For The Lolz (Paramore, After Laughter review)

A friend of mine once told me that the kinds of music you prefer to listen to can tell you a lot about your personality, maturity and proclivities.

Not to mention all of the hundreds of articles and quizzes out there which claim to predict your personality based on how you answer certain questions. For instance, someone who listens to classical music would be typified as smart, hip hop fans are extroverts, and punk rockers are intense, energetic, and low on empathy.

Here’s an example, for the lolz.

 

Paramore – After Laughter

released May 12, 2017
******** 8/10

Paramore are an American rock band. Led by vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro, they have seen more than their fair share of lineup changes over a thirteen year career. Have released five studio albums to-date, After Laughter is their most 80’s influenced and pop rock styled recording. Consider their greatest single Ain’t It Fun – which was released with the fourth album, 2013’s Paramore.

That track was the single greatest predecessor for all of the fun Paramore are having on this latest album.

So what does it sound like you ask? Well, it’s a combination of pop, emo pop, pop rock, alternative rock, and indie rock. So according to that personality test, it means that Paramore are outgoing and nervous, creative and curious, but have low self-esteem.

Apparently this test is working out for me because I would have to agree with all of that. This is a very upbeat and creative album, exploring a ton of different topics includes the oft ignored arenas of mental health and suicide. It’s a more mature vibe and different then what we’ve seen from Paramore on previous outtings, with Hard Times exemplifying the high energy and shift into synth and the odd. Further demonstrated by Rose-Coloured Boy, the track has a pop music tonality, with Williams showcasing her chops to keep the tempo up, but if you listen to the lyrics she is coming from a place of depression and anxiety. It’s chilling really.

Told You So continues in the same fashion, with a sobering outlook on the future and no expectations for more from life. It’s almost as if the bard are using pop music as a vehicle to showcase the challenges in pretending to be happy all the time, when the internal battle is far more difficult and filled with disparaging thoughts.

Forgiveness, Fake Happy, and 26 all channel 1980s movie soundtracks like something that Blondie would have featured in or better yet, Madonna. Before she really went grunge in the 1990s. Forgiveness in particular is quite powerful as a ballad, and easily one of the albums best, especially when paired with Pool, which I think sandwiches that section of the record quite well.

This album really does mark a shift for the band and while the ska and reggae towards the end of the record seemingly come from no where in Caught In The Middle, it’s fucking brilliant. Reminding me of early No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

 

Pros: Moving away from their grunge-rock ways was a ballsy move from Paramore, but if anybody has the vocal range to play in the 1980s, its Hayley Williams. And while Idle Worship tells us they might not like themselves anymore, I still think they’re pretty damn cool. *Hugs*

Cons: I don’t really know where No Friend fits in this album, it’s kind of an odd duck, black sheep and red mark on an otherwise perfectly tuned effort. Also kind of slow? And ominous?

Runtime: 43 minutes

Points of Interest: After Laughter marks the return of former drummer Zac Farro to the band, as he recorded drums for the album and officially returned in February 2017 as a full member. Hard Times is the first single and Told You So is the second single.

I’ll admit I didn’t really pay attention to Paramore much when I was younger, which is odd given that they cite certain bands which I personally like as influences – Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Thrice and New Found Glory. Plus Hayley Williams takes personal inspiration from the  likes of the Ramones, Blondie and The Cure. For realz. I think John from ARTV said it best by declaring this an album that doesn’t sound like Paramore, but which is a good album nonetheless.

theories Summarized

Paramore are pop punk for the 21st century. They do all of the things that punk music are supposed to do, rhythm, high energy and tackling social issues, while having the fun, heart, and catchiness of pop music. That they’ve been able to transition into other areas of pop music while keeping the messages alive demonstrate their character and willingness to make meaningful music. The kind that makes you laugh heartily.

Tim!

Mama’s Boy, and Girl (Mother Mother, No Culture review)

We gotta cut the strings sometime baby. We can’t rely on our mothers to coddle us forever, growing up just won’t happen otherwise.

This week’s album review salutes those movers of culture.

