Saturday, August 31, 2013

Billboard Celebrate 'Music Box'


It's been twenty years since the release of Mariah Carey's third album Music Box; Her biggest selling record to date, with its worldwide sales tallying over 32 million. It also plays home to two number-ones ("Dreamlover" and signature ballad "Hero") and arguably one of her biggest worldwide hits, the remake of rock band Badfinger's "Without You."

Musically, the album signified her first dalliance with R&B--a sound that becomes apparent on the Babyface produced "Never Forget You"--way before she dived into the genre head-first four years later on 1997's Butterfly. 

There are also some softcore New Jack Swing and '90s dance influences, particularly on the jaunty "I've Been Thinking About You" and "Now That I Know." But ultimately this is an Adult Contemporary record stuffed to the brim with sugary ballads that put her then-five octave range on the forefront.

While it's definitely a significant album in her career, it's not a favourite of mine. It ranks somwhere below Butterfly, Daydream and the career-rectifying The Emancipation of Mimi. Check out Billboard's track-by-track review here.

Ellie Goulding 'Halcyon Days'


My time away from blogging meant I missed some of 2012's musical gems--which included Ellie Goulding's sophomore album Halcyon. A standout from the album which stuck with me throughout the year was the haunting "Figure 8" a firery, bass-heavy number, undercut with warbling synths and lush piano keys brooding beneath the electronic production--in other words: It's awesome. Halcyon Days--the reissue is released this week. It has so far spawned Goulding's first chart-topper "Burn." Along with that, seven new tracks (including two remakes) is added to the original tracklist (this is going by the Spotify edition).

Following the uproarious synth-drenched pop of "Burn," "Goodness Gracious" drops the tempo a little--but the synths are still there embellished throughout the track, shimmering over clattering rhythmic beats. The razor sharp synths get pretty '80s toward the end. "You My Everything" showcases some brooding piano work beneath Goulding's choppy vocal work, which gradually descends into rapid electronic beats and synths--almost like a toned down version of DJ Fresh' "Hot Right Now."

The atmospheric "Hearts Without Chains" strips things back to piano, vocal and bursts of soft percussion. It's beautifully composed--it segues nicely into "Stay Awake" featuring French producer Madeon, which begins briefly with guitar strings before it disintegrates into a glorious beat-heavy electronic production. If there was an underwhelming track on here it would be the rather dull and plodding electro-pop of "Under Control."

Similar to her rendition of Elton Johns' "Your Song," Goulding takes The Waterboys folksy love song "How Long Will I Love You" transforming it into a piano ballad backed with soaring strings and her emotional vocal. She also pulls things back for her remake of Alt-J's "Tessellate," seductively slowing down the tempo--soft clicks and a hush-hush bassline that sets the stage nicely for the beautiful horn solo.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Album Review: Ariana Grande - Yours Truly (4/5)


The debut album from Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande was certainly an album that I didn't expect to be looking forward to this year. Why? Because we've become accustomed to the sound that Disney / Nickelodeon stars peddle when the embark on their obligatory pop career: It's normally some form of pop/rock, perhaps with a more rock-studded edge (Demi Lovato) or lighthearted pop (Selena Gomez) or faux-urban pop (Ashley Tisdale) or whatever kind of pop Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana was doing on her last couple albums. Ultimately, it's a path that's so rooted in convention that one can't help but feel ambivalent when one of the cast members of Nickelodeon's former hit show Victorious announces her forthcoming debut album. So when Ariana Grande debuts her lead single, "The Way" featuring American rapper Mac Miller and it samples Big Pun and Joe's "Still Not a Player"--the feeling of being taken aback is a rather big understatement. The breezy mid-tempo number, flourished skittering beats, a delicious piano sample and kinetic handclaps also packed another punch: A breathy vocal that re-called that of Mariah Carey.

And that's we're the interest lies. Grande's breathy vocal, her fluttering falsetto and piercing whistle register is riddled with Mariah influences at her most vocally restraint. These influences are used to decorate the entire tracklist--which begins with "Honeymoon Avenue" a swooning mid-tempo, produced by Babyface. It's driven by subtle drum machines and an undercurrent of strings before the soft piano keys kick in towards its mid-section. Following is "Baby, I" also produced by Babyface kicks it up a gear--embellished with skittering drums, rhythmic clicks and claps--in the same vein as "The Way." The rapid drum beats before the chorus is nice ode to '70s soul.

