David Guetta digs into his roots while bringing in some of the new in his new double-album 7.Read More
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 Jewels' Killer 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
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
2016 is off to an extremely strong start. Here’s just a list of all of the new albums I’ve listened to from January to March and links to reviews, if applicable.
Doing it a bit different this time, doing it by rating, from greatest to worst. Alphabetical just seemed trivial.
5-Star Albums (8.5 - 10)
- AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend: 10
- Panic! At The Disco - Death Of A Bachelor: 9.5
- Deftones - Gore: 9.5
- Dream Theater - The Astonishing: 9
- Foxes - All I Need: 9
- Daughter - Not To Disappear: 9
- Lacey Sturm - Life Screams: 8.5
- HÆLOS - Full Circle: 8.5
- Weezer - Weezer (White Album): 8.5
- LIGHTS - Midnight Machines: 8.5
- The Last Shadow Puppets - Everything You've Come To Expect: 8.5
4-Star Albums (6.5 - 8)
- David Bowie - ★: 8
- BANNERS - BANNERS: 8
- Savages - Adore Life: 8
- Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo: 8
- Jack Garratt - Phase: 8
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - This Unruly Mess I've Made: 8
- Sia - This Is Acting: 7.5
- Grizfolk - Waking Up The Giants: 7.5
- The Drones - Feelin Kinda Free: 7.5
- Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye: 7.5
- Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.: 7.5
- Textures - Phenotype: 7.5
- Rihanna - ANTI: 7
- Megadeth - Dystopia: 7
- Hands Like Houses - Dissonants: 7
- Miike Snow - iii: 7
- BABYMETAL - Metal Resistance: 7
- The Jezabels - Synthia: 7
- Amy Lee - Recover, Vol. 1: 7
- Steven Wilson - 4 ½: 6.5
- Chairlift - Moth: 6.5
- Porches - Pool: 6.5
- Polyphia - Renaissance: 6.5
3-Star Albums (4.5 - 6)
- ZAYN - Mind Of Mine: 6
- Mogwai - Atomic: 6
- Låpsley - Long Way Home: 6
- Baauer - Aa: 5.5
- Asking Alexandria - The Black: 5.5
- The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It: 5
- Explosions In The Sky - The Wilderness: 5
- School Of Seven Bells - SVIIB: 5
- Krallice - Hyperion: 4.5
- Future - EVOL: 4.5
- Anderson .Paak - Malibu: 4.5
- Wiz Khalifa - Khalifa: 4.5
2-Star Albums (2.5 - 4)
- Killswitch Engage - Incarnate: 4
- Cozz - Nothin Personal: 3.5
1-Star Albums (0 - 2)
- None! :D
Top Albums Of 2016 (so far)
- AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend
- Panic! At The Disco - Death Of A Bachelor
- Deftones - Gore
- Dream Theater - The Astonishing
- Foxes - All I Need
- Daughter - Not To Disappear
- Lacey Sturm - Life Screams
- HÆLOS - Full Circle
- Weezer - Weezer (White Album)
- LIGHTS - Midnight Machines
Top Songs Of 2016 (so far)
- AURORA - 'Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) (Acoustic)'
- Panic! At The Disco - 'Emperor's New Clothes'
- Deftones - 'Hearts/Wires'
- Foxes - 'Better Love'
- Lacey Sturm - 'Rot'
- AURORA - 'Through The Eyes Of A Child'
- Deftones - 'Phantom Bride'
- Dream Theater - 'Moment Of Betrayal'
- Daughter - 'New Ways'
- Jack Garratt - 'My House Is Your Home'
The songwriting queen of the pop scene, Sia, topped January off with an album full of pop jams. Almost every track on her new effort This Is Acting was written for another artist, unlike her last effort, 1,000 Forms Of Fear which featured her turning pop hits into the pain and struggle of living with bipolar disorder and drug addiction.
