Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2: Album Review

October 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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When Justin Timberlake announced his mega-comeback to the music industry after submerging himself in acting for the past 7 years, the world breathed an excited sigh of relief. The first half of The 20/20 Experience dropped in March, and the Budweiser/tequila endorsements, stadium tours and media appearances followed almost immediately – dare I say it was…corporate-planned? It was a solid mix of a throwback sound with a futuristic underbelly.

The lengthy record (despite it having only 12 tracks) was just enough. Soon after the album dropped, Timberlake announced 20/20‘s volume two. By then, the entire experience was overkill. The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 reflects just that – it’s less about the music and more about making the money. Instead of leaving us with suspense, Timberlake and Timberland hit us over the head with more and more…and more music in a move that is overindulgent.

The album opens up with “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want).” It takes a note from Bruno Mars‘ “Gorilla” and steps into the jungle for this jumbled tune. It is overtly simple and almost laughable with lyrics like “Show me your teeth and then spread your wings/ Down and dirty, you’re loving me so loud.” Not to mention the strange accent that Timberlake tries to pass off as a “Sexyback” 2.0 but ultimately fails. Timberlake tries (and fails) to recreate a “Thriller”-esque sonic journey (yes – he even mimics Vincent Prince’s famous laugh) with “True Blood.” Clocking at nine minutes and thirty seconds, “True Blood” is painfully unnecessary and a drag to listen to. The zooming synths combined with the unsteady bassline and odd auto-tuned vocals all come off as messy.

“TKO” is one of the album’s few standouts, which is a shame since the opening line is the horrible “She kill me that coo-coochie coochie-coo.” Yet it still sounds like a track from the FutureSex/LoveSounds cutting room floor. But you can’t act for too much, right? The dull boxing-ring metaphors are saved by the pristine, Southern-tinged production.

Despite the song being a slight disappointment when it was released back in July, the first single “Take Back The Night” rushes in like a breath of fresh air after the album’s weighty first half. It draws disco/funk influences from Michael Jackson‘s Off The Wall combined with Luther Vandross‘ “Never Too Much” – so it definitely has the potential to become a dance party staple.  Keep reading!

Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull: Album Review

September 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Kings of Leon‘s latest record Mechanical Bull is a big landmark for the Tennessee boys – it is their sixth album and it also marks their 10th year in the music industry since 2003’s Youth And Yound ManhoodMechanical Bull – released on September 24 – definitely shows the band’s maturity. Long gone are the days of drunken fits and misbehavior, the band is now married and focused on becoming one of this generation’s rock greats.

The album kicks off with “Supersoaker,” which immediately draws back to their original and very missed homegrown country sound – think a more grown-up Aha Shake Heartbreak. Caleb’s voice is the strongest its ever been while still maintaining that gravely emotion that we’ve all come to love, and it adds perfect to the foot stomping, clanky melody. Following is “Rock City” – an ’80’s glam rock stunner with a guitar riff that is kind of Guns N’ Roses-esque.

“Don’t Matter” is the boys’ take on Muse mixed with The Stooges; it’s very punkish complete with a sickening guitar riff from Matthew as well as raw lyrics: “I can fuck or I can fight, it don’t matter to me.”  Yet “Beautiful War,” an incredibly sappy country tune, is slightly snooze-worthy: “Bite your tongue, don’t let us end here/ Everybody’s been here at least once before/ We’ve been here more.” Keep reading!

Drake – Nothing Was The Same: Album Review

September 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

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Who knew after the release of 2009’s So Far Gone that a young actor-turned-rapper/singer from Toronto would be at the pulse of rap music today? Here we are a few years later, and Drake is increasingly making more of a name for himself. Nothing Was The Same (out today, September 24), his third studio album, shows another, darker facet of Drake. Following the depressive, PBR&B memoir that was 2011’s Take Care (which won the 2012 Grammy for Best Rap Album), NWTS finds the Canadian MC in a colder and blearier state.

Drake has been striving to be just like Jay Z or even Kanye West (who reunited with Drake at this year’s OVO Fest), but NWTS is passive compared to luxurious Magna Carta Holy Grail or the abrasive Yeezus. Still, it’s clear that he’s vying for the number one spot, as Drizzy tries to kick an ever-growing Kendrick Lamar out of the game and take the crown for himself.

