Important LGBTQIA Musicians to Check Out

Happy Pride Month! Here’s a list of some modern musical acts who are members of or associated with the queer community (alphabetically, of course):

Against Me!
Key Album(s): New Wave, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Key Track(s): True Trans Soul Rebel, Unconditional Love, Two Coffins

Angel Haze
Key Album(s): Reservation, Dirty Gold
Key Track(s): Werkin Girls, New York, Battle Cry

Anohni
Key Album(s): Hopelessness
Key Track(s): Drone Bomb Me, Violent Men

Frank Ocean
Key Album(s): Nostalgia, Ultra., Channel Orange
Key Track(s): Thinkin’ Bout You, Forrest Gump, Swim Good, Pyramids

G.L.O.S.S
Key Album(s): Trans Day Of Revenge
Key Track(s): Fight, We Live, Trans Day Of Revenge

The Internet
Key Album(s): Ego Death
Key Track(s): Girl, Gabby

Le1f
Key Album(s): Riot Boi
Key Track(s): Rage, Swirl

Lowell
Key Album(s): We Loved Her Dearly
Key Track(s): Lgbt, The Sun, 88

Passion Pit
Key Album(s): Kindred, Gossamer
Key Track(s): Lifted Up (1985), Take A Walk, It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy, Where The Sky Hangs

Perfume Genius
Key Album(s): Too Bright
Key Track(s): Queen, My Body, Longpig

PWR BTTM
Key Album(s): Ugly Cherries
Key Track(s): 1994, Dairy Queen, I Wanna Boi

RuPaul
Key Album(s): Supermodel Of The World, Champion, Born Naked
Key Track(s): Supermodel (You Better Work), Sissy That Walk, Born Naked, The Beginning

Seth Bogart
Key Album(s): Seth Bogart
Key Track(s): Eating Makeup, Barely 21

Shamir
Key Album(s): Ratchet
Key Track(s): Call It Off, Hot Mess, Demon

Tegan and Sara
Key Album(s): The Con, Sainthood, Heartthrob
Key Track(s): Back In Your Head, Closer, I Was A Fool, Boyfriend, Stop Desire

Troye Sivan
Key Album(s): Blue Neighborhood
Key Track(s): Youth, Wild, Ease, Heaven

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Love You To Death, For Better Or For Worse

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Image via Tegan and Sara, Vapor, and Warner Bros.

Album Review: Tegan and Sara – Love You To Death

Two of the most important musicians in not only modern music, but the LGBTQIA movement, Tegan and Sara Quin, have released their eighth full length album: Love You To Death. After more than twenty years in the music business, the sister duo from Calgary, Alberta — Canada, in layman’s terms — have gone through yet another sonic change. The duo’s 2013 release Heartthrob, was their first real foray into the sheen that is pop music, and the album proved that no matter what T&S did, it would be work. Prior to LYTD and Heartthrob, the sisters stuck heavily to a guitar base sound; they focused on acoustics, and lyrics darker and colder than the open plains of Canada. As the years went on, they opened up their pallet and expanded their sound, all culminating to the pop landmark that they’re currently poised on. Never mainstream, but never needing to be, Tegan and Sara perfect the pop sound they’ve dabbled with, and fully succeed; they’ve tackled pop’s current and never ending obsession with 80’s synth, and do it better than ever before.

Producers and sounds may have changed for the duo, but what hasn’t is their sharp tongues and cutthroat emotional delivery. After self producing their work, and featuring producers like Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie on past albums, the band re-recruited Greg Kurstin as their main co-producer. Kurstin previously worked on Heartthrob with the duo. Kurstin is also one of the most interesting producers in pop music. He doesn’t use recycled beats ála Dr. Luke, yet creates music and beats with mosaic indents layered all over; it’s pop done right and well.

Tegan and Sara stick to the song writing on LYTD and what the listener gets is another entry from each of their respective journals. Another reason why the album works so well is due to the Quin’s maturity. As Tegan and Sara approach the age of thirty-five, their music also reaches peak maturity. They understand the fun approach their music can have when paired with the right musical backing, but don’t sacrifice emotionality to sell a record.

On Heartthrob, the sister’s called Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Lily Allen as their main modern musical influences. However, they also called out many artists from the 80’s and early 90’s such as Kate Bush, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Ace of Base. Heartthrob worked so well because it was almost a complete genre piece, cohesively flowing very well until the end of the album. LYTD works well in places because the sisters don’t use the sonic changes to their detriment; however, it seems without Heartthrob, the current effort wouldn’t exist. They took three years to figure out what worked and what didn’t.

