Polly Scattergood: Arrows

Polly Scattergood, Arrows Album Review

Olivia August

 

Polly Scattergood’s sophomore album is relatively unimpressive. Many critics have described both the album and her overall sound as “dark”, but I think this description is topical, at most. Scattergood’s lyrics are not often lighthearted, but they also just float there with nothing to ground them. The album feels like reading the diary of a depressed, hip, teen poet. She attempts to appeal to her listener’s sensitive, lonely, introspective side but ends up going to juvenile with it.

Lyrics like “And I woke up in your bed/ covered in your roses red/ and there’s money in the liquor jar/ wished upon a falling star” in the song “Wanderlust” just kind of hang there. They attempt to be poignant or powerful but really they just sound untethered. There is no context. And then there are songs like “Cocoon” in which Scattergood sings “As I stumble, look away/ Don’t want you to see me this way/ I am no good, I am no good at all/ Nobody catch me when I fall”, just self deprecating lyrics that wreak of melodrama.

Scattergood’s sound is definitely an interesting one; her voice is dark, high, and clear and lends a sort of ethereal feel to her music. It pulls the listener in and makes them want to keep listening, to find out whom this Scattergood character really is. But that’s the problem; it does feel like a character, or even a caricature of the emotionally isolated artist. There isn’t anything deeper than the topically personal and the listener is left feeling as if they were reading the diary pages of a teenage fairy. There is not enough detail to connect with.

 

Recommended Tracks:

Falling

Miss You

Wanderlust

Sesame Streetcar Named Disaster by Milk Carton Superstars

Upon receiving my assignment to review an album entitled Sesame Streetcar Named Disaster I immediately found myself with an overpoweringly negative bias.  I typically don’t mind bands trying to be witty within their work, but something about Milk Carton Superhero’s inclusion of my favorite childhood show Sesame Street left a bad taste in my mouth, much like how I felt after seeing Sesame Street Corruptions for the first time.  The cover art features a forlorn Big Bird with an acoustic guitar leaning on a street corner, seemingly contemplating the meaninglessness of life, as a literal street car named “Disaster” begrudgingly mopes by.  I’m sure there’s some sort of humor within this whole ensemble, but once the CD is opened and the actual members of Milk Carton Superstars are exposed, the band photos are even more uncomfortable.  It could just be my lack of years and my affinity for younger, fresher music, but the men making up the band look like sad, old dads who’ve started to dabble in steampunk as a way to make their band seem more “relevant.”

When I finally dove into the music my negative premonitions about the record were not far from what I experienced.  The music sounds as if Collective Soul hired Chris Daughtry to make a record that was not relevant to any time period, idea, or feeling.  The music is vaguely out of the mid to late 90s era by taking obvious notes from bands like Semisonic, the Gin Blossoms, and other alternative rock bands who were frozen in time during the mid-nineties.  However, the Milk Carton Superstars take it a step further and add underdeveloped vocals on top of their overused guitar riffs, thus creating a sound that seems to transport the listener to a sad bar in some sort of backward city where one would be surrounded by middle aged men who smell of beer and sweat.

The feeling that the Milk Carton Superstars seem to be conveying is confusing to say the least.  It’s hard to tell if they are they are being completely serious in their lyrics or have created a satirical persona, a la Tenacious D or Spinal Tap, in turn rendering all their lyrics a joke.  A telling example as to why this record seems like a farce comes at the beginning of the second song on the album called “Beauty in the Eye” when the lead singer Jim Myers laments, possibly seriously, that “you have the greenest eyes for someone who never recycles.”  The absurdity and cheese of “Beauty” lives on throughout the record in songs like “Sugar Palace” where Myers sings, “The sugar palace in my heart is really just a burnt Pop-Tart.”  There is also a song on this album about the so-called “Last Pigeon in America.”  This song seems to be commenting on a multitude of social problems however I honestly can’t decide if Myers is worried about our electronic-based nine to five world’s disconnect with nature, or if he’s just eating a sandwich while watching a pigeon and musing on random and pointless thoughts.  The inclusion of the toy piano in the opening of the song seems to point to the latter, however there is no telling how “deep” this band is trying to get.

