It's been too long since La Roux graced us with their debut self-titled album in 2009. Breathing new life into the electropop genre, it seemed as though the 00s finally had an answer to what had been missing in music since the 80s. Lead songwriter/vocalist Elly Jackson wrote the kind of songs that possessed that rare blend of profound resonance and a danceable beat. The enthusiastic response of her fans, however, left Jackson blindsided by the amount of fame and recognition she was receiving. Hence, the long hiatus until now. Trouble in Paradise album artwork

The first single, "Uptight Downtown," showcases some of what we had come to expect of La Roux based on her upbeat first album. Echoing the sound of an 80s David Bowie song (faint tinges of “Let’s Dance” come to mind), “Uptight Downtown” was followed up by the stylistically unexpected “Let Me Down Gently,” the second to last song on Trouble in Paradise. As one of the most melancholic tracks on the album, it perhaps represents Jackson’s own struggles with her longtime musical collaborator, Ben Langmaid, ultimately replaced by a bevy of supporting musicians including Mickey O’Brien, William Bowerman, Ed Seed Matty Carroll and Ian Sherwin.

The maturity that comes with a sophomore album

The second track, "Kiss and Not Tell," continues the uptempo portion of Trouble in Paradise, and most closely resembles the tone of "Bulletproof"--making it one of the strongest contenders for third single material. "Cruel Sexuality" is another album highlight in terms of La Roux's noticeably elevated confidence as a musician. Lyrics like, "Once you touch you believe/It's a dangerous scene when passion turns into greed," emphasize Jackson's continued improvement as a songwriter.


"Let Me Down Gently" reveals the same vulnerability we saw on songs like "Colorless Colour" and "Armour Love" from the self-titled record. "Paradise Is You" is a simple, heartfelt allegory about experiencing paradise through a specific person. Although Jackson cited Grace Jones and Tom Tom Club as her main influences for this album, the Prince presence is evidenced quite clearly on this song. Next up is the fanciful vibe of "Sexotheque," somewhat in contrast to the song's title in terms of lasciviousness. Jackson sings, "He never answers the phone... he's at the sexotheque," as though it is only a mild scandal.

The confidence of an 80s aesthetic

"Tropical Chancer" exudes the cockiness we have come to expect from La Roux at this point on Trouble in Paradise. Plus, it makes you think of Henry Miller, so you can feel slightly more literary as you dance to so-called vapid pop music. In what is possibly another none too subtle dig at Ben Langmaid, "Silent Partner" features catty remarks such as, "All I need is silence, I'm cryin' out for silence/You're not my partner, you're not a part of me." She had to have her final say on the matter, evidently.

Following is "The Feeling," which mirrors similar vocals to "I'm Not Your Toy" from La Roux's first album. Jubilant and expressive, La Roux tells us that she's "got the feeling," presumably love or a boner. And, all in all, that's just the feeling you're going to get from this nine-track (in keeping with the traditional style of 80s records) album, just in time to transition into the dog days of mid summer.

After releasing their sophomore album, Olympia, in the summer of 2014, Austra are back with an EP called Habitat. The four-track solution to your summer of misery features Austra's typical breed of dark wave music--almost baroque in nature. The concise, well-thought out vocals and musical accompaniments prove that Austra is always a welcome addition, no matter how small the dose. Album cover for Habitat

The opening track, "Habitat," is a rich, dramatic song that is the most obvious single material on the EP, which is probably why Austra released a video for it that emphasizes the need to have a warm body near you at any (literal) cost. With lead singer Katie Stelmanis narrating intermittently from her vantage point as a hotel maid, the video is definitely in keeping with their distinctly ghoulish style. "Doepfer," an even more sinister song that at first, builds slowly and then often teeters in and out of a musical k-hole.

"Bass Drum Dance" is, like "Doepfer," also instrumental with an equally foreboding tone. The concluding track, "Hulluu" (not to be confused with Hulu), sees Austra at the apex of their fondness for darkly tinged synth beats--with a menacing whispered chant to match. All in all, Habitat may be signaling an altogether new direction for Austra's third album, and we love where it's going.

Lana Del Rey has never been very far from the limelight since her debut album, Born to Die, came out in 2012. In between, she's had EPs (Paradise) and short films (Tropico) to keep her fans plenty sated. Her sophomore album, Ultraviolence, would lead one to believe that she was planning to revive that rare angst-ridden genre that only Alanis Morissette seemed to embody in the 90s. Alas, the album is decidedly tame. Album cover for Ultraviolence

The first time around, critics weren't as willing to hail Del Rey. But now, it seems, they've all lined up to lick her clit. Case in point are the reviewers at Pitchfork, who previously had this to say: "Our heroine has all the love, diamonds, and Diet Mountain Dew she could ask for, yet still sings, "I wish I was dead," sounding utterly incapable of joy. To paraphrase Liz Phair, if you get everything you wish for and you're still unhappy, then you know that the problem is you." The snarky comment is one of many in the review of Born to Die, which is a far cry from the latest, a glowing manifesto of all things Del Rey-ian that praises, "The first section of the album is so gorgeous and rich" and "She’s a pop music original full-stop, and there are not nearly enough of those around." Strange how you can't get people's head out of your ass when you've finally become someone.

With a less laudatory way of saying it, Behind the Hype can attest that, yes, Ultraviolence is good. Opening with "Cruel World" (typical, considering her love of martyrdom), we're introduced to an even moodier Del Rey--as if that was possible. Asserting her dominion as the only singer of her kind, Del Rey affirms, "Everybody knows I'm the best/Yeah, I'm crazy." The sweeping style leads into "Ultraviolence," named in homage to A Clockwork Orange. The opening is reminiscent of, believe it or not, Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like A Bird." Equally as melancholic, Del Rey showcases her vocal evolution with ease.

"Shades of Cool" is something of a follow-up to the stripped down style of Paradise's "Yayo." Minimal and without much in the way of musical production (until the sultry guitar riff comes in at the end), it is one of the most unique tracks on the album. What follows is "Brooklyn Baby," a distinct love letter to the part of the borough that encompasses Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick. It is far more anthemic than "West Coast," also produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.

The self-declarative "Sad Girl" discusses "being a mistress on the side," a topic that seems to be of extreme interest to LDR based on the "Ride" video. On this particular song, Del Rey favors sounds and moans as a opposed to coherently pronouncing lyrics. I was hoping she would also tap into her esoteric predilections to rhyme something with "sad" other than "bad." Continuing the slow tempo vibe, "Pretty When You Cry" is another one of LDR's lamentations of a lost love. She fulfills every male fantasy by singing, "You make me feel like your whole world/I'll wait for you babe/That's all I do babe." On the plus side, she feels, "pretty when [she] cries."

West Coastian

"Money Power Glory"--which I hope is a dig at Lady Gaga's "Beautiful Dirty Rich"--is among the most musically lush songs on Ultraviolence. Announcing the common American desire, "I want money, power, glory/I wanna take you for all that you've got," Del Rey does her best to reinvigorate an American dream that's been hibernating since the end of the 90s. Appropriately, "Fucked My Way To The Top" succeeds a song about money and power as Del Rey notes, "You got nothing/I got tested/Lay me down tonight/I fucked my way up to the top/This is my shot." At least she admits it, unlike most others at her level of fame. Money remains the focus in "Old Money," which is in keeping with Del Rey's love of all things Old Hollywood and glamorous. She tosses around all the key buzz words, including, "Cold cash divine/Cashmere cologne/And white sunshine/Red racing cars/Sunset and Vine."

Sultry and evocative, Del Rey again explores one of her favorite subjects, "the mistress"--except this time, she's not the one playing said role. Admiring of the other woman's perfections, this song is the flip side to "Sad Girl" as she drones, "The other woman is perfect where her rival fails/She's never seen with pin curls in her hair anywhere." A remake of Jessie Mae Robinson's bluesy original, Del Rey does it plenty of justice with her keen understanding of suffering.

Single cover for "West Coast"

"Black Beauty" begins the bonus track section and sets an ethereal closing motif, with Del Rey mirroring the vocals of Sinead O'Connor in a similarly sweltry voice that elucidates, "I paint my nails black/I dye my hair a darker shade/Life is beautiful but you don't have a clue." After the rumors that LDR was dating Axl Rose, perhaps "Guns and Roses" is a way to address that "heavy metal love of mine." Though it's not the strongest song on the album, it's nice to know she can back up wearing a Guns and Roses tee, unlike many others.

Wearing a GnR shirt

Giving us a snapshot of nearly all corners of the U.S., "Florida Kilos" is the most uptempo track, emphasized by the fact that it is the second to last song that concludes Ultraviolence's deluxe version. Again showing her love of a bygone lifestyle, she assures, "Gonna party like it's 1949." Evidently, it's a sentiment that all of her previous detractors can finally get on board with. It's almost as though SNL never happened. "Is This Happiness?" is the final track and poses a philosophical question that Del Rey has been asking perhaps since she majored in metaphysics at Fordham.