Mother Mother – No Culture
released February 10, 2017
******** 8/10

mothermotherculture

Mother Mother are a Canadian rock group from Vancouver Canada. Yay for Canadian content! Founded by Ryan Guldemond and sister Molly Guldemond when Ryan was in the midst of music school and yearning to start a vocal-driven band that focused on pop. They have released a total of six studio-length albums to-date, four of them with the Last Gang imprint, with the fifth album Very Good Bad Thing and the sixth album No Culture on Universal Music Canada.

I’ve been a fan of Mother Mother since I first saw them live back in 2013 during Sonic Boom at Northlands. They were busy promoting The Sticks, and Infinitesimal was a hot summer track that I loved.

Then came Very Good Bad Thing and more success for the quintet – at this point they were able to climb even higher on the Canadian charts.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that No Culture just might be the album that lands them a no. 1 album in Canada and does some breakout work in the American markets. But now I’ll have to back that up with some insights into the the record, I guess. Well, let’s start with the themes explored. This is the first album that Ryan wrote all on his lonesome with the intent of injecting himself into the mix rather than a persona or general ideas. In fact, it was a solution to his own battle with drugs and alcohol, written while he carved up some time in a cabin in the woods fighting his way back to sobriety.

The album has a strong mix of flow-state songs and anxiety inducing numbers. But it’s incredibly emotionally honest, vulnerable and allows the listener the opportunity to interpret what is being presented as they would like. An exploration of how identity often feels very different in isolation then it does when we are out in the public eye OR rather when we presenting ourselves to the world.

 

The album features ten tracks which all have that strong vocal-based sensibility, but in particular my personal favourites are Luck Stuck, Baby Boy, No Culture, and Everything Is Happening.

Opener track Free is notable for its strong percussion and anthemic like qualities. Quickly followed up by Love Stuck (the second single) and The Drugs (the first single) which both maintain that stadium quality, very upbeat with sharp hooks and strong vocals.

When we head into the rest of the album it doesn’t maintain this pace, but the intensity shows up in other ways – Back In School is an ode to pop punk, Mouth of the Devil plays with some dark tones and unified vocals, while Family is a sentimental power ballad.

Also title track No Culture is kind of brilliant.

It focuses on the problems which all artists that work against within the realm of pop music face, the challenge of all style-no substance. And the track makes a lot of allusions to scavengers/predators, while exaggerating how Mother Mothers critics view them. It’s definitely a highlight of the album, which makes up for weaker tracks like Letter and Worry. And I say that knowing that Mother Mother are capable of making slower tracks work for them, Everything Is Happening is one of my favourite songs remember? And how could it not be? They make a reference to the cyclical nature of music and David Bowie.

As a means of praise, and in the style of repetition, I’ll simply write this – keep on, keeping on.

 

 

 

As I close up this review, I recall something my first LT partner used to say to me on occasion when she was upset with my decisions, and which I now can see for the gas-lighting techniques that they are, that I made said decisions just to please my mom. She believed that I had no culture of my own, but that’s just not true, and Mother Mother it’s not that way for you. Either.

Sweet Stardust of a Thriller, Boy (The Weeknd, Starboy review)

The synthesizer seems to be back in full force ladies and gentlemen. That desire for quality samples, lossless file compression and physical models seems to be something that most if not all top shelf pop music trend setters are using right now.

But for why?

The Weeknd – Starboy
released November 25, 2016
******* 7/10

starboy

Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer. The Weeknd got his start by anonymously uploading several songs to YouTube under the pseudonym “The Weeknd,” of all things. At that time he had released three nine-track mixtapes throughout 2011: House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence. Which surprisingly enough to many critics at the time, were received quite well. In 2012 he decided to release a compilation album known as Trilogy, effectively the remastered mixtapes he had released before but with three additional tracks and totally thirty songs alotogether. It was released under Republic Records and his own label XO.

In 2013 he released his first studio-length album Kiss Land, which featured the singles Kiss Land and Live For. But it was his second album, Beauty Behind the Madness that really charted his success. This is where Earned It, The Hills, and Can’t Feel My Face factor in. Fun fact, these songs made him the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three spots of the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart. The Weeknd has also won two Grammy’s and been nominated for an Academy Award.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s Canadian? Yeah Canadian content!

