Sunday, April 19, 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: The Strokes - The New Abnormal

When it comes to 2000's rock, I don't think there's a single band as influential as The Strokes were. Is This It and Room On Fire automatically set them at the top of the garage rock scene of the 2000s with so many incredible songs between both projects. But, I don't know. After those first two albums, it seemed like they could never make that same magic happen again. I like First Impressions of Earth but it's pretty inconsistent. There are high highs and low lows. And in my opinion, Angles and Comedown Machine seem like they were only made to pay the bills. To be honest, this band really fell on my back burner. So hearing news that they were making a global comeback in 2019 was exciting to me. However, that tour was far from smooth. From rain-induced riots to crappy sound to festivals being canceled before they could start. But when the shows weren't plagued by these issues, the performances were incredible. Incredible enough to get me excited for this album.

To start this review off I do want to say that the singles didn't wow me much. The lead single, Bad Decisions, rips off Billy Idol so bad that they had to give him a writing credit, and while I do enjoy Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, it just sounds like singer Julian Casablancas is doing a bad Brandon Flowers impression. Nevertheless, I still went in with an open mind. To say I was impressed is an understatement. 

The Strokes Perform at Lollapalooza 2019 to Parents, Their Kids ...
The Strokes performing at the 2019 Lollapalooza Music Festival (photo courtesy of Rolling Stone)
The first thing I want to say is, Julian's singing all over this album is incredible. I honestly don't think he has a bad performance throughout the whole album. He's hitting these incredible falsettos at times, other times he's coming through with these raspy, almost angry deliveries, and also singing super sweet and soft at other times. On the bridge of the opening track, The Adults are Talking, he has this range that I honestly didn't know he had. He's hitting these high notes that I would expect more from Gary Clark Jr. or Black Keys singer Dan Auerbach. It even continues onto the next track Selfless with Julian going high for the chorus then coming back in the second verse angry, with a little more grit in his voice. Eternal Summer is another vocal highlight. His performance on this song is honestly incredible. His voice goes through multiple phases that compliment the instrumental so well all throughout. Honestly, I'm proud of Julian. He sounds amazing on here.

Also incredible is the guitar work on these songs. I have to give credit to whoever engineered this album because these guitars sound fantastic. There are awesome moments like in the opening track where there are different guitar licks playing in separate channels throughout the song. I also like the octaved solo about midway through the track. It keeps on going through the album where during the choruses, you have distorted guitar strumming chords away in one channel and a clean guitar playing a little lick in the other.  It's really tasteful. It's fuzzy, warm, and a super nice touch to the song. I also enjoy the synth guitar bits of Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus where it sounds like they turned the treble up to 11 for the intro riff. I also enjoy the guitar solos in Why Are Sunday's So Depressing? There's a moment where it sounds like guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi were told to play the same solo, but then producer Rick Rubin told Julian to mimic one on top of both solos. I also like the super tremolo heavy bits throughout the verses and into the outro. Another thing this album has going for it is these super catchy choruses. They're so easy to remember and so fun to sing along too. Like in Brooklyn Bridge, it's fun to just belt out "I WANT NEW FRIENDS, BUT THEY DON'T WANT ME" or walking around work, I often find myself whistling or humming the melody of The Adults are Talking's chorus. HOWEVER! While I do love this album, a lot, there are a few critiques I have to mention. 

My first is something that I picked up listening to the lead singles. They're wearing their influences on their sleeves so heavily. I've already talked about Bad Decisions and Brooklyn Bridge but it gets worse. When I first clicked play on this album and The Adults are Talking started, I thought, "I've heard this before. This sounds just like The Cure." The intro sounds ripped straight from Play For Today, and as the track wears on, so do the guitars. I think an even worse culprit is Eternal Summer. If you told me it was a Two Door Cinema Club song, I would believe you. It's just soaking in that TDCC influence. 

My second and last critique is something that just bothers me personally, I don't know if it's the same for everyone else. But some of the songs on this album just overstay their welcome. Half of the songs on this album reach or exceed the 5-minute mark. Which is something I didn't expect from this band?

At the end of the day, this album is a super strong comeback. It's mature, it flows well, and I think it's a good representation of where the band is at right now creatively. If we get more projects from the band in this vein, I won't be upset. I'm interested to see how these songs translate into the live setting. 

