An Album a Day: Week 11

A note to readers: So as you can probably gather, I have missed quite a few weeks of album write-ups, and I am sorry. They’re on their way.  However, I realized my template needed some tweaking. Ultimately, I want the blog posts to be informative and engaging, but I also don’t want writing them to be such a burden that I’m not publishing anything at all, which is what has happened for the past six weeks. I figured at the very least, I should stop digging my hole deeper and start publishing these weeks of musical adventures as they happen while I play catch up on weeks gone by.

It’s been tricky, as I firmly believe that it’s impossible to really know how you feel about an album after a single listen. I felt like it wasn’t fair to write about an album until I had listened to it several times and was fairly confident that my opinions wouldn’t change much upon further listening. Unfortunately, trying to listen to seven albums numerous times within a week is hard. I found myself having to go back to familiar favorites in order to feel like I was qualified to write without too much listening time.

If this project is going to be what I want it to be, I can’t punish myself for listening to music I’m unfamiliar with. I don’t want an incentive structure where new music comes with a lot of extra work and familiar music doesn’t. Besides, it’s ludicrous to think that listening to a new album 4-5 times in one week is equivalent to listening to an album countless times over a decade or longer. Our thoughts on any art will always be based on when we first encountered it, who we were at that time, and how we’ve evolved since.

So instead, I’ll be writing three sections about each album: my prior relationship with that album, my impressions listening to it this go-around, and what kinds of music fans I think would enjoy it. Hopefully this should help you see when I’m truly reviewing an album I know well and when I’m simply sharing some first or second impressions. Any specific songs that I think are worth mentioning will be mentioned, but I won’t have any lists of best and worst songs or anything of the sort.

I’ll also be doing away with the numeric cohesive/average scores. I believe these scores were a big part of what held up my writing process, and I question their helpfulness. An album with songs that are all decent but not amazing can score the same as an album with some fantastic songs and some atrocious songs. That’s kinda dumb, since these two albums would offer completely different listening experiences and their numeric score doesn’t reflect that.

That’s enough on housekeeping issues. Let’s talk about music!

March 11, All at Once by The Airborne Toxic Event

All at Once (album).jpeg

 

Genre: Alternative rock
Year: 2011
Runtime: 43:49
Total tracks: 11
Songs you might know:
– “Numb”
– “Changing”
– “All I Ever Wanted” (ft. The Calder Quartet)

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: I went through a pretty hardcore Airborne Toxic Event phase in the late spring of 2017 and it was primarily fueled by this album. I fell into an Airborne Toxic Event rabbit hole, relished in it, and eventually bought both this and their self-titled debut. While it’s impossible to pick a best song of all time, “All I Ever Wanted” might just be the one I would pick depending on what week it is, and I also love “Welcome to Your Wedding Day.” That being said, this is definitely one where I’m more likely to skip around to my favorite tracks rather than listen to the whole thing beginning to end.

My impressions this time around: The album is surprisingly cohesive for the amount of variety it has. There’s some catchy hooks here and there, but also a fair number tracks that weren’t even trying to be radio friendly, such as “The Kids Are Ready to Die.” Lyrically it’s kind of all over the place, with some political commentary with “The Kids Are Ready to Die” and its complimentary “Welcome to Your Wedding Day.” Yet, we also have more introspective songs like “Numb” as well as frustration with a significant other as shown in “Changing.” This makes for an album that is simultaneously emotional and analytical in a wonderful way. It’s noncommittal enough that no song sticks out in a bad way, but yet it doesn’t cross the line into eclectic or disjointed.

That being said, there’s enough forgettable filler that All at Once isn’t really a masterpiece either, and that didn’t change on this listen. Both “Half of Something Else” and “Strange Girl” gave me that “Oh yeah. This. Huh.” feeling you get when you eat under seasoned mashed potatoes. I had literally banished “All For a Woman” from my mind entirely and was caught off guard when it showed up again here. Not because it’s a bad song, but because it’s just that forgettable. While I wouldn’t say I dislike any song, “All I Ever Wanted” and “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” are probably the only two I wouldn’t skip if I were to shuffle my whole library.

Who would enjoy it? People who like/are willing to tolerate a relatively generic alternative rock sound for outside-the-norm lyrics. Though “All I Ever Wanted” should be heard by EVERYONE.

 

March 12, Breakout by Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus - Breakout.png


Genre: 
Pop with country undertones
Year: 2008
Runtime: 39:45
Total tracks: 12 (nine original songs, two covers, and one remix of a song from a prior album).
Songs you might know:
– “7 Things”
– “Fly on the Wall”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: The relationship I have with Disney Channel music made circa 2006-2010 is difficult to explain, but the recent JoBros reunion has inspired me to explore it. I enjoyed writing parody lyrics and listened to this album looking for material. (If you’re curious, “7 Things,” “Fly on the Wall,” and “Wake Up America” all got this treatment). I actually listened to this album fairly often after it came out, but certainly had a negative view of Miley/Hannah Montana/Disney in general so I never really gave it a fair shake. After all, I was one of the cool kids listening to Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy (LOL) so even if this album was good, I never would’ve admitted it at the time. It’s probably been at least a decade since I listened to the full album beginning to the end, so I thought it could be fun to see if a more rational, objective Anne would feel differently.

My impressions this time around: The real shame of Breakout is that a fair number of these songs could’ve been masterpieces had they not been performed by a 15-year-old Miley Cyrus. I mean sure, there’s some insufferable atrocities that could not be salvaged by anyone, such as “Wake Up America” and “Fly on the Wall,” but most of the other songs here had so much unfulfilled potential.

There’s two big problems going on here. For one, teenage Miley often didn’t have the vocal chops to bring the material to its full potential, as evident in songs like “The Driveway” which might’ve been quite good in the hands of Carrie Underwood or someone similar. Hell, I actually really like the arrangement for the cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” but unfortunately the production is wasted on vocals that sound like a teenager at their karaoke slumber party.

The other problem is that there’s a palpable emotional disconnect between Miley and the material she was given. Miley’s post-Disney shenanigans make it even more evident that Breakout is not an organic expression of an artist’s creative vision; it is a list of songs that Miley sang because a market research team at Disney determined these songs were most likely to appeal to her target audience. Yes, she does have writing credits on 8 out of 12 tracks, which is cool I guess especially given that two songs are covers. However, she was 15 and to deny the presence of the Disney machine helping her is naive. The title track “Breakout” is the worst offender, as it’s about teenagers bitching about school and dreaming about all the fun stuff they’ll do outside of school, like a rejected HSM2 song. You can tell this doesn’t reflect the actual challenges of being a Disney Channel superstar Miley was facing. The result is a song that just feels fake and overly juvenile.

YouTube autoplay decided to play Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” shortly after I finished this album, and that song perfectly encapsulates what this album was missing. You can feel that the person singing has actually lived through the struggles she’s singing about, and the only times that’s sorta kinda present on Breakout are “Simple Song” and “Goodbye” which are probably the album’s two best tracks, but still could’ve been 10x better if performed by more experienced vocalists.

I also want to say that I hope Disney fired the person who decided to end this otherwise cohesive album with a Rock Mafia Remix of the Meet Miley Cyrus track “See You Again.” No one needed this. If anyone DID ask for this remix, it was a small child who should not have been taken seriously. The dark, mysterious, but still basic dance pop song doesn’t belong here the way that Peter Griffin doesn’t belong in an episode of Spongebob. It’s THAT bad, and the fact that any semi-serious Miley fan already had a different version of this song renders its presence completely unnecessary.

Who would enjoy it? If you’re into that 2010-2012 era of Taylor Swift that wasn’t quite country but not fully pop either, it might actually be worth your time to go back and listen to this, because it’s quite reminiscent of that sound.

