(U.S. ITunes Version)Favorites:
Settle Down, Something in the Way You Are, Old FlameOverall:
Revitalizing. Stimulating lyrics and an eclectic sound.
In a prior review, I stated that Haley Reinhart’s “Listen Up!”
was one of the 1st albums of 2012 that I absolutely adored. Kimbra’s “Vows” is the 2nd. Getting the attention of American listeners with her featured vocals on Gotye’s “Someone I Used to Know,” the New Zealander is bound to keep our captivation with her debut studio album. For anyone who listens to today’s mainstream music, “Vows” will be invigorating as it has contemporary appeal, but it’s far from falling in line with the current trend of shallow, simplistic lyrical content and redundant, predictable music production. As a co-writer/producer, the songstress addresses love and self-reflection primarily using imagery and metaphors. Vocally, Kimbra’s deliciously versatile, as she flows from heavy, sultry and soulful to light and airy. Musically, the album is a fantastic, diverse gumbo of alternative, pop and R&B/soul, with hints of jazz, electronica and baroque pop. The hefty amount of live instrumentation is much appreciated. In my opinion, there are only 3 downsides to the record. Some of the lyrics could be deemed as too abstract or convoluted to get a clear understanding, parts of the album are too consistent in tempo and run the risk of sounding “sleepy” and some of the vocals are so soft that one would have to be extra attentive to hear. Aside from that, this album is a smash and must be purchased. Most of the tracks can be found on YouTube for preview. Check out the M-Phazes remix of "Settle Down," which I LOVE, below.
Album review.By @Just_a_theory
If I Ever Get Around to Living, Whiskey, Whiskey, WhiskeyOverall:
With a likable slight country influence, Mayer touts he’s a changed man.
‘I’m a good man with a good heart, had a tough time, had a rough start,’ John Mayer swoons …perhaps his “Shadow Days” really are over! On “Born and Raised,” John Mayer faces his ‘bad boy’ image and lets us know that he’s moving forward with the man he wants to be. For those who follow Mayer, they’re familiar with his lack of filter and projected playboy image in press interviews. Without going too deep into specific instances, this album is his anthem for reform.
He first confronts his past with tracks like “Age of Worry” and then introduces us to the new man we see before us on “Shadow Days.” Mayer seems almost apologetic and humbled by where his experiences have led him, especially in regard to his love life. He focuses on the lessons learned on “Days,” which is arguably an ode addressing his reported fling with country starlet Taylor Swift. He sings, “And I never meant her harm, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make it hard to carry on.” He doesn’t stray too far from his growth in this department with “Love is a Verb,” where he expresses his knowledge of love and all that it gives, instead of his typical thirst for female anatomy.
My favorite tracks are “If I Ever Get Around to Living” and “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey.” I love the contentment expressed on “Living,” the bridge is fire and it’s the most melodically similar to Mayer’s previous work. With “Whiskey,” Mayer touts that his whiskey-water-sleep life was a phase, but admits he has far to go. One thing I think we all love about John is his ability to be relatable and he brings us that favorable characteristic with these songs. The title track “Born and Raised” is a great summation of the album’s ideology and provides great detail of his journey with the simplest lyrics, as Mayer illustrates his hopes and aspirations to build on his epiphanies. Those looking for the transparent and smart word choice version of John Mayer will not be disappointed with this album.
I find it fascinating that he chooses the melodic tunes and tones of country to introduce this “new man.” My theory is that country music typically presents these hard truths without being too heavy, like blues. It has an element of realness that is indeed likable. Great guitar solos and strong harmonic influences help paint the picture of a man truly “Born & Raised.” Am I saying that the album is proof John Mayer is totally reformed? I’m not. Am I saying there’s a good chance his new choice of material and wise words are well intentioned and show the grown man we’ve anticipated? Perhaps.
Likes: Undone, Free, Now That You’re Here
Overall: LOVE IT. If Amy Winehouse released a pop album, this is what it would sound like.