Iggy Azalea, the least likely female rapper since Lady Sovereign, has at last released her debut album, The New Classic (a somewhat overly confident title that lives up to its name). Intensely self-aware of her superficiality, Azalea transforms into an art. A perfect representation of music in a post-post-post modern world, Azalea encompasses all musical genres--which could also be due in part to the fact that she's Australian. Comfortable with stardom

"Walk the Line" is a strong opener that establishes Azalea's sardonic sense of humor with an intro that states, "We don't wanna scare your children. That's the last thing we wanna do." Combining her singing vocals with rapping, Azalea lures us in and ensures that we'll listen to The New Classic in its entirety. Second is "Don't Need Y'all," one of the only slow paced songs on the album, allowing Azalea to turn us out gradually as she informs her detractors, "If you wasn't here when I was down/Then you won't be here when I'm up/I don't need y'all anyway." Next up is "100" with Watch the Duck, a guitar-friendly offering that empowers Azalea's femininity as Watch the Duck raps, "Got your mind on your money/And you ain't lookin' to settle down." Azalea confirms the type of classy broad she is with the assertion, "No Michael Kors, just Tom Ford."


"Change Your Life" is another glimpse into Azalea's cocksure lyrical style as she promises, "Ima change your life/Ima change it/Ima change your life." And it's true, with this album she does. With a contributing rap from T.I. (whose made a real resurgence since appearing on Britney Jean), "Change Your Life" is one of the catchiest and most likely songs to get in your head this summer.

Album cover for The New Classic shows Miami Vice the respect it doesn't deserve

"New Bitch" is an anthemic number you could easily picture listening to on a beach somewhere in Spain. Making snarky pop culture references like "y'all fell off like Mad Men," Azalea owns being the new bitch in a desirable man's life, asserting, "Who is this? Yeah I'm his new bitch." Another instant classic single, "Work" is Azalea in one of her most self-assured moments as she opens with, "Walk a mile in these Louboutins." Followed by the somewhat weaker "Impossible Is Nothing," Azalea is in one of her rare sing-songy moods, with occasional rapping that includes: "Promise to blaze a path and leave a trail for the next."

Werking it.

"Goddess" features a tribal sounding backbeat that escalates to an increasingly visceral tone. The intense guitar riff as the song comes to a close is the highlight of the piece. Following is "Black Widow" with Rita Ora to provide supportive vocals on the sentiment of wanting to kill someone after loving them too much (the old fine line between love and hate adage). Ora sings, "I'm gonna love ya until you hate me/I'm gonna show ya what's really crazy," while Azalea raps to a perfect complementary (and bloodlusting) pitch.

Making covers

"Lady Patra" featuring Mavado goes for a more island motif with Azalea declaring, "Gotcha Lady Patra!" Mavado's Jamaican roots feature heavily into the song and fortify the notion that Azalea is merely a pastiche of every musical genre. "Fuck Love" is a chaotic track that showcases Azalea's modeling persona as she chants, "Fuck love give me diamonds/I'm already in love with myself," not to mention fortifies our belief that she's a pop star savant with references like, "What if I'm a material girl?/You can't blame me, I live in a material world" and "My love don't cost a thing."

Single cover for "Bounce"

"Bounce" is yet another single, and a song that indicates Azalea's Euro-friendly vibe. Equal parts Mortal Combat and Ibiza-inspired, this is clearly the track to listen to when the MDMA takes effect in your system. "Rolex" has a more laidback sound as Azalea makes the connection between time needing to be repaid with luxury. Demanding, "Dammit baby, my time is money/I need payback for all the time lost," "Rolex" is yet another example of her material predilections. The last song, "Just Askin'", is not quite the strongest closing for the bonus track edition of the album, but manages not to offset the rest of The New Classic's goodness. In a throwback to 90s rap albums, the song includes a segment with someone dialing into their voicemail to hear an angry message. So, in that regard, it makes "Just Askin'" worthwhile.


Azalea's buildup to The New Classic was well-established with her T.I.-produced EP Glory and Diplo-produced mixtape TrapGold. Proving herself in a gradual and controlled manner, Azalea has made all the right career moves thus far. And while her music is a part of that success, it is also the artful wielding of her image that will continue to affirm she's not just another drop in the pop/white female rap star bucket.

Damon Albarn is the musician you never realize you know (at least when you're an American). As the frontman for Britpop behemoth Blur and the voice behind Gorillaz, Albarn has proven himself a musical genius many times over. The first announcement for his solo album came in 2011, just on the heels of the Blur "reunion" that took place in 2009. After four years in the making, Everyday Robots has proven itself to be worth the wait. Album cover for Everyday Robots

Ethereal and a little bit creepy, Everyday Robots opens with the title track and first single, in which Albarn amends his thesis to "Parklife" somewhat by droning, "We are everyday robots on our phones/In the process of getting home." The second song, "Hostiles" finds Albarn picking up where he left off with The Good, the Bad & the Queen. With a similar sound to this short-lived band, Albarn sings, "And the hours pass by/Just left on repeat/It'll be a silent day with you/Fighting off the hostiles." Who the hostiles may be is left to your discretion (though, in an interview, he does mention that hostiles are meant to represent the evil presences in video games).

Pensive mode.

"Lonely Press Play" has a, shall we say, funkier sound. Continuing his comment on modern life (still rubbish), Albarn urges, "If you're lonely, press play." Because, really, that's all you have to do in the twenty-first century to feel like you're connected. Is it misguided to think he's still talking about Justine Frischmann when he says, "You're not resolved in your heart/You're waiting for me to improve"?

Stills from the "Everyday Robots" video

The tempo of the album becomes more upbeat on "Mr. Tembo." Telling the tale of Mr. Tembo (just like Ernold Same and Mr. Robinson before him), Albarn is joined occasionally by the bursting vocals of a choir as he rehashes, "Mr. Tembo's on his way up the hill/With only this song to tell you how feels." You're never really, sure, in the end, how exactly he feels. But, to give you some background, Albarn wrote it about a Tanzanian baby elephant.

The furrowed brow of Albarn

"Parakeet" expresses a whimsical musical tone, and then quickly segues into "The Selfish Giant," which could also be the name of a beautiful Gabriel Garcia Marquez poem (and also features Natasha Khan from Bat For Lashes). In fact, this track is easily one of the most poetic on Everyday Robots. Albarn in his forlorn romantic manner, croons, "I had a dream you were leaving/It's hard to be a lover when the TV's on/Press yourself to me right now/Push yourself deep down now."

During younger days.

"You & Me" (not to be confused with the Cassie song "Me & U") delves into yet another musical motif reminiscent of The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Slow and melancholic, the song is an indication of Albarn's self-exploratory sentiment during the recording of the album as he notes, "Sometimes I look at the morning/Trying to work out how I got here." The eighth track, "Hollow Ponds," is Albarn at his most sinister sounding. Mentioning the early 90s in his distinctly downbeat and contemplative tone, this song is the one to listen to on an especially grey rainy day in London.

"Seven High" is a one-minute musical piece heavy on piano that shifts nicely into "Photographs (You Are Taking Now)." A somewhat cautionary tale, Albarn seems to warn against being overly sentimental and taking pictures without thought to the future of their contents--both people and scenery. He sings, "When the photographs you're taking now/Are taken now/Press send," almost as though to say, send it before you have the chance to regret it. A man's voice is interspersed throughout, warning, "This is a precious opportunity/Beware of the photographs you are taking now."

Single cover for "Heavy Seas of Love"

"The History of a Cheating Heart" is as disconsolate as you would expect, with Albarn defending, "The history of the cheating heart is always more than you know." The next track, "Heavy Seas of Love" is the most interesting offering on Everyday Robots in terms of how divergent it is from the rest of the music. With a similar intonation to "Tender," this is by far among Albarn's most joyful song in any aspect of his career. And, most importantly, it features Brian Eno.

"Father's Daughter's Son," the first of two bonus tracks, continues the jubilant style presented on "Heavy Seas of Love," though to a lesser degree. The final song returns to the rough-hewn edge of slow tempo Damon Albarn--often seen on Think Tank. "Empty Club," incidentally, could very well be Albarn's homage to describing his album as centered around "empty club music." Indeed, no one knows this sound quite as well.

Albarn, at last completely extracted from Blur

While Albarn may always be pigeonholed as the ringleader of Britpop (much to Noel and Liam's chagrin), Everyday Robots shows his evermore palpable breaking away from his musical past.

Amid many controversies and commentaries since Allen first announced the release of Sheezus, marked by the first single, "Hard Out Here," the album has at last arrived. Although you may have already heard five of the twelve tracks, including "Hard Out Here," "L8 CMMR," "Air Balloon," "Our Time" and "Sheezus," you'll manage to remain pleasantly surprised for the most part. In spite of Allen's faint overexposure in preparation for ending her five year absence (It's Not Me, It's You came out in 2009), there's much to look forward to as you listen to these new songs. Album cover for Sheezus

Opening with the title track, Allen immediately announces her biting tone as she takes jibes at the biggest names in the pop scene of the moment, Beyonce, Katy Perry and Lorde included (with Lady Gaga thrown in for random good measure). In the accompanying video, a demonic looking Allen sings humorous lyrics like "Give me that crown, bitch, I wanna be Sheezus" intermixed with extremely uncomfortable ones like, "Periods, periods, we all get periods/Every month, yo, that's what the theory is."

