DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar Review

The time has finally come. I am reviewing a Kendrick Lamar release. How did we get here?

Well, I guess the easiest answer is to start in 2011 with Section.80, the Compton rapper’s debut studio album which, while it hasn’t gone down as a classic, got good reviews at the time, and there’s something to say about Section.80 as a debut. While it is not classic and probably doesn’t deserve to be considered as such, it’s an album that showcases the talent of its young artist. Despite it being sloppy on execution and feeling a little jumpy because it’s an album that’s less than an hour long but has 16 tracks, it at least showed the potential that Kendrick had, and luckily, it did not take very long for that potential to materialize in the form of two well-loved albums, 2012’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City and 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, the latter of which is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Another thing we should’ve gotten from Section.80 is that Kendrick is particularly good at commentary or at least speaking about things that seem very important to him, and then consequently become important to the listener. While the album shouldn’t be hailed as a modern classic, there are songs on here that should get more attention than they do, like “Hol’ Up,” “Ronald Reagan Era” and “Rigamortus.”

Good Kid, m.A.A.d City was most people’s introduction to Kendrick Lamar as it peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 and spawned his first top 20 hit, “Swimming Pools (Drank).” The intense, gritty look at life struck a chord with many listeners (including me) and gave Kendrick the push to the mainstream he needed to totally breakthrough. But even more than that, it showed that Kendrick has the exciting quality and talent to put himself among the great modern rappers. The last half of this album, particularly the epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” show not only Kendrick’s ability, but his drive to go one step beyond for his art. However, while it did not include a hit as big as “Swimming Pools (Drank),” I think many would agree that Kendrick’s artistic peak to this point has been his third album, the impeccable To Pimp a Butterfly.

It’s hard to strip back the years of praise and acclaim and judge To Pimp a Butterfly independently from all of that, but if you think back and remember the first time you heard “The Blacker the Berry” or “How Much A Dollar Cost” or “Alright,” you’ll remember that this album, both as a whole and in parts, is one of the quintessential great modern-era rap albums. Kendrick’s raw talent balanced with his poignant societal observations and consistently incredible production made To Pimp a Butterfly an absolute monster of an album, and people took notice. And if you thought “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” was epic, you should hear “Mortal Man.” To Pimp a Butterfly hit number one, received unreal amounts of acclaim and elevated Kendrick to the top tier of artists in today’s rap scene. So, needless to say, his follow-up has been highly anticipated, and everyone has been clamoring to see how Kendrick could possibly answer to the post-TPAB buzz.

Okay, we sort of got a follow-up with untitled unmastered. but only in the sense that it was the next release from him. It wasn’t a full album, really more of an EP or compilation album, but it was also just demos that didn’t make To Pimp a Butterfly. Thus, it wasn’t really meant to be a follow-up to his last album because the songs were actually recorded during the making of that record. Nonetheless, it’s pretty alright. It’s not To Pimp a Butterfly, but it’s a Kendrick project after all, and in the end, we’ll take what we can get.

But even more than that, in April 2017 we could use a new Kendrick album because there’s been a surprisingly small amount of exciting rap albums during the first third of this year. I mean, you have Culture by Migos, I Decided. by Big Sean (review here) and those two Future releases, but other than that mainstream rap has basically just consisted of an underwhelming Lupe Fiasco album and a completely unnecessary Fat Joe and Remy Ma reunion.

But finally, Kendrick is back with a new album entitled DAMN.. And what do I think of it? Well…

DAMN. is drastically different than anything I’ve heard before, including anything from Kendrick. It is especially different from To Pimp a Butterfly, which is a hip hop album, but inspired by many different albums. DAMN., however, is more of a straight hip hop album than To Pimp a Butterfly. Really this is something we should’ve seen coming, especially considering the lead-off single, “HUMBLE..” “HUMBLE.” is phenomenal and made me even more excited for this album, but I was interested in its direction. And the album itself proves it — this is a hip hop album through and throughout.

I’ll tell you, the thing I was most worried about going into this was the production. There are three Mike Will Made It-produced tracks: “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.,” and “XXX..” As someone who has absolutely never been a fan of Mike Will’s work, this made me cautious for this album, especially because such a big part of all of Kendrick’s albums have been their production. But to my relief, this whole album is expertly produced, including the Mike Will tracks; in fact, “DNA.” is easily one of my favorites here, although only part of that is due to the production.

The entire album is produced by many different people, 18 by my count. That can be a little bit of a bad sign too, although all of Kendrick’s albums are like that. Sometimes it can cause the album to lack cohesion and not work as a piece altogether. That does not happen here. Every track meshes with the ones around it. This album really sounds like a fine-tuned machine. Sharp snares and prominent percussion push this album, but that’s to be expected from Kendrick, and it works fabulously well. There’s a lot of atmosphere to this album, I particularly like the intro to “LUST.” which kind of works as a cool-off after “HUMBLE.,” and it works really well. The whole album hits hard. No complaints.

On this album there are three listed features. The first is Rihanna on the song “LOYALTY..” I will say that this song is not Rihanna’s best work, but “Kiss It Better” is my favorite song of last year, so don’t take that to mean too much. Rihanna knocks it out of the park on “LOYALTY..” It takes someone really into it to match Kendrick’s passion, but Rihanna does it. Her verse is great; her contributions to the chorus are perfect. She’s exactly what the song needed. The second feature is Zacari on “LOVE..” Zacari is more unknown, he is a soul singer/songwriter from California. As someone who was not familiar with Zacari before listening to DAMN., I was very impressed with what I heard. He sounds nice and smooth on “LOVE.,” and the way he and Kendrick play off each other during the hook is an interesting concept. The third is the big one; U2 appears on “XXX..” Bono sings the refrain towards the second half of the song and does a great job. He matches Kendrick’s emotion and adds the emotion to the hook that it needed.

But now it comes down to what really matters about a Kendrick album: Kendrick himself. How is he? Do his bars compare to To Pimp a Butterfly and Good Kid, m.A.A.d City? Is his flow as good as usual?

It should come as a shock to literally nobody that Kendrick confirmed that he is the best alive with DAMN.. There’s a lot of fire moments on this record, for instance, on “DNA.,” “ELEMENT.” and “HUMBLE..” When he needs to calm it down, he excels at that too, like on “PRIDE.,” “YAH.” and “LUST..” His flow is obviously unmatched, and considering a lot of the album is about Kendrick’s status as rap royalty, he needed to show that he is exactly what he says: the best in the game. Yes, I know he says he stays modest, but literally a minute earlier he says “If I quit this season, I still be the greatest” so.

What he’s saying is changing from To Pimp a Butterfly. In fact, a lot of the songs on DAMN. are in response to criticism he received for his last release, specifically by right-wind news outlet Fox News. There’s even a sound-byte of Geraldo Rivera used on “DNA.,” where Kendrick response to accusations that hip hop is more damaging to young African Americans than racism is. “DNA.,” as well as “ELEMENT.,” “HUMBLE.” and a lot of others on the album also talk about Kendrick’s status and place in hip hop, and “FEEL.” touches upon that while he is at his professional peak, that is no compensation for his emotional state. The line between financial and emotional success is often pointed out, but it’s really well-suited for a Kendrick album, and “FEEL.” hits hard because of it. But much like To Pimp a Butterfly and most of Kendrick’s work, there are a lot of references to social issues in America.

After the 2016 Presidential Election, America officially entered the Donald Trump era of its existence, and boy, does Kendrick have some things to say about this. The first explicit reference to Trump happens on “LUST.” when he says, “Tryna tune to the daily news, looking for confirmation, hoping the election wasn’t true.” He goes on to describe the nervousness that has plagued not only him but his community because of these events. The second half of “XXX.” is an even more straight-forward response to the election of Donald Trump. It attempts to create a stark contrast between Obama’s America and Trump’s America, and I think it does a sufficient job. Shockingly enough, Kendrick’s response to Trump wasn’t the most hard-hitting response to Trump I’ve seen in rap music since he announced his candidacy in 2015, but I do appreciate everything here, and “XXX.” has great lyrical moments.