March 13, Just the Beginning  by Grace VanderWaal

Head and shoulders of Grace VanderWaal, a teenage girl, gazing to her right. She has flowers in her hair, which are piled on her head.
Genre: 
Pop with an above average amount of ukulele.
Year: 2017
Runtime: 42:05
Total tracks: 12
Songs you might know:
– “Moonlight”
– “Sick of Being Told”
– “So Much More Than This”

 

My prior relationship with this album: Target used to play clips of the “Moonlight” music video in their music section to promote this album, and it hooked me. After falling in love with this song in particular, I listened to the full album and fell even further in love with Grace and her sound. I used to play “Insane Sometimes” on repeat and it’s still one of those songs I crave whenever I’m having a rough time.

My impressions this time around: I felt compelled to listen to Just the Beginning because frankly, it’s everything Breakout wasn’t. I’m super impressed by Grace VanderWaal and the team she worked with for this album. It’s balanced like a good wine. She sounds youthful without sounding childish. The lyrics are universally relatable, while still feeling unique and authentic to Grace’s life. Her quirks and eccentricities shine through, but don’t feel gimmicky. There’s enough of a pop vibe that this would appeal to a mainstream pop audience, but it’s not generic either and could still appeal to many people who don’t think of themselves as pop music fans.

Part of what makes this album so special is its consistency. I mentioned how “Insane Sometimes” has always been the real standout song to me, but almost every song here can stand on its own two feet, and none are duds. Revisiting it reminded of other great tracks like “Can’t Escape My Mind” and “City Song.” It’s the kind of album where you find something new to love with every listen.

Who would enjoy it? Everyone. Especially people who are partial to ukuleles.

March 14, Unbroken by Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato - Unbroken.png

 

Genre: Pop
Year: 2011
Runtime: 52:36
Total tracks: 12, including an extra version of “Skyscraper”
Singles you might know:
– “Give Your Heart a Break”
– “Skyscraper”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: While I had never listened to this album in its entirety, I do remember friends liking it when it first came out and having me listen to certain songs. That is to say, I knew slightly more than “Give Your Heart a Break” and “Skyscraper.” I’ve always seen this as the album that transformed Demi from just another Disney kid into a bonafide pop star so it’s worth looking at closer.

My impressions this time around: I have mixed feelings. There’s some super high quality tracks on here, including the aforementioned “Skyscraper” and the equally emotional “For the Love of a Daughter.” There’s also the tastefully cheesy “Together” (ft. Jason Derulo) which very much sounds like a Disney Channel song but just palatable enough to appeal to adults.

However, there’s also a fair amount of pop music that’s very middle of the road to me. We’re talking songs that aren’t bubblegum-y enough to be fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way, but also not interesting or inventive enough to stand out from the rest of pop music. I will give Demi credit for actually having above average vocals that outdo many Disney Channel acts, but I just wish every track on here reached the same standard as “For the Love of a Daughter.”

Who would enjoy it? I think that if you’re a  pop music fan who never gave this album a chance because of Demi’s Disney status, you should. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. However, it’s not for everyone, and definitely not for people who put a strong emphasis on originality.

March 15, Don’t Forget by Demi Lovato

 

Genre: Pop
Year: 2008
Runtime: 37:42
Total tracks: 11
Singles you might know:
– “Get Back”
– “La La Land”
– “Don’t Forget”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: I remember listening to this when it first came out and not LOVING it, but at least having more respect for it than say Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez music of that same era. As the cover would suggest, this album has more of a rock vibe than most Disney Channel pop albums, which certainly appealed to teenage Anne. After listening to Unbroken it seemed like it would be fun to go back to Demi’s debut and compare.

My impressions this time around: Honestly, it’s a little less respectable than I remember. While there’s glimpses of the amazing Demi vocals we hear on more recent albums, there’s also times where the vocals are noticeably unrefined. It’s almost as though Demi didn’t know how to be loud and powerful without simply yelling.

There’s also the fact that virtually every song on here sounds like it was originally written for the Camp Rock soundtrack. There’s even a collab with the Jonas Brothers (which to be fair, is one of the stronger tracks). Don’t Forget is rock music on paper: heavy on the guitar, slightly raspy vocals, and more aggressive than pop music. Yet it’s still overly commercial in a way that would be off-putting to actual rock fans. There’s also similar issues to Breakout in that Demi doesn’t always feel like she’s emotionally connected to what she’s singing about and that holds the whole album back.

The stronger tracks are those that don’t force the rock vibe, such as the title track. “Don’t Forget” which starts as a lighter ballad and then builds into rock.

Who would enjoy it? People who like Avril Lavigne.

March 16, by Vanessa Hudgens

VanessaV.jpg

 

Genre: R&B (I guess?)
Year: 2006
Runtime: 38:28
Total tracks: 12
Songs you might know:
– “Come Back to Me”
– “Say OK”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: I honestly can’t tell you whether or not I ever listened to this album in its entirety prior to this project. I mean, it seems like a thing 2006 Anne might’ve done but I’m not positive. I definitely remember the two main singles, and I’m quite sure I at least listened to the 30-second Amazon samples. From what I remember this was just okay. Not particularly obnoxious but certainly nothing that compelled me to want to play the whole album on repeat.

My impressions this time around: This one had a surprisingly ’90s vibe. The two artists that come to mind when describing it are TLC ( as heard on “Let Go”) and Michelle Branch (as heard on “Drive”). It is to R&B what the Demi Lovato album is to pop punk. No, it’s not straight pop, but it still feels like a watered down version of the genre it was going for.

Overall, is… just… fine. There’s nothing I can really point to as a glaring flaw that renders the whole album terrible, except maybe “Psychic,” which is devoid of all emotion despite lyrics insisting Vanessa is desperate. But even if this one track were to be omitted the album would still be just… fine. I can listen to the whole thing beginning to end without getting too angry or annoyed at it (except maybe “Psychic”). But this is also possibly the first album of the entire year where there isn’t even a single track that I think is special. It’s a generic voice singing generic songs with generic production. No wonder I couldn’t even recall whether or not I’d listened to it before. Congratulations Vanessa Hudgens, you’ve reached the pinnacle of tolerable.

Who would enjoy it? If for some reason you were sitting around wondering why you don’t have more songs that sound like they belong on the Princess Diaries 2 soundtrack, this one’s for you.

March 17, ÷ Deluxe Edition by Ed Sheeran

Divide cover.pngGenre: Folksy pop
Year: 2017
Runtime: 59:27
Total tracks: 16, including four bonus tracks not included on the standard edition.
Songs you might know:
– “Castle on the Hill”
– “Shape of You”
– “Galway Girl”
– “Perfect”
– “Happier” 

My prior relationship with this album: I had certainly listened to Divide before, and no I’m not going to use the symbol every time because my keyboard doesn’t have a button for it and the way WordPress formats it otherwise annoys me. However, I never really bonded with it the way I’ve bonded with other albums. That has nothing to do with the quality,  as I’ve always felt Sheeran truly outdid his first two albums, which were also wonderful. Instead, it has to do with the fact that it wasn’t streamable on Amazon Prime. The retail shop where I used to work did enjoy playing quite a few tracks from Divide, which did serve to strengthen my relationship with it, especially “Galway Girl.” It’s not a coincidence that I picked this album on St. Patrick’s Day.

My impression this time around: One of the things I love about Ed Sheeran is how he manages to explore a lot of different sounds while always sounding 100% authentic. There’s more traditional Irish folk songs like “Nancy Kerrigan” which alone might be enough to justify buying the deluxe edition. Then there’s “Galway Girl” which marries that sound with more of a popish rap verse. But then we also get vulnerable ballads like “Happier” and “Supermarket Flowers.” Don’t forget stuff like “Your New Man” and “Shape of You” which come closest to the sort of catchy pop songs the rest of the industry is making, while still having some Ed Sheeran flair. Yet at no point do we ever feel like Sheeran is trying to be something he’s not, which is quite refreshing after some of the albums I listened to earlier this week.

Overall Sheeran threaded the needle of giving us what we’ve come to expect from him after his first two albums while still making enough interesting choices to feel fresh. He’s expanding his sound without betraying that sound, and that’s not easy to do.