The album opens with “Tuscan Leather,” which immediately signals an even more confident Drake — one who channels Jay Z throughout the six-minute track with bold lyrics laid over a dizzying production that is reminiscent of a 2004 Kanye West (due to the Whitney Houston “I Have Nothing” sample and background vocals from Wu-Tang‘s Cappadonna). The track interestingly mirrors the Take Care opener “Over My Dead Body,” where the rapper spits braggadocio lyrics like “comin’ off the last record, I’m gettin’ 20 million off the record/ Just to off these records, nigga that’s a record/ I’m tired of hearing ’bout who you checkin’ for now/ Just give it time, we’ll see who’s still around a decade from now.”

Drake has given us inescapable phrases like “Yes Lord!,” “Shooting in the gym,” “I’m on one,” and the hashtag-appropriate “YOLO.” His latest addition is in the form of the eerie track yet popular club anthem, “Started From The Bottom” – the catchy first single released from the album back in February of this year. “Wu-Tang Forever” finds Drake taking a different turn, slightly sounding like Eminem when he was cursing out his ex-wife on the The Marshall Mathers LP‘s explicitly chilling cut “Kim” – but he didn’t take it far enough. If he channeled that hysterical energy throughout the song, “Wu-Tang Forever” could have been a masterpiece.

Yet the song seeps beautifully into “Own It,” the second chapter to Drake’s gloomy love story. The tune is derivative of his previous sappy tunes (ie. “Marvin’s Room”) with lyrics like “Next time we fuck, I don’t want to fuck, I want to make love/ Next time we talk, I don’t want to just talk, I want to trust.” What saves the borderline draining song is the aqueous sound effects and weighty bass drops.

Keep reading!

Arctic Monkeys – AM: Album Review

September 18, 2013 § 8 Comments

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After the cheery vibe of their first two albums, Arctic Monkeys took on a darker sound on 2009’s Humbug and even more so on Suck It And See (released in June 2011).  AM, the band’s latest album which dropped on September 10, is a far cry from 2011’s meager Suck It And See – and gladly so. The new album is a space-rock trip that finds the four boys experimenting more than ever. The band has called Los Angeles home for the past few years, and the desert-y California ’60s vibe can definitely be felt throughout the record. But there are also flecks  of Los Angeles rap as well as the cool undertones of minimal R&B – which makes the album quite unique.

In recent interviews, frontman Alex Turner has stated: “(The album is) the malt liquor of Death Row records chased down by at the very least a Bacardi Breezer of what (the band) calls ‘girlfriend music – the music our girlfriends were listening to at school when we were into Dr Dre. With people like (an) Aaliyah, what’s sometimes seen as being cheesy is actually a real coolness about the melodies, and we wanted to get a bit of the way that music moves into what we were doing (via Consequence of Sound).” AM  was produced in Los Angeles by James Ford and co-produced by Ross Orton. Guest contributors include Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), and Bill Ryder-Jones (The Coral).

The album opens up with the rumbling groove, “Do I Wanna Know?” Serving as the first official single off AM, it showcases the growth of frontman Alex Turner’s vocals – which are highlighted by the buzzing guitar licks and smooth percussion. The seductive lyrics don’t hurt either:

“So have you got the guts? Been wondering if your heart’s still open and if so I wanna know what time it shuts. Simmer down and pucker up. I’m sorry to interrupt it’s just I’m constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you. I don’t know if you feel the same as I do. But we could be together if you wanted to”

Following is current fan favorite, “R U Mine?” It was first teased back in February, but it’s throwback rocker vibe still holds strong. It has notes of classic Arctic Monkeys from their 2006 post-punk debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, intertwined with ’70’s psychedelic rock. “One For The Road” ( that features Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme on vocals) has a gritty, unexpectedly hip-hop undertone – courtesy of the staccato drums as well as Turner channeling his inner emcee as he slightly raps (!!!) on the hook. Keep reading!

