Karmin, the duo of Nick and Amy which took the world by storm in their popular cover of Busta Rhymes' and Chris Brown's Take A Look At Me, have finally debuted their new album after their 2012's Hello EP which was messy, uncoordinated and off-beat in a few cases. Can they produce magic which skyrocketed them to fame and glory? Or will they crumble from a high peak?
The duo of Nick and Amy is, to be honest, easily likable. Though Amy does sometimes scratch the infuriating levels on the surface with her off-vocals and falsettos (check Acapella), let's not forget that she her vocals are incredibly veined and she can pull off incredible vocal stunts that probably most other singers can't. That said, the duo never seemed strong on the lyrical content (Too Many Fish, Hello, I'm Just Sayin' from their Hello EP), but the catchiness of their music is what they've subdued since the EP released two years ago. That being said, after the mysterious release of the two singles in the form of Acapella and one of my favourites, I Want It All, it can be said by most Karminites that the album has finally arrived at their doorsteps. Well, maybe in a few days.
Let's talk about some of the positives here, because this album starts out strongly. Amy's vocals on Pulses is just simply astounding on extreme levels. The talent is there, and while it may seem suffocated on their previous release, Pulses definitely hits the right scenery and the vocals are put to the ultimate test. It is just glorified and outstretched, leaving the audience to be amazed at Amy's vocals. I will get to Amy's rapping later, but let's just take a gander (or hear it) at how simply fluid it's become. Another thing that has grown is Nick's vocals too. From Pulses, it's probably the only thing I liked apart from the weird synthesizers (Amy's vocals did not work in that song; it was awkward and simply irrelevant). Nick also does some of the instruments on the tracks, but his oblivious influence on the EP, while contributing to only some parts, is also shown in full glory here. It's amazing to listen to, so check out his vocals on tracks like the aforementioned Pulses, Night Like This and Hate to Love You.
Next, the production level increased up a notch, such examples include: Drifter, I Want It All, Night Like This. The guitars, the percussion; so perspicuous from the get-go became a large part of the album apart from Amy's vocals. They can be heard clearly and soundly, which is great considering their EP was just flabbergasted of production that became overly tiring as the song went on. Geronimo, which is an acapella introduction, is epic. The sounds of the duo explodes perfectly, and then notes are hit on-point. This shows that Nick and Amy are capable of stripped songs and can still balance it well. The emotional tones on the album are immensely full of depth as well, such is Neon Love and Tidal Wave, which the duo handles pretty well, though I'm fond of the former than the latter.
Lastly, the lyrics have been kicked up a notch, although at the expense of trying very hard of being too capable. It's not terrible though, after what was the lyrical nonsense of the EP (Apart from Brokenhearted), it's great to hear something refreshing and that has semblance of the album from top to bottom.
However, just like every pop album (although Karmin are fiery on their live shows), the flaws are just obvious from the start. The duo's over-singing on most parts (Tidal Wave, Gasoline, Hate to Love You) and it slowly starts to grow annoying, while at the same time keeping the song bridged from it's verses from it's chorus/hook. Thankfully, that's only a small part. Then, there's Amy's rapping such as Try Me On and others. I liked Take A Look At Me's cover and Brokenhearted's short snippet of rap, but sometimes it gets over-annoying and it feels insipid. I get that it's fun and whatnot, but I'd do without it personally and it makes the tracks much stronger in terms of quality. While 50% of the fans do like the rap and have asked for it, I'm just not a fan and probably will never be one.
Apart from the negatives, the positives simply outweigh it's counterpart. While it doesn't paper over cracks and it isn't that big a gap in the first place, the tracks are fine on their own apart from my dislikes. What's In It For Me which feels Timbaland-esque definitely doesn't make the cut...