Next up is "Right There" featuring rapper Big Sean. You'd be wrong to think that it samples Lil' Kim's 1996 hit "Crush on You." It actually samples The Jeff Lorber Fusion's "Rain Dance" of which "Crush on You" also takes its influence. It's the album's first major highlight--it's structure isn't dissimilar to "The Way," however its composition is noticeably stronger. Grande puts her vocal at the forefront on the swooning balladry of "Tattooed Heart" showcasing a nice '60s inspired doo-wop composition. "Daydreamin'" harbours the same nostalgic old-fashioned composition.

By, "Lovin' It" and "You'll Never Know" the album has its sound set in stone. In fact, it's hard to arcticulate why "Lovin' It" is any different to "The Way" and "Right There" aside from the fact it uses a sample I can't quite put my finger on. Yes, it's that hybrid of softcore R&B and urban-pop with skittering drum beats and drum machines. However, I can't praise the albums consistency and then criticise the albums recycling of the same sound. In any case it's a sound that works for her. Of course, there's the jaunty and aptly-piano driven pop of "Piano," the dance inspired "Better Left Unsaid" and the album's biggest mis-step "Popular Song" featuring MIKA to balance out the sound, but they're also the albums weaker moments and feel rather out of place.

The album arrives at a melancholic climax with the lovely piano balladry of "Almost Is Never Enough" featuring Nathan Sykes of The Wanted. Yours Truly, tries something other albums spawned by Disney and Nickelodeon stars rarely do--make albums targeted at--but not exclusive to--adults. The bulk of its sound plucked from the '90s and early '00s--pulling its inspiration from eras that the current tween audience are oblivious to. It's not perfect but sets the stage for what looks to be a pretty glittering career Ariana. (No pun in intended).

 Best: Right There, The Way, Baby I, Tattooed Heart, Honeymoon Avenue, Almost is Never Enough

Billboard Hot 100, September 8 2013



1. Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke (featuring T.I. and Pharell Williams)
2. Roar - Katy Perry
3. We Can't Stop - Miley Cyrus

It's a static top three this week. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" notches a 12th week atop of the Hot 100. It holds off Katy Perry's new single "Roar" for a second week, staying at number-two. According to Billboard, the two songs are separated by only 13% in overall chart points (combining sales, airplay and streaming), this is down from last week's 17%. Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" holds at three for another week. It'll be interesting to see if the controversy surrounding her recent VMA performance will have any effect on the single's performance for here on--I'm guessing not--but with the amount of press coverage this has gotten, it's hard not to wonder.

4. Applause - Lady Gaga

After Gaga's uncommonly low debut last week at #6, the lead single, "Applause" from her forthcoming third album ARTPOP climbs two spots up to #4. It's her ninth top five single--her first single since "The Edge of Glory" peaked at #3 in 2011.

9. Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Rey & Cedric Gervais

The Cedric Gervais remix of Lana Dey Rey's "Summertime Sadness" launches an impressive six spots up to #9, scoring the singer her first ever top ten. The closest she had gotten to a top ten single was with "Young and Beautiful" taken from The Great Gatsby soundtrack, which peaked at #22 earlier this year.

17. Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home

Drake climbs seven spots up to #17 with "Hold On, We're Going Home" scoring his 19th top twenty single.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Eminem Announces New Album This Fall


Rapper, Eminem announced his eighth studio album entitled MMLP2 during the commercial break of this year's Video Music Awards. The album will be preceded by lead single, "Bezerk" out on Tuesday. The album follows 2010's Recovery that landed the mega-hit "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Rihanna. The album drops 5th November. Check out the announcement below:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Billboard Hot 100, August 31 2013


1. Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke (featuring Pharrell Williams & T.I.)
2. Roar - Katy Perry

Gone are the days where hefty initial digital sales were enough to debut at the pinnacle of the Hot 100 (or get there in two weeks or less). This is something that greatly aided Katy Perry's single, "Part of Me," which debuted at #1 last year with 411,000. To put it in perspective--with the inclusion of streaming points (YouTube and Vevo views, Spotify etc) into the formula--Perry's latest single moving a staggering 557,000 in its first week--the sixth largest first week sales--wasn't enough for it unseat Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and end its ten week reign. In fact, this week he extends it to eleven weeks--becoming the 27th single to spend at least eleven weeks at #1. Comparatively, Robin moved a distinctively lower 291,000 of "Lines" this week but was bolstered by streaming points that tallied up to 6.6 million. This is Perry's 11th top three hit, an impressive feat that accommodates an even more impressive 7 #1's, six of which scored from her last album Teenage Dream and its re-release.