The only redeeming factor I have to give this album is that it was created by a pair of old dudes who are still rocking.  They seem to be somewhat fun-loving guys who don’t mind to embarrass themselves a little bit.  There’s something to be said for those who grow old and continue to create some type of art – while the band’s pictures are incredibly lame the two members of the band at least look happy.  However, I feel that since I am a 19-year-old female student who works at a college radio station I could not be farther from the audience intended for Milk Carton Superstars.  These men possibly appeal to other young-at-heart male adults who have something in common with these Orlando-based weirdos.  I, however, hope I will never find myself at a beachside bar and be forced to listen to this strange and uncomfortable alternative rock.

 

Overall: 20/100

Queens of the Stone Age: … Like Clockwork

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Josh Homme died, was confined to bed rest for three months, and then recorded one of the best album of 2013 thus far. These experiences guided Homme in writing this album, along with other events. Long time drummer Joey Castillo left the band, the drummer from Queens’ popular album “Songs for the Deaf” Dave Grohl came to fill in and many guests including Sir. Elton John and Trent Reznor appeared on this album. But with the rotating door of musicians for this band there is one constant, Josh Homme and it’s his band. And this is his album, his opus for his career so far. “…Like Clockwork” has the funk from the group’s previous album “Era Vulgaris”, the feeling of a drug trip for their self-titled debut album and second album “Rated R”, a healthy mix of the dark mood from “Lullabies to Paralyze” and it’s capped off with the feeling that you are driving in the American desert. Homme uses the guest musicians to give each and every song layers that has listeners finding something new every time they listen to this album.The best way to describe this album comes from the song “Smooth Sailing” where Josh Homme sings, “I blow my load over the status quo.”

Rating: 94/100

Album Highlights: “I Appear Missing”, “My God is the Sun”, and “If I Had a Tail”

Oh, Jeremiah: Tall Tales and Tiny Fables

Oh, Jeremiah

Tall Tales and Tiny Fables

 

With the success of The Lumineers, folk and bluegrass music will only get more popular. In the next couple years there will probably be a lot of lackluster bands trying to make it big. Oh, Jeremiah’s debut album Tall Tales and Tiny Fables, definitely does not fall into this category.  They nailed this album in so many ways. They told a story and took you on journey that was both uplifting and motivational.

 

This type of music obviously has a niche audience but Oh, Jeremiah album is catchy enough that anyone can appreciate its sound.  As someone who rarely listens to folk music I really liked how songs like ‘Circles, Happy Now, and The Scariest Thing’ all felt modern enough that they could be played on any radio station. Even though it felt modern they did not leave their roots. It was a beautiful balance that they somehow managed to pull off.

 

The two songs that really stood out were ‘Circles’ and ‘Happy Now.’  ‘Circles’ is honestly one of the best made songs I’ve heard this year.  It has such a clean and catchy sound. I love how the song starts out with a little guitar and violin and gradually becomes more upbeat later introducing drums, and tambourine. The lyrics in this song also tell a great story about how “Happiness comes circles.”

 

‘Happy Now’ will probably be the most popular song on the album. It’s very catchy and upbeat. Not to mention it’s about moving on from someone who left you, and that’s always popular.  The message in this song has been done a thousand times, but if it’s done well it doesn’t matter.

 

This whole album seemed thoughtfully put together. It told a story in an exciting way.  The three songs I mentioned were a homerun and could easily be played on any radio station and enjoyed by most people.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this album being that it’s their first and not my type of music. The only flaw in the album was the length. It was very short, 19min. But the album is priced accordingly and is easily worth the $5. This was a great album and I could easily see Oh, Jeremiah getting big in the next couple years.  The greatest thing they did was make someone who doesn’t listen to this type of music a fan. Really well done

 

95/100

 

The Vaccines: Come of Age

The old school and soft rhythms of The Vaccines album made me sway but they didn’t make me fall in love and really say, “I have to go back and listen to that whole album again”. Most songs had very nice beats, such as “I always knew”. My favorite songs on the album included “Weirdo” and “Lonely World”. Both songs, especially “Lonely World” spoke to me and I loved the beat of the songs. I could see myself listening to these two songs over and over again, but I don’t really feel the same way about the other tracks. “Fortunately, I can’t say there are any songs that I absolutely detest, but if I had to pick my least favorite it would be “Bad mood”.