Right from the start, the sisters lament lost love, growing older, and the changes they see in not only themselves, but in each other. Another ever present theme is their openness about sexuality. Both openly gay, the twins sing about the struggles of dealing with their partners. The album opens with the mid-tempo ‘That Girl’ as to almost give the listener a direct sequel song to the mid-tempo tail end of Heartthrob. ‘That Girl’ features a pounding 808 beat with a soft rock piano backing. It sounds and feels like an interlude as the only real interesting part of the song is the chorus, but the song as a whole isn’t bad: it’s just a very uninteresting way to open an album.

However, LYTD begins to pick up immediately. ‘Faint of Heart’ while still somewhat mid-tempo, would have been an almost better opening track as it’s fully realized with an explosive jangle pop sound meshed with heavy drum beats. Kurstin plays with drum and percussion beats throughout the album, adding to it’s modern 80’s perfections. The lead single, ‘Boyfriend’ is next. ‘Boyfriend’ features journalistic lyrics surrounding a relationship between two women, but with one of them being unfamiliar with a same-sex relationship dynamic. The song already sounds like a modern blueprint for queer pop. The duo openly sing so proudly about the struggle gays and lesbians face while in a relationship with someone who may not be fully out and open.

‘Dying To Know’ features lyrics about looking at a past love and sounds almost hip-hop like. Between ‘Dying To Know’ and the somewhat middling mid-tempo ‘White Knuckles’, is the best song on LYTD and perhaps the best song in Tegan and Sara’s discography: ‘Stop Desire’. It’s an explosive monster of a song. The lyrics are sensual and brilliant, and mirror the twin’s song off of Heartthrob, ‘Closer’. The song almost sounds like a piece of writing off one of their older albums such as The Con or Sainthood, but with a huge musical backing. More importantly, what makes ‘Stop Desire’ an amazing piece of music is the fact that it’s a song basically about sex that isn’t sexualizing a sexuality that is fetishized by mainstream audiences. The pre-chorus is musical perfection: “get me / feel me / want me / like me / love me / need me” It’s sung almost as a whisper, and captures the throws of passion in relationships.

‘100x’ is very Bangles and is the breakup equivalent to ‘Eternal Flame’. The following song ‘BWU’ — short for ‘Be With You’ — is another song that sounds very Sainthood and ‘U-Turn’ is the most synth happy song on the album. ‘100x’ features some of the darkest lyrics ever sung by the band: “I swear I tried to leave you / At least a hundred times a day / I swear I tried to tell you / A thousand times, a different way” Backed by only a piano and a vocoder, the duo sing about leading someone on and being in the wrong — an aspect sometimes left out of the ‘blame game’ when relationships come to and end. The album ends with an ‘it gets better’ anthem: ‘Hang On To The Night’. After nine tracks of heartbreak, love and love lost, sexuality, and romance, the band closes the album with this tenth track. ‘Hang On’ finds the sisters proclaiming the pain of not being over someone and hanging on to every last word, but looking forward to eventually and hopefully moving on.

Not only is ‘Love You To Death’ the best pop album released in 2016 thus far, it’s also one of the best albums to come out this year in general. It’s a simple and short ten track album that never feels too long or too short. It features some slower songs that may take a listen or two to fully appreciate, but it’s suffice to say that the Quin’s latest album is also one of their best. Sonically cohesive and lyrically fully realized, Tegan and Sara have reached the apex of music. But, what’s so amazing is that they’ll still find a way to climb higher and get that much better.

The Best Albums of 2016… So Far

As we approach the midway point of 2016, it’s nice to look back on the best album releases of the year thus far. With half a year of albums to come, some early quarter release albums may get forgotten about when the end of the year rolls around. Other than buzzy will they — won’t they drops by Beyonce & Rihanna, a final will & testament from the late David Bowie, and some under the radar albums here and there, the first half of 2016 has been relatively quiet for releases. I’ll link songs to each album so you can check out the superbness of each release. (Queen Bey’s album is nowhere other than Tidal and Itunes, so if you haven’t heard it, take my word for it – its awesome – go check out the previews, or hey, buy it.)

