Album Review: “hopeless fountain kingdom” by Halsey

“hopeless fountain kingdom,” the sophomore album from Halsey, opens with the American songstress reciting the prologue of Romeo and Juliet before she dives into her own modern-day story of star-crossed lovers. This begins with 100 Letters, a track in which she shakes off a past lover, assuring us “I don’t let him touch me anymore.” It’s a decent opener that feels familiar, but follow-up track Eyes Closed deviates from the usual. The melody for this song was crafted by The Weeknd and though he doesn’t sing a word on the track, his presence can be felt throughout. Devil In Me, written by Sia, is another moment on the album where Halsey feels more like an impersonator than her own thing, but these are only two moments on the record and for the most part, the Halsey we fell in love with on Badlands is very much present.

That Halsey was the epitome of the modern day, social media “cool girl.” Most young female artists are trying to speak to and for a specific group, but Halsey may be the most genuine. First gaining a following through the internet, Tumblr specifically, Halsey embodies so much of this new generation of young women who are desperately trying to have their voices heard. The 22-year-old is opinionated online and very vocal about social issues such as destigmatizing mental health and politics (she was an outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter). She isn’t afraid to talk about her mental illness (bipolar) or her sexuality (bisexual) and will call out her own fans on Twitter if she has a problem with what they’re saying. She’s brave and brash and beautiful, and all about female sexual empowerment.

Heaven In Hiding is a great example of this and one of the stand-out tracks of the record (it’s also Halsey’s favourite track). The music scene at the moment is, perhaps, over saturated with overtly sexual songs delivered by females in scantily clad attire, and everyone has their own opinion on whether these female artists are truly empowered or being exploited by those higher up in the industry. When it comes to Halsey and a track like Heaven In Hiding, I don’t think anyone can question that Halsey is empowering herself rather than having her sexuality exploited. This track has the songstress flipping “the script” in a sexual encounter, with Halsey confidently taking the lead (“And you thought that you were the boss tonight / but I can put up one good fight”) as she teases the subject. Later, on the current single Strangers, Halsey collaborates with Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony to sing about the relationship between two women. We’re well used to hearing women sing about getting with other women, but it’s usually experimental and purely sexual (female pop singers out there I am looking at you, you know who you are!). It’s refreshing to hear two openly bisexual women sing about a female/female relationship with real depth, and on a track that is destined to be a hit.

The other collaborations on the album include one with Quavo (Lie) and another with Cashmere Cat (Hopeless). Listening to Lie for the first few times, I thought it was trying too hard to be an anthem and missing the mark. After watching Halsey perform it live however, I think this track does have the potential to be grand and atmospheric. For me, the addition of Quavo on the studio track is a hindrance rather than a help and the song has a far bigger impact with Halsey alone. Indeed, most of the strongest tracks on the album are those that allow Halsey to be Halsey, and are free from heavy outside interference. Whether it was pressure from the label to include some big names or the singers own self-doubt, the singer is at her best when the track has that classic, signature Halsey sound.

One of the most common themes on the record is, interestingly, the singers self-doubt, especially when it comes to relationships. This is most poignant on Sorry, the only ballad on the album and one of the records strongest offerings. The mellow moment has Halsey apologising to her “unknown lover.” It’s the most vulnerable moment on the album with emotional lyrics like, “Sorry that I can’t believe, that anybody ever really starts to fall in love with me.” The song really shows off her stunning vocals with the only accompaniment being sparse piano chords.

On Bad Love she self-asses herself to be, well, ‘bad at love.’ But as outsiders, the string of lovers she mentions seem like they could well be the problem rather than Halsey herself. It’s also another moment on the record where we see Halsey’s staunch feminism causing issues for her in relationships. One male ex-lover is “calling [her] a bitch again” due to her honesty / outspokenness while another is bothered by her quest to pursue music, instead wanting her “in the kitchen with a dinner plate.” She delivers the lines in such a way that you get the feeling she’s rolling her eyes rather than genuinely bothered by what these guys thought of her, and you just know that her fans are rolling their eyes right along with her.