So I love this album. If you’re unfamiliar with Haley Reinhart or didn’t pay her much attention during season 10 of “American Idol,” you might want to check her out now. Her debut “Listen Up!” is the perfect blend of contemporary music (minus techno, refreshingly) and a little bit of 60’s soul. Fun and a chunk funky with well-composed lyrics, this is one of the first 2012 albums that I thoroughly enjoyed. Vocally, Reinhart has a distinctive, unique tone, but her voice is debatably thin with a limited range. However, the vocals are solid enough to where it’s not a distracting shortcoming. As co-writer on all but 2 songs, 21-year-old Reinhart presents an even lyrical balance between a mature (ex. “Liar”) and innocent (ex. “Let’s Run Away”) feel. I was really impressed with some of the lyrical content; it’s a tinge grittier than expected and takes an approach to relationships that’s not typically heard (ex. “Free”). Hayley wants us to “Listen Up”? She’s got my attention.
Likes: Too Many Fish
Overall: Poorly written and a carbon copy of Katy Perry/Nicki Minaj
So awhile back, Karmin (consisting of Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan) was an unsigned duo on Youtube who did acoustic rock/pop and a bevy of contemporary covers, who I profiled last year for a talent spotlight. They gained national attention with their cover of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” as Heidemann effortlessly spit Busta Rhymes’ speeding featured verse. Afterward, the pair shared the stage with The Roots and was offered a record deal. I wasn’t excited about the contract because I knew that the label executives would likely encourage them to do an entire album of “Look at Me Now;” I was right. The short 7-track debut EP is a culmination of what’s hot this instant. A Katy Perry/Nicki Minaj pop-rap smoothie with a drop of techno, “Hello” is weakly written and underutilizes Karmin’s ability. Amy has a strong, soulful, smooth voice that’s barely showcased, as she raps and only sings choruses on majority of the tracks. Noonan’s vocals are pleasant and heard more often, but he fails to shine as a musician because most of the songs are produced by others. The lyrics are agonizingly uncomplicated and basic, which is an insult to the fact Heidemann and Noonan are songwriters. The songs are catchy, and the production is slightly interesting, blending hip-hop flavor with piano and acoustic guitars, but I can’t get over the poor writing and how blatantly formulaic the material is. If this is “Hello,” I’m saying “goodbye.”
Likes: Bombs Away, Out of My Mind, So Hard to Breathe
Dislikes: Ray Bands, Circles
Overall: Decent, but not excellent. A bit basic.
The sophomore (or 2nd) album is a crucial period for a mainstream artist who had a successful debut. They’ll either continue to be a smash or gradually fade away. Between fickle audiences, shifts in music industry practices/trends, and an artist’s own personal growth, it’s a 50/50 shot. With “Strange Clouds,” has rapper B.O.B. dodged the proverbial ‘sophomore jinx’, set himself apart and proven he deserves to stick around? Yes and no. B.O.B. reached the charts with songs in which he was an after-thought; hits like “Nothin’ On You” (ft. Bruno Mars) & “Airplanes” (ft. Hayley Williams), were more known for their infectious and melodic choruses than his rhymes. B.O.B was a like a featured artist on his own tracks. On this record, that’s still somewhat of a problem, as some of the more appealing cuts are sung features (appearances include Taylor Swift, Chris Brown & Trey Songz). B.O.B. is debatably lost in the shadows even on his rap collaborations (Nicki Minaj has a memorable verse on “Out of My Mind”). The rebound from this is that he makes a stable enough effort to shine on his solo tracks.
Although elementary lyrics are spread throughout, I appreciated that reflection and tales of struggle and aspiration are a consistent topic. I also liked how majority of the songs involving women were simply about wooing and having a good time, as opposed to a casual sexual encounter (despite being musically bland and cheesy). The production teetered back and forth between traditional/basic (ex. “Play for Keeps”) and untraditional/interesting (“Never Let You Go,” some live instrumentation). All and all, “Strange Clouds” is acceptable enough to give B.O.B. another chance to get it right, but is uninspiring enough to throw in the towel if the 3rd album doesn’t hit it out of the ballpark. Album sampler below.