ALBUM REVIEW: Kanye West – 'The Life of Pablo'

These days it is not easy being a Kanye fan (especially when you love TayTay Swift as well!). On this year’s Valentine’s Day after 3 years of anticipated waiting, Kanye West’s seventh studio album The Life of Pablo was finally released. If you want to listen to it you need to subscribe to Tidal, but never mind Kanye, I was actually so relieved about the release that it didn’t really matter to me because I had already lost my belief that the album would actually ever be finished. Originally titled So Help Me God and planned for a 2014 release, only odd tracks, like ‘FourFiveSeconds’ were released rather than an album. Then it was called SWISH, than Waves which lead to the iconic Twitter feud between Kanye and Wiz Khalifa, who accused him of stealing the term ‘wavy’ from rapper Max B, who introduced it to slang vocabulary. Then finally the name was revealed and he unveiled the album cover on Twitter on 11th of February.

So far, so Kanye, but that’s not the ending of The Life of Pablo, because Kanye wouldn’t be Kanye if he wouldn’t stir more confusion and controversy. After its release, he seems still not completely pleased with the outcome, as he announced, he would readjust different tracks, for example “Wolves” which features Frank Ocean and Caroline Shaw after the original guest vocals by Vic Mensa and Sia were removed. The album consist 80% of collaborations with guest vocals by Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Chris Brown and more. Describing his album as a fusion of hip hop and gospel, the sound is definitely different from Kanye’s previous albums, making that clear right with the very first song “Ultralight Beam” which features a church choir and a child preaching, supported by Chance The Rapper’s soul voice. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1 ” will sound more familiar to Kanye fans; the second part in recognizable auto-tune voice includes personal reflection on his life including her mother’s death. The title “Famous” has already circulated widely in the media, featuring the controversial line referring to the incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. I think it was the most unnecessary line on the album and I wished he would have changed it because other than that, “Famous” is one of the best tracks on The Life of Pablo, featuring Rihanna’s powerful voice in the chorus and an epic background beat, reminding me of his brilliance. “Feedback” is exactly what I expected from the album: strong powerful rap lyrics with an electronic beat that is going to stick in your head for the next two days. If you are not the most spiritual person like me, then just skip “Low Lights” because sadly no beat drops during the 2 minutes of gospel prayer.

“Highlights” starts off with a promising beat and a catchy hook, but in between it gets a bit too chaotic, with approximately 4 different auto-tune voices mixed together and after two minutes turning into a complete different song. “Freestyle 4” feels similar, as I wonder if the track is build out of several sounds and beats that Kanye didn’t use so far and just turned on his microphone while having one of his famous rants. Next we come to “I Love Kanye” which was already featured in an SNL sketch last week. Even though I totally dig the idea of it and love the self- awareness (‘What if Kanye made a song about Kanye’) and humour (‘I love you like Kanye loves Kanye’) in it (supposedly Kanye can actually laugh) I feel like the song would have actually deserved a background track. Having the a cappella track right in the middle of the album takes so much tempo out of it, which is why I think the song like it is now should have been rather placed as an intro or outro, which would have put the album in a complete different light. Continuing with “Waves”, the song reminds me again of Graduation with its pop sound, accompanied by a melancholic but also dreamy beat, a theme that continues itself in a different beat in “FML”, which stands out with its honest sounding lyrics that put me right in a thoughtful and weepy mood for the next song. Amazing. “Real Friends” is probably one of the best songs on the album; I immediately loved the song because of its lyrics in which Kanye thoughtfully reflects on himself being a good friend (shame on his cousin who stole his laptop by the way). In these moments of total honesty, his music turns himself into a human being, the bigger than life media personality seems not visible.

