December 15, 2019
Album: Fine Line
Artist: Harry Styles
Record Label: Erskine Records
Recommended Tracks: Track 1 – “Golden”, Track 5 – “Cherry”
Two years of anticipating Harry Styles’ second solo album finally came to an end on December 13, 2019. His album Fine Line was released, giving us 12 brand new songs to indulge in. It’s genuinely clear that Harry poured his heart into making this album. It’s cohesive, fun, heartbreaking, and definitely some of his best work yet. It’s great to hear how he experiments with his sound on Fine Line and doesn’t restrict himself from sticking to a mold or what people expect from him. Choosing only two recommended tracks was really hard to decide on because all of the songs are amazing in their own way. I rate Fine Line a five out of five. The tracks “Golden” and “Cherry” stand out, and both differ sonically, showcasing Harry’s versatility.
“Golden” opens the album and upon first listen, I couldn’t think of a better song choice to start Fine Line. It begins with a soft drum beat before an explosive shift, introducing Harry’s voice. The lyrics seem to point toward the romanticization of a person, calling them “golden.” It’s fitting since this idea is welcomed at the beginning of the album, it contrasts a lot of the other songs that tear down the idealized outlook on people and relationships. The rhythm is fast-paced and energetic, and Harry’s vocals are warm and he sounds so sure of himself.
“Cherry” is a softer song that begins with acoustic guitar that leads up to Harry’s voice. It’s a song that feels inspired by the folk-rock genre, but it’s not totally stripped down as an acoustic song. There are layers of instruments that make it atmospheric and so pleasant to listen to. Lyrically, he sings about how it’s heartbreaking to see his ex-girlfriend moving on to another relationship and missing her. “Don’t you call him what you used to call me” echoes throughout the song, stinging with hints of sadness in Harry’s voice. It’s a heartfelt song and we get to experience Harry being vulnerable, which is a running theme in all of the songs.
Fine Line by Harry Styles is one of the best albums released in 2019. Every song is noteworthy and worth giving a chance.
December 15, 2019
Record Label: Flowershop
Recommended Tracks: Track 1- “It Won’t Last”, Track 3- “It’s Now May”
Indie-rock band, Flowershop, a four-member group based in Dubai, have put out some great music over the past year and a half. They’re a smaller band that are still finding their footing in the music scene, but they show a lot of potential in their sound and style. Their EP Yuki, released in 2018 and can be defined more specifically as having shoegaze influences reminiscent of British indie-rock from the 1980s. Yuki has four tracks in total and they’re all solid, earning it a four out of five rating, but the two that are most impressive are “It Won’t Last” and “It’s Now May.”
Track 1 opens with colorful guitars that immediately establish an upbeat tone that contrasts the lyrics but fits well with the overall theme of the song. It’s about fleeting moments and experiences that you know won’t last forever even though you wish it did. The guitar keeps a constant upbeat rhythm paired with the light and airy vocals that gives the song a sense of innocence and naïveté. Toward the end of the song, the vocals fade out and allow the bass guitar to become the center of attention. It’s low tone provides a shift in the overall softness in the song, adding depth to the song.
Track 3, “It’s Now May” has an infectious guitar right at the start. Vocally, I think it’s a cool addition to have spoken lyrics at the beginning before the pace picks up during the chorus. Toward the end of the song, there’s a soft fade-out allowing the soft guitar plucks to take over. I really enjoy the rhythm of the song and the quick shifts back and forth from slow to fast pace.
Flowershop is full of potential and I recommend giving them a listen.
December 5, 2019
Album: Nothing Happens
Record Label: Atlantic Records
Recommended Tracks: Track 7 – “Worlds Apart” and Track 10 – “I’m Full”
2019 was a great year for album releases, especially in the indie-rock genre. One of my favorite albums that came out this year was Nothing Happens by Wallows. It came out at the beginning of the year on March 22, 2019. It’s the band’s debut album and it easily became one of my top albums of the year. Now that it has been out for eight months, I’ve spent a lot of time streaming the album and digesting it. When you’re anticipating an album release, sometimes the build-up for it can overshadow how it actually makes you feel. But for Nothing Happens, as time has passed, I can confidently say that it still holds up as being an amazing album and one that I can always come back to without it beginning to feel stale. Sonically, Wallows show that they have grown by using cleaner production, rhythmic variety, and personal lyrics also driven by narrative elements. I rate the album 4 and a half out of five.