Who would enjoy it? Pretty much anyone, especially people who like more acoustic instruments in their pop music.

 

 

And the Grammy Goes to…

So. The Grammys just ended and I have thoughts. Specifically, thoughts about the Album of the Year award.

Since I’ve been making a point to listen to more albums this year, I made a point of listening to all eight albums that were up for this award. Okay, technically I only listened to like half of the Post Malone one before the ceremony, but I caught up before publishing this blog. Those nominees were:

  • Beerbongs & Bentleys by Post Malone
  • Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar and various artists
  • By the Way, I Forgive You by Brandi Carlile
  • Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
  • Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
  • H.E.R. by H.E.R.
  • Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B
  • Scorpion by Drake

As you’ve probably heard, the winner was Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, which frustrated me. I’m not going to call Golden Hour a bad album because it’s not. However, I will call it a safe album. Most people could probably listen to it and think “sure, sounds alright enough” but there’s no element of risk. Golden Hour doesn’t challenge the status quo or gives us anything we haven’t heard before. I doubt anyone would remember it ten years from now had it not been given the Grammy for Album of the Year.

There’s no denying that there’s larger implications of the Recording Academy passing up five black nominees to give the grand prize to a good looking white woman who made a decent-but-safe album. Maybe this was a case of blatant, deliberate racism. “Sure, we’ll nominate all the popular black artists so that their fans tune in, but at the end of the day we’re giving the award to the white girl.”

I’d like to believe it’s nothing that sinister, but ultimately we’ll never know. For what it’s worth, Childish Gambino’s “This is America” did win both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, so I guess that’s something. Perhaps some people who can tolerate an experimental track can’t tolerate a full album of such tracks. Regardless, 2019 is another year where Album of the Year went to an album that played it safe when there were more original nominees in the running.

Sure, Golden Hour is technically a country album, and country music can be fairly polarizing too. However, it’s also the type of country album where you don’t really have to be into country music to tolerate it. The vocals aren’t particularly nasally. Specific-to-country instruments like banjo are present, but often subdued in favor of more crowd pleasing acoustic guitar. One song, “Oh, What a World” even features somewhat of a robotic vocal that isn’t necessarily bad but certainly nothing you would associate with Hank Williams or Willie Nelson or even more recent-ish acts like the Dixie Chicks. Some songs such as “High Horse” definitely feel more like pop with a subtle country influence rather than true country.

This is in stark contrast to the rap albums by black artists in this category. Invasion of Privacy, Scorpion, and Black Panther: The Album don’t really try to pander to fans of other genres. (Beerbongs & Bentleys is the only one that sort of ventures into that pop-rap middle ground.) Musically speaking, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer doesn’t really qualify as a true rap or hip hop album, but it certainly pulls from the same cultural influences.

Like any genre, hip hop is more than just a style of music, it’s a culture. In this case, that culture is inherently political. Hip hop artists don’t shy away from controversial topics. They don’t just rap/sing about who they have a crush on this week or how sad they are about an ex leaving. Whether you actually enjoy hip hop or not, there’s something unapologetically unsafe about it. There’s nothing about hip hop that is polite or demure the way that Kacey Musgraves is. Even an album such as Beerbongs & Bentleys that pulls some, but not all of its influence from this culture can end up with that reputation.

Taking all that into account, Golden Hour and By the Way, I Forgive You are really the only nominees that were both lyrically and musically “safe.” And let’s say you’re a Grammy voter who typically goes for rock or pop music. There’s no obvious choice among the nominated albums that aligns with your tastes. Odds are you’re going to pick something like Golden Hour over the more polarizing genres of rap or hip hop.

Now, maybe it was the very fact that there were 3 and a half rap nominees that doomed all of them. The rap community split their vote whereas the country community didn’t. However, I do think it’s worth pointing out that Cardi B, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Post Malone each had a track from their nominated album up for Record of the Year as well. Ultimately, they lost to another rap track, the aforementioned “This Is America.” So it seems like it should be theoretically possible for several rap/hip hop albums to be up for Album of the Year without completely killing their chances to triumph.

Not every album necessarily has to be a brave new venture into the world of music that expands our minds and blows us away with originality.  Ultimately, Musgraves and her team are simply people who made music that they’re passionate about, and there’s no shame in that. Please let me be clear, none of these thoughts are meant to be an attack on Musgraves or her album. It just seems to me that maybe… just MAYBE those groundbreaking, memorable albums should be the kinds of albums that win the Album of the Year Grammy. It would be nice to feel like industry professionals who voted for the Grammys valued risk-taking more then they do.

Instead, they choose Golden Hour over Dirty Computer. 

Instead, they choose 1989 over To Pimp A Butterfly. 

Instead, they choose 25 over Lemonade. 
 

It seems that to the Recording Academy, an Album of the Year is just supposed to be “an album most people wouldn’t hate.” The cards seem to always be stacked against albums that push boundaries, take risks, and inevitably alienate people in the process. The album that is amazing to some people and terrible to others will always lose out to the album that’s just okay to everybody. Albums that challenge us will always lose to albums that don’t.

Maybe we just need to admit that the whole concept of an Album of the Year is dumb because country albums, rap albums, pop albums, rock albums, and R&B albums shouldn’t be judged by the same standards anyway. Whenever we try to have a competition among them, it’s always going to come down to personal genre preferences rather than any objective measure of quality. And oftentimes, genres that value risk-taking will be shortchanged while genres that recycle tried-and-true formulas are celebrated.

 

 

An Album A Day: Week 2

I know, January isn’t even over and I’m already behind on blogging. That being said, I’ve still been listening to an album everyday and haven’t broken any rules, there’s just a bit of a backlog on the blogging. Hopefully I’ll get that sorted out in the next couple weeks.

January 7, 19 by Adele

Adele - 19.png

Genre: Like a jazzy, cabaret pop.
Year: 2008
Runtime: 43:41
Total Number of Tracks: 12
Number of tracks I had heard before: I swear I had listened to this album in full prior to this project, but I only remember “Chasing Pavements” and “Hometown Glory.”
Why I picked it: I needed to fall asleep and it seemed like it could be a good album for falling asleep, in a good way.
Cohesiveness score: 3/5
Average song score: 3.1/5

Singles you might know:
– “Chasing Pavements”
– “Make You Feel My Love”
– “Hometown Glory”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Cold Shoulder”
– “Right As Rain”
– “Hometown Glory”

“Cold Shoulder” is probably the song that best foreshadows the type of stuff we’d hear on Adele’s subsequent 21 album that really made her a superstar, and I prefer that motown-esque vibe to the more stripped down sound of many other 19 songs. Like a lot of Adele’s work, this song excels at taking influence from vintage music and doing it in a way that still feels modern and not gimmicky.

“Right As Rain” barely squeaked into the top songs list despite it not standing out after the first several listens. However, it possesses a lot of those same vintage qualities that make “Cold Shoulder” so good. I also love how “Right As Rain” offers a delightful middle ground between that coffeehouse open mic night sound and that full band/orchestra sound. I think the album as a whole would have really benefitted from an extra song or two in this vein.

“Hometown Glory” is heartfelt and has fresh lyrics, and it’s also the perfect amount of production: enough of an orchestral sound to enhance Adele’s beautiful vocals without overshadowing them.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: None.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: As I was listening to the album trying to give each of these songs an individual song score, I accidentally forgot to write down a score for “Melt My Heart to Stone,” which is Track 6. I realized my error while listening to “Right as Rain” which is Track 8. No big deal, I’ll just write the score late, right? EXCEPT I COULD NOT REMEMBER HOW “MELT MY HEART TO STONE” WENT JUST TWO SONGS LATER. And mind you this wasn’t the first time listening, this was after playing it probably close to 10 times over the course of 2ish weeks and I could remember how most other songs on the album went. If that doesn’t scream “songs that don’t stand out at all” I don’t know what does.

