Category: Album Reviews


Popping like an online mystery artist with ‘Video Games’ last summer, Lizzy Grant, now known as Lana Del Rey, set her foot on the door leading to the music industry.

Teasing with home made videos, the follow-up ‘Blue Jeans’, and an EP release while proclaiming herself the ‘gansta Nancy Sinatra’, Del Rey has proven to be the next big thing.

Seemingly recorded during late moody nights, in the midst of nicotine fumes and empty bottles of rum scattered on the studio floor, Born To Die scores the epic, through massively cinematic production. Each cut is as if it were a melodramatic scene from an old movie, where two embrace and lock lips in the moonlight or the middle of the rain. The numbers are grand, orchestral, almost theatrical.

Opening with the title-track, Lana’s fatalistic yet realistic outlook on love calls upon living today as if it were the last. ‘Off To The Races’ follows closely with an almost drunk delivery praising her man, and his flaws; the echoed tribal drums are amazing; one can easily visualize a mid-western themed scenario. ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Video Games’ are the most throwback tracks of the set, both portraying a playfully teasing vixen, who proclaims will love until the end of time, and undresses as her man indulges in interactive affairs; beautiful harp in the latter.

‘Diet Mnt Dew’, with jazz laced drums, and shouting out to New York City, is an old school musical bounce; not sure what she is addressing, but possibly an infatuation she knows isn’t good. Lana shines her best in the midtempo ‘National Anthem’ with double sided puns directed to rising the ‘flagpole’; starting with strings and faded out firecrackers, Del Rey whispers in a bandmarch-esque beat asking for standing ovations. ‘Dark Paradise’ is a rhyme bender, out-voicing fears of not being corresponded.

‘Radio’ is a too early ‘I’ve reached success’ bash statement, but is nonetheless a good laid-back number, shedding light on becoming relevant, now that she plays in the airwaves. ‘Carmen’ is a soap opera, a novel, and a film at once, introduced by a throaty sigh, it narrates the duality of a 17 year old femme fatale. The beat is imminent and close to sinister, with a disperse lire, piano, and a climactic build up during the chorus, while her tone remains level; its mesmerizing.

‘Million Dollar Man’ could’ve been easily taken straight out of a 1950’s saloon; beautiful, exotic and utterly fragile sounding; wouldn’t be surprised if they strapped fabric on a vintage microphone to record this. ‘Summertime Sadness’ is a reminisce and farewell to summer love. ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ closes the album featuring a lashing beat, empowering sisterhood and shouting out to womanhood; one of the moments where Lana sounds extra engaging within each verse.

Lana’s fast paced moment lies in about 10 seconds in the break of ‘Dark Paradise’, other than that, Lana plays the solemn and somber songstress throughout, emulating motifs of love lost, and even party favors in ‘Carmen’. Sometimes one is not exactly sure what she is singing about, but with instrumentation sounding this good, one could care less. Making references to American decadence, getting high and living the moment, the album is unbeliavable.

Lana may not be the strongest vocalist, but can make use of her limited range in hip-hop beats blended with a haunting orchestra and remarkable harp, that gives the songs a dreamy haze, and distinctive shine. Vocally, she sounds uninsterested, almost asleep, or around the corner of ‘I don’t give a fuck’, but this persona mixed with her husky tone, results in the dusted off feel vintage music had. Born To Die is very consistent, yet the songs don’t sound exactly like derivations of themselves, but continuations of an unraveling story.

The record’s flaw lies in its too impeccable production. It doesn’t drown Lana’s vocals, but it is so meticulous, it gives the sense of too much control, and calculation. If an album is minimally produced is an issue, and if its overproduced is yet another issue, but in this case, overproduction works in Lana’s favor, since it is so ear-catching and splendid, it is enough to grab one’s interest, and simply conclude ‘more is more’ compliments her.

Born To Die is exquisite indie pop. Many may consider it a total bore, due to the monotonous themes throughout, and its strong influences of sadcore and baroque pop, but then again, wouldn’t Adele’s 21 be as well?

★★★★★

C.Perez

Months of much hype, a well-received Grammy performance, and the outrageously cocky proclamation of ‘Record of the decade’ surrounded Lady GaGa’s official follow-up to The Fame (yes, refuse to consider her The Fame Monster EP as an actual album).

It may not be exactly what it was bid for, but she wasn’t lying when she promised Born This Way to be a merging of Glam metal, and sledge-hammering beats, as it introduces the listener to a newer realm of pop. With all the dance-trance trends filling radio, something like this is truly welcomed.

Born This Way showcases GaGa’s vocal ability to the fullest. The production may be massive and gigantic, but it doesn’t minimize GaGa’s delivery by one bit, it instead flows well with her occassional belting and midly rock-edged undertones. As ridiculous as the album cover may be, a motorcycle couldn’t put across the message the album carries throughout any better, as it is indeed a wild ride of electronic synthesizers, killer guitar riffs that sound-tracked the 80’s, and operatic vocal processing.

Opening with ‘Marry The Night’, GaGa makes an statement and uses it as an ode to New York City; church bells and background keys introduce the fast paced craze the number turns out to be. All in between making self promises of success and acknowledging weakness, it is a beautiful song, that puts into exact words who Lady GaGa is, conveying her struggle in the distractions of NY; one can almost see the mascara rolling down her cheeks; this would’ve been a much proper first single.

The title track is energetic, and uplifting, but strictly too popular psychology to be taken on a serious note; it is definitely a celebration of differences, but it somehow feels sloppy, and the ondulating production directed to cater to the LBGT community mostly, makes it hardly accessible.

‘Government Hooker’ sounds like an experiment gone right. Citing love in terms of monetary retribution and sexual submission, while referencing John F. Kennedy (and possibly Marilyn Monroe?), the song doesn’t make much sense lyrically, and some liners are completely out of place, but then again, it is GaGa we’re addressing in here, and it wouldn’t be GaGa enough, if it weren’t as convoluted as it is.

‘Judas’ is a superb slice of electro music; reminiscent of the iconic ‘Bad Romance’ for its similarly chanted hooks. Wailing like a banshee before hitting the chorus, GaGa compares a relationship based on betrayal to the biggest traitor of them all, in all bible form. The song explodes in an eargasmic dubstep breakdown featuring percussion. It is not one’s everyday type of pop song, for its dark and twisted lyricism.

An apparent commentary on immigration law, as well as same sex marriage lies in ‘Americano’. It is a little flamenco meets mariachi, with its rapidly strum strings and thumping bass. GaGa achieves in ‘Hair’ what she probably wanted to in the title track, without any extravagant lines of positivism, she instead ordains hairstyle as a source of identity and uniqueness. ‘Hair’ is subtle, with piano driven instrumentation and occassional saxophone (on behalf of the late Clarence Clemons), until it unashamedly explodes in a dubstep hook, and aggressive electric guitars. Now, this, is empowerment.

More musical experiments ensue with ‘Scheiße’. GaGa recites what sounds like her own idea of German, and proclaims the power of the female condition  in a cat-walk-like beat. ‘Bloody Mary’ is yet another semi-bible based composition, though it could easily be considered more Dan Brown than anything resembling the actual bible. Paced on a tango rhythm, and breaking in a Gregorian chant, she makes an enfuriating call-out to love within each verse resolution, recounting giving up on a lover, while forgiving all they’ve been through. Minus the religious pretense for shock value, the song may even stand as GaGa’s finest. She effortlessly hits highs and sings hauntingly with ease; wonderfully arranged.

