The Chainsmokers - Collage

The newest threat on the block is without a doubt The Chainsmokers. With a few past hits in their repertoire, they showed up out of the blue this past summer and have taken the radio by storm, pumping out some of the decade's biggest hits in a matter of months. They've compiled some of these tracks into a new EP entitled Collage.

The electronic pop duo really have a knack for making some infectious tracks. Nearly every song on the five minute EP rings with lots of fun and appeal. Opener and new single 'Setting Fires' has bouncy, infectious synths that keep the song light as XYLØ adds some dimension and melody to the track above the instrumental, even though the synths do enough of all of that on their own already. Phoebe Ryan takes over the vocals in the more upbeat 'All We Know,' this time Andrew Taggart joining on on vocals, harmonizing with Ryan's somber vocals above the punchy instrumental.

'Closer' was one of the biggest songs of the summer, and its performance showed it. It was played ad nauseam on the radio and remained as Spotify's #1 most streamed track for weeks. Riding of the group's hype instrumentals and the other threat in pop, Halsey, 'Closer' was destined for greatness. The song starts gently and builds slowly as it progresses, ultimately becoming an awesomely energetic song with jumpy synths and a big beat. Halsey's sweet and punk flair adds a lot of color to the already fun and sweet track.

The other hit from the summer was 'Don't Let Me Down.' The guitar in the intro sings innocently as Daya sings sweetly before the chorus kicks in with the drama. Daya's lyrics start building up with the beat, as the breakdown comes in the form of saxophone synths and bassy accompaniment. The song feels like something Rihanna would sing and come up with. It's a fun, very poppy track that also has the party side too it - a clear banger.

The Chainsmokers are pop's most hopeful duo. Their electronic flair sees a mix of party and fun that lots of artists don't seem to understand well. Their debut LP will be absolutely massive - this group is here to stay for years to come. 

Favorite Tracks: Don't Let Me Down, Closer, Setting Fires

Least Favorite Track: Inside Out

Rating: 89 / 100

Skylar Grey - Natural Causes

Skylar Grey isn't a household name, but she certainly deserves to be - she's the mastermind behind some of pop's biggest hits as well as having quite a notable repertoire behind her. Some may remember her from her collaboration with Fort Minor in her Holly Brook for 2005's 'Where'd You Go', while others may remember her sexually suggestive collaboration 'C'mon Let Me Ride' with Eminem who was anything but "suggestive". 

What most people won't remember her for was writing such pop hits like Diddy's 'Coming Home', in which she is featured on, or Eminem's 'Love The Way You Lie' featuring Rihanna. Grey has a lot of talent in writing big, catchy tracks. Her new album Natural Causes isn't necessarily a pop sensation, but it definitely shows off her song writing abilities.

It begins with the hauntingly beautiful, robotic harmonies of 'Wilderness', an a cappella track leading into the creepy 'Jump'. Spidery guitars backing background vocals screaming like riots as she sings oddly calmly above the chaos of the song: "All I want to do is jump... No fear I'm floating." In the same chaotic scenario is 'Straight Shooter', taking over a hip-hop influence with a badass posture. Skylar Grey sings above a demanding and cavernous beat in an aggressive fashion here, a barebones cowbell being backed by the thicker, fatter bass synth and kick drum, as the chorus threatens, "I don't spit before I fuck it / Got a hand on my pistol in my pocket / I don't play nice, I'm not a shit talker / I'm a straight shooter now just give me the money honey."

There are some calmer and more retrospective numbers on the record, too. Single 'Come Up For Air' is an example. We reviewed it a few weeks ago (read that here), but its charm hasn't changed. The powerful drums are just a backing element of the dark storytelling, as Grey sings that she'll wait for her lover to come back even if they never will: "And even if this really is the end / I'm sure I'll be alone until I'm dead / Cause no one else will ever quite compare / To them it wouldn't be fair... If you're my Jack then I'm your Rose / And I promise I'll never ever let go." 'Real World' is a big, synth lead song, the sweet melodies backed by cavernous drums and big, bassy synths. The harmonies add a lot of level to the track, too. The acoustic number 'Moving Mountains' has very sweet and bright chord progressions and slowly building layers of choir synths and pianos leading to a satisfying end. Closing track 'Closer' features beautiful piano layers and sweet vocals in a cavern of sound. 

