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Music

Victoria Monet Jaguar Review

R&B powerhouse Victoria Monét has just released the first act of her debut album, “Jaguar,” which is slated to be released in three acts. Monét has been in the industry for a minute, having written numerous songs for big names like Ariana Grande and Fifth Harmony, and now her impeccable artistry is finally being brought to fruition on a mainstream stage. She worked with D’Mile on production, who has produced for Rihanna, Janet Jackson, and Mary J. Blige, and the result is a stunning body of work that is fulfilling enough to stand on its own, let alone in three parts.

The two promotional singles “Dive” and “Moment” are sultry ear candy with extravagant string quartets, a light snare and airy mezzo-soprano vocals. A majority of this album shows Monét unapologetically celebrating her sexual agency as well. “Dive” is an ode to female pleasure through oral sex, and it strikes a perfect balance between casually sensual and raunchy.

The title track, “Jaguar” shows Monét likening her body to the silkiness and smooth texture of the Latin American panther. The track has extremely sleek production with a vocoder refrain referencing a pussycat’s nine lives as a sexual innuendo (“You got nine times to come hit that”), with extravagant horns and string instrumentals.

“Ass Like That,” is another massive highlight. The bass line is so infectious, that listeners could develop an addiction to it. “Go There with You” shows Monét peeling back her layers and showing her vulnerable side in the midst of a lovers’ quarrel (“Out of all of the things we could do/I’d rather not throw off the mood”) over glitchy guitar riffs, hi-hats and a high-frequency guitar solo.

“Experience” with Khalid and S.G. Lewis, is an excellent synthetic and danceable track, which is incredibly refreshing for a genre like R&B which is often more slow and melancholy. A big takeaway from this album is how much it shows Monét’s dedication to railing against being boxed in or being looked at as one-dimensional, which happens to women way too often in the music industry.

“I wanted to be strong enough to talk about my own body the way men do in many rap songs. I reserve and deserve the right to talk about it, with or without the world’s approval, because they never asked for mine. They never ask for ours,” Monét stated in an interview with Apple Music.

The final track, “Touch Me,” is a sweet and sensual ballad dedicated to a woman she used to be in love with. Fans speculate that the subject of the song is fellow R&B singer, Kehlani. In an interview with the Gay Times Monét confessed, “I literally fell in love with a girl… And I had a boyfriend at the time, and then we broke up. But this woman ended up getting pregnant because she had a boyfriend in a polyamorous relationship,” which was around late 2018, the same time that Kehlani announced her pregnancy. The song is a gorgeous and smooth queer ballad that we don’t often see in the rap and R&B circles, so it was incredibly refreshing to hear Monét share her story in a song.

Victoria Monét’s versatility and ability to bring her creative visions to fruition in such a cohesive way is a skill not afforded to many artists. In just nine songs (perhaps another nod to nine lives?) she did what most artists could not achieve with twenty. The jazzy blues production throughout the album is phenomenal and Monét’s creative genius is only beginning to emerge.

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Music

Alanis Morissette “Such Pretty Forks in the Road” Review

When Alanis Morissette puts out a brand new body of work after five years, it’s like watching a flower that’s been wilting for days get its nutrients back. This brand new album “Such Pretty Forks in the Road,” is packed with emotionally-wrought, emotive ballads with Morissette showing off her signature mezzo-soprano belting with organic, stripped-back instrumentation that includes heavy piano and mosquito guitar-riffs reminiscent of an early Yeah Yeah Yeahs record.

This album sees Morissette tackling fear, trauma, motherhood, notoriety and fame, sexual assault and existential dread. Heavy lyrical themes are rebirth (“Losing the Plot”), biblical references like Adam and Eve with “Ablaze,” “Missing the Miracle,” and “Reckoning,” with lyrics imagining herself approaching the gates of Heaven in the afterlife. Alanis Morissette is known for providing the listener with raw and honest personal experiences, and hearing her stick to her guns while maintain her knack for vulnerable, evocative songwriting on this album was incredibly satisfying.

