Folk, Reviews

I’m Not Your Man | Marika Hackman

An LGBT indie folk rock singer whose previous touring experience includes opening for Laura Marling? Marika Hackman’s resume is enticing, to say the least, as the combination is incredibly unexpected and I am thoroughly pleased to have the opportunity to dive in and see what she has to offer. Thankfully, her new album I’m Not Your Man, mostly succeeds in matching the expectations made simply by the premise. It’s a fun, incredibly witty expedition into the mindset of Hackman and her unconventional take on life.

Boyfriend” is a frustrating romp through patriarchy and the male gaze. Hackman’s seeing a girl who’s already seeing a man, but the man doesn’t mind because a lesbian relationship “doesn’t count.” At first, it seems that Hackman isn’t concerned about this, because she gets a chance to see the girl with impunity, but the relationship gets serious. It doesn’t matter since “no one takes us seriously just because I wear a dress.” The song intends to wind up the listener, which it should because the circumstance is so frustrating. It’s hard not to recommend for the perspective, alone.

Though it’s easy to focus solely on the lyrics, as their structure and play on words stand on their own. Hackman’s voice and guitar arrangements keep the songs glued to the head. She has a soft voice that drifts, and occasionally stings when she screams in “Good Intentions.” The guitar arrangements, when not strumming to a ballad, bounce to Hackman’s story. The album is very much a lighter version, musically and emotionally, of a Courtney Barnett album.

My Lover Cindy” is a joy to listen to. The guitar chords and light drumming builds a summer afternoon vibe. This all builds a structure for Hackman to talk about her love for a certain Cindy which is described with heavy emphasis on the carnal side. “Cause I’m a greedy pig, I’m gonna get my fill,” pretty much sums up Hackman’s intentions as she lusts after this woman, who she doesn’t know would stay with her for very long (“I can go for a couple of weeks and the feeling’s calcified”). It’s sexual by being critical of one’s own sexual intentions, and it works.

The lyrics and Hackman’s performance provides a perfect backdrop for every scenario. “Violet” is a droning and vividly descriptive love for someone’s mouth, which only really comes out as sexy for Hackman. “Time’s Been Reckless” is a jaunty song about lovers being unnecessarily honest about each other’s flaws in regards to, as the title implies, how age has detracted their looks. The disparity between the music and the lyrics is not always present, as some songs go for the familiar guitar strumming personal reflection. Those particular songs still have their twists.

Listening to this album is a treat for folk enthusiasts. It’s witty, jumpy, and very introspective. It’s not perfect, though. One of the main issues with the album is that it runs a little too long and the latter half gets bogged down by fatigue. It’s not that the songs are bad, but after a while, you realize there isn’t much more to figure out. Thus,  you’re sure to get everything you want out of it if you’re not into the whole album. Marika Hackman is a talented lyricist and some of her instrumentation is quite catchy and, for lack of a better term, really cool. Not every personal dissection needs to be depressing and it’s a treat to see Hackman go that direction. The guitar chords are really awesome, folks. GOOD.

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Reviews

hopeless fountain kingdom | Halsey

It’s been a dramatic couple of years for Halsey. After releasing her debut album Badlands in 2015, she received mild attention that soon skyrocketed alongside her collaboration with The Chainsmokers on the massively successful “Closer.” Now, she makes a return with hopeless fountain kingdom, an album that differs greatly from Badlands in terms of a darker tone and composition, but also feels like a natural evolution. It’s comforting to know that she didn’t take any cues from her fellow collaborator, because Halsey thrives on smart lyrics coming from personal experiences. In fact, Halsey’s album is a lot more interesting than what The Chainsmokers has to offer…sometimes.

The Prologue” is an unnecessary detriment to the entire perception of the album. It’s a mostly spoken word segment that uproots lines from ‘The Prologue’ in Romeo and Juliet, and then ends with Halsey’s interpretation of the story; but to be inherently critical, you can listen to the entire album and not get that impression whatsoever. Prologues prepare listeners for a great epic, but looking at the album that way sets the expectations too high. I highly recommend skipping this song and listening to the rest.

100 Letters” is Halsey at her finest, emphasizing the power of feminism and being your own person. A real or metaphorical King Midas, who turns everything to gold with a single touch, vies for Halsey to be touched by him. King Midas comes off as above her, putting her down by explaining why she doesn’t “have any friends,” but Halsey bites back with “I find myself alone at night unless I’m having sex.” She’s “not something to butter up and taste when you get bored,” fighting back Midas’ touch and accusing him of greed, gluttony, and lust. It’s a really well thought out song.

