Charli XCX’s new album ‘Sucker’ wild mix of punk & pop

Although Charli XCX may not have been a household name until recently, she has been making waves in the music scene for well over a year. The 22 year-old Brit’s journey began in 2012 burst onto the pop scene via a guest spot on Icona Pop’s chart-topping hit “I Love It,” which she also co-wrote. Her stardom slowly began to proliferate as she appeared on the chorus for “Fancy” with Iggy Azalea, but this didn’t exactly win her time in the spotlight quite yet. Finally, her song for “The Fault in Our Stars” soundtrack, “Boom Clap,” was played nonstop on the radio. The ‘Fancy’ singer proves she can bring just as much if not more fun to pop music on ‘Sucker’ without any celebrity assistance.

Sucker begins with songs “Sucker,” “Break the Rules,” and “London Queen” which all accentuate her punk side whereas the rest of the album becomes increasingly more pop-focused. Her pop-punk duality has been hammered into fans’ heads after she performed pop hit “Boom Clap” and more edgy punk “Break the Rules” on the American Music Awards and Saturday Night Live in respectively pop and punk-themed outfits.

“London Queen,” inspired by the Ramones, details XCX’s journey from London to the United States in an upbeat, but cliché way and doesn’t gain the approval of punk fans.
The song that stands out most is her newly released single “Breaking Up.” It’s a retro, cosmic bowling themed video for a song that makes breaking up look easy, if not enjoyable. Warning: this song may very easily become stuck in your head the rest of the week after just one listen, but that’s not a bad thing. XCX acts out a revenge fantasy singing “Everything was wrong with you/ so breaking up was easy to do.”

Charli XCX is known to be a strong feminist, which shows up most clearly on “Body of My Own.” Another song not to miss is “Famous” featuring Greg Kurstin. It is surprisingly the only song on the album with a guest feature, but Charli is a powerful performer who pulls her weight incredibly. This track has a retro pop sound but is simultaneously the one track most calling for an EDM remix.

Weezer influences can be heard throughout “Hanging Around.” Charli worked with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo on the track and it is a more of a rock anthem. “Caught in the Middle” is a slower song on an album of glittery, bubbly pop songs, but holds its own with a catchy hook, “Our hearts got caught in the middle/caught in the middle of love.”
By the time “Need Ur Luv” comes around closing up the album, it’s easy to see that each and every song on the album is strong enough to be its own single with the exception of superficial “Gold Coins” about the joys of wealth.

Her sound has changed a lot since her debut album “True Romance” and while some will say she’s “sold out” since gaining entrance to fame, I think she’s simply matured. Although this album is sure to break some sales records, she stays out of the mainstream world with her unique personality, style, and the pop-punk dichotomy of her sound.

Now due to her growing fame, the world gets to see more of who she really is now that she isn’t hiding behind synths and hazy production. While she used to tour singing over beats from her computer, she toured with a live all-female band for “Sucker.”

Charli XCX is going to be around for a while making fun pop music due to both her singing and songwriting skills. She has contributed to Rihanna’s upcoming album as well as Iggy Azalea’s new single “Beg for it.” Although “Sucker” in all its immense glittery pop wonderfulness will hold me over for a while, I can’t wait to see what she’ll come up with next.
(Photo Courtesy of Flickr)


