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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
Skylar Grey is like the silent mastermind behind many of pop's biggest hits. It's always a welcome treat, as a result, when she uses her expertise for her own projects. Her latest album Natural Causes is due out on September 23, and she's shared the next single from it, 'Come Up For Air'.
Skylar Grey always has a certain swagger in her music. 'Come Up For Air' has all of that channeled through the powerful beat with a phenomenal snare sound. The song is produced by none other than Eminem, with whom she has worked with in the past, so it's only appropriate that the beat is produced to perfection. Her silky vocals sweetly flow in a longing way - according to Grey, this track is a break-up song in which the narrator is still in love, so much so that they will wait forever for the other half to return, even until death. The instrumental is minimal, the drum beat being the primary element. The song also has a low bass synth and reverberating keys that provide for a dreamy atmosphere. Background guitar also adds some character to the end of the track.
Skylar Grey best attribute is her songwriting ability, and while this song may not be the most subtle, it's still heavy hitting. The calmness of the vocals are heartbreaking in of itself, as if she really does have the patience to wait an eternity for her partner to return. It's particularly powerful in the bridge, in which she sings, "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," all the while she retains the same patient and calm vocal style, and that's really dark and just plain sad.
'Come Up For Air' is a pretty and beautiful song; the only thing it's missing is an emotional peak or climax - a release. It ends feeling just as restrained emotionally as the beginning, but it's darkness lies in that fact, and that's the character of the track. Skylar Grey seems to be taking a less upfront approach to Natural Causes and a more natural approach. This song is a quiet one, but it's message is all the same, if not stronger than if it was more upfront. Her album has a lot of potential, but the direction isn't clear just yet. The wait's only another few weeks, though. That mystery will be solved soon enough.
Rating: 85 / 100