harry styles

“Sign of the Times” Harry Styles

Harry Styles

“Sign of the Times” Track Review

Erskine/Columbia/Sony Music

Released April 7, 2017

Genre: Piano Rock, Soft Rock, Glam Rock

Harry Styles packs a stunning amount of talented musicianship and solid songwriting in this stunning, nearly six-minute ballad ahead of his debut solo record, out May 12. The song is huge departure from the shallow and uninspired lyricism of One Direction, and instead tackles mature topics of permanence, relationships, and loyalty. The result is a poignant track that never falters or drags within its six minute length. Styles’ vocals are fantastic and passionate, and the music harkens back to the days of 70s soft rock/glam rock, to the likes of Elton John and David Bowie.

Who knew that Styles had this in him? Considering the weaker outputs of his former band-mates (Zayn Malik, Niall Horan), it’s assured that Styles solo endeavor is headed towards a more interesting direction that can help shake off the boy-band image from his back. I have to give credit due where its due; this is by no means groundbreaking or defining, it’s simply a solid single for a debut solo career that I cannot wait to see flourish in the direction that is is headed in.

SCORE: YAY

hippo campus

“Landmark” Hippo Campus

Hippo Campus

Landmark Album Review

Grand Jury Music

Released February 24, 2017

Genre: Indie Rock, Indie Pop

Minnesota quartet Hippo Campus have been sneakily lingering on the underground music scene, with only a handful of singles and EPs to carry their name for as long as it has. The band makes bouncy and shamelessly derivative indie rock for the Onitsuka/beanie/argyle indie-rock crowd. You can honestly get this band mixed up with the plethora of up-and-coming acts opening for indie titans worldwide, and no one would be enraged. They are, without a doubt, a by-the-books indie rock band. However, this debut offers sweet, catchy, and breezy tracks that you should, at least, dip your toe into.

The presumptive song of the summer “Way It Goes” is a breezy and jubilant affair, and one that begins this album on a buoyant note. Lead vocalist Jake Luppen’s strange vocal approach and the bright, bouncy chords are sure to make one smile; it’s hard to have negative dispositions when listening to this song, honestly. “Vines” is a smooth jam, complete with electronic keys hiding in the back, and highlights the clean production. The horns on “Boyish” highlight the bombastic energy these guys can conjure, and is a standout. Hippo Campus can craft a by-the-books indie rock song, and add some startling country and electronic flair to add some small variety. However, the variety is just that: small.

However, the band are too middle-of-the-road to go beyond niche tracks that rely on catchy hooks, memorable riffs, and the “by chance” bell or whistle. “Simple Season” sounds like a parody of a stereotypical indie song; and “Interlude” is rather unnecessary for it comes near the end and does nothing to thematically add anything to the album.

There are a few tracks here that shine, but Hippo Campus remain relatively nondescript – stuck in the same formula track after track after track.

FAV TRACKS: Way It Goes, Vines, Boyish, Buttercup

LEAST FAV TRACK: Simple Season

SCORE: 6.0/10

DrakeMoreLifeofficial

“More Life” Drake

Drake

More Life Playlist Review

Cash Money/Republic Records/OVO Sound

Released March 18, 2017

Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B, Dancehall, Sad Tings Ay

Aubrey Graham’s first full-length release since early 2016, More Life sounds more like a continuation or addendum of the themes established in Views than its own living, breathing creation.  In short, Aubrey Graham teamed up with British artists Giggs, Skepta, Jorja Smith, and Sampha, and released “One Dance (Extended Version)” in the form of a tiresome 22 tracks, clocking in at 82 minutes.  The sad ting is that Views is just as long, and just as boring, yet he released More Life anyway.

OK, so I definitely just generalized the hell out of this playlist, but that’s all it is—Drake back at it again, being Drake.  This music is PERFECT for putting on in the background, even falling asleep to, but not really for listening.  The second that I try to seriously listen to “Free Smoke”, “No Long Talk”, or “Blem”, I can’t help but laugh.  There’s no question that Drake has sold out at this point, when he has to rip flows from small artists—listen to Xxxtentacion’s “Look At Me!” and then “KMT”.  He attempts to remain relevant, collaborating with artists such as Quavo, Travis Scott, Young Thug, and Kanye West, all of whom have strong followings in the world of rap, but Drake is still the Taylor-Swift-crooning Apple Music poster boy.  The one thing Drake has going for him with this playlist is variety, working the spectrum from dancehall to grime, even sampling Earth, Wind & Fire’s soulful “Devotion”.

Overall, More Life is not awful, but it doesn’t do anything special. If you like Drake, give it a listen, perhaps you will find a new reason why you don’t typically admit to liking Drake.  If you don’t like Drake, this playlist won’t offend you, but it would never come close to convincing you to like his music. To be honest, I like his music, and this is what More Life did for me.

