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album picks

Album Review: Smallpools - LOVETAP!
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Album Review: Charli XCX - SUCKER
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Album Review: Sleeping With Sirens - Madness
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Formed just in 2013, Smallpools have quickly grown to be among the hottest music acts in the US, and after impressing us with their debut EP, this LA quartet finally gave anticipating fans more exciting material with the LOVETAP! album.

Known for their synth driven songs, vocalist Sean Scanlon's high vocal runs and Mike Kamerman's smooth guitar licks create an exciting sound in front of Joe Intile's bass grooves and Beau Kuther's sparkling drum beats. 

The well-received singles, Karaoke and probably the most famous track, Dreaming (as seen on FIFA14's soundtrack) are sure to convince you that Smallpools is a band on the path to greatness.

The mostly indie pop band draws some influence from Neon Trees and Two Door Cinema Club (IMHO) as seen in tracks like the CHVRCHES-esque Killer Whales and the anthemic Over & Over. No Story Time portrays the band's best work here with a moving guitar progression and an unforgettable hook in the chorus to complete a very indie rock track.

I have to applaud the band's track arrangement with the opening song, American Love. A favorite for me as it's a fantastic opener that displays what the band is all about in just a second under 3 minutes. And not to forget, (Submarine) caps off the album in the most surprising way as it's an ambient ballad that borrows qualities from The 1975's ethereal sound and has that climaxing vibe similar to that of Coldplay's Fix You.

This upcoming band really knows what they're doing, bringing together different aspects from different musicians and LOVETAP! looks set to be another stepping stone towards Smallpool's success.

Track Gems: American Love, No Story Time, 9 To 5, (Submarine)

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Album Review: Charli XCX - SUCKER

By Michael Mar 26, 2015

Rising pop stars never seem to find relief from the hellish criticism from the media and Charli XCX has 3 words for them, and I tweet-quote, "F""K YOU SUCKERRRRRRR!"

She definitely meant to put that in the opening track, Sucker, letting the doubters know what's coming next. The Fancy singer seems to have 2 different purposes for this album. One, to get back at those who called her a sellout. Two, for all the party people out there.

SUCKER is mostly dominated by party hits like Break The Rules, the ever-famous and catchy Boom Clap and Doing It which shares some of the vocal slots with Rita Ora.

Need Ur Love is probably the happiest-sounding track here, demonstrating Charli's best songwriting on the album. Somehow it sounds like a Lenka song. Still, it's a pretty cool one and one of the best on SUCKER.

Charli XCX gets some new influences from Weezer and The Hives as seen in the rebellious Breaking Up and London Queen that cleverly pairs a drum machine loop, a Ramones-ish guitar riff and Brit-punk "Oi!" shouts. 

Famous and Hanging Around are other tracks that incorporate rock aspects with a heavy distorted guitar progression in front of synth beats and pop fills, showing Charli's ingenuity of bringing together different sounds.

It may not resonate much with the male listeners, but it definitely relates a lot to the girls out there. SUCKER brilliantly comes off as a great party album and has an alter ego of an anthemic girl-power record. 

Track cuts: Famous, Need Ur Love, London Queen, Boom Clap

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Sleeping With Sirens has been part of this generation's post-hardcore invasion of mainstream music and after their overacheiving third album, Feel, the guys have gone wandering into another unpredictable genre in pop-rock with Madness. (literally)

Kick Me is a brilliant introduction into the album with the pumping energy from the heavy guitars and pounding drums as well as the meaningful lyrics. (watch the MV for a better experience). 

If you think Kellin's unique tenor voice brings post-hardcore to a whole new level, listen to how it brings out new dimensions in the upbeat pop-rock styled songs like Better Off Dead and Go Go Go (check out the MV too). 

However, slower pop-rock songs like Save Me A Spark, November and Gold just prove that the band isn't suited for the pop-rock genre, but who can blame them for experimenting? In this case, curiosity damaged the cat but didn't kill it as We Like It Loud and Don't Say Anything saved it by retaining some of that hardcore vibe that made the band what it is.

In all, Madness is a pop-rock album with post-hardcore influences here and there. Hopefully, the band gets back to their roots and returns with an attitude-filled, energizing, anthemic album that screams hardcore.

Track Cuts: Kick Me, We Like It Loud, Better Off Dead

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"I remember you was conflicted. Misuing your influence. Sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power, full of resentment. Resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screaming in the hotel room. I didn't want to self-destruct. The evils of Lucy was all aorund me. So I went running for answers. Until I came home. But that didn't stop susrvivor's guilt. Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned. Or maybe how A1 my foundation was. But while my loved ones were fighting a continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one. A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination. It made me want to go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned. The word was respect. Just because you wore a different gang colour than mine doesn't mean I can't respect you as a black man. Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets, if I respect you we unify and stop the enmy from killing is. But I don't know. I'm no mortal man. Maybe I'm just another ni***." - Kendrick Lamar

There's no way to understand To Pimp A Butterfly in one listen. Not even ten. This is one of those albums that unravels itself layer upon layer with each play, rewarding anyone who gives 100% to the experience. To Pimp A Butterfly demands attention, not a plug-in-and-just-enjoy type of album.

In 2013, Kendrick Lamar released the critically acclaimed Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, the story of his childhood and rise to fame. Filled with catchy hooks and a unique flow, it was a polished hip-hop album done perfectly. It also established Lamar as the poet of hip-hop, a man smart emough to observe the nuances in life and spit about it with the fluency of a scholar.

To Pimp A Butterfly is a different beast. It tackles world issues of race, guilt, power, desire and fame. As big as those concepts sound, there's never once the album sags or feels boring, supported by jazz and funk productions. It would be challenge to find a track that starts and ends with the same production or tempo. In a strange way, this album sounds closer to traditional hip-hop than his debut but simultaneously taking big steps forward for the genre.

I've never heard a rap album remotely similar to this. There's so much you learn about while listening to To Pimp A Butterfly and as a non-black male, it makes you an outsider. An outsider peeking into a world that strangely never feels alien or remote.

What's being said in an album makes it great, but one that is musically poor will never be outstanding. The genius of this album lies in that it becomes increasingly memorable the more you listen to it. While many have conceded that this is not an easy listen, I may beg to differ. I have found it to be an immensely enjoyable experience after getting past the initial play-throughs, with Lamar's incredible, and beautifully lyrical, flow enagaging constantly.

Lamar included a poem he wrote at the end of each song (above), as lines are added with each track. This has been the most effective use of a running theme in any album, culminating with a fictional interview with obvious personal inspiration, Tupac. Every added line summarises the message of their respective songs, and as a poem, it fits into the overall concept of the album.

Kendrick rises to prominence and fame, then struggles with inner demons and ends with a desire to educate his community, using caterpillars and butterflies as metaphors for the people blinded by voices. It's as much the journey as the message. 

 

Photo credit: Interscope Records

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Kelly Clarkson continues to utilize her secret formula to powerful pop anthems and chart-topping ballads in her seventh album, Piece By Piece which displays her enormous consistency throughout her career, something most pop stars don't really do with tempting options like experimenting on other genres.

Impressively, her album debuted at the top of the Billboard charts (for the 3rd time) and with heart pumping tracks like the opening Heartbeat Song, it promises to keep her album at the top for a long while.

I may retract my earlier 'experimentation' statement with Kelly's inclusion of the club-banger Take You High which has some electronic influence and also the 80s-ish Dance With Me.

Fellow pop star Sia helped out with the writing for Invincible, which is my pick of the bunch as it's the song that brings out the best of the first American Idol's raw vocal talent. Probably the most alien track on the album is the duet Run Run Run with John Legend, a beautiful ballad that adds some personal feeling to the whole record.

Overall, it's a pretty average album that has some gems in between the many pop songs and while it may not get many marks for creativity, it remains another building block to the ever-predominant genre of pop.

Track Cuts: Invincible, Nostalgic, Piece By Piece, Take You High

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