22 Crazy Things That Probably Won’t Happen On GoT Season 8, But Who Knows?

So over the last few months I have watched the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones for the first time. I knew such an occasion needed to be commemorated with a blog post. But how does one put together a think piece on seven seasons of television that have already generated far too many think pieces? I can’t. Hell, I can’t even remember how to spell half these people’s names. So instead I brainstormed things that COULD happen in Season 8. It was more fun for me to write, and hopefully will be more fun for you to read. Oh, and don’t read it if you’re not caught up because of spoilers and stuff.

  1. No one makes any dwarf jokes about Tyrion.
  2. We learn that the only way to defeat dragons is with rogue unicorns.
  3. Daenerys has to fuck someone who isn’t a 12 out of 10.
  4. Brienne of Tarth doesn’t kill anybody.
  5. Jon Snow hatches new baby dragons.
  6. There is a saturated color palette.
  7. It turns out the Lord of Light has been Bran all along.
  8. Varys takes the iron throne.
  9. Daenerys gets a pixie cut.
  10. Margery returns as part of the fire army.
  11. Arya has to kill a whitewalker version of Jon Snow.
  12. A character named Brittnee is introduced.
  13. There’s a delightful romantic subplot between Sansa and Gendry.
  14. Jorah Mormont actually gets laid.
  15. Robyn Arryn takes the Iron Throne after all the other houses destroy each other. .
  16. The remaining Sand Snakes escape from jail and escape to Meereen and have an epic threesome with Daario Naharis.
  17. Arya wears the color pink.
  18. The Jonas Brothers play a random  group of soldier musicians in the woods, Ed Sheeran style.
  19. Lady Olenna comes back as a White Walker and murders Cersei
  20. Daenerys has a dragon melt the iron throne, has it remade into jewelry, and tosses it to the people in the style of Mean Girls.
  21. A system of parliamentary government is established.
  22. Jon Snow gets a pixie cut.

An Album a Day: Week 3 (Fall Out Boy Week)

Writer’s note: I know. I took too long to write this and I’m behind on other blog posts as well. I’m working on it.

It took me exactly two weeks before it was time for a theme week. It turns out one of my favorite bands has exactly seven albums making them a prime contender. So I present to you… Fall Out Boy week.

According to Amazon, I ordered my first Fall Out Boy albums the day after Christmas in 2008. That makes January of 2019 roughly the 10-year anniversary of my love affair with this band, so it makes sense to commemorate that.

Fall Out Boy is a fascinating band to me because they have changed a lot over the years, yet I don’t think they’ve ever crossed the line into “bad” (though many may disagree with me). Their most recent album sounds nothing like their debut album, yet if you listen to all the albums in between there’s a logical progression. There’s enough things that have remained constant that they still always manage to sound like Fall Out Boy, even when they’re experimenting with new sounds.

January 14, Take This To Your Grave by Fall Out Boy

Take This To Your Grave.jpg

 

Genre: Pop punk
Year: 2003
Runtime: 39:24
Total tracks: 12
Singles you might know:
– “Dead on Arrival”
– “Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy Tonight”
– “Saturday”

 

 My prior relationship with this album: Believe it or not, I had never really sank my teeth into Take This To Your Grave despite considering Fall Out Boy one of my favorite bands for the last decade. Sure, I knew the singles from it, and enjoyed them as much as any other FOB tracks, but I was content enough with From Under The Cork Tree and Infinity On High that I never really bothered to go back to this one before now. I definitely remember jamming out to “Dead On Arrival” on one of the Rock Band video games though.

My impressions this time around: You really can’t ask for much more in a pop punk album. You have the catchy hooks of pop, the instrumentation of rock, and the whiny lyrics of teen angst. It’s the sort of thing that feels like it could’ve been recorded by the boys next door fooling around in their parents’ garage if said boys actually had talent and skill. That being said, it’s a little too homogenous for me. Most of these songs would do just fine if they came up on shuffle, but when I listen to all twelve in one go and they kind of muddy together.

Who would enjoy it? 
Really any fan of pop punk. If you’re like me and played From Under the Cork Tree repeatedly but never went back to the album that started it all, you should. It’s definitely worth your time. However, there’s not really anything here for people who don’t like that specific type of music. It’s well executed, but not a fresh spin on the genre.