But this short moment disappears right away with “Wolves”, in which Kanye compares himself and his wife Kim Kardashian to Mary and Joseph, brilliantly ridiculous and a truly iconic Kanye moment. The beat is ingeniously minimalistic and dull, mixed into melancholic and rhythmic howling. “Silver Surfer Intermission” is not a song but a phone conversation between Kanye and Max B harking back to his feud with Wiz Khalifa. Max gives Kanye his blessing to be wavy, and therefore lets Khalifa look like a total fool. The music continues with “30 Hours”, which is one of the most consistent tracks on the album because of its repetitive beat and his continues rap, but at the same time it got me quite bored. He only intercuts the continuity of the song by the end when allegedly his phone rings and he answers it. “No More Parties In LA” sounds like a proper 90s hip hop track and features Kendrick Lamar, who’s in no way inferior to Kanye (that incident with his cousin and the laptop must have been a real issue if Kanye mentions it twice). Both of their rap styles are distinctive and different but at the same time complement each other brilliantly, creating a flowing track that won’t be forget soon. Again I feel improvements could have been made to the lyrics on “Fact” as the actual song is extremely powerful with its gritty beats and Kanye’s excessive voice. The Life of Pablo concludes with “Fade”, featuring a dark disco beat and again auto-tune voice. Even though you can hear that the song has been put together by many different elements, it works marvellously in combination, rounding up the album in a meaningful, creative mess.

All in all, I have to admit that this album caused me headaches; it is not an album you can easily listen to on a daily basis. It took me a while until I actually had built an opinion because it constantly balanced between mess and masterpiece. The Life of Pablo varies from highly experimental tracks to truthfully composed songs and powerful lyrics and is as far away from the consistent and constructed Yeezus as you could imagine. Kanye West already built up a legacy and this album and its surrounding controversy will definitely increase his status as one of the most influential musicians of our time. I’m sure that in 40 years, Kanye will reveal his Twitter rants as purely artistic and meaningful, who knows. I would give the album 25 out of 10 because as Einstein said, “organisation is the last refuge of a tired mind”.

Review by Carolin Wolfsdorf

ALBUM REVIEW: Wiz Khalifa – 'Khalifa'

As I sat down to listen to Wiz Khalifa’s new offering I decidedly told myself “I must listen with an open mind”, this was a wise decision as the self-titled Khalifa soon began to enrage my inner critic and in some sense my political conscience.

This album, to me, is extremely monotonous and fraught with boring and repetitive tracks (not even soliciting the use of the word song). I truly believe that the backing tracks were mainly a result of someone (or something) falling upon a drum track, and thus a Wiz Khalifa song was born. Musically, the album is mind-numbing and tiresome warranting physical spasms of frustration.

Lyrically these tracks are terrible with the themes and politics being all over the place. The fact that many of them begin with a physical groan by Khalifa himself reflected my attitude towards his lyrics. He seems to have a Freudian neurosis with the ideals of drugs, money and violence so much so that his somewhat righteous message of black liberation is drowned out. In particular, the track “Zoney’” shifts dramatically from drug references to a child’s voice saying, “I love you daddy”.

However, the aspects of Khalifa that truly enrage me are the rare demonstrations of musical talent, in particular the 30 seconds or so of piano at the end of “BTS”. Above all, the track “Call Waiting” is a brilliant blend of blues, motown, funk, and jazz reminding me of Chicago blues. “Call Waiting” is musically saturated with various instruments which were clearly recorded in a studio (in contrast to the electronic fluff contained within the rest of the album) which blend together well creating a fantastic groove. What is more “Call Waiting” is absent of obscenities and seems to have a discernible and meaningful theme running throughout the song, something which is a welcome addition when compared to the rest of the album.

“Call Waiting” infuriated me beyond belief as it demonstrates a clear ability and talent, something which is absent in the rest of the obscenity filled album. In summary, I believe that Khalifa is a disaster that seems to have been created as filler for one song, and is largely devoid of musical talent and frankly an insult to any listener.

Review by Thomas Gibbens

ALBUM REVIEW: Bloc Party – 'Hymns'

Bloc Party are back with a new album after 4 years. It’s clear that the band’s style has changed since their debut album Silent Alarm was released in 2005. The new album Hymns has a different feel to it, with one of the singles from the album “The Good News” being described by NME as “One of the most conventionally ‘rock’ songs Bloc Party have ever done.” It’s a bit more Blur than Bloc Party, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this shift is probably unsurprising considering the band lost two of the original band and gained two new members since 2013.

There is also a curious religious theme running through the album. For a start, the album name Hymns already suggests this, followed by the second track “Only He Can Heal Me” which has strong gospel-like backing singers underlying it. However, lead singer Kele Okereke denied that the album title had any reference to some kind of religious epiphany within the band earlier this year.