But even besides the specifics, this album is very focused on race and racial issues in America. It, like the Kendrick albums that came before it, speaks on the different ways society has affected the African American community in ways it hasn’t affected the white community. The specific messages change from song to song and are different from those presented on To Pimp a Butterfly, and the presentation slightly changes, but the message remains the same. And many of the comments he has on race are as poignant as To Pimp a Butterfly‘s were in 2015. The outro to “FEAR.,” although it starts a little too goofy in my opinion, finishes in a very poignant and thought-provoking way. And like “FEAR.,” there are tons of lyrical moments on this album that just make you think a little bit.

One of my favorites comes from “BLOOD.,” the album’s opener. It tells a story about a blind woman who suddenly turns from weak to wicked, and I cannot be the only one who looks at it as a metaphor for police brutality in the African American community. The album is pretty much book-ended by very interesting political statements, as the album’s closer, “DUCKWORTH.,” which tells the story of Top Dawg, the man who signed him to his record label, and his father, who had a violent interaction before Top Dawg signed Kendrick. But then something really interesting happens:

It plays a bunch of audio that sounds like the album in reverse. Then, the first line of the album is replayed. This idea illustrates the repetitive nature of the things Kendrick sings about, and how the way Kendrick sees it, none of these problems really have definitive ends.

But another topic Kendrick deals a lot with on this album is religion. This is not the first time a rapper has dealt with religion this year, and while Big Sean dealt with it with more grace and nuance than I ever expected him to, it should be no shock to anyone that Kendrick probably tops him when it comes to thought-provoking discussion of a complicated issue. “PRIDE.” is a great example of the religious themes that appear throughout DAMN.. On “PRIDE.,” Kendrick speaks on pride as a deadly sin, and what pride really means in relation to the concept of a God. The chorus even makes explicit reference to the concept of rebirth. Although the concept of religion comes up throughout the album, the other obvious song to mention here would be “GOD.,” for sure. “GOD.” is similar to “PRIDE.” in that it speaks on Kendrick feeling too much like God. He says on “PRIDE.” that pride is considered a sin because a human with pride can replace the concept of a God. “GOD.” further develops this theme by saying that when he is doing well for himself, he feels like God does, but from “PRIDE.” we know that is not a 100% positive feeling from what Kendrick has been taught.

DAMN. is a complicated record (that I probably did not do justice to), but a DAMN. good one. My issues are minuscule; there are minor things on some songs I had issues with, and I would’ve ordered it a bit differently. To Pimp a Butterfly built up to its huge, intense climax, which is “The Blacker The Berry,” the 13th track. The big climax of DAMN. feels like “DNA.,” which is only the 2nd track. That’s only a minor detail, and I must reiterate that DAMN. is just a great experience all around, from the production to the lyrics to Kendrick’s great flow.

BEST SONGS: “DNA.,” “DUCKWORTH.,” “XXX.,” “HUMBLE.,” “LUST.”

WORST SONGS: “YAH.”

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SPECIAL COMMENT: What “Sign of the Times” Means For Pop Music – And What It Doesn’t Mean

“Sign of the Times” is the debut solo song of Harry Styles, former member of One Direction. From what I can tell, this song is getting widespread acclaim; everyone I know seems to love it. And I must say, even I, a dedicated One Direction hater, kind of love it. It’s got more flavor than I thought it would.

And yet, I can’t spend this post talking about how much I love it. I instead have to address a certain comment that I have seen come up multiple time since this song’s release.

“This song is going to change the music industry.”

I saw this take on Twitter so many times when the song first dropped, and two people actually said it to me directly, and I just had to share my thoughts publicly because this is really getting to me. Firstly, I would like to say that I have no idea where this idea even comes from. I mean, it’s different from other mainstream songs, but “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar debuted at number 2 this week on the Hot 100. It’s been years since a song like “HUMBLE.” has peaked at number 2 let alone debuted there. And yet, nobody is writing Tweets about how Kendrick Lamar’s going to change the music industry forever. So why “Sign of the Times?”

I keep hearing about how brave it was for Harry Styles, the former member of a boy band, to release a song that’s so not pop, and while I agree that it is a surprisingly un-pop song to introduce the world to “Harry Styles, the solo artist,” it’s not like this is anything new. Hanson made this transition over ten years ago. Hell, Zayn released a very not pop debut single and album last year, and everyone seems to forget that even existed.

But what really surprises me about the widespread sharing of this take is that the song doesn’t explicitly invite the idea at all. Sure, a song doesn’t need to outright express its intentions to change the music scene to do it, but it usually helps yield more permanent results. For instance, when everyone thought “Rolling in the Deep” would change the world of music and end will.i.am and Pitbull’s stays on the pop charts, they both just kept trudging along. In fact, the song that seemingly did that actually invited that change explicitly in its lyrics.

Think about it, when you turn on the radio, is every song like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room anymore?

“Royals,” the 2012 Lorde single that topped the Hot 100, dared to call out a materialistic culture and a materialistic music industry. And, not only did people respond positively by listening to the song, the world seemed to actually buy into the changes Lorde sang about wanting to make. will.i.am hasn’t had a hit since right after “Royals” left the charts. Pitbull has had one and it was about being broke and partying, not about wearing gold chains and blowing money. Clearly, “Royals” changed the way we, as a society, listen to music.

And thus, we have my main issue with the opinion that Harry Styles is going to rid the music industry of the faceless pop robots — Lorde already did that. Think about it, are loud, upbeat party jams what every no-name wannabe pop star is gravitating towards anymore? If anything more people are trying to be Lorde than Katy Perry right now. Between 2016 and 2017, the songs that have been popular have been dour, unnerving and usually about something grimmer than partying. Hell, even when they are about partying, they’re still depressing, like Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.” The charts are filled with Lorde wannabes: Daya, Alessia Cara, Julia Michaels, Kiiara, Halsey, Marion Hill. I know I’m not the only one to notice that. Will Harry Styles’ new sound remove that from our radios? Is it trying to?

I am perfectly fine with you holding this opinion, I just really don’t get where it stems from. The take seems to ignore tons of diverse songs on the pop charts, ignore other teen pop stars who have made this transition in the past, but most importantly ignore the fact that someone already led the revolution it speaks of. There is no basis to the thought that the release of “Sign of the Times” is an industry-changing moment.

So, if I’m of the opinion that “Sign of the Times” is emphatically not a revolutionizing smash that will forever change what we know to be the pop music industry, what do I think it is?

“Sign of the Times” is probably better described as a breath of fresh air. It calls back to the glam rock of the 70s and, to its credit, does sound unlike many other things on the radio. “Sign of the Times” is also a turning point for the career of Harry Styles, even if I don’t think it is for the industry as a whole. It also is just a damn good song that legitimately surprised and impressed me, and I don’t understand why we can’t let songs just be good songs.

But it’s not even like “Sign of the Times” is completely unique in how it sounds or I haven’t heard a popular song try something like this in recent years. Lady Gaga, for instance, has two 70s rock-inspired power ballads from earlier in the decade, “Speechless” and “You and I.” Really, it seems more like Harry Styles is riding in on the coattails of Lady Gaga rather than starting his own trend, as “Sign of the Times” also kinda reminds me of some of the tracks from Joanne like “Dancing in Circles” or “Angel Down.” Hell, retro songs are huge right now as shown by countless successful singles by Bruno Mars and The Weeknd that call back to earlier eras and their music.