It’s important to talk about the lyrics because they are what really makes Halsey stand out among all the other semi-pop acts. She can be fairly clever, like in “Eyes Closed.” “Now if I keep my eyes closed, he looks just like you,” should be a really bad line, but it’s a loaded line about Halsey’s character sleeping with different people to get the same thrill as the one that left. When it’s not clever, it’s a subtle introspection into Halsey’s personality, like in “Alone” where her popularity is reaching such a high that she can’t have personal connections with many people. When she says “She asked if I recognized and I told her I might,” it signifies how aware Halsey for how out of control the situation is, even if she’s still letting it all happen.

Devil In Me” doesn’t really work. There is too much of a crutch on metaphor that reaches points of obtuseness. When it’s not obtuse, it’s too simple, with a repetitive chorus and a bare-boned beat in the background that tries to be atmospheric but doesn’t have much emotional weight. In fact, seeing the title basically describes everything that needs to be known about the song.

“Devil In Me” signifies one of the largest issues with the album. When the lyrics aren’t amazing, the album reaches a state of sheer mediocrity. Halsey is not a bad singer, but she’s not a powerhouse and the production doesn’t do much to support her. Songs like “Sorry” are fine, but it’s a simple piano ballad with very little to add other than the occasional fun lyric.

hopeless fountain kingdom would be a good album if it was more consistent. It hits high at the very beginning and then grows tedious over the course. The first set of songs are a joy to listen to, but after a while, the lyrics grow tired, the music grows tired, and then I get tired. She just doesn’t do enough in this album to keep the interest lasting, and there’s enough evidence that she can since Badlands is a joy to listen to from start to finish. It’s such a shame because Halsey has a talent for lyrics that may not be amazing prose, but they capture the quirks of her personality that give her instant appeal. Listen to the first half – sans the prologue – when there’s a good time to be had. OK.

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Reviews

Vine | Jen Gloeckner

DISCLAIMER: This album was provided to us for review.

From her own bedroom, Jen Gloeckner brings her fantastical dreams on a boat drifting to the world, at least that’s what is to be suspected from her first album in 7 years. Vine mixes electronic sounds, orchestral instrumentation, and her own sultry yet strong voice. What people get from the album, however, depends on what grabs you, as Vine is about duality: where everything comes together perfectly and when it does not.

The titular song, “Vine,” begins the album with mysticism, playing around with a harp over electronic murmurs. It also brings in a decent collaboration with Gloeckner herself, and a solo piano. This song, however, is not overly interesting for an opening song. In addition, I just wish the lyrics were more interesting to hear, given that most of the song is taken up by them. “I’m alright without your love” is not particularly powerful when spoken about a relationship that is not yet familiar to the listener, and there is not much in the rest of the lyrics to get a clearer picture.

Firefly (War Dance)” annoyed me. The song plays with a lot of different sounds, including Native American chanting echoing in an industrial landscape. It feels like the song was put together to make interesting sounds, but there is a strong lack of emotional significance. There is no indication of danger, confusion, overwhelming tide, or much of anything really.

I find that quite a few of the early songs in Vine have many moments that are a joy to experience, but not always to their entirety. “Ginger Ale” has a chorus that would make every Enya fan cheer with nostalgia, with beautiful hymns surrounded by the sound of serene violins. However, it’s a shame that Gloeckner’s sharp voice doesn’t fit very well with this kind of atmosphere. “The Last Thought” has a positively joyous chorus that sounds like Gloeckner is a child on a swing, but the lyrics around it seem to say otherwise.

Blowing Through” took me by surprise, as it was light on the production and gave more of a folksy vibe than anything else. On top of that, the song focuses on the more traditional Americana take on folk, which is not too often done from indie acts that focus on electronic and dreamlike music. With “Blowing Through,” Gloeckner proves her bravery in jumping into different genres and making the most out of the best aspects of them.

It’s weird, but Vine does get better nearing the latter half of the album. After “Blowing Through,” “Counting Sheep” is a late evening moment of reflection, where Gloeckner’s voice blends perfectly with the music that drags you along with her. “Prayers” takes the apathy that I was critical about earlier with a sense of self-awareness, focusing on unanswered questions coming from the senses of the world. By that point, I was hooked in and ready to see what was next…better late than never, I suppose.

Jen Gloeckner’s quite a talented performer and the amount of instrumentation mixed in with genres of every kind is beyond impressive; but the arrangement of the album has done a great disservice. I don’t think any of the songs in the first half are a great presentation of her overall skills. What’s left is a mixed bag of unfulfilled potential and the moments when the expectations are met. In the end, Gloeckner is an exciting star that I hope we see so much more from. Vine just bursts with talent from an exciting singer, but it takes patience to see the best that is offered. OK.