Do I recommend it: There’s a rawness to this album that doesn’t exist on Adele’s other albums, and it’s interesting to see that different side of her. If you’re into stripped down songs that are just a strong vocal and one or two other instruments, there’s a lot to love here. If that’s not you, then this isn’t something I think you really need to listen to all the way through unless you really love Adele. There’s no denying her talent as both a songwriter and vocalist, but after she proved what she was fully capable of with 21, it’s hard to not be a little bit bored with 19. 

January 8, 21 by Adele

Genre: Pop, with a soul/motown vibe.
Year: 2011
Runtime: 48:12
Total number of tracks: 11
Number of tracks I had heard before: Again, I’m fairly confident I HAD listened to this whole album before but I’d forgotten any track other than the four that got played everywhere for 2 years.
Why I picked it: Listening to 19 made me want to explore Adele’s whole discography.
Cohesiveness score: 5/5
Average song score: 3.7/5

Singles you might know: 
– “Rolling in the Deep”
– “Rumour Has It”
– “Set Fire to the Rain”
– “Someone Like You”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Turning Tables”
– “I’ll Be Waiting”
– “Someone Like You”

“Turning Tables” was a pleasant surprise, and much like “Someone Like You,” it perfectly captures the sentiments of trying to stay strong while still feeling incredibly vulnerable.

I’m actually really mad at myself for not realizing how amazing  “I’ll Be Waiting” is prior to this project. I honestly enjoy it better than the singles, and I still really like all the singles.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: There aren’t any.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: I could probably skip “Don’t You Remember” without noticing, but it’s still an amazing song.

Do I recommend it: Yes. This is one of those rare albums where damn near every song can stand on its own two feet and could’ve been a hit single. Yet at the same time, there’s still enough changes in tempo and mood to keep the album as a whole interesting.

January 9, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles


The Beatles, holding marching band instruments and wearing colourful uniforms, stand near a grave covered with flowers that spell "Beatles". Standing behind the band are several dozen famous people.Genre: 
A psychedelic soft rock I guess?
Year: 1967
Runtime: 39:52
Total Number of Tracks: 13, including a 1:19 reprise of the title song.
Number of tracks I had heard before: All of them
Why I picked it: A reader mentioned the Beatles when I announced the project and this has always been one of their more intriguing albums to me.
Cohesiveness score: 3/5
Average song score:
2.9/5

 

Singles You Might Know*:
– “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
– “With A Little Help From My Friends”
– “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
– “When I’m Sixty-Four”

*Technically, none of the songs on this album were released as singles until 1978. This is just my guess as to which songs modern audiences are most likely to recognize.

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
– “Fixing A Hole”
– “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”
– “Good Morning Good Morning”

The title track revs you up the way that the first track of an album is supposed to. There’s a great energy that gets you excited about what’s to come but with more originality and complexity than some of the Beatles’ equally energetic earlier material.

“Fixing a Hole” was perhaps one of the biggest surprises for me, in terms of songs I really enjoyed but was previously unfamiliar with. This along with “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” balance the catchy hooks of McCartney with the more trippy hippy experimental vibes of Lennon the way a true collaboration should. I also love the brass on “Good Morning Good Morning” (think Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” but if the Beatles did it.)

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: I can’t think of any.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: I can’t say I really remember “She’s Leaving Home” but I don’t remember disliking it either.

Cohesiveness score: 3/5

Do I recommend it: Yes! I thought this was definitely a great example of an album where there’s a lot of cool, interesting stuff happening beyond the most popular tracks. There’s a reason it’s gone down in history the way it has. That being said, most of these are songs I would never really go out of my way to listen to on their own. I definitely recommend listening to this as the album it was intended to be.

January 10, Up All Night by One Direction

One direction up all night albumcover.jpg

Genre: Bubblegum pop
Year: 2011
Runtime: 45:56
Total Number of Tracks: 13
Number of tracks I had heard before: 13, and I’ve also heard the two bonus tracks I didn’t care to listen to this time around.
Why I picked it: I realized that for the sake of this blog I needed an album I know well and could write about without listening too many times.
Cohesiveness score: 6/5
Average song score: 3.2/5

 

Singles you might know:
“What Makes You Beautiful”
“Gotta Be You”
“One Thing”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
“Tell Me A Lie”
“Taken”
“I Want”

“Tell Me a Lie” was actually written by Kelly Clarkson and sounds like some of her most popular songs. Compared to the rest of this album, it’s a slightly more mature pop song with slightly more creative lyrics. It’s a breath of fresh air without being so different that it feels out of place.

“Taken” and “I Want” also feel a little more mature and the emotion feels a little more authentic. One of the drawbacks to overly pop-oriented boy band music is that virtually all of it is about being in love with whoever the song is about. Even the sad songs tend to be about missing someone they’re still in love with rather than being angry or frustrated about being mistreated. “Taken” and “I Want” are the few exceptions to that rule and provide some much needed lyrical variety. “Taken” is also the only acoustic track making it one of the few that shows how well some of these boys could sing.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: While it’s still a guilty pleasure song for me personally, “Stole My Heart” is objectively bad. It’s trying to be a techno-y dance club anthem while still trying to maintain a PG rating and being too bubblegum-y to work.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: “I Wish” and “Same Mistakes” tend to get lost in the mix for me.

Do I recommend it: If you didn’t like “What Makes You Beautiful” I’m doubtful that you’ll like this album, though I might still refer you to my top three tracks. If you did like “What Makes You Beautiful” there’s a fair chance you’ve already listened to this album and my opinion is irrelevant to you.

January 11, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell by Meatloaf

Genre: Theatric hard rock
Year: 1993
Runtime: 75:38
Total Number of Tracks: 11, including a 2:41 spoken word piece and a 2:46 instrumental interlude.
Number of tracks I had heard before:  All of them.
Why I picked it: Again, I needed an album I was familiar with and I had a long enough car trip to justify this masterpiece.
Cohesiveness score: 4/5
Average song score: 3.8/5

 

Singles you might know:
– “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
– “Out of the Frying Pan (and into the Fire)”
– “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”
– “Good Girls Go to Heaven (But Bad Girls Go Everywhere)”

These long-ass epic rock anthems are what sets Bat Out of Hell albums apart from anything else I’ve heard in music. Without them, it’s no longer a Bat Out of Hell album. Totaling 34:27, these four tracks could be an album all on their own, and a lot of times I skip around and treat them as such.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: The album could’ve definitely done without the spoken word track “Wasted Youth.” I’m not fundamentally against incorporating spoken word into music albums, but I feel like it’s really hard to do just one track of it without it feeling a little bit disruptive. I love the following track “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” and I can’t say that listening to that song without the spoken word lead up affects it in an adverse way.

Songs that don’t stand out at all:
– “Back Into Hell”
– “Lost Boys And Golden Girls”

Maybe it’s just because they’re among the shorter tracks, but you could omit either one and I don’t think the album would be worse off for it.

Do I recommend it: I love this album to hell and back (yeah, I said it). I gave all four of my top songs a 5/5 rating and frankly it’s rare to find an album with four songs that I love that much. Even the other songs are all still really good, albeit many of them are longer than they probably need to be.

January 12, 5150 by Van Halen

Genre: Classic rock
Year: 1986
Runtime: 43:14
Total Number of Tracks: 9
Number of tracks I had heard before: All of them.
Why I picked it: I had stayed up watching football and needed an album that was barely over the half hour limit so I could get it in before midnight.
Cohesiveness score: 3/5
Average song score: 3.3/5

 

Singles you might know:
– “Why Can’t This Be Love”
– “Dreams”
– “Love Walks In”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Why Can’t This Be Love”
– “Dreams”
– “Love Walks In”
– “5150”

As far as I’m concerned, the real strength of this album is its ability to show a softer, more emotional side of Van Halen while still feeling like a true rock album. These are the songs that do that.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: While I wouldn’t really say “Inside” is a BAD song, it does sound just different enough from anything else on the album to feel like it doesn’t truly belong here. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that it’s the last song and the preceding title track would’ve been a far better finale.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: Maybe it’s just because there’s fewer songs on here, but this is actually the first one I’ve reviewed where I really don’t think any of them fall into that forgettable filler category.