‘Bad Kids’ could’ve been played as the credits of a classic teenage film rolled. GaGa highlights diverse mischief, and excuses it with statements of identity. It is slightly disco, but it still manages to remain fresh and current; the arrangement and sudden addition of piano and organ in the breakdown is brilliant.

‘Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)’ is a toast to the pursue of dreams and an electronic trance that nearly feels as if it rolled on pavement as it plays. It is really a head-banging moment in the record, before it resumes with an incredible organ intermission. GaGa brings in leather and shackles for ‘Heavy Metal Lover’; probably her smoothest delivery yet. The song is soft and sexy, though oddly remains hard hitting, for its resonating electronic pulsations, that culminate in an entirely synthesized verse alluding the album title, before GaGa ooh’s her way towards the end. The beat is hazy, polluted and sex drenched; it is almost toxic.

She proclaims herself a religion in ‘Electric Chapel’, widely calling ‘holy fools’ those who misunderstand her for being all about ‘sex and champagne’. The electric guitars in here are enthralling, and major ear savor. The sound is bold. ‘You And I’ is a piano ballad about long-lasting love, making references to habits that would otherwise rot a relation, but GaGa reminisces about them with contentment. She shouts out to her dad, Nebraska and Jesus Christ, before a guitar solo takes over (courtesy of Brian May, off Queen), that would make any Def Leppard fan proud.

The album closes with yet another triumph-underlayed number, ‘The Edge Of Glory’. Written about her late grandfather, the song also hints at being on the verge of falling in love, and actually taking the chance. The strings that compose its instrumentation, meshed with electronic synths and a sax inclusion, closes the album on a high, worthy of an standing ovation.

Born This Way is a very consistent body of work, encompassing not only a new approach to pop music, but introducing blending of diverse sounds, while she celebrates individuality.  Elements of rock n’ roll, and the electrifying beats of the Eurodance scene that separates mainstream dance from the actual dance genre, make it outstanding.

The only pitfall lies in the themes throughout the album. They do have a connection here and there, but at times her continuous stabs at empowerment makes the listener beg the question of what does she exactly aims to prove with it. At least the arrangement and overall production of the album is quite unpredictable, for it doesn’t follow patterns of songs everyone has or is currently releasing.

Does it meet the hype? Yes. Is it the record of the decade? No, but it was a nice try, for its revolutionizing industrial instrumentation. If Whitney Houston and Bruce Springsteen had a child, it would probably sound something close to this.

★★★★★

C.Perez

Femme Fatale: All about the bass

Regardless of the emotional turmoil undergone and extreme media exposure, Britney Spears has yet failed to disappoint delivering musically. Whatever has Spears name attached is certified to be quality; even at her worse, she managed to put out one of her bests, Blackout, while in the process managing to introduce the next level in pop music.

After revisiting her classic approach to pop in Circus, Spears has dusted off the quirky synthesized bells and whistles for Femme Fatale. The title is most appropriate, for the record is indulging, daring and fierce; she doesn’t hold back on a single beat.

Dub-step breakdowns, explosive melodies and a predominantly thumping bass fill the electric shock Femme Fatale is, her most consistent release thus far, and her most experimental, composed with alternate lyrical structure, and unconventional choruses developed in massive sounding tempo.

Opening with ‘Till The World Ends’, a Ke$ha penned cut, one is thrown into a high. The track is gripping and the chants serving as temporary choruses are highly euphoric. The smash ‘Hold It Against Me’, explains itself clearly, its an innovative approach to electro pop, its edgier and experimental in the vein of Blackout‘s ‘Mannequin’ but less auto-tuned and more vibrant; it builds itself upon a very sexed structure; it lets the beat run and tease, until it implodes into the merging of synthesized bangs at the end.

Spears raises a notch in tempo in ‘I Wanna Go’, a coy double entendre, hinting at losing  inhibitions through self-serviced release; the whistle underlaid in the bridge is magnificent, and infectiously catchy, the ‘Shame on me, to need release, uncontrollably’ lyric during the breakdown couldn’t be any more defining. ‘Inside Out’ offers a contortion of beats, addressesing regret while withstanding an under-the-sheets naughtiness at the same time; it is a farewell sex anthem. It sounds as if were an extension of the orgasmic breakdown in ‘Hold It Against Me’; the way it was written intended to allude to her work in …Baby One More Time is really worth a nod.

‘How I Roll’ is probably the most different song Britney has ever recorded, it is poppy at best, and chilled to the core, with a somber-clapped soft electronic beat assisted by occasional piano chords; its a Friday night drive head bopper. ‘(Drop Dead) Beautiful’ is a phallic celebration just like Katy Perry’s ‘Peacock’, but less in-your-face, while covering the entire male architecture, other than the last four letters in Perry’s song; the Sabi feature is short and too Ke$ha-esque; the song could’ve done without, what saves the song is Britney’s unashamed verbal tease.

‘Seal It With A Kiss’ sounds like something off Oops I Did It Again, but quite hard to place, its hardcore pop but has that ‘Unusual You’ vibe from Circus, is controlled and dreamy as well but it with much more tempo. ‘Big Fat Bass’ is half a letdown, and half an interesting listen. It features Will.i.am, and just like all the recent Black Eyed Peas music, is off and not really up there with what Britney is, she does deliver and sounds great, but all the random panel-button pushing and schizophrenic structure of the song doesn’t sound right, its like trying to experiment with many things at once without having an aimed direction, consequently leading it nowhere. It doesn’t find where to stay sonically-speaking; it tries to be too much at once, it was apparently intended to be so different, it missed its mark.

‘Trouble for Me’ has beat backlashes and backdrops, its pretty much two songs in one, even though dual with different channeling, it is a much better handled approach to merging different sounds other than the previous track, its dancey and trancey and still tackles on major pop ground; the verses are almost an 80’s throwback; Britney hadn’t sounded this determined in a while.

‘Trip To Your Heart’ is really something, its like ‘Unusual You’ meets ‘Heaven On Earth’ from Blackout, taken to a less chilled ground, instead gifted with a more engaging beat format and diverse lyrical content. It is an instant favorite, its melancholic, it has some moodiness to it but it remains arousing and it becomes an interesting listen. Its probably one of the best songs Britney Spears has crafted along this whole body of work. It is synthesized and mildly auto-tuned but it works for the mood it provokes. Even though emotionally driven, it is something one can easily dance to, its trippy and hypnotic.

‘Gasoline’ is a toned, slowed version of ‘Toxic’, Spears turns into a dark vixen and sings about leather boots and motorcycling suggestive maneuvering; it is a Britney classic with the way she speaks in the breakdown, and how she oh’s. It brings amazing Britney Spears memories throughout her career, one gets her quirkier, sexy side on the surface again. Spears closes the album with a shocker, ‘Criminal’ a flute interluded ballad reminiscent to Madonna’s American Life‘s ‘Love Profusion’ fused with Hard Candy‘s ‘Miles Away’; similarities attributed probably due to the acoustic feel the song carries throughout. It almost has the same concept as Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’ from Loud, minus the shooting in Central Station; Spears instead embraces the man’s wrong doings.