The reason why I always gravitated to Morissette is because she is unafraid to be vulnerable and bear it all in her songwriting coupled with her assertive and unapologetic tone on records like “Jagged Little Pill” and “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.” She maintains these qualities front-to-back on “Pretty Forks,” right from the beginning on the opening track, “Smile,” with lyrics that go “this is the first wave of my white flag, this is the sound of me hitting bottom.”

“Ablaze” is a love-letter to her children that opens with biblical imagery of original sin leading to conflict on earth (“All our devotions and temperaments are pulled from different wells/They seem to easily forget we are made of the same cells”). She warns her children that as they develop they will have to grapple with the ills of society and a cruel world, but she promises that she will always be there to aid them through it (“My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze”). It’s impossible not to get glassy-eyed listening to this song, even if the listener cannot relate to parenthood.

Arguably the most important track on the album is “Sandbox Love,” where Alanis deals with the traumatic aftermath of sexual assault and grapples with the shame and disgust (“Catapult me out of this fantasy/It’s never been mine, it’s always been yours”). It’s never comfortable to talk about, and this isn’t the first time she’s written about the topic from personal experience.

The strongest tracks on this album by far are “Losing the Plot,” “Nemesis,” and “Pedestal.” The former and the latter both grapple with the pressure of having to be the superhero for everybody all the time, and recognizing that it’s okay to be human instead. “Pedestal” grapples with fame in notoriety, with Morissette warning her fans who hold her in the highest regard that she’s going to let them down eventually if they continue to treat her like an untouchable image of perfection (“One day, you’ll see that you’ve never really seen me/And one day, you’ll find out that everything you dreamed of wasn’t who stood before you”).

The instrumental progression on “Nemesis” starts out slow and eventually picks up and reaches a climactic tempo with steady guitar riffs and drum loops. One of Morissette’s hidden strengths is in her lower register, which is how she opens the song, eventually migrating to her signature belting range. The faint drum patterns and light guitar riffs and background synthesizer drones creates a rare atmospheric sound that perfectly weaves into the lyrics.

The production on this album is incredibly lush, organic and smooth. The majority of it is played with real instruments and minimal electronic production, which is becoming more rare in today’s musical landscape, and it makes the album all the more fantastic. Catherine Marks did a remarkable job producing this album.

My favorite thing about Alanis Morissette is that she is unabashedly transparent and brutally honest with her songwriting. She never compromised her image or vision for anybody since she rose to prominence in the ’90s. The most important part of this album is that she acknowledges that she cannot always be the superwoman that her beloved fans, friends, or family need her to be, and that’s okay. On “Losing the Plot” she acknowledges that her “mission is not done yet,” and her world dominance is far from over. Anyone who thought she would fade into obscurity after the ’90s is dead wrong.

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Music

Toronto No Wave Outfit New Fries Have the Perfect Ear for Sonic Dissonance – “Is the Idea of Us” Review

There are a myriad of bloggers and music critics who have argued that No Wave is objectively bad because it’s no different than a child experimenting with tools that they know nothing about. On the other hand, experimental projects can also be very compelling, and when no wave bands are committed to their ideas, their talent and musicianship will ultimately shine through as an extension of that.

The new album, Is the Idea of Us by New Fries, the critically-acclaimed No Wave band from Toronto, is a project that resulted from on-the-fly recording sessions with a similar approach to how one might write a stream-of-consciousness journal entry. The experimental noise band have been railing against traditional musicianship since they formed, and have dubbed themselves “non-musicians,” who distance themselves from Toronto pop bands with larger audiences.

Singer/guitarist Anni Spadafora and drummer Jenny Gitman are not trained musicians, and they deliberately do not study or practice instruments either. The only trained musician in the band is bassist Tim Fagan, who gives the band the necessary formula to construct a song in sessions.