Alone explores the 22-year-old’s sense of isolation amidst this new found fame. She feels “alone in [her] mind” despite the millions of people coming to see her. In the chorus she seems to address her fans singing, “I know you’re dying to meet me, but I can just tell you this / Baby, as soon as you meet me, you’ll wish that you never did.” However, this is contrasted on Don’t Play where she radiates confidence and empowerment. “Can’t fuck with my vibes, double cuppin’ in my ride, motherfucker don’t play with me” she sings over an infectious beat as she sings about making her own money, “drinks on me.” And this is really what makes a Halsey album so great – the contrast, the colours, the complicated nature of it all. Yes, Halsey is a badass feminist icon, but she also has moments of doubt, depression and despair, and that’s what makes her truly empowering. Because the real “cool girl” has vulnerabilities and insecurities too, and by Halsey revealing hers to us it allows us to embrace our own and realize that we can feel confident and empowered in spite of them. Overall, “hopeless fountain kingdom” is a good, well-rounded album and should succeed in pleasing old fans as well as drawing in some new ones.


Album Review: Not to Disappear by Daughter

{Not To Disappear is number one on my favourite albums of 2016}

Started at the bottom now we’re here… my favourite album of the year; Not to Disappear by Daughter. Elena Tonra & co’s follow up to their stunning debut If You Leave was my most-anticipated album for 2016 and they didn’t disappoint.

This album is dipping your toes in to someone’s darkest, bleakest moments. Infamous for her gloomy, at times nihilistic lyrics, the album explores self- loathing, loneliness, love and loss. It’s mellow and melancholy, and at times so grim it’s hard not to be consumed by it, but there’s also something so inviting, so compelling about Tonra’s gentle vocals, as though she is enticing you into a darker world. The accompaniment of Igor Haefeli on guitar and Remi Aguilella on drums combines to create something truly special and gloriously atmospheric.

The opener, New Ways, is a perfect example of this. It starts off wonderfully calm, with delicate, dreamy vocals from Tonra with a beautiful build up as she sings, “I’ve been trying to stay out / But there’s something in you / I can’t be without / I just need it here” before there’s a wonderful cathartic kind of sonical release. The theme of numbness, or even depersonalisation, that pervaded If You Leave is also evident on the new album. On the chorus of Numbers Tonra sings out “I feel numb in this kingdom..” The frantic, incessant drums match the rising anxiety apparent in the lyrics as she begs for someone to “make [her] better.”

It’s the third track, Doing The Right Thing, that’s one of the most heartbreaking on the album, an album which Tonra herself has described as “a little ball of sad.” The leading single was released prior to the album (accompanied by a heartbreaking video I’ve embedded above for your viewing pleasure…) and inspired by her grandmothers Alzheimers. It describes her eroding mind and the terror she must feel at moments when she is aware, “I’m just fearing one day soon / I’ll lose my mind.” Mothers is equally disconcerting as Tonra attempts to describe motherhood. “You will drain all you need to drain out of me” she sings softly through the synth, as though ‘drain’ is the most common way to describe the relationship between mother and child.

As usual, the English trio also explore love on the record. And as usual, it’s not “happy shit” (Tonra’s words, not mine). How marks the end of a relationship, the line “How come he’s the one / to let me down?” painfully drawn out. On Alone/With You she struggles with both loathing and craving companionship, “I hate sleeping alone” is countered with “I hate sleeping with you.” Meanwhile on To Belong, Tonra seems to ascertain her independence (“I don’t want to belong / to you / to anyone”)  and questions love’s futility, “Don’t you think we’ll be better off / without temptation to regress, to fake tenderness / waiting to see someone we won’t know for long  / in cities we’ll only leave.

So, Not to Disappear may be similar to its predecessor in terms of theme, but sonically it’s more adventurous. No Care is the clear outlier of the LP. It’s a frenzy of percussion, guitar riffs and a steady, banging beat that feels a bit like a headache that just won’t let you go. It’s brash and blunt, “There has only been one time where we fucked / And I felt like a bad memory / Like my spine was a reminder of her / And you said that you felt sick” she sings before repeating over and over “No care, no care / I don’t care, I don’t care anymore / I don’t care / I don’t care,” something she’s clearly trying to convince herself of (and failing).