Blackout was daringly edgy, Circus was polished and controlled (even though it had its here-and-there edgy moments with its risqué lyrics and furthering of sound in a couple tracks), but Femme Fatale holds the balance between the two, its the needed transition to find the balance in Spears’ music; not too out there and not too calculated either.

In contrast to the general detachment present in some tracks in her preceding LP, which focused more on the theatrics of the album concept, these songs sound more vivacious, her attitude and mood are much more perceptible. Perhaps is the nature of the new songs, but something definitely brings about that refreshing vibe everyone had been missing when they first heard a Britney Spears song. Britney sounds confident and seems to be genuinely having fun when one hears her chuckling in the back of the beats, or when she doesn’t take herself seriously concerning her diction.

Britney doesn’t follow trends, she does her own, she may not write her own music, but she can certainly put it down without a doubt. She is not trying to change the world or rewrite history, she only wants to have a good time and Femme Fatale reflects it. Post her meltdown and the release of Circus, Britney has been improving at her own pace, if this album proves anything other than her incredible artistry to execute pop music in diverse ways, it certifies nearly twelve years into her career and proves she is still going strong.

★★★★★

C.Perez

With four albums under her belt, Rihanna has established herself as a major act in pop music. She was able to craft a very island sound in her debut, craft full pop in her sophomore, tinge at R&B pop in her third and explore a rock-R&B-pop hybrid in her fourth. Now Rihanna attempts electronic pop, while bringing in her Caribbean swag and throwing in R&B for measure in Loud.

Judging by its first singles, ‘Only Girl (In the World)’ and ‘What’s My Name?’, Loud may holler dance, up-tempo, upbeat and energetic, but the album isn’t as ‘loud’ as it claims itself to be. This does not mean it is not a fun pop record, on the contrary, it brings about a happier approach to Rihanna in comparison to the droning mood of Rated R, but some tracks seem a bit inconsistent with the alleged album concept and sound of the rest of the body of work.

The album kicks in with ‘S&M’ which does become the epitome of the record; it is energetic, unashamed, catchy and suggestive. Rihanna taunts about being laced, while she admits to loving the smell of sex nonchalantly. It is unrestrained and infectiously fun, it may be repetitive and poor in lyrical structure, but pop music isn’t about the substance anyway; it is a naughty solid cut.  The Drake featured ‘What’s My Name?’ follows; the song is amazing, point blank. It is catchy, danceable and sexy. Rihanna goes back to her Caribbean roots not only music-wise but her tone and accent are flaunted throughout. The synths and ‘Rude Boy’-like percussion are impossible to resist to. It is saucy, heated and filled with swagger.

Avril Lavigne’s ‘I’m With You’ sampled ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ is a letdown; Lavigne’s interpolated segment is pointless and annoying. The song is supposed to be some sort of celebration, but turns out to be a snoozefest and a sloppy glass toast instead. It is unexciting, dreary, tedious and all its derivatives. The drunken-chanted chorus before the song ends is unoriginal and forced; Katy Perry did it first in Teenage Dream with the much successfully festive ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’, which sounded appealing, and far superior. ‘Fading’ is a well delivered track both musically and vocally. The piano interspersion nods back to her Rated R cut ‘Cold Case Love’. It is a nice breakup kiss off. It can easily be related to letting go and overcoming the Chris Brown feud from the past two years, since she sarcastically waves goodbye and slaps in mocking ta-ta’s and so long’s before singing the chorus.

‘Only Girl (In the World)’ is a generic dance track, it is good, but it draws too much similarities to other tracks released in the same genre, for instance, David Guetta’s Akon assisted ‘Sexy Bitch’, it does have more tempo, it is catchier, and most importantly, it is indeed ‘loud’, but it isn’t anything one hasn’t heard before; it could be considered a distant cousin from Guetta’s aforementioned track. Despite similarities, it is not a downer, it is predominantly danceable and Rihanna is up there vocally; she is able to prolong her delivery and keeps it as thunderous possible.

‘California King Bed’ is Rihanna’s ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, where she sings about growing apart in a relationship. It follows an acoustic, more stripped down sound from the rest of the tracks in the album. Her voice sounds incredibly powerful in this one, and shows a side of Rihanna no one thought she could pull off. Her voice is unswervingly strong, and proves she has talent; she is no Whitney Houston in her early days, but she can work with what she has. The theme of the track seems out of place in the continuity of the album, in contrast to the proposed ones it finds itself amidst.

She gets her Bob Marley on in the stricly reggae ‘Man Down’, where she showcases her natural voice in a fantasy of shooting her man in Central Station. She breaks the song down in an emulation of bullets being shot; in the same vibe she introduced ‘Disturbia’. The Shontelle penned track is a sonic step-up for Rihanna and the production is iridescent for its creative underlay of police sirens. It sounds like this is her essence, meshed with anger and an unconventional innocence. ‘Raining Men’ is captivating and fierce with its eenie-meenie pre-chorus and it’s recurrent oh yeah yeah, oh oh’s. Nicki Minaj’s verses are on point, and she doesn’t go overboard like she usually does. The production is quirky, amusing and fresh. It may sound or draw comparisons to Beyoncé’s ‘Diva’ at certain parts, but this is definitely better. ‘Complicated’ is an ear-candy trance. Lyrically it follows a love reproach. It is a great take on dance pop; the beat is rushed and goes in line with the perceptible angst in the mood of the song.

‘Skin’ is a red-light lit room shocker. It sounds like the perfect abridging between Rated R and Loud, it is gritty and dark, but at the same time alluringly seductive and steamy. Her whispery vocal ability comes afloat in full, as she begins to sing a series of bed teasing connotations in a particular patterned tempo. It incorporates an incredible sex-influenced build up, in the sense the track sets a slow place at the beginning, teasing, inviting and placidly foreplaying, before it begins to gain momentum towards the bridge, as it reaches its climax and resolution, in the same way sex does.

Rihanna follows Alicia Keys’ footsteps in recording a continuation to a feature with ‘Love The Way You Lie (Part II)’, just like Keys did with Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’. It is a great sequel to the original, lyrically it is more diverse and it’s pleasant to hear less Eminem on it. Rihanna’s vocals are vulnerable, but she manages to reach a strong point during the choruses. It is an odd addition and a waste of space of what could’ve been a newer song in the album track listing though.

Rihanna has grown emotionally, and the music certainly shows it. Loud is superior to her early releases, and sets a balance between Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R, due to its serious undertones and brisk temperament. It is a pleasant listen, and the production is top notch, but some songs could’ve been louder. Instead of staying true to the title, her team apparently seems to have opted for lush mid-tempos to state talent credibility, not realizing they would make something inconsistent. It seems as if Rihanna started with an aim, but slowed her pace down in the middle of the musical race she got into while envisioning the concept for Loud; the first songs mislead the listener when it comes to the direction the album takes after the first half.

After listening to the album, one might conclude what Rihanna meant by loud might’ve been the range of her voice, because it sounds improved and stronger in comparison to how she started; her vocals are quite impressive in Loud considering her early standards. The album is excellent but its main flaw falls in it being too short; a couple additions wouldn’t have hurt, like the David Guetta produced ‘Who’s That Chick?’ for example, which seems to fulfill the purpose of the album more than most of the songs making the final cut.

Loud is good, but too all over the place; maybe a track listing rearrangement would’ve done it more justice. She gave a taste of where she is right now, hope next time she serves the main course without dosifiying it like she did throughout. The album does have its bang factor, just not the one listeners were introduced to and misled towards.