January 15, From Under The Cork Tree by Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy - From Under the Cork Tree - CD album cover.jpg

 

Genre: Pop punk
Year: 2005
Runtime: 43:00
Total Number of Tracks: 13
Singles you might know:
– “Dance, Dance”
– “Sugar, We’re Going Down”
– “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me”

 

 

 My prior relationship with this album: As far as Teenage Anne was concerned, From Under the Cork Tree was THE Fall Out Boy album. It boasts “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and like many of my generation, these are the songs that first introduced me to Fall Out Boy and made me want to know more. If there is such a thing as a “classic” Fall Out Boy album, I feel like it’s this one. It has a huge element of nostalgia for me, even though I still can’t remember a lot of the off-the-wall song titles.

My impressions this time around: While still sounding quite similar to Take This To Your Grave, From Under the Cork Tree trades a hint of angst for tasteful vulnerability (but still a fair share of angst though). The themes of sadness and self-pity are still here, but somehow come off a tad less angry and whiny. This whole album goes to show that you can write sad songs without making them slow ballads, even if there are a couple changes in tempo with songs like “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)” and “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying (Do Your Part to Save the Scene and Stop Going to Shows)”. It’s still very much a rock album, but each song is charged full of real emotion rather than the more cliché lyrics of sex, drugs, and partying that are ubiquitous in other rock sub-genres.

I also feel like the lyrical genius of Pete Wentz really shines through here more so than Take This To Your Grave. Somehow Wentz is able to take the relatively common rock song topic of “I want to have sex with some girl who doesn’t want to have sex with me” and turn it into something deeper and more emotional. Yet at the same time, I wouldn’t label these cheesy love songs either. They’re that perfect ode to the awkward middle ground between love and horniness that is hormonally charged teenage lust. We start seeing the memorable one-liners that I’ve come to expect from Fall Out Boy such as:

– “Can I lay in your bed all day? I’ll be your best kept secret and your biggest mistake.” (“Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner”)
– “I’d burn the city down to show you the light” (“Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year”)
– “The Best Part of Believe is the Lie” (Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year”)

It’s that lyricism, along with Stump’s vocals that inject raw emotion into every track even though musically it’s still an upbeat rock album.

Who would enjoy it? Anyone who likes rock music and especially those who appreciate more intricate lyrics in their rock music.

January 16, Infinity On High by Fall Out Boy

Infinityonhigh.jpg

 

Genre: Pop punk
Year: 2007
Runtime: 47:49
Total Number of Tracks: 14
Singles you might know:
– “The Take Over, the Break’s Over”
– “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race”
– “Thnks fr th Mmrs”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: As previously mentioned, my hard copy of Infinity on High was shipped to me in the exact same box as my hard copy of From Under the Cork Tree in late 2008. That’s because I couldn’t pick between the two albums. I listened to both quite frequently in my teen years, but for some reason I never felt like Infinity on High had the same status as a “classic” the way that From Under the Cork Tree does. I still remember it fondly and have sang many of these songs alone in my car at full volume.

My impressions this time around: A lot of the Infinity on High songs have an anthemic quality to them. It’s easy to imagine a stadium full of teenagers belting them together and the album exudes the same energy as a live show in a way most studio albums don’t. While From Under the Cork Tree has a more intimate, confessional vibe to it, Infinity on High feels more communal, oftentimes referring to “we” rather than “I”. Songs like “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” and “Hum Hallelujah” (possibly the most underrated FOB song of all time) incorporate harmonized, choral vocals in the bridge. It’s as if they’re purposefully trying to make you feel like you’re singing along with other Fall Out Boy fans rather than actual Fall Out Boy.

While Infinity on High is not really a dramatic departure from the first two albums, this is one of the first times we really start seeing FOB experiment with instruments outside the guitar/bass/drums model. “Thnks fr th Mmrs” is one of the best examples of this, but we also get some nice brass on “I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears And None On My Fingers.”

I will say that given this sound, the one ballad on here, “Golden,” does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s not a particularly strong song and it sounds like nothing else on the album. I have the impression that it was thrown on here just to say “hey, we can do ballads too” rather than to make any positive contribution to the album. Other songs like “I’m Like a Lawyer With The Way I’m Always Trying To Get You Off (Me & You)” or “The (After) Life Of The Party” do a better job of slowing down the tempo while still having enough in common with the other songs to not feel disruptive.