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Reviews

LØVË EP | Aaron Carter

It’s 2017, and an iconic figure from decades ago makes a return with a new property that barely references any previous work and doesn’t even recall why people liked him in the first place. Yes, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Aaron Carter has undergone a gritty reboot. Fifteen years since his last album, Aaron Carter is planning a return with an album slated to come out this fall. Until then, we have LØVË, which is roughly pronounced as “Leuveh” if you want to be pedantic. So, what is “Leuveh?” It’s a house EP that is inoffensive to listen to and rather unexciting.

Fool’s Gold,” being the opening song, sets a new style for Carter, with some slow beats and tunes that are really uninteresting but are catchy enough to stay in the mind for at least a couple of minutes. It could’ve easily been an okay song if the lyrics didn’t feel like a poorly written teenage diary. The first verse talks about a woman who is more interested in Carter than the person they are already seeing; but then there’s “No more coffee in the morning.” All this makes me think is that this woman is just so unhappy in this relationship that she doesn’t make coffee, anymore. It’s a caffeine-free environment because love=coffee. Most of the song is like this: “He don’t know you’re worth your weight in gold” but “you traded my heart for some fool’s gold.” Who’s the metaphorical gold? There’s no way of knowing.

Gold is mentioned in the second line of “Let Me Let You” and he could’ve at least used any other word to make it seem like there was more of a creative writing process going on. The entire song is about Carter having a good time with an attractive girl but then he has to go home. That’s the whole song and it feels artificially padded for a three-minute song. It doesn’t help that the music is not interesting enough to ignore the continuous repetition of the line “Let me let you go.”

I think “Same Way” and “Dearly Departed” are talking about the same thing because he’s waiting for his love to come home, and I don’t think she did. In “Same Way,” he feels pretty okay with it; but in “Dearly Departed,” he seems pretty upset about the whole thing to the point that the act of leaving is equivalent to death. There is such a mystery behind the caricature of Aaron Carter and I don’t know if anyone can truly solve the riddles that are being unfolded.

And what is Aaron Carter’s obsession with women and his house? Almost every song is about a woman being specifically either within his house or not at his house. When she’s not in the house, she’s dancing on tables, having sex with other men, not spending time with Aaron Carter, and/or thinking about Aaron Carter. This album should’ve been called A WØMAN CØMËS TØ MY HØUSË, SØMËTIMËS.

It may seem like I chose to review Aaron Carter’s latest album just to bash it, and there is quite a bit of truth to that. But there’s a certain novelty to hearing music from him in 2017. Let’s not forget that in the late 90s and early 2000s, everyone knew who he was. He was a pre-teen idol beloved by girls and boys alike. His mainstream version of hip hop brought the genre to an audience who would otherwise not consider it. Carter’s career will eventually become replicated by the likes of Jesse McCartney and, more significantly, Justin Bieber. But unlike Carter, Bieber made a strong attempt at changing his image and becoming the forefront of music for the modern times. Aaron Carter, partly by being away for so long, feels significantly behind, playing music that would’ve been more interesting ten years ago. Maybe if he drops generic EDM tunes and finds a way to evolve his old persona in a new style, we might have something really worth listening to. For now, it’s nostalgia that gives this EP any merit. EH.

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Reviews

No Shape | Perfume Genius

Sometimes changing the tune even just a little bit is all that’s needed to bring in more fans. Perfume Genius attempts to do this with fourth album No Shape, which is a subtle but effective diversion from Too Bright’s lo-fi and pop arrangement. No Shape is more instrumental, with a strong presence of piano, guitar, and many other instruments that I cannot possibly identify. When I mentioned “more fans” in the first line, I mostly meant myself because no matter how many attempts I made, Too Bright simply did not appeal to me. However, the music arrangements in No Shape create an eerie balance alongside a distressed and lost character in the midst of great change.

If there is any song that can make me doubt about dismissing anyone, it’s “Slip Away.” It’s not only a terrific song, but one where each and every step is both beautifully crafted and chaotic. The music is mechanical, like a lumbering machine unencumbered by disaster. This contrasts well against Mike Hadreas’ airy vocals, giving credence to the distress of the situation and futility of love breaking “the shape we take.” Considering the album is called No Shape, the circumstances are made quite clear.

