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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)

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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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.

*Published in Roosevelt University Torch, 2014.


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.