Lover: A Review

Lover: A Review

Intro

Taylor Swift is the undisputed, reigning queen of pop for a reason. When she releases an album, everyone stops to listen. She is really the only artist that comes to mind to have transitioned so seamlessly and organically from country music to pop. Her first album, Taylor Swift, is very innocent and happy. Fearless & Speak Now demonstrated some maturing, while still mainly focusing on life as a teenager and young adult. It was Red that began her transition into a pop titan and showed her ability to write about complex ideas within the same broad topics she covered like love and loss. 1989 solidified her as the queen of pop and was easily one of the bets pop records of all time. But the media and press kept getting to her and criticizing her, with many public splits and friendships being broken. This lead to her most muddled and cynical record ever: reputation. I found the record to be confused and unsure of whether it wanted to be something very different and dark or if she wanted it to be 1989, Vol. 2. This record has been marked as brighter and happier, just from the cover art and singles. I’m ready to dive into the latest album and see what T-Swift has to say.

1. I Forgot That You Existed

This song sets the tone of the album pretty strongly. Coming of the darker and more cynical Reputation, Taylor gives a short, sweet, cheery song about moving on. Maybe it’s because of where I’m at myself personally, but I really like this song. I’ve missed the sort of bubblegum pop music that’s been replaced with trap and cynicism lately. This was a nice breath of fresh air and opens up a new, seemingly happier album from the new queen of pop.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

2. Cruel Summer

This track sounds more in keeping with 1989 Taylor in terms of style, but in substance, it keeps the heartbroken, melancholy topics but dressed in a happier pop style. It’s a good song, it’s just not as unique as opening track. Taylor is really good at presenting very real looks into love and relationships and this doesn’t falter in that aspect. I just wish it felt more unique in the production. The lyricism is solid, however.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

3. Lover

Our first slow song of the album is so unique in its instrumentation and production that it doesn’t even sound like a Taylor Swift song. It’s more in line with a Father John Misty song than a Taylor Swift pop anthem. It’s a gorgeous, slowly paced love song that is really well-done. It’s one of the most dynamic vocal performances in Swift’s repertoire. It answers all my issues with the previous track and just made me eat my words. I’m back on board.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

4. The Man

Its electronic and groovy and it honestly slaps. The song itself, lyrically and thematically, is actually really unique and cool. Dealing with feminism and sexism, it’s actually a boss anthem. It’s a very well constructed pop anthem musically and lyrically. Again, it’s another unique and really good song in what’s shaping up to be not just a good T-Swift album, but one of the best pop albums of the year.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

5. The Archer

Slowing down a bit again, Swift gives a very vocal-driven performance. The steady beat and groove is very gentle and feels more like a score to a pivotal speech scene in a film than the beat for a song. Lyrically, Taylor explores self-worth and worth in the eyes of people. It’s well-written, while the music gets a little stagnant. It builds but it never really crescendos. I don’t hate that choice seeing how it’s more there to score Taylor’s inner thoughts. A very personal song and a solid entry.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

6. I Think He Knows

It’s groovy and very bubblegum in nature. That bass line is real sweet. Lyrically, he kind of treads similar topics that she covered in 1989 and Reputation. I don’t fault her, it’s about love and desire, which is very on brand for Taylor Swift. Musically, it’s very diverse and interesting to listen to. It’s a good inclusion. So far, I have no severe issues with any of the songs with this album.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: A-

7. Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince

I’m instantly into this song from the instrumentation. Lyrically, it’s really good. It’s a great story song that throws it back to her high school experiences and it really plays into nostalgic feelings. Thematically, it’s really solid too, touching on “boys will be boys”. I think this is my favorite song on the album so far. It’s firing on all cylinders and you can hear the effort put forward into crafting this song. The rhyme schemes are so on point. This is very reminiscent of the Taylor we heard on Red lyrically & 1989 musically.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

8. Paper Rings

This song is great from the jump. It’s fits the tone and style of the opening track to a tee. The bright, happy love song is excellent. It moves bitingly fast and feels a little like a 50s-60s doo-wop song meets a 70’s “Walking on Sunshine”/Grease style song. This is an excellent song and is the exact style I was hoping for with this record. Lyrically, the song is great. The rhymes are all on-point, same with the instrumentation. Excellent track that feels like a ride. The album honestly could end here and I’d love it.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

9. Cornelia Street

Lyrically, the song rhymes well. I wish there was more dynamic instrumentation. The song feels a little tired and boring, musically. I like the song. It just doesn’t live up to the previous songs. It’s a shame because lyrically it’s a beautiful song.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

10. Death By A Thousand Cuts

Musically it starts out really unique and interesting. The acoustic guitar gives the song a strong summer vibe. The song is kind of cynical and sad lyrically, but the music doesn’t necessarily back it at every point. It is great instrumentation and great lyricism, I’m just sure they match. Maybe more listens will change my feelings on the song either way, but right now, I really dig the song. It’s a unique and diverse song for her musically, so it wins points for me there.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: B+

11. London Boy

The musicality fits the album and its very bright and happy. It’s a fun and cute song that makes reference to her country music past. It’s a fun song, if not feeling a bit like a B-side.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B

12. Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)

The first country song in Taylor’s career since maybe Red, she recognizes her country past by collaborating with the Dixie Chicks, a group I haven’t heard from in years. The song is tragic and heartbreaking lyrically and is very clearly a very genuine and deeply personal song to her. This is a great and very emotional song and a worthy inclusion on this album.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

13. False God

The horns at the start tease a very different song than what we actually get. It sounds kind of like a song you’d find on 1989 or Reputation, but it doesn’t really match the rest of the album. It’s just a little to relaxed and chill to belong on a record that is otherwise pretty vibrant and cheerful.