If Rihanna’s next album is a send-up to glitter rock or Ed Sheeran starts wearing his hair like Marc Bolan’s, you can come back and call me wrong. I just don’t see the proof that “Sign of the Times” is anything but a really good debut single that shows potential for its artist. I think our society has a habit of acting really extremely to things even when there’s little to no basis for such a prediction as “it will change the world.”

I guess what I’m trying to say about “Sign of the Times” is…

It will never be “Royals.”

Pure Comedy by Father John Misty Review

I do not care about The Chainsmokers. I care about Father John Misty. So this is what you’re getting. Sorry not sorry.

Josh Tillman is an indie rock singer/songwriter from Maryland whose debut album, Untitled No. 1, was released in 2003. However, 2012’s Fear Fun was the first album he released under the moniker Father John Misty, so that’s where we’re gonna start.

Fear Fun is a damn excellent album to introduce the world to Father John Misty. Its combination of folk and indie rock influence results in a diverse nice-sounding album. However, beneath the softer tone, any further reading into Fear Fun will show the deep dark place from which Father John Misty writes. For instance, “Nancy From Now On” uses Holocaust imagery to refer to the narrator’s own depression with the line, “I’ve got my write hand stamped, in the concentration camp where my organs scream, ‘Slow down, man!'”

“Nancy From Now On” serves as a good example of what you’re going to get from Fear Fun. If you often complain about things being melodramatic or too over-the-top, this album is not for you. Hell, then Father John Misty is not for you. However, if you appreciate the big, grand emotions shown from that song, mixed with the quieter acoustic production, you’ll probably dig most of Fear Fun and Father John Misty’s stuff. I, personally, am a big fan of what he does on the album and the way his career looked after the name change. Our introduction to Father John Misty was strong, and all we could hope was that he didn’t slow down with his next release, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear.

The follow-up, as we now know, could not have been better, as I Love You, Honeybear was where I, as well as many others, discovered Father John Misty because it was commonly considered one of 2015’s best albums. And in hindsight, it absolutely deserved that praise and more.

Fear Fun is a great album, but I Love You, Honeybear is just as much a statement as it is an album. It is one of the most personal albums I’ve ever heard, and it perfectly walks the line between the more dramatic, grand side of things and its tight and toned sounds. The album follows not only his own relationship with his wife, but his feelings about the overall concept of relationship. And despite all of the songs and songs of misery and gloom, he focuses on love, which saves him from that despair.

I Love You, Honeybear was a gutsy release, and after it paid off for Father John Misty, we had to wait two years for a third release. But on April 7, we got it, Pure Comedy. As soon as we knew anything about Pure Comedy, we knew it would more closely follow the path set by I Love You, Honeybear rather than the one set by Fear Fun. In the announcement of the album, Josh Tillman included an essay about the symbolic nature of the album, so we knew we’d be in for a treat. With all of this in mind, does Pure Comedy mark a return to brilliance for Father John Misty, or will everyone with high expectations be disappointed?

Actually, something I completely didn’t expect happened. I think Father John Misty just released his best album.

Pure Comedy exists as a natural follow-up to I Love You, Honeybear and one that I, in hindsight, totally should have expected. I Love You, Honeybear is deeply personal and speaks about the life of its artist. However, Pure Comedy is a comment on the society and culture that its artist lives in. Pure Comedy offers scathing critiques of many aspects of American life and even human life. This album speaks poignantly on so many different topics – religion, the Internet, social issues, political polarization. Agree or disagree with the takes Father John Misty has on each of these, it has to be admitted that he knows what he’s doing. Everything is framed perfectly and allows the listener a full-on look into the perspective and opinions of Father John Misty himself.

“Ballad of the Dying Man” is a natural starting point for a discussion on this album because it’s one of the clearest examples of his lyrical commentary throughout the record and one of the more political tracks.. “Ballad of the Dying Man” is about a man, the narrator, who fears that after his death, there will be nobody else policing the world socially in the ways he did. It is very much a comment on the pretentious nature of many of the people who criticize others online for social stances, whether they’re calling out homophobes and the 1% or hipsters and false feminists. Political stance doesn’t matter, it’s about the narcissistic nature of our culture, how everyone thinks its their opinion that matters more than everyone else’s.

And because this album speaks more to global issues than just the life of one man, it’s harder to pinpoint one general topic to discuss when it comes to Pure Comedy; once we start talking about the commentary in one, there’s a completely different commentary being made in the next track. But every one of his standpoints deserve discussion because of how well thought they all are.

For instance, many songs deal with politics like “Ballad of the Dying Man” does, but that’s not a rule for every track. “Total Entertainment Forever” is a good example of a song that breaks that trend. “Total Entertainment Forever” speaks of a future society where the technology and virtual world that humanity is getting increasingly obsessed with surpasses our real lives and takes top priority, where VR sex with Taylor Swift becomes more important than drugs, religion and even love. “Total Entertainment Forever” similarly criticizes culture, but rather than for political reasons, it’s for reasons of other general behavioral reasons.

Both “Ballad of a Dying Man” and “Total Entertainment Forever” are very general and broad commentaries about global culture, but that’s not so for the entire album. “Leaving LA,” for example, is a comment on Los Angeles specifically and delves into a criticism of himself as though to show that nothing is safe from criticism on this record. When he describes himself as “a little less human with each release,” he allows the listener to read into his own deep anxieties about how fame, success and praise might change him as a person.

And “Leaving LA” helps to show one other thing; while there’s really no one consistent message or subject matter that Father John Misty is speaking about on this album, there’s one general idea, and Father John Misty just uses different messages and subject matters to develop that idea. The idea is that, through the narrator’s eyes, the world is imperfect, and nothing can safe the citizens of the world from its imperfections besides noticing the injustice for themselves. That’s why, despite being a whopping 13 minutes long, “Leaving LA” never feels stale or loses its freshness. It’s because all of the little points he makes helps to build one greater one, the desperation of not only Hollywood culture, but the narrator himself because of what Hollywood culture has done to him. The song’s theme is not “society is like this” or “I am like this,” but rather “society is like this, and that’s why I’ve become like this, and this is how all of that makes me feel.” I think that is an idea that is more complex and interesting than either of the other alternatives, and it’s themes like the one on “Leaving LA” that makes Pure Comedy the exhilarating listen that it is.

And that’s the main reason I think I prefer Pure Comedy to I Love You, Honeybear. Whereas I probably feel more personal connect to I Love You, HoneybearPure Comedy is less of one man’s story and attempts to fill a bigger void. Because its ambitions are higher, the reward the listener reaps is greater. I Love You, Honeybear is one man’s story; Pure Comedy uses one man’s story to tell a greater, more important story.

This idea is very clearly shown through “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” which itself is close to 10 minutes long. The song uses its narrator’s story not only to comment on the narrator’s life, but how he sees the world. To the narrator, his glorification of childhood and remaining youthful is normal because that’s how society has always taught him to act. Because of the way his culture has acted since he was little, he does not have to take responsibility for his own actions and realize that it is in fact very bad that he will never become an adult. The world’s glamorizing of youth culture has made youth culture harder to let go of, and it makes the narrator blame anyone but himself for his problems. This makes “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” a perfect example of how Father John Misty uses the stories of one person to develop a tale about society and societal issues.