The band collaborated with Carl Didur (formerly of US Girls) on production to foster a project of six songs that were recorded on the fly with interpolations of off-kilter instrumentals, pulsating drum patterns, and eerie synth basslines with treble backgrounds. One of the interludes primarily driven by drumming pulls a switch on the listener right away and invades the auditory senses with glitching, inverted frequencies (Genre III). Another interlude sounds like an iPhone Vibrating to tempo (Genre VI).

The opening track “Bangs” begins with string-plucking and an immediate tempo switch with incantations that sound like a hexing ritual. The band remains good on their word to make their sound as disruptive as possible with the blaring synths in the background, and also on “Lily,” with hissing cymbal taps and rapid staccato instrumentation culminating in a sonic catastrophe that is impossible to turn off.

In a press release the band stated that the album was meant to embody an in-between with its contentious sound, which is brought to the surface with dynamic instrumentation and menacing drones and synthesizers. The band has also confessed that they are “less interested in songwriting,” and more interested in “repetition, space, and dynamics.” The smooth bassline coupled with percussion that sounds like the aggressive tapping of drumsticks on the song “Ploce” is an extremely satisfying progression, as is the drone crescendo at the very end of the song.

New Fries is extremely skilled at framing their ideas through a progression of free-flowing production and indecipherable lyrics. This album will ultimately leave listeners reeling with many questions. However, it appears that the band intends to intervene in the useless framing of ideas that consumers tend to project onto musical projects. If you asked them when they came up with the idea for this record, it wouldn’t matter what their answer was, whether they recorded it all in one day, or over the span of a few months. On the track “Mt Tambora” Spadafora poses the question “Are you comfortable with nothing?” and as musicians they seem to be ultimately be satisfied with transcending meaning.

Is the Idea of Us will be available to download and listen to on all streaming platforms August 7th.

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Music

100 gecs – “1000 gecs and the Tree of Clues” Album Review

The hyper pop power-duo and PC music-affiliated producers Dylan Brady and Laura Les of 100 gecs just released a collection of remixed tracks from their critically-acclaimed debut, “1000 gecs,” with a lineup of features that included big names like Fall Out Boy, Injury Reserve, Charli XCX, GFOTY, Hannah Diamond, Danny L Harle, Rico Nasty, Tommy Cash, Dorian Electra and a myriad of others. The release also contained live performances of a few of the band’s classics and additional unreleased tracks.

A few of the pre-released singles were the “ringtone” remix featuring Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, and Kero Kero Bonito, “gec 2 ü” featuring Dorian Electra, and A.G. Cook’s touch of lush synths and distorted frequencies over Brady and Les’s cartoon-pitched vocals on the remix of “money machine.” On “ringtone” Sarah Midori Perry of Kero Kero Bonito was unfortunately overshadowed by such big personalities like Charli and Rico.

The slower remix of “745 sticky” featuring Injury Reserve was ultimately a miss for me, as was the other version with Black Dresses. Compared to the original, which went at a much faster BPM rate was my favorite song on the album, so it was a a disappointment not to have either of these two particular versions do much for me.

The first remix of “hand crushed by a mallet” with Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, and the ethereal cyborg vocals of Nicole Dollanganger, in comparison to the equally cacophonous No Thank You version, was the superior “mallet” remix. The juxtaposition of Patrick Stump and Owens’ powerhouse voices with the ethereal computerized cyborg-esque cadence of Dallanganger was an excellent balance, and the distorted screams at the very end topped it all off incredibly well.

Ricco Harver’s production on the remix of “800 db cloud” pushed the boundaries of computerized instrumentation even further than the original did, which I didn’t even know was possible. “stupid horse” with GFOTY on vocals and Count Baldor on production was another highlight, with GFOTY’s cheeky modifications to the lyrics (“Bet my money on a stupid boy, I lost that/So I ran out to the track to get my ass back”) coupled with her heavy British accent and silly quirks made the song all the more fun to listen to.