Track Rating: 6/10

Grade: B-

14. You Need To Calm Down

I might be slightly jaded due to having heard this song a ton on the radio, but I think this song is good, not great. It fits the album perfectly and capture the happy-go-lucky attitude of the album and it really speaks to the current social media culture. I do really like the song. It’s a great anthem for love over hate.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: B+

15. Afterglow

Another slower jam that feels like it belongs more on 1989 than Lover. I think this is part of handful of songs that could’ve been saved for an EP or a later album. It just doesn’t totally fit the tone and vibe of the album. This song is really unique for Taylor lyrically though. It’s a song about taking responsibility for heartbreak, which is a shade we haven’t seen on Taylor since Speak Now. It just doesn’t quite fit into this album.

Track Rating: 6/10

Grade: B-

16. ME! (feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco)

Yes, I’ve heard this song a billion times. It doesn’t change that this is the perfect summation of the album Lover. Serving as an anthem for self-love on a bright, bubblegum pop song that brings on the alternative king Panic! At the Disco for a pitch perfect collaboration. Their voices mesh so beautifully. This very easily could’ve been the end of the album and left everything in a perfect place, summarizing the sound, themes, tone, and lyricism of Lover. 

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

17. It’s Nice To Have A Friend

The production is extremely unique and diverse. Chimes, steel drums, harps, and pianos create a really chill vibe that actually complements the vibe of the album. The lyrics reflect where Taylor is at right now and they fit the tone of the record. It works like a great epilogue to the last track. The horn solos are really sweet and add an extra layer to the song. It’s ultimately a really cool addition to the album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

18. Daylight

The closer of the album, once again, is a chill song, which seems extremely unusual, considering the general style of the album. The lyrics, however, totally fit as the finale. The song is a large self-reflection of Taylor Swift’s life up to this point and summarizes where she’s at now. It’s honestly a really strong finale. “Threw out our cloaks and our daggers cuz it’s morning now.” A direct reference to reputation and the darkness of that album, which is very fitting for the themes and general tone of Lover, which is a muc brighter album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

Conclusion:

Coming off of a very dark and confused album in reputation, Taylor Swift has seemingly come around to a much happier and well-adjusted place after the media storm that preceded and followed her last album. Lover is optimistic and shows a lot of growth in Taylor as a person. As the spoken word ending of “Daylight” summarizes what Taylor wants you to take away, you are defined by what you love, not your mistakes, what others think of you, what you hate or what you fear. It’s a very mature record that shows a lot of growth and continues a very personal journey for the thirty year old artist. It’s a very good album, if a little crowded by some songs that don’t need to be on the album. That doesn’t take away from the great effort put forth by the queen of pop Taylor Swift. In my opinion, it lands as her fourth best album.

  1. Red
  2. 1989
  3. Fearless
  4. Lover
  5. Taylor Swift
  6. Speak Now
  7. reputation.

 

 

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The Second Annual KohGrammys

The Second Annual KohGrammys

THIS IS VERY LATE! But here are the Second Annual KohGrammys.

Record of the Year:panic_social

  • “Better Now,” Post Malone
  • “Born to Be Yours,” Kygo featuring Imagine Dragons
  • “Happier,” Marshmello featuring Bastille
  • “God’s Plan,” Drake
  • “God is a Woman,” Ariana Grande
  • “High Hopes,” Panic! At the Disco
  • “I’m A Mess,” Bebe Rexha
  • “Marmalade,” Macklemore featuring Lil Yachty
  • “Leaning In,” MyzBeatz
  • “Sober Up,” AJR

Artist of the Year:103344673_gettyimages-1022492306

  • Ariana Grande
  • NF
  • Shawn Mendes
  • Panic! At the Disco
  • Post Malone

Album of the Year:maxresdefault

  • beerbongs and bentleys, Post Malone
  • Gemini, Macklemore
  • God’s Favorite Customer, Father John Misty
  • Pray for the Wicked, Panic! at the Disco
  • Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes

Song of the Year:bebe-rexha

  • “2002,” Anne-Marie
  • “Back to You,” Selena Gomez
  • “Better Now,” Post Malone
  • “Dying in LA,” Panic! At the Disco
  • “Get Up,” Shinedown
  • “Happier,” Marshmello featuring Bastille
  • “Have It All,” Jason Mara
  • “I’m A Mess,” Bebe Rexha
  • “In My Blood,” Shawn Mendes
  • “The Songwriter,” Father John Misty