And while the stories of this album generally all follow one subject, they’re all comments on society. That’s where the differences between this and his last album lie. Pure Comedy has something bigger in mind than just his story; it’s his story as it relates to how society and culture works both nationally and globally.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the lyrical aspects of this album, and that’s mainly because that’s why I listen to Father John Misty; his ideas and his thoughts are beautifully deep and inspired. However, musically, this album is up there with the best albums of the decade as well. Much like other Father John Misty albums, this album’s production is stripped down and mainly acoustic, focusing on acoustic guitars and pianos rather than loud electronic keyboards or electric guitars. But I think the lower key instrumental matches Josh Tillman’s vocals and lyrics perfectly and helps add to a more dower mood, while making the album surprisingly easy to listen to for such a deep, intensely conceptual piece. While on a purely phonic basis, Pure Comedy and the discography of Father John Misty in general will not be the most exciting or in-your-face musical experience of your life, it’s important to note that this is a very musically well-made album, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Father John Misty record.

Vocally, Josh Tillman has always known how to exactly match his moods, and Pure Comedy is no different. However, there are some unique and interesting choices that add to the album’s atmosphere, like the gospel-inspired backing vocals in “Ballad of the Dying Man.”

It’s hard to say any album from this decade so far has topped what Pure Comedy reaches, every song seems better than the last and every element seems to match the others perfectly. This album was reportedly recorded over a year ago, in March of 2016, but there was just so much time and care put into perfecting it that it wasn’t released until April of 2017. And I’ll tell you something; if that’s what it took to create this masterpiece, I’m okay with Father John Misty and company taking as much time as they need to put out albums because this is an instant classic.

It seems wrong, and actually impossible, to choose the best and worst songs from this album, so I’m not going to. I will tell you that this album is a clear A+ in my mind, and if anything comes between this and the best album of the year title by December, I’d be surprised. An album this poignant, well thought-out and awe-inspiring deserves all of the credit it can be given, and while I don’t anticipate this being the most popular album of the year, I recommend everyone check out Pure Comedy and the complete works of Father John Misty because this is a sensational album by a sensational artist.

Please check this album out and remember to come back and check out (at this point EXTREMELY PERIODIC) album reviews… I’m trying my best here.

SPECIAL COMMENT: Does Artpop Suck?

So I’m sitting watching the Super Bowl LI halftime show and experiencing the awesomeness that is Lady Gaga, remembering why I love her as much as I do. But something else came to my head: Artpop.

And thus, a retrospective was born. Is Lady Gaga’s controversial third album awful or is there some hidden genius there? Not only did it receive reviews from critics at the time that were mixed at best, it wasn’t a huge smash either. People like to pretend like Joanne was the first underperforming Lady Gaga pop project, but Artpop wasn’t even in the top 100 of Billboard’s Year-End Hot 200 for 2013, or the top 40 for the year after. Clearly, Artpop isn’t the Gaga album that’s remembered in the best light.

But the question remains, does it suck?

Well, I get why everyone freaked out. It’s weird. It’s about sex and drugs and gender and fame and addiction and by far the darkest of Gaga’s four solo studio albums. So it’s certainly full of ideas, and many of the ideas are quality ideas.

“G.U.Y.,” for instance, is not a great song on execution, I’ll be the first to admit it. However, she’s singing about a sexual relationship where gender is irrelevant. She refers to herself as a “G.U.Y.” and the man as a “G.I.R.L.,” both obviously being acronyms for other things, but it still represents a disconnect between the sexual relationship shared between the two and their genders.

Similarly, “Sexxx Dreams” plays with social perceptions of sexuality and gender in sexual songs. In a heteronormative society, you expect Lady Gaga’s song entitled “Sexxx Dreams” to be about Lady Gaga being with a guy. But, that might not be the case. There is a possibility that this song is about Lady Gaga having an affair with another woman, who has a boyfriend. The other distinct possibility is that she is having an affair with a man who has a boyfriend. Either way, she’s playing with the audience’s expectations and pushing boundaries.

Both of those songs are brave for Gaga and push limits for the mainstream, and it doesn’t stop there. “Swine” is a deeply angry, almost urgent-sounding song about rape. This song is reveals a side of Gaga that has gone unrevealed on basically every other release of her career, a hateful side. It is by far the angriest song Gaga has ever made, and every thing about it pushes against expectations and norms, much like a majority of the album.

Similarly, there are surprising dark themes hidden in “Mary Jane Holland,” which sounds like an uplifting party song about smoking pot. That is not the case. It is Gaga running away from her feelings because she likes herself better when she’s high. Despite those who care about her worrying and telling her she’s become a mess, she’s never going to be able to stop smoking because she prefers that version of herself. That’s a darker message than you would expect from a Lady Gaga song about weed. This song is immediately followed by “Dope,” which is similar in theme. It’s about how, while she’s addicted to “dope,” she’s more addicted to a person. It’s interesting that she chose that word because it’s short for dopamine, referring to the body chemical released in moments of happiness and pleasure, creating an irony to how awful she feels. It’s the most down-tempo song on the album and sounds very sad, once again showing a sort of mixed connotation with marijuana, which is a theme that part of this album focuses on.

In concept, all of these songs are very brave and interesting. I appreciate the idea between each one. The issue comes with the songs surrounding these. Songs like “Venus” and “Fashion!” lack a deeper meaning and create tonal issues throughout the whole album. I kinda like the idea of the I’m-okay-just-gonna-party song following “Swine,” it’s an idea that portrays recovery. However, a lot of the other tonal shifts do not follow as much sense and logic, which presents an issue throughout the record. It’s not cohesive. It’s not coherent. It’s not the album statement that it appears it’s trying to be. It’s a major issue, but I don’t think that’s the problem that attracted the hate for this album. I think that has to do with how this record sounds.

Joanne was criticized for being all over the place phonically, and there’s something to that. Hell, I mentioned it in my review (shameless plug). The down-tempo emotional ballad, “Million Reasons,” awkwardly sat next to the loud party anthem that is “Perfect Illusion.” However, I would rather hear slightly lazy variety than blatant monotony. Conversely, Artpop has one mode. LOUD.

With the exception of “Dope,” every album has a peak energy level of 10, which is fine, but every once in a while I would like a break. But even more than that, this constant in-your-face quality of Artpop sort of makes all of the songs morph into each other in your mind after you listen to this album. I’ve heard this album TONS of times in my life, and I still struggle to distinguish or even hum some of the tunes.

The Fame, Gaga’s debut album, is also an energy-packed album, but it serves as an example of how to do a consistently energetic album in a better way than Artpop. With the exception of maybe “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say),” The Fame is also an album loaded with energy and passion, but that energy manifests itself in different ways. “Paparazzi” would never be mistaken for “Just Dance,” if you get what I’m saying. There’s different kinds of energy displayed throughout The Fame, whereas with Artpop, I really meant what I said: the only mode it operates on is LOUD.

These are all reasons why, of Gaga’s four solo studio albums, Artpop is easily the hardest to judge, and in a lot of ways, the hardest to understand. I would say this is Lady Gaga’s most complicated piece, dealing with scattered emotions and moods throughout basically all 59 minutes of music. Additionally, it’s probably her worst. It’s her sloppiest, for sure, and lacks cohesion that is present on other Gaga releases, plus the music gets grating pretty fast.

So, what’s the concrete answer here? Does Artpop suck?

No.

It’s not great, but it doesn’t suck. It’s just… complicated.

I Decided. by Big Sean Review

I have, let’s say, “mixed feelings” about Big Sean. In a lot of ways, I think Big Sean is trying to be Drake. Or at least, when Big Sean released his first studio album in 2011, he was trying hard to be Drake. Drake’s first big hit, “Best I Ever Had,” came out two years prior and showed off both his skills as a smooth R&B crooner and as someone who can just rap. Big Sean may have wanted to be this too, at first. I mean, that first album, Finally Famous, starts with a R&B introduction, but it’s very much a hip hop album.