There was also a remix of “ringtone” with umru with extra over-the-top instrumentation with a lot of dramatic synths added wasn’t as stand-out as the Charli XCX and Rico version for me. As much as I love umru, the song felt more like an afterthought and didn’t really change much other than a slightly more dramatic backing instrumentation.

“xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx” with Tommy Cash and Hannah Diamond initially didn’t initially peak my interest until Cash’s verses were over, and it slowed down at the last minute and with only Diamond’s vocals repeating the hook (I am a massive, unapologetic Hannah Diamond fan). The pulsating synth pattern in the first few minutes is something that I’ve heard a million times. I would certainly dance to this in the club, but I don’t see myself going back to listen to it on my own time. The 99jakes remix was slightly more interesting with speedier production and more high-pitched soundboard glitches, whistles, and inverted frequencies that I enjoyed.

Lil West and Tony Velour’s version of “gecgecgec” was slightly underwhelming and lyrically uninteresting, but Les’ gorgeous and emotionally palpable chorus at the very end (“I’m not stronger than, stronger than you”) with her signature cartoon-pitched vocals redeemed it. “gec 2 ü” featuring the sensual, ambiguous vocals of Dorian Electra was my favorite track on the album with its distorted and glitchy, pulsating production.

The album also contains two additional tracks, “came to my show” and “toothless.” The intro of “came to my show,” is campy and hilarious. Hearing Brady and Les’s manipulated vocals are an acquired taste for new listeners, but as a long-time listener these two songs drew quite an emotional response from me. The album comes to a close with live performances of “800db cloud” and “small pipe.”

“1000 gecs and the Tree of Clues” is available for purchase on iTunes and can be streamed on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Apple Music.

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Music

Arca “KiCk i” Album Review

“Bitch, I’m special. You can’t tell me otherwise, that’d be a lie” is one of the first zingers we hear on the opening track, “Nonbinary,” on Venezuelan artist and producer Arca’s new LP, KiCk i. Right from the start it’s crystal clear that Arca’s pulling no punches and is about to take the listener on a journey of dissonance, clarity, and self-actualization.

Arca already had three critically acclaimed albums under her belt as well as an impressive lineup of credentials, having produced for artists like Björk, Kanye West, FKA Twigs, and Frank Ocean.

This album is heavy on the electronic and hyperactive pop side, with a touch of reggaeton and dancehall influence. Each track is overloaded with violent synth arpeggios amplified up to a cartoon level. It is very similar to the hyperpop sound that has been pioneered in these past few years by artists like SOPHIE, 100 gecs, and a myriad of other artists under the PC Music umbrella.

The record shows Arca reflecting on the struggle to live as an out trans woman in public spaces (“Mequetrefe”), coming out on the other side and living unapologetically on songs like “Riquiquí” (“Regenerated girl degenerate to generate heat in the light/Love in the face of fear/Fear in the face of God”), finding the strength and safety in finally being able to open up to a lover (“Calor”), and sexual liberation on ethereal ballads like “Afterwards” with Björk reciting a poem by the Spanish modernist poet Antonio Machado, and the sensual club banger “Watch” with Shygirl.

The song “KLK” with Rosalia (short for “?que lo que?”/”keloke,” which translates to “what’s up” in Spanish), is an unabashed celebration of identity, femininity, the magic of being showgirls and celebrating their roots and culture. “Rip the Slit” is a kinky, repetitive, and unabashedly gay anthem (“I’ll hit you with that limp wrist, lipstick/Slit lip, rip slit, tit for tat”) that Arca has described as “a gleeful perversion.” “La Chíqui” with SOPHIE is a clashing of two hyperpop titans producing a bone-crushing track that hits listeners over the head with that trademark SOPHIE production that sounds like the most delightful computer crash.

