Lana Del Rey – Music to Watch Boys To

Lana’s voice was always sexy as hell, but on this song she pushes it to the limit. It’s her sexiest song so far with the blunt statement on how she watches boys. There’s still an air of menace here, but the darkness in her music has been toned. Still, unlike a lot of singers who sing about sex Lana is actually being sexual.

26. Skrillex & Jauz – Squad Out!

I don’t know who’s most responsible for the brilliance of this. Jauz has been making great tracks and Skrillex has been moving away from wobbles. Still, he’s involved in a wobble-heavy song and the result is a throwback. It’s in the same style of Barely Alive but the wobbles are more vulgar now. The song is pure wobbles in a way that makes it border on a self-parody. It’s a trite expression, but it assaults the ears with wobbles more producers are killing for. It also changes as it goes on. Hopefully this trend will continue.

25. Insane Clown Posse – Mr. White Suit

They were never as bad as people said they are. They have a lot of horrible songs, but they also have a unique approach to Hip-Hop. No one sounds like them and no song by them sounds like “Mr. White Suit”. It’s a joyous song about a character who makes everyone’s life perfect. It has 3 hooks, all of which are incredibly catchy. The lyrics got no hidden messages about killing or kinky sex or bad humor. If this song was made by any other group, it’d get some acclaim.

24. The Prodigy – Medicine

The popularity of The Prodigy is baffling and obvious at the same time. They borrowed enough from Hip-Hop, Rock and Dance at an era where they all dominated the mainstream. Yet there’s something heavy about them. Their music is creative but it always takes a backseat to beating up the listener. “Medicine” is the best example of this from the new album. The vocals are what make the song. They sound wrong, like the singer is high on some drug and is probably talking to someone who isn’t there. I’m sure people have lots of great sex in their shows but songs like these make it feel like everyone just wants to beat each other up.

23. Faith No More – Cone of Shame

Thank God Patton discovered his voice again. He’s a brilliant musician who often gets caught up in being weird. “Cone of Shame” is an old-fashioned weird Nu Metal song with progressive elements. It builds slowly until it explodes into a climax where Patton alternates between screaming and singing in a clean, beautiful way. This isn’t weirdness for weirdness’ sake but an idea that changes and eventually concludes.

22. Bring Me the Horizon – Oh No

Listen to this and then listen to their debut. How many bands did such a radical change? Most of the new album is still rock, but this detour into gentle EDM is the complete opposite of their beginning and makes perfect sense. They borrow more from Nu Metal now anyway. There’s a unique class of break-up songs that sound both triumphant, accepting, sad and angry at the same. Sykes mourns the end while telling his lover to fuck off with a beautiful chorus that, hopefully, won’t be remixed in an Avicii song.

21. Papa Roach – Gravity

By this point, Papa Roach are a stadium rock band. That’s okay, because Shaddix is a good vocalist and they know how to write a hook. This attempt at making Hip-Hop again (And it’s their most Hip-Hop orientated song yet), like Horizon’s aforementioned track, is weird but they sound comfortable in it. Shaddix was one of the weaker rappers of the scene but here his voice is clear and he sounds like he missed rapping. The chorus is beautiful, too, sounding more tender than anything they made recently. It’s both a moment of tenderness and experimentation in the middle of an ordinary stadium rock album.

20. Carly Rae Jepsen – I Really Like You

Carly shouldn’t be a big thing. She makes simple, joyous Pop music about liking boys. Since now every Pop artist has a statement to make, her simple take on Pop is a statement on its own. Now that we forgot the endless parodies of “Call Me Maybe” we can enjoy this music for what it is. Until I heard this, I didn’t realize how much we needed this type of music. Carly sounds so happy as she repeats the word ‘really’ over and over. It’s a break from the Pop singers who are fine with misogyny to be with the cool guys and the messy personalities of Del Rey and Martinez. Now, I love the latter (the former can die) but we need this, too. Carly won where Swift lost. Unlike Swift, she sounds human, confused and excited about love.

19. Excision – Live Wire

Exicison used this as the final track for his mix. It’s not just because it’s brilliant, but because it disposes of all build-ups. The previous Bass Music tracks on this list still have breaks between the dros. Once “Live Wire” kicks in, it switches tempos constantly and proves how such a tiny change makes the same sounds feel different. “Live Wire” doesn’t add anything new, but it shows a producer perfecting his genre.

18. Primitive Race – Long in the Tooth

I’m glad someone decided 90’s Industrial Rock needs to come back. Everything that made that scene great is here. Raymond Watts is still an arresting personality with his vocals – menacing, badass and sexual in a way that sounds antisexual. The formula remains the same. Write a rock song and find enough bizarre mechanical sounds to stretch it to 5 minutes. Some genres are confining, but Industrial Rock isn’t.

17. Melanie Martinez – Dollhouse

I don’t get how Martinez isn’t bigger. Most Pop stars, even the sad ones, are personalities that society loves. Del Rey and Tove Lo have their troubles but if they were outcasts, they couldn’t complain about sex with bad guys. Martinez is an outcast, and just that makes her more original than all the rest. “Dollhouse” isn’t her best song but it’s the definitive one. It captures her aesthetics its themes. Her obsession with things having a nice cover to hide the terrible is here. The melody sounds like a nursery rhyme and the lyrics talk about a family which is dysfunctional underneath their perfect exterior. She could be more subtle, but there’s enough venom even in her worst lines to make them effective.

16. Fall Out Boy – Centuries

If you’re a rock band who fills up stadiums, songs about heartbreak start becoming less believable. You got groupies in the back. “Centuries” is a stadium anthem that sounds sincere. It’s the cockiest Rock song since Kid Rock’s Rap-Rock album. It makes most rappers sound humble. Stumpg goes on and on about how we will remember him for centuries and then others they’ll disappear soon. If I made a song as good as this, I’d be cocky too.

15. Crazy Town – Lemonface

Yes, they returned. They got critical backlash mostly for being in a genre that didn’t have a loty of mainstream bands. Their brand of Rap-Rock was closer to the wide-eyed approach of PWEI and Urban Dance Squad. “Lemonface” sees them going Industrial Rock, which they always flirted with anyway. You’ll hate it if you hate that brand of cocky angst rock that was big in the 90’s, but there’s something fun about how aggressive and happy it is at the same time.