Do I recommend it: This is one where listening to my favorite songs on their own is a better experience than listening to the album as a whole. The shallow, just-for-fun rock songs here are okay, but if you’re in that mood you could also just listen to Roth-era Van Halen and get shallow, just-for-fun rock songs that are superior.

January 13, Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

Futuristic motorcycle rider; the motorcycle has jet exhaust. A bat-like figure on the tower of a building.Genre: Theatric hard rock.
Year: 1977
Runtime: 46:33
Total Number of Tracks: 7, including two epic “suites” that are over 8 minutes long.
Number of tracks I had heard before: 7
Why I picked it: I felt like it would be fun to do this the same week as Bat Out of Hell II to compare.
Cohesiveness score: 4/5
Average song score: 3.6/5

 

Singles you might know:
– “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”
– “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”
– “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
“Bat Out Of Hell”
“Paradise By the Dashboard Light”

As mentioned above, when I’m in mood to listen to a Bat Out of Hell album, it’s because I’m in the mood for long-ass epics that give me the drama of musical theater but the edginess of rock music, and these are the two that fit into that category. Honestly, outside of these two songs, I find most of this album to be fairly forgettable.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: N/A

Songs that don’t stand out at all:
– “Heaven Can Wait”
– “For Crying Out Loud”

Do I recommend it: Yes. Even the songs that aren’t my favorites are still good albeit maybe a little more generic. I find these albums to be vastly underrated by my generation and if this blog can help change that it’s all worth it.

Other albums I listened to this week: 

Badlands by Halsey
Wide Open Spaces by Dixie Chicks
by Ed Sheeran

An Album a Day: Week 1

So first let me explain some stuff. 
Ideally, I will be following this template every week for 2019, thought I certainly reserve the right to tinker with it if I feel it’s necessary. One thing I do wish to explain is the difference between my “cohesiveness score” and my “average song score.”

Cohesion is a dangerous thing, because while I don’t think an album should feel disjointed and random, I also can’t stand albums that make me feel like I’m listening to the same song over and over again. It’s possible to be so cohesive that you end up looking like a one trick pony, and that’s not great either. I’ve decided albums that cross this line will actually score ABOVE 5. So 6/5, 7/5 etc. depending on how bad I think the problem is. Songs that score below 5 score that way because they lack cohesion, whereas the perfect 5/5 score is reserved for those albums that I feel reconcile these two things and balance cohesion with variety.

The “average song score” is just that. I’ll give each song it’s own individual rating from 1-5 and then average them up. That score is as follows:
1/5 = A song that is shit
2/5 = A song that has redeeming qualities but isn’t GOOD. I don’t like it, but don’t abhor it.
3/5 = Decent song, but nothing special.
4/5 = A legitimately good song and the album is better off for having it.
5/5 = Fucking spectacular song that makes me realize what music is supposed to be.

I hope that these two separate scores help give you an idea of how good each individual song is on its own as well as how these songs function together as a unit. All other criteria in the template are pretty self-explanatory.

January 1, What If Nothing by Walk The Moon

Image result for what if nothing 300 x 300Genre: Pop rock/Alternative
Year: 2017
Runtime: 58:01*
Total Number of Tracks: 13
Number of tracks I had heard before: All of them
Why I picked it: It was in my car’s cd player and as much as I enjoy the other cds in my car’s cd player, this was speaking to me at that time.
Cohesiveness score: 4/5, and honestly would probably be a 5/5 if not for “Sound of Awakening”
Average song score: 3.5/5

*According to Wikipedia, the physical album (which I have) is 58:01 but the streaming version is 55:46. Who knew?

Singles you might know: 
– “One Foot”
– “Kamikaze”
– “Tiger Teeth”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons: 
– “One Foot”
– “Surrender”
– “Kamikaze”
– “Tiger Teeth”
– “Can’t Sleep (Wolves)”

Each of these is so special and amazing in its own way. They’re all beautifully emotional and somehow the electronic nature of the music doesn’t lessen the authenticity of that emotion. I semi-routinely just skip between these five.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons:
“Sound of Awakening” has always been a little too experimental for my tastes. It just feels out of place among all the other songs. This is not aided by the fact that it’s over six minutes long. I’ve also never been a big fan of “Headphones” but I can at least see how it fits into the album and makes for an upbeat, angsty addition to an album that can at times feel very melancholy.

Songs that don’t stand out at all:
I legit forget “Lost in the Wild” is on here ALL the time, but it’s a decent enough song.

Do I recommend it: Yes. Even most of the songs I skip over to get to my favorites are still bops.

January 2, It’s About Us by Alex & Sierra 

Image result for It's about us
Genre: Acoustic folksy pop.
Year: 2014
Runtime: 42:03
Total Number of Tracks: 13, including a 1-minute interlude.
Number of tracks I had heard before: Two, I think. “Scarecrow” because it’s a single and “I Love You” because I’d heard a rumor Harry Styles wrote that one.
Why I picked it: My friend Dillan suggested it. (Thanks Dillan!)
Cohesiveness score: 4/5
Average song score: 3/5

Singles you might know:
– “Scarecrow”
– “Little Do You Know”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Scarecrow”
– “Bumper Cars”
– “Here We Go”

“Scarecrow” does a fabulous job of balancing sad lyrics with an upbeat melody to come up with something truly special: a song that capture the desperate pleas of a broken heart while also sounding hopeful and optimistic. “Bumper Cars” is a much slower ballad, but its fresh analogy makes it stand out from the other sad ballads on the album. “Here We Go” is one of the more upbeat songs and it’s so good I wish there were more like it.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons:

The 1-minute interlude “It’s About Us” feels like an idea for a song that was not properly fleshed out. They put a weird effect on the vocals that isn’t present anywhere else on the album and it makes this track stick out like a sore thumb. The song/interlude is weak on its own and it also disrupts the flow of the album.

I also found “Just Kids” to be (and I know this sounds dumb) overly childish. It feels like one of those music videos I would’ve seen on Disney Channel in my youth. That isn’t necessarily a BAD thing, but since so many of these songs do have a more mature tone, this just feels like an obligatory “try to appeal to younger people” song that a marketing dude said they needed. And it’s also just not that good.

Songs that don’t stand out at all:
After listening to this album four times in three days, I have no recollection of what “Back to You” sounds like. You could probably make a playlist of all the other songs together, tell me it’s the full album and I would not notice the omission. “Give Me Something” is on the more forgettable side as well.

Do I recommend it: If you’re into white people with acoustic guitars singing about their feelings, you need this album in your life. But if that’s not your thing, this certainly doesn’t break the mold enough to make it your thing.

January 3, Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World 

Image result for bleed american

 

Genre: Pop punk
Year: 2001
Runtime: 46:36
Total Number of Tracks: 11
Number of tracks I had heard before: 4. The three you probably know, and then “Hear You Me”
Why I picked it: Suggested by my friend Bonnie!
Cohesiveness score: 6/5
Average song score: 3.3/5

 

Singles you might know:
“A Praise Chorus” (ft. Davey Vonbohlen)
“The Middle”
– “Sweetness”

So before moving on, I do feel the cohesive score needs a little explanation on this one. While there are several ballads on here to help break up the monotony, there really isn’t THAT much differentiating each angsty rock song from the other angsty rock songs, nor is there all that much differentiating the gentle ballads from the other gentle ballads. While there aren’t any true bad songs on here, I definitely found myself getting bored after track 6, “Hear You Me.” It just feels like after you get past this track, you’ve heard all the album has to offer, and what lies beyond is just a rehash of what you already heard. That’s why it gets the “too cohesive” score despite 4 out of 11 tracks sounding significantly different from the other 7.