I think a lot of what is holding him back from being one of the biggest things on the planet like Drake is how strange and corny he can get. The easy example on Finally Famous is his first hit, “Dance (A$$).” However, if you actually listen to the whole album, you’ll find examples throughout. “I Do It” is filled with these terrible puns and references throughout, some of which don’t even make any sense. “I’m Quagmire, I fuck hoes, my cash flow I giggity-get it” is one of the most surreally terrible lyrics I can remember, except maybe “Cuz them bitches look like Bobby Bonilla,” from the end of “Live This Life,” another song off Finally Famous.

Is that album a good-for-nothing piece of crap? No. Not at all, actually. There are moments where Big Sean showed potential to be one of the best in the game. “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” is my personal favorite when it comes to Sean’s contributions, but overall, “Wait For Me” featuring Lupe Fiasco would be the best song on the album, ignoring that awful outro, so instead it’s “Memories (Part II)” with John Legend. Anyway, Big Sean can be really great but is inconsistent, and lets corny punchlines get in the way of his great flow. We shouldn’t have been surprised by this, just look at his mentor.

Kanye West is the best rapper of all time when he’s on. No rapper has ever topped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but we all know Kanye has his off days too. And Big Sean suffers from the same issues. That makes their first collaboration, “Marvin & Chardonnay” with Roscoe Dash, kind of a mess.

And, while the Drake comparison still stands, I think Sean opens himself up to Kanye comparisons a lot of the time too. His corny puns laced through admittedly ambitious rap and R&B songs remind me a lot of Kanye, I mean he even collaborates with John Legend on his first album. I think he wants those comparisons at this point.

After Finally Famous, Big Sean’s albums kept getting more and more critical acclaim and that’s not shocking to me. They, for the most part, keep getting darker and more ambitious, but probably a lot less fun. My favorite songs on Finally Famous also happen to be my favorite Big Sean songs. There are songs off his second album, Hall of Fame, that are pretty fun; “Fire” is a good example. But for the most part it’s just a moodier album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is probably Kanye’s moodiest album and it’s easily his best, but its moodieness and its ambition pays off. There’s less pay off with Hall of Fame because his music is just not as smart or impressive as Kanye’s. Plus, when he’s trying to be moody and intense, he still has those awful punchlines, like on “10 2 10” when on the hook he says, “I woke up workin’ like I’m Mexican.” It’s also problematic when super serious songs are followed by songs like “MILF” featuring Nicki Minaj and Juicy J, which is a joke that last way too long and has way too dark a beat to be funny at all.

It’s just clear Big Sean doesn’t have the subtlety and nuance necessary for the tone he’s going for on Hall of Fame to work, or at least he didn’t in 2013 when it was released. In a lot of ways, I’d call his 2015 release Dark Sky Paradise even more dark and gritty. And I’d say it has a lot of the same problems and even some new ones, but I’d call it easily his best release.

While songs like the big hit, “I Don’t Fuck With You” featuring E-40, are goofier than he probably wants them to be, he nails the darker tone on a lot of these album. This is most evident on the album opener, “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” but happens throughout. He also decided to work with some notoriously not-very-good producers on this album, DJ Mustard and Mike Will Made It particularly, but overall the album achieves a cohesive tone more than any either Finally Famous or Hall of Fame.

That all leads us into I Decided., Big Sean’s February 2017 release. Before it even came out, we knew it was going to be, in Sean’s own words, a concept album and centered around the idea of rebirth. So we knew we would probably see a darker take than we ever had from Sean before on this album, and this was confirmed (kind of) by “Bounce Back,” the lead single. It’s not about rebirth at all, and it is about partying but it’s about making mistakes, learning from them and “bouncing back,” which I guess could be a rebirth metaphor. The song keeps growing on me. It has a nice idea and it flows really well. Then came “Moves,” which is just ridiculous and I have no idea how it’ll fit inside a rebirth theme. The best of the three lead singles is “Halfway Off The Balcony,” which is actually just a promotional single, but it shows off Sean’s serious side best. Overall, I had no idea how I’d feel about this album. Now that I’ve heard it:

This probably is the closest to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that Big Sean will get, and it is nowhere near as good as that album. However, there’s something to be said here past that comparison. This album is not great, but it has its moments, for sure.

Big Sean nails the tone on this album, which is impressive for him. This is probably the most cohesive album he’s ever made, even more cohesive than Dark Sky Paradise. With that being said, he something confuses seriousness for whininess. The first minute and a half of “Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan” serves as a great example of when he lets his mood get out of hand. It’s serious, but it’s also boring. “Moves” is far from the best on this album, but at least it’s not so serious that it gets boring. Fortunately, “Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan” is saved by a terrific last verse, one of the highlights of the album.

This album is a bit of a mixed bag. With the tone that he admittedly nails, he pumps out a few incredible songs. “Light” featuring Jeremih starts immediately after the intro and honestly sets the bar way too high for this album to reach as a whole. While “Bounce Back” is about overcoming a bad night, “Light” is about overcoming hate throughout your whole life, and I’ve heard few rappers who can sell this as well as Big Sean does. This sort of theme of fighting adversity appears often on the album, and a lot of times it creates some of the album’s best moments.

“Sunday Morning Jetpack” may be my favorite on the album, and it’s about memories from his past, some good and some bad. It describes how he’s gotten to the point he’s at in some part due to his mother and his grandmother, but in some part due to God. It is the deepest, most reflective song of Big Sean’s career, and I absolutely love it. Albeit, it’s far from Sean’s peak on the album from a flow perspective.

I mentioned the final verse on “Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan” later, but his verse on “Sacrifices” featuring Migos is also a great example of his flow being clearer and faster than ever. Unfortunately, this song is brought down by the feature, specifically the sloppy, uninteresting verse provided by Quavo. Sean is really trying to lift this song up, as his continues the theme of overcoming the struggles of his past, but Migos just make me inclined to say that this song leaves a little bit to be desired.

But Migos are far from the only feature on the album. The biggest one, the most important one, appears right at the beginning of the album. The fourth track, “No Favors,” features Eminem.

That’s not who I’m referring to, though. I’m referring to Jeremih on “Light.”

No. Really.

“Light” features Jeremih, who provides the hook and is absolutely amazing. I have never liked his music or even thought he has a great voice or anything, but Jeremih comes in and provides the best chorus on the album. His smooth vocals work perfectly with the lyrics and contrast the tougher, faster flow that we know Big Sean tends to use. It’s a great moment for both Big Sean and Jeremih.

I suppose I should talk about Eminem though, because it was hugely exciting to see his name listed on this album. He takes the second verse on “No Favors,” and I don’t really know what to tell you. It’s Eminem doing his usual shtick, this time with Donald Trump and Ann Coulter as his new targets. It’s sloppy, lines about rape and metaphors comparing his enemy’s ass to a math test rely on the shock value Eminem always relied on, but like c’mon, we’ve seen you do this before, Em. It’s been 20 years of the same shit. And to show off his age properly, Em makes a reference to an incident that happened 12 years ago involving Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that makes complete sense because nobody cares about what happened to Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas 12 years ago. Besides his questionable content, Eminem also does this weird thing with his flow where he speaks some of his lyrics and does his classic-style rapping on others. This decision personally makes me wish he was always doing that classic-style rap that we love him for, but, you know, the song’s still okay because Big Sean is on his game.

And that’s the thing with this album, it’s probably the one that proves Sean’s place with the elites in rap best. His flow is always on. It’s the things around him that can get dicey from time to time. For instance, the production. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, the production on this album is pretty good. Hell, even the DJ Mustard-produced “Owe Me” is alright production-wise, the issue with that song is its lyrical content. But every once in a while, on songs like “Jump Out The Window” or “Inspire Me” there will be these weird noises in the track that make you wonder. Why are these here? Whose idea was this?

