Here are my reviews and scores for May 2017 albums that I did not feature earlier.
Abby Lyons – Abby Lyons
Youth may not be completely wasted on the young. The simplicity of this youthful and innocent album of love songs gives off a delightful air of emotion and allows the listener to be fully invited into each little story. For a musician’s debut album, that alone is a strong starting point, but the true brilliance of this album is Abby Lyons’s melodic intuition. While this album may seem like 10 different ways of saying the same thing, the differences are surely the highlight. With each variance on the mood comes another exceptional melodic shape that constantly livens the texture. As the album progressed, so too did the grit and bravery in the harmonic structures. Despite being surrounded by very thin and light textures, the harmony always found a way to dig deep and provide weight, as evidenced plainly in the songs “Little Robin” and “It’s So Easy to Fall in Love”. The large presence of the piano was a wonderful choice in order to combine true emotion with being able to sound familiar and understandable. Several other acoustic instruments crept in and got small features, such as the cello and oboe, which could be something for Lyons to really develop in her songwriting down the road, if she ever wants to break away from sounding so innocent. Her ear for melody and great usage of vocal harmonies made this album a true delight. As she progresses through the music world, her overall sound and delivery has the potential become more substantial and significant, but is quite a remarkable album for a debut.
Final Score: 136/180
in•ter a•li•a – At the Drive-In
This album does well to separate itself from other works of similar sound and objective by consistently finding engaging countermelodies within the dense harmonic structures to augment the music. That, along with great harmonic rhythm, made this album an enjoyable experience. The actual melodic layer was rather disappointing, since it was filled with empty Sprechstimme (speak-singing) and lofty but frail shapes that never gave the music more meaning. The overall sound, while pretty powerful, wilted in durability throughout the album. The constant solo guitar emphasized virtuosity over grit and style, which was not a great choice in this context. While everything blended together a bit by the end, the result was still interesting and worthwhile, especially for a hardcore rock fan.
Final Score: 125/180
Pollinator – Blondie
In the world of music, there’s no need to teach an old dog new tricks, so long as the old dog continues to be lovable. Blondie had no need to divert from the creativity and tunefulness that has made them one of the most influential pop rock bands ever, so they didn’t. They effortlessly created another collection of cool and fun songs through great melodic intuition. Their supposed lack of effort in today’s music industry standards may be a turn-off to some who really value grit and inventiveness, but that radical mindset can blind you of music that is purely fun and cool at its core. Sure, Blondie didn’t keep any sort of consistent brilliance in the harmony, which settled on basic rhythms quite often. They still know just how to find blissful and vital emotion through their many synthesizer textures. Pairing those with more unique and interesting melodic shapes gives us another solid Blondie album.
Final Score: 137/180
Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Not to over-evaluate the musician’s history, but this seemingly came out of nowhere for someone who was once part of possibly the worst musical collaboration of the last 20 years and possibly ever. Harry Styles shows artistry and purpose in this album, and so my thoughts on this music are very much genuine critiques on a legitimate musician instead of an attempt to tear apart a media baby. The sound was mostly rather flat and broad, and amidst several neat additions of backup vocals were some less successful additions of synthetic noise and melodic doubling. The textures themselves showed real character, though, which was appreciated. The acoustic guitar was much more effective when giving energized lines rather than strumming chords. This album would not be as respectable if it weren’t for the nice harmonic language and cool, surprising chord usages, especially in the first half of the work. Melody was a weak spot for Styles, and hardly any of these songs gave strong or impactful motives, despite there being plenty of opportunities. All of this organization and vigor, especially from the harmonic structure, is a great start to something truly inspiring. It’s not there yet, but with a better instinct for melodic paths, which could grow over time, this guy might save his name from being equated with disaster in music history. He already has the popularity to get anyone’s attention on the spot.
Final Score: 112/180
Black Origami – Jlin
For its unchanging techniques and similar layer usage, this was a rather diverse album. Although that diversity gets represented mostly through the inconsistency of finding intriguing melodic loops, the overall musical differences within similar approaches was still very welcome. I do wish there would have been a larger sense of resolve throughout, which could have happened if a singular musical idea was being settled on more often. Even though the music was dominated by long repetitive figures, there were many textural additions and new lines entering that made it difficult to become fully engaged as a listener. There was no shortage of uniqueness and surprise in what was being added, though. While timbre did get the best score, I was a little disappointed that the overall sound, which was the obvious selling point for these songs, wasn’t terribly captivating. There were lots of moving parts within a space that at times felt too empty. I certainly enjoyed the different uses of percussion, but I wasn’t so enthralled by the synthesized instruments that provided pitch. Still, it’s a neat and ambitious work, also being a true staple of the footwork genre.
