Album Review – After Laughter – Paramore

Well, it has finally happened. Paramore fully admitted that they are the pop band we always knew they were.  And you know what? They put together one of the best records of 2017 so far to announce it.

After Laughter is the best of Paramore’s five studio albums. It’s first Paramore album to really use Hayley Williams’ terrific voice and the first album on which the band was sufficiently free as to not drag back Williams’ vocals. But it’s not an album that the fans who think Riot’s punk pop angst is the epitome of Paramore will like. Still, if you like pop and give it a chance, you will find something that gets you dancing, or at least listening raptly.

The thing that marks a great pop album for most people is a lot of great hooks and catchy melodies, which After Laughter has in abundance.  The lead single “Hard Times” is a perfectly fine pop song with hooks and catch galore, and a fine leadoff. But the payoff is later on the album, with some really great songs like the sardonically cheerful “Told You So”, the honestly introspective “Forgiveness”, and the gorgeous acoustic “26”. There are 12 tracks on this album and I honestly love 9 of them.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Hard Times, Rose-colored Boy, Told You So, Forgiveness, Fake Happy, 26, Pool, Grudges, Tell Me How

Songs I would Thumbs down: None.

Album Review – The Valley – Betty Who

The Valley is the second album from Australian pop songstress Betty Who (Jessica Anne Newham).  Once again, her mostly upbeat synth-pop straddles the pop and dance charts (the first single off this album hit #1 on the US Dance charts in 2016).

On her second album, Betty Who has taken a step more into the pop sound predominant in the 2010s, as compared to the heavily 80s inflected pop sound of her first album.

Echoing the favorite subject of pop artists ever, The Valley centers on love, heartbreak, and getting on without them. It’s nice that this is the rare album that doesn’t have a song that is maudlin and dragging for this subject. She sticks to up-tempo beats for the most part, and the few slower songs aren’t downers.

While the album isn’t perfect (Warren G feels totally out of place on Free to Fly, and Some Kinda Wonderful just doesn’t appeal), The Valley is a solid album that is well worth your time.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a playlist for: You Can Cry Tomorrow, Human Touch, Wanna Be, Beautiful (Feat. Superfruit), I Will Love You Always Forever

Songs I will Thumbs Down: Some Kinda Wonderful

 

 

 

Album Review – Something Worth Saving – Gavin DeGraw

 

Something Worth Saving is the sixth studio album from Gavin DeGraw, released on September 9th, 2016 from RCA Records.

Fans of Gavin DeGraw will recognize a familiar formula of bouncy, upbeat pop mixed with the occasional bombastic ballad. For me, the upbeat stuff usually works far better than the ballads with DeGraw, and Something Worth Saving hasn’t really changed my mind.

For my tastes, Gavin DeGraw just writes better upbeat pop than he does ballads, which tends towards the self-indulgently melancholy in his hands.  There are exceptions (think Not Over You), and this album has an odd exception or two (Say I Am is a successful ballad, and Annalee is an upbeat presentation with a subversive lyric), but still, the pattern holds pretty well.

Recommendation: Try it

Songs I have a playlist for: She Sets The City On Fire, Kite Like Girl, Say I Am, Analee

Songs I will thumbs down: Makin Love With the Radio On, Harder to Believe, Something Worth Saving

Album Review – All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend – AURORA

All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend is the first full album from 19 year-old Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes. The first thing I noticed is that she has a pleasant, sometimes child-like voice with a range and sound that reminds me a lot of Kate Bush, except that she has a clarity of sound that I never really got from Kate Bush.

The first thing I noticed is that she has a pleasant, sometimes child-like voice with a range and sound that reminds me a lot of Kate Bush, except that she has a clarity of sound that I never really got from Kate Bush.

I listened to the Deluxe version of the album, which clocks in with a hefty 17 tracks. And I enjoyed it the whole time. She really does have a nice voice and a sure sense of song. From her sweet and touching cover of Half The World Away to the tom tom driven Conquerer, to even the mostly too simple Through The Eyes of a Child, Aurora really showcases her voice and range.