But what about Starboy? Well, look what you’ve done… I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy.

This record starts off quite strong, Starboy, Party Monster, and False Alarm in particular hold your attention with their commitment to the beats The Weeknd and his team of production engineers are famous for. After all, we know he isn’t doing this all on his lonesome. Which reminds me, I think that Stargirl might be the most fascinating interlude/intermission I’ve heard in years. Lana Del Rey is excellent as the female foil to The Weeknd, and she manages enough tension to keep the pace of the record, at least for a little while.

Now let’s consider the album as a whole for a moment. I have this rather wild theory that The Weeknd might not have had as much time with this project as he would have liked. He’s known for his ability to construct strong narrative levelled projects, I’m looking at you Trilogy.

And while Starboy (the album, not the song) is mostly about The Weeknd’s relationship with a woman, that message doesn’t easily come through. The collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on Sidewalks for instance, is kinda cool, but feels out of place, if I’m being really honest. Also am I crazy for hearing Michael Jackson AND David Bowie when I listen to his voice long enough?

Probably not, because The Weeknd is more than capable of floating between pop, rap, R&B, disco and electronica. Hell, he can even do 1980s pop justice. Maybe that’s where the deceased pop stars come in…

And while The Weeknd has en endearingly dark and uniquely hedonistic voice in the realm of music, it can be a bit much to stomach his lyrics against those typical pop structures. That, and as I mentioned already, the narrative doesn’t feel as tight on this album. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye is more than capable of being a motherfuckin’ starboy and he knows it, but this album isn’t him at his best.

 

 

 

I have this theory that analog synthesizers went out and digital synthesizers came in because they were cheaper, but nowadays that isn’t really a motivating factor for musicians.

However, the variety of sounds that digital synth offers feels unrivalled in many cases. And when an artist is capable of spreading their music talent across several genres, employing synthesizers to craft that sounds seems like a natural fit. The Weeknd gets this, and when he spends his time on both production and telling a strong story, it makes all the difference. Starboy might not be the greatest, but The Weeknd sure is a star boy.

Tim!

 

Well Done, High Five (Dragonette, Royal Blues review)

It’s pretty damn glorious when a band can remain consistent without ever getting stale, but the real challenge comes in when you know they just might be phoning it in. When do you host and intervention? The kind that generates hugs and high fives afterwards?

Dragonette – Royal Blues
released November 11, 2016
****** 6/10

dragonetteroyalbluescover

Dragonette is a Canadian electronic music band that got their start way way back in 2005. The band is a three piece, which consists of singer-songwriter Martina Sorbara, bassist and producer Dan Kurtz, and drummer Joel Stouffer.

Reminiscent of acts like Tegan and Sara, Scissor Sisters, Paramore, Metric and Peaches, I personally first learned of the group way back in 2007. Which was also the time that I Get Around was getting around the internet and what I think eventually landed them a Juno nomination for New Group of the Year a year later.

But you didn’t come here for me to go over my experiences with Dragonette when I was but a young hipster. No you want the goods, the stuff, the real deal.

Well I will say this.

Dragonette is still making enjoyable synthpop. And apparently I’ma sucker for good pop music, or even mediocre synthpop for that matter. Doesn’t seem to make much sense if you really think about it. I’ve listened to some great albums this year, and hell, I’m still thinking about Grimes Angel Art almost a year later, but Sorbara just has an amazing voice that is well automated for our Canadian sensibilities. Now, it’s not groundbreaking by any means, but I can definitely hear Sweet Poison and Darth Vader being run in some indie clubs around town.

You remember how Disney sing-alongs were a big thing in the 1990s for kids? Well if you’re younger than 25 I’m betting no, but my point is this. Dragonette is part of a strong lineage of EDM infused music that makes you want to scream and shout or even rock your body casually with the occasional hair flip and exasperated sigh. Whatever your jam, these guys and gal get it.