Schoolboy Q’s ‘Oxymoron’ doesn’t live up to hype

Schoolboy Q released his newest album “Oxymoron” on Feb. 25, making it the newest album to be released from any member of the group Black Hippy, also composed of members Ab-soul, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar. Although he proves he is an extremely dynamic rapper, it is a disappointing follow-up to his previous album “Habits and Contradictions.”
“I strive to be better than Kendrick, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock,” Schoolboy Q told HipHopDX in June. “I gotta be better than [Kendrick’s] s— or just as good. It has to be just as good or better.” The influence of Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” album shows through Q’s attempts at storytelling, but he fails to perfect the skill.
“Oxymoron” contains much of the Schoolboy Q his fans know and love. For example, his signature ad-lib “Yawk!” is present throughout the album in addition to several, more traditional Schoolboy Q gangsta rap bangers such as “What They Want” and “Break the Bank.” But listeners might notice a more personal side of Q in “Hoover Street,” which tells the haunting history of his life and how he came to be the rapper he is now.
He raps, “So I guess it’s back to trapping, eyes open night to morning, had roaches in my cereal, my uncle stole my stereo, my grandma can’t control him,” to describe his troubling home life. It takes on a very similar disposition to Danny Brown’s “Torture.”
Although there are a few songs that particularly stand out, a downside is that many seem to fade into the background and are not very memorable. Q’s best tracks on the album are where he shows off his versatility. He displays many different styles, switching from casual mumbling on “Break the Bank,” to quickly spitting rhymes on “The Purge.” The latter song is an interesting listen because instead of Tyler, the Creator having a verse on the song. Tyler does the hooks and interludes, while it features a verse by Kurupt.
“Hell of a Night” attempts to encompass a dance and rap compilation. While it contains some of the hardest hitting verses of the album, it’s a shame that it’s paired with a weak, cliché hook saying, “Get up out your seat, you can have my drink, let me see you dance.”
Top Dawg Entertainment’s beats shine in hazy, Chromatics’ sampled “Man of the Year” and soft, 90s style “Blind Threats.” “The Purge” continually and unusually uses a siren in the beat while “Prescription/Oxymoron” features interludes by Q’s young daughter, Joy.
“Oxymoron” shows that Q can hold his own with the many talented and established rappers who are featured on his songs, but he does an impressive job producing singles by himself, as well.
Q’s single critical mistake, however, was releasing all his strongest songs as singles before the album’s release.
“Collard Greens” was released back at the beginning of June 2013, and although it was popular then, it is old news now. “Man of the Year” was released last November, creating a lot of anticipation for the album, but it stands out among the tracks as one of the strongest songs, leaving much to be desired in the remaining tracks.
Although Schoolboy Q has no problem proving he’s a complex and brilliant artist, “Oxymoron” is not quite the outstanding follow up to “Habits and Contradictions” that fans anticipated.

Katy Perry: ‘PRISM’ Album Review

“PRISM” is Katy Perry’s fourth album, featuring her already popular singles “Roar” and “Dark Horse.”

The album begins with “Roar,” a poppy and catchy song that reminds listeners of several others of Perry’s past songs. The lyrics represent yet another tale of breaking free and letting her voice be heard, a theme that is very overdone in popular music.

The video, however, is more entertaining and corresponds with Katy’s signature style when she embodies a tiger’s strength and dons a cheetah print bikini top and bottoms seemingly made from grass and plants.

Next, “Legendary Lovers” features interesting lyrics such as “Under a silver moon, tropical temperature
I feel my lotus bloom, come closer. 
I want your energy, I want your aura.
You are my destiny, my mantra,” but the hook feels rushed and throws off the flow of the song.

However, Perry overcomes this small issue when tribal sounding drums pick up and background vocals contribute a unique sound to a song that is pretty typical of Perry otherwise.

“Birthday” is the newest song that will be added to everyone’s birthday party playlists. It’s an up-tempo song about everything birthday celebration related put into flirty Katy lyrics. It’s surprising that no one has made a song like this before. Props to Katy.

“Walking On Air” is surely the next song to be played repeatedly on all the radio stations and promises to become old quickly by its repetitive lyrics. It repeats “Tonight, tonight, tonight, I’m walking on air, tonight, tonight, tonight, I’m walking on air” and features an 80s themed beat and background vocals.

“Unconditionally” is a seemingly heartfelt love song and shows listeners a side of Perry people haven’t seen since before her split with Russell Brand.

“Dark Horse” is one of the best songs on “PRISM” because not only does Perry feature a trap music song on her album but she also adds rapper Juicy J on it. With trap becoming more popular, Katy was smart as an artist to adopt it right at its beginning.

The beat doesn’t sound like anything done recently in pop but more so resembles a rap beat and she sings flawlessly over it. Juicy J’s verse is not his best work but ends strong with “Her love is like a drug, I was trying to hit it and quit it but Lil Mama so dope I messed around and got addicted.”