Obligatory acknowledgment of the lyrical genius of Pete Wentz:
– “I could write it better than you ever felt it” (“Hum Hallelujah”)
– “They say quitters never win, but we walk the plank on a sinking ship” (“Don’t You Know Who I Am Who I Think I Am”)

Who would enjoy it? Anyway who loves rock anthems. Note that I didn’t, just say “pop punk” I said rock.

January 17, Folie à Deux by Fall Out Boy

Fobfolie.jpg
Genre: Pop punk, light on the punk though.
Year: 2008
Runtime: 50:23
Total Number of Tracks: 13
Singles you might know:
– “I Don’t Care”
– “America’s Suitehearts”
– “Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”
– “What a Catch, Donnie”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: I remember “I Don’t Care” getting played almost constantly on the local alternative rock station when it first came out. It was my jam, and deserves almost as much credit as “Dance, Dance” or “Sugar, We’re Going Down” in terms of turning me into an FOB fan. Yet as much as I loved it, I never bothered to listen to the full album prior to now. I loved From Under the Cork Tree and Infinity on High so much that I almost felt like this album was a waste of my time, because there was no way it could outdo its predecessors.

My impressions this time around: I’m mad at myself for not giving this album more of a chance earlier because it’s pretty fantastic. While Infinity on High is a bunch of rock anthems with a token ballad, Folie á Deux shows that Fall Out Boy can incorporate both of those moods into a single song.  “What a Catch, Donnie” is a great example, blending the more intimate feel of piano and vocals with the bigger sounds of rock and orchestral instrumentation as well.

This allows Folie á Deux to be a cohesive album that still has a fair amount of dynamic contrast. There’s no song that sticks out the way that “Golden” does on Infinity on High, yet I’m not listening to the same song over and over again either. It is currently the median FOB album, so it makes sense that you can hear that damn near perfect balance between old and new Fall Out Boy. There’s just enough experimentation that it doesn’t feel like a rehash of prior albums, all while being similar enough that anyone who likes those albums will still like this.

Who would enjoy it? This is a great pick for people who love to see subtle hints of orchestra in their rock music. It’s also good for people who like the concept of pop punk or alternative rock that might’ve found more extreme examples of the genre off putting. This is still very much a rock album with the intensity of pop punk, but more commercial than say RIOT! by Paramore or Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance or even the earlier Fall Out Boy albums.

January 18, Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy

Save-Rock-And-Roll.jpg
Genre:
Alternative rock
Year: 2013
Runtime: 41:37
Total Number of Tracks: 11
Singles you might know:
– “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)”
– “The Phoenix”
– “Alone Together”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: I freaking LOVE Save Rock And Roll quite unapologetically. Because I had essentially skipped over Folie á Deux I had not really heard the more experimental side of Fall Out Boy prior to this album. This was the first album that showed me Fall Out Boy could be more than an angsty pop punk band. I also find that it evolved much the same way my own tastes did at around the same time. Right as I was becoming more appreciative of pop, R&B, hip hop, and the magic that can happen when those genres are allowed to co-mingle, this album gave me those influences as well as the angsty pop punk vibes I know and love.

My impressions with it this time around: This is the first post-hiatus FOB album, released five years after Folie á Deux and that fact manifests in the album’s sound. This is the first instance where there’s a rather dramatic jump from the prior album. While pretty much anyone who likes one of the first four albums will probably like all of them, it’s hard to make the same promise about Save Rock And Roll. 

While there’s certainly some of the pre-hiatus Fall Out Boy sound with songs like “Miss Missing You,” “Death Valley,” and “Rat A Tat” there’s also an incredibly diverse mix of other influences. Just look at the artists they’ve collaborated with: Big Sean, Foxes, Courtney Love, and Elton John are each featured on different tracks.

Who would enjoy it? This is a great one for fans of rock music who aren’t in an exclusive relationship with rock music. Unlike pre-hiatus FOB, you do need a somewhat more diverse range of music tastes to appreciate this one, but if you do this is right up your alley.