"L8 CMMR," which you might recognize from Girls if you have a penchant for watching bad TV, follows with a more ska-sounding vibe--harkening back to Allen's original roots on Alright, Still. It transitions seamlessly into the ethereal sound of "Air Balloon," an escapist track that's ideal to listen to whilst in your cubicle.

Claiming the crown as Sheezus--whether anyone wants her to or not

"Our Time" is yet another single that's already been released, and the weakest one at that. With Allen's faint, non-committal vocals vacillating between confident and uncertain, "Our Time" is not the most ideal. Its video features an Alanis Morissette in "Ironic" type plot, with three versions of Lily Allen hanging out in a car. Luckily, the fifth song, "Insincerely Yours," makes up for it. Initially, the track has an almost Janet Jackson-esque circa Velvet Robe sound and then segues into a cheeky series of lyrics that indicate she's doing this whole pop music thing for one reason: "Let's be clear, I'm here to make money, money, money."

The album slows down slightly with "Take My Place," a sentimental song that may be one of the strongest indications that Allen wrote the album while pregnant as she laments, "I'd give everything I own if someone else could take my place." At times reminiscent of "The Fear," "Take My Place" is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Sheezus. "As Long As I Got You" follows with a musical background that seems like it might be on an Applebee's commercial. As one of Allen's most experimental (the term is relative) tracks on the album, it is also the most unlistenable.


"Close Your Eyes" has an ambient feel that slows down the pace of the album again. Laidback and effortlessly cool, Allen continues to show her shared obsession with Beyonce as she croons, "I'll be Beyonce, baby say my name." Next is "URL Badman," which pokes fun at assholes like me who type away condemnations of other people who make more money. A hilariously scathing image of the sort of bloke who lives in his mom's basement, the song opens with the sound of someone typing on his computer as he's being called to dinner. Allen eviscerates the archetype with: "I'm not a cliche, sittin' in my PJs.../I'm a big boy, I'm gonna write for VICE/I'm a broadband champion/I'm a URL badman.../I don't like girls much, they're kinda silly/Unless they wanna play with my willy."

Gracing the cover of Esquire

"Silver Spoon" has an opening that channels t.A.T.u.'s "All The Things She Said" and continues Allen's continuous roll with ripping apart worthless people who don't work for anything as she imitates a trust fund baby with the lyrics, "Only here 'cause of my daddy." Subsequently, "Life For Me" finds Allen reverting back to the fanciful style presented on "As Long As I Got You," but manages to make it work because of the sardonically upbeat commentary on the evils of social media in terms of constantly feeling left out upon viewing pictures of other people living their lives. Allen sings, "I feel so isolated/Everyone there but me." This, too, was written in the wake of her pregnancy during a particularly vulnerable moment.

Still from "Hard Out Here"

Concluding with the crowd-pleasing "Hard Out Here," Allen closes Sheezus on a high note (unless of course you have the Japanese bonus track version which features six additional songs) and proves that, regardless of her prolonged absence from music, she hasn't forgotten how to go for the jugular through light-hearted sounding pop songs.

The last single we heard from Lily Allen was a feminist-charged anthem called "Hard Out Here." Allen received the gamut of commentary for the song and video, ranging from the positive to the accusatory (specifically, that she was racist). On her latest offering, which is still from an as of yet untitled album, it seems Allen is deliberately taking a neutral, non-incendiary stance on life in discussing the lovely escapism of imagination. Air balloon escape plan.

In a tone and musical style that reminds one of M.I.A., Allen paints us a picture of being trapped in a room she doesn't want to be in (take that to mean a doctor's office, workplace or essentially any place that isn't your own abode). Like so many disinterested in what they're doing, she admits, "When I'm bored, I kinda drift away." Mirroring the whimsy that comes with letting one's mind wander, Allen sings lyrics like, "Did I ever tell you my uncle's monkey ran away from the zoo?" that, in many respects, reminds one of the esoteric Madonna song, "Dear Jessie," in which she croons, "Pink elephants and lemonade/Dear Jessie hear the laughter running through the love parade."

Knowing full well that it's impossible to evade the responsibilities of the everyday, Allen develops a strategy to deceive reality as she urges, "Come meet me in the sky/I'll be waiting for you/And we can't hear what they say/Up in my air balloon, air balloon." Her imagination escalates to more vivid levels as the song progresses, leading her to envision Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley in her midst with the utterance, "I don't usually drop names/But Kurt Cobain is all in my face/How the hell am I gonna tell him Elvis already took first place?"

Dream/drink your problems away.

In highlighting the value of an active daydream life, Allen also illuminates the valuelessness of an excessive working life, asserting, "I'm not sure why we work all day." Neither is anyone else making under six figures, Lily, neither is anyone else.


Alright, I'm all for innovation in the music industry and women as the source of that innovation, but there is something about Beyoncé's impromptu new album/"visual experience" that doesn't make me feel quite right. There is something undeniably conceited and unnecessarily grandiose about the entire spectacle. Released on iTunes without warning (fuck Spotify, this is a classy affair), the reviews for Beyoncé's album have been unanimously positive. Let me emphasize that the acclaim is not unjust, it is a unique concept in the current musical climate, and one that B is fine admitting she grafted from Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Still from "Pretty Hurts"

"Pretty Hurts" is essentially TLC's "Unpretty" reimagined. Opening with a beauty pageant announcer asking, "What is your aspiration in life?" Beyoncé responds, "My aspiration is to be happy." It's probable that she has achieved that goal, which is why it seems appropriate that she would single out the beauty and fashion world as a source of pain and irritation being that there's nothing else for her to complain about. For her to lament about how it doesn't matter what's in your head doesn't seem to ring true, especially when envisioning a smash cut to all the glossy magazine covers she's graced. She is, in fact, a go-to source for women to compare and feel bad about themselves.

Still from "Ghost"

"Haunted" is, vocally, a departure from the tone Beyoncé usually takes, and, for the most part shows how her problems are increasingly unrelatable to "the common man" as she sings about her issues with record labels and how normal people have to "work 9 to 5 just to stay alive." There's no real message behind the song, save for "soul not for sale/probably won't make no money off this/oh well." Okay B, I'm sure Columbia Records would take this giant risk releasing an album that you haven't even promoted if they didn't expect you to make money from it.

Still from "Haunted"

"Drunk in Love" is an extremely uncomfortable song about how Jay-Z and Beyoncé have great sex and crave each other to the point of cannibalism. Jay-Z's rap sounds like it may have been put together in five minutes and includes complaints about how he ruined his Warhol while boning in the foyer. It is in no way a fitting homage to "Crazy in Love."

Looking Rihanna-esque in the video for "Drunk in Love" (plus, Rihanna has a song called "Drunk on Love")

"Blow" (sorry Ke$ha, you no longer have the monopoly on the song title) is a funk-laden track with whispery-sounding vocals that dichotomously negate Beyoncé's occasional sense of female empowerment with lyrics like, "Ima let you be the boss of me." Echoing the vibe of Thriller, the song was produced by Pharrell Williams and Timbaland, thus, it makes sense that this would be chosen as one of the lead singles in promotion of the album.

70s aesthetics dominate the video for "Blow"

"No Angel" is perhaps the most annoying song on the album, with quintessential Beyoncé moaning as she says salacious things against a subtly aggressive beat and utters pandering sentences like, "Baby, whatever you want." Following is "Partition," a standout track with echoes of I Am... Sasha Fierce-era Beyoncé. It is one of the few songs that exudes any true confidence from the woman who once sang an anthem called "Independent Woman."

Still from "Angel"

"Jealous" presents another issue with coming across as genuine. Knowing Beyoncé's blissful state of marriage, a song centered around being a jilted lover is almost as incongruous as Ke$ha singing about matrimony. Absurd lyrics such as "I cooked this meal for you naked/So where the hell you at?" and "I look damn good/I ain't lost it" also serve to make matters worse.

Still from "Partition"

"Rocket" is another Timbaland-produced track with a soulful tinge. It continues the mixed message style that has pervaded much of B's later career as she vacillates between being an unstoppable tour de force and a needy, sexed up doll--the latter of which is proved by the sentiment, "Let me sit this ass on you/Show you how I feel."

Still from "Jealousy"

Drake breaks up the Beyoncé-centricness on "Mine." Initially, "Mine" is a slow, laidback track that allows Beyoncé to showcase her vocal talent with ease. Drake picks up the beat with the distinct chant, "This is a song for the good girl." As one of the longest songs on the album, it is in keeping with Beyoncé's intent behind the record, which is to force people to take the time to appreciate the music (though it will inevitably be edited in length when it makes it to the radio).

Still from "Rocket"

"XO" is a mid-tempo song that continues the stint of goodness present on "Mine." The lyrical content is forgettable, but B's voice and the accompanying music are not. Something of a thematic sequel to "Pretty Hurts," "Flawless" is by far the most different of all the offerings on Beyoncé. With an overlaying reading from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stating, "Because I'm a female, I'm expected to aspire to marriage. Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and not males?", Beyoncé revisits the feminist side of her personality. Asserting her dominance, she shouts, "Don't think I'm just his little wife/Bow down bitches."