Best New Artist:marshmello-1

  • Anne-Marie
  • Bebe Rexha
  • Marshmello
  • MyzBeatz
  • Lauv

Best Pop Solo Performance:demi-lovato3

  • “All My Friends,” Owl City
  • “Because I Had You,” Shawn Mendes
  • “I’m A Mess,” Bebe Rexha
  • “Leaning In,” MyzBeatz
  • “Sober,” Demi Lovato
  • “Stay,” Post Malone
  • “Without Me,” Halsey

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:lin-manuel-miranda

  • “Dying in LA,” Panic! At the Disco
  • “Found/Tonight,” Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “Happier,” Marshmello featuring Bastille
  • “High Hopes,” Panic! At the Disco
  • “Sober Up,” AJR
  • “Pray,” Sam Smith featuring Logic
  • “Youth,” Shawn Mendes featuring Khalid

Best Pop Vocal Album:61st Annual Grammy Awards - Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Feb 2019

  • Beerbongs and Bentleys, Post Malone
  • Cinematic, Owl City
  • Pray for the Wicked, Panic! At the Disco
  • Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes
  • Sweetner, Ariana Grande

Best Dance Recording:imagine-dragons-press-photo-by-eliot-lee-hazel-2018-billboard-1548

  • “Born to Be Yours,” Kygo featuring Imagine Dragons
  • “God’s Plan,” Drake
  • “Happier,” Marshmello featuring Bastille
  • “House Wren,” Owl City
  • “These Days,” Rudimental featuring Jess Glyne, Macklemore, & Dan Caplen

Best Rock Performance:bad-wolves-2018-billboard-1500

  • “Are You Ready,” Disturbed
  • “Black Holes (Solid Ground),” Blue Stones
  • “Dying in LA,” Panic! At the Disco
  • “Natural,” Imagine Dragons
  • “Rescue Me,” Thirty Seconds to Mars
  • “Thought Contagion,” Muse
  • “Zombie,” Bad Wolves

Best Rock Song:band_md_2

  • “High Hopes,” Panic! At the Disco
  • “Get Up,” Shinedown
  • “The Mountain,” Three Days Grace
  • “Mr. Tillman,” Father John Misty
  • “Love You to Death,” Starset
  • “Rescue Me,” Thirty Seconds to Mars
  • “When Legends Rise,” Godsmack

Best Rock Album:shinedown-slide

  • America, Thirty Seconds to Mars
  • ATTENTION ATTENTION, Shinedown
  • God’s Favorite Customer, Father John Misty
  • Pray for the Wicked, Panic! At the Disco
  • When Legends Rise, Godsmack

Rock Artist of the Year:ap_17044014784622

  • Bad Wolves
  • Godsmack
  • Imagine Dragons
  • Father John Misty
  • Panic! At the Disco

Best Rap Performance:rag2020bone20x20eminem203

  • “Arose,” Eminem
  • “Clarity,” Andy Mineo
  • “Icon,” Jaden Smith
  • “Lucky You,” Eminem featuring Joyner Lucas
  • “Shame,” Andy Mineo featuring Josh Garrels
  • “WHY,” NF

Rap Artist of the Year:nf-web2

  • Andy Mineo
  • Cardi B
  • Macklemore
  • NF
  • Post Malone

Best Rap/Sung Performance:lil-dicky

  • “Better Now,” Post Malone
  • “Freaky Friday,” Lil Dicky featuring Chris Brown
  • “Friends,” Andy Mineo
  • “Good Old Days,” Macklemore featuring Kesha
  • “Intentions,” Macklemore featuring Dan Caplan
  • “Leaning In,” MyzBeatz
  • “…Lost,” Andy Mineo

Best Rap Song:macklemore-38fcbf81-a0bb-4c91-b00b-69c9413187dc

  • “Everyday,” Logic featuring Marshmello
  • “I Ain’t Done,” Andy Mineo
  • “Icon,” Jaden Smith
  • “…Lost,” Andy Mineo
  • “Marmalade,” Macklemore featuring Lil Yachty
  • “Rap Devil,” Machine Gun Kelly
  • “Talk,” Futuristic featuring Tech N9ne and Devvon Terrell

Best Rap Album:andy-mineo-top20-sm

  • Blessings, Futuristic
  • Gemini, Macklemore
  • I: The Arrow, Andy Mineo
  • II: The Sword, Andy Mineo
  • Shoot For Teams, The Forks

Best Soundtrack For Visual Media:e7ce5vx4kquuz0pekdhrvzb0pn8

  • A Star is Born
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Bumblebee
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Song Written For Visual Media:A STAR IS BORN

  • “Is That Alright?” A Star is Born
  • “Maybe It’s Time,” A Star is Born
  • “Nowhere to Go But Up,” Mary Poppins Returns
  • “Shallow,” A Star is Born
  • “Sunflower,” Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Head Above Water: A VinylTap Review

Head Above Water: A VinylTap Review

Introduction:

It’s been a long time since the name Avril Lavigne was said in the same sentence as new music. The last we heard from her was 2013, when rocking self-titled album was released and she finalized her very public divorce from Nickelback’s Chad Kroger. Since then, she’s gone to war with her own demons and with her own body, contracting Lyme disease. Now finally healthy and back to full strength, Avril Lavigne returns with a record that is sure to reflect her own life, while also having something subtextual to say about pop music today.