At first I didn’t care for or understand the cover art because I heard no female voices. However, I figured because the last song was about them wishing they were girls the picture was supposed to be significant. Although, “I wish I was a girl” was another of my favored tracks, I still am not sure how I feel about the picture!

Lady Gaga: ArtPop

90 million singles. 24 million albums sold, and that’s just within the last 5 years (and counting the legal copies sold, mind you). Love her or hate her, it’s undeniable that she’s changed the landscape of pop music since she’s busted on the scene in 2008. It is irrefutable that Ms. Gaga herself will be one of the very few current artist who will withstand the test of time, despite this fact, many people still despise her, not her music or her ability, just the image that is Lady Gaga. Before you completely write off ARTPOP as attention-seeking, let me stop you there, she’s had your attention for the last half-decade, but this time, no make-up, now wigs, no lobsters as hats. The artifice is being peeled away for a direct and hard-hitting approach (the enigma has even taken her wig off to display her natural hair – something you’ve probably been curious about). With that in mind, let’s take a look at ARTPOP.

Aura blazes in with western-style guitars, a very sultry Tarentino or Rodriguez-esque number that quickly turns into EDM banger, the lyrics are beautifully simplistic, the real prize is at the end of the song, where Gaga brilliantly delivers a concise warning of what lies ahead: “Dance. Sex. Art. Pop”.

Venus blends 70s psychedelic melodies with disco rhythms and Roman mythology, a very Ziggy Stardust meets  Depeche Mode, meets Vogue-era Madonna. The most pleasing and perhaps craziest entry into her musical catalogue yet, this is the first self-produced track by Gaga, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t show. There isn’t a moment where anyone but the Lady herself could sing it convincingly especially my favorite lyric “Uranus/ Don’t you know my ass is famous”. The chorus builds on itself using repetition but offering something new each time. It leaves more of an impression than Aura, but certainly just as unforgettable.

G.U.Y a Zedd produced head-banger with acronyms littered throughout, the lyrics are mediocre at best even though the chorus is killer with a brilliant bridge. The vocal delivery is excellent thought it falls short of audacious compared to Venus or Aura, but completely viable as a single.

Sexxx Dreams is one of my favorites. The verses are wonderful and the dual vocals demonstrating what one is saying and what one is actually thinking is executed with precision, until the chorus. The chorus is a mess, it’s catchy and hooks into your brain, but it feels redundant having dual hooks conveying the same message. They shift in lyrics is a bit unsettling, we’re thrust from intelligently crafted lyrics about imaginary infedility (“We could be caught/ Both convicted criminals of thought”) to insanely simple lyrics (“Last night/ Damn, you were in my sex dreams/ doing really nasty things”). It’s playful and well-crafted in most places, but I have the same problem with this as I do with 4 songs on the record, it’s hit-or-miss lyrics.

Jewels N’ Drugs (feat. T.I., Too $hort, & Twista) – It’s hard to say whether this is a good or bad song. The production by DJ White Shadow is some of his best to date, but I simply couldn’t get over the fact that T.I., Too $hort and Twista were on a Gaga song.  However, it does twist and shifts to each artist’s verse to create a melody that suits each individual on the song. It’s memorable, but I don’t know if in a good or bad way.

MANiCURE – Perfection. The simplicity of the production, the guitar-driven music, and undoubtedly the greatest vocal performance Gaga has ever put forth, the vocals are raspy, soring, and belting, and controlled at all the right moments. It’s impossible to get out of your head, with the repetition and rhyming scheme: “She wanna be Man Cured/He wanna be Man Cured/Ma-Ma-Ma-MANiCure”.

