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album picks

The Definitive Track-by-Track Ranking of Taylor Swift's 'reputation' Nobody Asked For
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Niall Horan Shows Us A Different Side Of Him In 'Flicker'
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Album Review: Our Top 3 Tracks From BTS' EP 'Love Yourself: Her'
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As part of the build-up towards the inevitable event that was Taylor Swift releasing her sixth studio album, Rolling Stones’ Robert Sheffield ranked all 115 of her songs, (correctly) crowning All Too Well as the crème de la crème. Vulture followed suit with an updated list, taking into account the recent reputation and #124 Will Shock No One!  

But seriously though, is anyone surprised that the LP that sold 1.05 million copies within four days is unfortunately the songstress’ most commercial i.e. generic output to date. Sure, the record is Swift at her most sonically cohesive in recent years but it also sees her striking the same contemporarily homogenous chords that tend to blunt her Midas Touch of crafting emotionally resonant pop songs. Rather than pander to the sounds of the moment (808 snares, everywhere!) shouldn't she be comfortable at this point in her career to rise above the din and craft a record that is truly signature Swift?

reputation is unnecessarily awkward in its predestined ascent to the top of the charts. Despite the fake news it perpetuates, the clickbait-y Consequence of Sound does bring up a valid point – are we supposed to immediately be cool with Swift rapping? It might be a nit-pick but should anyone ask me about my favourite TSwift hip-hop moment, the answer will forever be her iconic (and ironic) collaboration with T-Pain. Discomfort at some level should be a natural reaction to the verses she drawls unrecognisably and begs the question, "Why?" No offense, Ed Sheeran. 

If 1989 was the quasi-nostalgic, metropolitan embrace of her independence, reputation is a muddled and dated acknowledgement of her celebrity and/or infamy. By dedicating a majority of the record to her maligned public persona, Swift unwittingly distances herself at times and the dubious fashion she chooses to clothe her tracks doesn’t help either. Instead of the bulletproof comeback that could have been, reputation’s over-the-top gaudiness at the cost of relatability and immersion betrays an insecurity that’s quite misplaced. In the very era of oversharing it would be a pity that the mixed bag presented is merely a reaction and nothing much else.

Thankfully, we’ve sifted through the debris and neatly arranged all 15 tracks from worst to best for your perusal.

 

15. This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Clearly Swift has a thing or two to say to her perceived opponents and on any other day, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It does become inescapably tiresome when a full-fledged 3-minute song or more accurately, a tedious bulk of reputation is devoted to silly barbs which more often than not, fall flat. Would it not be a more fulfilling endeavour to prove her mettle by writing good songs first and foremost? Asking as a fan. Worst of all, "I can't even keep a straight face" doesn't even make a good meme and her insistence on juvenile cattiness represents everything wrong with this record.

14. End Game (ft. Ed Sheeran & Future)

How exactly did we as a society get here? Were we enablers of some sort when we innocently embraced her celebratory Backseat Freestyle and lauded the subsequent Kendrick Lamar feature in spite of its grossly underwhelming music video? If so, sorry. The lines Swift spit aren't terrible but next to nothing could ever redeem the very existence of this transactionary conception.            

13. Look What You Made Me Do

Believe it or not, I’m all for salty, extra, petty Swift, snake symbolism and all. I enjoy that glint of malice when she scowls, “Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours,” whatever she’s going off about and the Mean Girls deep cut is, in all honesty, genius. Still doesn’t qualify as anything more than a guilty pleasure, though.       

12. So It Goes...

Genius user taylorrolyat would have us believe that the refrain is used as a Vonnegut-inspired narrative tool of transition marking Swift’s metamorphosis from Old to New. That hypothesis is a stretch which could never accommodate the arid, uninspired soundscapes and flimsy rethreads of her dating dynamics. 

11. Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Imagine you were Joe Alwyn. While there has never been a Taylor Swift album more centred around a single, secretive relationship, the longevity of those songs (this throwaway one included) is, to put it generously, up in the air. Quality over quantity I say.     

10. …Ready For It?

reputation’s opening anthem functions as a spoiler warning and it’s ultimately a grower but just to give you an idea of how much I was not ready for it, I texted anyone who would listen this: “Taylor's a rapper now :(”

9. I Did Something Bad

It is highly unlikely that 2017 will be remembered as the year in which Swift finally came out openly relishing the purported singer-songwriter crime of penning diatribes against exes but you know what? She shouldn’t and doesn’t give a shit so that’s refreshing and hopefully, cathartic. 

8. Gorgeous

This isn’t a song that takes itself too seriously and neither should you. Only someone so smitten could let such an objectively weak chorus slide but the sentiment expressed is… not wrong.  

7. Don’t Blame Me

“Yeah but can she really sing though,” is by far the laziest excuse I’ve heard from casuals who somehow always happen to be vocal connoisseurs. Track 4’s blaring synths are drowned out by Swift’s fiery delivery of a bridge so lit it burns bright to high heaven.

6. Call It What You Want

Admit it, the whole “My baby's fly like a jet stream / High above the whole scene” is pretty darn catchy right up to the point where Swift frets about – you guessed it, her reputation.