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “A Praise Chorus” (ft. Davey Vonbohlen)
– “The Middle”
– “Hear You Me”

The world may never know if “The Middle” made it onto this list because it’s actually one of the best songs or simply by way of nostalgia, but either way it’s damn near impossible to be sad while I’m listening to it. When I really think about it though, I think I actually prefer the dynamic shifts of “A Praise Chorus.” Most other songs on the album establish their sound within the first 10 seconds and don’t stray from it, so I really appreciate how this one goes for a quieter chorus and gives you some contrast within a single song. “Hear You Me” is just a beautiful, sad ballad full of raw emotion and vulnerability. It has an authenticity to it, like they didn’t just throw it on here simply to prove they could do a ballad as sometimes happens with pop punk/alternative albums.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: 
Again, I don’t really think there are BAD songs, but the album has a nasty habit of making the slower ballads a little too long for what they are. “Cautioners” and “My Sundown” are the most egregious examples of this, ringing in at 5:21 and 5:47, respectively. Unfortunately, neither really grows and builds the way a song has to in order to justify being over 5 minutes long. Decent songs, but possibly better if they were one minute shorter.

Songs that don’t stand out at all:
I kinda feel shitty having to be this hard on it, because again NONE OF THESE SONGS ARE BAD. But after probably 5ish listens within one week none of the later tracks on the album really stuck with me. So that leaves the following in this category:
– “If You Don’t, Don’t”
– “Get It Faster”
– “Cautioners”
– “Authority Song”
– “My Sundown”

Do I recommend it: Sort of? I really love certain songs from this album and respect Jimmy Eat World as a band. However, I will say this is one of those albums that actually did make some of its best songs the singles. Outside of “Hear You Me” I don’t really think there are any hidden gems here that are better than the songs you most likely already know. So if you love “The Middle” and need more songs like it, great! This has them. But in the future, I really don’t see myself listening to this in-full without skipping any tracks, so take that for what it’s worth.

January 4, dont smile at me by Billie Eilish 

Genre: Electropop. Or maybe synthpop? I don’t know the difference tbh.
Year: 2017
Runtime: 29:00
Total Number of Tracks: 9
Number of tracks I had heard before: 2? I think? I’d definitely heard “Ocean Eyes” and “Idontwannabeyouanymore.”
Why I picked it: I was trying to fall asleep and from what I knew of Billie, this was something that could relax me but still be interesting.
Cohesiveness score: 5/5
Average song score: 3.4/5

 

Singles you might know: 
– “Ocean Eyes”
– “Idontwannabeyouanymore”
– “bellyache”

Before moving on with the “review” portion, I do want to address the whole EP vs. Album thing. Technically, this is an “EP” however when it comes to MY parameters outlined in the introductory post, this counts as an album. It hits the song minimum of 9 and is just one minute shy of the time minimum of 30 minutes. There’s also enough going on here that I don’t think it’s unfair to judge it as an album the way it’s unfair to just an EP of 4 or 5 radio-friendly pop songs as though it’s a full album. I actually have a lot of respect for Billie and her brother/collaborator Finneas for not throwing a couple more subpar tracks on here just for the sake of calling it an album, as some other people might have. They’ve chosen consistency and quality over quantity, and that’s to be commended. Anyway, moving on with the review.

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Idontwannabeyouanymore”
– “bellyache”

“Idontwannabeyouanymore” is a really great balance between live instrumentation and more electronic vocals, plus I found it to have the most memorable lyrics. “bellyache” is probably the only song I would describe as “catchy” and it manages this without sounding bubblegum-y or like it was trying too hard. It maintains the dark, haunting tone that runs throughout the whole album while still giving us a faster tempo that gives the album some contrast.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: There really aren’t any. If you like one of these songs, odds are you will like all of them.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: “watch” is pretty damn forgettable. In fact, I didn’t even notice that the last track is a remix of this song until I read it on Wikipedia. Even though it’s track 4, I totally forgot what it sounded like by the time I got to track 9.

Do I recommend it: Her sound isn’t for everyone, and I would definitely say you should skip it if catchy hooks and powerful vocals are a high priority for you. That’s just not what Billie Eilish is about. However, if you’re on the fence, I would definitely encourage you to give dont smile a chance. Eilish is the type of artist that’s hard to appreciate after just one song, and I don’t think you’ll really know if you like her or not until you give the whole EP several listens. Getting lost in this kind of music for a half hour is ethereal in a way that “Ocean Eyes” alone never can be.

January 5, Fly by Dixie Chicks

Image result for fly dixie chicks

 

Genre: Country
Year: 1999
Runtime: 48:02
Total Number of Tracks: 13
Number of tracks I had heard before: 13
Why I picked it: I’d had the same 6 cds in my car stereo for too long and decided I needed a change, so I busted out this oldie-but-a-goodie.
Cohesiveness score: 5/5
Average song score: 3.5/5

 

 

Singles you might know:
– “Ready to Run”
– “Cowboy Take Me Away”
– “Goodbye Earl”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Ready to Run”
– “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me”
– “Goodbye Earl”
– “Sin Wagon”

This is one of those albums that’s so good it’s hard to pick favorites, but I tried. “Ready to Run” has a celtic vibe and relatable lyrics that give it a timeless quality. “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” is upbeat and fun, and a nice hybrid between rock and country, like if the Eagles had a top notch fiddle player. “Goodbye Earl” has original lyrics that tell a proper story which make it the most memorable of any song on the album. “Sin Wagon” is perhaps the best showcase of Emily’s banjo skills and Martie’s fiddle skills, plus it’s just an-all around fun song. I could probably go on and include damn near every track on this list, but that defeats the point of picking favorites, doesn’t it?

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: I could live without “Hole In My Head” but I wouldn’t say it’s bad enough to worsen the album.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: There are a few ballads that seem a little underwhelming next to some of the more upbeat songs, “Heartbreak Town”  and “Without You” probably being the best contenders. But they’re still damn good songs, as are the other ballads, they just take a few more listens before you really appreciate them.

Do I recommend it: This is one of those magic albums where virtually every song reaches high standards of amazingness while still sounding unlike any other song on the album. Highly recommend, even if you don’t typically go for country music (I don’t).

January 6, Last Young Renegade by All Time Low

Last Young Renegade.jpgGenre: Pop punk, emphasis on pop more than punk
Year: 2017
Runtime: 36:31
Total Number of Tracks: 10
Number of tracks I had heard before: 10
Why I picked it: I needed an album I was fairly familiar with and could review without listening to it too many times, so it seemed like this would be fun to revisit.
Cohesiveness score: 4/5
Average song score: 3.6/5

 

Singles you might know:
– “Dirty Laundry”
– “Good Times”

Songs that stand out for the right reasons:
– “Last Young Renegade”
– “Dark Side of Your Room”
– “Afterglow”

“Last Young Renegade” used to be on the rotation at my old place of work, and it singlehandedly got me to listen to the whole album. Both this track and “Dark Side of Your Room” are full of the youthful exuberance I crave when I’m in the mood to listen to pop punk. “Afterglow” is a bit gentler and more vulnerable, and it’s a perfect mix of All Time Low’s typical sound as well as the synthpop trends of 2017 (I think it’s synthpop, not electropop). The result is something euphoric, but delicate.

Songs that stand out for the wrong reasons: There really aren’t any.

Songs that don’t stand out at all: “Ground Control” ft. Tegan and Sara doesn’t really offer much of anything, which is sad because it feels like a waste of Tegan and Sara’s talent. Despite playing this album pretty consistently for a solid week less than a year ago, this was the ONLY song where I couldn’t remember the chorus. “Nightmares” is also on the more forgettable side.

Do I recommend it: It’s a solid album, albeit rather unoriginal. There’s a stronger pop feel compared to what I know of All Time Low’s earlier work. That might put some people off, but it also might make this fairly palatable to people who aren’t usually into this genre.