But they go back to their roots on concluding track Made of Stone, the song perhaps most reminiscent of their earlier releases. It’s simple and beautiful. Tonra’s insecurities are laid out bare here, “What if I am made of stone?” she wonders, noting that “feeling is not a system.” It’s the bleakness that turns many off Daughter, the brutally honest lyrics that recount the most painful moments between family, lovers and often one’s self, but when they do it so well, it’s hard not to fall into their trap. Made of Stone seems destined to be a tragically depressing end to the record, (“Love / it’s just face-painting / Love / it’s just easing the waiting / before dying without company”) but, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, as it ends on a touching moment as Tonra whispers, “You’ll find love kid, it exists.” Although, it is Elena Tonra, so perhaps that’s a warning rather than a reassurance.

Rating: 5/5


Album Review: Isn’t it Strange? by Lauren Aquilina

{Isn’t It Strange is number three on my favourite albums of 2016}

Writing about how much I love this album is a little bittersweet as it’s both the first and the last LP from Lauren Aquilina. Only two months after it’s release, the British songstress revealed that she wouldn’t be releasing any more music due to the negative effect the music industry had had on her mental health. As much as I respect and support her decision for being strong enough to put her mental health over a dream she’s been working towards for years, it’s a real shame her musical career has to end here. Isn’t It Strange reminds me of a younger Taylor Swift in it’s lyrics (deeply personal but wholly relatable) and a modern day Swift in terms of musical style (perfect pop with the odd belting ballad).

Midnight Mouths opens the record, a pretty safe pop number that has Aquilina accusing someone of merely wanting her out of loneliness. It’s definitely not my favourite on the album but it has some nice lyrics that are very tweetable (Is that word or did I just make it up?) Example: “It’s just the lonely, just the lonely talking, so don’t you tell me that you’re falling for me now.”  If I’d decided the tracklisting I would have pushed the second track on the album, Wicked Game, up to the number one position. It has a delicious hook that hides the darkness of the lyrics, “I don’t know how to ask for help […] I’ve been thinking about death.. [..] These are dark, dark times.” There’s also a contrast vocally, she bounces back and forth between a low and high register effortlessly,  the highs on the word “wicked” are especially appealing.

Third on the list is the leading single, Kicks, a fun and empowering number (particularly those HEY’s). The opening line “We’ve got mixed emotions and that’s when things get complicated” is probably a good hint that the album you’re delving into is going to be a perfect addition to any millennial girl’s playlist. Hurt Any Less is my motherfucking jam a brilliant pop song (but also a bit house-y???) that details a relationship that was doomed from the start, “this was never love it was chaos” Aquilina sings while asserting that she “knew this was coming from day one.” There’s some lyrics in there you’re probably gonna wanna scream at the top of your lungs (that “why did you have to let me let you in?” line in particular) and the beat is gonna have you dancing around your room in your pj’s.

The record also features a live version of Fools, the first single Aquilina ever released. It’s a touching rendition of the piano ballad where she ponders going from friends to lovers, “What if we ruin it all, and we love like fools? And all we have, we lose?”  The original version was delicate and soft, perfectly representing the vulnerability of it’s writer. But the album version contrasts it’s predecessor ever so slightly, with an underlying electric guitar riff and a more mature sounding vocal. The evolution of the hopeful girl on the Fools EP to the more cynical woman on Isn’t It Strange feels almost palpable here. It’s followed up by Suddenly Strangers, one song that might reveal the reason behind this. The track seems to tell a story of what might happen if you do take that risk in a friendship, and ultimately end up losing it all like she feared on Fools. Within the song Aquilina crafts the story of two people who went “from everything to nothing, just like that.” She wonders out loud if the other person still talks  “about [their] doubts like they were demons” and mourns how they’d stay up late together “just to watch the date change to something new.” It’s just another pop song on the record, but it’s one of the most affecting, “From talking every waking hour to not knowing where you are now, we’re suddenly strangers, isn’t it strange?”

How Would You Like It & Thinking About are the belting ballads that give you a break from the pop, the latter being my favourite. It’s raw and powerful and touching and heartbreaking all at the same time. “I don’t know how emptiness can be this heavy,” Aquilina sings over a beautiful piano melody. The building crescendo of “All I am thinking about is not thinking about you,” in the bridge is probably one of my favourite moments on the album.