Nevertheless, “The Love Within” still has that Bloc Party dancey vibe with Kele’s unique voice and lyrics over a synthy and catchy tune, similar to the hit 2007 single “Flux”.

Overall, it’s a different kind of Bloc Party. More rocky and less catchy, but they still cling to their interesting lyrics and alternative sounds. Long-term fans of the indie band may be slightly disappointed by the changes, but it’s definitely likable for both new and old Bloc Party followers.

Review by Sophie Shapter

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Panic! at the Disco – 'Death of a Bachelor'

Ten years after releasing their first album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out with memorable tracks like “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”, defining a whole generation of black haired emo kids with questionable hair styles, Panic! at the Disco released its fifth studio album. Death of a Bachelor is completely written and recorded by Brendon Urie himself after the band lost bassist Dallon Weekes from the official line-up, and is now only a one-man band.

After almost half a decade of hiding inside my body, I was ready to embrace my inner emo again, preparing myself by getting my fringe game on again. But Panic! is not the emo-pop band from 2006 anymore (the band threw away the eyeliner around 2011), as the band is evolving continuously along with their fans, but without losing their original sound, which is mostly owed to Urie’s vocal range.  The album follows a specific theme pattern, telling stories of the youth and carefree living like the opening song “Victorious” featuring a choir, handclaps and Urie’s smashing vocals, whereas in contrast songs like”Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” or the just released single”Emperor’s New Clothes” (with like the best music video I have seen in a while, seriously stunning!), concern the consequences and down bringing of a decadent lifestyle.

Whereas songs like”LA Devotee” sound like typical Panic! songs, Urie was definitely inspired by the swing era with”Crazy = Genius” and the album’s title song”Death of A Bachelor”, which symbolises the current state of leaving the party life behind and growing up, while directly transferring the listener back into the Golden 20s. The album sets the listener onto a journey through Urie’s life like a theatre play with”Impossible Year” as a curtain closing song. Death of A Bachelor is coherent but at the same time varied, offering tracks for hardcore Panic! at the Disco fans or people  like me who still nostalgically listen to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance once in a while, as well as for  new listeners, who experience Urie’s wide range of talents for the first time.

Review by Carolin Wolfsdorf

ALBUM REVIEW: Sia – 'This Is Acting'

Sia is back with her brand new album This Is Acting. The Australian’s seventh studio album has seen high anticipation for its release on 29th January 2016, and she has once again revealed her undeniable talent and the emotional intensity of her lyrics. Her performance of each song portrays an in-depth story or feeling that many listeners can relate to.

Almost all of this album was written by herself for other artists, including Rihanna, Beyonce and Adele. The singer-songwriter is most likely grateful that these artists turned them down, as her own vocal style perfectly fits the pitches and tones of the songs like a glove. Sia felt that since she wrote the songs for others, she couldn’t relate to all the songs personally:

“I’m calling it This Is Acting because they are songs I was writing for other people, so I didn’t go in thinking ‘this is something I would say’. It’s more like play-acting. It’s fun.” [NME]

Considering she didn’t write these songs for herself, she has still mastered the art of displaying powerful emotions through her singing. Her “play-acting” style has come across as real and true, and listeners would be none the wiser.

Her successful and explosive lead single “Alive” has certainly led the album with a fine start. Originally intended for a slot in Adele’s new album 25, the electrifying song is instead sat comfortably in Sia’s outstanding discography. She sings about Adele’s life journey; making it in life and living it her way on her own. The strain of her voice in the chorus reflects the words that she has written, which helps to create a powerful story with the lyrics. In this album, the majority of the songs sound a lot more pop than in her previous albums with plenty of catchy beats. However, the powerful ballad “Bird Set Free” shows off her impressive vocal range, stretching it to new heights and reminding us that she is the modern queen of gut-wrenching ballads. Some listeners may find that her voice is too scratchy, and that it cracks too often in the choruses. In my opinion, this occurrence in her voice actually conveys rather powerful emotions, and should be viewed as an incredible talent rather than an impediment in her vocals.

I can recommend this album to anyone who enjoys listening to mainstream pop, but in this case it is met with a raw and extensive vocal sound created by a talented musician. She is definitely a rare vocalist worth listening to!