While this album is clearly a pop album, it dabbles all over the place – there are folk strains here, electronica there; nothing jars but there is plenty of varied approaches throughout the album.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Runaway, Conqueror, Winter Bird, Half The World 

Clunkers  I will Thumbs Down: I got tired of Through The Eyes of a Child really fast.

Song Spotlight: Here With Me – Susie Suh with Robot Koch

I really need to make friends with some music directors for televisions shows. They find the most amazing things sometimes. Take Here With Me by Susie Suh, with Robot Koch…I heard this for the first time on The Blacklist. It was an interesting song for that spot in the show, and it’s even better just as a song to listen to.

 

Album Review: My Wild West – Lissie

My Wild West opens with a kind of maudlin reminiscence of California in Hollywood. I feel like this entire album is a forlorn breakup album with LA or California…I’m not exactly sure which.

Not that it means My Wild West is a bad album. It’s just a little self-absorbed at times. Lissie is a good song writer, with a taste for pretty straightforward pop, and occasionally something more folk-inflected. He voice is always a little husky, a little gravely. It’s just that sometimes, she a little too slick for her own good.

In any event, the album starts out with a breakup song for  some part of her life, and ends up with a love song for some new part of her life, in Ojai, which is clearly a about her retreat and rejuvenation in the moderately remote Ojai, California. In between, she has some chargier stuff (My Wild West, Hero, Daughters) and some stuff that’s a little more reflective and introspective (Stay, Go For a Walk).

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I Have a Playlist For: Don’t You Give Up On Me, Together or Apart, Hollywood

Clunkers I Will Thumbs Down: Hero

Album Review – All I Need – Foxes

All I Need is a quintesessital 2010’s pop album. From big, dance-friendly pop singles like Body Talk to open-hearted ballads like If You Leave Me Now to big throated numbers like Wicked LoveAll I Need delivers radio-friendly modern pop that’s enjoyable and easy to listen to.

By the same token, that is its greatest fault, as well. While Louisa Rose Allen has crafted an album that is lyrically more personal than her first out, it is musically less varied. It’s easy to lose All I Need to the background when you want to be more invested in what you’re listening to.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Better LoveWicked LoveLose My Cool

Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Devil Side

Song Spotlight: Bright Lights and Cityscapes by Sara Barielles

 

If you like pop music and you don’t now Sara Bareilles yet, where have you been? over 5 albums (one self-released) and an EP, she has managed to generate some of the most consistently good song writing in the last decade.  Is she the best? I would say probably not. But she’s always good, her songs are alway listenable, and her concerts are some of the most fun you can have in any state of dress in the US.

Bright Lights and Cityscapes is probably my favorite of all her songs.

Album Review: Confessions of a Romance Novelist by The Anchoress

I want to say I liked Confessions of a Romance Novelist a lot more than I think I probably really did. So I’ll say I really wanted to like the solo debut of Catherine Anne Davies a lot more than I did.

With a husky voice, an alt-pop sensibility, and a sound that is reminds me of a cross between Kate Bush and Tori Amos, there’s a lot to like with The Anchoress’ album. There’s some decent song writing, strong musicianship, and wonderful singing on this album.

What then is my problem? Well, really, it comes down to the fact that it’s just not an album that I am inclined to sit down and just listen to. I found I enjoyed it most when I had it on as background music to doing random tasks. I played it while loading servers. I played it while playing computer games. I played it while reading. And when I played it, it fit my mood and make the task more enjoyable. All good things.

But when I sat down to just listen to the album, I often found my attention wandering in other directions. Still, it’s well made and I really do like Catherine Anne Davies’ voice. And there weren’t any songs that I really didn’t like. No songs that made me instantly hit the skip button.

Recommendation: Stream it

Songs I have a playlist for: You and Only You, Chip on Your Shoulder, Rivers of Ice

Clunkers I will thumbs down: There weren’t any.