Monday, September 16, 2013

Album Review Quickies: September 2013

September has been an absolutely ridiculous month for music. With great albums coming out from the likes of CHVRCHES, The 1975, Nine Inch Nails, Machinedrum, and countless others, there are too many to cover with the few writers we have. So, here's a quick rundown of three which might pique your interest:

Album Rating: A
The Naked and Famous - In Rolling Waves

Let me be the first to express what I'm sure many people's reactions will be to the new The Naked And Famous album: Holy shit. I mean, Passive Me, Aggressive You was pretty good, sure, but this kind of improvement is almost unprecedented. Easily the electro-pop album of the year so far, In Rolling Waves is a fully interconnected, savvy, and intense release which demonstrates beautifully what the group's sound can be at best. A pop album at its core, the release has its catchy moments (the sing-along lead single "Hearts Like Ours, the laid-back "In Rolling Waves), but its really impressive moments come along at wholly unexpected times. Take the perfect crescendo of "To Move With Purpose," which has nearly unprecedented patience in a pop song as the beast slowly builds, adding kick, midrange, and vocals one by one until it finally explodes into a cascade of synth chords and dance beats. The male-female duet of "Mess" works in much the same way, restraining itself and adding on layer upon layer of distortion until the thing breaks loose in a beautiful display of pop music genius. In Rolling Waves comes as a much-needed shock to a somewhat stagnant electro-pop scene, and most of all it's a great example of pop music done right.

Album Rating: B+
Chipzel - Spectra

As we said in our Artist of the Day post, Spectra is probably the best by-the-book chiptune album of the past few years. It's surprisingly varied and deep, especially given the whole thing was basically made in a 20-year-old program (Little Sound DJ). Its "complextro" feel and sultry distorted harmonies carries it through territory only charted by the best, and it's really nice to see that what's worked on past releases for Chipzel still works today. There's something for everyone with an affinity for 8-bit here, be it upbeat bangers like "Sonnet," a novel take on brostep like "Aurora Borealis," or clicky, suave DnB like "The Art of War." Granted, the LP's not quite as coherent or interesting as some of the all-time greats like Sabrepulse and Anamanaguchi, but it shows a young producer well on her way to hitting the big time. Judging by the support this has been getting, that "big time" shouldn't be far off.

Album Rating: B
Ariana Grande - Yours Truly

Some big-shot corporate exec is no doubt raking it in right now after playing the card of "Remember that red-headed chick from Victoria Justice's old show? Buy her music! She kinda sounds like Mariah Carey!" However, while the album really could have tanked hard, it's surprisingly butter-smooth and a beautiful throwback to a better time. If I had to come up with a catch-all for the album, I'd say "sleek, urbane Disney pop:" the thing conjures images of Cinderella in a stunning one-shouldered sparkly blue dress stepping out onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, glass slippers and all, ready to kill some classic RnB-styled pop tunes (and yes, I do realize she’s from a Nickelodeon show, not Disney). Just listen to the sugar-sweet standout "Piano" and its fluffy lyrics about dancing to the radio: if the string-like synths and baby grand chords don't evoke some sort of nostalgia, something's wrong. Or the '50s-meets-early-'00s album opener "Honeymoon Avenue" - its glimmering harmonies shine brilliantly in the evening sun. Apart from some major missteps (looking at you, "Popular Song") Yours Truly is surprisingly one of the better pop albums of 2013, and it's worth a listen if you miss the pop music of the past.

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