I would rate
The New Abnormal
By The Strokes


Thursday, April 9, 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia Album Review | Wonderland Magazine

Dua Lipa has been making waves in the pop world for quite some time now. Since her breakout single New Rules dropped in 2017, she's only been going up. With this new album, she stated that she wanted this new album to feel nostalgiac (hence the title) and wanted is to feel like "a dancercise class." 

Now listen, in my opinion, there are two types of pop albums in the current state of music. There are albums that define a sound for years to come, and then there are the albums that are just trying to keep up with those trends. This album very much falls under that first category, and I feel like it's gonna influence a lot of what we hear on pop radio for the next few years. 

Dua Lipa performing at the 2017 Glastonbury Festival. 

The album starts with the title track, which is a mix of modern dance music with a little Daft Punk influence. With a sick bassline, a cool little synth hanging around in the background. It sounds very futuristic, which I welcome, this sound suits her well. The lyrics are a bit tongue in cheek with the first verse setting the tone for the album well, with Dua saying,

You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game
Like modern architecture, John Lautner coming your way
I know you like this beat 'cause Jeff's been doin' the damn thing
You wanna turn it up loud, Future Nostalgia is the name

Don't Start Now is another fun dancing number, disco-flavored choruses, with some percussion and piano chords, turn into these bouncy verses with an even better bassline and a great guitar lick. The outro is great with some strings and Dua riffing on top of herself while the track finishes off. Cool and Levitating both have these dreamy intros before diverging into great instrumentals. Cool has this cool synth intro before these huge booming drums transition into the chorus. Levitating starts with this cool vocal sample that hangs around in the whole track with Dua flowing pretty damn well in the verses. The song also has an explosive chorus with Dua singing on top of a ton of vocal layers with this catchy "YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH" popping up a couple times throughout. It's a really nice touch. 

The song Hallucinate almost reminds of Bad Liar by Selena Gomez, at least the first verse does. Just in the way Dua sings and the way the instrumental sounds. Dua has said that "This one’s my festival song..." and listening to the chorus really backs that statement up. The chorus is huge with some soft chords and a ton of harmonizing again. I also love the bit where she sings, "I'm losing my mi-mi-mi-mind, mi-mi-mi-mind." It's a fun dance number, and I can picture myself at ACL Fest bouncing to this song. Love Again is my contender for favorite song on the album. It starts with these strings that blend into a horn sample that both blend into the song. The chorus is genuinely the best bit of music on this album. The horn sample mixed with some slick drums and synths swelling up in the background, along with a cute guitar riff. It's so pleasing my ears. The outro is even better with more strings, the same horns, and Dua riffing all over the track. 

After that point is sort of where the album starts dropping off. Break My Heart sounds like a bad Charlie Puth impression. During the chorus, I was just sitting, waiting for her to sing, "How long has this been go-ing on," over the bassline. To the songs credit, the build-ups to these choruses are great. Some spacey piano complements Dua's voice well. The song Good in Bed is, umm, well. You can judge it from the title. Dua said that the song is about, "When the only good part of a relationship is the sex." It features one of the weakest vocal performances and cringey lyrics throughout the song, with her starting it off by saying, "I dedicate this verse to / All that good pipe in the moonlight," and saying in the chorus, We drive each other mad / It might be kinda sad / But I think that's what makes us good in bed." But I think the line that trumps it all is in the bridge where she says, "Yeah, we don't know how to talk / But damn, we know how to f*ck." And while I can admire what the song Boys Will Be Boys is trying to do, it's executed pretty badly. It's supposed to be a song about empowerment but maybe since I'm a guy, I'm not the specific clientele. The chorus sorta falls flat on its face with Dua saying, "Boys will be, boys will be boys, but girls will be women." Even worse is the line about how if I'm offended by the song, "it's because [I'm] doing something wrong." I'm not offended by the subject matter, I'm offended by how poorly this album ends. 

Still, I can't complain too much. This album is fun to listen to, and has some of the slickest production I've heard all year. There's a lot of great moments on here, and I feel like Dua is gonna keep going up, and isn't going away soon. I'm open to hearing where she goes from here. Another album in this direction would be very welcome. But for now:

I would rank
Future Nostalgia
by Dua Lipa