1. Head Above Water

The blend of pianos and vocals is gorgeous. It’s a really moving song to start the album with. The inclusion of guitars and strings makes the build to the chorus even more powerful. Lyrically, the song is simple in structure, but I really appreciate the imagery. I think the arrangement of instruments and vocals is the really shining part of the song. It’s a moving, powerful song that feels very real and it’s very different for what we’ve heard Avril Lavigne do in the past.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

2. Birdie

This song has a more alternative vibe to it with ringing organs and deep, echoing drums. Built on its pianos, this song comes across more as a traditional Avril Lavigne rock anthem and it kicks. She uses poignant imagery to show struggle. It’s an anthem with a heartbeat. While less rebellious and antagonistic than previous anthems, Lavigne stills show defiance in the face of what adversity she faces. It’s a new sound for Avril Lavigne, but I really dig it.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

3. I Fell In Love With The Devil

With a title like this, we knew we were in for an emotional song. I figured it would be more upbeat than the ballad we got. Utilizing the booming drums and moving strings, as well as layered vocals, Lavigne delivers another moving song. While the first was a plea for help and the second was a declaration of freedom, this one is a letter of forbidden love and a realization of a painful situation. It is also well-made and another solid entry to the album.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

4. Tell Me It’s Over

The second single off the album has a blues rock vibe with really funky guitars and horns. It’s a very different song than anything Lavigne has ever made and it feels really fresh. Another declaration of freedom or a questioning of status? The answer is the song works as both at times. Lyrically, the song is probably the most well-constructed of the album thus far. This song feels like a Sunday morning church ballad, but this isn’t subject matter you’d air in a church. The piece builds and grows with each refrain as she grows more and more independent from the mystery partner that’s playing with her emotions in the song. It’s a strong entry into the album.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

5. Dumb Blonde (feat. Nicki Minaj)

With a drumline and booming bass, this song sounds like a school fight song. Lyrically, this is classic Lavigne. It’s an anthem of self-confidence and identity. It’s infectious fun. The production is really solid, with biting guitars and a drum section that just kicks. This is the most fun song on the album so far and it is infectious. Nicki Minaj’s feature only solidifies the toughness of the song and she brings the exact right tone to this fight song. It’s an infectiously fun tune.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

6. It Was In Me

We slow things back down with another piano ballad, which we’ve had a few of this record. The strings and guitars help make this song feel grander and more moving. The lyricism feels genuine to her emotions and struggle and like a genuine realization song. It just feels a little much and I’d like to hear maybe a little more diversity in subject matter. Not to take anything away from this piece, which is a very moving and inspirational song about the epiphanies one has about themselves as they grow old. I really appreciate the sentiment and craft of the song. It brings tears to my eyes.

Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. Souvenir

I love the summer road trip vibe this song gives off. The guitars and drums are standout. The song feels bright with the memory of love and discovery of new love. It’s glowing with this fun, summer anthem radiance. The lyricism isn’t necessarily deep, but it crushes the purpose. It’s poppy and fun and the kind of anthem that the past few summers have been desperately missing.

Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Crush

Going back to the swinging blues guitars and echoing snares, Lavigne has backed off the darker, more real songs about personal struggle and presented a lighter relief as alternative. This love song is really well produced, giving a black and white, Chicago vibe. Lyrically, Lavigne crushes. Pun fully intended. It’s a really sweet love song that I really dig.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. Goddess

The acoustic guitars that open up this track are beautiful. Avril Lavigne sings about being found and coming out the other side of tragedy and the new found love, both romantic and self, that she’s found. It’s a beautifully crafted song with a really sweet sentimentality. From the lovely lyrics to the enchanting production, this song steals my heart and reaches the top spot on my personal rankings.

Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

10. Bigger Wow

Going back to the summer love song vibe, this one takes a more straightforward approach to the anthem and crushes it again. The catchy, well-crafted lyrics are filled with poppy flare. It’s ultimately another sweet love song that is a breath of fresh air from the recent pop records. It’s stellar for all the same reasons as “Souvenir”.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A=

11. Love Me Insane

Continuing the trend of poppy love songs, this one takes a slower, groovier approach. While it doesn’t land as strongly as the previous songs, it’s another solid entry. Well-produced and well-written. Its ultimately candy fluff, but delicious nonetheless.

Rating: 7/10

Grade: A-

12. Warrior

Capping off the record is one last piano ballad about overcoming adversity. Her vocal performance is strongest on this effort, as well as the songwriting. The strength of her lyricism is apparent on this final ballad. Well-produced and layered with strings, this caps off the album pretty strongly. It summarizes the album’s ultimate message well and is a good finale for the record.

Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

Conclusion:

I think the biggest issue with Lavigne’s record is track listing. It feels unbalanced, with the first half of the album being front-loaded with ballads of struggle and love lost, while the second half is filled with pop songs about new love. The tone of the album is a little mixed, but every song contains the theme of rebirth, exactly reflecting the difficulty that Lavigne faced these last six years. It’s genuinely the best pop record I’ve heard since 2014. There isn’t one bad song on this album and it’s ultimately not for the fans. This album is for her and I respect that immensely. It’s a poignant window into her life, while also being a true pop record and using a style of production that I haven’t heard since early 2010s. Rather than coming back and adopting the new music trends, she stays planted in the era she left and, thusly, reinvigorates an increasingly stale genre with new life; which is only fitting with her rebirth record.

Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

Pray for the Wicked: A VinylTap Review

Pray for the Wicked: A VinylTap Review

Introduction:

Panic! At the Disco are veterans of the rock and alternative fields. Founded by lead vocalist, guitarist, and pianist/keyboardist Brendon Urie, lead guitarist, vocalist, and pianist/keyboardist Ryan Ross, drummer Spencer Smith, and bassist Brent Wilson in 2004. In 2005, the band released their debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, which features their chart-topping hit “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and gravitated to punk rock sounds. In 2005, Urie took on bassist duties from a diminishing Wilson. In 2006, Brent Wilson departed the band and was replaced by bassist, pianist and guitarist Jon Walker. The band moved more towards a psychedelic rock flavor with their 2008 follow-up, Pretty. Odd. The band argued over whether to stay with the new sound or advance, the disagreement, mainly between Walker and Ross and Urie, leading to the departures of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker to pursue a new act featuring the psychedelic sound. Urie and Smith recruited touring member Dallon Weekes to take on bassist duty and the other responsibilities held by the two men, as Urie gave up bassist duties in 2010. In 2011, the band released their third album, which leaned heavily into pop and alternative themes, Vices and Virtues. In 2013, drummer Spencer Smith became an inactive member as the band released their fourth album To Weird to Live, To Young to Die, their first fully alternative album. In 2015, Spencer officially exited the band and Weekes announced his demotion from being a full member to returning to touring member status, as Brendon Urie took up bassist and drummer duties to become the only member of Panic! At the Disco. In 2016, they released Death of a Bachelor, which landed the band their first Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. In 2017, Weekes exited the band in every facet. In 2018, they released their sixth studio album: Pray for the Wicked.

1. Silver Lining

The album starts with a swinging vibe as the album heralds a new Panic! band under Urie’s complete takeover of the group. The song sings of no love for silver linings to any of his tragedies as he’s now on top. The lyricism is pretty solid and the production is good. For myself, personally, this song isn’t one I’ll revisit extremely often, but it’s a solid start for what promises to be a good album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

2. Say Amen (Saturday Night)

The main single from the album is an anthem for the weekend. Urie’s vocals are spectacular and the songwriting is on point, with catchy rhymes and some slick references to Urie’s Mormon upbringing. The production is outstanding. This was the no-brainer for their lead single and there’s a reason for it. It’s fantastic.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

3. Hey Look Ma, I Made It

The sleek, synthetic production underscores a well-written song about success. The horns are gorgeous. The story Urie creates is compelling, as he touches on how people want what’s next and how he’s made it in a so-called “garden of evil”. It’s a fun song that is truly infectious. It’s a song that really comes from Urie’s joy, who’s been working for years to reach this point in his career. It’s a upbeat and mellow all at once. It works well, despite somewhat retreading on themes Urie’s covered before.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

4. High Hopes

This is an anthem for the dreamers and is my favorite from the album so far. The horns return in full force for this one as Urie sings about how when he didn’t have money or support, he had hopes and dreams. It’s a fantastic song with an absolutely great vocal performance from Urie, excellent production, and top notch songwriting. This is a Panic! At the Disco classic in the making.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

5. Roaring 20s

As we approach the second Roaring 20’s, Urie decides to capitalize off this with his own take filled with some savvy wordplay. Screechy horns and light pianos introduce a jazz-ridden tune. The vocals are outstanding once again. The songwriting reveals the truth behind Urie’s overjoyed facade of success and shows the nervous performer within. The song’s theatricality is very cool, but overall, it doesn’t quite reach the highest heights it could have.

Rating: 8/10

Track Rating: A-

6. Dancing’s Not A Crime

The song comes out swinging, presenting a summer jam that is simply infectious. Using lots of legal wordplay, Urie creates a fun tune about dancing and partying to drown out disappointment and heartache. It’s well-produced and well-written. It’s a must for your summer playlists.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

7. One of the Drunks

Singing about orange juice early on is a nice twist. Dealing with Urie’s usual partying and alcohol tropes, it feels a little tired and played out, even for Panic! At the Disco. The production is solid, but the songwriting doesn’t quite hold up on its end. Overall, this is the weakest song of the album so far.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

8. The Overpass

Urie’s use of jazz for this album is really cool, especially on this song. The upbeat drums mixed with the guitars and brass really works on a production level. The songwriting is also fantastic, as they create a story about painful nostalgia and relapsing into past relationships. It’s a strong song from production to songwriting to performance, and it’s particularly upbeat and fun.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. King of the Clouds

Urie layers his vocals in an a cappella open that is soon underscored by funky guitars and drums. The songwriting is pretty good as Urie sings about the feeling of being high, speaking as a recovered nicotine addict. It’s a solid performance form Urie and some really stellar production, but the songwriting doesn’t fully bring it. It’s not a bad song, just not the best of the record.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

10. Old Fashioned

Our penultimate stop on the album is particularly interesting. The unique production is super funky and reggae-influenced. The songwriting focuses on Urie’s past and reminiscing on glory days. The song is really well-written and performed. The production too is very cool and well-done. It’s another fantastic entry from Panic!

