Taylor Swift’s 1989.

I, typically, am not a Taylor Swift fan.  It’s not because I have some warped idea that I am above listening to main-stream pop and country stars, because hello, I have plugged a few acts that have frequent radio plays.  I think the reason I never really advocated for Taylor Swift was because I was just beyond her target demographic when she began her career.  She was a sixteen year old girl singing about high school boyfriends when I was a sophomore in college thinking that I could not relate to the trouble of a high school relationship.  In actuality, dating in college is much like dating in high school: immature boys trying to have sex with girls who idolize Sex and the City and want people to consider them mature when in actuality they are just as emotionally stunted as the “men” they date… or maybe that was just my experience.  Additionally, she was a break-out star in the country genre, and at the time, I adamantly denied having any love of things country (although I hoarded Keith Urban tracks and began to develop a fondness for bluegrass; I was just unable to really get behind songs that capitalized on pro-nationalism in the face of a war I was against, or you know, couldn’t relate to how someone could be sexy while riding a tractor or  telling people to ride cowboys and save horses).

The farther she has come in her career, the more I appreciate her song-writing and lyric-writing.  She can encapsulate the whole myriad of experiences and emotions that young women inevitably face as they develop.  And she does it with this effervescent buoyancy.  While some young women in the public eye create whole personas of defiance as they age, Taylor Swift was able to remain relatively grounded despite the hoard of onlookers and commentators.  There was a vast jump from previous albums to Red, and I believe even more growth and development occurred between Red and 1989.  She officially transitioned from country star to pop star with this release, and the genre shift suits her.  She is able to translate that bubbly personality into a musical equivalency, with heavy synth-driven choruses and dance-worthy rhythm sections, and then adds her notorious spot-on lyricism.  A lot of the songs on 1989 are far more self-reflective than earlier work, or so it seems.  She discusses relationships on this album, but they aren’t there to eviscerate past-boyfriends, like her previous work.  Rather, she is able to pull away from a situations, and it drives her lyrics to newer, better places.  And kudos to her and her producers, because the music they wrote to accompany her lyrics and vocals take the tracks to unbelievably wonderful places.  They reflect Swift’s youth while adding elements of 80’s emotional rock à la The Cure.

Below are some of my favorite tracks, for those who wish to buy singles and not the entire album (although, you should get the full-album, because it is worth the price):

1. “Blank Space”: This song is my favorite track on the album.  She talks about her love life with witty self-reflection and doesn’t aim to embarrass or address any one specific situation.  It is the closest thing she has to admitting that failed relationships are the fault of not just one party, but both, along with variables, like age.  And she does it in a way that is humorous and very addictive (yes, this has been on repeat for most of the day).  She contemplates the truth that when entering a relationship there is a high chance that there is an expiration date, and uses her history as evidence.  But the thing that makes this song so wonderful is that none of the past experiences have jaded her enough to stop believing in love.  She starts the track as an introduction, as if she is talking to someone she finds attractive: “Nice to meet you, where you been?  I can show you incredible things; magic, madness, heaven, sin.  I saw you there and I thought oh my God look at that face, you look like my next mistake; love’s a game, want to play?”  She simultaneously trivialized love as a game, but also holds it up as something extremely desirable, natural, and inevitable, something that she does aspire to despite having been burned in “the game”.  I think the thing that I respect and truly appreciate about this song is that she still ends on a relatively positive and hopeful note: “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.”  Yes, it’s another player; yes, there is high potential for this to burn out; yes, there are these things that could conceivably ruin the relationship, but she’s got a blank space, and she’ll write your name.

2. “Welcome to New York”: This is the opening track to 1989, and it has an anthem-like quality to it.  It acts as an introduction to her new self, along with her new sound. She even sings, “It’s a new soundtrack, I can dance to this beat forevermore.”  It is a song about starting over and reinvention, which aptly describes the transformation she’s undergone from country star to pop star.  She also personify’s New York and equates the new locale to being in a new relationship, something a lot of New York natives and devotees have said about the city.  The track exudes excitement and confidence, and I can see this easily becoming the go-to anthem for the next generation of twenty-somethings moving to the city for opportunity, love, and to experience life.  She captures New York’s awe-inspiring visage and temperamental rhythm not only through her lyrics, but also through the varying electronic beats and synth driven melodies.  You can almost see the bright lights of the city and hear the divergent intersections of sound catapulted off brick walls; she manages to paint a picture through sound, and it’s crazy accurate in  how new residences often worship the city as an instrument for reinvention.  Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you, Taylor, and I think the move has done you good.