The first recommended track, “Worlds Apart” is one of the slower and more melodic songs on Nothing Happens. It has a ballad-like and dreamy feel to it stemming from the instrumentation which are paired beautifully with Braeden Lemasters’ vocals. The beginning of the song opens with soft drum beats underneath buzzing guitars. Then, Braeden’s vocals fade in. He has a big vocal range allowing him to sing high notes and low notes, and on Worlds Apart he keeps a consistent low-tone for the entirety of the song. His low tone and dragged out notes add a nice contrast to the dreamy effect that the instruments create. My favorite part of the song starts at 2:50, closing out the song with a long instrumental outro that slowly builds up tension, but it doesn’t overpower the overall sweetness of the song. I like the small detail of the last second of the song where it ends abruptly, almost as if someone suddenly detached their AUX cord. Lyrically, the song seems to describe a relationship that has ended and one person keeps thinking about the other and wonders if they still think about them too. “Do I exist in your heart? Or did the ship sail away?”
The second recommended track, “I’m Full,” is one of the more fast-paced and high-energy songs on Nothing Happens. The bass guitar is one of the highlights of this song. It serves as the core instrumental piece for the majority of the song and adds a layer of richness underneath the guitars when they’re added. Dylan Minnette is on vocals and I think this song perfectly suits his vocal range. At the 2:28 mark, everything comes to a crescendo and there’s a burst of intensity coming from all angles. It’s definitely an album highlight on Nothing Happens.
I’m looking forward to what Wallows will release in 2020 and I highly recommend everyone to check out Nothing Happens for a great listening experience!
Album: STELLA & STEVE
Record Label: Republic Records
Recommended Tracks: Track 3 – “Monsta”, Track 5 – “Blu”
New Zealand singer Stella Benee, who goes by the moniker Benee, is a new pop-artist that people should look out for. She released her new EP titled STELLA & STEVE which is a short but entertaining sample of her talent. It’s a great starting point for people to dive in and listen to if they’re unfamiliar with her other fairly-recent releases. This release has clean production and smooth rhythms that lean on mellow guitars and use of electronic beats that add a fun layer of depth to each track. Lyrically, the EP focuses on themes like loneliness and leaving your youth behind. Vocally, Benee has a unique voice that’s really pleasant to listen to, and I think she’s going to grow in the music industry as she continues to release more music. I rate this EP a four out of five.
The first recommended track, “Monsta” is a catchy song that instantly commands your attention with the electric guitar and steady drumming. She approaches the song in a story-telling manner through the lyrics, and sonically, she creates an atmosphere that allows the listener to imagine a monster taking them away from their safe place. It metaphorically represents anything in life that interrupts your happiness or comfort.
The second recommended track, “Blu” is one of the strongest songs on the EP. Her echoing harmonies on this track add a mesmerizing touch to the song and small details like the soft rain in the background at the end of the song makes it even more dreamy. It’s subtle behind the drums beats and funky guitar but once they fade out, the rain is more apparent. The best part of this song is her breathy and extended vocals that are supported by the solid instrumentation. The last minute of the song includes impressive guitar rhythms before giving way to her voice. In “Blu,” Benee sings about her lack of judgment in a relationship and wrongly believing that it would work out. Looking back, she sees that the relationship was toxic. She sings, “I thought I found the one… we always fought…But clearly I was blue…” STELLA & STEVE is a great EP to listen to if you’re interested in indie-pop and need a new artist to listen to. She has a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to checking out what she releases in the future.
Artist: Michael Kiwanuka
Record Label: Polydor
Recommended Tracks: Track 9 – “Hero” , Track 10 – “Hard To Say Goodbye”
British artist Michael Kiwanuka released a new soulful album titled KIWANUKA. It has fourteen-tracks and infuses soul and psychedelic rock influences. It focuses on topics that are personal to Michael, such as his own mental health and political issues. Sonically, it’s an impressive album that definitely shows that Michael isn’t afraid to be experimental with his sound. A lot of the songs on this record are longer than 3 minutes, making it a duration of 51 minutes. There are a lot of instrumental breaks in the songs, giving each song a feeling of variety and not as though you are listening to the same song each time. He does a nice job at allowing his music to settle and simmer rather than rushing, which gives a sense of payoff when you finish listening. I rate it a four out of five.
