Ariana Grande – My Everything

Released, 22nd August, 2014

Released, 22nd August, 2014

Ariana Grande has got it unfairly good. Young, attractive, remarkably talented, and now commercially successful. The two pre-released singles Problem and Break Free are dominating the charts and Grande has now made many friends within the business. The main attraction of Grande and indeed My Everything is her stunning voice; expressive, powerful and indomitable. But, with talent and youth comes countless people ready to exploit and ruin a desirable thing. The main question entering My Everything is ‘can Ariana Grande avoid such pitfalls common to so many up-coming vocal-pop divas?’ – The answer is…kinda.

By no means is My Everything a revolutionary album. The path it travels is well-worn within the world of pop singers: Countless producers, multiple songwriting credits, plenty of guest rappers, and an adequate mix of emotional piano ballads and glitzy pop explosions. At its worst, it is the pinnacle of unacceptable mediocrity. Take Best Mistake and  Hands On Me for instance: Easily the two worst cuts on the album, the former a murky and minimalist piano trudge littered with cliches and a creepy-in-a-bad-way verse from Big Sean, and the later an out-of-place sex display that sees Grande struggling to maintain conviction of any kind. Indeed, much of the album does sound like it was birthed from middle-aged men in board rooms strategically planning things out. Despite this, there is plenty to enjoy here, and the greatest pleasures scale high peaks.

Break Your Heart Right Back gleefully rides a sample from The Notorious B.I.G.’s Mo Money Mo Problems/Diana Ross’s I’m Comin’ Out for its chorus and features a headphone-satisfying bass line. One Last Time is a simple but chiming dance track with fervent choruses. Just a Little Bit of Your Heart is a tenderly moving piano ballad with subtle strings that is a wonderful showcase for Grande’s soaring vocal talents. Fun fact: The song was co-written by Harry Styles from One Direction. Yeah. Shocked me too.

The slow burning groover Love Me Harder is an absolute gem of a track. The throbbing pulse of heaving synthesisers serves as the perfect backdrop to Grande’s sensual tones (à la Donna Summer). Also worth noting, The Weekend’s guest appearance proves perhaps the best on the album, perfectly melding with Grande’s vocals and offering a distinct stylistic power. Then there are those two singles we mentioned earlier. Problem acts as the spiritual successor to Beyonce’s Crazy In Love and is just as terrific. Also, it is by far the most ‘experimental’ thing to be found on My Everything, somehow managing to combine pounding bass lines, sky-scraping pre-choruses, hushed male choruses, dirty sax loops, and an enjoyably obnoxious Iggy Azalea verse, into an irresistible piece of pop majesty that seems like it really belongs five years in the future. The empowerment anthem Break Free is easily the most produced thing here, with very clear EDM influences courtesy of producer Zedd. It does however, manage to avoid the hazardous pitfalls of the EDM and house music genre, and is in reality a powerfully pumping and vibrant expression of raw feeling.

Ariana Grande has all the stars aligned for a long and successful career in the music business. For those interested in the quality of the music, Grande puts forth a decent sophomore album, one with a couple of career defining classics,but still room for improvement.

6.9/10

Yanni Markovina

Twin Peaks – Wild Onion

Twin-Peaks Wild-OnionOkay, let’s start with the elephant in the room: Yes, the band is called Twin Peaks. The same name as David Lynch’s terrific early 1990s mystery drama. Other than the name, there is not much similarity between the show and the band. Instead of leading audiences on confusing and exploratory adventures as Lynch did in the T.V. series, on Wild Onion, Twin Peaks specialise in delivering straightforward and energetic power pop.

While the album can seem like it is ticking of a checklist of musical icons (The Replacements? Check. Tom Petty? Check. Rolling Stones? Check. Big Star? Definitely check), Wild Onion is a marvelously engaging collection of killer riffs, superb melodies, and raw youthful excitement. In fact, the band’s saving grace on Wild Onion is their resistance to overcommitting to any one influence, and instead jumping freely between styles at will. Making Breakfast features one of the bounciest and catchy rhythms on the album, and accentuates this with the interplay of smoothly sung verse vocals and lacerating Iggy Pop/Mick Jagger chorus vocals. Telephone is a pure light-footed blast of memorable pop bliss, with a scintillating electric guitar breakdown and build-up to keep things interesting (all in a compact three minutes). Flavor on the other hand is the carefree summer jam we’ve all been waiting for: Two minutes of rip-roaring choruses and bright and crunching guitars.

The 1960s pop influences are strong and refreshing here, most notably on the blissful start-stop Sweet Thing, the shining Mirror of Time, and the Beatle-esque Mind Frame. Wild Onion demonstrates more than anything how brilliant Twin Peaks are with a melody, as showcased by the gliding journey of Ordinary People; a Beach-Boys-inspired collage of atmospherics, neat instrumental effects, and background vocals. All of which amounts to a track of wistful contemplation on a hot sunny day. The albums moodier and more ambient songs such as Strange World and Stranger World are perfectly timed between the raucous tracks, so as to offer rewarding diversity.

Wild Onion is simply a highly satisfying album that becomes more and more brilliant with each listen. With music this fun and so deftly executed, there is little you can do other than to dive in, head first into this enjoyable world and just sing along.