The final two tracks “Machote” and “No Queda Nada” are more emotionally-driven ballads where Arca gets to show off her vocal chops as she sings about desire, love and gratitude. The closing track (“No Queda Nada”) is an ethereal stadium-ballad that was inspired by Selena Quintanilla, which Arca dedicates to her partner, Carlos Sáez.

As pop evolves and progresses it is clear that Arca is one of the most exciting artists to watch, and KiCk i is only the beginning of her world domination. KiCk i is available for purchase on iTunes and can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Gerard Way Music Queer Culture YouTube

New Youtube Channel! ♡

The purpose of this channel is to open critical conversations regarding my favorite musicians and their work. Forever remaining true to my anti-social roots, the channel is under the name Miss Ann Thrope.

My first video is a critical look at queerness in music fandoms with Gerard Way as the centerpiece, and how LGBTQIAA+ fans of My Chemical Romance came to claim Way as our patron saint. Make sure to like, share, and subscribe to help me get the channel off the ground!

Linked in the description of the video are two organizations/mutual aid funds supporting black members of the trans community. Black trans folx were the catalyst for change that led to the origin of Pride, and it is vital that they are represented and protected. Happy pride!

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Music

Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher” Album Review

Phoebe Bridgers is the poetic and sarcastic indie folk musician whose songwriting abilities have garnered comparisons to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Her debut album “Stranger in the Alps” was dubbed “an emo-folk masterpiece” by Rolling Stone in 2018, and her sophomore album “Punisher” is an instant bleak and fatalistic classic.

“Punisher” was originally slated to be released on June 19, but Bridgers decided to put it out a day early, stating on her Instagram that she wouldn’t be postponing the release. With the fragile state of the world with COVID-19 and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, having music and art as a release is incredibly necessary, and this album is a smorgasbord of sorrowful, sarcastic tunes with Bridgers attempting to make sense of the dark future that it feels like this generation is headed towards.

Bridgers’ enlists the help of frequent collaborators and bandmates from side projects on this album including Conor Oberst of Better Oblivion Community Center, and Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker of boygenius. Bridgers’ songwriting on this record was influenced lyrically by Joan Didion, and sonically by Elliott Smith and Jackson Browne. The sound on the album conjures up visceral pangs with lo-fi production on tracks like “Garden Song,” and heavy instrumentation on the track “Kyoto,” complete with mellotron, autoharp, twelve-string guitars and synthesizers.

Bridgers’ dejected and cynical lyrical overtones are the most transparent on dystopian folk-pop tracks like “Halloween” a song about an ill-fated romance that closes out with a duet between Bridgers’ and Conor Oberst repeating the same couplets as they sing of inevitable doom (“Baby it’s Halloween/I’ll be whatever you want”). “Chinese Satellite” is about her nihilistic view of life and a lack of faith in the world or in herself (“I want to believe/Instead, I look at the sky and I feel nothing/You know I hate to be alone/I want to be wrong”).

“Punisher,” “Moon Song,” and “Savior Complex” all find Bridgers dealing with her nurturing instincts getting the best of her as she grapples with the pain of caring too much for somebody with self-destructive tendencies and low self-esteem who cannot reciprocate, which ends up draining her of all her energy. The lilting, emotional folk track “Graceland Too” contains a banjo, a fiddle, and ethereal background vocals by Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus.

The album comes to a close with “I Know the End,” with Bridgers making peace with the uncertainty of her future and the world coming to an end (“A slaughterhouse, an outlet mall/Slot machines, fear of God/Windows down, heater on/Big bolts of lightning hanging low”). The final instrumentation mirrors the album’s intro and builds until it reaches an orchestral climax with strings, primal animalistic hissing and guttural screaming reminiscent of an apocalyptic horror film score.

“Punisher” is an amalgamation of emotional highs and lows and dry lyrical wisecracks that paint a picture of a world in decay. What’s even more impressive is that Bridgers manages to make the listener laugh at the same time as she spits out lyrical prose that comes as a visceral punch to the gut.