Do What U Want (feat. R.Kelly) – A thinly veiled warning to critics everywhere. It’s angry and sexy, with a rewarding chorus and a sense of vulnerability from both artist, it’s an excellent example of what a middle-finger-to-the-press track should be with lyrics like “You can’t stop my voice/‘cause you don’t own my life/But do what you want with me body, world”. It’s a backhanded invitation, it’s not the strongest on the record, but it’s catchy as hell.

ARTPOP – Poetic and entrancing, also horribly boring. Despite being the title track to the record, its incredible lack luster make it the most forgettable on the record. Even when the beat drops it’s still dull, its inviting appeal is completely antithesized by how monotonous it becomes.

Swine – Gaga has a gift of making unapologetic rock-and-roll records with nothing but electronic instruments. The face-melting dance breaks that make use of synthesizers, and the lyrics provide glimpses of a history riddled with sexual abuse and escapism through drugs (“ I know you want me/you’re just a pig inside a human body”) and “Maybe I should have a little more to stay out of my mind” are favorites). The chorus feels huge and the record plays like a radio smash, but the EDM breaks that give it ferocity are also drag on too long and distract from what could have been a perfect pop song.

Donatella – A Fame Era song in every sense of the word. An open love-letter to Donatella Versace (sister of Gianni Versace, and current head designer, a woman whose history is riddled with drug abuse and an unapologetic over-the-topness about herself, it’s easy to see why her and Gaga are kindred spirits). The lyrical content is shallow, but is meant to be satirical, “DONATELLA” feels like a war cry that’s hard NOT to scream along with. The production and shallow nature of the record make it one of ARTPOP’s most fun and memorable moments.

Fashion! – One of the best vocal performances on the album, a will.i.am produced club banger it’s everything a viable single should be. Despite all of this, this track just feels like filler. It’s sleek and cool as all get-out but filler nonetheless.

Mary Jane Holland – Pulsating and hypnotic. This song is everything “ARTPOP” the track should have been. Produced by upcoming Parisian DJ Madeon, this track is dark, catchy and well-crafted in every aspect. Clearly a marijuana track, it kind of makes Mary Jane Holland into a princess of sorts makes this one of the album’s standouts.

Dope – Lady Gaga and just a piano, a great combination. “Dope” is unfiltered and raw, which makes it hard to listen to at times because the production is rough around the edges (probably intentionally so). Regardless of that, the track is still a tear jerker and spine-chilling with lyrics like: “My heart would break without you/ Might not awake without you/Been hurting low from living high for so long/I’m sorry and I love you”. Completely void of theatrics, “Dope” is the album’s revelatory moment of love.

Gypsy – Another piano/vocal entry and building slowly into a power ballad “Gypsy” is one of the best songs on ARTPOP. It’s epic, lyrically stunning, and vocally perfect while maintaining a honest veil of sincerity. Acoustic guitars blazing forward over an elctro-blast of power chords, “Gypsy” is way beyond a good Lady Gaga song. It’s a brilliant song period. A new classic that has felt as though it’s always been around.

Applause – Gaga has a habit of making the first single from her album a misleading single that is completely different from the album. After listening to other songs in the album, “Applause” feels out of place and boring by comparison. It’s not bad of course, it just seems like an oddity compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, ARTPOP is one of the most hyped Pop records this year to date. It comes at the perfect time when interest in its creator is, once again, in the spotlight. Despite tremendous gaps in the quality of the songwriting, the two recurring trends on ARTPOP are mediocre lyrics redeemed by amazing vocals and catchy choruses that drill into your brain with little to no effort. Honestly, ARTPOP is the best Pop album of the year, Every moment feels expertly crafted from start to finish, even when it does fall short. For every misstep, there is redemption; wheher it be from stunning vocal delivery or production.

It’s far from completely perfect, but even the worse moments of ARTPOP are better than what has crept onto the radio this year, and it’s well worth a purchase.

Score: 90/100

Key Tracks: “G.U.Y.”, “Venus”, “Do What U Want”, “Swine”, “Donatella”, “MANiCURE”, “Dope”, “Gypsy”, “Mary Jane Holland”.