  1. Lemonade – Beyonce
  2. Black Star – David Bowie
  3. untitled unmastered. – Kendrick Lamar
  4. Anti – Rihanna
  5. The Next Thing – Frankie Cosmos
  6. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter – Margo Price
  7. Moth – Chairlift
  8. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
  9. Full Circle – Loretta Lynn
  10. Hopelessness – Anohni
  11. Standards – Into It. Over It.
  12. The Wilderness – Explosions in the Sky
  13. Human Performance – Parquet Courts
  14. Seth Bogart – Seth Bogart
  15. The Colour in Anything – James Blake

Other Albums to Check Out

Last week I compiled a list of the most influential and important releases of the 2010’s so far. It’s been a great decade for music as of yet, and there are so many other amazing albums that could have been included. I’m a sucker for music of all types and kinds and I also wanted to include a list of albums that are just as good that almost made the cut. These albums are also worth checking out:

1989 – Taylor Swift: A grandiose pop masterpiece inspired by pop albums that have come before

Yeezus – Kanye West: A punk-rap manifesto; biting and gritty

Heartthrob – Tegan & Sara: The Canadian Duo’s brightest — and best album to date

Good Kid m.A.A.d City – Kendrick Lamar: The breakthrough of the rebellious poet

Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter: An Important album for the indie rock songbook

Let England Shake – PJ Harvey: Complex, understated, and rebellious

Take Care – Drake: Drake takes experimental R&B and pop to the next level

Pure Heroine – Lorde: Minimal and dark, Lorde’s songwriting is masterful

Celebration Rock – Japandroids: Punk and heavy with introspective songwriting

Have One On Me – Joanna Newsome: Folk music meets the harp on this epic album

Red – Taylor Swift: Grandiose, and genre bending, Swift begins her pop
transformation here

Section 80 – Kendrick Lamar: The first album from Lamar is also one his most gritty

Watch the Throne – Kayne West & Jay Z: Two of the best MCs ever team up for this effort

Whokill – Tuneyards: Weird, witty, and crazy, pop at it’s best

Nostalgia, Ultra – Frank Ocean: A dark and shiny R&B album from one of music’s best singers

4 – Beyonce: Meshing Stevie Wonder with late 80’s R&B, Bey creates a masterfully fun album

Trouble Will Find Me – The National: The sad boys give emo an alternative makeover

Lonerism – Tame Impala: Brings 60’s psychedelia to the modern era

Lazaretto – Jack White: Jack White proves that he is a true master on the guitar with this album

Big Grrrl Small World – Lizzo: Rebellious, feminist, and powerful

Vulnicura – Bjork: One of the oddest voices in music is also one of the best

The 35 Most Important & Influential Albums of the 2010’s

We’re midway through the 2010’s and our ears have been graced with beautiful lyrics, impressive beats, funky guitar riffs, and impeccable rhyming ála some hip-hop greats. From groundbreaking releases, to under the radar hits, these 35 significant albums are some of the best to come out in the past five years and it would be deplorable to ignore their momentous importance and future influence. The albums on this list are vital releases that will shape the artists of tomorrow; these are the blueprints for the eventual work they will make.

35. The Idler Wheel… (2012) – Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple’s triumphant return to music was just that, triumphant. With the release of her 2012 masterpiece, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do, or known simply as The Idler Wheel, Apple changed her sound with avant-garde quick wit and an experimental sound. Her lyrics cut deep and music cuts deeper, all culminating in Apple’s best work to date.

34. Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014) – Against Me!

When Laura Jane Grace (formally Tom Gabel) came out as a transgender woman, she shocked the music world and became an important voice for the trans and queer community. Grace’s coming out and transitioning helped to form the band’s sixth album. The album gave new meaning to the word ‘queercore’ as the lyrics tell the story of gender dysphoria and being trapped in the wrong body. Gripping and taut with a newly invigorated sense of kinetic energy, Against Me! create a critical and essential album not only for future queer artists, but artists of all backgrounds, genders, and sexualities.

33. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) – Courtney Barnett

Barnett’s 2015 epic changed the perceived sound of indie rock. As Sheryl Crow as it is Ramones, Barnett’s gritty sing-talk voice meshed with her sunny and crunchy guitar sound lead to an invigorating listen. Barnett’s lyrics are storybook like and feature biting lyrical work from the young singer. What’s most important about the release is the hope that many young girls follow suit and pick up a guitar and begin their musical careers.

32. LP1 (2014) – FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs has been called the closest thing we have to late R&B princess Aaliyah and the comparisons are rightfully true. Twigs experimental approach to everything in her music elevates her to a level not found by many other musicians. Her lyrics are heavy and sexually frustrating, while her light and airy voice carry the listener through an otherworldly experience. She’s punk, she’s pop, she’s R&B, she’s music.