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Music

How Paramore Revolutionized Pop Punk: The Enduring Legacy of RIOT! Thirteen Years Later

Thirteen years ago today, Nashville pop punk outfit Paramore emerged from the underground and shook the world. The band had signed a joint deal with Atlantic Records and Fueled By Ramen two years prior, and the release of their critically-acclaimed sophomore album “RIOT!,” signaled a massive shift in the scene.

As a kid who was raised on pop punk and emo, this album has been highly influential throughout the course of my life from adolescence into early adulthood. But I never realized just how revolutionary it was for its time and what it did for women in pop punk, a scene where the representation of frontwomen on a mainstream level was incredibly sparse until Hayley Williams emerged and shattered that glass ceiling.

Pop punk has a complicated legacy. The sweaty basement shows and the summers at Warped Tour definitely provided a strong sense of community for teenage outcasts, but it also received heaps of criticism for setting back the progress of ’90s political punk and the riot grrrl movement, trading male feminist solidarity on Nirvana and Fugazi records for sappy heartbreak tunes that were dripping with male tears and thinly-veiled misogyny.

By 2003 the scene had transformed into a breeding ground for passive-aggressive fragile masculinity and songs about men wishing death on their ex-girlfriends. Fall Out Boy’s “Take This To Your Grave” was essentially musical revenge porn. Brand New, Dashboard Confessional, and New Found Glory are just few of the many all-male groups who built their whole careers off of slut-shaming and bashing young women who had the audacity to say no to sleeping with them.

In 2003, Jessica Hopper lamented how “emo [had] become another forum where women were locked out, observing ourselves through the eyes of others,” in a scathing article titled “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t.” This felt like a signal to the universe to send something major to disrupt this nightmare, and the meteoric rise of Hayley Williams four years later felt like an answer to that call.

Williams’ killer vocals and flaming charisma made her so magnetic that it was impossible to look away, even for the most skeptical spectators. Watching her yowl and thrash around on stage with her cutoff jeans, Doc Martens, and pastel-colored hair was a revelation for kids like me who didn’t grow up adhering to conventional stereotypes of femininity.

As a kid who grew up queer and didn’t always feel safe around boys my age, it was extremely cathartic to listen to Williams belt out lyrics that mercilessly chided men for their inexcusable behavior and mistreatment of women on songs like “That’s What You Get” (“No sir/I don’t wanna be the blame, not anymore/It’s your turn to take a seat/We’re settling the final score”).

But this didn’t shield the band from criticism. Although seeing Williams smash through these barriers was huge for women in these spaces at the time, her image also received a lot of backlash for perpetuating the “not like other girls” trope. The song “Misery Business,” also had elements of internalized misogyny in the lyrics (“Once a whore, you’re nothing more/I’m sorry that will never change”) which eventually lead to Williams’ decision to stop playing the song.

Despite their faults, it cannot be denied that Paramore started highly important conversations in the pop punk/alt community. Williams was singing about mental health, anxiety, self-reflection, and depression so openly at a time when not even the World Health Organization would take it seriously.

The Paramore fanbase was also incredibly diverse. They had pop stans, metalheads, queer emo kids, and punk veterans all flocking to their shows. And everybody involved in online alt communities is aware of how intensely passionate and vocal black fans of Williams are, even penning articles and composing twitter threads about why Paramore is so beloved by their community.

“RIOT!” also contains so many timeless records. The grating guitar riffs and the alternation of William’s earth-shattering range and controlled drawbacks on the opener “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic,” are so emotionally jarring that it’s impossible to finish that track without feeling haunted by her palpable anger (“I put my faith in you, so much faith/And then you just threw it away”). The infectious drum strikes on “crushcrushcrush,” the gritty bassline on “Fences,” the rumbling percussion on “Born for This,” and Hayley’s towering vocals on “Hallelujah” and “Let the Flames Begin,” are all tracks that transcend space and time.