“This Is How We Do” is a feel good song good for listening to in the car with the top down. It seems like this would have worked better as a summer release with party anthem lyrics like “This is how we do, yeah, chilling, laid back. 
Straight stunting yeah we do it like that. 
This is how we do, do, do, do, do. 
This is how we do.”

At one point when the song seems ready to end, Katy says, “Bring the beat back” and it doesn’t work well with the song. Listeners will wish it had just faded out instead of listening to Katy’s fake MC talk.

“International Smile” talks about a girl with “Flowers in her hair, she don’t care
. Peach pink lips, yeah, everybody stares. 
You think you’ve seen her in a magazine, 
it’s like she walked right out of your dreams.” The entire song basically describes a Hollywood “It-Girl” and will remind listeners of Perry’s “California Gurls.”

“Ghost” is a song with a mellow dance beat about losing someone close. Perry sings, “When I look back never would have known that you could be so cold, like a stranger vanish like a vapor. There’s just an echo where your heart used to be.” The dance beat seems to trivialize the emotional lyrics and it ends up being confusing about her intended meaning.

“Love Me,” conveys a much-needed message about the importance of loving ourselves. Many young women can probably relate to her lyrics like “Sometimes I wish my skin was a costume
that I could just unzip, and strip, 
but who I am is who I’m meant to be.” She follows through with a very genuine denunciation of insecurities and second-guessing.

“This Moment” is another good reminder for most people. Perry advises listeners to live in the moment and “don’t let the clock tell you what to do” and “don’t miss and blink.” In a workaholic culture revolving around time, this is an important message that may be missed through the typical pop song sound.

“Double Rainbow” is a love song that speaks about how people are unique like double rainbows. She sings “They say one man’s trash is another girl’s treasure.
So if it’s up to me, I’m going to keep you forever

’cause I understand you, we see eye to eye
like a double rainbow in the sky.” Although all of these songs are typical Katy Perry songs and impossible to imagine them belonging to any other artist, most of them don’t show any progression or change to her work.

“By The Grace Of God” is the most honest, sincere song of Katy’s career, once again reminiscing a breakup. She sings “By the grace of God 
(There was no other way), 
I picked myself back up 
(I knew I had to stay), 
I put one foot in front of the other and I
 looked in the mirror and decided to stay,
 wasn’t going to let love take me out that way.” In this song, listeners see the part of Perry that is learning and growing as a person from her experiences in love.

“Spiritual” is a song about spirits, spells, and charms where Perry sings, “This is spiritual, under your spell. Phenomenal, the way you make me feel. like an angel, oh, at blow, like a feather, you make me float.” It resembles several songs that have been done before and leaves listeners disappointed.

“It Takes Two” describes how there are two sides to every story. Listeners notice once again Perry seems to be growing up and taking blame for half of a breakup. She admits to not being completely innocent and even apologizes to someone.

“Choose Your Battles” is a fairly mellow song about choosing battles in a relationship and Perry says, “I’m not fighting anymore.” It is another song that doesn’t differ enough from her usual style to leave any type of impression on listeners.

Overall, the album includes many more catchy songs that are sure to become popular but Perry lacks progression as an artist. Although most of the lyrics are her usual sugar-coated pop lyrics, there are a few times she delves deep into her personal life and that is definitely something listeners want to see more of.

Additionally, she hasn’t tried many new things here, but listeners should commend “Dark Horse” as a step outside her musical boundaries and it turned out to be a big success. Hopefully on Perry’s next album listeners will see more of these changes and less of insubstantial songs like “Walking On Air.”


Danny Brown Gets Personal on New Album


There aren’t many rappers whose favorite band is Arcade Fire, who record songs with Insane Clown Posse, or who flirt incessantly with Kathy Griffin, but Danny Brown is that rapper. As a 32-year-old rapper Brown told The Guardian, the title Old is not referring to his age but actually to the fact that he’s been around so long in the rap game, and like the song “Side A” says, older fans want “that old Danny Brown” back.

