Tkay Maidza - Tkay

Hip-hop loves to draw from its influences. Australian hip-hop artist Tkay Maidza draws from her African background in her debut record Tkay.

The Zimbabwean born Maidza has a lot of appeal in her debut. It's not dull hip-hop we've become used to. Instead, colorful instrumentals and melodies accompany her young and refreshing voice. The album begins with the high energy, intense 'Always Been,' a big of a misleading track to open the record yet does hype it up. It's dark and dramatic, the beat strong and the delivery packed with grime influence. The bars are pretty quick fire, but there's a recognizable reference to Kanye West's 'Black Skinhead' in there that'll pique you're ear in case you can't pick up on anything else.

There are several other songs that go hard. 'Carry On,' with Run The JewelsKiller Mike on the track, throwing down above the synthy bass between the upbeat but still urgent chorus. A darker presence envelops 'State Of Mind,' bouncy synths radiating ominous vibes on top of Maidza's gun of a mouth paired paranoid harmonies.

The majority of the record finds itself being poppier. The instrumental of 'Simulation' channels Sia almost blatantly, yet the vocals' light melodies soar high above the 'Cheap Thrills' reminiscent synth. There are thicker, dancier songs like 'Monochrome' that robotically have some groove to them. The muddy instrumental helps elevate the poppier lyrics. 'Drumsticks No Guns' is a fun-loving track, infectiously cute synths bouncing happily throughout the track. 'Castle In The Sky' is the pinnacle of the album's pop tracks, the sweet melodies pairing with the strongest and punchiest instrumental on the record, dynamic brass synths pairing with various acoustic instrumentation and electronics.

Sometimes it goes a little too far. With the pop influence, there are a few annoying tracks, like 'Tennies.' The song starts okay, but there has to be a limit as to how many times you can sing "tennies" before it gets old. The beat features some cool instrumentation, some bongos sounding with a punchy string instrumental, but even those can't save the song from its muddy tendencies. The big vibes of 'Supasonic' are interrupted by pretty annoying lyrics.

Tkay has all of the the uncertainties of a debut record, but it definitely holds its ground. It's an indicator of a new threat on the block with Tkay Maidza - she's bound to be something big in the hip-hop and pop world. It's a refreshing new sound and certainly one that won't be getting old anytime soon. Now we sit back and watch a career unfold.

Favorite Tracks: Castle In The Sky, Always Been

Least Favorite Tracks: Tennies, Supasonic, House Of Cards

Rating: 73 / 100

Francis and The Lights - Farewell, Starlite!

A vulnerable pop album is a very revealing one. It takes a lot for someone to really let themselves go and express themselves, especially through the means of pop music. Francis and The Lights take that big step in their debut album, Farewell, Starlite!

This outfit isn't just entering the playing field; Francis and The Lights have been achieving slow success since 2007 with a handful of EPs and a collection of singles. They've landed big tours with the likes of DrakeLa Roux, and Ke$ha and were even referenced in Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late. Stardom is no mystery to the group, and Francis Starlite knows it.

As mentioned before, there is a sense of vulnerability on the record. It's evident in tracks like opener 'See Her Out (That's Just Life)', its infectiously dinky synths that bounce throughout the song providing a light atmosphere for Starlite's hopeful vocals. The song's about heartbreak, but Starlite can't bring himself to stop caring about his partner, the chorus asking "If you see her out there / Behind the wheel / Driving getaway / Oh god, I hope she escapes / Whole damn world is a cage." The fact that the instrumental has little more beyond the quiet synths backs up the vocals adds to the very raw and pure disposition of the song. It's not trying to mask its meaning: it wants to be heard.

Other songs that invoke a similar sense include single 'Friends' and closure 'Thank You'. 'Friends' gained some momentum when Kanye West appeared in the music video, but the song's meaning also gives it what it needed to succeed. The song again discusses heartbreak, Francis wanting to rekindle a relationship. The chorus somberly cries, "We could be friends / Just put your head on my shoulders / I will straighten out, for you / Don't wanna know if you made mistakes / I'm still waiting on your sunshine" Kanye's only line in the song being one single iteration of "We could be friends," the distortion of his vocoder indicating him being in tears. Bon Iver - who's new album is also pretty good (see our review here) - contributes to the song, too, singing the first verse and arranging the beautiful schizophrenia of the song's conclusion. 'Thank You' follows it, the song's lo-fi phoIne recording making up most of the track, again pairing rawness with vulnerability.

The rest of the album isn't as vulnerable, but it's still quite catchy. The cheerful synths and nice melodies of songs like 'Comeback' (which come in later in the song) and 'Can't Stay Party' provide a ear-catching experience. Many of the songs revolve around the theme of heartbreak, including 'Comeback' and 'I Want You To Shake', toying with his feelings towards wanting to find love again. Some fun moments find their way onto the record too, including the reminiscent personality of 'May I Have This Dance' with its dinky synths and the fun fat bass pops in 'Running Man / Gospel OP1' after its dramatic intro. Bon Iver-esque vocoders also come into play on 'May I Have This Dance' and 'It's Alright To Cry'.