In many ways Paramore was pop punk’s lifeline, because they brought a fresh perspective to a genre that was getting stale and overwrought with male aggression. They brought new life to a scene that was dying and gave it a blood transfusion.

We needed a woman in that particular scene to take the world by storm and unapologetically let the girls know that they don’t owe it to anybody to constantly put on a happy face and abide by societal norms, and there’s no shame in being angry or depressed. Hayley Williams paved the way for the onslaught of women who would rise to prominence in her respective scene such as Lynn Gunn of PVRIS, Sofia Verbilla from Harmony Woods, and Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast. And the most incredible part is that people are finally listening.

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Music

Lady Gaga: “Chromatica” Album Review

After a three-year hiatus and an Oscar for her role in the critically-acclaimed film “A Star is Born,” Lady Gaga has made her return with her highly-anticipated sixth studio album “Chromatica.”

Lady Gaga is no stranger to creating numerous fantasies and personas that fluctuate with her album cycles, from Mother Monster to the self-loving preacher on “Born This Way.” The pop star and NYU graduate has always been a master of the sociology of fame as a spectacle, and she knows exactly how to use it to her advantage.

And that grandeur is mirrored sonically on this record. Gaga recently made a departure into a more folk-leaning and soft-rock sound on her previous album, “Joanne,” and on this new record she returns to her house roots with a majority of the production done by Michael “BloodPop” Tucker, who has worked with the likes of Britney and Madonna. From the chunky basslines on “911” to the prickly, cascading synths on “Stupid Love,” this record shows Gaga aiding her listeners through the trials and tribulations of dealing with difficult life situations and encouraging everybody to dance while doing it.

Lady Gaga has stated that this album celebrates love, kindness and healing. She also reflects on the state of the world and how it connects with her constant struggle to live in the public eye. The album is separated into three-acts, each of which have their own orchestral breakdowns that all seamlessly transition into the following tracks.

Her impeccable vocal abilities shine on tracks like “Fun Tonight,” and “Enigma,” which show off her towering head voice and that iconic raspy falsetto that she belts with her whole chest. On “Free Woman” she takes control of her narrative and vindicates herself of her past trauma (“This is my dancefloor I fought for/A heart, that’s what I’m livin’ for”), and with “Plastic Doll” she reveals that she often grapples with guilt and shame over fitting the “perfect” pop star archetype, which has been used to dehumanize her and other women in pop (“I’m state of art, I’m microchipped/Am I your type? Am I your type?”).

The features are sublime as well. I was skeptical at first to hear her on a track with Ariana Grande, but their chemistry with “Rain on Me” was impeccable. “Sour Candy” has the iconic synth riff that was clearly plucked from all the nineties house anthems like the Swedish-produced remix of Robin S’s “Show Me Love,” and the Full Intention remake of “So In Love With You” by Duke. In addition the guest vocals from K-Pop supergroup BLACKPINK were an absolute highlight.

The third and final act on the album has an Elton John collaboration (“Sine from Above”), and a penultimate track (“1000 Doves”) that reflects on the importance of communities uplifting one another and showing kindness (“Lift me up, just a small nudge/And I’ll be flying like a thousand doves”).

The closer “Babylon” is an unapologetic house banger with a blaring saxophone and a choir. The lyrics celebrate survival and endurance (“Talk it out/Babble on/Battle for your life/Babylon”), and paint a picture of everybody in her circle voguing at a nightclub while serving Ancient Mesopotamian realness.

Lady Gaga has always transcended space and time with her art, and “Chromatica” is guaranteed to provide a sense of healing for listeners and devoted fans who need an outlet to escape the perils of their lives in the current state of the world and just dance.