Still from "Mine"

Frank Ocean's appearance on "Superpower" comes across as a way to balance out the fact that he also appeared on Jay-Z's last album. It's largely unenjoyable in spite of his rich vocals. Furthering the cheese factor of "Superpower" is "Heaven."The ballad iterates the sentiment "Heaven couldn't wait for you" I'm guessing it's about a dead person? The concluding track, "Blue," featuring, um, Blue Ivy is a love song to one of the most famous celebrity children ever born. And yeah, that's all you can really say about it.

Still from "Flawless"

More than anything, it's the simultaneous release of an accompanying video for every song that is notable about Beyoncé. Is this a life-changing album? No. That's why I'm suspect of all the fanfare surrounding itWhat's the harm in acknowledging that this is a work that exhibits a schizophrenic message about womanhood and content that solidifies a paucity of real problems in the singer's life.


The relevancy of Britney Spears has been questioned since circa 2007 when her illustrious mental breakdown occurred (which was the exact moment when she should have been deemed her most relevant). After Blackout, the era during which she was committed to Cedars Sinai, Spears has released two albums, Circus and Femme Fatale, making Britney Jean her third release since "the insanity" began. If you were hoping that fears of her non-presentness were going to be assuaged with the Britney Jean album cover, you would be sorely disappointed, as it might be her creepiest, most illuminati-esque photo yet. Album cover for Britney Jean

"Alien" addresses Britney's transition from teen pop harlot to world's most beloved sex kitten to somewhere in between. Acknowledging, "There was a time I was one of a kind/Was lonely then, like an alien," it's almost as though Britney has run out of fucks to give when it comes to admitting that there are plenty of carbon copy replacements in the works--Miley Cyrus chief among them. And now that she's recognized it, she's freer than ever to do whatever she wants.

In keeping with the "Britney Jean Will Be Your Lover" title of this review.

"Work Bitch" is, of course, the anthemic first single that Behind the Hype previously noted was an impossible goal to achieve in the current American landscape, but is, nonetheless, one of Spears' best singles to date. The following track, "Perfume," is easily the most relatable song on the album for any girl who has ever had to share a man with an ex-girlfriend or female "friend." It is a song that establishes the fact that just when you think you've got Spears pegged as a creator of throwaway ballads, she'll put you in your fucking place (e.g. In The Zone's "Everytime"--but not Baby... One More Time's "E-Mail My Heart"). Written by Sia, the lamenting vocals are surprisingly and distinctly Britney, expressing a yearning that only someone who's actually been through this shit could express.

"It Should Be Easy" finds Britney embracing both her love of skewed vocals and Written and produced by David Guetta, the track embodies the style you would expect of such a collaboration--especially considering that Nicky Romero serves as a co-writer on the song. The exuberant, Minogue-esque backbeat finds Britney repeating, "Love, it should be easy/It shouldn't be complicated." Still showing her simple Louisiana ways with such romanticism, one wants to reach through the speakers, pat Britney on the back and assure, "There, there."

Single cover for "Perfume"

"Tik Tik Boom" features, of all rappers, T.I. (which somewhat reveals Britney's age), and, at first glance, conjures visions of In The Zone's "(I Got That) Boom Boom" featuring the Ying Yang Twins (also revealing Britney's age), but could not be further from said track in terms of auditory comparisons. She expresses an urgency and intensity as she sings, "Not too slow and not too quick/Baby make me tik tik boom/No more games, no more of the same thing." T.I.'s contribution is actually one of the highlights of the song, making you wish his segment was a bit longer as he raps, "Madonna might stay, drive you crazy." Naturally, Britney's Madonna fanaticism is no secret, which is, in part why she chose William Orbit (of Ray of Light fame) as one of the producers for the album.

"Body Ache," another David Guetta collaboration, proves that Britney knows how to use the most current, sought after producers to coordinate with her own specific brand of style. Echoing the tone of her 2012 duet with, "Scream & Shout," Spears assertively admits, "I wanna dance till my body ache/Show you how I want ya/Till my body ache." The sentiment of "Til It's Gone," a song with obvious Janet/Joni Mitchell connotations, continues the dance background motif paired with emotional lyrics. No doubt drawing from the pain of her breakup with former manager, Jason Trawick, Spears sings, "I'm blind from the tears that fall like rain.../My heart's never gonna be the same.../You never know what you've got 'til it's gone."

"Passenger," produced by Mad Decent favorite Diplo, is one of the most unique tracks on the album for its distinct backbeat--paired with markedly passionate vocals on the part of Spears. She forms the revelation, "I can't let go of control/There was a time without trust/There was a time without love/I'll let you lead the way now/'Cause I want you to take the wheel/I've never been a passenger, though, I never knew how good it would feel." With lyrics contributed by Sia and Katy Perry, the pop powerhouse nature of the song is undeniable.

"Chillin' With You" featuring Jamie Lynn bears the country twang that Spears' sister is fond of (on the coattails of Jamie Lynn releasing the single, "How Could I Want More") and some of the lackluster balladry Britney has become notorious for--including lyrics like "I drank some red wine and now I'm walking on the sky." Fortunately, the chorus, a bit awkward if you read too much into Britney and Jamie Lynn saying "wit" instead of "with," salvages the song.

Video still from "Work Bitch"

"Don't Cry" is the most guitar-laden track on Britney Jean, complete with whistling to commence the song with a bittersweet, wanderlusting feel. Peppered with denial, Spears affirms, "If they told me it's over I wouldn't believe it.../Let's move on and be stronger.../This is gonna be our last goodbye/Our love is gone but I'll survive. Next up is "Brightest Morning Star," produced by pop go-to Dr. Luke, and the first in a series of four bonus tracks. More than slightly maudlin (what would a Spears album be if it wasn't a bit cheesy?), Spears croons, "I lift my hands and pray/'Cause life is tough some days/But I will not lose faith." Somewhat akin to Ray of Light's second to last track, "Little Star," "Brightest Morning Star" is, hopefully, about one of Spears' children.

Owning the title of "Bitch"

"Hold On Tight" finds Spears returning to her needier side, faltering toward a less empowering, independent aura so confidently exuded throughtou most of Britney Jean. "Now That I Found You" ends the bonus track version of the album (sure, there's a "Perfume" remix, but whateva) on a high note, with promises that Spears is never destined to be alone for very long--even though, it would seem, some of the best music of her career has resulted from breakups and the resultant loneliness.


Devonté Hynes, best known as Blood Orange, has released a sophomore album that manages to usurp the goodness of his debut, Coastal Grooves. With Cupid Deluxe, Hynes' takes cues from his mainstream producing credits for musicians like Florence Welch, The Chemical Brothers, Sky Ferreira and Solange Knowles. As a result, his tortured, beautiful soul can be heard on every inch of the vinyl (if vinyl was still a modern metaphor). Album cover for Cupid Deluxe

The first single, "Chamakay," initiates the album with a sultry, melancholic aura, with sensual vocals that lead into the taunting "You're Not Good Enough," which at times sounds like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." He defensively asserts, "I never was in love/You were never good enough" in the manner of a lover protecting himself from being wounded. "Uncle Ace" bears a similar beat to "You're Not Good Enough" at first, with a rhythmically funk-like background and dark, brooding vocals. Written about the primary port in the storm for homeless LGBT youth in New York, the ACE, Blood Orange shows, once again, his empathy for the transgender community. In fact, Hynes has often cited Octavia St. Laurent, who gained fame in 1990's Paris Is Burning, as an inspiring muse. With an occasional saxophone peppered in, you're liable to not want "Uncle Ace" to end by the time you get far enough into it. "No Right Thing," the fourth track, is yet another soulful, sweltering sort of song that features a little bit of producing help from rapper Clams Casino.

Seen too much.

"It Is What It Is" (boldly spelled correctly, unlike M.I.A.'s "It Iz What It Iz") possesses the fanciful vibe of an island retreat. The musical motif of the song mirrors some of The Knife's earlier (better) work. Following is "Chosen," which opens with angelic whimsy and then leads into an undeniable 80s beat that will fortify your will to live. It is a song that somehow seems like a subtle homage to all the struggling, cast out LGBT youth of New York (where Hynes resides) and London (where Hynes originally hails from). It would've fit in quite nicely on the Christmas episode of My So-Called Life where Rickie finds himself homeless and rejected by his family.

Single cover for "Chamakay"

"Clipped On" is a track that puts the greatest emphasis on Hynes' voice as he sings, "All I do is think about you baby." The song is also notable for how hip hop-oriented it is, with vocal contributions from MC Despot. The hip hop sound remains faintly on the at first pained, "Alway Let U Down," an offering that affirms the universal fear so many people in a relationship have, which is, "I can only disappoint you 'cause I always let you down." The track then segues into an upbeat, hopeful air.


Winding down the album is "On the Line" (also the title of an oft forgotten Lance Bass movie, making Blood Orange stand out even more for his obscure references to gay culture--even when they're unintentional). The urgency and sincerity of Hynes' voice is evident in lyrics like, "Tell me if we're on the line/Tell me if you're in my life, don't go." The second to last track, "High Street" (because it wouldn't be a Blood Orange album without some sort of nod to London), is the closest we'll ever know of a truly impeccable Prince emulator. Amid Blood Orange's lush vocals, rapper Skepta tells the tale of existing on a council estate--the New York equivalent of a project.