3. “Out of the Woods”: The way I develop these reviews is by putting the album on and listening to it repetitively for hours (I apologize to my co-workers, because today was the day I listened to Taylor Swift on repeat), and eventually certain tracks end up making their mark and lead me to further investigation and further repetitive listening.  This is exactly what happened with “Out of the Woods,” and what originally caught my interest was the music.  It reminded me of a ticking clock mixed with the action of rocking back and forth.  I could see this song being used in a film as the backing to an emotional scene of someone contemplating a relationship, which is essentially what the song discusses.  But something about the composition of the music and the delivery of the lyrics makes you really realize the depth of desire for a normal relationship, or as close to a normal relationship as Taylor Swift may be able to have. She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods?”  And, being Taylor Swift, it’s not just about getting through the initial stages of a relationship and dodging the typical pitfalls that lead to break-ups, but also contending with the barrage of obstacles brought on by being famous.  It really, really conveys her desire to find a lasting relationship.  And my God, you feel so empathetic as she sings, “are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we in the clear yet, are we in the clear yet, are we in the clear?”  You want her to find love, you want her to be out of the woods, and you really want to offer words of encouragement, because she subtly lets her listeners know that it has and is taking its toll on her.

Other notable mentions: “I Wish You Would,” “Shake it Off,” and “All  You Had To Do Was Stay”.

 

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Suggestions April 8, 2014.

1. “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry feat. Juicy J:  I love Katy Perry.  I think the girl can belt out a song while still showing an awe-inspiring sense of vulnerability.  Ever since her marriage to Russell Brand ended, Perry has made countless contributions to what I consider “girl power anthems”.  You know the ones, like “Wide Awake,” “Part of Me,” and now “Dark Horse”;  these are the songs that touch upon inner strength and the ability to move forward after heartbreak or other similar life-altering experiences.  What I appreciate most of “Dark Horse” is the no-nonsense way Perry speaks to potential suitors.  Her message basically is:  listen I’ll rock your world, be the most amazing thing in your life, but if you fuck me over, you’ll wish you were never alive.  I am positive every girl has felt that at some point in their lives, and without a doubt, they have felt like screaming it out.  Now they have a poetic and anthemic way of doing so, with a hip-hop bass line, to boot.  Plug your iPod into the auxiliary cable, blast those speakers and amp up the bass, and enjoy!  Favorite lyric: “Make me your Aphrodite, make me your one and only, but don’t make me your enemy.”  (Don’t you just love that subtle warning mixed with wanting?)

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Suggestions: January 26, 2014

Fantasy” by MS MR: Over my mini-winter break (I took two blissful weeks off work) my boyfriend’s brother introduced me to this duo.  In a musical landscape where male and female duos are the emerging niche of aesthetically pleasing auditory escapes (or in other words, the new popular demand of the music scene) this group is swiftly rising to the top, at least for my ears.  I am a big fan of Matt and Kim, Phantogram, and Mates of State (all falling into this subcategory) however MS MR has managed to eclipse these other dynamic duos.  It could be the all-encompassing sound, with strong rhythm sections, or the overlapping vocal harmonies that float atop the music; it doesn’t hurt that the lyrics poise questions that are relatable and poetic.  Where many lyrics reflect on either broken hearts or unbreakable relationships, MS MR opens the door to the darker more sinister thoughts caged in our minds and subconscious all the while done with vocals that sound as if they came from the love child of Florence + the Machine and Adele.  My favorite lyric from this track: “How many hours will I let slip away before I realize existing and living are not the same, are not the same.” Other highly recommended tracks from their first full length, Secondhand Rapture: “Ash Tree Lane,” “Hurricane,” and “Think of You“.  Also, they have an amazing cover of LCD Soundsystem‘s “Dance Yrslf Clean” on their EP of remixes entitled, Fantasy.

Dissolve Me” by Alt-J: First off, let me say this, one of the major reasons I like and appreciate this group is because of lead singer Joe Newman’s voice.  It is extremely unique and hypnotizing.  Hailing from the UK, this band offers an intriguing combination of diverse music composition and vocal shock and awe.  The first time I listened to their album An Awesome Wave I was unsure what to think.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this was not a negative thing, I honestly believe it was because I was so engrossed and pleased that when attempting to describe them to a friend I barely managed to say anything but: “His voice, man, that voice.”  And I can say that this is one of the few bands that it doesn’t matter if you listen via headphones, on an iHome or other speaker system, or in the car, there is no detraction from the music.  Layered rhythms and distinct melodies, this group plays with sound allowing a full-bodied experience.  I have not listened to one of their tracks and thought to myself, “there were empty spaces,” but rather I have been left with pleasure at their ability to fill those spaces with an almost religious accompaniment of notes, both instrumentally and vocally.  At the risk of sounding clichéd, Alt-J has provided me the closest thing to a mind-expanding and spiritual experience, especially with the opening track aptly titled “Intro”.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Intro” and “Breezeblocks“.