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Music

Charli XCX: “how i’m feeling now” Album Review

Charli XCX was officially declared the “savior of pop” by music blogs and pop connoisseurs everywhere after she shook the globe with two highly-acclaimed mixtapes, “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2” with bubbly sludge production by SOPHIE and A.G. Cook from the PC Music collective. In September of 2019 she released a full-length album, “Charli,” and now she’s back to reflect on her life during lockdown with a new record, “how i’m feeling now.” The album tackles a wide range of issues in her life, such as romance, isolation, anxiety, and the trials she’s facing while she’s stuck at home with her significant other.

In true Charli fashion, the album opens with a brisk, hard-hitting industrial beat with ear-splitting synths on “pink diamond.” With production by alternative R&B artist Dijon, Charli hits the listener over the head with her effortless flow and charisma. “forever” and the Dylan Brady-produced “claws” are both inventive love songs that have tonal similarities. However, “claws” is more of a look inside her brain during the honeymoon phase of a relationship where everything feels new and there’s still an edge of uncertainty, whereas on “forever” she’s unwavering and confident in her dedication to her partner and is ready to dive headfirst into commitment.

Lyrically, Charli always has the upper hand. Throughout the album she maintains her signature blend of stabbing confessions on tracks like “detonate” (“Switch your faith and leave you so low/Hurt me, know you’ll never hurt me”), and the witty, playful jabs on songs like “7 years” (“Oh yeah, I really, really love you for life/Without the Holy matrimony, I’m wife”) that are always done with a wink. One of the biggest reasons people flock to Charli so easily is because she’s a creative thinker who never takes herself too seriously, and those aspects of her personality shine through in her lyrics.

One of the main themes on the album, aside from Charli’s relationship, is the juxtaposition of her life in quarantine with her regular life, which often involves touring and frequently going to raves. “party 4 u,” is a song that tackles the painful yearning to see somebody who isn’t in the same place as her, which was written in 2017. However, looking at the current state of the world, the song seems to have aged fairly well.

On “enemy” Charli opens up about her hesitance to let people in due to fear that it would give them the power to hurt her the most. The interlude is a recording of a phone conversation she had after a therapy session, laced with raw and unfiltered emotion. “I kept thinking about how if you can have someone so close to you, does that mean that one day they could become your biggest enemy? They’d have the most ammunition,” she stated in an interview with Apple Music. On “i finally understand,” Charli sings about the the emotional highs and lows that being stuck at home brings, along with sleek pop production by Palmistry and A.G. Cook

“c2.0” is a somber follow-up to her most-recent track with frequent collaborator Kim Petras, “Clique,” with a section of Kim’s verse on the initial track (“I’m next level so legit with all my clique-clique-clique, yeah”) looped throughout the song and pitched up to a cartoon level. The lyrics go, “My clique running through my mind like a rainbow/I miss them every night,” which shows her giving a nod to her adoring fanbase, collaborators, and comrades in the LGBTQ+ community. “The community that I’m surrounded by has always been the LGBTQ+ community… that is a community that has embraced who I truly am and made me feel less afraid to be myself,” she stated in an interview with the Fader last September.

“anthems” is a power-pop banger that she wrote about feeling stifled by lockdown regulations, wishing for a night out to blow off steam. “I get existential and so strange/I hear no sounds when I’m shouting/I just wanna go to parties/Up high, wanna feel the heat from all the bodies,” she sings. These are visceral lyrics that bring to light a universal desperation to turn off your brain.

When it comes to closing out an album, Charli is no stranger to ending on a note of sorrow and discombobulation, and the final track, “visions,” perfectly captures that tone. The initial part of the song has lyrics that deconstruct the impossibility of knowing where she’s headed after this record, and at the very end the song is catapulted into a polarizing beat-switch that carries the listener off into an uncertain future with dark, menacing synths that are abruptly cut off.

Charli XCX is leading the charge, pushing pop forward along with Robyn, Kim Petras, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Her expert songwriting, innovative sound always makes for the perfect album that adds so many layers to pop. With everything she’s managed to achieve in the past year, it’s quite clear that this is Charli’s world and we are all just here along for the ride.