5. Delicate

As one of those songs that could be described as (and contains the actual word) “chill”, reputation’s rare moment of frailty and self-doubt is interspersed with hip Tinder lexicon alluding to the anxieties of meeting someone new the only way Taylor Swift could.

4. King of My Heart

The auto tune works well here – Swift seems to be consumed quite thoroughly by the coronation of her new king who enchants her “heart, body, and soul” so much so that there is a shift in the very core of her being. Flitting around a series of dizzying beats, it’s thrilling to imagine a live drum circle HAIM-style hammering it out.

3. Getaway Car

Swift shines the most when she sounds like she could be on the edge of screaming her lyrics from the rooftops or in this case, while riding off into the sunset, possibly in a convertible. With Jack Antonoff’s imprint practically imbued in its DNA, that sweet 1989 aesthetic is ramped up to 13 for good measure.  

2. New Year’s Day

There she is. Vintage Swift – warmest when stripped down and your favourite story teller who kills it with lines like “Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognise anywhere." Isn’t it nice to actually feel things? Just ask Jimmy Fallon.

1. Dress

Sex, sex, sex in the form of a ballad no less. This is peak New Taylor. Alcohol reference? Check. Flow without interference from unnatural cadences? Check. An accessible narrative with enough juicy details and the utility of silence as the embodiment of tense restraint? Very good. 

 

Photo credit: Big Machine Records

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“It’s time!”

One Direction’s Irish crooner Niall Horan has always been known as the happy-go-lucky-smiley one, but his debut album, Flicker, shows us a whole different side. Talks about his debut album started a year ago, when he became the first member of One Direction to release solo material (apart from Zayn). Now, it is finally here!

 

Niall wrote on Twitter that it was the first time he properly poured out his emotions onto a record. The theme of love is prevalent throughout the album, which he has never really addressed in the past. As we know, Niall has been rather private about his personal life and relationships over the years. However, he sings about chasing the one that got away in songs like Flicker and Too Much To Ask. Also, just like any other young adult learning about love, Niall sings about the experiential process in tracks like Paper Houses and You and Me. Another interesting track would be On My Own – a singlehood anthem – where he sings about not needing anyone and just having fun on his own.

On the topic of romance, we looked through all 13 songs and picked out the top 5 most romantic lines. Man, he is good with his words…

 

1. Seeing Blind

"Oh, no I, you're too good to be all mine
Now I'm looking in your eyes
Oh, I must be seeing blind"

 

2. Since We’re Alone

"Since we're alone
Yeah, you can show me your heart
If you put it all in my hand
No, I swear
No, I won't break it apart"

 

3. Fire Away

"Darling, you don't have to hold it
You don't have to be afraid
You can go ahead and unload it
'Cause you know it'll be okay"

 

4. You And Me

When I look down the line
At the man I wanna be
I've always known from the start
That it ends with you and me

 

5. This Town

Because if the whole world was watching I’d still dance with you
Drive highways and byways to be there with you
Over and over the only truth
Everything comes back to you

 

Along with the album, Apple Music released a behind-the-scenes documentary following Niall on his album-making journey. Revisiting this short Q&A, he finally revealed that Flicker was the song that made a room full of grown men cry. The album title track really showed his vulnerable side and it gave us goosebumps.  

Overall, Niall stayed true to himself and his musical influences – pop, folk and a little rock. We’re looking forward to an Asian tour, maybe?


Picture Credits: DailyNiall on Tumblr, Niall Horan on Twitter, Niall Horan’s website

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BTS’ latest EP Love Yourself 承 'Her' marks the beginning of their Love Yourself album series that’s based on Kishōtenketsu (起承転結)- the four-act structure of classic East Asian narratives. ‘Her’ signifies the ‘development’ (shō) of the story, a prelude to the eventual 'twist' (ten). The EP's urban pop numbers center around young adults falling in love, but there’s a visible storm brewing in the distance if you squint in between the lines.

Although BTS displays excellent commitment to their thematic ideas, the EP doesn’t stand out as a very strong release- sonically, their style has changed, but it hasn't evolved. BTS has always capitalized on global chart trends, but they approached those well-known sounds from fresh angles and dimensions. The songs in Love Yourself 承 'Her' dive further into radio-friendliness without retaining the edges that made BTS exciting to begin with: The Chainsmokers collab Best of Me falters with its uninspired chord progression and lukewarm drop; Dimple captures the giddy rush of infatuation but lacks a personality; Go Go’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics are marred by a beat that sounds like a generic Shape of You hip hop remix.   

Nevertheless, the EP isn’t without its share of noteworthy tracks. Here are our top 3 picks: 

 

1. Pied Piper

Referencing The Pied Piper of Hamelin, BTS sings about obsessive love in fan culture. The production here glistens as the disco chords, funky Nile Rodgers-esque guitar strokes and soulful vocoded harmonies evoke a (deceptively) breezy atmosphere. Like a schoolteacher, rapper Rap Monster chides his fans for neglecting their own lives. It’s the only hit of reality we receive before it gets swept away into a twinkling mirage of synths and a sweet falsetto chorus. BTS play the villainous seducers for the rest of the song alongside the central metaphor- a mesmeric synth ostinato that flits in and out of focus but never departs. In the lush swoon of a bridge, Jimin and Jungkook’s breathy voices drip with honeyed poison, the lines “If perhaps I/ Am destroying you/ Will you forgive me?” are delivered with such doe-eyed sincerity that it makes you forget the rhetorical nature of the question. The interplay between the song’s buoyant groove and its darker subject matter is what takes it all to another level: like the root of an obsession, you don’t realize how innocuously it lodges under your skin.

 

 

2. MIC Drop

This gritty punkish trap banger is your classic screw-the-haters anthem- an art form that BTS has become well adept at. The opening metal guitar distortion is an instant back-straightener, but nothing prepares us for that straight up dirty bassline. Its menace is amplified through the rappers’ deliveries: J-Hope’s staccato flow jabs each note and syllable with the muted precision of an assault sniper, Suga coolly surfs the beat with sardonic apologies and a smirk in his voice, Rap Monster dials up the intensity with his stentorian spitting and trap vocal inflections. The Autotuned taunts over piercing synth wails stir up a commotion that might be a little too in-your-face for some, except that it’s exactly what a song like this aims to do, and BTS makes all the ruckus sound like a party. Their live performance of the song says it all, better than we ever can.

 

 

3. Outro: Her

The melancholic old school hip hop beat recalls 90s East Coast boom bap and feels like a change of pace after the high of love songs and hype tracks- we can’t help but feel the nostalgia rise in our throats. Over jazzy Rhodes piano chords that exhale warmth and longing, BTS’ rappers lay out pensive passages on their need to compromise their identities for their loved ones. By engaging with the complex side of love, the outro peeks beneath the luster of the EP and alludes to the next chapter ahead. It’s a track that’s both light and heavy, calm and restless- a soundtrack for broody bus rides home as the day draws to a close.

 

******

What are your top 3 songs from this EP? 

Photo Credit: Big Hit Entertainment

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Paramore's much-awaited comeback is living proof that former teenage bands can still catch up and successfully embody a hipster persona despite already approaching the dreaded age of 30.

The emo-pop band continuously satisfy their fans' cravings with a slightly different genre in their new album, After Laughter. Despite the shift in genres, solid Paramore fans seemed to be less critical about the band's transformation as former drummer Zac Farro has rejoined the band.

With influences from disco, funk, and new wave, the record is jam-packed with frolicking dance anthems just begging to be replayed. Notable basslines and synth accompaniments are also what makes this album an irresistible listen.

But don't be fooled by the upbeat, energetic sound of After Laughter as most tracks deal with themes of life's most philosophical questions.

The 12-track album is the perfect epitome of a flawless transition from alternative rock to indie pop.

With this, here are 5 must-listen tracks from the album:

 

1. Rose-Colored Boy

This song was reportedly about Hayley Williams’ thoughts on Taylor York’s nagging optimism that led Hayley to write the lyrics, “Hey man, we all can't be like you. I wish we were all rose-colored too”.

 

2. Fake Happy

What’s commendable and alluring about this track is it starts with a mellow intro that beautifully progresses to the upbeat verses and chorus. It’s as though it truly encapsulates the meaning of being lonely and having to keep a positive facade, exemplifying what it’s really like to be “fake happy”.

 

3. Pool

Pool is a love song drowned in lyrics about uncertainties in relationships. This is mostly evident in its tug-of-war-like rhythm.

 

4. Idle Worship

A song dedicated to avid Hayley fanatics, Idle Worship reminds us that glorification of celebrities isn't really what it's all cracked up to be - "Be sure to put your faith in something more. I'm just a girl and you're not as alone as you feel."

 

5. Caught In The Middle

Challenged by the inevitable fact of growing old, Paramore breaks down their deepest thoughts about having to leave youth behind. Caught In The Middle revolves around the feeling of distress and hides it in this magnetic banger of a song. 

 

******

What’s your favorite song off the album?

 

Photo Credit: Fueled by Ramen

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Hailing themselves as one of the only bands left to save rock n’ roll in this generation, along with Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines, Kasabian return with a banging sixth album – For Crying Out Loud.

Enveloped in crunchy guitar-driven tracks and heavy beats, the album seems to be propelled by continuous swagger. It’s almost as though every track was formulated to open with alluring intros, engulfing listeners to a whirlwind of head-banging experience.

Ruthless melodies mixed with hypnotic riffs find their way into songs like Comeback Kid, You’re In Love With a Psycho, and Bless This Acid House, which many classic rock fans unsurprisingly swoon over.It’s undeniable that Kasabian’s powerful personality seeps through every note of these tracks.

The Leicester natives definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to keeping their name afloat in the music scene. While critics begged for a lyrical execution on par with guitarist and songwriter Serge Pizzorno’s seemingly egoistic ideas and philosophical claims, I think the album delivered many fans musical expectations.

 

 

Track Gems: You’re In Love With a Psycho, Good Fight, Bless This Acid House, Put Your Life On It

 

Photo Credit: Columbia Records, Dork Magazine

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