The first recommended track, “Hero” starts off with a soft and echoing strum of guitar strings before it’s met with drums. One nice detail that’s implemented in this song is the use of violins behind the guitar during the chorus. Toward the end of the song, the strings become fuzzy and distorted giving it a psychedelic flair to the overall sound. Personally, I think this song is the best off of the album because of its intricate layering of different instruments at the halfway point of the song. Lyrically, it seems that Michael is singing about the pressing issue of police brutality and gun violence in our society. He sings, “please don’t shoot me down…it’s on the news again…I guess they killed another.”
The second recommended song, “Hard To Say Goodbye” begins with almost two minutes of instrumentals before shifting. There’s a slight pause before Michael begins to sing over the subtle guitar strums. At times, his vocals are echoed by what sounds like a choir behind him. In this song, his voice is very calming and doesn’t change in pitch very much. Overall, it’s a nice song to listen to, especially because of the instrumentation. The guitars buzz during the chorus and add a layer of richness to the sound.
KIWANUKA is a good album and I think that Michael Kiwanuka will continue to grow in popularity, especially because of this body of work that shows his talent. It’s a cohesive collection of songs and really showcases his focus on production-value.
Artist: ROLE MODEL
Album: oh, how perfect
Record Label: Interscope Records
Recommended Tracks: Track 5 – “say it first”- Track 6 – “thank you for coming”
Up-and-coming artist who goes by the moniker, ROLE MODEL, released his new EP on November 13, 2019. His songs on oh, how perfect, revolve around themes of loneliness and the struggles and experiences that come with the emergence into adulthood. He writes and co-produces his own music and takes inspiration from his own life to create a more personal dialogue between him and his listeners. The six tracks on the EP have dreamy and honest undertones. His style pulls from indie-pop and rap, blending both to create a sound that balances upbeat rhythms with gloomy lyrics. ROLE MODEL is one of the many new DIY-indie artists who gravitates toward the idea of being vulnerable and allowing listeners to connect with the music that they put out. I rate it a three-and-a-half out of five.
The first recommended song, “say it first,” starts off with plucked strings before his raspy vocals. It has a simple start production-wise, but once you get to the chorus, the beat is layered with a drum beat and electronic accents that make the song really catchy and addicting. Lyrically, he’s singing about someone reciprocating the feelings that he has for them but they’re both afraid to acknowledge it, so the other person ends up taking the initiative because he’s nervous.
The second recommended song, “thank you for coming,” is a great way to end the EP considering the content of the song. ROLE MODEL is singing about the people in his past who were mean to him and judged him for being himself. It’s a triumphant song that provides closure and acceptance of what he has gone through in his past as he acknowledges the fact that he is the person that he is today because of these experiences. It has a simple melody and uses simple guitar rhythms, putting the lyrics at the main focus of the song. He expresses a positive outlook on these negative memories and turns them into learning experiences instead. ROLE MODEL’s oh, how perfect is a solid collection of songs that all have catchy musical elements with a deeper layer of lyrical content. I recommend everyone to give it a listen.
Artist: Rex Orange County
Record Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Recommended Tracks: Track 7 “Pluto Projector”, Track 10, “It’s Not The Same Anymore”
Indie-pop musician Rex Orange County has been a huge name in the indie-music scene after gaining a huge fan-base following his release of his song “Loving Is Easy” in 2017. He continues to grow in popularity and has established his name in the music industry. Part of his appeal is how effortlessly he infuses elements of jazz, hip-hop, and bedroom pop into his sound.
He released his new album Pony on October 25, 2019. The album consists of ten songs. Pony encapsulates Rex’s emotional vulnerability as he allows listeners to get a glimpse into his personal life and feelings from the past two years that he has been working on this new music. One of the most impressive aspects of the album is the utilization of more advanced and clean production. He branches out and uses more strings and orchestral pieces that create an intensifying sound. The songs that incorporate orchestral pieces feel very cinematic and are really impressive to listen to. Overall, this album is really strong and shows how much Rex Orange County has grown from the previous work he has put out. I rate the album a four-out-of-five.
The first recommended track, “Pluto Projector” puts Rex’s voice at the forefront before a catchy electronic drum beat fades in. My favorite part of the song begins at the 3:10 mark, making a beautiful outro to the song as violins build-up to a crescendo. His voice in this song has a very relaxed tone and is paired nicely with the simple drum beat. The piano fades in and creates a dreamy haze, especially when it’s layered with his soft, echoing vocals.