31. El Camino (2011) – The Black Keys

With 2011’s El Camino, The Black Key’s created their best and most captivating work to date. It’s goofy, nostalgic, and gritty as all hell. The duo mold seventies glam rock into fuzzy garage band sound with bitting and gripping pop hooks. As sing-along as it is head-banging, El Camino is one of the best straightforward rock albums to come out this decade and will probably remain one of the best by the time 2020 rolls around — that is unless, the duo release another album to rival El Camino’s greatness.

30. Body Talk (2010) – Robyn

The queen of Swedish pop music went from radio friendly teen pop to masterful synth ladened genre smashing music with the release of Body Talk. Hailed as the first straightforward blueprint of what pop music would be for the 2010’s, Robyn’s album set the stage for what modern pop could and should be: pop music could be radio friendly all while being deep and listenable. Pop music should be taken seriously; Robyn helps us see what pop really is and all it could eventually become.

29. Teen Dream (2010) – Beach House

The American-French duo Beach House come into their own on their third studio album Teen Dream. The band added new meaning to the term ‘dream pop’ by combining early 90’s shoe gaze with a Phil Spector ‘wall of sound’ twang. The end result is a dreamy and hypnotic album that pulls at the senses and requires a close ear for listening. Listen hard and deeply not to miss any of the inflections in singer Victoria Legrand’s soft and warm voice. Beach House is a band that must be taken seriously as their impact on the indie scene is an important one.

28. Ultraviolence (2014) – Lana Del Rey

Del Rey’s 2014 rock opera explores the in’s and out’s of making it big and leaving behind all the boys who did you wrong. Even if it hurts exponentially. The listener explores the inner workings of Del Rey’s sadomasochism as she samples 60’s girl groups, sings about how hatred feels like love, and sounds almost Manson family-like as she traipses through songs about her broken heart. The music is mostly helmed by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and he adds a dusty 70’s desert sound that compliments Del Rey’s husky voice and introspective lyrics. No one else does torch-punk like her.

27. St. Vincent (2014) – St. Vincent

St. Vincent, the pseudonym of musician Annie Clark, finds her magnum opus in her 2014 self titled. The art-rock epic is a short and sweet 11 tracks that all work in such a succinct and tight packed order. The crunchy punk sound mashed up with Clark’s beautiful voice and wry lyrics lead to an important genre piece. Next to her game changing music videos released from the album, Clark set a precedent for the modern woman in music. Similar to Barnett’s release, Clark’s should inspire many women out there to pick up a guitar and create art.

26. AM (2013) – Arctic Monkeys

The band’s fifth album is also their most successful; success is terms of sales, acclaim, and the tour that followed. Their darkest release yet, the band swims through Zeppelin-like hard rock, and Beatles psychedelia. The lyrics are introspective and like the music, heavy. Turner’s lyrics have reach an apex of confusion, lust, hate, and love.

25. Paramore (2013) – Paramore

Four years after the release of their album Brand New Eyes, the last album to feature the band’s full and longtime lineup, Paramore released their version of the long famed breakup album. It seems they found their stride as a trio as their self titled is also their best album to date. The album is 17 long tracks, but the success is in the fact that the album never feels overlong or drawn out. Even after the hour long listen, you’re left wanting more. Working with Justin Medal-Johnson, the band combines hard rock with their typical punk sound and add pop to the mix. Also featured is post rock, shoegaze, acoustic rock, indie pop, new jack swing. The mash up of genre never feels wrong and no one sound is misplaced on the record.

24. Sound & Color (2015) – Alabama Shakes

One of the most bluesy albums to come out in the new decade, Alabama Shakes created a sound set to last a lifetime on Sound & Color. Lead singer Brittany Howard screams her way through the album cementing her place as one of the best vocalists in modern music. Her voice is James Brown meets Sister Rosetta Tharpe meets Kathleen Hanna. Her backing music is soulful, rootsy, and emotional. The funky record is a must listen as it’s new psychedelia sound transcends the idea of what modern alternative rock should be.

23. Born This Way (2011) – Lady Gaga

The epicenter of queer music, Lady Gaga’s masterful second album finds the singer adding a more eclectic sound to her brand of pop music. Her debut dabbled in late 70’s disco while Born This Way finds it’s influence in hair metal, 80’s stadium rock, and jazz. The album is Springsteen meets Whitney all while containing the important message of acceptance and self love. Gaga set the stage for the ‘it get’s better’ anthems that would follow, but her’s was the best and she remains an important voice for and of the people.