Learn to Dance” by Andrew McMahon: To give you a bit of background, Andrew McMahon is the lead singer of Something Corporate and the voice behind Jack’s Mannequin.  He is an extremely talented individual who belts out insightful lyrics while providing full-bodied piano accompaniment to pop-punk and alt-rock anthems.  If you went through high school in the early 2000s, you probably know about Drive-Thru records and Something Corporate, and you probably lamented and prayed for McMahon when doctor’s diagnosed him with leukemia in 2005.  In 2013 he released his début solo album The Pop Underground, which this track is from.  Though this album is easily identified as McMahon, it is his first to explore combining electronica and his distinct forte on piano.  Additionally, the lyrics are probably his most revealing to date, as well as at times most disturbing.  Despite some dark imagery, you can sense pure relief and joy.  The music composition reflects these insights providing the auditory equivalent to beams of sunlight poking through dark clouds.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Synesthsia” and “After the Fire“.

“Bravado” by Lorde: This talented 16 (possibly now 17) year old vocal phenom released an EP before her critically acclaimed Pure Heroine called The Love Club.  You can find this track on the EP.  It definitely showcases her vocal chops and intriguing ability to combine saintly choral singing with hip hop rhythm and beats.  This particular track begins slow with not much more than her voice and an organ, soon combining over lapping vocals that rise up like a church choir.  Right when you wonder where the song is going an 808 beat begins and your mind gets blown.  What I find most intriguing and beautiful is that these two distinct types of music, a cappella like vocals and hip hop measures, occupy the same auditory space without one overpowering the other.  Somehow Lorde has managed to mate chamber music to popular composition.  Again, mind blown.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Tennis Court” and “Royals“.

Reflections” by MisterWives: Recently discovered by pure coincidence, I am happy that I tripped into their music.  With Duffy-esque vocals and BeeGees disco rhythms, this group just invites you to dance (and in fact, I have often been swaying to their music at work).  This particular track subtly begins and builds until it breaks into a Saturday Night Fever combination of electric guitar, drum beats, and vocal harmonies.  I beg you to listen to this song without physically reacting to it, either by tapping your foot, swaying, or straight up dancing disco style through your living room.  Ironically, the lyrics discuss the tumult of realizing affections are not mutual, and dealing with the “how-to” in moving on.  Bringing an iconic and very era specific sound into modernity is a difficult thing to do, especially when the era is an extremely stereotypical one, like the 70s.  However, MisterWives spins it in their favor by adding variants in rhythm and harmonies that differentiate their sound just enough to not be confused with epic 70’s disco ballads.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to dance à la John Travolta with my puppy.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Twisted Tongue,” “Kings and Queens,” and “Imagination Infatuation“.

Music Suggestions: February 24, 2013.

Dancing On My Own” by Robyn: This song has had me hooked ever since I downloaded volume one of the soundtrack to HBO’s Girls.  Originally I purchased the compilation for the fun. single “Sight of the Sun” (because I am a full-fledged, bona-fide fun. fan, much to the annoyance of my co-workers who have heard every song from their two albums played at least one gazillion times), but this song caught my attention and it has been on the playlist rotation ever since.  Aside from the catchy synth beats that cause an involuntary dance spasm (seriously, the head just starts moving, followed closely by the feet, and then you’re in a full body paroxysm grooving to the techno-rrific track), the lyrics definitely hit upon something I am sure most girls, and yes, even men, have felt.  She is singing about seeing a guy she likes and realizing that no matter what she does, he is not going to choose her to go home with him.  It’s a bit heart-wrenching, but the musical choice of a poppy rhythm only emphasizes her lyrics.  Any girl in any club could be dancing to the song and feel the meaning behind the words as she watches that guy pair off with another woman.  The combination creates a delicious twist of being a power ballad for the hopeless romantic girl dancing on her own.

Beta Love” by Ra Ra Riot: I remember the first time I discovered Ra Ra Riot.  It was the summer of 2009 and I could not stop listening to “Can You Tell” from their album The Rhumb Line.  The sound has changed somewhat, moving from a more full band sound to a produced electro-pop culmination of instruments, but their genius for catchy melodies and beats combined with simplistically deep (I know, I know, how can something be simple AND deep, but they use simple language to discuss complex ideas and emotions) lyrics is still present.  The band has a difficult history, which can account for some of the changes a listener can detect between earlier albums verses later ones.  Additionally, vocalist Wes Miles had a side project with Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend (band name Discovery, which I suggested in this very blog!) and the similarities are there in more recent singles.  Whether it was Wes Miles who influenced Discovery, or Rostam Batmanglij that influenced Wes Miles in Ra Ra Riot, it’s hard to tell, but either way the sound is alluring and addicting.