The “old Danny Brown” first surfaced as a member of the group Reser’vor Dogs in the mid-2000s before releasing his mixtape, Detroit State of Mind, and going on to record The Hybrid and XXX. With Old, Brown brings a new spirit and style to rap using increasingly alternative beats and samples that make it a strong candidate for multiple listens while simultaneously setting a higher standard for hip-hop from here on out.

Brown hails from Detroit, the city that has produced venerated lyricists such as Eminem and Royce Da 5’9”. But Brown isn’t nearly as serious as his Motor City contemporaries. He can most commonly be seen posing for photos with his tongue out and showing off his missing tooth — and as wild as his appearance might be, his lyrics and delivery match up to the hype.

Side A of the album gives fans “that old Danny Brown” and features a deep look into his past in Detroit where he witnessed a lot of violence, drug use and eventually began selling drugs. On “25 Bucks,” Brown spits impressively intricate rhymes about trying to make a few dollars. This track features beats and vocals from Canadian electro-pop act Purity Ring, who previously featured Brown on a remix of their song “Belispeak II.”

Specifically on “Torture,” he paints a picture of a memory in Detroit and depicts his desensitization to violence in a lower, downcast voice than what listeners are used to. He says, he “was like f-cking 7-years old / When I first seen a fiend try to light a rock off the stove.” In “Gremlins,” Brown recalls hustling becoming repetitive and how “school becomes a free meal / street becomes a cheap thrill.”

He gets personal on the first half of the album, even mentioning a daughter, referring to the child his high school girlfriend had with someone else but Brown took in as his own. He even laments not being able to spend as much time with her as he’d like. It is at this point that listeners see a true evolution of Brown as an artist.

Side B of the album marks the extreme change in mood on Old where he switches from reminiscing and delves into the party scene and drug culture with songs such as “Dip,”  “Smokin & Drinkin” and “Kush Coma.”

On these songs, he has fun with his sound and skips the unusually low voice for his distinctive high-pitched, sometimes shrill voice. “Dip” features an electronic beat that samples Freak Nasty’s 1996 “Da’ Dip.” The song refers explicitly to the use of MDMA, which Brown has been an active supporter of since its recent transition into rap culture. It is arguably the most hyped-up song on the album with Brown saying, “Off a half a gram of Molly / We about to go party and I don’t know what I’m doing” throughout.

Side B continues to keep the party going with many highlights such as “Break It (Go),” for which Brown recruited Scottish producer Rustie. Together, they create a trap song sure to be seen as twerk-worthy by his massive amount of female fans. “Kush Coma” features A$AP Rocky in an explicit portrayal of marijuana use that seems to glorify the substance but carries a more serious undertone about the two sides to a lifestyle of partying when Brown says, “All these drugs up in me / It’s a miracle I ain’t mirror Kurt” (referring to Kurt Cobain).

Brown’s characteristic voice and eccentric and explicit lyrics made his last album, XXX, an immediate hit. Those qualities certainly reappear on Old, but it carries a more sophisticated and polished sound. While he featured some expected collaborations on Old, such as Ab-Soul and Freddie Gibbs, he also introduced some surprising choices of artists such as Purity Ring and British pop star Charli XCX. Brown’s eclectic range of lyrical subjects mixed with his use of obscure producers such as Paul White, Rustie and Detroit producer SKYWLKR, who infuse techno and U.K. grime sounds into the album create an unprecedented style of hip hop production.

The album concludes with “Float On,” a slower, dreamy track on which Brown talks about it still continuing to be a struggle at the end of the day to cope with everything he’s seen and deal with the stress of writing raps for a growing audience. He raps, “You can never understand all the pressure I’m against / Getting high thinking how to make it better than your last sh-t,” conveying some of the stresses and anxiety that come with success in hip-hop fame.

The track provides the perfect closure for an album that’s one part painful memories and one part a look into a drugged-out lifestyle to ultimately focus deeper on Danny Brown as a human being. As the track comes to a close, Brown talks about his fear of fading away under rap’s continuously changing landscape and burning out from drug use. Brown’s proposed solution is simply to stay more focused on his craft. The result of that focus is Old, an album that easily marks the pinnacle of Brown’s career to date.