January 19, American Beauty/American Psycho by Fall Out Boy

American Beauty American Psycho cover.png

 

Genre: Alternative rock but also really kind of pop too
Year: 2015
Runtime: 39:01
Total Number of Tracks: 11
Singles you might know:
– “Irresistible”
– “American Beauty/American Psycho”
– Centuries”
– “Uma Thurman”
– “Immortals”


My prior relationship with this album: I had never bothered to listen to this whole album. I do this weird thing sometimes where if I’m head over heels in love with an album the way I was with Save Rock And Roll I sometimes resist listening to other albums so as not to be disappointed. That being said, I had heard the four singles and I also saw Fall Out Boy live in 2015, which is to say I may have even heard more than I remember. So while it’s not entirely accurate to say I was unfamiliar with this album. . . it’s not entirely accurate to say I was familiar either.

My impression this time around: While the album is certainly enjoyable, there’s also something forgettable about it. I’m not sure it really breaks any new ground the way that Save Rock And Roll did, which is neither a good nor bad thing. The song that probably best encapsulates how I feel about this album is “Jet Pack Blues.” Each time I listened to the album, I would get to this song and think “damn, this is a good song. Why have I slept on it so long?” And yet when I WASN’T listening to the album, the song was not stuck in my head. On subsequent listens I would think “Oh yeah that’s right. This WAS a great song.”

 Who would enjoy it? People who like the less aggressive, more pop-friendly side of rock music.

January 20, M A N I A by Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy - Mania.png


Genre: 
Alternative pop… if that’s a thing.
Year: 2018
Runtime: 35:46
Total Number of Tracks: 10
Singles you might know:
– “Young and Menace”
– “Champion”
– “The Last of the Real Ones”
– “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”
– “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)”

 

My prior relationship with this album: I initially ignored MANIA but when I heard the song “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” on the radio, it was one of those songs that just grabbed me and and demanded to be heard again. That prompted me to listen to the whole album. Because it’s only a year old, I don’t have the same relationship with it as I do earlier albums, but I enjoy it more than most other FOB fans.

My impression this time around: While I remain a MANIA sympathizer, I can also see why this was a disappointing album for some people. There is an admirable amount of risk taking here, incorporating many modern pop trends to the point that many songs aren’t even rock anymore. I don’t really have a problem with that, but I do have to subtract points for lack of consistency. I LOVE “The Last of the Real Ones” and “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes).” I love them to the point that I’d rather just bounce back and forth between these two songs rather than listen to the whole album. The ballads such as “Heaven’s Gate” and “Young and Menace” are respectable, but don’t float my boat.

So while this one will probably never be my favorite Fall Out Boy album,  it is a testament to their fearlessness as a band. It’s the sort of album that makes me excited to see what they’ll do next, and not every band is able to maintain that excitement seven albums into their career.

Who would enjoy it? People that enjoy pop that isn’t TOO poppy.

 

 

An Album a Day: Week 12

 

March 18 – Identified by Vanessa Hudgens

Vanessa Hudgens - Identified album cover.png

 

Genre: Pop
Year: 2008
Runtime: 37:44
Total tracks: 12
Songs you might know:
– “Sneakernight”

 

 

My prior relationship with this album: As mentioned in last week’s post, I had an odd relationship with the albums of various Disney Channel stars from this era. I listened to this album back in the day, but not out of enjoyment so much as to validate negative opinions I already had. While I never had any particular disdain for Hudgens, she always struck me as someone who never would’ve been able to secure a record deal on music talent alone, and instead used the name she made as an actress to make her two albums happen.

All that said, I do remember liking this album more than the Hudgens debut album (which you can read about in last week’s post). At least I can remember listening to this. And I’ve even had random itches for “Last Night” over the last decade because that song is a bop and really should’ve been a single.

My impressions this time around: Intellectually, I know that Identified isn’t really anything special. It’s a cookie cutter pop album, outside of maybe the decision to put “Last Night” in a 5/4 time signature. The vocals are passable, but nothing that really elevates the material. Many people have made albums that sound like this, and many have done it better.

Yet for some reason, I still enjoyed going to back to Identified throughout the week. While was just plain and forgettable, this at least had enough catchy hooks to have some guilty pleasure appeal. While the vocals are sometimes over digitized for my taste (“Party on the Moon,” I’m looking at you) it’s not prevalent enough to be a deal breaker. Yes, the lyrics are shallow. No, there’s nothing fresh or original about it. But if you’re just looking to kill a half hour with some mindless pop music you haven’t heard yet, Identified might be worth checking out.