But it’s Ocean, the final song on the record, that has that special something. In a perfect end to the album, the production and the lyrics come together to create something truly atmospheric. “So vast, so free…” Aquilina sings amongst a haze of synth, something that feels reminiscent of a tide smashing against the shore. It evokes feelings of repression, a sense of drowning, a time in which she’s “lost [her] head.” Aside from how powerful the song is sonically, I can’t help feeling that lyrically, it’s a particularly fitting song to close the album on – an album which cost the musician sacrifices to her own mental wellbeing in it’s creation. I really hope Lauren Aquilina finds that sense of freedom and peace she seems to be looking for on Ocean. Regardless of whether this really is the last piece of music we’ll ever hear from the young singer-songwriter, I am grateful for this little bit she chose to share with us and I am sure it will soundtrack some of my journey to that place too.

Rating: 4/5


Album Review: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

{I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It is number four on my favourite albums of 2016}

Next up on the list is what NME dubbed “2016’s most unpredictable record.” Somewhat surprisingly, the 1975’s bizzare sophomore album has rocketed them to the mainstream. Making the Top 20 in the UK and selling out arena shows around the world, the 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, is a 75 minute record containing four instrumental tracks, an acoustic closing track and, crucially, a bunch of perfect pop songs.

What makes this album different to another pop record however is that the 1975 don’t slack on the lyrics. Love Me takes the piss out of our generation; our narcissism, our obsession with fame and looks, “You’ve got a beautiful face but got nothing to say.” Ugh is slightly less flamboyant musically (with some nice bass from MacDonald) but equally as blunt as Healy comments on his cocaine addiction. The most hit worthy of the lot is probably The Sound, it’s perfect pop but again, some clever self-depreciation from the frontman gives it something extra.

There’s the inevitable relationship songs on the record too. A Change of Heart is all synths and softness as Healy mumbles about a relationship breaking down, while on She’s American he seems to be fantasizing about an American girl but warns himself “Don’t fall in love with the moment and think you’re in love with the girl.” Somebody Else is simple and mellow as Healy ascertains that he doesn’t want her body but hates to think about her with somebody else.

Some other notable tunes on the record include The Ballad of Me and My Brain where Healy goes off looking for the brain he “never had” and Loving Someone where Healy switches from singing to rapping accompanied by some cool synth sounds. If I Believe You is one of the most obvious outliers and one of my personal favourites. The songs a bit jarring – Healy sings about his atheism accompanied by a gospel choir and questions whether the pain he feels would dissipate somewhat if he could only have a little faith.

As we get to the end of the album things get  depressing, both lyrically and sonically. On Paris, Healy’s talking about his girlfriend who he’s “starting to cheat on” again and notes that “there was a party that she had to miss, because her friend kept cutting her wrists.” This sets the scene for the following track Nana where Healy addresses his dead grandmother, concluding on a painful note, “I am bereft you see, I think you can tell, I haven’t been doing too well.”  The concluding track, She Lays Down, is an acoustic number that outlines Healy’s mothers post-natal depression. It’s heartbreaking and raw (“She’s appalled by not loving me at all”) and miles from the other heavily produced tracks on the record. When the final chord is strung, there’s a silence before Healy simply says “That’s it” and you can’t help feeling you’ve just listened to something very special.

Their debut album was good, but it wasn’t all that original. In contrast, the sophomore album is sonically experimental and daring in terms of topic. The lyrics can be clever, (“It was you that made my body you probably shouldn’t have made me atheist”), blunt (“You look shit and you smell bit”) and beautiful (“You’re intertwining your soul with somebody else”). Matty Healy feels a bit like the musical version of Russell Brand. His social commentary throughout the album might make him come across as a bit of a self-righteous ass at times, but his sharp digs at himself allow him to get away with it, “I’ll quote On The Road like a twat” (A Change of Heart), “it’s just all about me, a sycophantic, prophetic, socratic junkie wannabe” (The Sound) or the brilliant “I’m the greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques” (Loving Someone). To be honest, even if you think Matthew Healy IS a self righteous asshole who is just another frontman who likes snorting coke, fucking girls and pretending he’s doing something more original than his predecessors – I dare you not to get up and dance when you hear The Sound playing on your next night out.