Review by Zoé Stanton

ALBUM REVIEW: Sigma – 'Life'

These days everyone can associate something with the name Sigma. Nowadays, “Nobody to Love” is not uncommonly played several times in one night out, resulting in everyone trying to dance to the drum ’n’ bass sound by hyperactively jumping around.

As I have been a drum ’n’ bass listener for almost 10 years now, I knew Sigma before their mainstream phase (yep, I know I’m being a hypocritical hipster here). The 2009 released track “Paint it Black” was an often played song when hanging out with my friends. We just loved the pure d’n’b, not featuring any famous singers or cheesy lyrics. But today, more and more DJs turn to mainstream electronic, making an underground genre suitable for the masses. Skrillex lead this commercialisation with dubstep a couple of years ago and has now produced Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”, and it seems like now many of DJs like Sigma and Netsky want to do the same with drum ’n’ bass. Nonetheless, calling Sigma’s first album Life a drum ’n’ bass album would be ridiculous as it only features one true d’n’b song.

“Beyond The Wall” is a pretty decent track, so I’m wondering why they didn’t put more of these on the album. The other songs are pretty much like hit Paloma Faith collaboration “Changing”. The not really unique lyrics are pushed in the foreground while the drum ’n’ bass sound becomes the background melody. Too often cheesy piano music is used for the intro of the song, making it sound like every other pop song in the charts. The duo found a method that works: take some famous guest singers, a piano and mediocre sounding electro melody and mix it together et voilà, an economical valuable dance-pop hit. Most of the album’s songs sound the same, with the same structure of lyrics with a building beat that ends in a droppingdrum ’n’ bass sound. This results in an album full of unoriginal songs, only produced for the charts.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate a drum ’n’ bass track immediately when it becomes successful. I was always over the moon when between  horrible r’n’b songs, a DJ played “Nobody to Love”. But DJs who are jumping onto a train and just recycle music over and over again, only because it made money once, are bothering me (not to mention all the people who suddenly ‘love drum ’n’ bass like Sigma and DJ Fresh’).  In conclusion: if you’re a fan of pop ’n’ bass, take a listen, you might like a couple of tracks, whereas if you are someone like me who enjoys the sound of pure d’n’b, I advise you to avoid the mainstream drum ’n’ bass in the charts, it’s not worth it.

Review by Carolin Wolfsdorf

ALBUM REVIEW: One Direction – 'Made in the A.M.'

Thousands of teen hearts were warmed last month when One Direction’s new album Made in the A.M. was released – mine as well, although I can’t call myself a teenager anymore. Their fifth studio album is the first without Zayn Malik, who left the group earlier this year and gave an interview to the magazine Fader, stating that he wasn’t standing behind the ‘generic’ sound.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Justin Bieber – 'Purpose'

I’ve been a low-key Belieber since ‘My World 2.0’ was released in March 2010. I liked how Justin was found on YouTube, his poppy not-yet-broken voice that sung of all the struggles of teenage romance appealed to my nearly-16 year old self. There’s a stigma around being a Belieber, going to university I didn’t shout it from the rooftops, only confessing my secret to a couple of close friends by suggesting we watch the ‘Believe’ DVD one New Year’s Eve in 2012. It went as far as having to pretend not to love it when a DJ would ‘ironically’ drop a Bieber tune on a night out. Now 5 years on I no longer have to hide it. I am a Belieber and proud, and it’s likely no matter how you hard you fight it, soon you will be too.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Little Mix – 'Get Weird'

ALBUM REVIEW: Grimes – 'Art Angels'

The Canadian singer-songwriter Grimes is notably known for her album Visions from 2012, which was praised for its experimental, dark and atmospheric electro- pop. Now she is back with her fourth album, ‘Art Angels’, and Grimes has to face genre discussions as many other musicians had to encounter before.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Foals – ‘What Went Down’, Track-by-Track

Foals had built up a lot of anticipation in fans before the release of their fourth LP ‘What Went Down’ in August. It had promise to be one of the best albums of the year and a bold statement for Foals after 2013’s ‘Holy Fire’. With some very clever writing and melodies, ‘What Went Down’ has taken the music scene by storm since its release, with Foals performing a secret set at Reading and an impressive session at Maida Vale. The album as a whole is beautifully written and organised, and each track speaks a different part of Foals’ repertoire. Here’s my first listen track-by-track review of ‘What Went Down’.

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