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.

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