Halfway to Heaven” by POP ETC: I have taken the pill and become addicted to these guys.  I loved them as The Morning Benders when they had a more Dylan-esque appeal, but I can also say that they have me with their revamped sound.  Moving from the West Coast to Brooklyn sure does change a person, if the complete tear down and rebuild of this particular band is any indication.  Electro-pop (a common thread running through these recommendations) combined with overlapping vocals riding the wave of R&B and you have yourself a little slice of heaven (pun intended).  Repetition of sound and lyrics makes this song easy to get stuck in your head.  I often find myself singing it at work, and in the process getting strange looks.  I blame it on not many people knowing about these guys, so I am spreading the word.  Even though it might be because I am walking down a hall sans headphones singing.

Submarines” by The Lumineers: This track is off of the self-titled album, The Lumineers (which is you follow the link you can buy from Amazon for just $3.99).  Many people know this band for earlier singles “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love” (two songs I happen to adore), but I want to push this particular song because it might be my favorite on the album.  A very rustic sound, and somewhat coarse recording, but it adds a certain appeal to this band, giving it a generic song.  Every time I listen to their album I always find myself cruising their website for tour dates aching to see them live.  Vocals and piano dominate this particular track , with a very clear-cut melody flowing through it.  A hint of military march touching the music helps to add oomph to the lyrics.  It is the story of a man who sees a submarine and no one believes him.  They laugh or tell him he is seeing things.  The story is a simple one, discussing credibility.  It’s a contained story, which can make it easily overlooked.  But trust me, it’s something you want to give a listen to.

Sweet Nothing” by Calvin Harris feat. Florence Welch:  If you have ever read this blog, you know I have a small obsession with Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine).  Maybe small is the wrong word.  I love the woman.  I love her voice.  I love the music.  And though people may call her overrated, I simply say the heart wants what the heart wants.  This particular track is found on Calvin Harris’s album 18 Months.  He is a wiz kid with techno beats making his mark in the EDM scene producing track after track of above par dance music.  It seems that everything this guy has touched in the past twelve to twenty-four months has turned to gold.  First stepping into main stream attention being the beats behind Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Calvin Harris scored high-profile artists to collaborate with him for his debut album.  This track was one such collaboration.  The music, if possible, reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie.  Try and figure that one out.  Aside from making me want to dance, the lyrics of this particular song spoke very strongly to me.  It is a love story, or I should say a story of unrequited love.  Being so enveloped by someone who gives you nothing back, but not being able to tear yourself away from it you beg for sweet nothing.  The chaotic rhythms of this song help to appreciate the words, mirroring the emotional confusion and devastation of such a situation.  Though I typically only post snippets of lyrics to drive home my point, I am going to post the full song:

“You took my heart and you held it in your mouth, and with a word all my love came rushing out, and every whisper, it’s the worst, emptied out by a single word.  There is a hollow in me now.  So I put my faith in something unknown (I’m living on such sweet nothing), but I’m tired of hope with nothing to hold (I’m living on such sweet nothing), and it’s hard to learn, and it’s hard to learn, you’re giving me such sweet nothing, sweet nothing, sweet nothing, you’re giving me such sweet nothing.  It isn’t easy for me to let it go, cause I’ve swallowed every single word, and every whisper, every sigh, eats away at this heart of mine.  There is a hollow in me now.  So I put my faith in something unknown (I’m living on such sweet nothing), but I’m tired of hope with nothing to hold (I’m living on such sweet nothing), and it’s hard to learn, and it’s hard to learn, you’re giving me such sweet nothing, sweet nothing, sweet nothing, you’re giving me such sweet nothing.  And it’s not enough to tell me that you care when we both know your words are empty air.  You give me nothing, nothing… sweet nothing, sweet nothing.”

SUGGESTIONS XX. (The Braid/Polyvinyl Edition in celebration of the new EP.)

“The Right Time” by Braid. This track is off of Braid’s upcoming EP, Closer to Closed. (Head over to Polyvinyl Records website to pre-order the CD and receive a digital download.) It combines the best qualities from Hey Mercedes and The Firebird Band (the remnants of Braid – Bob Nanna, Tod Bell, and Roy Ewing, and the addition Mark Dawursk – and Chris Broach’s band after Braid went on hiatus). There is a pop quality to the music with high energy, melodic guitar combined with percussion commonly heard in post-hardcore composition (a sporadic overlapping of snare, bass hits, and crash cymbal). There is a maturity interjected into the music as well, tying in the different interests and talents of the members. The sound culminates with a soaring riff heard over the vocals of the chorus (“…it can never be this good again, you know it’s true; even though we tried before we couldn’t see it through; it can never be this good again, you know it’s true; even though we tried before we couldn’t see it through…”) providing the auditory version of a cherry on top.

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