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Sleigh Bells ‘Bitter Rivals’ Disappoints

Layered guitars? Sassy vocals? Must be the new Sleigh Bells album. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Sleigh Bells consists of Alexis Krauss (vocalist) and Derek Miller (guitarist/producer) who formed in New York. The band combines pop and loud, grungy guitar rhythms. Today marks the release of their third album, “Bitter Rivals.”

“Bitter Rivals” begins with the single also titled “Bitter Rivals” and it begins slow with snapping fingers in the background before the heavy guitars Sleigh Bells are known for drop and Alexis Krauss battles the sound with her voice. Her voice is usually barely heard over the music but the vocals are raised in this track.

“You are my bitter rival and I need you for survival” she sings for the chorus with only finger-snapping in the background, and it is a nice change in contrast to the loudness of the rest of the song.

“Sugarcane” pushes back the vocals once again and reminds listeners very clearly of many songs from their last album “Reign of Terror.” It’s very typical of their style and nothing really makes it stand out.

“Minnie” has an extremely loud chorus that repeats, “God save you, I’m a demon heartbreaker, not a loser. Minnie, real hard. Minnie, real hard.” The song’s rhythm is so catchy that listeners won’t even care that the lyrics don’t seem to make sense.

“Sing Like A Wire” sounds very different from the rest so far because it starts out very quickly and includes riffs not used in all the songs. At points, Krauss is almost whispering “Sing like a wire” before the music picks up and she begins to shout over it. The listener won’t lose interest after multiple listens.

“Young Legends” is more pop influenced and at times almost resembles a few older Britney Spears’ songs while talking about how “Young legends die all the time,” something which has often been true in music history.

“Tiger Kit” has the most interesting lyrics on the album. Krauss sings “You’re gonna jump, like a detour, in front of all of these people. Oh, how sorry life is, like a Hollywood sequel.” However, there isn’t anything significant about it that they haven’t done before and it’s a song listeners will likely skip over on their first listen of the album.

“You Don’t Get Me Twice” talks about a search for the American Dream and has parts where Krauss’ voice is high-pitched and shrill in the background, which doesn’t add anything to the song but serves as a kind of distraction. It seemed like an attempt just to switch up their sound but doesn’t work well for them.

“To Hell With You” turns a trip to hell into a dreamy, romantic getaway with this more pop-influenced, ethereal song saying “I’ll go to hell with you, here’s the proof.”

“24” is another slower, dreamy song whose true value comes through in the instrumentals between verses. It seems as though the song would be better off without the vocals in this case.

“Love Sick” is the only song on the album that stands out against Sleigh Bells’ typical sound. It seems to tap into both the styles of the Spice Girls mixed with Charli XCX for an airy, slow pop song.

Although it does include some of the heavy guitar riffs they are downplayed in the chorus and the majority of the song carries a peaceful tone.

Overall, “Bitter Rivals” is exactly what Sleigh Bells’ fans already know and love but it lacks a catchy new single like past hits  “Rill Rill” and “Comeback Kid.”

In “Reign of Terror,” they downplayed the guitars and upped the vocals since their first album “Treats” was uniquely heavy with guitars and Krauss was normally at almost a whisper. In “Bitter Rivals,” it seems as though the members of the band themselves are confused about where their sound is going next so it makes for a disappointing listen.

Noah And The Whale Reminisce But Don’t Surprise On “Heart of Nowhere”

Noah and the Whale is an indie folk band from London, England that consists of Charlie Fink (vocals, guitar), Tom Hobden (violin/keyboard), Michael Petulla (drums), Fred Abbott (guitar/keyboard) and Matt Owens (bass). They made their break into the folk scene in 2008 with their hit single “5 Years Time.” They have since released four albums including their newest, “Heart of Nowhere.”

“Heart of Nowhere” begins with an ethereal introduction, naturally titled “Introduction” that utilizes the keyboard and violin. It resembles the song “Paradise Stars” from their last album, “Last Night On Earth” which was also a solely instrumental transition that set a tone for the entire album.