Favourite Tracks: I Want It All, Drifter, Night Like This
Least Favourite Tracks: What's In It For Me
All in all, I would recommend the album if people are relatively okay with the pop tracks on the album. It gets you in the mood to rock, it gets you on your emotional side and packs a big punch with epic production, tamed lyrics and at times, being vocally opulent. While it's not the best thing out there, Karmin sure as hell picks up as a rock. I can't wait for future releases, as long as they're on par in quality or a better one. The album is awesome, just don't get me wrong.
As I like to compare the modern arts to literature and previous works with the current ones, there is absolutely no denying how anticipated Supermodel has been after engraving success of their previous album, Torches, with a multi-platinum single in the form of Pumped Up Kids, would see the band make shift into a direction and experiment on songs and tones that they aren't used to. Will the band expose their mistakes or will they carve a new route onto even bigger pastures?
Let's be honest, Foster The People got me on my feet with the singles from Torches, an album that undeniably sunk in with ambitious tracks (Call It What You Want, Don't Stop, Houdini, and of course the lead single, Pumped Up Kicks) that worked insanely well because of how groovy the tracks were meant to set out to be, despite the pretentious tracks behind it's pillar singles that never really got to see the light of day. Although the lyricism does exact a different punch, Torches, albeit an indie record, surpassed expectations and became one of the best albums of that very year. And with their recent new single, Coming of Age, I had a very bad feeling with the song, and soon, the album.
Bands taking directions, you've heard of it and you've seen it. Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park, Paramore, the list goes on for the mainstream bands, but what really got the project running was the inevitable hardcore fan-base that really rallied behind the bands when they needed support for the new music. And I am a big fan of Foster The People in which they undoubtedly won me over single-handedly with their debut album, but I really cannot avoid the fact that Coming of Age is at most blatantly decent and that brick blocking it from achieving higher things will probably not be washed out. You could say Pumped Up Kicks wouldn't have the exact same popularity it deserved, but 2011 was the year in which indie-pop and most indie-rock bands shone. Fun., for example, broke through with We Are Young a year later and caught on to people because of what they set out to be. Though Nate Ruess and Mark Foster are exact opposites (Nate doesn't do falsettos, Mark doesn't do high notes), their music felt at least capable of drawing listeners. I couldn't feel that straight out of the gate with Supermodel.
It's not an underrated album, and it's probably sub-par in very wide regions that is exceedingly visible for all to see. Coming of Age, while not terrible, does provide the forgiving catchy hook that balances the harmony, while the entire album itself falls off on the wayside. Straight from the get-go, the ambitious, yet un-fortuitous opening track Are You What You Want To Be?, showcased brilliance and intellect, but at the same time a repetitive experience with an awkward melody lines that barely feels decent. As much as it is ambitious, it falls flat. And hard. With a big loud thud. Same goes to Nevermind and Best Friend, which has a cheeky undertone, full of overdressed melodies and is just trickled with wrong vocals over-stepping each other all the way. So many tracks just feel obsessive on their own that feel as if they had been stripped of a monotone vocal from Mark, who overdid it on the most part, would've been much, much better. It wasn't a fluke that Torches became a highlight of 2011 and became a transcendence for other bands to be influenced (tick the box that has the name Imagine Dragons).
In fact, the best songs on the album are probably the stripped ones that contains much more sincerity than the others. My favourite one has to be Fire Escape, and to an extent, Goats In Trees. The acoustic sounds of these tracks level up the over-pounding mayhem that is caused by the rumbling of the other tracks, and prove to be sophisticating and also compelling, rather than being overly ambitious and seeing the downfall straight away. That said, effort was definitely not absent, but the experimentation seemed to become dysfunctional for the band, being overly flamboyant on the subjects and never really putting their foot into it. While it's not a simplified bad album, it's nowhere near good nor great.
Favourite Tracks: Fire Escape, Goats In Trees, The Truth
Least Favourite Tracks: Nevermind, Best Friend
I wouldn't care if experimentation was used on an external play record or somewhere along those lines, but too much of an overdoes definitely doesn't exaggerate and could readily fail upon impact. Foster The People, while Supermodel does tirelessly clock down it's efforts and proves to be ambitious, lyrically, it's decent and the plan worked on selling and about the consumers. However, there is obviously no other reason why the band cannot churn out a record that is just simply better than what they have in their hands. Supermodel is a disaster for the most part, and a probably a modern artwork at best.