While Rated R proved how ‘bad’ and how ‘tough’ she could be, in Loud Rihanna proves her versatility; she also proves she gets better with each album, so the future for her looks bright.

★★★1/2

C.Perez

Post writing several hit records for other artists, most notably Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party In The U.S.A.’ and then recording a song featured in the film Easy A, titled ‘Sexy Silk’, critics appointed Jessie J as ‘the next big thing’. Jessie J seemed promising, but the thing is she is still promising, and has yet to prove that promising character she keeps on exuding. Who You Are marks her debut, fillled with a ballsy attitude and funky confidence, but at the same time with unconventional softness, which doesn’t quite go with neither the cover of the album or overall feel of particular tracks. It surely entertains, but it doesn’t settle for either an attitude or a positive pop sound. The big pressure shoved into the project had as a consequence a somewhat contrived nature, which is most flagrant in a couple aspects of the record, such as over extensive octaves and apparently camouflaged force fed themes.

‘Price Tag’ is another successful pop-rap mash up in the likes of B.o.B.’s Hayley Williams assisted ‘Airplanes’. It is well written referencing materialism over being more sensitive and aware of one’s humanity. It is  a solid pop track, though it is ironic how the song preaches against self-monetary value, while on the iTunes store it is worth $1.29; isn’t the purpose to make the world dance?

‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is a faulty heartfelt apology, where she belts out angst conveying hurt; at points she sounds like Natasha Bedingfield, but this doesn’t intervene in allowing the track from being distinctive from the rest of the content of the album. ‘Abracadabra’ is pure magic.  It is simply composed, it works magnificently; it builds up instrumentation before everything comes together during the chorus, with wah-wah guitar strums, an underlaid throbbing beat and every now and then piano keys, resulting in a steady, gentle cut. Jessie does not over sing any of it, and is proof she doesn’t have to show off her range to make a song sound great. This has to be a single immediately.

‘Big White Room’ is where Jessie shines the most vocal-wise, having an acoustic guitar backing her up only, giving her the chance to make the statement, once again, that she is able to sing. It is great to have her raw talent on the album instead of drowning it in immense production, and instead permitting her to dent emotion in the delivery. The song is perfect as it is; it is unimaginable how it could sound in studio.

‘Casualty of Love’ is mellow pop R&B; it could easily be something one could find on Mariah Carey’s classic Butterfly; yes, it is that ‘up there’. ‘Rainbow’ is the typical self-empower song in the same vein as other chart ruling singles tackling on the same matter, such as Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ and Lady GaGa’s ‘Born This Way’, but just not as good even though catchy; a tad stale, it just lacks that oomph.

The self-empower embroidery continues in the Lily Allen-esque sounding ‘Who’s Laughing Now’, where Jessie shares alleged abusive school experiences (call it bullying if necessary). The song is a too-early slam on haters, it is well put and nicely sung; angry yet conceited. It is a good track, but the theme of the previous track is too back to back.

‘Do It like a Dude’ is an ‘in your face’ thump. It is belligerent and placidly risqué, with open swearing. There hasn’t been a better breakdown in the whole record than this one, where she addresses and taunts boys directly. It is a nice blend of sheer hip hop and pop. It is a standout, with its infectious beats and lyrics.

‘Mama Knows Best’ sounds vintage, tingeing a little Jennifer Hudson in Dream Girls; it is hard to in fact take the song being sung by a white person. It is so R&B at particular points, it almost sounds like a different persona has taken over, other than the one Jessie introduces in the rest of the tracks. The vocals are flawless, but yet again aren’t consistent with the material in the rest of the body of work, maybe because the sound is not as commercial as the rest of the album. The prolonged ending notes are too lengthened, they sort of stomp on the gleaming proposition of the track.

‘L.O.V.E.’ is plain denial towards accepting emotional reaction. She plays hard towards the feeling, but in the midst of avoiding the cookie cutter, stereotype or mere cheese of love songs, by excusing and refusing, if not denying the acknowledge of an usual love song, Jessie falls on it flat, embedding it in a ‘promised I wouldn’t do this’, yet did it. She blatantly claims to be in love, and the half-spoken allegations made throughout the song, giving the notion of a nervous jitter of proving otherwise, making it credible.

‘Stand Up’ sounds like something belonging to Natasha Bedingfield’s repertoire, not only in style or theme, but in the sound of the vocals as well. Don’t know if it’s a matter of modulation or accent by all the British, but it sounds surprisingly too Bedingfield, with the only distinction being her oddly interesting characteristic of stuttering her own lyric, without any studio trickery or electronic enhancement; this shows how resourceful her voice can be when it is not over belting out her range. ‘I Need This’ is good, but Jessie tries to reproduce the largely vocal eccentrics of ‘Mama Knows Best’ with one too many unnecessary rollercoaster-like oh whoa oh’s. The title track and album closer is touching, and sounds honest. Its electronic rock edge mixed with her brokenly sung lyrics are amusing, this would probably seem feigned at first but after careful listens comes across as having a different approach in comparison to the other positive messaged tracks in the album.

Jessie J has an irrefutable vocal ability, but the problem is she over-sings at times, and makes what should be a pleasant listen, the complete opposite. Every song is well crafted and follows its tempo, until she overdoes them, leaving the listener with a raised brow and not an earache exactly, but close. It is an enjoyable pop slash R&B album, excluding when the over singing is present. It is a great listen, but unfortunately cannot reach brilliance due to the perceptible fixed nature of the motifs in the album. It attempts a little too hard to fit or to garner the attention it pretends to attain.

Despite the title of the album being Who You Are, Jessie J fails at finding any identity herself, since she jumps from style to style throughout, while exercising one too many vocal gymnastics, obligating the listener to become confused and rather clueless regarding what is her personal stamp or signature in here. Instead of proving some sort of versatility, she instead reveals the absence of any sense of cohesion.

It feels all the sudden interest in Jessie, plus her early critical acclaim, was some major pressure to meet expectations, which resulted in several attempts to convince how right critics were. The record is well produced, and Jessie does have talent; think of a more powerful Lily Allen fused with Natasha Bedingfield and Fergie. She knows how to carry a tune. The sound of the album is commercial, but swirls around different edges in songs like ‘Mama Knows Best’, ‘Casualty of Love’ and ‘Big White Room’ thus resulting a little over the place, and not sitting well with the much more mainstream bunch.

This does not mean it is bad, because it doesn’t go that far either. But it could’ve been better without all the hype and early showing of what Jessie J was marketed as. For a debut, regardless of its weaknesses, it is a firm start. One will just have to see how Jessie J grows in her craft in the future. Her vocal ability is already a good sign she can in fact shimmer, but she could’ve much more without having the many expectations surrounding her launching, which reflected on how she delivered. Jessie J is certainly capable, let’s hope next time she releases does it on less pressured ground, and proves she can pull herself off without having to cater to the masses. It is a good effort; it just needs to tone down the vocal calisthenics and let the music speak for itself.

★★★

C.Perez

Seeing Keri Hilson release her sophomore album is both a surprise and a relief after the struggles and constant push-backs surrounding her debut, In A Perfect World…

Keri is back with a harder hip-hop-ish sound, drenched in a more sensual persona and new-found swag, which No Boys Allowed showcases effortlessly. In a nutshell, it is her underrated release ‘Slow Dance’ gone way past the tease.

