hi guys! this is the first episode of The Throwaways, a new podcast where we take a look at some of the most criticized albums and see if they really deserve such hate. in this episode, we talk about Charlie Puth and his debut album “Nine Track Mind.”
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.
It can be easy to classify music as a binary between ‘experimental’ and ‘accessible.’ The natural assumption is that experimentation requires a departure from widespread appeal. Shugo Tokumaru, who was featured on Monster Bunker #12, seems to see this as a personal challenge. Tokumaru’s sixth album, TOSS, carefully balances completely unhinged strangeness with fun and loose composition that provides an easy entry point for just about anyone. The album acts like a high-speed merry-go-round, always threatening to throw the listener off while providing firm support to make sure that never happens. TOSS is the definition of unafraid: unafraid to be dense and discordant, unafraid to be sparse and gentle, and unafraid to wander between the two.
Tokumaru delivers energy like you’ve never seen before, throwing in just about every sound you can imagine. I couldn’t begin to count how many instruments are in use throughout “Lita-Ruta,” and I don’t think it’s wise to try. Horn sections, rock instruments, folk instruments, and toys are fair game; and each and every one is used to brilliant effect. The song’s driving bass line slips and slides like the bassist is struggling to keep his balance, but never once does it clash with the dense arrangement surrounding it. Wilder still is the closing track “Bricolage Music,” which builds off of a collage of split second sound effects and samples to form a shockingly inviting sound. Perhaps the strangest part of the entire affair is how gentle and melodic Tokumaru’s vocals remain throughout the entire album. It doesn’t matter that it sounds as though the horn section has just fallen down the stairs in “Taxi,” Tokumaru keeps singing with a soothing sweetness in his voice. It seems like the kind of thing that would clash with the atmosphere of these songs, but never once does it feel out of place.
The clean and gentle vocals feel even more appropriate on the album’s lighter tracks, of which there are several. “Route” is a surprisingly straightforward piano ballad, albeit a very good one. Consisting almost entirely of piano and Tokumaru’s voice, it would be easy to assume the track wouldn’t stand out well against the intense tracks around it; but even this simple arrangement is handled masterfully. In fact, that same simplicity helps it shine as a unique moment for the album. “Dody” and “Migiri” become simpler still, consisting largely of acoustic guitar lines, with the former being instrumental and the latter containing some of the gentlest vocals on the entire album. Both songs manage a balance between highly technical musicianship and gentle atmosphere, allowing the listener a choice between listening intently to every detail, or relaxing completely and going along with whatever happens. It’s hard to find music this effortlessly gorgeous.
It wouldn’t be hard to keep gushing praise for this album for another few paragraphs, but that might actually ruin the fun. There are so many weird and wonderful surprises throughout this album that it’s probably best to just give it a listen and discover them all yourself. If you’re looking for fun and whimsical new music that will challenge your ears without giving you a headache, you absolutely cannot go wrong with TOSS. LOVE IT.
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.
It’s not nonsense to say Cashmere Cat was one of the first to dabble in exaggerated, some would say ‘hyperkinetic,’ electronic pop around the time the genre was merely incubating. In 2012, the Norwegian producer released his first EP, Mirror Maru, where he cross contaminated swirls of piano with arbitrary hip-hop beats. He continued to do the same thing in 2014’s Wedding Bells, his second EP. And both relied heavily on being unpredictable and experimental. However, with the release of debut album, 9, Magnus August Høiberg held loosely to his previous experimentations, and cemented what was left of them with quite an elaborate pop gathering. The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, and MØ are among the featured collaborators. It’s not so much the choice of names Magnus brought aboard; but it is how none of them added anything idiosyncratic to their respective tracks. In actuality, the voices are caked up with so much distortion, they’re barely recognizable, and could’ve easily been replaced with unknowns.
“Victoria’s Veil” is the only standout, as it’s the only track that doesn’t feature anyone and isn’t limited by pop’s generic capabilities. Its ambient base is heavily textured with smatterings of beeps and squeaks, making for a fun festival showing or nightly drive. “Night Night” featuring Kehlani and “Europa Pools” featuring Kacy Hill slightly fall in the same box, since the artists featured are mostly used as additional synth. Neither of these are seriously hindered by Cashmere Cat’s covet to achieve what SOPHIE did with Charli XCX.
“9 (After Coachella)” featuring MØ is perhaps the worst of the bunch and includes a pointless Coachella tag tacked on to the end of it. It’s obvious that SOPHIE didn’t mash well with Høiberg’s approach. Both produce similar music and if SOPHIE had taken full reigns over the album’s title track, it would’ve been different. However, on the second SOPHIE-assisted track, “Love Incredible,” Høiberg limits the co-producer’s PC Music aesthetic and essentially strings together boring synth and boxing beats all to showcase unimpressive lyrics.
On the other side of the spectrum, when Cashmere Cat is the sole producer, complex rhythms are virtually seized off. The production behind “Trust Nobody” simply repeats a synth bop and beat underneath Gomez’s talking vocals, while ignoring the need to differentiate in choruses or rap breaks–leaving them, the chorus in particular, non-existent. He slightly deviates from this structure in “Quit” featuring Grande by utilizing flute-like synth and cow bells to ruffle the generic-ness that it, nevertheless, exudes. However, the production still submits itself below the power of the name vocals.
Cashmere Cat faces confusion between the aesthetic he originated and how to toss it over mainstream lines. It’s a bizarre compilation with absolutely no concept and feels like a badly-run factory on the verge of explosion, or perhaps a strike. He sacrifices the musical aspect in most of the album, likely because he was afraid to overshadow the big artists. But in the end, he does them, and mostly himself, a huge disservice. EH.
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.
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