“Jump Out The Window” is the song that probably presents most problems here, or at least the album takes a sharp downward turn right around “Jump Out The Window.” Granted, it’s a brief downward turn, it recovers quickly, but it’s still there. On this song, Sean strays away from those soulful choruses he used to sing or great features that appear elsewhere on the album. Instead, you get a boring monotonous chorus sung by Big Sean himself. And this this track is followed by “Moves,” a song that doesn’t fit on the album even a little bit, and “Same Time Pt. 1” featuring TWENTY88, which is unremarkable. And in this cluster, “Moves” is the one where it’s easiest to find lyrical problems, but Sean gets clumsy all too often on these three songs. On “Jump Out The Window” alone he makes dopey references to Princess Peach, Kill Bill and The Weeknd’s old haircut.

The album recovers from these doldrums right around “Halfway Off The Balcony” and stays pretty consistent from there. The outro, “Bigger Than Me” featuring The Flint Chozen Choir and Starrah, however, is very noteworthy and sparks some discussion.

The song, and effectively the album, ends with Big Sean having a conversation with his mother, Myra Anderson. In this conversation, he mentions that this life feels like his chance to right his wrongs from his first life, sparking this hunger to live up to his potential that he has. It’s really powerful and serious and I really felt something. Then the music cuts out and he very lazily yells “PERIOD!” and the album ends. It’s so frustrating. It almost came to a mellow, thought-provoking end and then he had to do one signature goofy thing that Sean is known to do. And I understand he’s trying to show how he’s kind of ending a story in a way, but it totally deviates from the tone that had been set up with the last fifty minutes of music.

This is a complicated album about a complicated relationship with religion and God, and it’s completely respectable. I do look at this as kind of Big Sean’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy because of how honest and emotionally deep it is (although, Sean says it himself, “Motherfuck all your comparisons”), and I acknowledge how it fits in Big Sean’s career and the rap world as a whole. It’s a mixed bag of an album and it’s far, far from perfect. But at the end of the day, this is a respectable darker look on Big Sean, and I’m excited to see where he goes from here.

BEST SONGS: “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” “Light,” “Halfway Off The Balcony”

WORST SONGS: “Moves,” “Jump Out The Window,” “Same Time Pt. 1”

B+

Tkay by Tkay Maidza Review

When I plan a review, I usually plan to cover the new release that will be interesting to most people, so you feel intrigued by my review. However, this week I had to break tradition a little bit and review a more underground album release. On October 28, Zimbabwean-born Australian rapper Tkay Maidza released her debut album to Downtown Records, an independent label known for artists like Miike Snow and Cold War Kids.

I first learned of Tkay Maidza from her verse on “DKLA,” a track on Troye Sivan’s 2015 release Blue Neighborhood. And from the first moments I heard Tkay Maidza spit her rhymes, I knew I’d have to watch out for her first album. So flash forward a year and Tkay finally releases her self-titled debut, Tkay, complete with a verse from Killer Mike.

What initially struck me about Tkay is how unique her sound was. It wasn’t exactly mainstream, you can tell she inspired by music from places across the globe, while keeping a sort of synthpop-hip hop fusion sound that reminds me of Rihanna, or some of Lilly Allen’s harder edged music. The other inevitable comparison is obviously Nicki Minaj, not just because Nicki is easily the most notable female rapper currently working, but also because their flow is kind of similar. And that’s not criticism, mind you, I’ve been critical of Nicki’s complete lack of quality control in the past, but I make no secret of one thing: I recognize Nicki’s incredible talent and impeccable ability to carry a rap song like few others currently working, male or female.

And Tkay may not be quite on Nicki’s level, but she has a similar appeal. She’s in your face, never subtle and embraces things that aren’t your most ordinary sounds. Tkay Maidza has a unique story when it comes to the world of music, I dare you to name another female rapper born in Zimbabwe, and her music reflects that. And despite my Nicki Minaj comparison, she continues to be a unique entity in today’s music world, and her music is best when she embraces these differences.

That being said, on her first EP, Switch Tape, she shows that while she has the ability to shock by being remarkably different, she has moments where she’s perfectly fine with blending in, which is also reminiscent of Nicki and her work. So, it’s fair to say that it was hard to guess exactly what Tkay was going to be as an album. All we could really hope for was a solid debut effort for an up-and-coming, unique underground rapper. Is that what we got?

Well, in general, Tkay Maidza’s debut is bursting with ideas and creativity, but in the end it’s a little too confused and a little too disjointed for me to give it a 100% endorsement.

On a purely phonic level, I am totally torn on Tkay. Her flow is solid, and it’s exceptional on a lot of the tracks here, but most of her choruses consist of her either yelling or just barking at the listener in her most monotone voice, like on “Tennies” or “Monochrome.” Also, on “State of Mind” she seemingly loses the beat in the first verse, which is an unacceptable offense for a professional record.

This, however, is not a constant throughout the whole record. There are a few tracks, “Simulation” and “Follow Me” mainly, that scream of corporate involvement. They’re bland, soulless tracks that don’t feature Tkay Maidza’s signature sound and instead sound like Tkay trying to appeal to a mainstream audience who I’m afraid is not listening, at least not yet, even if she perfectly walks this line on songs like “Afterglow” or “Supasonic.” But here’s the thing, I know there’s no corporate involvement, Tkay herself is credited as the main writer on all of these songs and it’s all released on the independent label Tkay’s signed to, so this is something Tkay is choosing to do herself, maybe because she wants more mass appeal throughout the mainstream, not just the underground support she has currently.

Another phonic error committed by this album is that it doesn’t really read as a cohesive record. Practically every track is produced by a different person, with the exceptions of “Simulation,” “Supasonic,” and “You Want,” all produced by LK McKay. And while each producer brings a sort of down and dirty meets electronica sound, there are some jarring shifts. The drum noises will get drastically louder from track to track, or Tkay’s autotune will get way more noticeable between tracks. This album doesn’t have one sound, and while I don’t need every song to sound exactly the same, I’d like for it to at least have a sound as an album, and I’m not positive if Tkay fulfills this as much as I’d like it to. That being said, the production is strong on a lot of the songs, though random sound effects do bring down “Always Been” a little bit and “Tennies” has some really annoying moments that kind of remind me of Kelis’s “Milkshake.”

Lyrically, however, Tkay Maidza knocks it out of the park on this record. Tkay seems to have an infatuation with bad puns, which I appreciate, but it’s also not bad enough to get distracting. On the first track of the album, “Always Been,” she proclaims, “I’m haunting these n***** like my name is Casper.” That’s terrible, but her delivery makes it completely passable, and this is a trend throughout the album.

The other fabulous thing about Tkay Maidza’s lyricism on this album is how wonderfully diverse it is. This is full of diss tracks, but also tracks about love and about sex. The thing is, it’s not sudden enough to be jarring. For instance, on Taylor Swift’s overall pretty decent 1989, “Bad Blood” is immediately followed by “Wildest Dreams.” This is jarring because it goes from a screechy cry of pain about betrayal and the loss of friendship to a soft, lyrical plea to be remembered by a love one, even if their relationship doesn’t extend past the end of the night. It’s a really jarring shift, but Tkay doesn’t fall victim to this issue. You 100% see where she’s coming from on her more intense songs, but you feel for her on the softer ones. This is a mature skill, and Tkay Maidza certainly has a handle on it.

Her attention to detail both lyrically and phonically is kind of more reminiscent of M.I.A. then Nicki here, which I can certainly appreciate. Are there misfires? Sure. But does Tkay have a huge personality and the lyrics to back it up? Absolutely, and matched with her impressive flow, I think Tkay is worth checking out if you’re really interested. I was really anticipating this release, and while it could’ve been better, this is a decent album and an assuring debut for an up-and-comer like Tkay Maidza. The best songs on this album are “House of Cards,” “Supasonic,” and “Carry On” featuring Killer Mike. The worst songs on this album are “Tennies” and “Monochrome.” I give this album a B-. All in all, a disjointed but enjoyable first studio album for Tkay Maidza.