FAV TRACKS: Free Smoke, Passionfruit, Get It Together, 4422, Fake Love

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Blem, Skepta Interlude, Nothings Into Somethings, KMT

SCORE: 5.0/10

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“Greatest Hits” Remo Drive

Remo Drive

Greatest Hits Album Review

Self-Released

Released March 16, 2017

Genre: Indie Rock, Power Pop, Emo

When this website started, I was aggressively listening to bands that were at the time recent additions to Topshelf Record’s roster. Bright and fun 90’s emo (a la Braid, American Football) influenced bands. While those bands are still near and dear to my heart, I felt like that scene was running out of ideas. Remo Drive plays a style of music similar to those bands but with such a strong pop sensibility that it feels fresh. Greatest Hits is a great addition to newer emo-influenced music.

Instrumentally, Remo Drive focuses on creating a memorable song more than they do creating pretty “twinkly” guitar parts. Riffs like the ending chorus riff in “Art School” show that the band puts in the extra effort to create something that is palatable to the ears while still being enjoyably angsty. When the bands switches dynamics, they show their compositional diversity and skills. “Yer Killing Me” is the band’s hot hit single in my area and it actually messages back! This song is a short rollercoaster that is a joyride every single second.

The lead singer’s voice can be a LITTLE trying, which understandably comes with the territory of this style of music. I can’t say that it’s not genuine sounding, however. This band for sure also has more greatness in them for the future; the amount of potential is crazy.

FAV TRACKS: Yer Killing Me, Art School

LEAST FAV TRACK: Name Brand

SCORE: (7.4/10)

chainsmokers

“Memories…Do Not Open” The Chainsmokers

The Chainsmokers

Memories… Do Not Open Album Review

Disruptor/Columbia

Released April 7, 2017

Genre: Pop, EDM

Let’s get the final verdict out of the way first and foremost: this sucks. Given our past reviews, it should not be any surprise how lifeless, dull, and un-imaginative The Chainsmokers are within pop music. What does intrigue me about one of the biggest names in pop music, however, is how drastic they have changed from the atrocious “#SELFIE” to here, their debut record: a collection basic, immature, shallow, and somber tunes that bank on a catchy hook more than effort and passion. The cheap attempts at “timeless” romanticism and reflections on regret and relationships have the same amount of depth as a Snapchat filter, and the effort of a Kidz Bop CD. Even their SNL performance’s set design reads off as a teenage girl’s tumblr wet dream.

“Paris,” a track that is not good by any means, but stands out among the pack immensely, holds the elements that I find interesting within The Chainsmokers’ career. The duo composed of Drew Taggert and Alex Pall are shifting the EDM/electro-pop scene away from the obnoxious drops of mid 2010s EDM, and popularizing somber, moody, and lush songs with a starry-eyed dramatic drop. While they are not the first to do this, it’s interesting to see how much of an effect they may have on the EDM scene. There are some pretty chords and samples here. They aren’t terrible musicians, and it’s clear they know what they are doing.

Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make this record good. There’s still a lot of basic emotional topics being explored here that require little to no thought – during and after. Behind the shiny presentation and aesthetic lies a record that BEGS to be taken seriously as meaningful music, and results in the most-laughable attempt at trying to connect with an audience on a deeper level. The Jhene Aiko feature is an awful attempt at spicing up the track-list, and the lyrics to “Break Up Every Night” come off as if written by an eleven-year-old f*ckboy. There is absolutely NO emotional depth to this, and the fact that the youth are romanticizing every dumb lyric these guys write, and following their every move, says a lot about what this generation views as meaningful and as great musicianship than anything else.

The album name says it all: “do not open.”

FAV TRACK: Paris (if i had to pick one)

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Break Up Every Night, It Won’t Kill Ya, Wake Up Alone (feat. Jhene Aiko)

SCORE: (2.0/10)

Dirty_Projectors_2017_album_cover

“Dirty Projectors” Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors Album Review

Domino

Released February 21, 2017

Genre: Alternative R&B

Dirty Projectors return with their 7th album and a completely new sound. This album is no longer venturing into the world of indie rock; David Longstreth trades guitars for synths and keyboards and drum machines for this release. While it is interesting to see him tackle this style with some success, a lot of the album is too busy and multi-layered to connect to.

Songs like “Little Bubble” that aren’t minimalistic or too complicated really shine. This particular song features David’s best vocal performance on the record and the most interesting keyboard part. The melodies are tight and the extra noises add to the ambiance quite well.

Most songs than this album are too busy, however. There is too much glitchiness that doesn’t bode well for the compositions. It’s too noisy and it doesn’t mesh well with the “we just broke up” lyricism. It is well-mixed, however. The production is good for how much is going on. Fans of alternative R&B might appreciate this because it is a harsh juxtaposition of pretty singing and noisy, glitched loud production. The autotune (“Ascent Through Clouds”) was stupid, though.

FAV TRACK: Little Bubble

LEAST FAV TRACK: Ascent Through Clouds

SCORE: (5.0/10)

heatstroke

“Heatstroke (feat. Pharrell, Young Thug, & Ariana Grande)” Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell, Young Thug, & Ariana Grande

“Heatstroke” Track Review

Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

Released March 31, 2017

Genre: Pop,Funk, Soul

It appears Calvin Harris is striking gold, releasing yet another tracks that slaps me in the face. Normally, Calvin Harris’ music irritates and reiterates the same tired trends. But Harris is two-for-two here, with this series of summer-ready tracks. Harris’ carefully picked features, the funky groove, and the irresistible vibe are all here. Young Thug’s zany vocals clash with Pharrell’s smooth croon that lays subtly in the background. They both move out of the way for the sultry touch of Grande’s gorgeous vocals. “Slide” felt like the middle of a party, “Heatstroke” feels like the beginning – a sunny, warm, and undeniably smooth summer jam.