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. Dying in LA

The album ends on a slower, emotional finale. These songs are extremely rare for Panic! At the Disco, so when the come along, they’re cherished. It’s a slow song, just Urie and a piano, and it’s outstanding. His performance is beautiful and his vocals are just superb. It’s a beautiful ode to LA and dreamers. Utilizing strings, it’s an anthem for the struggling dreamers and it’s one of my favorites from their catalog. It’s a beautiful and poignant finale for their sixth installment.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

While it’s not as energetic as Death of a Bachelor or as slick as To Weird to Live, To Rare to Die, Panic! At the Disco’s latest album, while not their greatest, still manages to land as a solid effort on their part. While some songs are standout, most of the album falls into the general mediocrity compared to previous work. While the first trilogy of albums is Panic! finding their footing, the new trilogy has a clear, distinctive voice and style and it’s infectious. Urie’s complete control of the band benefited the last album, but Urie’s drive to create another record quickly like left him a little stifled creatively and spinning his wheels in classic tropes; while he still managed to deliver a solid album, it’s not groundbreaking or anything particularly phenomenal. Overall, the album lands in the middle of being great and good.

Album Rating: 8.7/10

Grade: B+

God’s Favorite Customer: A Review

God’s Favorite Customer: A Review

Introduction:

Josh Tillman has had a storied career. His career began in 2008, when he simultaneously launched his solo career as J. Tillman and became the drummer of Fleet Foxes. In 2008, he signed with Fargo Records and released three albums: Cancer and DeleriumLong May You Run, J. Tillman, and I Will Return. The trilogy of releases came just as he started with Fleet Foxes. He switched to In 2009, he released his albums Vacilando Territory Blues and Year in the Kingdom, before retiring the J. Tillman moniker in 2010 with the release of Singing Ax. In 2012, Tillman announced his departure from Fleet Foxes and released his first album under the new moniker of Father John Misty: Fear Fun. He followed that up in 2015 with I Love You, Honeybear. In 2017, he released his album Pure Comedy. He and his wife split up for several weeks and Tillman moved into a hotel, where he began writing new songs and quickly complied a new album, which was release June 1, 2018: God’s Favorite Customer

1. Hangout at the Gallows

The melancholy, smokey vocals echo beautifully in the first track of the record. The poetic lyricism paints a picture of Tillman’s pain after the split. The vocals and arrangement of instruments is very well done. It’s a very poetic and beautiful song and a great start for what’s sure to be a great album.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

2. Mr. Tillman

The acoustic guitars and chimes instantly set up a different song than what we just got. The song is a great story song. Painting a portrait of Tillman checking into the hotel and staying there while working through his grief, which is heavily implied to be substance abuse. The production and songwriting are outstanding. It’s definitely one of the best songs of the year.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Just Dumb Enough to Try

The piano driven ballad gives Tillman a chance to show off his voice. The production here continues to keep up its excellence. Meanwhile, Tillman’s heartbreaking lyricism is strong. Dealing with his conflicted reasoning and desire to keep his wife in his life, Tillman continues to paint a melancholy picture of heartache and loss.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

4. Date Night

The production is much more upbeat as the drums, acoustic guitar, and pianos drive home a happy vibe. Tillman presents a time when he was dating, either flashing back to his first date with his wife, or an attempt to bounce back after the split. My guess would be the former. It’s a well-written tune and well-produced, but not the strongest one on the effort.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

5. Please Don’t Die

Tillman actually details a suicidal depression he was in over the split and pleads with himself, via his wife, to not commit suicide. It’s a haunting song that either shows what caused the split or what he’s feeling as a result of it. Either way, it’s a haunting song that’s very well-written and well-produced. The acoustic guitars and slow, melancholy vibe really build the atmosphere. It’s in contention for my favorite song from the record and for song of the year.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

6. The Palace

The sad pianos are beautiful. The substance abuse implications are confirmed in this song, as well as how long he’s been away from his wife. The song is really gentle and beautiful, as he talks about how much he misses her, so far as to refer to the hotel as “the palace,” which was her nickname for it. It’s very well-crafted lyrically and the productions simple, yet extremely effective. It’s an outstanding song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All

The more upbeat and fast-paced song talks about true love and the desire to return to his wife. It’s very well-produced and arranged. The songwriting is solid still. It’s really the production that’s outstanding on this one.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

8. God’s Favorite Customer

The slower, harmonic production (that uses harmonicas and woodwinds) is just stellar. The atmosphere is just outstanding. The story song follows a drugged up and lonely Tillman strung out as he begs for the angels to speak to him. It’s gorgeously produced and the songwriting is meticulous and superb. It’s the climax of the album as he comes to terms with everything he’s been struggling with this record. The additional vocals that emulate the angelic chorus is perfect. This is a masterpiece song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