Rating: 4/5


Album Review: Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

{Dangerous Woman is number five on my favourite albums of 2016}

If this time last year you’d told me I was gonna put the annoying girl with the pink hair from Nickelodeon on this list I definitely wouldn’t have believed you. But, the first time I listened to this album right through I realized I’d been missing out on some good stuff. Dangerous Woman distinguishes Grande from her child-star peers like Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Lovato undoubtedly has got a pair of pipes on her while Selena Gomez employs weak breathy vocals – but Ariana Grande can do both, and everything in between, effortlessly. Her musical impressions on Jimmy Fallon & SNL of Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Shakira, Britney Spear etc, proved that Grande could pull off pretty much anything vocally and that’s obvious on Dangerous Woman. (Sidenote: You really should listen to Grande doing an impression of Christina Aquilera singing The Wheels on the Bus here).

One of the highlights of the album is the titletrack, something that wouldn’t go to waste on a Fifty Shades soundtrack. It’s a sultry affair, with strong vocals and risqué lyrics. On the chorus the girl made famous by the kid’s channel Nickelodeon sings, “Something about you makes me wanna do things that I shouldn’t.. all girls wanna be like that, bad girls underneath like that..” There’s a moment in the song where she employs the Mariah-esque ‘whistle register’ and it’s flawless. Greedy is fantastic fun, a disco-pop feel with lots of woo’s to boot, while Bad Decisions dips back into hip-hop territory as she sings about the bad decisions she’s been making, whispering “don’t you know I ain’t fucking with them good boys?”over a strong beat. Thinking Bout You closes the album on both a metaphorical and literal high as she belts out “I don’t have you here with me, but at least I have the memories..” 

She employs a lot of help on Dangerous Woman. Many of the tracks are tied to Max Martin, the Swede behind number 1’s from Taylor Swift, Katy Perry & Britney Spears. There’s also a host of vocal collaborations.  Nicki Minaj joins her on Side to Side (that song you’ve been dancing to in the club the last few months), while she delves into some soft R&B with Lil Wayne on the seductive Let Me Love You. Then there’s a Macy Gray collaboration on Leave Me Lonely and Future chip in on the electro hip-hop track Everyday. Undoubtedly, they’ve helped give Dangerous Woman the edge but I’d argue she doesn’t need the help to produce a club anthem (something she proved with Into You).

Although I enjoy listening to pop songs that top the charts, it’s a rare thing that I can turn to the artists album and enjoy more than two or three songs off it. Grande’s album is a standout for me because I genuinely liked every song on Dangerous Woman. This third album presents Ariana Grande as a superb vocal artist as well as a pop diva. On Bad Decision’s bridge Grande teases, “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” and it’s a pretty fair description of the Nickelodeon girl turned superstar’s third offering.

Rating: 4/5


Album Review: Telluric by Matt Corby

{Telluric is number six on my favourite albums of 2016}

If I had to pick three words to sum up Matt Corby’s first LP it would be; soulful, soothing and sublime (3 cheers for alliteration!). A year ago I’d never heard of the Australian, but apparently he starred in the Australian version of American Idol/The X Factor back in ’07 at the tender age of sixteen (“I’m a child star contestant on a show too overrated” he sings on We Could Be Friends).  He has been working towards this album ever since, with multiple diverse EP’s released in that extensive gap. It seems like he did a lot of soul searching between then and now, and it all pays off on Telluric.

Belly Side Up starts the LP off on a relaxed, sultry tone with some sexy bass (Yes. I did just describe a simple bassline as sexy.) Next up is Monday, the first single off the album. This is a stunning vocal track only accompanied by some clicking fingers, foot stomping and choral back up vocals. It was an exemplary choice for the leading single, showing off Corby’s strong vocal range with minimal distraction, starting off low with “All day blazed, I wonder…” reaching perfect highs on “you, ooh, ooh, ooh..” It’s the kind of song that deserves a silent arena and a standing ovation at its conclusion. Meanwhile, the chorus of Knife Edge is wonderfully catchy and easy to sing along to, “Always on the knife’s edge here with you…” 