22. Teenage Dream (2010) – Katy Perry

Arguably the most important and successful pop album of not only the 2010’s, but of all time, Perry’s Teenage Dream set a new precedent for pop music. Bright, introspective, and sometimes dark, Dream is Perry’s most realized work to date. The album featured seven number singles, and a new sound for Perry; gone is the electronic guitar work of her debut. Working with more producers, Perry finds herself in the music. Her album features some of the finest music to come out as of late; the title track is one of the best songs to come out in our modern era. With Teenage Dream, Perry reminded us what it meant to have a truly successful album.

21. Trilogy (2012) – The Weeknd

A compilation album covering three of The Weeknd’s extended plays, the PBR&B singer-songwriter takes us through his sexual escapades and heartbreaks over the course of three discs and thirty songs. Sometimes brutally honest and other times brutally sad, The Weeknd successfully combined sex driven R&B with commercially friendly pop, equaling something similar to that of Prince and Michael Jackson.

20. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011) – M83

French electronic band M83’s sixth studio album found them exploring the realm of what electronic music could really be. Taking their ‘indie’ cred to the next level, M83 included acoustic guitars and saxophones amongst other instruments not previously included in their work. In turn, the listening experience transcends electronic music and we’re given a full bodied musical event.

19. No Cities to Love (2014) – Sleater-Kinney

Called the best rock band of the past two decades, Sleater-Kinney’s triumphant return to music after a ten year hiatus is a must listen. Successfully combining post-punk with a proto-punk Patti Smith-esque sound, No Cities to Love is one of the most rewarding albums of the past decade. It’s heavy and features important themes surrounding empowerment and features an anthemic sound, thus is a welcoming return for the well-beloved band.

18. Art Angels (2015) – Grimes

On Claire Boucher’s fourth album she explores complex themes all backed by an experimental art-pop sound. While it is more accessible than her previous release, Visions, Boucher does not sacrifice anything that makes her, her. She creates her own brand of pop music and it’s weirder, softer, heavier and more complex than anything else out there right now.

17. The ArchAndroid (2010) – Janelle Monae

An experimental musical journey that travels from Bowie to Outkast, Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid was a stepping stone in the new alternative styling of hip-hop. A concept album of sorts, Janelle tells the story of an android falling in love with a human and throughout the story there are themes of love, hate, and self-actualization. Through her amazing voice and intense rap skills, Monae proves she is not one to mess with.

16. Days Are Gone (2013) – Haim

Sisters are doing it for themselves — that’s the overarching theme of the 2013 Days Are Gone. A trio of sister musicians, consisting of Este (on Bass), Danielle (on guitar), and Alana (on drums) combine their witty personalities, extreme musical talent, and high-brow songwriting skill. The album is sunny and is a new take on rock music. It’s an interesting take on what would happen if TLC and Fleetwood Mac formed a supergroup; and the result is an impeccable one.

15. In Colour (2015) – Jamie xx

Jamie Smith of the British indie pop band The xx releases his first solo album as a solo artist and producer. Preforming under the moniker Jamie xx, as to show semblance for his band, Jamie executes one of the most successful electronic albums of all time. Seamlessly combining electronic beats with hip-hop swagger, the album comes off as a huge success. The surprise collaboration between Jamie, Young Thug, and Popcaan is the highlight and it smashes the senses like no other.

14. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011) – Bon Iver

Bon Iver’s approach to baroque pop is where their successes lie. Lead singer, and musician Justin Vernon expands the band’s palette on their second go around; drums are abound, horns and brass are all over the place, and Vernon raises the volume by four notches — nothing more, nothing less. The beautiful use of autotune is still there and it goes to show that if someone like Kanye West finds influence in the band, they’re highly worth noticing.

13. Run The Jewels 2 (2014) – Run The Jewels

The rap duo consisting of Killer Mike and EL-P released their second full length album in 2014 and it features a darker and heavier tone compared to their debut LP. The production is heavily layered and complex, the duo have a brand of chemistry unmatched by others and the album is a full success on every level.

12. Currents (2015) – Tame Impala

Not only is Tame Impala one of the best rock bands currently around, they’re one of the best musical acts overall. Transcending genre, changing their sound ever so slightly to show growth, Currents features a sound unparalleled. The great part about Tame Impala is the idea that their body of work is so strong that any of their albums released this decade could have been featured on this list. Currents is included because of the change they went through, lead singer Kevin Parker’s attention to detail to the music and lyrics, and their living breathing influence already taking place.

11. Modern Vampires of the City (2013) – Vampire Weekend

Ezra Koenig and the boys of Vampire Weekend have finally graduated college. The obvious maturity and growth is omnipresent on the band’s third studio album. It’s more grandiose than any of their previous releases and can be considered their own Sgt. Pepper’s. It’s much deeper and darker than anything they’ve ever done and the band’s lyrics hit deep. Band member and main producer Rostam Batmanglij handles the production and the result is rather unconventional but ultimately satisfying. God save the vampires.

