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”.

 

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“.

SUGGESTIONS XVI.

Here are my latest suggestions.  I will be giving the blog a new look and format in the near future, but for now, I leave you with some choice songs.  I am sorry for the extended disco absence, but I am back as the chaos of my life is finally calming down.  Please enjoy these tracks, and since I am thinking of renovating this wonderful website, I welcome comments and concerns and suggestions of your own!

The Polyphonic Spree, The Plimsouls, Noah & the Whale, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, and Alexander…

Matt and Kim.

Hello!  I thought I would let you all know that Amazon‘s deal of the day is the latest release from Matt and Kim, Sidewalks.  It’s $3.99 and worth every penny!  I reviewed/recommended the song “Cameras” from this album awhile ago.  Needless to say, you should get on over to Amazon and get hooked up!

SUGGESTIONS XIII.

Snow Patrol, The Firebird Band, Straylight Run, Two Door Cinema Club, and Josh Kelley…