And that’s the point I’m really wanting to make about this record. It is overwhelming pop, but its quite broad in it’s tactics. For instance, the single Body 2 Body has dreampop elements which remind me of Purity Ring, sort of all encompassing synesthesia that vibrates right through you, while the preceding Let The Night Fall is comforting much like a cool summer ride with friends after a day at the beach, the mall, or headed to the middle of a crowded downtown on a Friday night. It builds upon itself slowly, asking you to slowly raise your arms in anthemic fanfare.

It’s a challenge for sure, but I’m willing to bet this trio is making their way out of the weird and niche culture of trying to be interesting, moving into the realm of eclectic and fun, and to be clear, it suits them well. I think they need to let their hair down just a bit more and Dragonette will get to where they should be headed.

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong. I still think Dragonette are relevant and much needed in our ever-changing Canadian landscape of music and culture. They bring a good vibe in what sometimes feels like dark times. Put this record on and feel good about stuff friends, after all there is nothing wrong with a good set of lyrics and a clean melody. It’ll sooth a soul. But that’s just a theory.

Tim!

 

You Wanna Be Startin’ Something (Michael Jackson, Thriller review)

It’s difficult to find an album that feels timeless, because most of the time, we are in that time and have no frame of reference, but when you start cycling through the back catalogue of musical history it can become pretty obvious when something is brilliant.

And if you’re okay with it, dear readers, I’d like to call it a thriller.

Michael Jackson – Thriller
released November 30, 1982
********** 10/10

michael-jackson-thriller-official-album-cover-art

Michael Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, actor, producer and philanthropist. Known by countless fans as the King of Pop, he truly was a global figure in pop culture for just over four decades.

It’s incredibly hard not to talk about pop music and think of Michael Jackson, well for me anyway. I grew up on MTV, Much Music, and Much More Music videos. I must’ve seen the music video for Thriller more than a hundred times in my youth. And it was one of the only “cool” albums in my parents record collection that wasn’t influenced by country or christmas music, so writing about this album is of special significance for moi.

You know, I don’t think I’ve made this very clear yet. When I was a kid we listened to a lot of country music. A lot.

The radio in the kitchen was always tuned to country music, and whenever we went on the road, it was the same challenge. My dad was a heavy influencer of what was played in the house and it wasn’t until my early teenage years that I really started to spread my wings musically and try other stuff out.

I can partially thank Michael Jackson for that.

Thriller was Michael Jacksons’ most successful album and it remains to this day as the best-selling album of all time, with more than 65 million units sold worldwide. It helped transform the musical landscape of the day by bolstering the success of MTV and bringing more attention to music videos as a medium. The title track, Thriller has a music video which is almost fourteen minutes in length, more than double that of the song. Which should say something about Jackson’s creative vision and ability to correctly champion innovative ideas.

Unfortunately he died in 2009, just over seven years ago, but he left an incredible legacy which I largely attribute to the efforts of this album. What I mean is that Thriller is also a gargantuan effort in breaking down many challenges of race and segregation in the musical arts.  Well in general too, but this is a blog about the arts, so yeah.

Seven of the album’s nine songs became singles over a two year period – The Girl Is Mine, Billie Jean, Beat it, Wanna Be Startin’ Something, Human Nature, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), Thriller.

Which should tell you that it was influential. And both Baby Be Mine and The Lady in My Life are excellent songs in their own right.

I choose to review this album, because for me Halloween will always be tied in with Thriller. The song was released as a single about a year before I was born, so it was always around. Not to mention the fact that it features zombies and Vincent Price – Who was also synonymous with horror. Thriller is a a certifiable piece of music history and dammit if it isn’t a fun listen. I must’ve spun it more than a dozen times this week in preparation for my review, and I still want to listen to it. For those of you living under a rock, do yourself a favour and listen to Thriller… it’s over 30 years old now and still relevant.

 

 

 

Happy Halloween my friends. It comes around but once a year, and though I hope you’ll get why I choose a classic record this time around instead of keeping up with the rhythm of releases, consider this. Sometimes providing a quality review is more important than a contemporary one. Which might be the case for tomorrows theatrical entry. But you’ll just have to see for yourselves.

Tim!