Track ten, “It’s Not The Same Anymore” is an introspective song where Rex sings about self-doubt, his declining mental state, and adjusting to his new-found fame. Sonically, it’s a pleasant song to listen to and at the 3:12 mark, it builds tension before softening up as Rex shifts to a more realizing tone of coming to terms with the changes in his life. The outro is a nice addition to the song as it includes horns before shifting back to vocals. “It got better…it’s not the same anymore…” are the lyrics that end the song and the entire album with an uplifting tone matched with violins that soar. It’s a very nice ending to Pony that leaves you with a sense of hope and triumph.
Rex Orange County’s Pony is an extremely solid album that everyone should give a chance. Anyone who appreciates creative sound production and cohesive yet unique songs will enjoy this new album.
Album: Space Cadet
Record Label: Dirty Hit
Recommended Tracks: Track 1, “Are You Sure”, Track 2, “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus”
Indie-rock artist Beabadoobee released a new EP titled Space Cadet on October 15, 2019. It follows the release of her previous EP Loveworm, which came out earlier this year. This new collection of songs leans more toward a grungy sound which she experimented with on Loveworm. You really get a sense of how much her sound has developed with Space Cadet especially with her experimentation with instruments. It’s guitar-heavy with touches of distortion that make it reminiscent of 90’s rock. One of the many great things about Beabadoobee is that when you listen to her music, you get the feeling that she’s creating music that she’s excited about and not just following a specific brand-friendly formula that can make artists come off as lacking transparency with their audience. She’s authentically herself and Space Cadet is a strong EP in all areas of music production. Her soft vocals float effortlessly over the crashing drums and distorted guitars that buzz throughout each track. Beabadoobee’s lyrics pull you in with personal anecdotes and catchy choruses that will stay in your head after you finish listening. Overall, I rate this EP a five-out-of-five and I also recommend checking out her entire discography.
The first recommended track, “Are You Sure,” opens the EP and immediately pulls you in with its grunge-inspired buzzing guitar and Beabadoobee questioning, “are you sure, are you sure?” that drenches the song with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. At the forty-second mark, the guitars and drums match Bea’s change of tone as she begins to sing with more urgency in her voice. There’s a super impressive guitar and drum break toward the middle of the song that powerfully compliment each other. It’s fast-paced and unrelenting as it completely captures your attention. This occurs right before a shift in the song where it becomes softer as Beabadoobee’s vocals become the focus as she expresses, “you think you know my brain…are you sure?” before the instruments come crashing down again followed by Beabadoobee singing, “it’s funny for you…”
Track 2, “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus” is a tribute to one of Beabadoobee’s favorite bands, Pavement. Their lead singer Stephen Malkmus is one of her music inspirations and Pavement’s influence on her recent releases is pretty clear. Lyrically, she’s expressing her feelings of wanting to be like the person she looks up to as well as referring to her own evolving identity as she navigates young adulthood. She mentions her new blue hair, the new sense of fame she has been experiencing as her career is gaining more traction, and accepting the idea of being a pariah as she sings, “I’m from outer space… think I kinda like it…” Instrumentally, the drums and strings fluctuate in going from calm to erupting in sound, layered perfectly with Beabadoobee’s vocals. Beabadoobee’s Space Cadet is filled with fun songs that will quickly capture your attention with her songwriting and the adrenaline-filled production. She’s an up-and-coming artist that definitely has a lot of success coming her way. Personally, she is one of my favorite artists and I think everyone should check out her music.
Album: Blood Harmony
Record Label: OYOY
Recommended Tracks: Track 4 “I Don’t Miss You At All” , Track 5 “Partners in Crime”
Finneas O’Connell, known by his moniker FINNEAS, released a brand new EP on October 4, 2019. His sound as a solo-artist establishes his own unique and contrasting style that separates him from his collaborations. The EP is titled, Blood Harmony, and it has seven tracks resulting in a total listening experience of twenty-three minutes. When listening and soaking in the lyrics, you get a sense of how personal and thoughtful FINNEAS approaches these songs. Each track tells a story that stand alone among each other, but they have common themes of loss, love, and growing up. Sonically, the production of the EP is very impressive. FINNEAS turns to using low, rich-beats that create an atmospheric sound at the core of this EP. They compliment his vocal range and layer nicely underneath the softer tones of his voice. Overall, the EP has a satisfying variety as it opens with an emotional and personal track and then transitions back and forth from fast-paced songs to slow-burning melodies. As a whole, I rate the EP a solid 3.5 out of 5.