The scenic vibe of Cupid Deluxe

"Time Will Tell," an appropriate name for a concluding track, has the musical aura of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and has the ability to soothe and ease away agony, stress and other unwanted sources of anxiety. Once again repeating the mantra, "It is what it is," this is they type of song you need to listen to when you're riding on the overpacked boxcar provided for you daily by the MTA.

Navigate the cold, unforgiving streets of New York with Cupid Deluxe playing on your headphones.

Although Blood Orange has many other personas, including Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion, he has never been more at home in his own skin than in the incarnation presented on Cupid Deluxe.

If you thought Lily Allen was going to fade away with the very decade from which she emerged, you were very wrong (and horribly faithless). After having two kids and taking a “hiatus” (always code for “over it”), it seemed almost impossible to imagine her triumphant comeback. Initially, Allen was reported to have changed her performing name to Lily Rose Cooper, but, mercifully, the first single from her new album, “Hard Out Here,” was released under her rightful name, Lily Allen. The creation of this song was perhaps foreshadowed on Allen’s MySpace (pause for a moment of silence) page, where, under her name was the quote, “It’s hard out here for a pimp” from Three 6 Mafia’s famed song. But, while Allen knows the verity of that aphorism, she also knows that it’s far more accurate to say, “It’s hard out here for a bitch.” Because, sadly, it still is. Fuck this.

In an accompanying video opening with Allen undergoing liposuction, she overhears her doctors and agent murmur, “Jesus how could somebody let themselves get like this, huh?”…“A lack of self-discipline really.” She barely musters the strength to retort, “Uh, I’ve had two babies.” Meanwhile, her agent stands beside her to inform her she’s been denied appearances on David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. Allen lets it all happen to her with the ennui of someone who’s tried to take a stand too many times before. And, as a woman, it's easy to understand her resignation: After all, you can only embody two personas—obsequious or obstinate (which are the pretentious euphemisms for virgin or whore, in case you needed clarification). It’s a tale as old as time (to pay homage to a Celine lyric), and yet, it’s one that seems never to have a resolution.

And so, Allen does the only thing she can do to cope with the state of female perception and expectation: Poke fun at it. And that poking is as strong and comical as a woman wearing a strap-on. Embracing the stereotype of every rap video, Allen throws off her hospital gown and enters the set of the video she was previously watching on TV. Parading around in a form-fitting (though not revealing—as she affirms “Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cause I’ve got a brain”) pair of pants, Allen takes instruction from her agent in between takes on how to dance more sexily with her fellow dancers.

Whateva 4eva.

In addition to showcasing the ridiculousness of how women are viewed, Allen also puts heavy importance on the use of the word “bitch”—a term with threefold meaning in this particular song. In one sense, it does what black people had to do with the N-word by taking back the derogatory connotation for female use only. Then, of course, there’s the simple meaning of it: Woman. But in another sense, it intimates the notion that you have to become a bitch in order to get things done and cope in this world. In typical Allen fashion, the pop ditty is filled with perkily delivered sarcastic jibes like, “You’re not a size six and you’re not good lookin’/Well you better be rich or at least good at cookin’” and “You should probably fix your face or you'll end up alone…/don’t you want somebody who objectifies you?”

Cracking the whip.

Mincing no words and sparing no vitriol, it’s safe to say that the Lily Allen we came to know and love on Alright, Still is back and better than ever.






Is there such a thing as too gay? There is when it’s this contrived. Lady Gaga’s latest attempt at a tour de force concept, Artpop, comes across as a desperate plea for attention and “respectability.” Gaga’s main downfall, of course, has always been drawing upon too many influences. Artpop is a catastrophic explosion of pop culture overload. It is almost as though Gaga is seizing some sort of final opportunity to showcase her knowledge off all things important before taking that spaceship journey in 2015. Album cover for Artpop

“Aura,” which also appeared on the Machete Kills soundtrack, kicks off Artpop with a strange, surreal vibe. Produced by Infected Mushroom, the general sound of the track is largely drug-addled. Dabbling with the notion of profundity, Gaga makes sure to work in the faux philosophical question, “Do you want to see the girl that lives behind the aura?” Next up is “Venus,” which opens with an 80s motif that echoes David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in terms of planetary lyricism. Because the image of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” was one of the primary sources of inspiration for imagery on Artpop—along with Pierrot, that specific breed of sad clown—it makes sense that Gaga would title a song after the beloved goddess of love and decadence.

Pierrot la Folle

What would a Gaga album without a song featuring sexual bipolarity? “G.U.Y.” –which stands for “girl under you”—embraces the 80s synthpop vibe whole-heartedly as Gaga gender bends with lyrics like, “I know you’ll wear my makeup well/I wanna be your G.U.Y.” The song opens with the robotic sounding intro of “Born This Way” as she drones, “Greetings from Eros, god of sexual desire, son of Venus.” Effectively, it draws comparisons between Gaga (Venus) as Mother Monster and her fans (a million diaper-clad Cupids) as little monsters. And so, yet again, Gaga relies on another immortally iconic woman for inspiration. Lady G, is if nothing else, a skilled body snatcher.

“Sexxx Dreams” is something of an homage to Prince, with Gaga admitting, “When I lie in bed I touch myself and think of you.” It’s a largely forgettable track musically and there is an especially uncomfortable moment when Gaga feigns the role of a circa ’99 Britney Spears-esque ingénue with the brief interlude, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this but I’ve had a couple of drinks and oh my god…(giggles).”

“Jewels n’ Drugs”—which already sounds like the name of an ironically titled pawn shop that might appear in Daria—serves as the beginning of Gaga cultivating her hip hop credibility on this album (obviously leading up to the climax of “Do What U Want” featuring R. Kelly). In this way, she is emulating yet another pop star heavy hitter: Mariah. Once again, this reveals something of an identity crisis in that Gaga is trying frantically to appeal to all facets of pop. With lyrical contributions from Twista (back from the dead), Too Short and T.I., Gaga does her best to keep up with the hip hop-infused backbeat as she asserts, “Don’t want your jewels, don’t’ want your drugs/Don’t want your money, want your love.”

“Manicure” is a guttural track that finds Gaga testing the limits of her scream-singing abilities. It is a test that she doesn’t quite pass. The second single from Artpop, “Do What U Want,” is the one-two punch in Gaga’s rap-styled arsenal. Naturally, the finishing component to the lyric “do what you want” is “to my body.” It’s R. Kelly, so it has to be sexual. Easily the strongest song on the album (and I’m not sure how much that has to do with every R. Kelly collaboration being flawless), the goodness of “Do What U Want” is quickly negated by “Artpop.” For as much as Gaga wants to be Madonna, her songs named after album titles are rarely that good (unlike “Like A Virgin,” “Like A Prayer” and “Ray of Light”). Relying heavily on the surreal back beat that at times sound like the lovechild of Lipps, Inc. and Kylie Minogue, Gaga repeats the chorus with little lyrical variation.

“Swine” is an interesting effort in that insult songs seem so few and far between nowadays. Again, Gaga uses her scream-singing method against a rock-tinged background to say “You’re just a pig inside a human’s body.” “Donatella” initiates the fashion-inspired portion of the album, with the intro “I am so fab. I’m blonde, I’m skinny and I’m a little bit of a bitch.” Toeing the line between homage and smear campaign, Gaga describes the inimitable lifestyle of Donatella Versace, uttering one of the gayest sentences in pop music history, “I wanna dress you up in silk taffeta.”

“Fashion!” (another ripoff from Bowie) begins as a whimsical and heartfelt ditty, but then Gaga starts singing. “Married to the stars, I own the world” are just some of the inanities spewed on this track—which leaves only the Jamiroquai-like beat to enjoy. “Mary Jane Holland”—the perfect drag name—follows “Fashion!” with a production value that drips with decadence. Sung with a wink at the reference to weed-smoking in Amsterdam (Miley’s favorite pastime), it's still not as good as some of Gaga’ other name songs (e.g. “Alejandro” and “Judas”). Still, it is certainly one of the most theatrical tracks on the record.

Continuing the drug motif, “Dope” is a slow, sultry sort of a song—the type you might hear a lounge singer croon. “I need you more than dope” is the romantic sentiment of longing Gaga states throughout, at times conjuring the vocal stylings of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. The subtle gay pop culture references persist with “Gypsy,” another (at first) slow-paced song that bursts into a musical sounding number that finds a way to give a nod to Judy Garland with “Like Dorothy on the yellow brick.”

The closer—or show-stopper if we’re speaking in flamboyant musical terms—is the first single from Artpop, “Applause.” Exuding pretension with the proclamation, “One second I’m a Koontz then suddenly the Koontz is me/Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture in me,” it’s almost impossible to take the song seriously. And this can also be said of Lady Gaga herself. As someone who began her career in such an over the top, esoteric manner, it has only become increasingly difficult for her to adequately trump her former selves. This conundrum is more apparent than ever on Artpop. And, P.S., inverting the words for pop art doesn’t automatically imbue you with Andy Warhol’s pop culture guru status.