Who would enjoy it? People who like early Kesha music.

March 19 – Pop Psychology by Neon Trees

Neon Trees Pop Psychology.jpg

 

Genre: Pop rock
Year: 2014
Runtime: 36:22
Total tracks: 10
Songs you might know:
– “Text Me in the Morning”
– “Sleeping With a Friend”
– “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)”
– “First Things First”

 

My prior relationship with this album: While I had never listened to any Neon Trees album in its entirety, I do have a certain affinity for Pop Psychology’s lead single “Sleeping With a Friend.” This is part of why I decided to start here instead of their first two albums. I’ve always considered Neon Trees to be one of those bands that’s fun, but not particularly interesting. I was curious to see if their singles were actually representative of what an entire album sounds like, or if they were simply clever marketing tools for more complex, less commercial music found on the album.

My impressions this time around: For the most part, every song on this album clings to a safe, predictable formula. If you’ve heard ANY Neon Trees album, you know that formula: Catchy hooks. Sexual frustration. Simple electric guitar riffs and drumbeats. There’s a couple tracks here that sort of stray from that: “Unavoidable” is a duet featuring the vocals of drummer Elaine Bradley that’s good enough to make you wonder why they don’t feature her vocals more often. “Voices in the Hall” is a forgettable ballad that has the opposite effect, giving you a good understanding of why this band doesn’t do ballads more often. “Foolish Behavior” is the formula listed above but lighter on the guitar.

Whether or not this is a good or a bad thing is in the ear of the beholder. I know I certainly have days when I just want a simplistic pop album that’s fun to listen to and doesn’t make me think too hard. That’s what Pop Psychology delivers, nothing more and nothing less. However, the lack of creativity definitely keeps this from being an album I can play on repeat and doesn’t exactly get me revved up to listen to their other albums.

Who would enjoy it? If you like any Neon Trees song you’ve heard before, you’ll probably like all the other songs on this album. If you’re unfamiliar with their sound, just think of it as pop music for people who are too “alternative” to admit they like pop music.

March 20 – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life The Wombats

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life.jpgGenre: That weird alternative indie stuff that you’ve definitely heard before, but isn’t quite “rock”
Year: 2018
Runtime: 37:00
Total tracks: 11
Songs you might know:
– “Lemon to a Knife Fight”
– “Turn”
– “Cheetah Tongue”
– “Black Flamingo”

My prior relationship with this album: I don’t THINK I had ever heard of the Wombats before but there’s a chance I Shazammed them or something. The single “Turn” was featured on an ad for the Netflix program Dating Around and it grabbed me in a way few other songs have. This being the year of An Album a Day, I promptly listened to the whole album. Twice. Back to back.

I’ve listened to this several times and have formed quite a relationship with it already. An Album a Day has put me in a place where I’m not really blasting the same album over and over again the way I used to, and that’s by design. So when a band I’ve never heard of just.breaks through and insists on being played on repeat, it forms a special bond. It may be new in my life, but I am smitten with it.

My impressions this time around: As stated above, I’ve really been liking this album lately. It’s that perfect middle ground between pop and rock that makes my heart sing. We also get a fair amount of lyrical genius with lines like “You could give an aspirin the headache of its life” in “Turn.”

I think what makes this album so wonderful is its ability to feel original and interesting without necessarily being experimental or avant garde. It’s palatable on first listen, but also nothing I easily get bored with after three listens. I’ve been describing it as a Walk the Moon-esque sound but less peppy and upbeat and more melancholy.

Who would enjoy it? People who are into bands like The Killers or Death Cab for Cutie. Also, EVERYONE should go listen to “Turn.” If you vibe with it, you’ll vibe with the rest of the album.

March 21 – Insomniatic by Aly & A.j.

Aly & AJ - Insomniatic.jpg

Genre: Pop rock
Year: 2007
Runtime: 42:55
Total tracks: 13*, including one remix of a song from a prior album and one song not included on all editions of the album.
Songs you might know:
– “Potential Breakup Song”
– “Like Whoa”
– “Chemicals React” (note that THIS is the song that was remixed. The version here is not the one often played on Disney Channel back in the day.)