8.2/10

Yanni Markovina

Yanni Markovina’s Favourite Twenty-Five Albums of the 2000s

day95-be-iwaitm#25 – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning – Bright Eyes – 2005

For all the ‘new Bob Dylan’ tags that were being thrown around by the media about Conor Oberst back in the early 2000s, none were really that warranted. There can only be one Bob Dylan. The same goes for Conor Oberst. Oberst’s music is a singular encapsulation of the most painfully emotional times of adolescence, and with his outfit Bright Eyes, he has produced some of the most endearing and lyrically impressive indie-folk of the last fifteen years. Nowhere is this more perfectly showcased than on I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. Continue reading

Doctopus – Wobbegong

Wobbegong is a 25 minute lesson in how to not give a fuck. With songs that either become bored of their own riffs after a minute and then abruptly stop, or drive their repeated phrases long and hard into the ground, Doctopus (yeah, let the name sink in) present an odd idea to the table. Falling somewhere between a lovable pastiche/homage to the laconic indie rock legends of the 1990s and a mockery of them, Doctopus are a Perth based collection who specialise in songs with trivial lyrical ideas and fuzzy, repetitive riffs. Whatever the exact intention of the group, one thing that can not be denied is a refreshing air of youthful energy that permeates across the album. One of cocky assurance: For better or worse.

The title track is easily the best thing on here. A two and a half minute blast of six string-slamming garage pop with wild, frenzied vocals that keep up the tone of a sunny summer smash. Simple, yet effective, and one of the best, straightforward indie rock tunes of 2014 . While the title track is endlessly relistenable, the rest of the album lacks that same power, but still manages to maintain a similar flair. Man I Think You’re Cool and Keeping Me Cool are brief guitar crunchy stabs which a relatively appealing in a lazy, lo-fi way. The lengthier tracks, like Untitled and Stadium Rock ride twanging and distorted riffs over moderate tempos for five minutes. They are interesting, seemingly recalling such repetitive dirges of Lou Reed and Dinosaur Jr., but ultimately they lack enough intrigue of style and form to prompt repeated listens. The eight-minute closer Chronic Reprise is simply unforgivable. An uninteresting, repetitive chant of the same lyrics and same sparse riff that goes nowhere and reveals nothing. By this moment, the listener finally becomes aware of the intentions of Doctopus: They just don’t care. You can picture them laughing at us, mocking us as they play their ‘epic’ closer. I mean, Stadium Rock is the furtherest thing from “stadium rock”!

For what it is, Wobbegong is a flawed set of tracks, and it doesn’t mind that it is. This tone is further accentuated by the band’s ‘name your price’ option for the album (get the album here). The title track is terrfic, and the rest is mediocre or just okay. Still, Wobbegong is an interesting idea, it just needs more focus. A lot more focus.

6.1/10

Yanni Markovina

Angus & Julia Stone – Angus & Julia Stone

Released, 5th of August, 2014More than most musicians, Angus & Julia Stone have a challenge. An on-going challenge. As a two-piece, focusing on a style of music that would have them lumped into the “indie-landfill” (the excessive influx of folk and indie orientated musicians over the past 5 years), the pressure to produce music that can consistently be good or relevant  is enormous. This self-titled effort is enjoyable enough for fans of the duo and the genre, with its comfortable adoption of a musical style not dissimilar to Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac. The album does however tend to drag on in the latter half, and the whole album clocks in at an hour long. Ultimately, Angus & Julia Stone won’t change any minds or preconceptions about the duo, but in certain cases it does try to, and either way, the outcome is still fairly good.

One of the great strengths of Angus & Julia Stone is their intimate folk rock that they have all but mastered. The perfect soundtrack to a hazy Sunday or a dreary Monday. This isn’t discarded on their third release, and is in fact built upon slightly with the addition of a grittier edge. Whereas Down the Way displayed a subtle chamber pop fascination, Angus & Julia Stone aims for rockier territory, exemplified by lead single Heart Beats Slow, which is a catchy little gem that perfect captures the vocal interplay of both Angus and Julia, whilst thudding by with a sharp, compressed rhythm line. Little Whiskey rides a Motown drumbeat (as seen in Know Your Enemy and I Am The Resurrection) to wondrous effect, with Angus sounding gloriously unsure of his predicaments with his lightly raspy croon. But in the end, it is Julia who runs the show here. Vocally, she has never been stronger, with her typically babyish vocal style having evolved into a stronger, yet still childlike, quiver that can at times come across as even venomous. The best example of this is on album highlight Death Defying Acts, an menacing slow crawl of a blues track with a descending bass figure heavily influenced by Portishead’s Glory Box. Julia plays about with various vocal techniques, ranging from hushed whispers, tremulous soars, and biting phrases. The slow-building climax of clattering electric guitars further adds a sense of drama, and easily makes the song one of the most exciting tracks on the album.  All of which contributes to one of Angus & Julia Stone’s finest tracks.

Other songs take their time to fully be appreciated. The prime example of this is From The Stalls, which can easily pass by as a forgettable folk pop excursion on first listen. However, repeated listens reveal the little nuances, such as the Stevie Nicks-vocal emulation of Julia, the heart-melting melodic line, the subtle electric guitar solo, and the utterly lovable intimacy that is subsequently conjured. It is this deft subtlety that is so rare to achieve correctly.

Where this album should be appreciated is in the desire to try a few new experiments. The results are either successful (Death Defying Acts, Little Whiskey, Heart Beats Slow) or a misfire into mediocrity (Please You, Other Things, Main Street), but whatever the results, the fact that they try should be applauded. Still,  Angus & Julia Stone is assuredly the duo’s best album to date: At its best it is a mature, reflective set of stirring tunes that ebb and flow in the folky ether. An album that reveals its beauty both immediately and with repeated listens, Angus & Julia Stone will surely put a smile on that face of yours.

7.1/10

Yanni Markovina

Yanni Markovina’s Favourite Fifteen Albums of the 1990s

The 1990s perhaps brought about the greatest shift in music since punk rock. The alternative suddenly became the mainstream, gangsta rap swaggered atop the pop charts, and in turn, some of the greatest music was made. As a disclaimer, note that these choices of albums are my personal favourite. Not what I think are the best or the most influential. And with that said, enjoy the countdown! Continue reading