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Friday, June 25, 2010

Track-by-Track: Miley Cyrus - Can't Be Tamed

Ah, teen pop. I approach these albums with lowered expectations but am often happy when they offer more than I expected. Miley Cyrus has been quite consistent this way, no matter the genre. The music is always better than it has to be, and you get the sense (whether right or wrong) that she's actually got some say in what she performs. In other words, it's convincing. It probably doesn't hurt that she's getting the best writers and producers. Still, Can't Be Tamed is a solid pop album, another to add to her solid pop career.

1. Liberty Walk - Ushers in her new phase of Gaga-esque dance pop with a chanty verse, big chorus and some great processed drums. I'm not sure if it's the perfect album opener, but as a declaration of intent it's pretty damn good. 9/10

2. Who Owns My Heart - Delving even further into dance/club sounds, this is another strong, melody-driven song written about the pitfalls of fame. The chorus is as instant as it gets, but the pulsing beat stays with you. 9/10

3. Can't Be Tamed - It seems to have split listeners' opinions down the middle, but I still think it's a flawless 2010 pop single. Sure, it follows trends, but it's tight, performed well and has a great middle eight. 10/10

4. Every Rose Has Its Thorn - As with her Cyndi Lauper cover a few years ago, this shouldn't work. But it turns out that Cyrus's raspy vocals fit the song perfectly. The production cheapens a bit after the first chorus, but it's still a strong version of the song. 9/10

5. Two More Lonely People - Combines a galloping beat with a sugary pop melody to stunning effect. The surging middle eight is all too fleeting. It's exactly the kind of song I'd like to see more of in the U.S. 10/10

6. Forgiveness And Love - A slow, Beatle-esque ballad. It's an odd choice for Cyrus (almost too grown-up?), but the melody's nice. Never really gets beyond "nice," but that's okay. 7/10

7. Permanent December - My favorite song on the album, an anthemic club track that's got more vocoder on it than an army of Katy Perrys. But it doesn't matter when the chorus is so good. In fact, in this case the stupid lyrics don't even matter. Get this on the radio! 10/10

8. Stay - The strongest ballad on the album, it's a gentle, piano-led track that's similar in sound to Cyrus' own Goodbye. 9/10

9. Scars - A rockier, uptempo track, though it gets a little lost in the shuffle for me. It's adequately sung and produced, but not very original. 7/10

10. Take Me Along - Got a little bit of Coldplay grandeur to it, with an extended piano intro and some anthem-in-waiting choruses. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite gel. Feels too serious without a serious melody to support it. 7/10

11. Robot - A big, aggressive rocker with a vitriolic chorus sung by what sounds like a hundred Mileys. Usually these "angry about fame" tracks fall short, but the sound here is so massive that it works. It's all about that high note in the chorus, though. 9/10

12. My Heart Beats For Love - A hymnal closing ballad with the trademark Tedder-drums (though I don't think he produced this). The melody's quite good, if a bit repetitive. 8/10

Album Grade: 8.7/10

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Other Gig

The link's been hanging out in my blogroll for awhile now, but for those of you interested in fantasy and sci-fi young adult books, I post a couple times a month on The Spectacle, a blog run by writers of the genre. This week we're talking about movie adaptations, and today I posted a review round-up (similar to this blog's Pop Blitz) of movies.

Also, I did an interview with them a couple of months ago about my upcoming book, Skyship Academy.

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Sia - Bring Night

"Chase your shadow 'til the sun goes down"

I had very little interest in Sia when she released her first album of downtempo pop. But now that she's reinvented herself as a dance/funk diva, I'm all in. Her new album's a great summer listen, especially the first half. It's similar in sound to both Noisettes' and Gossip's most recent albums. Like those artists, Sia's got a terrific, soulful voice and combines elements of rock, funk and electronica to create a polished, yet earthy, mix. Bring Night is one of the album's highlights, with deliriously catchy chanted verses and a surging, explosive chorus. It's all wrapped up in under three minutes. Gotta love a taut pop song. No filler. I'd recommend checking out her cover of Madonna's Oh Father as well (the album's last track). I've always loved that song. Kudos to Sia for not picking an obvious cover.