‘Buyou’ is a superbly crafted crunk-tinged midtempo, with a homophone play hinting at Hilson’s southern origins; it is very urban, stating independency and demanding materialistic placidness. ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ is simple but brilliant, simplicity and its lack of overproduction does it justice and flatters the conceited nature of the track, resulting in a lush thumping beat and consistent piano keys.

‘The Way You Love Me’ reveals a swaying Keri and its utmost crass, yet it surprisingly sounds so honest and uncontrived (it is hard and shameful to admit) it is quite engaging. Keri’s fast paced vocal delivery is terrific; the production is ace and dancefloor ready. ‘Bahm Bahm (Do It Once Again)/I Want You’ proves Rihanna wrong when she stated she wanted to make island flavored records she could only do, as Hilson rides a Caribbean beat with a thick and sassy accent to tone the saucy-ness of the track marvelously; the eh-eh sung hook is infectious. The following interlude is a soft make-love request sung in a half finger-snapped beat; Hilson has truly found a new sexy side to herself, and her steady coos and sex kitten sonic guise are quite convincing.

Hilson fully channels Rihanna in the Stargate produced ‘Lose Control’ featuring Nelly, which bears similarities with ‘What’s My Name?’. Even if it follows the steps of the aforementioned ska number, ‘Lose Control’ is a drop dead dancey tune, which will have one shaking, winding and rolling in no time; it just screams hit in the making.

‘Toy Soldier’ is an enthralling epic ballad of love gone wrong, with a faint drum roll intro with gripping vocals, tackling at never losing one’s guard. Hilson shines in the song and transcends its simple production into something else; she sounds hurt and feels it as she sings. ‘Breaking Point’ is woman empower to the fullest, encouraging women to swing their fingers at their man faces and tell them how it’s done; it sounds a little Lauryn Hill, but plain. In fact, ‘Toy Soldier’ carries the message Keri intended to deliver in ‘Breaking Point’ more effectively than ‘Breaking Point’ in itself. ‘Beautiful Mistake’ is a happier and flirty approach to a break-up; the production is very poppy and bouncy, though it still retains an R&B trace. Hilson soothes in the breezy track, giving the sense of a summer day while bobbing one’s had to this with the windows rolled down.

‘Gimme What I Want’ brings in another banger, where Hilson declares she wants it all, without a tease, hesitation, nor restriction. Ciara would have killed to have this track on one of her own records. The album closer ‘All The Boys’ might seem sappy and corny, but interestingly is an amazing ballad, which has Keri confessing one true love, with a compelling vocal delivery.

Lyrically, Keri Hilson could do no wrong (putting aside the fact she is part of one of the best writing teams out there, The-Clutch). Hilson’s record is filled seductive witty metaphors in the midst of lustrous production; No Boys Allowed shows maturity in both vocal and songwriting skills.

Hilson’s drastic image switch might seem forced and fake, if not phony and desperate at the beginning, but after going through the whole record, the persona she is introducing to the listener is quite genuine and unexpectedly likeable. She makes her interests more than crystal clear in ‘The Way You Love Me’ and ‘Buyou’, strokes her ego in ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ and expresses vulnerability in ‘Toy Soldier’, yet ultimately conveys how comfortable she feels as a woman, and being able to break through the constrictions of being a female, by allowing herself to be shallow for once, naughty, and engage in and say what a man would without being judged.

By mere looks, Hilson may seem as a feminist siren throwing shade at men, but she takes feminism into a positive approach of celebrating womanhood instead of striking back at the male condition. No Boys Allowed is R&B mixed with a little pop and bits of hip-hop, making up for a consistent body of work, coherent with its theme of not allowing boys throughout, but real men; it is sassy and very ‘Rihanna’, but in a good way; Keri really makes this style her own. It is a breath of fresh air to see Miss Keri working with several other producers other than Timbaland only (no wonder the weakest song in the album, ‘Breaking Point’, was produced by Timbaland).

Whether sex sells for No Boys Allowed is not the question, but whether Keri could actually sell it; there are no questions asked: this girl is a ten. Hilson crafted an amazing enjoyable record which scratches off sophomore slump from her list.

★★★★

C.Perez

Teenage Dream: Lots of sugar & spice

Katy Perry evades the sophomore slump by pulling all the stops with her new record Teenage Dream, filled with hugely infectious hooks, massive choruses and unforgettable melodies. Perry addresses love, teenage years, break-up, overnight blurs, insecurities and explores sex in pollination metaphors.

After the immediate success of ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and the release of One of the Boys, Perry had to watch her every musical step to avoid being labeled as a one hit wonder. Her sophomore effort saves her from being mislabeled, and turns her into an absolute star.

Even though it seems calculated and manufactured to appeal to the masses, it has a lot of personality and attitude. There are no duds, no fillers; every track has single potential. It is solid; regardless of it being mostly sugary, it still has a particular acerbic taste. It is well balanced. Dr. Luke brought the best of his downright best. Stargate pole-vaulted outside of the box with his production, contributing with an effervescent sparkle. Tricky Stewart worked magic wonders; his production was enormously shocking and unexpected.

‘Teenage Dream’ is all pop rock should be, with a guitar riff and a subtle dance beat which comes to light in full as the chorus fiercely kicks in; standing still is not an option. ‘Last Friday Night’ picks up where ‘Waking up in Vegas’ left off, and is turned into a weekly mischief; it interpolates a wah-wah guitar driven hook which then explodes in a sax solo after a beguiling T.G.I.F. chant. ‘California Gurls’ is massively upbeat and carefree, enclosing all things summer.

‘Firework’ is orchestra enmeshed with dance; Perry’s vocals are unmatched in this, as they soar and sky-rocket explode; it is uplifting. It is interesting to note it apparently alludes to the motif of a plastic bag swirling in the air off American Beauty. ‘Peacock’ is a cheerleader intrusion in the boys’ locker room. It is rascally energetic and rather racy with its witty yet clear-cut lyrics, as Perry almost ‘bird’ wails in the milieu of the song. It is an absorbing no-brainer; the production is beyond incredible.

The ferociously mordant ‘Circle the Drain’ is not just a slap in the face; it is definitely a knock out. It falls between being a blend of rock, synthesizers, auto-tune, drums and mild pitch gymnastics. ‘E.T.’ is a brilliant astrophysical metaphor and quite a percussion laser storm; the overall composition is ingenious; it almost could do for hip-hop.

‘The One That Got Away’ is a throbbing idyllic love let-go; musically it goes along the same vein of the title track. ‘Who Am I Living For?’ is electrifying and clout, however bitter and finds Perry’s range being shoved into a struggle with keeping the pitch and ultimately manages to (though with notable effort). ‘Pearl’ is sinuously on the ball and cleverly written; it is a call out to women empower.

‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’ is what Perry should have called the album’s obvious innuendo instead of the straightforward ‘Peacock’; Perry sings about spreading her wings to fly, finding the magic seed and sounding like a symphony when in perfect harmony; it is nearly impossible not to take it in a double sense; it is an outstanding poppy rock layered number. The album closes with ‘Not like the Movies’, a piano driven ballad with faint drums, strings and glass harp interpolation.