Natalia Kills – Trouble: Album Review

September 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

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Back in 2011, British import Natalia Kills made her American debut with her first album – Perfectionist. Layered under sharp synths and storytelling lyrics, the album showcased the rise of pop’s new dark chanteuse with songs like “Wonderland” & “Kill My Boyfriend.” Unfortunately, the album was not distinguishable enough for Kills to set herself apart from the Britneys, Rihannas and Lady Gagas. Fast forward to 2013 with the singer’s sophomore effort Trouble (released on September 10) – which shows a more confident and focused artists, all while maintaining that dark edge that we all love.

With its heartfelt lyrics and booming production (thanks to Jeff Bhasker), Trouble could be the soundtrack to any 1985 Coming-Of-Age, teenage angst film.  The distorted opening track, “Television,” sets the tone with its dramatic, soap opera-esque police sirens. It is the first insight into her musical diaries which is juxtaposed by foot-stomping, ’80’s-inspired production: “Nicotine and low life dreams have never felt so warm/When your father’s on the bottle & your mother’s on the floor.” 

The following track “Stop Me” is a bit of a drag and maybe too try-hard. The cliché lyrics like “I put my high heels on so I’m closer to God” doesn’t help either. But what saves the tune is the chilling production – complete with faint coos in the background. “Problem”, the first single off the album, is bad-ass, glam metal & garage rock inspired and completely grimy. It is a bad girl anthem in the making, with sultry lyrics like “Don’t you wanna claim my body like a vandal?”

“Boys Don’t Cry” continues the dazed & confused, wide-eyed musical nostalgia. The soulful song opens with another distorted rocker riff and ends with a super-kitcshy speech. It has a ’60’s pop girl-group vibe, perfect for summertime cruising with the top down. Keep reading!

The Weeknd – Kiss Land: Album Review

September 10, 2013 § 3 Comments

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A few years ago, R&B took an interesting turn as young artists dabbled in a new, darker sub-genre called “PBR&B” (see SPIN‘s article for a thorough breakdown). The genre-bending roster included Drake, Frank Ocean, Solange, Miguel and Janelle Monae. And then there’s The Weeknd, the twisted brother to Frank Ocean’s lighter sonic fare. The Toronto-bred singer raised eyebrows (and caused a few dropped panties) in March 2011 with the first of his mixtape trilogy, House Of Balloons. With songs like “High For This” and “Wicked Games,” the singer, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, used his depressive music as a mask to whisper taboo subjects like drug abuse, prostitution and dangerous partying into the listener’s ear. Three mixtapes and a compilation album later, The Weeknd reveals himself on his proper debut release, Kiss Land (out today,September 10).

 While his mixtapes displayed the singer as emotionless and cold, Kiss Land shows a softer, warmer side of the once-mysterious crooner who now isn’t afraid to wear his feelings on his sleeve as well as his album artwork, showing a more confident Tesfaye looking directly into the camera lens. The themes on the album are derivative of his mixtapes, but the singer lyrically cuts even deeper as he struggles with his new-found fame.

With Michael Jackson‘s Bad and Dangerous influences as well as inspiration from filmmakers like John CarpenterDavid Cronenberg and Ridley Scott, The Weeknd challenges your sexual limitations both sonically and lyrically. But you should have already expected that if you paid attention to the record’s Hentai-inspired promotion, which was plastered with Japanese symbols and characters (not to mention the after-dark commercial featuring a Lolita-esque Japanese girl promising you “happy times” if you give the artist a call). Overall, Kiss Land‘s 2-in-1 songs create a sonic journey — but not in the exuberant 20/20 Experience way. It is more self-deprecating, jarring and mentally noxious.

The album opens up with “Professional,” a dark love song for a call girl. Tesfaye’s vocals are finally on the forefront, rather than being hidden behind smoky basslines. Just three minutes into listening, the song’s recurring lyric sums the entire album: “So you’re somebody now / but what’s a somebody in a nobody town?”

In his first-ever interview of his career, The Weeknd said he wanted to capture fear in the album: “I don’t know who I am right now and I’m doing all these outlandish things in these settings that I’m not familiar with. To me, it’s the most terrifying thing ever. So when you hear the screams in the record and you hear all these horror references and you feel scared, listen to the music because I want you to feel what I’m feeling. Kiss Land is like a horror movie.” Keep reading!

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