Now before y'all start going 'Linkin Park brought a feature on to their new track!' or 'it's going to sound exactly like A Light That Never Comes with Steve Aoki' and have never even heard of Rakim, to just toss that thought aside. Never heard of Rakim? You mean you've never heard of the legendary New York rapper whom many up and coming, underground lyricists have known for a long time? Yeah, I hear you. Still, let's be honest. I won't deny the fact that the previous single with Steve Aoki was anything of quality that was on par with Living Things (which was a great album), but this track will surprise you in ways you would never expect to happen.
First off, a few things aren't really on this track. Where is Mike Shinoda? He isn't even rapping on the track (considering the only one doing so is Rakim). And of course, considering their previous album, Mike has probably gone behind the scenes to do the usual production with the bombastic synthesizers which are heard absolutely monstrous on this track. They come out roaring almost like a kraken just a minute into the song, and the chorus feels almost in the heydays of Meteora and Hybrid Theory, which most 'hardcore' fans will definitely enjoy.
Another thing that was great was the instrumentals. It felt everyone had a role to play in the song: Rob's drums were crashing, they were so huge that it was so surreal; Brad and Dave, the guitarists also played a huge part in the electronic aspect of the track but the only one I felt didn't deliver as much was Joe Hahn. Maybe he had a lot to do with the mixing and switching roles with Mike into a more dynamic role, but he felt missed.
There was one small problem: Chester Bennington. When he sang the first verse, he felt sick and stiff. It was as if he was drained of his energy, but he did do as much as he could on the chorus which was absolutely kick-ass. But his effervescent energy provided a lot for the track, because Rakim just felt left out. What was growing into a song that would explode (considering the track is 5 minutes long, almost 6), you would expect Rakim to roar, but I felt he under-delivered heavily. Still, I haven't heard Rakim in a long time as well, so it was good to hear both Linkin Park and the legendary rapper rocking out so heavily on a track again.
I thought I'll just go with the more stylized version and simpler one for the track reviews as well. All in all, it's a great track, but does lack a little effect vocally. Still, I'm hyped for Linkin Park's next venture, considering I was sold on Living Things (I'd rank it up there with Meteora, which is my number 1), but I hope they don't go electronic again considering A Thousand Suns when compared to it's successor, was just dismal. To sum it up effectively: while flawed, Linkin Park got back to their roots and that's all it matters. It's going on my playlist for sure.
The second solo studio album by Pharrell Williams is here! Well, it seems the producer has finally put aside his main duties and decided to put himself in the spotlight after an incredible year for the 40-year-old (Get Lucky, Blurred Lines, producing records for Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar), man, does Pharrell even take a rest? But then again, his last solo studio album was dropped almost 8 to 9 years ago, and finally taking over the helm from the sidelines, can G I R L, a concept album that Williams himself has defined, do well or even better than his predecessor record (In My Mind) almost a decade ago?
So for those of you thinking you've been here longer than the man himself, well, you're wrong. Since the 90's, Pharrell has been a huge part of the R&B genre (and to a closer extent, hip-hop and soul) and was also part of the producing duo with Chad Hugo (who is now a member of N.E.R.D.). And thus, also invigorating some of the R&B sounds with come to listen to now on present day. But, what's really actually gave him the revolutionizing start to re-begin with was his almost flawless contributions to two of the hottest tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 that eventually got the attention of the eyes he wanted. Even if it isn't the ones he was going out to get. Now as a producer who has now come out of the shadows to do an album that would work (considering some of the tracks he's done), it may seem like the best idea. But when you have a solo album that happened almost 8 years ago, that suffered terribly, people might not buy into the fact that you're either a talented producer, or a decent songwriter that matches up with your singing abilities.
