Category: Pop

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Carved out with years of dedication and keen-eyed teamwork (and a hell of production lineup to boot), Portugal. The Man’s 2017 release, Woodstock is one to be reckoned with as a powerhouse release and catalog standout. With flavors spanning from hip-hop and pop to wheelhouse PTM, it certainly kicks it up a notch for a progressive endeavor while never turning face from the carefree, joyous sound that got them here. No bones about it, Woodstock is the most pop-rock-focussed effort by the Pacific Northwest outfit-“Live In The Moment” certainly attests to that, but songs like “Rich Friends” and “Easy Tiger” are as classic PTM as 2011’s In the Mountain in the Cloud (just with a contemporary twist). The hit single “Feel It Still” really bolsters mainstream appeal (let alone, it’s a tidbit out of left field) and falls right in line of a more radio-friendly effort with a heavy dosage of dance. With bouncy horns, catchy hooks, and an Austin Powers-like quirk, “Feel It Still” goes miles for shaking hips and bobbing heads beyond preceding highlights like 2013’s “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and 2009’s “People Say”. And in true PTM form, the band swaps in their traditional instruments for the good ol’ beat machine to kick off the record with the Danger Mouse-produced “Number One”, which features samples from Richie Havens’ “Freedom” (counter culture anyone?). Winding down the second half of the record, the group morphs into a full-fledged hip-hop group with tracks like the slow-grooving “So Young”, the beat-centric “Tidal Wave” and “Mr. Lonely” (featuring The Pharcyde’s Fat Lip), and the resistance anthem in “Noise Pollution” (produced by The Beastie Boys’ Mike D).

The verdict?

For PTM fans both new and old, Woodstock contains all the good ingredients of the past while mixing in dashes of newer, poppier nuances. It’s a different band that put out 2008’s Censored Colors, and with that some find nostalgia (note: they have a truly astonishing catalog). Woodstock is a fresh reminder that music can be contemporary without abandoning the past.

Masseduction – St. Vincent

An orchestra of electro-pop synths and hip hop beats, guitar slaying, domination, and sentiment. If Annie Clark didn’t before, she definitely owns you now. Economically, emotionally, socially, sexually, and even a tad bit affectionately, Annie Clark is just on a different wave length than most folks. Except this time, John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, Angel Olsen) is partnered with the pop-wonderboy, Jack Antonoff (Lorde, Taylor Swift) behind the production board. And with a long list of collaborators (Jenny Lewis, Pino Palladino, Kamasi Washington) adding their two cents beside the powerhouse producing duo, St. Vincent’s latest release with Masseduction is undeniably the shredding glam-rock and fuzz-synth pop gem we’ve waited for. As if she didn’t prove it enough on 2014’s self-titled release, St. Vincent’s knack for morphing from a piano hall balladeer to a dominatrix-esque guitar virtuoso is like nothing seen before, and Masseduction plunges deep into both oddly disparate caricatures. Numbers like “Pills”, “Hang On Me” and “Los Ageless” explore a jungle of drum machines, breakdowns, and twisting guitar solos with the inner Prince and Bowie as the guiding light. But nothing tips the scale quite like the title track, “Masseduction”—a pumping backbeat, twisting and ripping guitar work, and even lyrics about manipulation like manhandling weapons. Seducing lyrics, destructive soundscapes, and domination—so about that part where Annie Clark owns you? After all, she does sing ‘I can’t turn off what turns me on’…

The verdict?

It’s all there. Guitar-laden melodies, driving backbeats, piano ballads, and an orator-esque style of lyrics and vocals, it’s all there.

Colors – Beck

Creating a masterpiece doesn’t happen overnight, over the course of a few months or weeks, or even through years of trial and toil. A full-fledged masterpiece, tried and true and withstanding the test of time is a feat that most artists dream of, but bouncing from masterpiece to masterpiece is something else entirely. And even for a hint in time, the bite-size minuscule that oftentimes encapsulates greatness, an artist can unleash a creative output to blend amongst relative significance. Colors is exactly that: a single note of greatness amongst an orchestra. But it’s a release that’s polar opposites from its bunkmates, which is as characteristically Beck as it gets.

Undoubtedly Beck’s most pop-fueled and energetic release to date, Colors pushes the limits that constitute a “strictly pop” record. It’s pop, no bones about it, but what if Beck put his own spin on the definition of the genre? From middle-of-the-road alternative and sprightly upbeat takes to classically damn good numbers, Beck set out with a clear mindset when approaching this record: conquer pop, and producer Greg Kurstin was right on par with him. Take the mammoth “Dreams” as a cue; from beginning to end, every drum beat, vocal part, and layered guitar shimmy-shake align in unison as if the song came to him in a vision (full disclosure, there’s a high likelihood it was). Accelerating like an pop-alternative(ish) standard and falling with a distorted breakdown, all cards are on the table with a song like “Dreams”, and it lands nowhere short of spectacular. Even more so on songs like “Up All Night”, “Colors”, and “No Distraction” does Beck and co. break out the full cast of sprightly-sounding characters. Panpipes and synths, bouncy and quick drum parts, guitar and piano licks intertwining, and even lyrics about late-night, carefree love flings, no stone goes unturned, and underneath is a pop macrocosm.

