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Recorded over a two-day studio session, PAX AM Days is resident pop/punk-rock band Fall Out Boy's follow up EP to their earlier full-length comeback release Save Rock & Roll (check our review here). In essence, PAX AM Days is FOB at one of their most hardcore, passionate, raging moments. The excesses are stripped away, and the marathon tracklisting of eight tracks running at 13 minutes long sheds light on four guys playing their darn hardest without pause for thought.
The hardcore punk influences is eye-poppingly evident in this EP, and was basically an off the cuff decision, but there's something about the whole unpremediated and spontaneity of the PAX AM Days that gives the listener a sense of glory because it's essentially a brilliant, condensed version of what FOB do.
Main vocalist Patrick Stump is uninhibited in his delivery this time around. It's definitely interesting to see a singer's singer put in a whole different aspect of vocal delivery that utilises a more shout-talk technique that are common with metal bands. The impact however falls short in tracks like Eternal Summer, as it comes across like Stump does "need more oxygen" himself. However, songs like Love, Sex, Death, Caffeine Cold and Hot To The Touch, Cold On The Inside actually does well, with the urgency of the excellent drum cheoreography driving the tracks.
We mainly hear the ingenuity, or the breakdowns, of what could possibly full-length songs. However, too much of a good thing sometimes can go awry, so it's with relief that I can actually enjoy FOB uninhibited through this EP.
Track Cuts: Love, Sex, Death, Caffiene Cold, Hot To The Touch Cold On The Inside
Photo credit: Island Records
It's all about the confidence; that is what I realised after playing New Zealand accidental superstar Lorde's highly buzzed debut LP, Pure Heroine. Hell, even the bold white-on-black lettering of her album cover reeks of such utter disdain with today's commercialisation of music, and it's so.... Lorde. Born Ella Yelich-O' Connor, this sassy, curly-haired teen is brimming with confidence and has a profound musicality that could rival veteran musicians today. Only 16 years of age, her maturity and attitude towards the music industry is ultimately refreshing and also lives up to the expectations after the world's discovery of the sassy smash hit Royals.
In Pure Heroine, the running theme revolves around the tumultous, roller-coaster ride of adolescence - of growing up too fast and disillusionment with the high life - and Lorde captures the essence with sparse melodies, deep bass and enchanting hooks, as well as programmed beats, while filling in the voids with soft raps and a wiser-than-her-years sort of clarity. Along with dissecting her life and her possé, we get a vivid introduction into the life of a 16-year-old living "in a torn-up town, no post-code envy".
Its opening phrase "Don't you think that it's boring how people talk?" in Tennis Court, and its closing phrase "Let them talk", in A World Alone is basically a genius interwoven nugget into this concept album, as she herself comes across as both involved yet detached from the world she sings about. Moreover, the thought-provoking lyrics in each song about pop culture and society at large is actually what sets Lorde apart from the cookie-cutter stereotype of pop stars recently. As on the soft intro-turn-beat heavy Team, you cannot help but be amazed to hear her talk-sing "I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/ So there / I'm kind of older than I was when I reveled without a care". The disenchantment over mainstream dance-pop songs is called out by Lorde, painting a realistic view as she does so, "we live in cities you'll never see on screen / Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run free".
I particularly liked the soundscape of Ribs, with the ethereal, harmonious ahhh intro, followed by a under-running pulsing synth beat as she picks up speed almost frantically as she figures out that life isn't always like a bed of roses, "This dream isn't feeling sweet/ we're reeling through the midnight streets / And I've never felt more alone / It feels so scary getting old". The compilation on this album is a fusion of dance, pop and hip-hop, which works to emulate her quirks and eccentricities.
Lorde obviously has ambitions and aims, and it's definitely solidly presented in Pure Heroine, and while it is still early to tell if her can't-be-arsed kind of persona is a product of her label or really just her, it doesn't matter because I can't wait to hear more from her.
Track Cuts: Ribs, A World Alone, Royals, Team, Tennis Court
As Avril Lavigne sums up neatly with a bow on top the theme of her latest self-titled LP, "we don't give a fuck". Indeed, the already married singer-songwriter is still consistently putting herself in the shoes of youthful irresponsibility, and boy does she do it well. And with help from her husband, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, you can be guaranteed a good dose of rock-infused pop, Lavigne's specialty.
Speaking of specialty, Lavigne has always been known to put "a middle finger to the sky" when it comes to mainstream pop-rock themes, and this time is no different. Her anthemic singles, Here's To Never Growing Up and Rock N Roll may take some time to get into, but you'll nevertheless give in after time to the gritty guitar riffs and bombastic choruses.
Taking things in her stride, Lavigne seems to be literally stuck in time a la her single, and focuses on reliving the good ol' days, as can be seen in 17 and Bitchin' Summer, the latter a can't-be-arsed tune about well, a rebellious time when school is out! But compared to these tracks, the duet with her Kroeger, Let Me Go, is possibly Lavigne showing off a more mature edge. It's refreshing, more so because her vocal twang stand out against the trashing acoustic guitars and crashing symbals of a painful breakup. I'm surprised to note that their voices actually go well together... so perhaps it is indeed a perfect union. Nickelback's influences are quite apparent in this duet as well, but Lavigne takes credit for making the song her own, so I'm liking the sound.