Sia - Bring Night by alienhits

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Buy the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Miley Cyrus - Permanent December

"I've been all around the world and they just ain't the same"

Yes, I am not too cool to post a track by Miley Cyrus. Fact is, when you're dealing with this kind of lightweight teen pop, the most important ingredients are the songwriters, production and that extra little spark in the vocals. As Disney's reigning teen queen, Cyrus gets the best that radio pop has to offer in terms of songwriting/production. Better yet, her vocals are instantly recognizable (even in the heavily autotuned track I'm posting today). I've always liked the huskiness of her voice. It's a little unexpected. I know that Katy Perry's all but won the summer pop anthem with California Gurls, but I'd nominate Permanent December as a brainlessly fun contender. It's way cheesy, yes, and heavily autotuned. But it's also undeniably catchy with a mammoth sound. The euro-club synths are a welcome change from past singles. In fact, the song would probably be as good without any vocals at all (remember what I said about the importance of production?). Then there's that sunroof-open chorus. A guilty pleasure, for sure, but an excellent one. (and for those mix-tapers out there, it goes perfectly with the Example track I posted on Monday)

Miley Cyrus - Permanent December by alienhits

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Buy the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Track-by-Track: Delays - Star Tiger, Star Ariel

As far as I'm concerned, Delays don't need to do anything to prove themselves. Releasing an album as brilliant and perfect as 2006's You See Colours qualifies them automatically for hall-of-fame status. Seriously, it's been almost half a decade and I'm still not over that one. Their other albums are great, too. Unfortunately, their new release doesn't quite follow suit. There are highlights, sure, but as a whole it's a bit of a muddled affair.

1. Find A Home (New Forest Shaker) - A subdued beginning to the album, this nocturnal chant of a song builds into something quite special towards the end. It lulls you into listening. 8/10

2. The Lost Estate - The album kicks into gear here, with the kind of uptempo anthem we're used to from Delays. It's one of the highlights, for sure. Even so, it doesn't come close to their very best material. 9/10

3. Shanghaied - A rockier, guitar-led track with some very odd, jerky verses. The chorus is definitely the best part, with limited use of synths and an aggressive vocal turn. 8/10

4. Rhapsody - A classic Delays midtempo, full with dreamy vocals and a peaceful, laid-back melody. The bridge is by far the best part. The chorus is, unfortunately, a little repetitive. 8/10

5. May '45 - Another uptempo, rockier track. All it lacks is a strong chorus/hook. The verses are great, as is the production. 8/10

6. Hold Fire - Begins with a minute-long, unnecessary intro, which segues into one of the album's slowest tracks. Unlike the opener, the melody here just doesn't compel me to keep listening. At five minutes, it kills the energy. Would be a great b-side, though. 7/10

7. Unsung - The obvious single, and the closest the album gets to the amazingness of the last three albums. It's still not one of their better singles, but it stands out here with its enormous chorus, bright synths and gorgeous vocals. 10/10

8. In Brilliant Sunshine - No offense to Aaron, who's got a perfectly fine indie-rock voice, but when you're a band fronted by a guy like Greg, why have anyone else sing the songs? Seriously, it bugs me to no end, and was my biggest problem with the last release. It's like when Queen would give a song to any non-Freddie band member. With Greg's choirboy vocals this might have been amazing. As it stands, it's a forgettable wall-of-sound uptempo number. 7/10

9. Moment Gone - Coasts along at the same tempo as Hold Fire, but the melody's much better. In fact, as far as Delays ballads are concerned, it's one of my favorites. The melody in the chorus is gorgeous. 9/10

10. Lakes Can Be Lethal - The turning point, where the album starts sounding less and less like what you'd expect from Delays. In a way, this is a transitional song. There's nothing particularly memorable. It's pleasant enough, but as the album's longest track, it's the weakest link for me. 6/10

11. Star Tiger, Star Ariel - Ups the tempo a bit (and definitely the guitars). This is much more of a classic rock sound for the band, and while it's not the direction I'd like them to take, it's a lot stronger than the last song. 7/10

Album Grade: 7.9/10


Monday, June 21, 2010

Example - Last Ones Standing

"We'll catch the very last train"

This track kicks off with a bang, the kind of punch in the gut that instantly gets you listening. Thankfully, the song's more than that stabbing 80's riff (even though said riff is technically the highlight). I've loved Example's latest singles. Each has been a potent mixture of grimy hip-hop and catchy pop hooks, and the best songs on his new album follow suit. There are a handful of them, brought down slightly by a second handful of clunkers. Lucky for us, the highlights are very high... and Last Ones Standing is certainly a highlight. There's more melody here than on most of the album's tracks, and the entire thing has a big, anthemic sound (fitting, given the title). It's a sure-fire hit, really, and as good as Kickstarts is, I think it would have made a better follow-up to Won't Go Quietly.

Example - Last Ones Standing by alienhits

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Buy the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.