While the album does tackle a relatable subject, it's not exactly free from cliché. Heartbreak is something many have experienced, or at least heard about. It seems for every song about something different, there's two Taylor Swift songs about a broken relationship. Lots of this album becomes forgettable after its initial charm. The sentimental and vulnerable nature of the three tracks mentioned before that contain those elements aren't exhibited throughout the record, sadly. Had he kept that demeanor going, Farewell, Starlite! could've been a much greater album.

That being said, it's not a bad album by any means. Francis and The Lights' long-awaited debut is a success, but it could've been taken a step further. The album's relatable nature and somber overtones provide for a heartwarming, if not nostalgic listen. Let's just hope the next album doesn't take a decade to come out, and for the sake of Starlite, that he finds what he's looking for throughout the album: love.

Favorite Tracks: See Her Out (That's Just Life), Friends, It's Alright To Cry

Least Favorite Track: My City's Gone

Rating: 76 / 100

Bright Light Bright Light - Choreography

The 80s was an... interesting time. Lots of those who lived through it will remember it for its energetic music. Bright Light Bright Light channels that 80s flair in his new record, Choreography. His third LP shows him mastering his synthpop sound, embodying everything people loved from the 80s.

Choreography will get you dancing. It's a very big record in terms of vibes. Right at the start with 'All In The Name' we have big celebration vibes complete with a soulful choir. The album's grooviness doesn't falter at all throughout it's length. Some songs like the massive 'Kiss For Kiss' featuring Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters has a very lovey flow to it, the infectious track feeling modern all the while combining elements of its time period. The song builds over time, elements appearing and going throughout, keeping the song fresh. The chorus has a very distorted synth that almost feels like metal rhythm guitar that builds up so much great tension, making the song sound huge.

If anything, this album feels a little too 80s. It all gets repetitive - the first song itself struggles with feeling overdone. Tracks like 'I Only Want To Please You' with Ana Matronic (also of Scissor Sisters) feels like it came straight from an 80s track, no sense of innovation or anything besides production feels fresh about this track. The album becomes very standard to listen to in the second half - it becomes forgettable. That's where it's fault lies, it doesn't try to be anything interesting for most of its playtime and tries to appeal to a single type of listener. Elton John features on three tracks, but his contributions, shockingly, don't really add anything to the music.

Choreography will give an 80s child a taste of what they grew up listening to, but to an outsider it won't be much of an enjoyable listen. It's a big dancey record and a lot of the tracks do well as standalone songs, but as a consecutive listening experience, just doesn't amount to a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Bright Light Bright Light is on the verge of something, but he's not quite there yet.

Favorite Track: Kiss For Kiss

Least Favorite Track: I Only Want To Please You

Rating: 67 / 100

Miike Snow - iii

Soul is on a rise. The past few years have gifted us the soulful and blues giants that include Sound & Color-era Alabama Shakes and newcomer Jack Garratt. The next player on the scene is Swedish indie pop trio Miike Snow, whose aptly titled third record iii has more layers of soul and groove than you can handle.

 iii is simply just an infectious album. Every song has some splash of vitality that grows more appealing with every listen. Straight off the cuff with ‘My Trigger’, the piano intro just screams soul. The piano is a major component of much of the record, playing vital parts in what makes songs like ‘Back Of The Car’ rolling without faltering. The big single from the record, ‘Genghis Khan’, while “unique” in its wording, is packed to the brim with groove and is driven with conviction. It’s punchy, and even has a feel-good church bell synth/piano lead at the end that ends it on a happy note. The band channels the trademark CHVRCHES sound quite a bit on the record, most notably on the cool intro to ‘For U’ with Charli XCX and ‘The Heart Of Me’. Near the end of the album, Miike Snow begins to pour some more color into the mix. ‘Back Of The Car’ builds up into a massive orchestral pop banger that’s hard to just overlook without any notice. ‘Over and Over’ is riddled with a load of electronics and noise, after a triumphant guitar intro that reprises itself throughout the song. The electronics aren’t absent from the entire record, but they prevail most prominently in this track (speaking of electronics and layers, ‘I Feel The Weight’ feels like it’s straight out of Kanye’s book, right up to the autotune). The synth-filled and sweet ‘Longshot (7 Nights)’ concludes the album on a satisfying, if not a bit underwhelming note.

Miike Snow’s third record definitely has a lot of punch to it. It is, however, very style-centric. You won’t be focusing on the words of the songs as much as you will the feeling, which, for this band, doesn’t have any negative connotations to it. Each track has an infectious factor that’ll keep drawing you in. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not a record to be overlooked.

Favorite Tracks: Genghis Khan, Over and Over, Heart Is Full

Least Favorite Tracks: Lonely Life, I Feel The Weight

Rating: 7/10