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

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.

30 Movies in 30 Days: Moulin Rouge

Had I seen it before: Yes, but it was long enough ago that I pretty much forgot the entire thing.

What IMDb says: A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets.

Requirements fulfilled: 

– At least one musical

Why I picked it: I still hadn’t fulfilled the musical requirement and I remember liking this one A LOT when I first saw it. That was back in high school I think, so it still felt like watching a new movie even though it wasn’t.

What I liked about it: What’s remarkable about Moulin Rouge is how the individual pieces of it are all things we’ve seen. The plot is familiar as hell, as depicted in such masterpieces as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or the Mr. Brightside music video. With the exception of “Come What May” the songs are all borrowed from pop culture both past and present. The aesthetic is pretty standard burlesque. Yet somehow, while watching the movie, it’s really hard to shake that feeling of “I’ve never seen any movie like this before.” Cases like this are why I’m so fascinated by the arts. On paper it sounds so stupid, and maybe it still is, but there’s something about the movie that just works.

I think a large part of why this works is that Moulin Rouge is a prime example of a movie that fucking COMMITS. It is not trying to be realistic. It is not trying to be subtle. It is not trying to be anything other than the over-the-top full-throttle explosion of gaudy musical numbers that is. And for that, I think it’s worthy of some respect even though the movie clearly isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you want to make this kind of movie, this is the way to do it: by owning it with every fiber of your being.

What I didn’t like about it: This is a tricky one to write about the negatives. In movies, there are flaws and there are “flaws.” Moulin Rouge has “flaws.”

In general, I like to see love stories that evolve a little bit slower, a little bit more believably. I don’t usually like love-at-first-sight in movies and consider it to be lazy storytelling. Moulin Rouge decides to bring our central couple together via a medley of songs with the word “love” immediately after they meet.

In general, I like characters that feel original multi-dimensional. I can’t say those descriptors apply to any character in Moulin Rouge. 

In general, I prefer for stories to be unpredictable. Moulin Rouge is not.

Yet as I mentioned above, part of why the movie works at all is because it wholeheartedly embraces its astronomical levels of cheesiness. If Moulin Rouge had attempted to fix any of these “flaws” it would cease to be the movie it is. I would probably be typing up some nonsense here about how it “couldn’t decide what it wanted to be” or how “it has a cool premise but shies away from it without reaching that premise’s full potential.”

So in this case I’ll give the movie a pass on its “flaws.” Instead I’d rather dwell on the biggest shame of all: that the Killers classic “Mr. Brightside” was released just a little too late to be included in the soundtrack. That is the only way in which the film could be improved.

Will I watch it again: Yes, but probably not for a while. Without the element of novelty, Moulin Rouge has little else to offer. I’d hate to watch it too many times and have it lose that novelty.

Albums to Listen to Instead of Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’

There are enough think pieces on the internet explaining why Taylor Swift is mildly irritating, so there’s relatively little point in me writing another one. What I HAVEN’T seen on the internet is a list of music for people who like Taylor the Musician, but are becoming more and more irritated with Taylor the Celebrity. Or maybe you have no problem with Taylor, and perhaps just want to discover other artists like her. Either way, this is the list for you!

Taylor Swift is more than capable of making good music, however I will say that all her albums are rather inconsistent. Most albums have some songs that I think are masterpieces, other songs that make me want to vigorously shake Taylor and whatever record execs decided those songs should make the final cut, and usually about half the album is forgettable filler tracks.

  • 1989 had “Blank Space” and “Wonderland” but it also had “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood.” Did you know that if you add up all the “Shake it off, I shake it offs” in this song it totals about a minute? A quarter of this song is just “Shake it off, I shake it off.” YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT TAYLOR.
  • Red had “All Too Well,” and the title track is arguably her best actual country song, but it also gave us “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” (shudders)
  • Speak Now had “Haunted” and “Back to December” but then it’s also the album that had the eyeroll-inducing anti-bullying song “Mean” just a few tracks before “Better Than Revenge,” you know, the one where Taylor bullies a romantic rival.
  • All the Fearless songs sound exactly the same to me, so I don’t even have any favorites or least favorites.
  • Her self-titled debut album gave us “Should’ve Said No” (okay, I lied. This is her best actual country song) and then there’s “The Outside” which I would say is the most underrated Taylor song of all time. But then what about “Teardrops on My Guitar?” I laugh at that song cause it’s just so fun-KNEE.

But enough about Taylor, let’s talk about artists that sound like her who can actually make a whole album that sounds good. Luckily, my job in retail means I’m consistently exposed to semi-generic pop music. This list is definitely geared towards the “New Taylor” sound. You know, the one who can still come to the phone. Basically, stuff that sounds like the music she made after she met Max Martin.

Conscious by Broods

The more I’ve listened to this album, the more surprised I am that Broods isn’t more famous than they are. They work with other famous people, including Lorde who co-wrote the second single for this album, “Heartlines.” In fact, Joel Little, one of the primary producers for Lorde’s first album, is also the primary producer here. Lyrically, Conscious is incredibly similar to Taylor’s work, exploring themes of love and heartbreak and failed relationships. The main difference is that I can honestly say I enjoy literally every song on this one.

Favorite tracks:
– “Free”
– “We Had Everything”
– “Heartlines”
– “Recovery”

Wild Things by Ladyhawke

This one reminds me of Taylor’s fun side. Not the Taylor who’s angry at Kimye, not the one who’s moping about love lost, the one who’s upbeat and bubbly and optimistic about a new relationship. That’s not to say there’s no sad songs here, just that the album as a whole is a bit more lighthearted than many of Taylor’s.