It’s been a long time coming, but Matangi is finally here—and yes, it was worth the wait. After being pushed back by M.I.A.’s label, Interscope (which, for some reason, had no problem releasing ARTPOP), so many times, it seems almost a miracle to be able to listen to this fifteen-track gem. Matangi album cover

Menacing, yet spiritual sounding “Karmageddon”  is the perfect introduction M.I.A.’s to long-awaited Matangi. Much like  “The Message” on M/\Y/\, “Karmageddon” is something of a thesis sentence for the entire album as M.I.A. warns, “My words are my armor and you’re bout to meet your karma.” The second track, “MATANGI,” is a screeching anthem calling to countries as far-reaching as Malawi. At times reminiscent of the beat to “Boyz,” M.I.A. shows her penchant for the visceral and fast-paced. As the song comes to a close, the bhangra-like background hypnotizes and enraptures. This segues into the equally surreal “Only 1 U.” Expressing a much sweeter sentiment than the previous track, M.I.A. gives us a mathematical breakdown about how

“There’s trillions of cash/And there’s billions of us/And there’s millions of things that can happen with this stuff/And there’s thousands that will crash/And there’s hundreds that will smash/There’s only one you and I’ma drink to that.”

The inherent message of the song, of course, is that “Making money is fun, but your life is one of a kind.” A.k.a. fucking cherish it.

Killin' it.

“Warriors” is the closest M.I.A. will get to sounding like Die Antwoord. Opening with a tranquil “Ommmm,” you’re initially led to believe you’re about to listen to a peaceful little ditty, but this transitions instantaneously to M.I.A.’s usual tribal rhythm. And just when you get used to one style on this track, it will blind-side you with another one. The following, “Come Walk With Me,” starts out sounding like perhaps the cheesiest song M.I.A. has ever allowed herself to release (think Live Aid). But then, once again, the rap/hip hop/pop star takes you by storm with a frenetic, uptempo beat. M.I.A. sheds the brief bathetic image to say, “It’s cool/It takes two/So I’m gonna still fuck with you.” She then engages in her favorite pastime—self-reference—as she asserts, “M.I.A. comin’ back with power power.”

“atTENTion" continues the frenzied vibe with a caterwauling M.I.A. as she occasionally sings. Her typical, yet nonetheless charming haughtiness is apparent as she cautions, "Don’t try to copy this, cause I pay tent.” The subsequent “Exodus” is, it would seem, M.I.A.’s offering to the stoner set (which makes sense, considering the Weeknd is also featured on the track). Laidback and, at times, epic, M.I.A. questions, “Baby you can have it all/Tell me what for…Whatchu want it all for?” Things pick up with the song that originally signaled the advent of Matangi, “Bad Girls.” The rousing equivalent to M.I.A.’s other signature hit, “Paper Planes,” “Bad Girls” has possibly usurped the former as M.I.A’s most iconic song.

“Boom Skit,” the most playful and irreverent track on the album thus far finds M.I.A. poking fun at America (naturally) with lyrics like “Looking for your Instagram, looking for a pentagram, all I can say is poor people should be on Ghettogram.” “Boom Skit” transitions nicely to “Double Bubble Trouble”—easily one of the best/most danceable tracks on Matangi, and is likenable to a Bob Marley/Skrillex mash-up.”Y.A.L.A.”, M.I.A’s answer to Y.O.L.O., plays like a whirling dervish of beats and emotions (it’s indubitably what the Tasmanian devil listens to while traipsing around). Yet again, M.I.A. challenges us with a probing question: “If we only live once, why we keep doin’ the same shit?” “Bring the Noize,” one of the few other songs M.I.A. fans heard before Matangi’s release, most closely mirrors “Born Free” off M/\Y/\.

“Lights” (not to be confused with the Ellie Goulding song) is the type of offering that might have been played during the Jonestown Massacre—it has that kind of a creepy vibe. But still, M.I.A. manages to make it work with a rare glimpse into what her “sweet” voice sounds like. “Know It Ain’t Right” has tinges of an underground hip hop song with its booming bass and high as a kite-esque vocal pace. M.I.A. also continues with her exploration of moral implications as she states, “We know it ain’t right, but we do it anyway.” The closer for the album, cheekily titled “Sexodus,” finds M.I..A. pairing up with The Weeknd again—even though it’s essentially just “Exodus” tacked at the end. This one minor flaw aside, it’s quite reassuring to have a rabble-rouser like M.I.A. back on the scene to stir things up. It was going to be an awfully dull winter without her. Now let’s just hope she finds a different label to release her next record.



AuthorSmoking Barrel

Katy Perry's three year break from releasing an album makes sense considering the hype built up around 2010's Teenage Dream. The record-breaking effort yielded five number one singles, including "Firework," "Teenage Dream," "California Gurls," "E.T." and "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.). And so, the carefully considered amount of time that went into the creation of her fourth album, Prism, makes sense when taking into account the stakes involved. It's just a shame that said careful consideration didn't yield better results. Album cover for Prism

The first single, "Roar," is a decided triumph--and the perfect choice for Perry to make her reentry onto the music charts. A powerful, self-esteem boosting anthem, "Roar" is sure to rest firmly among Perry's other top hits. "Legendary Lovers" makes the requisite illuminati references with an allusion to seeing with a "third eye." A slower paced track than "Roar," the song is somewhat banal until a unique tribal beat toward the end, but then transitions back to its distinct brand of badness.

Video still from "Roar"

"Birthday" takes the beat back up and serves as the obligatory birthday party song that seems to come out every few years (Madonna's "B-Day Song" in 2012 was the last one that comes to mind). Wielding some fairly generic lyrics that make cliche references (in the vein of Rihanna's "Birthday Cake") to licking frosting, etc., this is not the most innovative of tracks. Following is "Walking on Air," the strongest contender for second single potential, as it sounds like it was extracted from a 90s dance compilation, and is almost too exuberant at times. It also finds Perry veering subtly on the side of her latent religiousness as she croons, "Heaven is jealous of our love/Angels are crying from up above."

Confidence is key.

“Unconditionally” contains lyrics (at times, trite) that perhaps indicate what Perry wished Russell Brand had said to her during the California Dreams Tour. Toeing the line between out and out ballad and Beyonce-style slow jam, it is one of the better slow-paced tracks on the album. “Dark Horse” is the most hip hop tinged track on Prism (thanks to Juicy J) and teeters between sounding believable as a hip hop song and terrible as a confused pop ditty. Perry also seems to further showcase themes of neediness with the lyrics, “Make me your Aphrodite/Make me your one and only.”

The ethereal look.

“This Is How We Do” suffers from the affliction of sounding like one of Britney Spears’ filler songs on Britney, not to mention the issue with repeating “do do do do” over and over again throughout. And then there's nonsensical lyrics like “Gettin' our nails did, gettin' all Japanesey” to deal with.“International Smile” finds Perry returning to her vintage hit-making style with a beat reminiscent of “California Gurls” meets something off Daft Punk’s Discovery. As one of the many, many songs produced by Dr. Luke on this album, it is one of the few to actually stand apart, particularly with phrases such as, “She’s a little bit of Yoko and she’s a little bit of Ono.”

California Dreams are over.

“Ghost” is something of a sequel to “E.T.,” thematically speaking. Bearing similarities to an 80s ballad, Perry yet again makes likely references to Russell Brand as she sings, “You’re just a ghost/When I look back, never woulda known that.../There’s just an echo where your heart used to be.” Next up is “Love Me,” easily the realest song on the album as Perry asserts, “I have to love myself the way I want you to love me.” Her ease with explaining occasional feelings of self-doubt/hate are encapsulated by the lyrics, “Sometimes I wish my skin was just a costume, that I  could just undress and strip.”

“This Moment” is yet another musical homage to the 80s that Perry is so fond of emulating. The only drawback to this is the cheesiness that often results (e.g. “All we have is this moment, tomorrow’s unspoken/Yesterday is history/So why don’t you be here with me?”). On the plus side, Bloodshy produced the track, adding a bit of sound variety to Prism. “Double Rainbow” continues Perry’s tendency to favor balladry on the record. This is Perry’s fatal mistake on the album, as it is her fast-paced, dance-laden beats that have always gained her the most success. Instead, we get "reflective" sentiments like, “One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure/When I found you it was pitter patter.”

The light of a prism isn't distracting enough to block out the music.

“By the Grace of God” is, obviously, the most overt of Perry’s religious leanings on the album. It is not the strongest song to conclude the standard version of Prism, amounting to a modern rendering of a Jewel song. For those with the deluxe version, “Spiritual” isn’t much of a segue from “By the Grace of God.” This time, Perry echoes the tone of a Moby song as she croons, “Magical world of mystery/All of your charms have worked on me.” Subsequently, “It Takes Two,” the most likable of the three bonus tracks, strikes the perfect balance between energetic and lethargic, and finds Perry questioning, “Is Mercury in retrograde? Or is that the excuse I’ve always made? Cause I wanna blame you, but I can only blame myself.”

Opening with a trance sounding back beat, “Choose Your Battles” is an electric track that would have been better off earlier on in the album. “Choose your battles, babe, then you’ll win the war” is the fundamental message of the song. With sinister music that mirrors the aural vibe of t.A.t.U.’s “All The Things She Said” (yeah, I just went there), “Choose Your Battles” comes across as one of the most earnest efforts on Prism.