The fourth song, “I Don’t Miss You at All” deserves praise for its instrumentation and production. He approaches the context in an interesting way when you consider how in the beginning, the lyrics juxtapose the tone of the electronic beats that create a feeling of tension. Lyrically, he sings about no longer missing someone that he was once close to. A shift occurs when he realizes that he actually thinks about this person a lot but he knows that it would be a disaster if they were close again, resulting in him pretending that he doesn’t think about them anymore. The electronic beats are the most captivating part of this song and it showcases FINNEAS’ talented producing skills.
The fifth song, “Partners in Crime,” is also a song that I recommend people check out. It’s a smooth song throughout as it opens with acoustic guitar and hushed singing. When you reach the 30-second mark, the full production comes together as drum beats are layered underneath, adding a sense of depth and warmth. Lyrically, FINNEAS seems to be reminiscing about the memories that he shared with a significant other before losing contact with them.
Blood Harmony is a strong EP release and it gives a taste of FINNEAS’ defining sound as a solo artist hints at what to expect on an upcoming album. He has a unique sound and when you listen to the EP, you get the idea that he really pays a lot of attention to detail in his sound to make each track stand out from each other while still sounding cohesive. If you are not yet familiar with FINNEAS, I suggest that you give his music a chance.
Album: Sucker Punch
Record Label: Universal Music
Recommended Tracks: Track 5 – “Don’t Feel Like Crying”, Track 7 – “Sight of You”
On March 8, 2019 up-and-coming pop artist Sigrid released her twelve track debut album Sucker Punch. Similar to the title of the album, the Norwegian singer’s album is like a burst of unexpected energy with its upbeat melodies and feel-good rhythms. The majority of the songs feel like they belong on a summer Spotify playlist because they sound playful and stray from cynical tones. Rating the album as an entire body of work, I would rate it a 3.5 out of 5. At its core, it’s an exciting collection of songs for the most part, but it does lack a bit of variety in sound. A few of the songs sound similar to each other and appear to stick to the pop-genre-formula, making it seem as though Sigrid is playing it safe rather than taking risks on this album. However, Sigrid is a talented new artist and there are definitely moments in Sucker Punch that deserve praise and recognition.
Track 5, “Don’t Feel Like Crying” immediately pulls you in with exciting synth and Sigrid’s confident vocals. As you listen to the lyrics, it feels like you are inside her mind as she reasons with herself on the subject of heartbreak. She points out that she can deal with it two ways; wallowing in self-pity, or “at least [for] tonight,” refusing to cry. She goes through a list of expected reactions and coping mechanisms to her own post-breakup experience, but admits, “wallowing in it would be such a waste, that isn’t gonna fix it anyway.” The instruments make the song sound light-hearted and fun with Sigrid’s vocals matching their tone. The synthesized piano beats stay consistent throughout and creates an uplifting base for her voice to soar over. It’s a song that will have listeners eager to sing along and dance to at her concerts.
“Sight of You,” the seventh track on Sucker Punch is another catchy synth-pop tune that comments on Sigrid’s moments of feeling low. In these moments, she reflects on the positive aspects of her life such as being able to perform on stage for her growing fanbase that she clearly appreciates. It’s like a love-letter to her fans as she expresses her gratitude toward them for bringing her a sense of comfort with their support, which she finds especially helpful when she’s having a bad day. The song has a sweet message and confronts downcast feelings with a twist by remembering the more positive aspects of your life. Similar to the fifth track, the synthesized pianos sound bright with every note. Rather than making a song with solely a sulky undertone, Sigrid manages to create a song that blends the highs and lows of life, perfectly mirroring her personal lyrics to upbeat rhythms and cheerful vocals.
Sigrid’s an artist that I think will definitely continue to grow in popularity. Sucker Punch gives a taste of what she can bring to the pop music genre, and leaves me hoping that the music she releases in the future will be a bit more colorful with sonic variety. Her simplistic lyrics and catchy beats are entertaining to listen to, nonetheless.