Final Score: 121/180
Pageant – Pwr Bttm
The nice power and drive throughout this album was ruined quite a bit by the bland, tacky, and overly theatrical melodies. Some hooks were pleasant, but as the focus of the music, the overall melodic lines should have done better to find more character rather than be so infiltrated by Broadway and mainstream radio influence. Out of these thirteen 2 ½ minute songs, not one of them broke away from the already existing mold of purpose and intent. While that’s completely fine in some cases, the mold here was too constricting and unexciting. Musically, two distinct features here actually made this a decent pop rock album. One was the invigorating usage of borrowed chords, as well as the cool interplay between tonic and subdominant throughout. The other feature was the powerful usage of the electric guitar, which in its neat techniques and fun thrashing saved the sound from becoming a wash of cheap energy. It’s difficult to get over the shortcomings of the melodic layers, though, and due to this group’s unfortunate recent history, this album won’t make the impact it could have.
Final Score: 109/180
Rocket – (Sandy) Alex G
Confusing name, but great songwriting talent. Every song had a strong amount of bravery and personality within its layers. While this overall experimentation within form and conventional sound has simply come to be expected from prominent indie rock musicians, to have it at his age and this stage in his career is quite exciting. His harmonic language is exquisite. His wonderful patterns of dominant and sub-dominant along with interesting meters is what truly separates himself from other experimental singer songwriter. He thrived when creating dense timbres, successfully combing lots of cool, moving, and intricate parts. I would’ve liked this album to go a bit father in that regard. His melodies are mostly nice and well formed, but never quite reached an important apex within its shape or repetition. That is really the only improvement needed on his way to greatness, and with more output will come more musical significance.
Final Score: 133/180
El Dorado – Shakira
It was rather refreshing to hear an album with this style and moniker not be so heavily focused on marketability. A couple nice attempts to create a danceable, straightforward texture unsurprisingly seeped in to a rather bland but tolerable taste. The main worthwhile substance in this music, though, is Shakira’s unpredictable melodic hooks that were mostly quite grasping. Even when slowing down and creating more space than possibly intended, she nearly always found an interesting melodic shape. This is especially true in the song “Comme moi”, which could very well be my best Shakira song I’ve ever heard. The sound was never too exciting or involved but did very well to keep the moods and energy alive. The music certainly loses its attempt at solidity with the dull and empty harmonic structures that rarely did much to add interest or drive, which is nothing that Shakira hasn’t struggled with before, although the last few songs did do better in this regard. This album shows that Shakira can still create some nice, decent tunes, and it proves that she is in it for the passion and not as a sellout.
Final Score: 116/180
Slowdive – Slowdive
Slowdive comes back after 22 years with a very gorgeous and contemplative work. The slow, trance-like repetitions were very consonant and congenial, working not only to set up a nice place for other layers to enter and thrive, but also to fully engage the listener’s ear. Although tactically and perceptively similar, these eight songs created some brilliant spaces topped off by surprisingly coherent and tuneful structures. The only major problem with this album is its handling of the melodic layer. In trying to maintain an equal and smooth sound, the melody was too often buried and played a weaker role in giving prominence to the music than it should have. The atmosphere was beautiful, but this wasn’t just an atmospheric experience; these were eight well-crafted and musically rich songs that anyone in a relaxed state can appreciate.
Final Score: 142/180
Neva Left – Snoop Dogg
It’s obvious that the biggest purpose of this musical work is to inflate the ego of its creator. That’s a very transparent goal that never turns into anything great, except if you’re a complete genius, which Snoop Dogg isn’t. However, he is smooth, resourceful, and communicates his attitudes very well in these songs. The lyrics were often very nursery rhyme like and his melodies never had great rhythm, but at least the simplicity produced something of benefit to the relaxed and carefree sound. This type of music will never be that good without strong rhythm or invigorating structures, especially when ego and outside purpose is way too involved. I don’t really blame Snoop Dogg for the obvious move to remind everyone that he exists, because at least it shows character and motivation. On top of that, it was a cool, even-keel listen. I wouldn’t listen to the whole thing again, and there’s nothing musically inspiring here. You might get a kick out of his messages and perspectives, though.
Final Score: 108/180