Teenage Dream is wonderfully written; most of the tracks follow a two-part progression pattern with resourcefully crafted metaphors. Aside the tongue in cheek lyrics and adolescent references, Perry achieves some sort of maturity in her songwriting. The album showcases a more vocally powerful Perry; most of the material is sung in a high range, which works for her two-fold, as it showcases her vocals, but also reveals her limitations to some degree.

Past its bouncy bittersweet numbers, and venture into more pop turf, the album does not murder nor neglect the sound of the preceding record and still incorporates it in the vibe of the new; it does not sell out exactly, but only meshes in with more pop, allowing Perry’s foible and flirtatious personality to come afloat.

The record might seem to lack cohesiveness as Perry tries to keep it all on fun mode, until she addresses more serious matter. What holds the album together is the fact even the slow songs are indeed bangers; despite them being slow paced in comparison to the rest, they manage to uphold the spirited rhythm of the album in whole.

Teenage Dream is grand in all way possible. It may be many things at once, but not enough to be turned into a nightmare. It is composed of anthems, it is stellar, fantastic, and assorted, though it still heaves an exceptional consistency when it comes to themes. Katy Perry outdid herself and exceeded expectations; she just could not do wrong. Teenage Dream is a dream come true, or at least a dream one would not want to wake up from.

★★★★★

C.Perez

Perry’s breakthrough with One of the Boys, opened several doors, one of them being the opportunity to perform her own unplugged gig for Mtv. Perry showcases her vocals at her best, as she delivers in an unbelievable manner.

Opening with a cabaret inspired rework of ‘I Kissed a Girl’, Perry gives the track a 360 degree spin by instead of reinforcing the playful nature of the song, turns it into a jazz piece with a different twist, as Perry sounds confused when singing, giving the song a different approach and revealing a much more personal and intimate interlace.

‘Ur So Gay’ finds Perry singing to an acoustic guitar and a saxophone predominant background, following the vibe of the preceding track. It tinges at a more angsty undertone, singing to a low, before she belts out a high as she reprises the song. The Fountain’s of Wayne cover for ‘Hackensack’ is incredibly brilliant; Perry makes it her own. It fits Perry so well; it could have perfectly been an actual Katy Perry song.

‘Thinking of You’ features strings and Perry strumming her guitar. It does not stray too far from the original version, except for much more polished vocals. With the absence of the original production, the lyrics are really highlighted, suggesting paramount vulnerability.  The album track, ‘Lost’, was a great addition to the unplugged repertoire, as it allows Perry to introspect in full in a song already meant to transmit self search. Perry sings ‘Waking up in Vegas’ over piano and guitars, even though it is an acoustic rendition of the single, it still captures the tomfoolery upbeat mood the Vegas themed track entails.

The record’s true gem lies in ‘Brick By Brick’, the solely guitar strummed number by Perry herself. The reason as to why the track was not included in One of the Boys goes unanswered; it would have been a marvelous addition to the album’s final cut. It is Katy Perry in essence, without the glitter dust and without make-up layers. It is as she described it, pretty much where she started. It is stunningly structured, beautifully written and it definitely would have to be one of the most outstanding love songs Perry has ever come up with, dealing with not giving up on love, but having no choice if the counterpart lets go; it is the quintessence of love grieve.

This record shows a more bare-stripped down Perry, conveying a lot of emotion and giving her songs an alternate perspective, which indeed lets the substance interspersed in the tracks really come to light, allowing the listener to understand what Perry puts into words. Vocally, Perry sounds amazing, with raspy tones, low hums, coos, and several soaring highs, exercising the texture of her voice; Perry’s use and control of the head voice is quite impressive. If Perry would venture for a more acoustic ‘countrified’ sound in her future work, this proves she could certainly pull it off with ease.

★★★★★

C.Perez

Adele Adkins is an English songstress who draws similarities from Amy Winehouse and Duffy. Regardless of the aforesaid appraisals of Adele’s abilities, these do not define her artistry, as she brings her own spirit and vocal inimitability and pours it on 19, titled in reference to the age when the album was recorded. Adele proves she is here to stay after several hits, album certifications and two Grammy nominations won for Best Female Pop vocal Performance and Best New Artist.

Adele burnishes in the whole disc, every song tells its own story in insightful lyrics and an above reproach vocal delivery. Adele’s vocal range is extraordinary, pitchy at times (i.e. ‘Melt My Heart to Stone’) but intended to be and the results are deeply for emotional shock. The delivery of her vocals is smooth, firm, and gigantic but not becoming overdone or vexing. One can clearly hear the influences from Etta James and Billie Holiday, but the album does not become a fleece, it instead delineates Adele as being herself.

‘Cold Shoulder’ is a superb versatile experimentation of neo soul, rhythm and blues with soft rock as well as ‘Tired’, where Adele rides a mild vocal rollercoaster in each verse of the chorus.  ‘Crazy for You’, is Adele riding the slow guitar strums at her best. ‘First Love’ is an amazing lullaby which keeps steady but Adele takes it to another level with the emotion she stamps all over the track, as she hauntingly wails. ‘Chasing Pavements’ is wonderful from all aspects, Adele displays her voice at high notes and reaches a subtle climax before she punches in with the chorus and resigns at the end if trying and investing energy in a futile relationship is worth it after all.

The Bob Dylan cover of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ does not even sound like a cover, as Adele makes the track hers, shimmering along a sturdy piano playing throughout the song, as strings slide in before she closes with an standing ovation-deserving harmony. ‘Hometown Glory’ is almost a hymn to London; Adele’s melancholic vocals make the listener actually feel the nostalgia.

19 is an aching heart gracing one’s ear. It is beautifully written and composed; the dispersion of instruments consolidating blues, soul and jazz are beyond breathtaking. The scatter of Motown adds a lot to the album, solidifying Adele’s attempt to create a retro sound. 19 roughly throws back between the 1940’s and 60’s; it is brilliantly implemented and utterly impressive. Even though she insinuates the sounds of the past while still remaining contemporary, she is ahead of her time. The record is both musically and emotionally authentic. The record is pretty simple, but sometimes less is more.

★★★★★

C.Perez

Past the brilliance of Continuum with its jazz-soul powered numbers, one could not think of what else could top it, and the following record Battle Studies, certainly does not. In comparison to Continuum, Battle Studies is pretty lukewarm and would not stand a chance. But judging it on its own, it is a marvelous laid-back piece of work and shows a different, softer, mellow yet still soulful side of Mayer. His blues influences are shed down in Battle Studies, maybe not entirely but are an absolute change from his preceding album.

Battle Studies is adult contemporary acoustic pop. Produced by Mayer himself along with Steve Jordan, the sound of the record is no less than amazing. It is consistent and keeps an all toned down feel, yet still holds that emotional Mayer punch present in his last records; the album has no duds. Mayer sings in the midst of acoustic and electric guitars, soft to faint percussion and melodious harmonies; musically it is simple, but minimalism does it for the album as Mayer’s vocals become the main focus of the record, making one feel as if one were in an acoustic rock saloon.

The record opens with the soft and experimental ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, which keeps it all in one key until the end when Mayer mildly belts. The cover for ‘Crossroads’ (an Eric Clapton classic) stays almost true to its original, but Mayer makes it his own with his powerful iridescent vocals and outstanding instrumentation. ‘All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye’ is gently bitter and comes across as a very heartfelt track, and ‘War of My Life’ is extremely genuine and honest, it is beautifully written and unflawed.