9. The Songwriter

The melancholy follow-up is very existential and beautiful. The piano driven ballad ponders the idea of what the music would sound like if the roles were reversed, if his wife were the songwriter. It’s tragic as he comes to terms with the separation of him and wife. The vocals are chilling and the production echoes his pain. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful song. It’s another masterpiece song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

10. We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)

The electric guitars ring out for a final statement as the album concludes with the moral of Tillman’s story. His vocals ring out over the melancholy, introspective music as he ponders human nature. The songwriting is outstanding as he wishes the world well as he says see you later. It’s a perfect finale for this masterpiece album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

This album emulates 70s blues rock while also being completely original. Father John Misty paints a raw, honest portrait of loss, heartache, pain, depression, and hope. It really has a narrative arch as we watch his journey over the few weeks away from his wife. We watch his separation, the beginning of his misery, his desperation for normalcy,  his nostalgic reminiscing of good times, his suicidal slump, his compliance with her wishes, his return to pained wishing, his outcry for love from a higher power, his realization of empathy, and finally, his call for the world to take heed of his words and story and what comes next. It’s a masterpiece of raw emotion and storytelling from a place of hurt and a place of hope. This is easily one of the best albums of the year.

Album Rating: 9.4/10

Grade: A+

Shawn Mendes: A Review

Shawn Mendes: A Review

Introduction:

Shawn Mendes is one of the many burgeoning success stories that comes from internet content creation. The Canadian Mendes was discovered in 2013 when he began posting covers on the social networking app Vine. In 2014, he was signed to Island Records and released his EP The Shawn Mendes EP, followed in 2015 by his debut album Handwritten. Later that year he released a “revisited” edition of the album. In 2016, Mendes released his sophomore effort Illuminate. Both albums were certified platinum by the RIAA. His third, self-titled effort was released on May 28, 2018.

1. In My Blood

In the opening song, Mendes crafts a very emotional portrait of anxiety and self-doubt. The lyricism of the single is absolutely mesmerizing, coupled with his emotional performance and superb production, which utilizes pop drums and electric guitars in a melancholy anthem for the anxious. It’s a fantastic start for this pop effort.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

2. Nervous

The guitars are smooth and chill at the outset as Mendes’ relaxed vocals detail a story about attraction at first sight. His vocals are stellar. The organ-ridden production and flirtatious lyricism join together to create another spectacular single. It’s very catchy and well-written. It’s another perfect song on this record.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Lost in Japan

The second single released is just so well-made. The groovy bass and gentle piano riffs couple together for a very smooth and exotic production. His vocals are smooth and flirtatious again. Shawn Mendes is such a powerful songwriter that can craft such catchy hooks, but also deliver emotional and human stories.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

4. Where Were You In The Morning?

The mix of electric and acoustic guitars is gorgeous and underscore Mendes’ vocals excellently. The songwriting is spot on once again. Mendes delivers another great song for, so far, an unbelievable record.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

5. Like To Be You (ft. Julia Michaels)

Shawn brings the wonderful Julia Michaels on this one. Mendes’ signature electric/acoustic blend is gorgeous, especially when his and Julia’s vocals merge over the top. The two singer/songwriters deliver a very beautiful vignette of star-crossed lovers. The two blend really well together. The songwriting is very sweet and emotional and matches the gentle and flowing production. The two deliver another perfect song for this outstanding record.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

6. Fallin’ All In You

His vocals are stellar yet again and the production underscores it nicely. It’s Mendes’ “Perfect”. The steady building drums and guitars carry Mendes’ emotional vocals in another solid entry for this incredible album. It’s another lovely vignette.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

7. Particular Taste

We finally get a faster, more upbeat tune from a normally very peppy Shawn Mendes. His lyricism is again great. The production incorporates whistles and slide guitars in unique ways to give this a really funky edge. It’s a great addition.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Why

Over the halfway hump of the album, you begin listening for signs of fatigue or burnout, but nothing like that is exhibited. Mendes delivers another emotional ballad with a wonderful falsetto and trance-like production. His songwriting is sincere and well-crafted. He doesn’t waste his words and delivers another hit for the album. The only reason I scored it lower is because I probably won’t revisit this specific track often personally.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

9. Because I Had You

I can think of only one other artist working today who can write and sing and produce songs of superior quality consistently on a record like this. The guitars and production are so smooth and sweet. His songwriting is just outstanding as he crafts an emotional farewell to someone special. This is a masterfully crafted song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

10. Queen

The song has a real California vibe to it. The guitars and production is angrier and has a kinda summer sensibility to it. The angrier, scornful song is very different in a story sense from the rest of the record and it’s absolutely genius. Mendes delivers yet another excellent song for the record.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

11. Youth (ft. Khalid)

The third single is just outstanding. The smooth guitars and hopefully production is wonderful. The collaboration between Mendes and Khalid is a match made in the musical heavens. Singing about ambitions, the pair deliver great performances and a great song. It’s yet another perfect addition.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