Overall, Prism is a listenable album, but it indicates that Perry may be veering toward a limbo sort of pop star age: Too old to continue singing about sugary sweet frivolities, but too young to be able to imbue her songs with lyrics that are all that meaningful.

Arguably the crowned king of pop (much to Michael Jackson's beyond the grave dismay), Justin Timberlake's March release of The 20/20 Experience in March of this year left something to be desired. One would think that The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 would be an amendment to the somewhat lacking nature of Timberlake's first release since quote unquote retiring from music in 2006. Timberlake's absence left an obvious void in the industry, especially with regard to the creation of quality pop music. And so, the expectations for his latest offerings have been considerably high as he works to remain relevant in a business that his cast away his compatriots (chiefly, Britney Spears). The Justin of 2013

"Gimme What I Don't Know (I Want)" continues the soulful motif established on the first volume of The 20/20 Experience. Languid vocals characterize most of the song as Timberlake chants, "Come here/Gimme what I don't know...I want." The musical breakdown of the song is what makes it most worthwhile, another attribution to the benefit of having J-Roc as his producer. The second (or twelfth, depending on how you look at it) track, "True Blood," picks up the pace with a frenetic, bayou-inspired beat. Not necessarily a reference to HBO's True Blood, this particular song might have been better off if it was just an homage to Alexander Skarsgard.

Next up is "Cabaret," which, if not for the Timbaland backing vocals, would be as gay as the title suggests. There is something forced and unnatural about Timberlake's vibe on this offering as he sings dubious lyrics like, "Even though I'm a professional, I like to do my work at home." The repetitiveness of the song is interrupted by a brief rap from Drake, who mixes up the vibe for a minute before Timberlake delves back into saying "cabaret" a lot. Following is one of the only knockout selections on the album, "TKO." And I'm not saying knockout in terms of being impressed, but in terms of being blacked out by the badness. Opening with "She killed me with that coo coochy coochy coo," it's hard to take anything said after that very seriously.

"Take Back the Night," the first single from the album, is the obvious sequel, of sorts, to "Suit and Tie." It is also one of the tracks that most closely exemplifies Timberlake's emulation of old school Michael Jackson. Easily the most listenable song on The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2, Timberlake made a prudent choice in releasing it as the single to support his record prior to its release. "Murder" marks the halfway point of the album, and definitely reveals Timberlake finally finding his groove. Another song that resembles something from FutureSex/LoveSounds--just as "Tunnel Vision" does on the first volume of The 20/20 Experience--Timberlake relies once again on Jay-Z to buttress his music. Naturally, Jigga Man's contribution is easily one of the most memorable highlights in addition to Drake's earlier rap on "Cabaret."

"Drink You Away" is the most southern, rock-tinged song--perhaps Timberlake's Tennesseean roots finding a way to shine through. Although it is a story of heartache, there is very little sincerity in Timberlake's voice as he sings, "I can't drink you away." One can't help picture instead his drinking in order to stay away from Jessica Biel. Subsequently, "You Got It On," mirroring the style of a Spring Breakers backing track with its slowed down Skrillex-like beat, indicates that The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 is, mercifully, winding down. As we segue into the symphonic "Amnesia," it's evident that Timberlake is still treating this album as more of an experiment than an enduring pop opus.

"Only When I Walk Away" reverts back to the rock style we heard on "Drink You Away." The grittiest offering other than "True Blood," there is something uniquely honest about this song in comparison to all the rest as Timberlake screams, "She loves me now, she loves me not/She loves me now, but only when I walk away." The concluding track, "Not A Bad Thing," bears something of an 80s style with its feel-good opening notes. It reminds you instantly of something that would play at the end of a Tom Cruise movie of the decade. That being said, once Timberlake starts singing, it sounds like a New Age Christian song. And this is the general impression we are left of Timberlake's music career of late: It's steady and constant, but nothing you would probably seek out unless it found you first--like in a dentist's office or in the waiting room at a methadone clinic as it played ironically.


Goldfrapp never fails to deliver when it comes to creating brilliantly ethereal pop songs. Their sixth album, Tales of Us, is a throwback to their aurally mesmeric debut, Felt Mountain. Emphasizing the softer side of the duo, the electronic vibe is noticeably lacking on this release. And, of course, the other glaring fact of this album is that each song is named after someone with a mononym (Ulla, Drew, Annabel, etc.). The nature of these one-word titles is a testament to the simplicity and stripped down style of Tales of Us. And, although there are some Goldfrapp listeners who may be disappointed by this, it's nice to see the duo return to their original roots--and actually end up topping themselves. The noirish cover of Tales of Us

The lush tone of the album is established with "Jo," a sonorous symphony that showcases Alison Goldfrapp's steadied vocals as she croons, "Where the wind sings by the river/Laughing, broken/Hair swept out into the river, ripples of black/Run, you better run, you better run for your life." The melancholic tinge of this track transitions beautifully into "Annabel," a vivid account of a girl with a tragic story, set to the eerie backdrop of an acoustic guitar. Haunting lyrics elucidate a sense of longing that this British chanteuse has mastered with the utmost of ease. In between singing, "When you dream, you only dream you're Annabel/All the secrets there inside you, Annabel/Bound beneath an emerald sky... Nothing that they did will stop you, Annabel," Goldfrapp hums in an ominous lilt. The subsequent track, "Drew," is the first single from the album, which, as previously mentioned, sounds like a sequel to "A&E."

Still from the "Drew" video

Next up is "Ulla," a decidedly European sounding track that mirrors the foreign feminine name. It's something you might hear in a bar/lounge secreted in some obscure alley in Paris. The most acapella of the songs on Tales of Us, "Ulla" reveals the beauty and richness of Alison Goldfrapp's voice. Posing the somewhat arbitrary question, "Are you human or a dog?/Are you human or do you make it up?", Goldfrapp provokes the thought that perhaps we're not as human--or superior--as we'd like to believe. The acoustic heavy "Alvar," possesses a sinister air with its constant and earnest guitar strumming. Like the other songs on the album, its beat is a reflection of the person's name after which it is called. Throughout the song, it sounds as though it is building to some grander crescendo, but never quite does.

A duo to be reckoned with.

"Thea" follows "Alvar" with a more upbeat ambience. The closest they get to sounding even remotely electronic on this album, "Thea" warrants at least a subtle sway on the dance floor. "Simone" slows the vibe down so that, once again, Alison Goldfrapp can wield her carefully controlled vocals to send a chill up your spine. "Stranger"--the only song that deviates from the mononym motif--has hints of an homage to folk singers past (think Joan Baez). Of course, a folk sounding song by Goldfrapp standards is still highly pop influenced. The singer's usual modus operandi, humming incoherently, is present on this track as well.

The second to last track, "Laurel," is one of the more piano-heavy offerings on Tales of Us, and also sees Alison Goldfrapp singing in a much lower pitch. Echoing the prostitute-like tale of The Police's "Roxanne," she drones, "Searching for love, a wild side/The price is right/You're smiling for love." The sinister backbeat could also fit easily in a Godard movie or a scene of intrigue in Twin Peaks. To close the album, Goldfrapp opts for "Clay" (a name which only conjures images of Less Than Zero), a mostly optimistic sounding song that puts a finite cap on the tales of the multi-faceted people we were introduced to on this album.



Twelve albums in, Pet Shop Boys have still managed to find new ways to innovate the sound of music. The more melancholic tone of their previous album, Elysium, is in sharp contrast to the dance-laden beats of Electric. Produced entirely by Stuart Price (known for his work on Confessions on a Dance Floor), the motif of Electric is decidedly feel good. Thus, in a time when things continue to seem hopeless and destitute (save for the impending birth of the Royal baby, I suppose), one can always rely on Pet Shop Boys to melt your cares away. Electric album cover

"Axis," the ethereal opening track wastes no time in establishing both Stuart Price's and the Pet Shop Boys' unbridled penchant for creating the perfect blend of dance pop music. "Bolshy" favors a visceral, frenetic beat as Tennant croons, "There you are, pretending you're lonely/I don't believe you, don't know you could own me." Once again proving that Pet Shop Boys can mix pleasurable beats with lyrics of profundity, the next track, "Love Is A Bourgeois Construct," begins with symphonic notes that lead into a fanciful musical arrangement that affirms, "Love is a bourgeois construct, so I've given up the bourgeoisie."

The following track, "Fluorescent," gives you the sweaty dance floor vibe you would expect from Les Rythmes Digitales. Perfect for a night of debauchery, this is easily single material--especially in Europe. Painting a portrait as only Tennant can, he sings, "You've been living in a looking glass scene/Since you were seventeen.../Brighter and brighter you burn/When you're in this mood, there's no return." Continuing the theme of the surreal, "Inside A Dream" begins serenely enough, segueing into a Danceteria-friendly sound. One of the most addictive songs on Electric, it echoes the feel of a Duran Duran-Les Rythmes Digitales mash-up.