It is worth noting the alleged Taylor Swift feature, which is far from being a feature other than credited backing vocals towards the end of the track; it could have easily done without Swift, as her vocals add nothing to the pop intensity of ‘Half of My Heart’, or Mayer’s wonderful vocal delivery for that matter.  

The album is poetically written, it conveys a lot of sentiment; the play on words and wits of the verses are stellar. The way the composition and instrumentation are arranged could not be any more perfect. Every guitar strum, every harmony, every instrument is exactly where it should be, the album just feels right and precise. Despite the bitter mood of some tracks, Mayer showcases his sense of humor encrusted in lyrics where he sings about marijuana and doubting love, when loving someone but still looking for someone else. There is some sort of progression in the record, it just does not hit the listener like his previous work, but steps forward at a different pace than what he has done before.

Battle Studies seems inspired by a little Bob Dylan, a sprinkle of Eric Clapton and somewhat a slight tinge of Chicago. It is a striking and insightful compilation of music even if it does not contain the predominant blues or the all-around guitar play from Continuum, but the record seems to be Mayer finding another approach to pour his heart on music by toning it down and humbly layering his soul in this acoustic simplicity.

★★★★1/2

C.Perez

Rihanna really raises the bar in her fourth record, which features collaborations with Ne-Yo, StarGate, Tricky Stewart, Justin Timberlake, The Dream and Will.I.Am, as well as production by Rihanna herself.

Rihanna keeps her guard throughout most of the album, but despite the shell she encloses in, her personality and emotions manage to come through and hold together what makes up for Rated R, a seemingly unrestrained public threat and statement of her reign over pop music.  

Rated R is a magnificent pitch of eccentrically rock R&B. Rihanna bounds and leaps between rock, pop and stringent R&B. The sound works for her and without doubt hems in her inner rock star. It flaunts a lot of growth in as far as it concerns artistry, composition, vocal ability and character.

‘Wait Your Turn’, the promotional single, is a stake at dub-step, and introduces the dark and strong vibe of the record. It is not Rihanna’s best as she is mostly auto-tuned in most of the track, but it is certainly something new for her and sounds like nothing she has ever done before. ‘Russian Roulette’ is jittery, angsty and filled with frustration, reflecting an unstable relationship, of always being hanging by a thread and not knowing when ‘the trigger’ might be pulled and hurt either partner. Lyrically, it is beyond belief, and musically, out of this world.

‘Hard’ is an intimidating pop-hip-hop track where Rihanna states her strength as both a singer and a young woman; it somehow sounds like revenge. ‘Te Amo’ is an odd yet amazing pursuit of feeling attracted towards another female; its elements of a Spanish guitar are insanely the cherry on top. ‘Stupid in Love’ is a piano-driven dreary ballad which showcases Rihanna’s pipes but goes nowhere as the content and lyrics of the song are amateurish and in fact poor. ‘Rude Boy’ is the highest and sunniest moment in the record, where the Rihanna everyone is used to, takes the lead, as she sings amidst a saucy-Caribbean tinged beat.

‘Photographs’ is a very unarmed and frail side to the disc where Rihanna sings about having nothing but memories of past love. ‘Cold Case Love’ is a simple piano midtempo which then turns into a belligerent accusation in varied stringed instrumentation; its content is a marvelous play in crime and love metaphors. ‘The Last Song’ is a haunting break-up song, where Rihanna seems to finally leave behind her anger and hostility, which comes as subtle as a mallet in ‘Firebomb’, basically a description of how she runs over a lover and how his face crashes in the windshield. Rihanna goes pretty much morbid in the aforementioned track as well as in ‘G4L’ (Gangster for Life), which can be just described with one word: violent.

Rihanna’s limited vocal range sounds more developed and much improved than her early recordings. This time around she is able to hold prolonged higher notes and handles stable harmonies. Good Girl Gone Bad, her highest selling record released in 2007, pushed Rihanna to become a better singer and performer, and Rated R becomes an extension of that musical augmentation. She has never sounded this confident and determined since her preceding record.

Its only let-down is its constant dark and angry feeling, and largely ruminating mood slotted in the lyrics. Just about everything in the album seems to be related to Chris Brown and the altercation both had the year previous to the album release. Incorporating this particular dark moment in her life to the majority of the album was complete suicide. Perhaps it was needed for Rihanna to let off some steam and liberate herself from the pain she had to go through, after the lengthened tabloid stirs and entertainment news documenting Brown’s physical attack over her, but the persistent ponderings become droning and repetitive, to the point it becomes too exasperating.

Good Girl Gone Bad was described as edgy when it came out, but by ‘edgy’, this record is what Rihanna probably meant.

★★★1/2

C.Perez

Katy Perry paved ground through the release of an EP and her official debut risqué single, ‘I Kissed a Girl’, which became a #1 hit. Perry had been dropped several times from different record labels as they did not how to market her music and image. Capitol Records took a chance, and had Perry working with A-list producers and songwriters (Greg Wells, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, etc.) who could assemble material for the then newcomer. After a #1 single, ensuing singles top digital sales and two Grammy award nominations, the rest is history.

In the face of assumed comparisons to Lily Allen, and her single ‘Smile’, which mocks and taunts a lover just like Perry does in ‘Ur So Gay’, Perry is set apart from Allen by ages, as attested by One of the Boys, which diversifies Katy’s sound with other move towards a new perspective on love and heartbreak.

Perry mocks and begs for love in brainer metaphors and still finds the time to expose a susceptible side. The album is an extensive story-tell. The composition and lyricism are compelling; Perry and the contributing songwriters really let their inspiration and mind’s eye lead the way when it came to writing the record.

One of the Boys makes for a solid pop debut. Catchy hooks, sharp lyrics, love from all angles and poppy rock tinkles fill the whole album. Perry’s vocals bear a resemblance to P!nk and a toned down Pat Benatar; this fused with pop, equals a certified startling winner. Katy sings, coos and wails in such a manner she brings the shallow dominion of pop music into a more credible area, giving it a whole new interweave.

The title track contradicts Katy’s very feminine image for a more tomboy-ish, where Perry belches the alphabet and tapes ‘her suckers down’ so they do not get in her way; it is a wonderful play on electro-beats and soft rock. ‘I Kissed a Girl’, is a menacing electric guitar drum beat nodding to sexual confusion. ‘Waking up in Vegas’ is strangely a love song on the lines of abiding by commitment (or so it seems), layered in a wild tear-up in Sin City.

The acoustic emotional-cheat ‘Thinking of You’, is indeed a taste of perfection; Perry gives herself in the song completely. ‘Mannequin’ is a 90’s sounding Pinocchio-themed track; the composition is outstanding. ‘If you can Afford Me’ might sound conceited but in fact asks for loads of love in return instead of checks when she sings, ‘Don’t play cheap…with your heart’. ‘Lost’ finds Perry delivering bruised vocals as she shares personal experience, just like the surprisingly dark and morose ‘I’m Still Breathing’.   

There is a whole lot of quality, personality and depth to the record. It is rigorously pop rock, very tongue-in-cheek, glossy and unswerving. Perry tries on different music hats in One of the Boys and successfully delivers. The album is a pocketful of musical gems. Katy has fun, winks, laughs, cries and regrets all throughout the disc, showcasing her voice at low and high tones. She teases in every way possible yet still does not put out completely, leaving the listener wanting more. The record feels as it were a look into a girls’ slumber party and a girl-talk intrusion; it feels right from every bit and piece. Truth is, Katy Perry is a kitten who happens to have a lion’s roar.