6. Applause - Lady Gaga

Rush released and unfortunately thrown in direct competition with Perry's "Roar," with only a few days of sales--Gaga's comeback, "Applause," single debuts at #6 (and #3 on the digital songs tally selling 218,000 copies). This is her 12th top ten single and her first appearance in the top ten since "You and I" peaked at #6. Undoubtedly, it will rise as airplay and streaming kick into high gear this week.

11. Wake Me Up - Avicii (featuring Aloe Blacc)
15. Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Rey and Cedric Gervais

Swedish producer, Avicii's "Wake Me Up" continues to extend its lead as his most successful single in the US as it climbs four spots up to #11. "Up," should land Avicii his first top ten next week as he stays perched at #3 on iTunes behind Thicke and Perry. Also extending its lead as her highest charting single to date, is the Cedric Gervais remix of Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness." Originally plucked from her second album (but international debut) Born to Die as the sixth single last year, it climbs a spot up to #15 this week.

16. That's My Kind of Night - Luke Byran

The second single, "That's My Kind of Night," taken from Country singer Luke Bryan's fourth album, Crash My Party, debuts at #16 this week, landing his third top twenty single, following lead single "Crash My Party" which peaked at #18 and "Drunk on You"-#16. Also, over on the Billboard 200, Crash My Party gives Bryan his second number-one album with an impressive 528k haul--the third largest of the year behind Jay-Z's Magna Carter... Holy Grail and Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience. 

17.  Royals - Lorde

New Zealand singer Lorde's "Royals" climbs seven spots up to #17, scoring her first top twenty single. Next week should see it push closer to the top ten as it sits at #6 on iTunes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I'm Listening To...

Here are current tracks that have been wracking up spins on my iTunes and Spotify account lately:

The 1975 - Head.Cars.Bending. Unfortunately this gem won't be featured on the English bands upcoming self-titled debut album. It's a brooding, downbeat number, driven with moody undertones, beat and synth-heavy compassion. It's also slightly psychedelic with its layered vocal work.

Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know? The first Arctic Monkeys track I've been excited about in a while. The guitar work, the persistent drum beat and distinctive chorus--with the production becoming amplified during the second half of the chorus. It's perfect.

Ariana Grande - Right There (feat. Big Sean). Sampling Lil Kim's "Crush on You," Ariana takes another step into capturing the mid '90s R&B essence that the sound of her forthcoming debut album Yours Truly is being built around.

Jay-Z - Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit (feat. Rick Ross).  This moody number--layered with a skittering beat and quiet synth tones is one of the highlights from Jay-Z's latest LP, Magna Carter... Holy Grail. 

Avicii - Wake Me Up. The folksy guitar against the euphoric dance-floor synths makes this one of the most interesting dance tracks in quite a while.

Lorde - Royals. New Zealand singer/songwriter's debut single, "Royals" is a nice mid-tempo, backed with prominent clicks and beats, quiet warbling synths. The song has landed her first chart-topper in New Zealand and now sits atop of the US Alternative charts--making her the first female alternative musician to do so in 17 years.

MKS - Flatline. The reformed original lineup of the Sugababes--now under the name MKS--initially felt a little half-baked and nothing I'd ever take seriously, but the first since 2001 is a corker, particularly the harmonies on that blustery chorus.


Fall Release Schedule

This fall is packed with major releases--here's a quick round-up. My most anticipated have covers:

September

The 1975 - The 1975. The debut album from English alternative rock band The 1975 spawned the band their first top twenty hit with, "Chocolate" and another top forty hit with, "The City," both plucked from the bands EP's  Music for Cars and IV. I've enjoyed both singles a lot, unfortunately the album omits one of my favourites from the band, "Heads.Cars.Bending," a brooding, down-tempo number with an awesome layered production.


Ariana Grande - Yours Truly. Looking forward to the debut album from Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande has been a surprise. I've enjoyed its first batch of releases, from the throwback Mariah-inspired R&B/pop of, "The Way," "Right There" and "Baby, I" to the lovelorn piano ballad, "Almost is Never Enough" featuring Nathan Sykes of The Wanted. And the rest of the album looks as though it will deliver.