Still from the "Axis" video

The sardonically titled "The Last to Die" (perhaps a subconscious nod to their own consistent return to the music world regardless of age)--a Bruce Springsteen cover--fits in quite nicely with the rest of their canon of work; in fact, one might never be able to guess Springsteen was the one to have originally sung it. "Shouting in the Evening" is the boldest track on the album in terms of experimentation. Taking their sound to a more German industrial level, Tennant's voice is manipulated to sound more robotic and scrambled. "Thursday" featuring Example slows down the tempo to a more laidback tone, with lyrics that mimic the nature of "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" off of Please. Lowe lends the stoic backing vocals of "Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday" in a similar intonation as "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?"

Can't stop, won't stop

"Vocal," the second single from the album, expresses a jubilance and desire to express oneself. Tennant assures, "Anything I wanna say out loud will be sung" as a 90s-esque dance background plays. It is the ideal point on which to end Electric, keeping it short and sweet--just the way they used to on classic albums of the 80s. And so, the old adage, "Quality, not quantity" is once again proven.


After a seven year hiatus from the music industry (apart from the 2011 single, "Invisible"), Skylar Grey has finally returned with her sophomore album, Don't Look Down. The grittier vibe of Don't Look Down in comparison to Grey's debut, Like Blood Like Honey, is perhaps part of the evolution that took place after having so much time to experiment musically. Grey had, in fact, contemplated quitting music altogether, but, thankfully a little help from the likes of Eminem and Alex da Kid ultimately produced the final product that is Don't Look Down. Album cover for Don't Look Down

The first track to kick off the album, "Back From the Dead," is an appurtenant opening that inadvertently addresses Grey's long absence from the music scene. With contributions from Big Sean and Travis Barker, the song is a strong first track to introduce the world to the new Grey. With lyrics like, "Where do we begin now that you're back from the dead?", Grey approaches the subject of the difficulties of starting over--in any respect. Next up is the gravelly beat of "Final Warning," one of the most memorable songs on Don't Look Down. The dramatic, "warning" lyrics threaten, "I'm going to the kitchen/Coming back with a knife/Cause I've had enough this time." Background noises of couples fighting serve to accent the violent tone of the song. Grey's final warning turns out to be: "Someone's gonna get hurt/And it's not gonna be me."

Grey in the "C'Mon Let Me Ride" video

Following "Final Warning" is the soulful "Wear Me Out." A piano-based background highlights the sultry sounding vocals of Grey as she discusses the things that wear her out while she tells the object of her affection, "Well you're such a hypocrite to think me so unwise/I'm just trying to see the world through my own eyes." The tone of the album shifts slightly with "Religion." A stripped down, acoustic track, "Religion" has distinctive resemblances to early Sheryl Crow as she sings, "When you don't know what to believe in, let me be your religion/It's a fucked up world that we live in, so let me be your religion." Grey's expressiveness when it comes to addressing the uncertainty of modern life can also be traced back to the uncertainty she feels in sticking to any one particular musical style. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Grey acknowledged,

"One of my biggest problems is I get bored too easily, and I like to experiment too much, to the point where I confuse myself and I confuse my fans. So it just took me some time to figure out exactly what I wanted this album to sound like because I had worked with so many types of people and tried so many different things. I had to wait for the right batch of songs to come together and feel like a whole piece."

Single cover for "C'Mon Let Me Ride"

The undeniably Eminem-influenced first single from the album, C'Mon Let Me Ride" samples lyrics from, what else, Queen's "Bicycle Race," with Eminem repeating said lyrics in a decidedly Pee-Wee Herman-esque voice. "Only Thing I Hear" airs a bit more on the angelic side in terms of Grey's intonation and lyrical content. Though, of course, Grey isn't one for singing about pleasant things as she laments, "I get so tired of listening to everyone/Tell me I have everything a girl should want." Subsequently, "Sunshine" keeps the musical motif of "Only Thing I Hear" going, though with a bit more reassurance on Grey's part due to her remark, "You're sick of working hard and always being bored.../Ain't got money, but we got sunshine."

"Pulse" picks up the pace and changes the tone with a more hip hop-tinged beat, mixed with notes of "You Oughta Know"-era Alanis Morissette lyrics like, "I heard you found a new friend/I hope you give her good head/The kind you didn't give me." The fast-tempoed, angry vibe of "Pulse" is negated by the gentleness of "Glow in the Dark," a calm, soothing track that shows us a more tranquil side of Grey. Her newfound self-assurance is evident as she asserts, "I've got a fire in me/It's so bright I can't believe I ever was scared before/Of things I could not control."

"Shit, Man!" is as abrupt a song as the title would suggest, with solid, addictive backbeats that hook you right away. Surprisingly, the song is about having an unexpected pregnancy, a topic that is so rarely mentioned in pop music (maybe because it's usually reserved for country music). In an Ashlee Simpson-esque (that's not an insult, I swear) voice, Grey worries, "You're never ready for something quite like this.../So now what happens if I choose to have a child with you?" A rap by Angel Haze also adds to the uniqueness of this track. "Clear Blue Sky" is an aurally vibrant, life-affirming song that explores the difficulty of letting go of negativity. Grey admits, "I'm in love with misery/But you can have my darkness.../I'm gettin' in my own way and all the shit that you say is makin' my world all grey."

"Tower (Don't Look Down)" slows down the pace again to reveal Grey's strong, adept vocals. The song explores the impossibility of continuing with an inequitable relationship--especially when one person seems to be destined for greater things. Grey reconciles, "You've got the world at your feet/But there's nothin' out there for me." It is by far the most bittersweet track on Don't Look Down as Grey reveals her highly sensitive emotions. The closer of the album, "White Suburban," maintains the same dramatic tone as "Tower (Don't Look Down)" with a far more Fiona Apple flavor. And, just to clarify, the word "Suburban" refers to the car, not the generic environment. The bluesy nature of the song is an interesting choice to conclude with, proving her point that she can't be confined to a single musical genre.


Oh Britney. You've been simultaneously delighting and making us cringe since the shaved head incident of 2007. We've watched you climb back to the top with bated breath, waiting for some sort of entertaining slip-up. Until now, there hasn't really been anything to "hold against you" (I'm guessing only Femme Fatale listeners will get that). Her latest track from, um, The Smurfs 2 Soundtrack, "Ooh La La," is four minutes and nineteen seconds of equal parts bad Aqua homage and "E-mail My Heart" revisited. Smurfs orbiting your head is perhaps the best way to describe "Ooh La La"

Starting out with a surreal, Europop intro, Brit gives us a tinge of hope that this could be one of her best--until she starts singing. While her voice sounds just the same as it ever did, the cliche lyrics are over the top even for Britney. Espousing the empty themes (when you consider the source they're coming from) of not needing "looks" or "designer clothes" to have a good time, it's difficult gauge how this fits in with being someone's "ooh la la." In the first line of the song, Britney assures, "You don't have to look like a movie star, ooh, I think you're good just the way you are.../We don't need no gold, we'll be shining anyway." A simple, uplifting enough message--but it sounds terrible in the song.

Britney's brain on Smurf

As for the chorus, well, it's a bit of a mash-up of all Britney's usual staples from her greatest hits: "Can't nobody get down like us/We don't stop till we get enough/Come on turn it up till the speakers pop/Break it down, show me what you got." The lyrics of the chorus also somewhat date Britney, revealing how stuck in time her vernacular is in the early 00s. This point is reiterated when she sings, "You don't have to wear no designer clothes/Just as long as we're dancing on the floor.../Baby come with me and be my ooh la la." One might sooner take an invitation into a shooting gallery.

Britney's last single with, "Scream and Shout," was much easier to swallow

In her typical, not so succinct form, Britney explained the "meaning" of the song as best as she could by saying, "Like you make me feel like 'ooh la la' like when a guy makes you giddy... it's more of a feeling." But the feeling you end up getting is more like overdosing on a box of sugar donuts: Invariably leading to vomit from all the sugariness. With other contributions like Right Said Fred reinterpreting "I'm Too Sexy" as "I'm Too Smurfy," you get the sense of the quality level being promoted on this particular soundtrack. Let's just hope Brit's forthcoming album has at least a few offerings in the vein of "Till The World Ends."

Listen to the track below.


With its obvious homage to the 1987 Public Enemy track "Bring the Noise," the first "official" single ("Bad Girls" was taken from her 2010 Vicki Leekx mix tape) off M.I.A.'s fourth studio album, Matangi, is in keeping with the controversial rapper's musical style. Produced by Switch--who has worked with M.I.A. on her past three albums--the vivacious beat proves a worthy contender for anthem of the summer. Frenetic and visceral, as most M.I.A. songs are, "Bring the Noize" is yet another tantalizing preview of things to come on Matangi. Single cover for "Bring the Noize"

Chanting "Bring the noise when we run upon them," it is immediately evident that M.I.A. still hasn't lost her political flair. In keeping with the lively tone of "Bad Girls," "Bring the Noize" showcases M.I.A. at her strongest--with rap skills that have been even more finely tuned since the polarizing /\/\ /\ Y /\ (Maya). As of yet, Matangi still has no release date--purportedly due to stylistic differences with her record label, Interscope. But if we ever are finally allowed to listen to the rest of it, the album is likely to be among her best work.

Listen to the track below.


AuthorSmoking Barrel