It’s not forced, nor does it feel contrived; it is simply playing the cards right, using the right resources at hand. Is Calvin Harris going to deliver a promising record? It sure looks like it.

SCORE: YAY

KENDRICK

“HUMBLE.” Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar

“HUMBLE.” Track Review

Top Dawg

Released March 24, 2017

Genre: Rap, Hip Hop

 

Kendrick Lamar doesn’t hesitate to almost immediately release another hard-hitting and unabashed insta-hit. “HUMBLE.” is an ironic and certainly not humble, minimalistic – but driving – cut that’s definitely ready for radio and backpackers alike. The beat is not as colorful as Kendrick’s wordplay (“parmesan where my accountant lives” was one of my personal favorite one-liners) but it’s repetitive enough for the airwaves. Kendrick tackles everything from wealth to body positivity. Kendrick is fully aware of how good he is at rapping and isn’t afraid to flaunt it. It’s braggadocio done right, because it doesn’t JUST focus on his newfound wealth. This track will definitely make sense in the grander vision of whatever project comes next, though.

SCORE: YAY

 

summer salt

SUMMER SALT RELEASE “CANDY WRAPPERS”

In preparation for a four-song EP titled So Polite coming out this summer, the ATX – based surf rock trio have previewed a little bit of the good vibes they so effortlessly conjure. The new song, “Candy Wrappers,” is a warm, breezy, and collected jam that neither excites or saddens. It’s bright pop rock with a doo-wop vibe and surf rock tendencies that guarantees nothing but good times and smiles. The vacillation of the gentle vocals and the emphatic chorus, with the sugary sweet guitar licks, make for an addictive three minutes.

Listen below.

real estate

“In Mind” Real Estate

Real Estate

In Mind Album Review

Domino Recordings

Released March 17, 2017

Genre: Dream Pop, Indie Pop, Jangle Pop, Psychedelic Pop Rock

The softly woven guitars, sweet melodies, and malaise-tainted under tones of Atlas provided some perennial songs within Real Estate’s catalog. However, the record felt stale at times – a repeat of what they had always done albeit cleaner and polished. On In Mind, the New Jersey group shift their sound a tad bit; and with a new lineup this shift does a whole lot more than you would think. It’s still the breezy, relaxed, and starry eyed Real Estate you’ve come to know and love, but the expansion of their sound opens up the fold for new depths and details that make for a refreshing and smooth listen. However, it’s done so subtly those who are familiar with their past releases are sure to hear a new sound or two.

The synths on the album opener, “Darling,” make for a more than welcome change; while “Serve The Song” showcases more psychedelic-tinged jangle pop to add texture to the simple song. “Stained Glass” explores Martin Courtney’s relationship with his surroundings, in one of the more urgent and propulsive Real Estate songs. While the weightlessness of Atlas felt calming, the driving nature of this song feels like a much needed improvement while also keeping the band in tune to their sweet melodic instincts. “Two Arrows” is a subtle, Sunday-morning ode that Courtney’s vocals ride effortlessly across. The gentle trod of its beat falls into that feeling when you’re about to fall asleep but your mind is wide awake. Real Estate’s ability to strike into that pocket of consciousness, teetering on the edge of slumber and alertness, is impressive. However, it proves to be a con in the grand scheme of things.

Real Estate’s music can’t help but feel a bit one-noter, the timbre feeling the same throughout. Now this is consistent, but it hinders any fun or surprises. “After The Moon’s” slide guitar does little to engage, and the subtle synths on “Holding Pattern” is an admirable addition to the jangly sound. “Time’s” warped (ha) production helps everything feel stilted and jarring, which proves they are preoccupied with discovering new textures to spice things up. But they’re done so subtly, the album stays pretty middle-of-the-road.

The lack of ambition in Real Estate has proven to be both a great and bad thing. It’s perfectly fine to explore this calm and serene sound that they are working towards perfecting, but to keep their music sounding tone notches apart for each album can provide very little to engage or even have listeners looking to expect something new. A common addendum to every Real Estate conversation is “so just like every Real Estate song?” Every Real Estate album comes with the same jangly swing (“Same Sun”), warm comfort (“Diamond Eyes”), and laid back demeanor (“Saturday”). The group have maintained a consistent repertoire, and their fans know what to expect. it neither offends nor lets down anyone looking for that Real Estate sound. For the best way to take in a Real Estate album is relaxing on a sunny day, or driving on a warm afternoon; neither looking for something new or radical, but merely feeling comfortable in the familiar.

FAV TRACKS: Darling, Stained Glass, Two Arrows, Diamond Eyes

LEAST FAV TRACK: After The Moon

SCORE: (7.0/10)