★★★★1/2

C.Perez

Pop starlet Ashley Tisdale, presents her sophomore release Guilty Pleasure. Despite the enormous High School Musical brand label stamped all over Tisdale, interesting quick fact to note is she was never given the opportunity to record as a solo act in Disney-Hollywood Records, unlike her cast peers Vanessa Hudgens and Corbin Bleu; Tisdale was signed to Warner Bros. Records by her own means instead.

Distinct to Miley Cyrus’ supposed freedom blabber Can’t Be Tamed, Tisdale introduces and showcases her creative control, artistic freedom and grown-up versatility in a most natural manner, both in the rockier sound of the record in comparison to her debut Headstrong, and the lyrical content which addresses more serious subject matter than her previous album and anything Cyrus has ever released. The sound, staid undertones and moderate mature content of the playful disposition of the record are suitable to Tisdale, who is in fact singing accordingly to her age and experience at 24 (now 25).  

Tisdale might be hard to take as a serious music act, but Guilty Pleasure forces the listener to comply in ballads such as ‘What If’, ‘How Do You Love Someone’ and ‘Me Without You’, each addressing the basic need of love, parental issues and being truly in love respectively. ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Hot Mess’ define Tisdale as a young woman and successfully pull her away from the Disney cheese without much effort.

Of course there are teen tacky blunders in the album which seem addressed towards a much younger audience, but these do not take away the intensity of the overall piece. These tracks show the record label and Tisdale’s astuteness to push barriers to garner a new audience, but still keeping the previous one, without drastically switching over. It is nearly impossible to admit it is a Tisdale record because it is so well written.

The opener, ‘Acting Out’ reflects and introduces Tisdale’s creative musicality and personal interests with its imposing grand composition and lyrics, citing her previous teen image ‘as the perfect child’, suggesting one should not ‘judge by the cover’. The record holds its true guilty pleasure in ‘Hair’, who knew the most ridiculously titled song could be so good. Everything from start to finish is fabulous; the build-up of the track is radiant, kicking off with a stomping strut drumbeat which then starts to add keyboards, a consistently stuttering electric guitar and a faint tambourine before it all explodes at once in an immense extravaganza in the chorus.

Guilty Pleasure might seem crass because one might assume it is just another High School Musical related solo, but Tisdale manages to indeed stray away from the HSM label and breakthrough her artistic ability. Ashley Tisdale could be considered to be the best off Disney since Hilary Duff and her pop shimmer 2007 masterpiece, Dignity. Guilty, not at all, but definitely pleasurable.

★★★★

C.Perez

Owl City rose to prominence after the first single ‘Fireflies’ garnered much success and likability in 2009. Ocean Eyes is filled with small details to look out for, from its lyrics to the magic behind the outstanding production handled solely by former DJ, Adam Young (the sole member of the band).  The borrowed vocals from Christian rock band Relient K’s frontman, Matt Thiessen, are key to the harmonies and hooks in the record.

Ocean Eyes are basically a peek at somebody else’s diary. They lyrics are very confessional and spiritual, and even though they make up for pop music, they indeed are very much felt. The play on the lyrics is in fact really distinguished. The way Young conveys his metaphors reflecting love, vulnerability, frustrations and joy is worth taking hats off for. The whole album is worth checking out, but ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘The Bird and the Worm’ are the highlights in the whole body of work. ‘The Bird and the Worm’ sings about defenselessness when in love; it encloses a flounce on a sunny day with the production from ‘Fireflies’ to an acoustic fast paced rhythm combined with piano.  ‘Tidal Wave’ calls upon a higher source of help when faced with hassles and obstacles; it suggests divine power looking over and uncovers Christianity and faith conviction to its fullest.

The hindrance with this record is it at times becomes too droning. The production is tremendous but the rest of the album sounds like a remixed version of ‘Fireflies’. The record tries to break away from what composes ‘Fireflies’, and achieves it in some tracks, but the rest suffer from the rebound effect; it is difficult to discern between which song is which afterwards as plenty sound too similar (‘Hello Seattle’ deceives it is ‘Fireflies’ when it starts playing).

One thing which cannot be denied is the album cuts (despite being similar) moving unto different ground once they have warmed up to the listener. They outdo themselves slightly either lyrically or in tempo (one virtually sees the songs evolve on their own).  Also, the very unabashed positive suggestions in the songs, where Young chooses to ‘pick flowers instead of fights’ (‘Dental Care’), makes the album invigorating, uplifting and vivacious, if not completely bouncy and high spirited.

‘Fireflies’ is remarkable, it does not sound like anything playing on radio, but after the structure of it is used several times, it loses its shine (at least not entirely). Ocean Eyes suffers from ‘the ocean’ to some extent refracting the light of the sun on the waves, meaning it re-does what it has already done. The lyrics move forward, but the sound does not quite keep up the pace.

The album seems like something coming from outer space, it is dancey synth pop, somewhat soft rock-edged and acoustic. Despite the album nearly self ripping itself off, Ocean Eyes is original, emotive, cute and silken.

★★★1/2

C.Perez

Ke$ha has been part of the music industry since long ago by writing and providing backing vocals to major artists; most notably in FloRida’s #1 ‘Right Round’, where her vocals went unaccredited. At last, she had her chance at stardom and brings Animal, a self written party limerick, filled with likable pop beats.

The record has the party theme as a predominant and consistent subject matter in all the songs, even in those which slow down the tempo of the energetic jumping thumpers. The songwriting is not anything beyond this world, on the other hand is pretty bland, but does it for record which is bland and plain in itself. The constant references to the party scene are trashy, corny and have been heard all before.

The production by mostly Dr. Luke, is absolutely rampant and gripping, yet Ke$ha takes the tracks and leads them nowhere, in fact her voice goes nowhere as well. Ke$ha’s vocals are weak, her voice falls flat and is mostly layered by synthesizers and auto-tune, ultimately letting a computer do the talk, in this case, the singing, if one can call it that in the first place, considering Ke$ha mostly sing-talks throughout the whole record, and justifies it by calling it ‘sing-rap’. She can fool herself, but not the listener. Her voice becomes more of a screech surrounded by nifty production, other than an actual vocal ability.

Her half assed vocals transcend to a slight note of seriousness in ‘Hungover’, ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ and the title track, which surprisingly is a very well crafted pop number with sense-making lyrics. The slower songs or midtempos are the standouts of Animal, and it is a shame they will just go unnoticed by being album cuts as they probably won’t ever be released since they are what wouldn’t sell.

The title track is actually hard to take it as part of the ‘wild’ and ‘out there’ character of the album; it might either mean there is multiplicity and range in what ‘Ke$ha’ is or means the whole album was commercially crafted and Ke$ha was only allowed to have one song to let her true self come to light; if the latter applies, what a sellout.

The album is indeed fun to listen as there is a certain quality to it, but there is no personality. By mere sight, Ke$ha could be considered a low scale Lady GaGa when it comes to style over substance; the only difference with GaGa actually having talent and an attention arousing image. Animal is fun pop, but it is yet another notch in the dance pop trend blowing up in radio. It is nothing neither new nor inventive, but on the contrary, just another approach given to pop.

★★★

C.Perez