So yes, while Tkay may not have the widespread appeal of some of the other new releases this week like Lady Wood, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this album all the same. I’ll see you soon with more reviews!

UPDATE (10/29/2016):

Earlier Tkay Maidza contacted me on Twitter to tell me she read and enjoyed my review, and that she appreciated my honesty. Since she is such a cool person, you all should DEFINITELY check out her music! Support Tkay Maidza because she’s an AWESOME person!

Joanne by Lady Gaga Review

Lady Gaga’s back, so am I.

I have to do background, it’s how this blog has always worked, but you all definitely already know Lady Gaga and her history as a musician.

In 2007, Lady Gaga, then 21 years old, met RedOne, a producer from Morocco. This ended up being a very important musical relationship for both of them, as both of their careers surged after they began working together. In 2008, Lady Gaga released her first studio album, The Fame. The Fame made Gaga a household name instantly, and the first two singles, “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” proved to be two of the most memorable hits of the 2000s.

I will tell you, there are some tragically misguided tracks on this album. The Fame would’ve been one of the better pop albums if it was all like “Just Dance,” but too often she lost her control on quality. Songs like “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” do not show off everything Gaga had as an artist.

Lady Gaga proved she was here to stay when she released The Fame Monster, a reissue of her first album with eight new tracks, released a year after The FameThe Fame Monster secured Lady Gaga’s status as a bonafide superstar. The first single, “Bad Romance,” continues to be one of the most popular songs Lady Gaga ever released. And honestly, it deserves it.

While I do really enjoy “Just Dance,” if you ask me the early Lady Gaga song I want to listen to most often, I will definitely tell you that it’s “Bad Romance.” “Bad Romance” is big and bombastic, but also cool and controlled. It’s a throwback to more abstract artists from the past like David Bowie, but also a modern dance-pop track. “Bad Romance” absolutely is one of the biggest reasons Lady Gaga is as huge as she is today.

Not that it’s the only reason, the next two singles from The Fame Monster, “Telephone” featuring Beyoncé and “Alejandro,” and her next two albums, Born This Way and Artpop, were also huge hits for Gaga. Born This Way featured her going back to her roots a little bit and was heavily 80s inspired, and the public as a whole seemed to appreciate it as the album did very well. Artpop was a more abstract look at how the world of music intersects with the world of art, and while the public was a little less keen on that one, I sure enjoyed it a lot.

But Artpop was released three years ago, and since, Gaga has been doing “artsier” projects. She made an entire album with Tony Bennett, was the star of a season of American Horror Story, and performed the theme for The Hunting Ground, a Netflix documentary. But finally, years in the waiting, Lady Gaga has released her new solo album, Joanne. Does it live up to the expectations she set years ago, or does it just remind us that Lady Gaga is not as relevant as she once was?

Well, this album is not exactly the big dance-pop record that all of her previous albums were; you can see that from the very beginning with the first track, “Diamond Heart,” which starts sounding like a usual Lady Gaga electro-pop anthem but soon shows its true identity, a percussion inspired rock track.

But even though “Diamond Heart” is not exactly what you expect from the first track on a new Lady Gaga album, it’s still pretty phenomenal, and I think that works as a pretty good metaphor for the album in general, because this isn’t a pop album in the same vein as The Fame or Born This Way, but rather a country-rock inspired album that shows Gaga’s impeccable emotional range. The best examples to show this are the title track and “Million Reasons,” two of the best tracks on the record. They’re country-inspired, but they’re both very much soft rocks pieces at their core, and while they lack the volume or bombast of her earlier hits, they’re both very intriguing and really pretty great.

That’s not to say the whole album is subdued like “Joanne” is, there are moments where Gaga embraces volume and louder emotion, like “Dancin’ in Circles” or “Perfect Illusion,” the album’s lead single. They’re both bigger than “Joanne” or “Million Reasons,” but they don’t lose the emotion or passion Gaga contains on the slower, softer moments on the album, even if they stray from the sound of the rest of the album, as “Dancin’ in Circles” almost sounds like a ska track with some reggae inspiration.

And while “Come To Mama” is a little corny, at least you can tell it’s filled with connection from the artist. The points where this album fails the most are when Gaga seems to lose all of her feeling for the subject at hand. “John Wayne” is in concept, better than “A-Yo” and “Dancin’ in Circles,” but fails in execution because Lady Gaga doesn’t seem to give a crap about what she’s singing about. “Dancin’ in Circles” is a song about masturbation in the middle of a record about family connections and emotion, and that could’ve easily backfired, but Gaga has so much personality that she actually succeeded to make her anthem about masturbation passionate. Hailee Steinfeld, take notes.

And yes, even though you can tell she is very passionate on “A-Yo,” it’s a bit of an awkward track. The whole album is filled with somber emotion and “A-Yo” hits as sort of a weird anti-hater track while it constantly uses cigarette metaphors.

The ironic thing about Lady Gaga’s emotion driving this album is heavily is that one of the songs that made her famous, “Poker Face” is a song about being an emotionless, aloof person who refuses to connect with people she’s having sex with. This speaks a lot for how much Gaga has changed as an artist since. In fact, “Perfect Illusion” kind of works as a direct antithesis to “Poker Face.” “Perfect Illusion” is about how she is unsure about whether her relationship is based upon love or not, but she goes all in, and ends up learning that she went too far, and it indeed never was love, but just an illusion.

The one thing similar to Gaga’s older work is how diverse it is. There are more electronic inspired songs among the country-rock inspired songs like “Million Reasons” or “Joanne.” This album shows that Gaga still works with balance; she still has the ability to sing her heart out on ballads while performing upbeat party songs. This sort of reminds me of The Fame Monster, which features the slowed down number “Speechless,” as well as party jams like “Telephone,” and I feel like balance is a bit of a lost art. So many performers are either emotional singer-songwriter types or party song types, there are very few walking on that line, but Gaga walks that line on Joanne, and for the most part succeeds.

And in typical Gaga fashion, her voice sounds absolutely brilliant on most of the album. I have found out that all of my favorite songs on the album are the ones Gaga sounds best on. While she finds a pretty cool thing with the screeching vocals on the chorus of “Perfect Illusion,” she also manages to find the soft, simple beauty in her voice in songs like the title track or “Sinner’s Prayer.” Every song has the perfect vocal performance for what the song is going for, maybe with the exception of “John Wayne,” which could’ve done with a little more emotion, and “A-Yo,” because the speak-singing vocals get a little jarring.

All in all, Joanne delivers an album that, while not Gaga’s best by any means, is very impressive and I expect to go back to this album a lot in the coming weeks. Gaga really gave us one of the most emotional, relatable pop-rock albums we’ve gotten in a long time, and for that, I’m glad Gaga is back, even if it lacks the coherence and consistency of Born This Way or The Fame Monster. At the end of the day, it’s a very respectable album from an artist who showed us one thing for sure: she’s back. The best songs on the album are “Million Reasons,” “Sinner’s Prayer,” and the title track. The worst songs on the album are “John Wayne” and “A-Yo.” I give this album an A-. I’m impressed, and probably couldn’t have asked for anything more.

I promise the next review won’t take me months. I’ll see you soon!