10. Same Trailer, Different Park (2013) – Kacey Musgraves

The country star with a heart of gold. Kacey Musgraves masterful debut is quiet, all while being exponentially loud in theme and lyrical detail. One of — if not the first — country singer to sing about equal rights for all, Kacey is the one modern country act who is moving forward with the times. With Taylor Swift now playing for team pop, it seems country has to rely on Kacey to be their savior. And if her debut is any sign of what’s to come, the genre is in good hands.

9. Wrecking Ball (2012) – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is one of the most influential and important musical acts of all time. From rock staples Born to Run, The River, and Born in the USA, a new staple, and modern classic for him comes in the form of folk and heartland rock. 2012’s epic Wrecking Ball is poetry in motion. Bruce has always been the everyman and has championed the underdog his entire career; it’s on Wrecking Ball where he returns to the home that built him. The lyrics are a brutal take on American culture and the music is similar to that of Springsteen’s Nebraska. Sparse, folky, and emotional, it might be one of Bruce’s best albums to date.

8. Random Access Memories (2013) – Daft Punk

After a nearly ten year hiatus from music, Daft Punk returned in 2013 with their best album yet. RAM is their take on Giorgio Moroder inspired disco. Along with features from Nile Rodgers, Pharrell and Julian Casablancas, the electronic duo take the listener on a journey through 70’s funk and early 80’s dance.

7. The Suburbs (2010) – Arcade Fire

The Canadian band’s ode to the suburbs is part rock opera, part concept album, and full masterpiece. Not only did the album truly shine a light on the importance of the band, but it proved that modern independently labeled bands could also be a success. The band mixes hefty alternative rock with a post punk sound, and in turn create a spiritual listen. It’s contemplative, deep, and fully realized.

6. Channel Orange (2012) – Frank Ocean

A redefining genre piece. Frank Ocean’s debut studio album changed the face of R&B, Hip-Hop, and the music industry. After Ocean revealed his love songs were about a man, he became the face of queer culture and helped to usher in the idea that homosexuality could be successful in a genre that was lacking in it. It’s dynamic, manic, and introspective.

5. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Kanye West

West’s ‘comeback’ album of sorts after many a public meltdown, MBDTF features a broken down and submissive West. It’s marxist, cubist, didactic, and dadaistic. It’s art created in the form of music. West is the the anti-hero none of us want to root for, but want to see succeed so badly. It flows cohesively and West’s vision is fully realized, maybe for the first time.

4. 21 (2011) – Adele

One of the most commercially successful albums of all time is also one of the most acclaimed and important releases of the decade. Adele’s 21 sold 30 million albums in the blink of an eye and resulted in multiple number one smash hits. A new wave Amy Winehouse — sans controversy, Adele mastered the art of soulful songwriting and breakup song cohesion. The result is a perfect soul album that explores all the corners of the heart.

3. Beyoncé (2013) – Beyoncé

An album so important it resulted in becoming a verb: Beyonced.The album that was randomly released, but was so seemingly and masterfully planned out, it helps to add an element of magic back to music. Beyonce is one of the few artists that do feminism right and proud, and her self titled is a blueprint of what feminism is. Empowering, emotional, and experimental, Bey steps out of the ‘pop-star’ image and into the legends category. While her newest release Lemonade may go down as the more acclaimed release, it’s the urgency and power that Beyoncé created that makes it so special and important.

2. Speak Now (2010) – Taylor Swift

In 2010, the — at the time — country singer-songwriter, Taylor Swift released, what was assumed to be, her magnum opus: Speak Now. The album was the last to feature Taylor as the country singer, and her swan song is a spectacular one. What makes Speak Now so special and important is the maturity that is ladened in it’s creation. Swift’s songwriting is nuanced and intricate; she weaves spider webs of statements throughout hooks and bridges, encapsulating what it means to be heartbroken. Next to her attention to lyrical detail is the album’s production. Swift worked on Speak Now’s music and lyrics all on her own. The album was in production while Swift was 19 and it’s hard to believe a 19 year old created something so magical. While her 2012 epic Red features some of her most ambitious work, and her 2014 game changer 1989 may go down as Swift’s biggest album yet, it’s Speak Now that remains the beginning of Swift’s magic; her first fully realized album is as Joni as it is Stevie, and it was crazy think that it was just the beginning.

1. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Kendrick Lamar

Not only was TPAB the best release of 2015, it’s the best album to come out in the current decade; it might also be the best album of the new century — and we’re barely sixteen years into it. Lamar’s album could not have been released at a more tumultuous time. The album touches upon mental illness, racism, parenthood, and love. Kendrick blends avant-garde jazz with hip-hop, and punk. He attacks himself as much as he attacks the critics and it’s his self aware nature that helps the album succeed. It’s dense and hard to listen to – but sometimes, albums this important and groundbreaking shouldn’t come easy; TPAB needs to be slowly digested and listened to over a long period of time as to take in every important detail of it. Lamar has created a masterpiece, and he has cemented his place as a legend.

Delirious Over Delirium

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Image via Ellie Goulding & Polydor

 

Album Review: Ellie Goulding – Delirium

Ellie Goulding, the wispy voiced British singer-songwriter finds herself crafting a larger than life experience on her newest album. 2015’s Delirium is Goulding’s first attempt at a bombastic pop album ála Taylor Swift’s 1989: synth heavy, confessional, with a bevy of impressive production. Goulding’s career took off in 2010 after her impressive debut Lights exploded across the pond when she released “Your Song,” a cover of Elton John’s hit. Goulding’s unconventional approach to her brand of pop music is what made her so interesting to listen to. Lights only featured three producers alongside Goulding, and her followup, 2012’s Halcyon, while featuring more than the aforementioned, still kept Goulding on a more restrained leash. Her sound was growing more lush, but it didn’t reach it’s full height and sound until now. She abandons her typical style for a more verse-chorus pop approach and the payoff is largely rewarding.

Returning to help Goulding with her latest effort is Greg Kurstin (Tegan & Sara), as well as production gurus Ryan Tedder and Mozella. Swedish pop is what is the main influence on many songs; Robyn seems to weigh heavy on the album. Klas Ahlund, Peter Svensson, Ilya Salmanzadeh, and Max Martin, four of the biggest names in pop music, and all from Sweden, lend their genial touch. The production, while not a super far cry from Goulding’s other work, is definitely more grown up. She finds herself flowing gracefully with the music and not letting it overdo her willowy and light vocals. What seems to be the most interesting is how her voice almost melds with the music, resulting in an ethereal sensation.

The track list is a tad daunting and Delirium could have been edited down a track or three and some of the filler tracks could have been relegated to bonus track setting. The album opens with the “Intro,”a two minute long interlude that features only Goulding’s voice, and leads into the second track “Aftertaste,” resulting in an almost six minute serenade. The song is about trying to get over someone and that seems to be the main focus of the album: heartbreak and starting over.

“Something In the Way You Move” is the first taste of the all-pop extravaganza that Goulding is laying out for us. It’s a perfect verse-chorus friendly song with introspective lyrics and a dance heavy beat. It features production from Greg Kurstin and is similar to that of Tegan & Sara’s 2012 Heartthrob. Kurstin’s co-productions are the best songs on the album; they seem to balance Goulding’s indie pop persona and her new bombastic pop sound. The most pop Goulding has ever sounded comes through on lead single “On My Mind”; Max Martin helms the production of the song and it sounds like a mixture of Rihanna, The Police, and Robyn all rolled into one. The lyrics are rumored to be about ex-flame Ed Sheeran, and is a comeback song to Sheeran’s “Don’t” which again, is rumored to be about Goulding. The highpoint of the song is Goulding’s confidence. The chorus is layered with her voice triumphantly stating, “You think you know somebody.”

Another highlight is “Codes,” where Goulding sings about the mixed messages that come with relationships. The Martin helmed track is shiny and while radio friendly, is more interesting than anything on the radio right now. “Holding on for Life” is very Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, featuring a gospel inspired hook, and “Don’t Need Nobody” features a grinding dance beat. The best track on the album is “We Can’t Move to This.” Together Goulding and Kurstin took a sample from “It’s Over Now” by 112. The song is kinetic, weird, and joyful all at once. It’s journalistic, confessional and wrapped up in one of the most interesting dancehall beats laid out in some time.

One misstep was including the song “Love Me Like You Do” from the film Fifty Shades of Grey on the album. What’s worse is that the song is titled as “Love Me Like You Do (From Fifty Shades of Grey)” which completely breaks up any cohesion the album was looking to make.

If you decide to check out the deluxe album, it’s an extra nine songs: the best, “I Do What I Love”. Goulding presents to us, in all, 26 tracks. It’s an intense listening experience and some of the more interesting songs will attack the palette at full force. It can be overbearing at times, but it’s still one of the best pop albums to come out in a while. It’s mature and heavy and very reminiscent of 80’s goth-pop like Joy Division: you can dance and you can cry — it’s a full circle album experience.