Just Like Love” is a perfect example of how taking a more instrumental direction allows for a more diverse listening experience. Where Too Bright’s music was as airy as it’s singer, No Shape goes for more stronger sounds. A high-toned keyboard switches quickly to a bass arrangement followed by an electric guitar that’s smoked too many guitars. The progression of the song is unpredictable, which is really exciting. You want to finish the song just to figure out what comes next.

Sides” is a special collaboration with Weyes Blood where they play a frustrated couple. Hadreas plays a boyfriend trying to break through the emotional barriers of their significant other, where the struggle is heightened by an anthemic guitar arrangement. Blood steps in for a more tranquil part of the song where her melodic vocals sing how “it ain’t easy to love” her. This is turned on its head when both join to say “baby, it ain’t easy to love,” showing that they both have trouble with their side of the relationship.

Every single song has its own signature. “Go Ahead” is a stomping ground of giants, “Valley” is pure whimsy, and “Choir” is a fast-paced violin that drowns Hadreas’ vocals. Perfume Genius has really refined his craft by making his fourth album more of a classical piece than a pop album. It’s energetic, adventurous, and dangerous. It certainly helps that he brought on producer Blake Mills, who also worked on Laura Marling’s Semper Femina, whose imprint of dark atmosphere and heavy instrumental production is very much present. This isn’t to dismiss Hadreas’ contribution, but more to praise how everything, from his performance to the overall production, is just right. No Shape is an emotional collapse of broken pianos and earnest yearning…that’s a compliment. LOVE IT.

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Broadcasts, Reviews

Pageant | PWR BTTM

Ellis and Steven take a closer look at PWR BTTM‘s Pageant amidst accusations of sexual abuse and antisemitism, and essentially the band’s rapid downfall.

Colorful Monsters has a zero tolerance policy towards sexual abuse. If you, or anyone you know, have or has experienced sexual abuse, there are many options available and we encourage you to seek help. The U.S. Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673.

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Reviews

Hopeless Romantic | Michelle Branch

Seven years since her last EP and fourteen years since her last LP, Michelle Branch has returned from the long hiatus to bring Hopeless Romantic, an album of love and heartbreak. It’s a largely unsurprising route to take, as her previous albums revolve around similar themes. However, this time she brings life experience and a brand-new sound that is more electronic-based instead of her usual pop rock signature. Her previous album, Hotel Paper, was a guilty pleasure of mine, as I had a fondness for the period of pop rock that also spawned Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson. Times have moved on, however, and so has Branch. So was the change in sound an improvement and a great evolution to her original work? In short: a little bit. Branch’s previous work struggled to be interesting production-wise. But with production help from Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, Hopeless Romantic took a drastic turn. However, every chance the album gets to do something really cool, the lyrics and overall structure bring it down.

Best You Ever” brings out a new Michelle Branch who springs into action with an 80s groove that could easily have been sung by Gwen Stefani, which she sounds a lot like at times. “Best You Ever” is the album at its best. It’s not absolutely stellar, or even all that memorable as much as Branch pleads for us to remember her; but in the moment, it’s catchy and fun.

You’re Good” best defines a lot of the frustrations that are in the album. The production is great, with bouncy synthesizers shaping a more defined personality, but Branch herself doesn’t offer very much to it. She’s not a bad singer, but there isn’t much energy or strength in her delivery. On top of that, the lyrics are only okay. There’s only so much excitement that can alone come out of “Everybody tells me that you’re not enough / They don’t understand you like I do.” The combination of drab lyrics and a wanting performance leaves the song heavily flawed.

Living A Lie” is a highlight, primarily by hitting an equilibrium between Branch’s singing and the heavily guitar-focused performance around her. It’s gritty, yet still very poppy. This continues on with “Temporary Feeling.” The album becomes incredibly satisfying when the album focuses on having fun, because that is when Michelle Branch shines. She comes off as enthusiastic, mirroring the sounds of Carly Ray Jepsen.

Hopeless Romantic is supremely average…most of the time. That’s what makes this album so frustrating; there is not a single thing that could be described as a deal breaker, but there are so many missing pieces that doesn’t let the album reach the levels that it aspires to achieve. It’s such a shame because there are good songs that are really enjoyable when everything comes together. There are a lot of moments where Branch flows well with the music and the lyrics help accentuate the tone. However, there are other times when that moment of joy only happens in a handful of seconds. Songs are weak when Branch leans on the lyrics. The rest is very listenable and can be appreciated by longtime Michelle Branch fans and even some The Black Keys followers looking to listen to a production that references Carney and Auerbach’s music. For me, come for the stellar music and accept an experience that isn’t consistently pleasant. OK.

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