John Legend - Love in the Future. Aside from "Ordinary People," I've never really been that into John Legend. Perhaps, it's time that I started. The lead single, "Who Do You Think We Are" featuring Rick Ross, isn't bad. This is his fourth album.

Tamar Braxton - Love and War. Toni Braxton's sister stormed iTunes earlier this year with her single, "Love and War," and much to my surprise it was a pretty solid slice of R&B. Unfortunately, nothing that followed captured my interest, including following single, "The One."

Arctic Monkeys - AM. The fact that the forthcoming Arctic Monkeys album is preceded by the single, "Do I Wanna Know?" already amplifies my anticipation. I haven't enjoyed a single, the way I have that, since "Teddy Picker." The album features production from James Ford who worked on the bands sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, Humbug and their last effort Suck it And See. 

Goldfrapp - Tales of Us.  Sixth album from British electronic duo Goldfrapp, preceded by somber lead single, "Drew."

Avicii - True. If there were going to be an album released this year chock of full of hits, it would have been Avicii's debut album. From his first top five, "Fade into Darkness," to his third, "I Could Be the One,"--are for some reason not included in his debut album. Fortunately, "Wake Me Up," his most recent chart-topper and the year's fastest selling single so far is.

The Wanted - Word of Mouth. The campaign for the English/Irish boyband actually began mid-2012 with the release of their sixth top five single, "Chasing the Sun." Latest single, "Walks Like Rihanna" (ugh!) is their eighth.

Drake - Nothing Was the Same. The forthcoming third Drake album doesn't seem like it's going to be any different from his last LP, Take Care apart from the fact that it will feature rappers that weren't around in 2011. Hit-Boy and Mill WiLL Made It are among the many producers producing the album. The album's current single, the soft re-tro inspired, "Hold On, We're Going Home" is pretty good.

Kings of Leon - Mechanical Bull. The last Kings of Leon album failed to recreate the commercial and critical success of its predecessor and breakthrough album Only by the Night. So far, Mechanical Bull has spawned the singles, "Supersoaker" and "Wait for Me."

Jason DeRulo - Tattoos. Third album from American pop singer features hit single, "The Other Side" and the more edgier "Talk Dirty" featuring rapper 2 Chainz.

Jessie J - Alive. I still have high hopes for Jessie J's forthcoming sophomore album, despite being preceded by the rather underwhelming lead single, "Wild" featuring Big Sean and Dizzee Rascal and the even more unimpressive, "It's My Party." I refuse to believe she would put out an album without a "Price Tag," or at least a "Domino." There's too much to lose if she doesn't, isn't there?

Avril Lavigne - Avril Lavigne. The fifth album from Canadian singer, launched with her 7th US top twenty single, "Here's to Never Growing Up."

Cher - Closer to the Truth. The upcoming twenty-sixth album from Cher seems to built on a rather hip foundation, featuring songwriting from Timbaland and P!nk and production from Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters.

Icona Pop - Truth Is... Second album from Swedish duo Icona Pop featuring one of the year's biggest hits, "I Don't Care."

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2. The fourth album from Justin Timberlake and second half of his third is clearly going to be a big seller--the first half is already the year's biggest selling album--in both first week and overall. However, quality-wise I seem to be in the minority. His insistent blending of '70s retro disco and pop just doesn't capture my attention. Of course, there are exceptions, "Mirrors" is great and just sounds like a decent pop song plucked out of this century. The lead single, "Take Back the Night," doesn't do much to raise my expectations, but alas, I'm still eager to hear it.


October

Chase & Status - Brand New Machine. Third album from British electronic duo, featuring second top ten single, "Lost & Not Found" featuring Louise M^ttrs.

Miley Cyrus - Bangerz. If the lead single, "We Can't Stop," is anything to go by, the subject-matter Miley's upcoming fourth album is going to be centred around sex, drugs and twerking. Perhaps, it won't be as masterfully created as Christina Aguilera's 2002 coming of age disc, Stripped, but the accompanying video to "Stop" is only a pair of ass-less leather chaps away from being "Dirrty."

