Electropop groups are not good candidates for the unplugged treatment. It’s tough test, stripping away the heavy production and electronic atmospheres defines the genre. There’s not always a lot of strong writing or good musicianship underneath. So you can’t blame any group who leans heavily on bleep-bloops for not wanting to go all acoustic. Here, however, is an acoustic performance by noted bleep-bloop duo Broods, and guess what, it’s good. They’ve pulled the plaintive ballad out of a song that was originally halfway to being a club track. Georgia Nott doesn’t have the most outstanding voice, but she sings with feeling. It’s nice to see that there’s a genuine person behind the usually very glossy music, and there’s an emotional center to the song that may get lost in the production.
There are a lot of things to admire about Sia; her powerhouse voice, her artsy music videos, her clever response to the sex- and scandal- hungry celebrity culture that cannibalizes female artists. There are also things about her that may annoy you. For instance her tendency, as a professional songwriter, to engineer every tune for maximum back-row-of-the-stadium bombastic effect. Writing smash hits is her job. The result is that she fills her records with wannabe smashes that never quite get there. Nuance ain’t her bag. Then there’s her relentless positivity. Every song doesn’t have to be the triumphant anthem that scores the sports montage in an underdog movie, Sia. Not that she’s never written about anything dark; Chandelier, her biggest hit, is about her own alcoholism. It’s just that she makes everything sound like, well, the triumphant anthem that scores the sports montage in an underdog movie. This track was originally written for Rihanna, and you can see why she turned it down. Ri-Ri has a healthy sense of nuance, for all of her glamour, and she tends to steer away from the overly uplifting or sentimental. Uplift should be earned, not hammered home. On the other hand, there’s a place in every record library for an album full of nothing but aggressively fist-pumping pop anthems, and it should probably be This Is Acting.
Hey, did you know that The Joy Formidable released an album in 2016? No, how could you? Unless you actively follow their moves on social media, it’s hard to keep track of what indie bands are up to. The only mainstream music related publication still in print is Rolling Stone, and if anything, their focus has narrowed of late. I’ve heard that in the UK, there’s still a number of music magazines that actually cover new music and rising artists and the indie scene, but I don’t have access to those and I’m guessing you don’t either. My point is, there are many exciting events that occur without much fanfare from whatever you call the media, so you really have to do your own research. I would really love to see Ritzy Bryan get the rock star treatment; she could be on the cover of Rolling Stone, mostly naked in a lewd pose photographed by a known serial rapist. Ok, no, you know what, just keep doing what you’re doing Ritzy, you don’t need that shit. Indie artists can go on being indie artists and I think you’ll find it worthwhile to do the footwork, so to speak, of keeping up with them yourself.
I didn’t love Jake Bugg’s third album as much the first two, and apparently a lot of critics agreed with me. He tried to go in some new directions that really didn’t work. Not everybody is meant to rove all over the map, so to speak. At the risk of becoming that guy who just plows the same rut over and over, Bugg is best sticking at what he’s good at. Which is being a plaintive teen idol for girls who really regret that they missed out on 1962. I really regret that I missed out on 1962, and I love jailbaity young men with feelings, so I’m totally the target market here, and I find songs like this one irresistible. There may be an element of affectation in Bugg’s nostalgic aesthetic, and it would be insufferable without substance, but luckily the music is more than strong enough to balance it out. An artist this talented can allow himself all manner of affectation; in fact, the ability to carry an affectation and pull it off is what makes an artist interesting on top of just talented.
I highly recommend Paul Simon’s new (as of last year) album. It’s an acclaimed hit! It’s thoughtful, lovely music, which is what Paul Simon does best. It reminds us that mastery of gentle rumination should not be overlooked. It may not be the engine that drives popular music, but it’s no small talent. Soothing music isn’t just for coffee shops, y’all. And honestly, if it’s that easy to ignore it’s not soothing, it’s just boring. Soothing means to actively make you feel better, and I think Paul Simon does that. He does that not by being boring or trite, but by being thought provoking (and yes, sometimes still a little angsty.)
A little while back, I took us on a trip down memory lane to Rihanna’s very first single. It was a catchy, fun, fairly generic pop song, set apart only by the burgeoning charisma of its singer. Flash forward a decade. The singer is now one of the biggest pop stars in the world. The music is no longer generic pop. Up until recently the idea of loving a Rihanna album was hard to imagine; one loved Rihanna songs, yes, but there wasn’t really such a thing as a Rihanna album. A Rihanna album was a collection of Rihanna singles. However, Rihanna’s last album, Anti, is an album in the classic sense of the word – a unified statement not powered by hit singles. It still has elements of pop, but now there’s more interesting things at play; trip-hop, house, R’n’B, d’n’b, edm, etc. Rihanna executive produced the record and cowrote most of the songs, and all that creative control clearly shows that dancing in the sunshine was never her vision of herself.
Angel Olsen is a relatively new discovery. And when I say relatively new, I mean I found out about her about a year go, said ‘huh, cool’ and promptly forgot. But she’s been gaining traction since then, and I’ve heard her on the radio a bit. So eventually I just had to get her album, and I really liked it. She has a pretty voice! I know the market is rather glutted with singers of introspective piano ballads, as it always seems to be. Personally, I can only take so much of it with the introspective singer-songwriter stuff, but I know that some of you just can’t get enough. Pick and choose what you will, and how much you will. I just came here to say that I really like this woman’s record, and you probably will too, if you’re into that sort of thing.