Saturday, August 30, 2014

Behold, Numbers!

The short version:
Rjd2—More Is Than Isn't: 8/10
Lily Allen—Sheezus: 9/10
The Roots—...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin: 5/10
Shakira—Shakira.: 5/10
Coldplay—Ghost Stories: 5/10
Mika—The Boy Who Knew Too Much: 7/10
Sombear—Love You In the Dark: 7/10
Phantogram—Voices: 7/10
The Glitch Mob—Free the Music: 8/10 (free)
Sia—1000 Forms of Fear: 8/10
La Roux—Trouble in Paradise: 4/10
Imogen Heap—Sparks: 6/10

I've been listening to most of these for quite a while.

I hadn't heard of Rjd2 before, but apparently they have a bunch of albums out, and More Is Than Isn't is their latest.  It's rather good, and I don't know what genre to say it is... parts are pretty and instrumental, parts are dance music, some are R&B, and there's a little bit of rap.  So I'm not sure who to recommend it to other than people who like a lot of variety in their music.  My favorite track is Behold, Numbers! (instrumental), and I'm quite fond of Bathwater (rap) and Temperamental (R&B), though there are more interesting instrumental tracks that I prefer a bit to those.  It's for sure worth checking out if you like weird variety.

Lily Allen is finally back with another smart pop album, Sheezus, and it's rather fantastic—definitely one of the best I've heard recently.  My favorite is URL Badman, a fun pop song with a chorus featuring a weird dubstep beat and bleating goats.  The title track is also really excellent, and there are several others that I'm really fond of, but Insincerely Yours is probably third place.  There's good variety in the sounds on the album, most are produced by Greg Kurstin (of The Bird and the Bee) who constantly cranks out songs I love, and the lyrics are clever and interesting.  Worth a shot for anyone who loves quality pop music.

The Roots' latest album ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is similar to a couple of their latest: it's got one really excellent track, a couple that are good, and quite a few that are rather forgettable.  The single When The People Cheer is one of the best rap tracks I've heard in years, and has an interesting video as well.  But nothing else on the album is even close.  Understand and The Unraveling are probably next up, but those are firmly in the "good, not great" category.

Shakira's latest is also not too exciting.  Apparently it's not even creative enough to come up with an album title.  The disc includes both English and Spanish versions of some of the tracks, and the Spanish ones are overall better.  My favorite is You Don't Care About Me, which is a great song.  After that, Empire and The One Thing are both good too.  But the rest of the album largely seems pretty mediocre to me.

Coldplay is trying for a lighter, more experimental sound in Ghost Stories, and it doesn't work.  Magic, Midnight, and True Love are decent but not worth an album purchase (or maybe even a single purchase).  There's probably a reason that most of the other tracks on the album aren't even available on streaming services.

Mika's The Boy Who Knew Too Much is another fun pop album though, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys "pop" music but not actually popular music that they play on the radio.  Touches You is a lot of fun and so's Blame It on the Girls, and Rain is probably in third place.  Other great upbeat tracks on the CD as well... definitely worth a try.

The Sombear album Love You In the Dark was an unexpected surprise of an alternative album that I came across on Spotify, and I ended up rather liking it.  The title track is appropriately dark and very well-crafted, and the opener Incredibly Still is really pretty.  And Never Say Baby is interesting as well.  The guy's got a weird, weak voice that I imagine some people will hate, but the instrumentals are interesting and solid.  Worth checking out if you like alternative music.

I also recently discovered Phantogram, and their album Voices is pretty good.  The opening track Nothing But Trouble is delightful and catchy and overall excellent, and strangely not a single.  Nothing else quite matches it, but the next two tracks Black Out Days and Fall in Love are quite good too.  Most of the rest is still uniformly good except a couple weak tracks toward the end.  Worth checking out for alternative fans.

The Glitch Mob put out a free mixtape EP Free the Music that I recommend picking up.  Pound 4 Pound and Mike, Aaron, and Eddie are both very good (though the latter is a bit obnoxiously repetitive), and there are other gems there as well.

Sia's got a new album out and it's good.  Hooray!  The best track on 1000 Forms of Fear is a solo version of Elastic Heart which sort of doesn't count because she already released a better version with The Weeknd on the Catching Fire soundtrack, but this version is still extremely good.  But Burn the Pages, Fire Meet Gasoline, and Dressed in Black all stand on their own very well.

La Roux has a new album Trouble in Paradise out and it's quite a disappointing change of musical style.  The lead single Let Me Down Gently is pretty good and so's Cruel Sexuality, and the album as a whole is not nearly as cold and jagged as her first, but it just doesn't work for me this time.  Third place is probably Uptight Downtown, which is largely unremarkable.

Finally, Imogen Heap has finally released her long-time-coming fourth solo album, Sparks, and it is definitely my least favorite so far.  Her previous album Ellipse had a lot of experimental tracks but a few good singles as well, but Sparks is even more weird and experimental and doesn't really have the melodies to back it up.  Me the Machine is pretty good even though some of the lyrics are pretty cringe-y while she name-drops technology terms like "downloading," but it deserves special mention as being performed while dancing while wearing specially-crafted electronic gloves and clothing from her Kickstarter project.  Cycle Song is also good and includes a lot of "ethnic" sounds, a wild departure from her usual bleeps and bloops, and Lifeline is a little more typical Imogen.  I'm torn; if the album had just dropped about five tracks and had been shorter I probably wouldn't have been as harsh on it, but with so many boring songs on an album from a favorite artist, it's hard to not be disappointed.

In addition to those, I recommend Jurassic 5's free single The Way We Do It, a fantastic rap track, and Doug Locke's #ThisCouldBeUs, a great perky summer song even though summer is just about over.

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