12. Mutual

The acoustic ballad is lovely. The peppier song is no doubt a guaranteed hit. Mendes presents his signature vocals and couples it with catchy melodies and masterfully produced lines. It’s another perfect addition to the record.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

13. Perfectly Wrong

The slower piano ballad is a perfect showcase of Mendes’ falsetto and melancholy songwriting. The emotionally charged performance is electrifying, underscored by equally exhilarating production. It’s a perfect penultimate song that is truly special.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

14. When You’re Ready

The final song of the album has a Hawaiian sunset sort of vibe. It’s a sweet farewell that feels like a warm campfire the beach while the sun sets. It’s a genuine treat to the ears and gorgeous final song. It signals that Mendes has done something nye-impossible: he’s delivered a near-perfect album. The songwriting is superb and Mendes proves why he is and should be heralded as one of pop’s shining stars.

Conclusion:

Shawn Mendes is the American version of Ed Sheeran, with just as much talent and charisma. The singer/songwriter deals in very emotional topics and shares a similar style to the British singer. Mendes even delivers an outstanding album, much like Sheeran did a year ago with Divide, that presents 14 vignettes that deal with love, rejection, desire, anxiety, ambition, attraction, and dislike. Mendes’ record is filled with emotion, colorful and distinct lyricism, smooth and indie-like production, and a true passion for the craft. Shawn Mendes is a shining star in pop music and has a very bright future ahead of him.

Album Rating: 9.7/10

Grade: A+

The Arrow: A Review

The Arrow: A Review

Introduction

Andy Mineo is one of the most successful rappers on Reach Records’ roster. He was active for ten years prior to signing with Reach however. He joined rap group Fat Camp after graduating college. The group and Andy were signed to Marshall Street Records after winning a song contest. They opened for acts such as Common and The Roots and released their album The Food, before Andy stepped away to join T.R.U.C.E. with Alex Medina. Andy’s departure led to the closure of Marshall Street Records. Andy toured with TRUCE and released his first mixtape Sin is Wack. While touring with Da’ TRUTH, he met Lecrae and was featured on his song “Background,” as well as Tedashii’s song “Reverse”. After his singing feature, he was sought after as a singer, causing him to split personas, using his real name for singing and C-Lite as his rap moniker. In 2010, Andy was signed to the label as a rapper and Andy dropped the C-Lite moniker. After being signed by Lecrae and company, Andy hit the ground running, releasing his mixtape Formerly Known. In 2011, Andy released his debut album Heroes For Sale. He followed that up with his EP Never Land in 2014, which features “You Can’t Stop Me,” which went gold. In 2015, Andy released his album Uncomfortable, produced by !llmind. He took 2016 off to reflect and work on new music. He filled the gap with Candy Rain, a single. In 2017, Andy formed a rap duo with friend Wordsplayed called Magic & Bird and the duo released their collaborative mixtape Magic & Bird the same year. Now, Andy finally returns with the music he’s been working on since 2016 with Chapter 1: The Arrow. Will the first chapter of his year long project live up to the hype? Find out here on this special edition of #MusicMonday.

1. I’ve Been…

The lyricism is solid and his production really solid. This intro is an honest and well made track. Andy explains to us that he’s been lost in a bad place. How’d he get there and what was it like? We’re about to find out.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

2. Clarity

Transitioning right into the next track, Andy keeps the lyricism at 100 and delivers his own “44 Bars” of truth and honesty. His vocals are solid and the production is really solid. This is a very personal project for the artist who has been missing for three years. The speed changes as Andy gets more and more into his head. He deconstructs his life and faith and rebuilds all in the course of 4 minutes. The spoken word samples are a perfect addition.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

3. Family Photo

The production is more laid back, but the honesty doesn’t change. The picture he paints of his wedding day and his family drama is absolutely captivating and heartbreaking. This is his therapy session and we’re all just listening in. This is an absolutely incredible song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

4. Anxiety

This is one flowing story that is a sobering window into a man’s soul and mind. This transitional song perfectly captures what it’s like to try and make it through an anxiety attack. However, it’s not a track I’ll revisit often.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

5. I Ain’t Done

This is the celebration song here! Andy produces a banger that is truly honest in its sentiments and completely uplifting. The song shows what’s it like to overcome anxiety and depression. It samples rock to make a truly courageous song about beating the demons. This is the best song off the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

6. …Lost

And now we return to the beginning. We’ve seen what Andy was going through the last two years and now he’s giving us the closing statements. He explains that he was lost and hit a rough patch but he’s back now. It’s a triumphant and gorgeous finale that really ties everything together. Andy’s talking at the end was amazing and completely concludes the first chapter on a huge, perfect note.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion

Andy just told one of the best stories of the year in six songs. It’s very cinematic and personal. This is only the beginning to what he’s got planned for this year. Chapter 1 was a great start. I’m excited for the rest of them. Andy Mineo is back and he’s got more to say. I can’t wait for the rest. It’s very beautiful, personal, raw, emotional, and theatrical. This is Andy’s best EP and it’s shaping up to be a truly revolutionary set of music.

EP Rating: 9/10

Grade: A