The deluxe version of Telluric finishes off with the bonus track Resolution; a song that starts softly and builds to a resounding crescendo before ending on a whisper, “I’m not you, nor you me, but we’re both moving steady…” Truthfully, I haven’t listened to this album anywhere near as much as the other albums in my top 6 of the year, but whenever I go back to it I fall in love with it again. There’s belters on there like Brother (also on the deluxe edition), but I think it’s the softer ones that are just so alluring. You can just nod along to the sweet groove of We Could Be Friends while typing up your latest college assignment or chill out to Good to Be Alone at the end of a hard day. At times it’s pure comfort, at others strikingly powerful, it’s soft at points and strong at others. Perhaps it took Corby so long to finish it because he’s a perfectionist. In any case, it was worth the wait.

Rating: 3.5/5


Album Review: Gameshow by Two Door Cinema Club

The third studio album from Two Door Cinema Club bears little resemble to their previous offerings. Four years after ‘Beacon,’ the indie boys from Bangor seem to be caught up in a love affair with synth, falsetto and the 70/80’s.

Around 2013, the trio made up of frontman Alex Trimble, bassist Kev Baird and guitarist Sam Halliday were one of the biggest artists in the world. Known for their chirpy, catchy and cheerful indie/pop hits, there was a sense of immature innocence in the happy-go-lucky tunes from ‘Tourist History’ and ‘Beacon.’ ‘Gameshow’ reflects the coming of age the band have gone through in the past few years.

In recent interviews the trio have described the negative effect the music industry had on both their mental and physical health. The opening track on the record Are We Ready? (Wreck) gives us an insight into what was going through their heads at the time. A choir of children sing a catchy “Na-na-na” on the track as frontman Alex Trimble sings about the bands troubles. ‘Oh, we’ve made a mistake / We’ve lost our minds / We’ve lost our memory / Oh, what’s it gonna take? / There’s always something else / Waiting on the shelf.’

Bad Decision continues the cool vibe of the opening track and the lyrics here are just as honest. Trimble sings in a high falsetto reminiscent of the Bee Gees or Scissor Sisters about “generation information.” ‘You don’t need to know what everybody’s thinking,’ he advises on the funky track that stretches almost 5 minutes but doesn’t lose your interest for a moment. Meanwhile, Ordinary will have you tapping your foot and nodding your head as Trimble appears to try and convince himself that everything is ok, ‘Go ahead, just cover it up/ Let’s pretend we’re ordinary.’

The title track Gameshow is one of the strongest on the album. The start of the song starts off almost nonchalantly before diving into a frantic mess of bass, guitar and drums. Dipping its toes into the alternative rock scene with Trimble letting out the typical rocker scream before the trio delve into the last chorus, ‘Sing to me, you’re so pretty / I am a girl / I am a ghost / I am a gameshow,’  you just know this one would be really feckin’ good live.

‘I know you’re leaving / Cause I always take too long / Cause I always get it wrong / I’m a fool,’ Trimble laments on Invincible – the closest thing you’ll get to a ballad from Gameshow. It’s a bit too mushy to make you feel melancholy, and the screeching guitar after ‘I’ve got to find a way to make things right with you’ will make you cringe, but it’s something a little different from what the rest of the LP offers.

Highlights on the record include Fever and Surgery with their particularly infectious choruses. There’s a nice guitar solo on Surgery while enticing lyrics on the former like ‘Vibration gets your bones’ ring true for the listener. Je Viens De La finishes the record on a catchy high – the cool bassline feels very The 1975 while the electro-disco sound is a flashback to Duran Duran.

While the band’s classics like ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘What You Know’ were the perfect soundtrack for a summer road trip or some hardcore jumping around in the crowd of a main stage festival audience, the tracks on Gameshow seem more suited to a casual Thursday night gig or the background music for your drive home from college. If Two Door Cinema Club’s previous releases seemed like urgent, in your face indie/pop songs than Gameshow offers some cooler, chilled out tracks for the hipsters among us.

It seems inevitable that Gameshow will divide critics and fans alike. It’s a complete reinvention and it’s not entirely original – but if you’re an Indie fan who’s feeling a bit nostalgic for the 70’s or 80’s – this is your jam.

Rating: 4 /5