The album has a pretty diverse soundscape. There’s the piano-pop ballads, ‘Bird Set Free’ and ‘Alive’, while there are also the feel good radio bangers like ‘Reaper’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’. Sia channels her inner Adele on ‘Alive’ (since the song was written for and about her), but keeps the strength of her voice evident in other tracks like ‘Footprints’ and ‘Unstoppable’, the latter of which could be this album’s toned down ‘Chandelier’ (musically, at least). ‘Unstoppable’ brings out a punchy brass sound towards the end, building up the track dominated by massive synthscapes and a huge beat to an epic climax. She adds some worldly flavors into the mix, too: ‘Broken Glass’ has some eastern vibes sewn into it, and the track intended for Shakira, ‘Move Your Body’, retains some Latin elements and the flashiness expected from a Shakira track. Sia’s instrumentals always have tons of texture and layers to them that leave every listen with something new to discover. Try dissecting every background vocal melody in bonus track ‘Fist Fighting A Sandstorm’ and you’ll get a sense of all of the complexity that is interlaced into these tracks.
While diverse, the album has a major flaw: it lacks integrity, in a sense. Barring the quirky ‘One Million Bullets’, basically every other song on the album was written for a different artist. Rihanna turned down ‘Bird Set Free’, ‘Cheap Thrills’, ‘Reaper’, and ‘Space Between’, while Adele also let go of a few tracks. Other artists such as Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez can also be credited to turning down ‘Footprints’ and ‘Sweet Design’, respectively. Writing songs for other artists and then recording them yourself takes something away from it. Not necessarily the meaning of the song (though ‘Alive’ is a big counter against that, as it’s literally about Adele), but perhaps the artist’s connection. A powerful performance can be taken a step further if the artist feels something resonating in them while performing this song. This Is Acting is full of great moments for Sia, but most songs have some sense of distance between her and the meaning.
This collection of songs written for other artists were given one more chance for their chance in the limelight by their composer, Sia, who took these rejects and turned them into her own. Some artists really missed out on incredible works. Sia’s powerful voice and artistic visions pull through again on her seventh record. Hopefully her next effort will feature more work intended for herself and not others - that’s the next step to making a true pop masterpiece. Until then, this album has plenty of tracks to jam to.
Favorite Tracks: Bird Set Free, Footprints, Alive, Reaper
Least Favorite Tracks: Move Your Body, Sweet Design
Top Albums Of 2016 (so far):
In today's average music atmosphere, most music follows a certain formula, especially in pop music. As time progresses, the pop stratosphere becomes ever more saturated with bland progressions and predictable hooks.
Then there's Sia. After having limited success in prior efforts, she decided to give up the limelight and take a backseat to focus on songwriting instead (hey, it's definitely more profitable). After 'Chandelier' got turned down by artists like Rihanna, Sia decided she had to take the lead. And thus, a star was born.
Backstory aside, this album is definitely one of the more untraditional pop albums released in 2014 that received commercial success. Everyone has heard the anthemic and rebellious chorus of 'Chandelier' and the confidence in 'Elastic Heart' by now. The other tracks that have not seen the limelight do not fall short of the excellence that Sia has displayed with her popular tracks, however. Each song has a purpose that creates an almost storyboard-like collection of tracks. 'Big Girls Cry' is a confessional that immediately follows the rebellion of 'Chandelier,' revealing the softer, innocent side of a confident singer. 'Hostage' speaks of a love story, and 'Cellophane' of a time when Sia felt like she could end it all. Going into this album is like beginning a good book, beginning strong and ending one a relatable note.
Lyrically, this album is just short of a masterpiece. It does not fail structurally and instrumentally, either. Haunting synths and brooding melodies keep each track original and captivating. Most strikingly is the closure track of the album, 'Dressed In Black.' Not only is it daring in the regards that a pop song is almost seven minutes long, but the mood behind it is just so enchanting and dark that it begs for your attention.
All in all, this album is one of the best, if not THE best pop album of 2014. Gems such as this rarely find their way to the top, and Sia is a diamond in the rough. If you enjoy the anthem that is 'Chandelier' or the confident ballad of 'Elastic Heart,' definitely check this album out. A story is told that everyone can relate to in some regard.
Favorite Tracks: Chandelier, Hostage, Dressed In Black
Least Favorite Track: Free The Animal