Favorite tracks:
– “Love Song”
– “Golden Girl”
– “Money to Burn”
– “Wonderland”

Know-It-All by Alessia Cara

Look I get that you’re probably tired of hearing “Scars to Your Beautiful” on the radio and that’s fair. But Know-It-All strikes that perfect balance where each song has its own identity but the album as a whole still feels cohesive. It explores themes that are universally relatable that still haven’t been done to death by the rest of the music industry. This is also a great choice if you want a little bit of the Old Taylor sound sprinkled in, as you’ll get it with “Stone” as well as the Deluxe Edition track “River of Tears” which is as good as Taylor’s “All Too Well.”

Favorite tracks:
– “Steventeen”
– “Here”
– “Wild Things”
– “River of Tears” (Deluxe Edition Exclusive)

Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen

One of the things I love about Carly Rae Jepsen is that she seems perfectly content to just make fun, guilty pleasure pop songs. She owns who she is and what she does. I will grant you that Emotion is not the one on this list to go for if you’re looking for lyrical complexity or some brand new original sound you’ve never heard before. But it’s fun to listen to. It’s relatable. It’s everything a pop album is supposed to be, and arguably the one on this list that most closely resembles a Taylor album. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it.

Favorite tracks:
– “Run Away With Me”
– “Your Type”
– “When I Needed You”

Electra Heart by Marina and the Diamonds

Imagine Taylor Swift made an album parodying Taylor Swift but with more swearing. You’re pretty much there. Electra Heart has Taylor’s sound plus the sort of social commentary that Taylor Swift is afraid to do. One of the main things that makes Marina and the Diamonds so charming is that she (Yes, it’s a solo act, despite the name) uses pop music to poke fun at pop music and call out the unhealthy social constructs it promotes. The first two tracks, “Bubblegum Bitch” and “Primadonna” are good examples if you want to see what I’m talking about, and they’re probably enough to hook you into listening to the whole album. I mean there’s a song called “Sex Yeah,” what are you waiting for?

Favorite tracks:
– “Bubblegum Bitch”
– “Teen Idle”
– “How to Be A Heartbreaker”

Body Talk by Robyn

If you think that electronic music lacks feeling by its very nature, this is the album that will prove you wrong.  “Dancing on My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend” can almost bring me to tears, and I haven’t heard anyone pull off the tearjerker electronic dance song like Robyn. I’m not even sure I knew it was possible before I discovered her. Sure, there’s a few more experimental tracks on here that might not appeal to all Swifties, but on the whole this is T-Swizzle but with a more mature feeling and a little more of an edge.

Favorite tracks:
– “Dancing on My Own”
– “Time Machine”
– “Call Your Girlfriend”
– “Get Myself Together”

Matter by St. Lucia

If you’re into songs that sound like they belong on John Hughes movies’ soundtracks, this might just be the album for you. Obviously a lot of the albums I’m including have strong ’80s synth vibes, but this is possibly the least modernized of them, meaning it’s easy to imagine these as songs actually made in the ’80s (albeit, most of them are longer than the average pop songs). It also features the production skills of frequent Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff (a.k.a. Bleachers) on one track, “Help Me Run Away.”

Favorite tracks:
– “Do You Remember”
– “Dancing on Glass”
– “Help Me Run Away”

Blue Neighbourhood by Troye Sivan

Not only does Blue Neighbourhood feature collaborations with two other artists on this list, but also the aforementioned Jack Antonoff. Blue Neighbourhood weaves synthpop, live instruments, and heartfelt lyrics together much the same way 1989 does.  I will say this one lacks some of the earworm hooks that get stuck in your head for days at a time and really takes more than one listen to fully appreciate. I don’t really mind that, because those are often the types of albums that I don’t get bored with after three listens (I’m looking at you, Fearless). 

Favorite tracks:
– “Talk Me Down”
– “Youth”
– “Lost Boy”

Hopeless Fountain Kingdom by Halsey

Honestly I probably could’ve put either of Halsey’s albums on this list but I opted for the newer one. I feel like Hopeless Fountain Kingdom has a little bit more variety. The important thing is that Halsey become known for more than “Closer.” This album also hints at some hip hop influences the same way Taylor’s “…Ready For It?” does but Halsey’s persona is a little more capable of pulling it off. She even recruited Quavo for the song “Lie.” So if you like that side of Taylor, definitely check out Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.

Favorite tracks:
– “Heaven In Hiding” (Deluxe Edition Exclusive)
– “Sorry”
– “Bad At Love”

What If Nothing by Walk the Moon

Fine, I just included this one because it literally came out the same day as Reputation and I don’t want it to be overshadowed too much. That being said, I don’t think it’s that far a stretch to think Taylor fans will like Walk the Moon. They perfectly blend electronic pop with traditional rock instrumentation and it just bloody works. Oh and you also have the amazing vocals of Nick Petricca so what can go wrong? Their stuff just makes you feel good and they’ve done a great job of maintaining the Walk the Moon charm of prior albums while still being just experimental enough to avoid predictability.

Favorite tracks:
– “One Foot”
– “Surrender”
– “Tiger Teeth”
– “Can’t Sleep (Wolves)”
– “In My Mind”

Not sure where to start? I made a Spotify playlist of my favorite tracks from each album. Think of it as an awesome appetizer sampler to help you out which appetizer to order on your next visit. Thanks for reading!