Lets take for example, Happy, the lead single off of this album. People enjoy the track, why? It's groove and the funky aspects come into play that translates itself to make it enjoyable, and that's one of the reasons why the song is so successful. But if you delve deeper, the track offers no essential meaning other than just be happy and not care about what others say. On the lack of voided lyricism, it is true that Pharrell more than makes up for it with his superb skills in the percussions, and funk guitars that happens not just on the single, but throughout the rest of the album. Now that sets the tone for Pharrell to dive in, and considering such funkiness throughout the album evokes the thoughts that Pharrell's instrumentations and production are almost most superb when compared to his songwriting and singing capabilities. And when I mean singing, Pharrell usually goes straight falsetto-ish and delivers sometimes awkward, messy and strange vibes that don't connect very well.
Let's be honest. As a lead act, there's not much when Pharrell on his own, can carry the helm. Not even being in the lead act, as long as he commandeers the ship alone, he already even has trouble anchoring the spot that he is voyaging into. Take for instance Get Lucky by Daft Punk which also features Nile Rodgers, that Pharrell obviously is immediately boosted by the fact that the instrumentation is enhanced and the production too, which makes his feature all the more charismatic and detailed. In G I R L, Brand New which features Justin Timberlake is a perfect spot-on example. Not only does Timberlake bring his charisma and his own set of falsettos to the table to par it with Pharrell, but to actually share it with Pharrell simply simplifies the fact that it doesn't necessarily focus on the main singer considering he is always better with another feature. Of course, the singing is awkward and it also showcases that, which probably also hinders the rest of the album in a wholesale kind of effect.
Also, if you notice the lyrical content Pharrell is putting up (along with some of the vibes he's been giving off), they sound so similar to the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson. Obviously, the stars of before definitely have much better songwriting lyric-wise than Mr. Williams himself, which makes the content on G I R L all the most un-witty and... weird. Sex is kung-fu? Hunting for women than ducks against Duck Dynasty? Taxidermy? That act is killing animals Pharrell. And your animals are women. What is wrong with you? Those are lyrics from Hunter, and Gush just exaggerates to another level. Apart from them, there is Come Get It Bae (Ride a motorcycle. Shh, it is Pharrell's. Not to mention Miley Cyrus does a great job albeit in a small feature) in which otherwise, provides once again attractive production, instrumentation and guitar riffs that rips apart the track in a solid way.
All in all, amazing production and instrumentation (you're talking Pharrell Williams for God's sake), but almost weird, awkward and random lyrics that put Pharrell in a spot where this 'concept album' suddenly shifts it's toes sideways.
Favourite Tracks: Happy, Come Get It Bae, Brand New
Least Favourite Tracks: Lost Queen, It Girl, Gush
Let's not take away the fact that Pharrell produces some of the best tracks that I have heard in a while, but the liability that is his songwriting is just too much to handle. It's okay, but it's always the beats and production, the groove and the funk that keeps the audience moving, while the lyrics just feel out of place. I'd recommend it, unless you're the person that don't really care about lyrics and that melody is what you're searching for, G I R L is great. But necessarily weighed down by some negativity that translates to a bad album elsewhere.
Have you ever heard of an album that eventually, while still continuing on an unscheduled basis, to shift your musical tastes and land you so desperately far off from what your musical tastes were before? Breaking Benjamin was a band that was one for me, and throughout their careers, through raw (Saturate), post-grunge rock (We Are Not Alone), and career defining tracks (Phobia) managed to bring out from. In fact, they are probably one of my most favourite bands in the rock genre that brings about their own flair to a song while keeping their distinct styles apparent. And with this throwback review of their most recent album before their breakup, I will talk about Dear Agony, an album that has been praised and criticized all at the same time, while still being a fan favourite in my eyes.