Gone is the emo sound that is Complicated that shot Lavigne to fame at the very beginning. With this album, she's exploring her maturity and her roots with a twist - a dose of sunshine. The bass-heavy Sippin' On Sunshine is an unexpectedly infectious tune and follows the formula for crowd-ready chorus. However, it is not all birds and bees, as Lavigne gives listeners a double take with closing tracks that are more emotionally stirring, Falling Fast and Hush Hush. It also reassures us that the singer who gave us Slipped Away and I'm With You is still very present.
Track Cuts: Falling Fast, Sippin' On Sunshine, Here's To Never Growing Up, Hush Hush, Let Me Go
Photo Credit: Sony Music
With her sophomore album Teenage Dream spawning a record number of No. 1 hits on the charts - five, to be exact - and her seemingly ditzy, wide-eyed pop queen image appealing to Katycats worldwide, Katy Perry has somehow opted for a safer turn in third album Prism. This is unlike the controversial material she usually puts out along with a heavy dose of sass, including 2008's I Kissed a Girl and the semi-nude candified Teenage Dream album. Perhaps it is a reflection of her sense of maturity for the 29-year-old, who has been through a divorce, but is now reportedly in a stable relationship with bad-boy-turned-good John Mayer.
Lead single Roar is an uplifting and empowering number that does not necessarily apply to the female population only. In fact, it's more pop-bland material that offers a generalised viewpoint of getting up when one falls down in life, and thus appealing to many who understand that feeling of despair. It's really a prelude into a big chunk of the record, which offers little into the personal thoughts of Perry, but that capturing of the audience's feelings is something she did well in previous records, so I'll let her off on this one. That said, Roar is... well, just is. Nothing exceptionally powerful for me to rave, or rather, roar about.
Perry also trades in her California Gurl's Teenage Dream for a more realistic set of goals and ideals about love and life, choosing the thinly-veiled sexual connotations of disco-shimmying Birthday and the affective second single Unconditionally. The latter is a swelling tune that highlights her vulnerability and yet undying proclamation of love through the vocal and melodic build-ups of the song, resulting in a torrential downpour of emotions that hits home hard. She even tries her hand with various genres, such as Walking On Air, which exemplifies house music in its aggressive synth beats and up-tempo atmospherics. The trap-rap style in Dark Horse is also a surprise with the dark atmospherics and unconventional melody as she shifts between falsettos and her powerful head voice. It works for Perry's voice and current style, as her layered vocals are worked well into the euphoric vibes of the song and she definitely looks in her comfort zone with this song.
The backend of the album is a little more inspiring, with the radio-friendly track This Moment, as Perry urges her listeners to seize the moment, carpe diem and all. It feels like a slowed-down version of Teenage Dream, with a whimsical, dream-like edge to its production and her vocals hold its own in the track. Contrastingly, the despair is apparent in her piano-led ballad By The Grace Of God, inspired by the events surrounding her break-up with Russell Brand. It's probably one of the most introspective songs on the record into Perry's inner thoughts, and while it may be overwhelming at first listen, subsequent listens filter out layers and layers of intricate, intimate feelings that fans will be glad to hear. After all, we are all but human.
If you are looking for a more Spiritual side of Perry, the John Mayer co-written track is sure to offer than floating sensation as you "fly(ing) high on a kite of your love / lost in sweet ecstacy", a trippy, synth-heavy tune about falling head over heels in love. Quite funny how it comes right after BTGOG though, burn!
So, three years in the making and Katy Perry has probably found a comfortable space in the industry to settle into, especially with her new-found maturity. It's not a bad album per se, loaded with semi-introspective thoughts and empowering melodies. In fact, I can see quite a few hits in the making. But coming after the infectiously efferverscent Teenage Dream, it is quite a frustrating listen at times (because the album doesn't seem to amount to anything at all), and you almost wish that Perry could stay a while more in Neverland.
Track Cuts: Unconditionally, Dark Horse, Walking On Air, This Moment, Spiritual
Picture Credit: Capitol Records
Not to be confused with the popular erotic romance novel (you know which one I’m talking about), Shades In Grey is a local pop rock project by singer-songwriter Roman Tarassov and Sean Nerney (from homegrown electro-pop piece I Hate This Place).
Don't expect any Rihanna-esque 'na na na' crooning or whips breaking the sound barrier. In fact, I Can Tell You is their 4-track EP, a quality offering that has the likes of 80s music, Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode, yet brimming with its own musical direction. Also, the storybook-ish album cover depicts an illustration of Roman which I find rather comely.
Upon first track All In My Mind, I was pleasantly surprised. The hopeful guitar riff carried a momentum with it that warranted a second listen. And on that replay, the song grew wholesome and comfortable – like a ‘click!’. But for titular song I Can Tell You, it takes a solemn but necessary turn. It felt too heavy a change for me, and a little out of place in the record.
However, I like the way the song steers away from clichés often executed on the radio, without trying too hard.
Hold Me Now has some striking monologue at the start, but this number evolves into quite something else I fancy at the end. After being properly fed with three melodies, Everynight Everyday seems like the right fit to finish off the course. I don't reckon the songs were meant to linked to one another, but if there's a story to be told, I think I've found the pieces.
Roman and Sean are good friends and better collaborators. With this EP, I become more convinced they are each other’s soul mates. The extended play packs certain brevity in its lyrics and weaves a charming web of intrigue which would be difficult not to get sucked into.
Get the EP here.
Track Cuts: All In My Mind, Hold Me Now, Everynight Everyday
(Photo credit: iTunes)