TOP 10 DISCUSSION- JUN. 18, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass was a box office flop the weekend it was released. By far the most successful thing about the film is “Just Like Fire” by P!nk, a song featured on the movie’s soundtrack. “Just Like Fire” makes its top 10 debut this week at number 10 and honestly, I don’t understand all of the hate for this song. It’s not great, I’m not even sure I like it, but it’s so much better than “Fight Song” or any other song I’ve heard it compared to. It’s not P!nk’s best, but I’ll take it. “This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris and Rihanna re-entered the top 10 this week; it was at number 11 last week and this week it comes in at number 9. Otherwise, the top 10 remains practically the same. “Needed Me” by Rihanna gained one spot up to number 8, but the rest of the top 10 stayed the same, in the same order. “One Dance” by Drake, WizKid and Kyla remains at number 1, “Panda” by Desiigner at number 2, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake at number 3, “Work From Home” by Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ign at number 4, “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers and Daya at number 5, “7 Years” by Lukas Graham at number 6 and “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mike Posner at number 7. To rank this extremely mediocre top 10 in my opinion, I’d have:

  1. Can’t Stop The Feeling! by Justin Timberlake
  2. 7 Years by Lukas Graham
  3. I Took a Pill in Ibiza by Mike Posner
  4. Don’t Let Me Down by The Chainsmokers and Daya
  5. One Dance by Drake, WizKid and Kyla
  6. This Is What You Came For by Calvin Harris and Rihanna
  7. Just Like Fire by P!nk
  8. Panda by Desiigner
  9. Needed Me by Rihanna
  10. Work From Home by Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ign

Glee Blog: Vitamin D (S1E06)

Mr. Schuester is afraid that his students are losing their competitive edge and sleep-walking their way to Sectionals because their competition is so easy. So, with help from Emma, he devises a plan to have them compete against each other. The boys will perform a mashup and the girls will perform a mashup, and whoever has the better performance gets to choose what their performance for Sectionals is. Meanwhile, Quinn begins struggling at cheerleading practice, but tells Sue that it’s because she’s tired from glee club, not because she’s pregnant. This makes Sue decide to destroy Will instead of destroying the glee club, since that didn’t work the first time. She then convinces Terri to get a job as the school nurse despite having no qualifications in order to spy on Emma, who Sue tells her is making a move on Will. Principal Figgins for some reason gives her the job despite literally having no reason to, and Terri begins her work. Terri then convinces Ken to propose to Emma. When he does, she makes him wait for an answer. After Terri threatens her and tells her that chasing after Will makes no sense when he’s married, Emma accepts Ken’s proposal, although they still will not have a wedding, live together, see each other after school or tell anybody, which does make it seem a little pointless anyway. Terri is then approached by Quinn, and Quinn tells her that she can secretly adopt the baby so Will doesn’t find out that Terri’s pregnancy was fake. Meanwhile, when Finn has a hard time staying awake and keeping up with everything going on in his life, Puck tells him to go to the nurse and lie down. When he gets there, Terri is much too concerned with Finn because she believes he is the father of Quinn’s baby. Rather than letting him sleep, Terri opts to give him an over-the-counter pill, which Finn then shares with the rest of the guys. After they perform, Kurt tells the girls that they were all high on Terri’s decongestants the whole time, stating that his allegiance is still with the girls. In order to even the playing field, Rachel gets her entire team to take the pills as well to boost their energy for the performance. When Rachel and Finn inevitably feel guilty and come clean, Principal Figgins is disgusted, fires Terri and assigns Sue as a co-director of the glee club.

Nothing about this episode makes sense. Why did Figgins hire Terri? Why did Emma say yes even though her relationship with Ken obviously wasn’t going to bound her to him? Why did Figgins say he needed someone who wasn’t so focused on winning and competition, so he assigned Sue as co-director? Many of the decisions made in the episode I find baffling, but that would be okay if this show didn’t bind itself in reality. For instance, if this were a satirical look at a bunch of kids’ lives in high school, I’d be perfectly fine with watching plotlines that don’t exactly add up perfectly. However, when they are obviously now trying to make this representative of real high school, they can’t rely on their audience forgiving them for so many nonsensical plotlines. And also, I praised the show for being a positive role model to gay students and pregnant teenagers everywhere but I do have a question. What is Kurt’s gender identity? When Kurt tries to be a part of the girls’ team for the mashup contest, Mr. Schuester forces him to be with the guys, but he spills their secret because “his allegiances still lie” with them. I question Kurt’s identity in this episode, and if the writers of Glee just thought it would be funny to make Kurt so gay that he thought he was female. I know Glee has multiple transgender characters in it later on in the show’s run, but I wonder if in 2009 that was just too risky for them. I wonder if this episode is actually hurtful towards the transgender community. All of that aside, it’s not a very strong episode anyway, but it doesn’t feel like I’m watching a soap opera, which keeps it from being a low point. There were funny moments and energetic musical performances, but it wasn’t exactly fabulous like the pilot or anything.

Glee Blog: The Rhodes Not Taken (S1E05)

With Rachel choosing Cabaret over the glee club still, and upon realizing that Vocal Adrenaline fails students on purpose in order to allow them to continue participating in glee, Mr. Schuester invites back April Rhodes, a former star of the glee club who came three credits shy of finishing high school, played by Kristen Chenoweth. Once April arrives, she is a sensational part of the glee club, however, she seems to be a bad influence on the other students. For instance, she gets Kurt drunk and teaches Mercedes and Tina how to shoplift, as well as seemingly seducing Puck and the rest of the football team. Emma, who was fearful of Will reconnecting with April in the first place, warns Will about what may be happening once Kurt throws up on her shoes because he is drunk in school. Through all of this, April pledges to Will that she will stay sober for the rest of her time in glee. Meanwhile, Finn knows he needs a football scholarship in order to avoid a desolate future. Emma calls him down to her office to tell him that it may be a smarter idea to try for a music scholarship. He is convinced that in order to be a successful glee club, they need Rachel back, so he begins trying to get her back. Finn pretends to be in love with Rachel and takes her out on a date. Growing frustrated with Sandy and his performance of Cabaret, Rachel takes Finn’s interest in her as a sign and she decides to return to glee club. However, when she gets there, Kurt tells her that Finn is the father of Quinn’s baby, which is what Puck told him. Growing angry at Finn, Rachel once again quits New Directions, as Sue tells her that she can have complete creative control of the musical. Then, the glee club performs “Last Name” by Carrie Underwood at their performance, and April shines, as Rachel is in attendance. However, Will informs April that because she was drunk during the performance, she is no longer welcome in the glee club. April is gracious for what Will has done for her and leaves. Now down a member, Rachel offers to perform in April’s place, having just quit the play again. The episode ends with a showstopping performance of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”

Glee seems to want to have a good message. It seems like, as a TV series, it’s trying to send good lessons to its viewership. However, this one is all wrong. When Will sends April away, he says he only contacted her again for his benefit and that he should have listened to Emma who warned him about reconnecting with her. However, that’s not how it went down at all. Will knew to keep the glee club going he needed to place at Regionals, so he did what he thought he had to, which was reach out to April, who was the best singer he knew. Emma warned him not to contact her not because she was actually afraid of what April may have become, but because she was jealous of April. April was Will’s first crush and Emma doesn’t want any more competition for his affection, even though he’s married. This episode shouldn’t have ended with Will admitting he was being selfish and wrong, because Emma was the one who was selfish and wrong the whole time. Also, if you spend your time rooting against Rachel, which of course I do, you’ll hate this episode. Both the musical and the glee club keep letting her just quit and rejoin and maintain her status as the lead. And of course, even though she hasn’t rehearsed at all, she crushes her solo in the last number and gets a huge reception from the audience. This episode isn’t without it’s high points, though. Lea Michele and Cory Monteith always had good chemistry together and they shine in their scenes together. Also, Kristen Chenoweth shines in all of three of her song moments, my favorite being “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, her duet with Lea Michele. Because of Kristen Chenoweth’s stellar performance, I can’t exactly call this as big of a misstep as the last episode was, but “The Rhodes Not Taken” is not a very bright sign for Glee.