Next “Heart of Nowhere” which is both the title and their first single off the album, picks up speed and includes catchy melodies by violinist, Tom Hobden. Then the calming voice of Charlie Fink sets in and it sounds like a traditional Noah and the Whale summer jam. It tells the story of running away from home and away from the life you know and taking a chance on a girl named Sarah. It’s an overdone concept with refreshing new life that includes back vocals from Anna Calvi. “Your parents hide, they live in fear. They’re lying restless, as the dawn comes near. But you want to live, you want to try.  You hear a whisper of the world outside.” It’s something everyone can relate to and has probably experienced at some point in their youth.

“All Through the Night” begins with nostalgic 80’s bass lines and breaks into more of a rock and roll guitar with distortion sound in between verses. The vocals are pushed back more than their usual style but blends well with the song.

“Lifetime” talks about two people drifting apart in life and ending up in two different places in their lives. “We grew up, drifted apart, now you’re getting married While I’m waiting for my life to start.” It’s very reminiscent and breaks up the song with a choppier violin melody.

“Silver and Gold” speaks to those undecided on a direction in life when Fink says “But it’s okay to not always be sure exactly where you want to go and love may not be the cure, that’s something I’ll never know.” This song plays on the theme the album seems to carry throughout: the passing of time. It has an overall nostalgic vibe.  However, this song is both reassuring of the present and hopeful for the future.

“One More Night” seems to slow down the passing of time and imagine a night in the future that will never happen. It is again the story of a love lost this time a woman with the name “Jennifer.” The story goes “I only left 6 months ago, now, and you’re wearing his ring. It’s like it all, never happened, like it didn’t mean a thing.” Rhythm mixes in beats on what sounds like bongos to create an overall optimistic feel and towards the end we hear a keyboard cameo to switch it up.

“Still After All These Years” carries yet another name, “Lisa” which was also used in their previous album in the song “LI.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” This song is once again speaking of the past “And I think still after all these years. Oh, I think still after all these years. Something still burns,” but seems to carry a happier tone due to the upbeat quality that resembles a vibe similar to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

“There Will Come a Time” is the kind of song that everyone wants clap their hands along to and belt the chorus out with their friends. It is another catchy tune with an 80’s air that celebrates friendship and getting through difficult times.

“Now Is Exactly the Time” stops the ever present and repetitive theme of looking into the past and changes the mood of the album. It advises “Oh, and now is exactly the time to turn your head from the past.” They continue to offer advice about forgiveness and moving on and bring listeners back to the present.

“Not Too Late” completes the album with a simple tune about finding your own path in life. However, the rest of the album seems so meticulously and effectively placed that it seems odd for “Heart of Nowhere” to end on this lackluster note.

“Heart of Nowhere” is entertaining but not surprising to any Noah and the Whale fan. The album as a whole is very similar to their typical sound but impeccably produced and carries the perfect sentimental ambience for the fall season.

Diarrhea Planet New Album

Diarrhea Planet is a punk band with pop influences from Nashville, Tennessee. They are made up of guitarists Brent Toler, Evan Bird, Emmett Miller, bassist Mike Boyle, drummer Casey Weissbach and singer Hodan Dickie. In 2009, they released their debut EP “Aloha” and then spent time opening for bands such as JEFF the Brotherhood and Wavves.  In 2011, they released their first album “Loose Jewels” and signed to Nashville’s Infinity Cat Recordings. Since then they have performed at SXSW and Made In America Fest. Now they are on tour promoting “I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.”

“I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams” is packed full of guitar shredding and catchy riffs as well as lyrics that hold your interest and leave you wanting to know more. On “Babyhead” for example, Dickie sings “My will is a cold-blooded killer, it blasts a hole in my head and dumps it into the river.”

On “Kids,” they take a break from the fast pace start of the record to reminisce the process of growing up with the chorus “Can we carry so much weight?” They sound very similar to the Ramones in the way they mix the genres of punk and pop into something people not usually fans of the punk genre can enjoy. Overall, it is easy to hear the evolution the band has gone through thus far and it will be interesting to see what direction they take their unique sound to next.