If you've not known Breaking Benjamin, or have only heard of them now, I suggest you listen to some of their previous tracks just to notice some of the track's grimy related attributes that would later distinguish itself to be a prominent pivot for the band's success in future releases. Dear Agony, while to me having shouldered much criticism than it should have in my view, certainly doesn't deserve the lack of attention that they got with their previous release, Phobia. In many actual facts, it was due to the popularity of the tracks on the album (Diary of Jane, Breath) that eventually won them many fans that would later become just there so that the band would stay afloat for at least one more record. At least now Benjamin Burnley, the lead singer, has finally gotten the lawsuits done so I'm amped up for a new album at the moment.
Let's go back to the band's roots for a second, considering Saturate, when heard now, is characterized with such raw and distinct attributes (the guitar riffs, Burnley's saturated voice (pun) and mostly the drums that pounded insanely on tracks such as Polyamorous, Water, Skin, etc.). I think what most people didn't understand was why the band changed their direction of each album so that it actually felt genuinely post-grunge/alternative rock that eventually shaped future records. For me, Saturate was like a gateway for the band. It was just like a means for them to get their names out, at the same time staying relevant to the mainstream. We're talking about year 2002, where rock kind of dipped and collapsed while it made sure to uphold the intensity of some older bands that had stayed. While it may be considered by fans to be one of the weakest, I feel like the album ranks itself in a position disclaimed because of the way the band writes the tracks. And that to me has always been the band's strength and has always been at the forefront of their sales and success. That to me, is their flair.
Breaking Benjamin's style of writing, or more to the point of Burnley's apt songwriting has always to me, been the focus of some of their songs. Say for example in Dear Agony, there is a track titled Without You, that Burnley sings: Swallow me under and pull me apart; I understand there's nothing left; Pain so familiar and close to the heart; No more, no less, I won't forget. People seem to forget that Burnely's songwriting was also a main component for the breakout of the band's success. In other songs of Dear Agony such as Crawl, Burnely also sings: Falling forever, chasing dreams; I brought you back to life so I can hear you scream. All in all, a talented songwriter was placed in a foothold that basically ripped apart the job so easily that with each brush of a paint he held, he had done something magnificent. Of course, there are times where the track falls apart readily, but the notion of it usually comes from the fact that it is the band that hasn't found the right formula to an ingredient that had been lying awake all so long. With that being said, the lyrics add a wider tone, emotion and depth that hasn't been seen before or heard before on previous records, thus creating a vibe for the audience rather than suit them accordingly. However, the problems lying down with the album definitely don't stem with the lyrics itself.
One of the weaker tracks for me, Fade Away just feels incomplete and undesirable. It's the track the probably to me least fits the album because of the subject and the tone, whereas the album title track and others like Give Me A Sign provide the excellent accompany to an album that's capable of being extremely better beyond it's lengths. And like I said, most of the tracks don't cave in due to weak songwriting, but mainly the tie-in of the tracks and how the tracks blend well on their own. Lights Out also feels similar to Fade Away, while most of the fault kind of lies in it's own weight in which it is unable to hold on it's own. That and the non-subtlety that's missing which is attached to the other tracks definitely show that it's lacking thereof.
In a well-rounded album in and of itself, Breaking Benjamin has made another great album, but to say that it is weaker than Phobia and We Are Not Alone definitely shows that this album doesn't have the more core components that was included in the albums that felt as if this album fell short of something. But in actual fact, the album didn't.
Favourite Tracks: Hopeless, Without You, Crawl, Anthem Of The Angels, Dear Agony
Least Favourite Tracks: Fade Away, Lights Out, Into The Nothing
The album deserves more spotlight than it's predecessor records and that means something. While it definitely doesn't hold up against specifically to Phobia, Breaking Benjamin's Dear Agony is equally damaged, sophisticated, emotional and full of depth. That's probably something most bands can't match, lest even compare to Phobia. Dear Agony is not a wasted trip, but an experienced journey that will leave you in specific tender and warmth. It's one of my favourite Breaking Benjamin albums, and I will play it for a while more as I eagerly anticipate their future releases.
Benny Ong: Just your regular guy who likes soccer more than most people, and also a little downtime is pretty nice.