As if conquering the party-esque, mainstream-ish pop haunt wasn’t enough, Colors goes a step further and takes a tip from the history books. Fortunately for listeners both old and young, a pop record wouldn’t be such without channeling the inner Beatles, and “Dear Life” does so by drawing a line in the sand between contemporary and classical pop. A monumental song with catchy hooks, a driving piano melody, and harmonizing, effects-lathered guitar that’s strictly secluded to the chorus (see artist, Paul McCartney), “Dear Life” couldn’t be a more modern testament to recreating the blueprints of past demagogues. Amongst the many standout hits on the record, “Dear Life” exhibits an attention to detail with layering and composition on top of lyrics that speak of only one classification: perfectionism.

The verdict:

Right, wrong, or indifferent, when an artist of Beck’s caliber releases a record that’s drastically different from the preceding catalog, opinions arise and waves are made. Most artists either nestle into a comfort zone of “their sound” or branch out into others, and Beck has made it abundantly clear that he isn’t like “most artists”, if you didn’t know that already (the lyrics to his first major hit, “Loser” should be enough evidence). Look no further than his catalog for a clue as to why he would release such a pop-centric album. Historically, he’s bounced from genre to genre, which is perhaps his most reputable attribute, and pop was one he hasn’t extensively dived into (or at least dedicated an entire album to). Add producer Greg Kurstin behind the board, and you get one of the most noteworthy pop records of 2017, if not of the past decade or more. It’s the alter ego to his previous award-winning and acoustically mellow release, Morning Phase, and there’s a good chance his next release will be just as different.

As You Were – Liam Gallagher

Brotherly love comes in all different shapes and sizes, colors and shades, and fluid moods and attitudes. Some flourish through decades of art making and collaboration and others flutter at the slightest glimmer of bond. Where tension meets animosity for reasons both ill and valid, creativity falters regardless of the circumstance. And with odes to legacy that take the shape of a forlorn toast or nostalgic psyche, oftentimes the effort misses the mark between respect and relevance. Even though As You Were, Liam Gallagher’s most recent release, is undeniably an ode to the catastrophic and colossal nature of a past and very brotherly endeavor, it nestles comfortably within commemoration, reminiscence, and instinct.

A key facet in hitting this target is a familiar tactic for both the Gallagher family in general and Liam: composition, structure, and variation. What’s drastically different about As You Were from past non-Oasis ventures is a return to form rather than building from the ground up. Liam’s instinct and engrained habits take hold all throughout As You Were, and tests listeners’ limits into thinking the Oasis framework is back as a contemporary silhouette. He hits the target on numbers like “When I’m in Need”, ‘Wall of Glass”, and “Come Back to Me”, which sound like classic Oasis songs, but the missing (brotherly) link is undeniable on a song like “I Get By”. Where the listener, presumably an Oasis fan, would beg for a ripping Noel guitar solo, the substitute and long-time collaborator, Jay Mehler, fills in with hints of methodology and flair.

Though it’s definitely punitive to lob solo and non-solo releases into the same ring, the threshold of an artists catalog is all-inclusive, and the wind definitely shifts in Liam’s favor when comparing As You Were with non-Oasis endeavors (especially the Beatles write-off, Beady Eye). He surrounds himself with a talented cast of musicians both in the booth and behind the board, and it certainly pays off for a rounded album release. By enlisting the likes of Greg Kurstin (Adele), Dan Grech-Marguerat (Lana Del Rey), and Andrew Wyatt (Mark Ronson, Lorde, Miike Snow), As You Were has dynamic and idiosyncratic qualities in each number where they may have meshed together on a Beady Eye release. Down to every recorded instrument on separate songs, Liam’s voice sustains the only similar sound throughout. And though a common theme (the signature Liam sound) carries from the first song to the end, he subtly broadens the spectrum of sound through composition and personnel, whether the listener wants to adhere to the latter or not.

The verdict?

The undeniable yearning for Noel’s musicianship is a tough obstacle to hurdle. It’s certainly subtle on a tune like “I Get By”, but its absence is looming when considering the truly incredible stature of Oasis’ catalog. Again, unfortunately for Liam, this is not the first time he’s been on this path with side projects like Beady Eye dead in the backseat, but there are numbers like “Comeback to Me” to truly hit the target and the Oasis sound right on the nose. To a certain degree, Liam had to at least make the most honest attempt at recreating the sheer force of Oasis while also staying original, and he did a damn good job. Damn good.