Katy Perry - PRISM. The lead single, "Roar" is already set to make the year's biggest digital debut which isn't bad way to begin the follow-up era to Katy Perry's incredibly successful Teenage Dream, which spawned an unprecedented five chart-toppers tying Michael Jackson's record with Bad. Its release added another #1 with "Part of Me." Collaborators include the impressive cast of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Sia and Diplo.

Celine Dion - Love Me Back to Life. Dion's first English album since 2007's Taking Chances. 

November

Lady Gaga - ARTPOP. A year out of the charts and Gaga returns in November with her third studio album. Featuring production from Zedd and DJ White Shadow and going by its lead single, "Applause," the album will probably trail the same electro-pop production as its predecessor while probably a little more accessible this time. I'm guessing, no more German gibberish. In any case, I can't wait to hear it.

Rumoured

Britney Spears. Britney's eighth album is rumoured to be released this fall. "Ooh La La" released earlier this year for the Smurfs soundtrack probably won't be included.

Beyonce. She released, "Bow Down" and "Grown Woman" earlier this year, but still no solid confirmation of the album--just rumours.

Mariah Carey. She scored her biggest hit in years earlier this year with "#Beautiful" featuring Miguel, but after its original release date of July 23rd was cancelled, hope of the album being released this year has dissipated.

Revenge Season 3 Promo

Check out the new brief clip for the forthcoming third season of ABC's primetime drama Revenge. Enticing to say the least--which is refreshing coming the rather disjointed second season, that not only faltered critically but in viewership. Here's to season three bringing better days... and viewership.

Lady Gaga debuts "Applause" video

The accompanying video to the new Gaga single concludes a rather interesting week for the singer--rush releasing to the single which consequently put it head-to-head with Katy Perry's new single "Roar,", losing out to "Roar," the soft reception of the single itself and twitter beef with renowned douchebag Perez Hilton. But like her week, the video is uproarious, chaotic and certainly interesting. Check it out below.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ariana Grande 'Yours Truly' preview


I didn't expect that this year one of my most anticipated release would be from Nickelodeon star, Ariana Grande. But I also didn't expect her debut single, "The Way" would be one of my favourite singles of the year so far. Its sound reminiscent of Mariah Carey at her most pop/R&B-lite. Here's quick preview of her forthcoming debut album, Yours Truly. Check out the live versions of the tracks here.

Right There (feat. Big Sean). This is an instant favourite. A deliciously R&B sound plucked right from the mid-90s--literally--the song samples Lil' Kim's 1997 hit, "Crush on You" (which actually samples "Rain Dance" by The Jeff Lorber Fusions).

Honeymoon Avanue. Melodious and stripped back to harmonious cooing, clicks and bursts of subtle trumpets.

Baby, I. The second single, although not as striking as "The Way," is still a cute ditty that's marinated with old school R&B. To be more specific, it sounds like a fusion of Ashanti's "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)" and Mariah Carey's "Secret Love."

Tattooed Heart. A swaying, slightly Motown inspired ballad with soaring vocal work--backed with horns, prominent drums and piano.

Lovin' It. Another slinky, old school R&B mid-tempo, bolstered with horns, skittering drum work and jaunty piano keys. It also samples something I can't quite put my finger on.

Piano. As the title suggests, a piano laced happy-go-lucky number, with a nice twangy guitar beneath the bass-heavy composition.

Daydreamin'. A slightly sultry retro number with the obligatory twinkling piano keys, horns and drums. It's something that wouldn't sound out of place on Pixie Lott's debut album.

You'll Never Know. A cute ditty in the same vein as "Baby, I" saturated with fluttering falsetto vocal work.

Almost Is Never Enough (feat. Nathan Sykes). A lovely melodious piano-laced ballad. Of course, Grande sounds beautiful, but who knew Sykes let alone any member of The Wanted could actually sing.

Better Left Unsaid. This breaks away from the routine of R&B/pop and divulges into a beat-heavy dance-pop oriented production--nicely intercut with heavy drums.

Mutya Keisha Siobhan "Flatline"

The newly reformed--first lineup of British girl-group Sugababes--now under the name MKS--Mutya Keisha Siobhan return with what is technically their first single together since 2001's "Soul Sound." The new single, "Flatline" is an understated synth and drum-bcaked mid-tempo with a particularly nice harmonious chorus. It's certainly better than anything on the last Sugababes album Sweet 7. Check it out below: