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album picks

Album Review: Lights Returns With Another Acoustic Rendition Album In 'Midnight Machines'
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Album Review: The Summer Set Recapture Their Energetic Pop Rock Sound With 'Stories For Monday'
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Album Review: M83 Channels The 80s Pop Culture Yet Again, But With Average Results In 'Junk'
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Little Machines + acoustic guitars = Midnight Machines. Canadian electropop queen Lights gives us yet another acoustic taste of her albums, but it just loses out to her previous effort in Siberia (Acoustic) with this new album's dull and lifeless tracks.

We love Lights for her upbeat and catchy synthpop tunes that place her beside other artists like Ellie Goulding and even CHVRCHES. But here, she transforms that electropop energy into draggy verses and soft-spoken lines such as in the almost 6-minute opener Up We Go.

She could also have given more vocally to songs like Running With The Boys and Don't Go Home Without Me which was pretty decent acoustically, but basically begged for a passionate and powerful vocal delivery from Lights, but it just wasn't there.

One bright side for the acoustic album comes in the song Same Sea, where Lights does a pretty fine job singing it, but what really catches the eye, or in this case, the ear, is how a heart-pumping electropop tune was beautifully reconstructed into a melodic acoustic song that oozes chill vibes.

Still, the album proves Lights' dedication to her fans by giving us her different persepectives towards her works which always interests us and gives us more about what kind of artist she truly is.

Track Gems: Same Sea, Running With The Boys, Meteorites

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American band The Summer Set stay true to their pop rock selves with their 4th release Stories For Monday. Their previous one, Legendary, was a desperate, try-hard attempt at mainstream entrance, but here, they return to the energy of their earlier years.

Pop piano driven tunes start us off with Figure Me Out claiming that the band is "too pop for the punk kids", which is true, I mean frontman Brian Logan Dales has a unique pop singing style but it doesn't fit with the pop punk genre. The Night Is Young has that must-have theme of "living while you're young" which is what pop rock is mostly about.

Personally, I found that the band always had a knack for melodic and catchy tunes, but they have usually disappointed in the lyric department. One example, the feel-good tune All My Friends contains cheesy lines that could've been in the previous album, but the chorus is still super catchy.

The album has an abundant surplus of decent anthemic tunes with Missin' You standing out from the rest as an energetic track that recalls the band's youthful sound. The runner-up Wonder Years is a steady love song with decent-enough lyrics for once. It would've been the best song here were it not for that little part that basically copies Bruno Mars' "Count On Me".

Wasted is a decent way to end the album with its pounding beats, and it's a nice nod to how parties usually end. They end with us getting wasted and Stories For Monday seems to be the band throwing a big party of satisfactory pop rock tunes and the album will have no problem sustaining The Summer Set's presence in the pop rock scene.

Track Gems: Missin' You, Wonder Years, Change Your Mind, All Downhill From Here

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Today's artists have always tried re-channeling the themes of the 80s, and French electronic band M83 have always been one of the best, with albums like Saturdays = Youth & the acclaimed Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.

The man behind M83, Anthony Gonzalez, has always dug into the treasure trove of 80s pop culture to fuel his music, but with the band's 7th studio album Junk, it's rewards have probably dried up by now.

The record is littered with tracks that could have possibly been ending theme songs to 80's romance films. The familiar instrumental Moon Crystal is one, followed by the rather boring For The Kids, featuring a tired sax solo. Walkaway Blues has a promising soulful start, but just leads to an underwhelming chorus. And as cool as the synth solo on the electronic piece Solitude, it's 6-minute runtime is just too draggy.

The 80s nostalgia that Gonzalez has been gunning for may not have stopped working for those of that generation, but it may not even connect to the current generation, albeit for a few exceptions like the first two tracks, decent electronic pieces in Do It, Try It and Go!, both of which have the previous album's energy flowing through their eclectic sound.

Young listeners may grow bored before reaching head-bobbable electropop songs like the catchy Laser Gun and the cheerful Road Blaster. And they may even miss Beck's unnoticeable cameo in the 80s pop number Time Wind.

Still, there are some noteworthy tracks that retain the album's listenability. Bibi The Dog shows one of the rare moments M83 goes for French lyrics, which is a nice refresher from Gonzalez's awkward English lines. Though most of us won't understand it, we'll love it for its seductive tone and groovy chord progression.

Gonzalez seems to have written these songs for his own nostalgia with the ending track Sunday Night 1987, another possible 80s ending theme song, possibly referring to a personal moment in his life on that date. Hopefully, it's his final heavy venture into the 80s pop culture, as the title suggests, he's left with the remains of the 80s theme, the junk.

Track Gems: Bibi The Dog, Laser Gun, Atlantique Sud, Go!

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Alternative rock band Weezer have always had problems recreating the great heights they reached in the 90s with their first 2 albums (an infamous 0.4/10 Pitchfork rating for a certain album not helping their cause).

You could distinguish Weezer's sound into 2 categories; brilliant 90s geek rock vs. average power pop songs. Well, with their 10th record, I think it's safe to say Weezer have redeemed themselves in this 4th self-titled record, Weezer (The White Album).

California Kids sets the beach-rock tone that the band is aiming for this album, a fun song in itself that revisits that early pop grunge. L.A. Girlz oozes classic Weezer tones with some pop-culture references splashed around the lyrics. The rawness of The Blue Album is so present on this track, which brings me to my next point.

This record combines those 2 aforementioned categories; Pinkerton's brashness may be felt in tracks like Thank God For Girls where frontman Rivers Cuomo channels his inner Tyler Joseph, and the radio-pop of early-2000s Weezer can be heard on the single King Of The World and in the radio-friendly (Girl We Got A) Good Thing which just explodes in the 2nd verse.

Summer Elaine And Drunk Dori is the dark horse track whose subtle key changes may be easily overlooked, definitely one of the band's best power pop works that features a lovely Brian Bell solo. One underrated track, as there are potentially so many here, is Jacked Up, which shines the band under a new light with its modern pop sound.

The album closer, Endless Bummer, kind of reminds us that this is supposedly a "beach album". It's a lovely little acoustic number that showcases Rivers' best performance here, both lyrically and vocal-wise. The White Album is rife with brilliant songs, and I feel it's enough to reinstate Weezer's crippled rock status.

Track Gems: Summer Elaine And Drunk Dori, L.A. Girls, Endless Bummer, Wind In Our Sail 

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Everyone's favorite 90s frontgirl, Gwen Stefani, has been through many musical styles throughout her colorful career, from the upbeat ska of her No Doubt days to the catchy pop of her solo tunes like The Sweet Escape and Cool.

Her 3rd solo record This Is What The Truth Feels Like represents the start of a new phase in her life after separating from her longtime partner, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale. Maybe she'll delve into her perspective of the current love-life trends of the 2010s as compared to her more familiar 90s era.

As early-2000s as the album cover may be, Gwen's musical approach here seems influenced by current sounds with the electropop opener Misery and the trap-inspired tune You're My Favorite. The carefree vibes put out throughout the tracklist just shadow the fact that this is entirely a breakup album.

Most of the tracks here sound pretty filler, but Gwen seems to have no problem fitting in with today's pop music standards with two rather impressive singles. The bubblegum-ness of Make Me Like You reminds us of her happier times in her Sweet Escape days, while the other single, Used To Love You, contrastingly places a modern sound behind Gwen's most personal performance, singing "You go, I'll stay. You can keep all the memories".

Even almost a decade after her first solo venture, Gwen Stefani still manages to bring her charismatic persona to the game, impressive especially during these hard times for her. Exciting to see what this new phase brings to Gwen's music.

Track Gems: Used To Love You, Make Me Like You, Truth, Misery

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