My prior relationship with this album: I actually thoroughly enjoyed Aly & A.j. They are the ones that I compared all other Disney acts to. As a teenager, I saw them as the “real deal” because they actually played guitars and wrote their own songs and what not. I know every lyric of this album. I probably drove my parents crazy by insisting on playing it in the car over and over again. I’m actually seriously considering buying concert tickets for the upcoming Aly & A.j. tour. What you didn’t know they were touring? GUESS YOU’RE NOT A REAL FAN LIKE THE REST OF US. But yes, it’s one of my all time favorites and it’ll be interesting to see if I outgrew it or if it stands the test of time.

My impressions this time around: This album makes me angry there are not more Aly & A.j. albums. It. Is. That. Good. Like, not just good in a nostalgic way, but good enough to make me thing that if Aly & A.j. were just bursting onto the scene in 2019, I would still have the same enthusiasm for them. Yes, it’s definitely a watered down version of rock music much the same as Demi Lovato’s Don’t Forget (which was featured in last week’s post). However, there’s a creativity and authenticity here that makes it work. While many of the songs still revolve around love and heartbreak, the lyrics have nuance beyond “you’re cool I like you” and “you’re mean I hate you.” The best example of this is “Like It or Leave It” which is arguably the best song of the whole album.

In addition to “Like It Or Leave It,” Insomniatic boasts several other, top notch amazing tracks, notably “Potential Breakup Song” and “If I Could Have You Back.” Each takes familiar relationship tropes, puts just enough spin on them to make them fresh, and injects them with raw energy and emotion. But what really makes this album special is how even the middle-of-the-road tracks are still pretty damn good. “Flattery,” “Division,” and “Silence” aren’t even the main attraction here but still manage to be better than the top tracks of lots of other albums. It really says something when I don’t have a huge urge to skip around to favorite tracks as is so often my habit, and that is the case with Insomniatic. 

There are a couple things that I will subtract points on, and one of them is the not-even-on-the-album-anymore song “Blush.” I have a physical copy from 2007 that still includes this soft piano ballad, but other pressings of the album don’t have it, and it seems as those most digital/streaming copies of the album don’t include it either. While “Blush” isn’t quite a BAD song, it’s by far the weakest track of the bunch and noticeably too mature to belong on this particular album.

The other thing is the inclusion of a remix of “Chemicals React.” It’s not as good as the original version that was included on the deluxe edition of their debut album, Into the Rush. Basically, it’s the exact same song but it traded some electric guitar for some acoustic guitar. The problem is they didn’t quite strip it down enough for it to be thoughtful, unplugged interpretation of the song, and instead it just makes me say “why couldn’t they give me the good version?” The album didn’t need it.

Who would enjoy it? People who don’t want stuff that’s too out there or experimental, but also want something slightly harder than a typical pop album.

March 22 – One of the Boys by Katy Perry

Katy Perry - One of the Boys.jpgGenre: An edgier-than-usual pop
Year: 2008
Runtime: 44:01
Total tracks: 12
Songs you might know:
– “I Kissed a Girl”
– “Waking Up in Vegas”
– “Thinking of You”
– “Ur So Gay”
– “Hot ‘n Cold”

My prior relationship with this album: I definitely listened to this album not too long after it came out. I remember having an overall positive opinion of it, and thinking many of the deep cuts were better than the singles used for marketing. That being said, I can’t remember how most of those deep cuts go, so it should be fun to revisit.

My impressions this time around: This actually exceeded my expectations, so much so that I gave it a listen even AFTER I thought I’d finished my writeup, albeit I did skip “Ur So Gay.” Many of the songs I hadn’t remembered are quite strong, “Self Inflicted”  possibly being the strongest on a mostly consistent album (we’ll get to “Ur So Gay” in a bit). There’s also stuff like “Waking Up in Vegas” that I DO remember, but don’t remember sounding as good as they did on this listen.

What I found really interesting about One of the Boys is that it’s incredibly live sounding. Oftentimes “pop” is defined by the dance club beats of Max Martin and Dr. Luke (who did work on “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot ‘n Cold”). But this is a pop album that still embraces good old-fashioned guitars, drums, and bass. While too many pop tropes are present for this to really be “rock” it definitely draws influence from rock, resulting in a sound that’s raw and real. Revisiting this album definitely made me wish that Perry would ditch whatever the hell she does now and return to this sound.