While much of the album showcases Grey's talent, there's still somethings that are left to be desired. One such example is the Eminem collaboration - 'Kill For You'. The instrumental is tinged with an old-school orchestra and a confident beat, but when Eminem comes in, it feels like a wasted opportunity. It's one of his only appearances this year - his song on the Suicide Squad soundtrack being the other time - and it's a pretty average one. It's standard Eminem, and the wording and delivery is great, it just feels odd above the instrumental and doesn't mesh well.

Many songs show potential but don't quite reach a high. Take 'We Used To Be Bad', which starts raw and folky and progressively builds up with walls of synths. It builds nicely and has sweet vocals, but after the big synth moment when it kicks in, it's pretty underwhelming. That initial rush quickly dies down. Other songs like 'Lemonade' are catchy, but get a bit overdone by the ending; I don't know how many times I can listen to someone say "lemonade" before the hype dies down, but this song definitely passed that limit. 'In My Garden' has odd, janky beats and a pretty strange vocal line that would work a lot nicer in a different scenario. The song begs for something darker, and Grey takes the odd-chord, dejected approach instead and it doesn't pay off. The same is true for 'Picture Perfect' - it's a lot of good ideas packed into one song but something about them doesn't quite fit together.

Skylar Grey continues to show her music making prowess in Natural Causes. It's not perfect - there are some places that there could be more, or have better cohesion, but overall its a solid record that showcases her talents. It outshines her debut by showing off a more experimental side, and hopefully the next album shows those elements all coming together to make something huge.

Favorite Tracks: Come Up For Air, Straight Shooter, Real World

Least Favorite Tracks: In My Garden, Picture Perfect

Rating: 75 / 100

Sia - 'The Greatest' (ft. Kendrick Lamar)

Sia may just be the undisputed ruler of the pop world. Her last album This Is Acting literally consists almost exclusively of songs she wrote for other artists including Rihanna and Adele. Now, she has a brand new track - 'The Greatest' - with Kendrick Lamar on it. That's just a recipe for success.

The song begins just as any Sia song does - with a keyboard synth intro. The verses consists of that intro repeating itself on top of a minimal pop beat as Sia sings about running from a hard situation: "Uh-oh, running out of breath... / Uh-oh, running now, I close my eyes... And uh-oh, I see another mountain to climb... Uh-oh, I need another love, be mine." The song feels like the narrator is running from the hardships of life and as they hit one after one, she tells herself that she can keep going with the simple statement, "I got stamina." The pre-chorus has a more blatant - but uplifting all the same - cry, "Don't give up, I won't give up / Don't give up," before the chorus explodes in a burst of pride and hope: "I'm free to be the greatest, I'm alive / I'm free to be the greatest here tonight, the greatest / The greatest, the greatest alive."

While not included in the music video version (presumably the single version), Kendrick Lamar's guest verse serves less as trying to act as a motivator to the self, but more like motivation coming from a fatherly, or even godly figure. He claims that he is "the wisdom of the fallen - I'm the youth," implying that his words resonate with anyone, the old and the young. His verse is a reassuring pat on the back that may be what the narrator needs to carry on. Kendrick ends his verse by saying it's okay to fail, and you will be able to come back and get back up again: "Letdowns will get you, and the critics will test you / But the strong will survive, another scar may bless you."

The music video is in a typical Sia flavor, her iconic teenage dancer Maddie Ziegler performing an interpretive dance throughout a beaten down house. As she jumps from room to room, she is met by groups of teenagers and kids who dance with her, their faces all painted grey as if to say their life has been drained away, while Maddie's face has rainbow paint on it (perhaps a call to the LGBT community) and she is full of life, and brings that life to the others by dancing with them. As the song ends and the video goes to a droning noise, all of the kids fall to the ground in a pile as if their life was drained as the music stopped. Maddie wakes up and looking defeated and the video ends with her crying.

The message of the song seems to be in response to the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida earlier this summer. The hashtag that has been paired with the song and video, #weareyourchildren, now has meaning. Regardless of sexuality or beliefs, today's generation has the freedom to be gay or Muslim or whatever they want to be. We are your children, so why do you hate us? The message is one to be held close not only for strength through life, but for strength in your personality and beliefs.

Sia is a prolific artist, but her messages often serve more as motivation than the almost political statement served in 'The Greatest'. It's by no means bad - it's great to see Sia express her emotions through this song. 'The Greatest' hits a lot of areas and will resonate with a lot of people. Leave it to Sia to make real music in a world of fake messages in pop.

Rating: 83 / 100