Other albums I listened to this week:
LM5 by Little Mix 
19 by Adele
Ten
by Pearl Jam
Conscious by Broods
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
The Spirit Room by Michelle Branch

With the exception of LM5 which I’m already fairly familiar with, these are mostly albums I haven’t listened to enough to do a proper writeup for, but hopefully within the coming weeks that will change. Stay tuned!

Introducing: An Album a Day!!!

Okay. So this might be a bit of a bother to some of my subscribers who initially followed me for movie/tv/writing related content. In 2019, I’m going to be seriously upping the music content of this blog. That’s not to say there won’t be more thoughts about movies and tv (hell maybe even books), but I want to get more into music, specifically albums. Maybe that suits you maybe it doesn’t, but hopefully my charm can make music critiques interesting enough to you.

In 2019, I will listen to a full album of music everyday. By “album” I mean

  • Music that was all recorded by the same artist (movie/theater soundtracks don’t count, although albums that include collabs do count.)
  • Albums that are NOT greatest hits/compilations
  • Albums that are AT LEAST 30 minutes long or 9 songs long (the idea being that no, I can’t count EPs of 4-6 songs as albums. However, it was also brought to my attention that the Ramones’ eponymous debut album is only 29 minutes long despite being 14 songs, hence a song quota AND a time limit quota.)

Other rules in play:

  • I must listen to ALL songs in album order (though ALL songs doesn’t have to include bonus tracks on special editions and the like).
  • I cannot pause the album for more than 4 minutes. Pausing music to get my Dunkin coffee at the drive thru is okay. Listening to half the album on the way to a work gig and then the other half on the way back is not okay.
  • No repeats, sort of. I AM allowed to listen to the same album as many times as I want/need to, but it can only be the official Album of the Day once. Meaning that by the end of the year, I will have listened to at least 365 different albums.
  • I’m not allowed to count a standard edition and a deluxe edition of the same album as two separate things.
  • Unlike any of my movie/tv watching challenges, I AM allowed to listen to an album while I’m doing other stuff.

The point of this, more than anything, is to force myself to process music as albums rather than singles and playlists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with singles and playlists and I probably will continue to bump them in 2019 as well, but there’s also something beautiful about the album. I know there are artists who make beautiful albums and the single that Google tells you about is nowhere near enough to capture that beauty. Janelle Monaé’s “Make Me Feel” is a perfectly good song but once you listen to Dirty Computer you realize that this single is just a tiny fraction of what Monaé is capable of.

I know this is true for a multitude of artists/albums, yet all too often when I’m considering letting a new artist into the rotation, I STILL judge them based on the first single or two that Google spits out for me. I need to correct this paradox in my life, and so 2019 will be the year of listening to albums.

I will not be blogging every single day, but I hope to publish a weekly recap that lets you know what I listened to and some brief thoughts. To be honest with you, this is almost entirely selfish so that I can keep track of which albums I’ve listened to and which ones I haven’t. There may even be more detailed monthly recaps, though that might end up not happening. I’d like to keep the blogging aspect of this whole deal painless enough that I still have motivation to write other kinds of content as the ideas hit me, so a lengthy monthly recap might not happen.

I hope this challenge inspires me to rediscover artists I haven’t listened to in years.

I hope this challenge gives me a new respect for artists who make great music but could never get their marketing team to pick the right singles.

I hope this challenge forces me to listen to new genres outside of my comfort zone.

I hope this challenge motivates me to stop defining artists of decades gone by simply by their greatest hits compilations.

I hope this challenge expands my mind and my music tastes.

Writing About Writing: I Suck At Endings

This is the last Writing About Writing I’m obligated to write for November 2018 (though I’ll certainly add more to the series if I come up with ideas I like). So I thought it only appropriate to write about how to end your screenplay.

The only problem here is that there’s a damn fine reason I never wrote about this in one of the other 29 posts. I’m not good at writing endings. So think of this less as a “How to write a good ending” blog post and more just a young writer trying to give her future self some advice for the next time she is struggling with an ending.

1. Make it unpredictable. 

I really can’t stand predictability, especially in mystery/suspense projects. Sometimes I’ll actually ask myself halfway through a movie “what do I think will happen” just so I can judge how predictable a film is. Life is unpredictable, so the stories that represent it should be too.

2. But also don’t try too hard. 

A twist ending just for the sake of a twist ending is also not great. There’s a great article on Wordplayer.com that talks about how endings need to be both unexpected, but also inevitable. If we’re being honest, that whole article is probably more helpful than the one you’re reading now so I highly suggest going through and reading the whole thing. The gist though is that endings still need to be set up by earlier scenes. We don’t want to feel like it came from nowhere simply because some writer was trying to surprise us.

3. It should answer our questions. 

Your earlier scenes should establish questions that keep an audience interested. The last thing you want to do is send your audience away still not knowing (unless you’ve already made the deal to write a sequel, in which case mad props to you). Ask yourself about literally every question you’ve ever tried to raise in prior scenes, even the inconsequential subplots. If you want to leave certain things ambiguous it might still work, but that should only happen if you consciously decide it’s what you want. It shouldn’t be a case of “oh crap I forgot about that cute guy who gave my protagonist his phone number on p. 17.”

 

Writing About Writing: Action Builds Relationships

I’ve mentioned before how knowledge of behavioral science can help improve your writing. Continuing with this theme I’d like to introduce you to a good old friend of mine: Cognitive Dissonance Theory. I had to give a presentation about it one time six years ago. I’m basically an expert.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory says that the way we behave shapes our thoughts, opinions, and values. This may seem a tad counterintuitive, since most of us like to think it is our thoughts, opinions, and values that govern our behavior, not the other way around.

This is why certain organizations choose to haze their members. Once you’re forced to go through a lot of bullshit to join an organization, your brain is naturally going to hold that organization in higher regard. After all, a smart young whippersnapper like yourself wouldn’t go through such great lengths for something that wasn’t worth it.

Once you’ve behaved a certain way, your brain wants to rationalize it. This can lead to shifts in your worldview without you consciously changing your mind about anything.

So what does this mean for writers?

Forcing your characters to behave a certain way will change them.

I know in a former blog post I talked about figuring out the importance of defining your characters’ framework for decision making. I still stand by that, but it’s also important to recognize the value of throwing your characters in a situation where they don’t have a choice. Once they’ve done whatever deed you want them to do, they can change accordingly.

I’ve started trying to get back into Breaking Bad recently and this is what inspired the post. There is no logical reason for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman to partner up. They have two fundamentally different sets of core values that would typically prevent them from working with each other. Neither character would ever actively choose to enter into the partnership that defines the series. So how did that relationship come to happen?

Vince Gilligan created a set of circumstances where the two characters had no choice but to work together. In the pilot, Pinkman loses his partner and Walter is diagnosed with cancer, meaning he needs more money. They don’t choose to start a crystal meth empire. They choose to cook a single batch. But complications from that one experience forces them to do other things. They kill people. They destroy the evidence together. They go on to do darker and darker things together. So OF COURSE they’re going to forge a partnership that lasts much longer than a single batch of meth. But yet the two characters still remain different enough that they can still butt heads while also being partners.

Choices are important. We learn about characters by seeing what choices they make. But when we take choices away from characters, when they HAVE to do dire things they never would’ve done otherwise, that’s how you get yourself a character arc.

Writing About Writing: What Can You Write In An Hour?

A shockingly high number of these blog posts are thrown together around 11 pm because I feel like I need to get something published before midnight. Most of the time, if you ask me at 9 pm what I’ll be writing, I have no freaking clue.

But with just a few exceptions, I’ve figured something out every day. It’s amazing how if you force yourself to write something RIGHT NOW, you are able to liberate yourself from what that writing actually is.