Not Much Purpose to Purpose

 

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Image via Justin Bieber, RBMG, and Def Jam Records

Album Review: Justin Bieber – Purpose

Well, ladies and gentlemen, he’s back — the Biebs is back. After three years of no music, nonstop controversies, and inspiring words for his legion of fans (Beliebers), Justin Bieber has dropped his fourth full length studio album. The album, titled Purpose, is a concept album of sorts; we follow his journey over the last few years. He makes himself a character, the center of the story, and this character experiences the ups and downs of fame and life in the limelight. It’s suffice to say the album verges on high levels of vanity as we journey through Bieber’s pleas for apology and forgiveness, but it should be noted that he’s finally found a smart musical direction. However, his idea of a ‘mature’ album is far from the actual definition of the word.

Bieber’s longtime manager, producer, and friend Scooter Braun is back for the Purpose ride. Bieber also enlists Jason ‘Poo Bear’ Boyd — a friend— as the main co-writer and producer. We also get standout tracks from Skrillex and Diplo; the two producers known collectively as Jack Ü, give Bieber the most to work with on the album. Along with the bevy of producers and songwriters, the album features three guest vocalists: rappers Big Sean, Travis Scott, and up and coming singer Halsey. All three of the collaborations are laid out one after another on the track listing which, in hindsight, was an odd choice.

The first two tracks, the mid tempo ‘Mark My Words’ and ‘I’ll Show You’ are middling at best and do nothing to show Bieber’s growth as an artist. ‘Words’ is repetitive and not distinct enough to strike the first match Purpose so desperately needs. After the slow start we fall into ‘single’ territory as the first three singles released from the album all follow in succinct order. ‘What Do You Mean’ co-produced by Bieber himself is one of the standouts on the album, if only because of it’s production; the standout out musical element is the flute line found throughout the song. Following is the best song on the album, and the best song in Bieber’s songbook to date, ‘Sorry’. His vocals are not overproduced, the lyrics are mature, and the music production is distinct and unique. ‘Sorry’ is one of the tracks produced by Skrillex, and it’s odd to say, but the dubstep connoisseur leads Bieber to musical paradise.

After ‘Sorry’ we slow down again for the biting ‘Love Yourself’ and ‘Company’. ‘Love Yourself’ is bratty and immature. It wants to be a gripping and sarcastic breakup song, but Bieber’s songwriting skills aren’t at that level, and it’s obvious that he is not the least bit self aware enough to write a successful ‘sarcastic’ song. Co-written by Ed Sheeran, it’s surprising that the song doesn’t reach greater heights. Next up are the three songs featuring the guest vocalists. After a winning collab with Big Sean — 2012’s ‘As Long As You Love Me’— Bieber and Sean try to strike gold twice and unfortunately do not. The production on the song is fine, however, as Boyd and DJ team The Audibles have created a song similar to that of an early 2000’s Usher track. Very ‘U Got It Bad’.

On ‘No Sense’ Bieber tries too hard to play it cool next to Travis Scott. Scott’s guest verse isn’t bad, and the song would have been better if it was just his, and his alone. Next to ‘Sorry’, ‘The Feeling’ featuring Halsey is the other surprise standout track. The song isn’t gimmicky and features a more stripped down Bieber. Halsey sings the chorus and is more restrained than how she usually sounds on her own work. It’s a minimalist ballad that actually works — and well for that matter. Again, the track is Skrillex produced.

‘Life Worth Living’ features Bieber on the soapbox and at his most preachy. The chorus features the simple plea: “Life is worth living / so live another day.” The song might have worked if the production wasn’t dated and if Bieber didn’t sound like a self righteous preacher whilst singing it. The album ends on a strange note: ‘Children’ sees the singer trying to do his best Michael Jackson meets EDM mashup. The title track closes the album and features a spoken word interlude.

Bieber is on the right track. The main issue is that Justin, while he is growing, is still that: growing. He sees his past couple of turbulent years as fodder enough to make an important statement with Purpose. If his struggle throughout the past few years were anything other than what he went through, then the album would have worked. But his words only sound intermittently true and sincere. The production swallows Bieber and he loses himself. Musically the album is a step in the right direction. Lyrically, he needs some help, but that will probably come with age. ‘Sorry’ shows that it’s possible for Justin to reach true star power level, but he needs to grow and realize not everything is about him. If and when that time comes, he’ll be even more unstoppable than he is now.