Now we do have to talk about “Ur So Gay.” Besides the fact the song just ages incredibly poorly, let’s also admit that it wasn’t that good in 2008 either. It’s just an immature list of stereotypes that don’t really convey any genuine emotion. There’s already two slower, break-up-the-monotony songs on here, “Lost” and “I’m Still Breathing,” both of which certainly hold their own. “Ur So Gay” just feels like it’s here for shock value as a desperate cry for attention, and the album would’ve been stronger without it.

Who would enjoy it? People that enjoy the catchy hooks and easily digestible lyrics of pop, but are put off by too much digitization.

March 23, American Teen by Khalid

Americanteen.jpg

 

Genre: R&B
Year: 2017
Runtime: 54:37
Total tracks: 15
Songs you might know:
– “Young Dumb & Broke”
– “Location”
– “Saved”

 

My prior relationship with this album: “Khalid” was one of those names I was hearing everywhere without really being able to associate any particular song with him. He’s collaborated with many a different people:

– Benny Blanco and Halsey for “Eastside”
– Billie Eilish for “Lovely”
– Normani (formerly of Fifth Harmony) for “Love Lies”
– Ty Dolla Sign and 6lack for “OTW”
– H.E.R. for “This Way”

This dude seemingly went from nobody to being all over the place overnight, so I figured there must be something to his solo work. So, I gave American Teen a listen.

My impressions this time around: I This is one of those albums that I thought was good after one listen, but also intricate enough that I felt the need to listen to it several more times before writing about it. At the time of this writing I’ve listened to it a grand total of four times, two of which were earlier today. I’m happy to report that it’s growing on me, and my gut says it will continue to grow on me with more listens.

As the name suggests, American Teen explores themes of youth, from heartbreak to anxiety about the future. There’s a universality to it and while one could certainly argue that such themes are overused in music, the album is executed well enough that I don’t really mind. There’s a really great balance of more catchy, radio friendly hooks like “8teen” (my favorite track of the moment) and ballads like “Cold Blooded.” I’ve found it’s a great album to write to, relaxing and soulful in all the right ways. It’s one I’m excited to continue listening to, and one that makes me excited to hear the follow-up album that apparently comes out in less than a week. Funny how I timed that without even trying.

Who would enjoy it? I’m unfortunately not R&B literate enough to compare this to other R&B artists, but I would say people who have enjoyed the other tracks that Khalid has been involved with should take the hour to listen to American Teen. It’s a solid album and I could see it helping pop fans expand their horizons into R&B.

March 24, Into the Rush by Aly & A.j.

Aly & AJ - Into the Rush.jpgGenre: Soft rock with a folk influence
Year: 2005
Runtime: 46:09
Total tracks: 14, including two covers.
Songs you might know:
– “Rush”
– “No One”
– “Do You Believe in Magic”
– “Walking on Sunshine”

My prior relationship with this album: I’m relatively confident that this is actually THE first physical cd I ever bought with my own money. Much like Insomniac, I played the hell out of it, largely because I didn’t have any other cds. The music was kid friendly, but just mature enough to make me feel superior to kids who were listening to more pop-based kid friendly music.

My impressions this time around: To be honest, Into the Rush doesn’t hold up the same way Insomniatic does. As I’ve matured I’ve realized how simplistic some of the songwriting here is. For better or worse, you can tell that most of this album was written by inexperienced teenagers. Many of the songs repeat the chorus over and over again and the verses are only 3-4 lines each. I just get the impression that I’m listening to songs that were slapped together in a hurry, as opposed to something like “Turn” from that Wombats album which feels like every line was meticulously written and re-written until it was good.

That being said, there are some songs that still hold up. “Sticks and Stones” was my favorite back in the day, and it still does a great job of balancing vulnerability with empowerment. “I Am One of Them” tackles the difficult topic of child kidnappings. This was never one of my favorites when I was younger, but it does have slightly more intricate lyrics and composition and I hadn’t given it the credit it deserves in the past.

Overall, Into the Rush has enough good qualities to be decent, and I’ll certainly always have a special place in my heart for it. But it’s also not something I would ever recommend to adults now, nor anything I’ll go out of my way to listen to again.

Who would enjoy it? People who are tired of the more sexual themes that are pervasive in most mainstream music genres, but also don’t want anything overly manufactured or pop-oriented. This gives you some rawness with a PG rating.

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 today’s 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 force 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 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.