It’s all too easy to come up with all sorts of ideas that you plan to write sometime eventually. We’ve all done it. But until you actually write those ideas you have nothing. It doesn’t matter how good those ideas are if they’re just floating around your head. Whether it be the struggles of life or fear of writing something bad that keeps you from writing, the outcome is still the same. You’re still just a person with ideas rather than a writer.

But when you force yourself to just get something done within the next hour, you’re free. There isn’t a long term commitment to that project and that can make it less intimidating. When the goal to write anything now can supersede the goal to write something good eventually, that’s where the magic happens.

So I dare you to sit down and write something. Maybe it’s a script, a poem, a blog post, a short story. The catch is simply that you must write it in an hour. If you really want to light a fire under your ass, force yourself to publish your work when that hour is up, regardless of how good it is. What you can come up might surprise you. If you force yourself to do this exercise everyday for an extended period of time, you’re bound to come up with something good eventually.

(The above blog post was only about half an hour. Not too shabby.)

Writing About Writing: Believing In Yourself

“You’re too hard on yourself.”

“I’m sure it’s better than you think it is!”

“You just need to believe in yourself!”

These are the kinds of things some people in my life like to tell me. Most, if not all of them, come from people who are not writers.

The thing about confidence is that there’s a huge difference between confidence in yourself and confidence that a specific project you’ve done is good. If anything, there’s an inverse relationship between the two. Because I believe myself to be a good writer, I oftentimes don’t have a ton of confidence in specific scripts. There’s almost always a nagging thought of “I could do better” in the back of my mind.

Personally, I have yet to meet a single writer I respect who displays a lot of confidence in specific projects. Most of them talk about their work simply by saying “Here’s a thing I did” or “Here you go.” I don’t trust writers who talk too much about how good their writing is. When I meet one who talks about their finished scripts in a “well, I guess that’ll do” sort of tone, that’s when I think maybe they know what they’re talking about and actually have some skills.

Now, this is not to say that I think it’s a wise idea to obsessively revise the same script over and over again, because it isn’t. I’m simply saying that believing in yourself and your ability to write good scripts is different than believing that scripts you’ve already written are amazing. If you believe you’re a good writer, you’re probably never going to silence the voice inside your head that says “but wouldn’t it be better if _____ happened?” However after a few drafts you probably will reach a point where any more revising won’t improve the script enough to really be worth your time, and you’d be better off investing that time in a fresh script.

Don’t strive for that point where you think your script is perfect. Because the moment you do is the moment you STOP believing you can do better. And the best writers never get there.

Writing On Writing: Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

In a previous blot post, I mentioned how I thought writers should familiarize themselves with behavioral sciences as this can lead to more realistic characters. There’s a particular theory that stands out to me as a “thing I wish writers knew.” That would be Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions.

The theory is often taught to people studying international business or communication, as it’s a tool for defining what makes one culture different from another culture. I’ll link something here and then type my own summary and how it relates to screenwriting below.

The reason why this tool is so helpful is because as writers, we have to build worlds. This is especially true in sci-fi or fantasy works, but it’s actually a needed skill across the board. If we’re telling a story of a different time period or a different part of the world, we need to build that world and make sure our audience is aware of relevant cultural norms. Hell, even New York City has a culture separate from that of say, Iowa, but because the city is portrayed in mass media so often, stories set here don’t necessarily need to invest as much time in defining the world.

The cultural dimensions help you figure out what kind of a world you’re building. And oftentimes, a protagonist is going to be out-of-the-norm in some way. It can clarify a lot to know that your protagonist is an individualist while your society is collectivist, or that your protagonist is future-oriented while your society is present-oriented. So what are they?

1. Power Distance Index

Power is ALWAYS going to be distributed unequally, but different societies have different levels of accepting this fact. In the U.S., we have a low-ish power distance. Most Americans buy into the idea that all members of a society should have some kind of a say in the society, and that leadership should be held accountable to its people. Regardless of how exactly this is carried out in practice, the cultural ideal is there.

This is radically different from a society where there is a king and the peasants simply accept that they are not king and that is the way the world works. A LOT of great movies play with the power distance index. Any time you have a tyrannical villain and a small band of misfits who refuses to accept it, that’s the power distance index. These types of stories don’t work unless we first establish that MOST people in the society are content to accept the tyranny, or at least they have been until recent events. That’s what makes our heroes the heroes that they are.

2. Individualism v. Collectivism 

To what extent do individuals have an obligation to make sacrifices for the common good? As you can probably guess, the United States is pretty damn individualist, even though this is an issue that different political factions within the U.S. will disagree on. Overall, we still reject the idea that individuals owe society blind loyalty. We like the idea of individuals being able to forge their own path in life and as long as they are able to support themselves, we don’t necessarily think they have to go above and beyond to support the rest of society too.

In other cultures, and perhaps even in the one you’re writing, individuals are expected to shove their own wants, needs, dreams, ambitions, and emotions to the back burner in order to look after the society. Think about Mulan. The story starts by establishing how important family honor was within that culture. Not even honor for Mulan specifically, but for her family. Mulan was expected to prioritize family honor over her own ambitions because her role as a member of a group (both her family and society at large) was more important than her role as an individual.

3. Masculinity v. Femininity

In this context, the words “masculine” and “feminine” have nothing to do with whether you like pink or blue, or prefer football to ballet. Instead, it has to do with what a society values. “Masculine” societies value assertiveness, and material success and are highly competitive. “Feminine” societies value collaboration and modesty. One might think that this is the same as individualism v. collectivism, but that’s not the case.

If you’re writing a war movie, odds are you’re looking at a culture that’s highly collectivist but also highly masculine. Individuals are expected to put the needs of their side over their individual needs, but victory and assertiveness are still top priority. That’s different from a say, a small business where assertiveness and victory within the marketplace is still a priority but individuals might not be expected to make the same level of sacrifice.

Knowing if you’re writing within a masculine or feminine cultural can help you figure out what kinds of obstacles your character is going to face. In a masculine society, you might have an assertive antagonist actively trying to destroy your protagonist (Oddly enough, some “chick flicks” such as The Devil Wears Prada or Legally Blonde provide some great examples of this). In a feminine culture, it’s less likely that you’re going to have a traditional “villain” but you might have a protagonist who wants to reach high levels of success and those cultural ideals of modesty will be what creates conflict.

4. Uncertainty Avoidance Index

Different societies (and people for that matter) have different risk tolerance levels. That’s what Uncertainty Avoidance is all about. Cultures with high levels of uncertainty avoidance are more likely to pass different laws and regulations to try to control the future The people in such a society are scared of ambiguity.

Think of the difference between a dystopian story like The Giver, and say an old John Wayne western. One culture strives for predictability while the other attracts people who aren’t afraid of the unknown. In a movie script, we always need a certain degree of uncertainty so it’s important to understand how the world you create will react to that. If your society has high Uncertainty Avoidance, it might only take a relatively small, simple change to set your story into motion. In a society where people are more comfortable with chaos, you might need something much bigger to cause drama.

5. Long-term v. Short-term Orientation

To what extent does a society care about preserving the traditions of the past? To what extent are they willing to change in order to have a brighter future? This is long-term v. short-term orientation.

Traditions oftentimes cause conflict in movies. “Young rebel wants to go against tradition” will continue to inspire stories from now until the end of time. Crazy Rich Asians does a great job of explaining why certain characters value tradition as much as they do while also giving the younger generation compelling reasons to break from tradition.

6. Indulgence v. Restraint

A newer dimension added in 2010, indulgence v. restraint is kind of self explanatory. While it does bear SOME similarities to individualism v. collectivism, this has more to do selfish pleasures and vices than say long term ambitions. How socially acceptable are things like sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc.? Are individuals free to engage in whatever brings them joy or do cultural norms shame them? If so, what specific cultural norms are keeping people unhappy?

Boiling down “culture” into six different dimensions is surprisingly helpful when trying to figure out what sort of world your story takes place in. It can also enlighten which aspects of a culture really need to hit home because they’re relevant to your story and your character arcs, and which ones don’t really need that much screentime.