gnash, us © :):

Gnash Shows Immense Potential on EP ‘us’


gnash • us (EP) • :): • Release Date: 3.25.16

Sometimes the coolest musicians and artists are those that are up and coming or under the radar.  That’s the case with alternative (or simply hard to categorize) artist/producer gnash.  Gnash is by no means a household name, but the Californian is definitely one to watch.  EP Us marks the 23-year old’s introduction to the world and ultimately, it’s a worthwhile one.

“Do you miss me like I Miss you? / F*cked around and got attached to you / friends can break your heart too, and / I’m always tired but never of you”

– gnash, “i hate u, i love u”

No need to delay the inevitable. The crowning achievement of Us is undoubtedly “i hate u, i love u,” gnash’s single featuring Olivia O’Brien that has been gaining steam on the Billboard Hot 100. The approach to “i hate u, i love u” ends up being as oxymoronic as its title, with gnash delivering assertive, sometimes profane lyrics in a cool, calmed, and collected manner.  Though gnash never seems to be melodramatic or overexcited – f-bombs and all – “i hate u, i love u” is extremely effective, chocked full of swag.  Face it – gnash is cool AF.

Now that the centerpiece of us has been adequately acknowledged and lauded, what about the rest of the EP?  Gnash (and Mark Johns) drop the bomb on “rumours” literally:

“I don’t f*ck with no rumours / Girl I know you’re the truth / so f*ck whatever it’s you heard / cause I ain’t me without you.”

What more can really be said about the theme and lyrical content? Gnash hates when people talk $hit. So let’s focus more on the sound and overall vibe.  It’s perfect.  Why? “Rumours” has a minimalistic, alternative R&B vibe that’s part Drake, part singer/songwriter, and part alternative.

“I want you right next to em, so we can rest in peace/ We rest in peace, we rest in peace, we rest in peace”

– gnash, “rip” 

“RIP,” featuring Buddy and Quiñ is another highlight.  While “rip” can’t overcome juggernaut “i hate u, i love u,” it at least gives it a run for its money.  “RIP” is set up as a hip-hop record (Quiñ sings, Buddy raps, Gnash sings), but again, it’s more chill with a more off-beat vibe. Gnash and company in other words aren’t conformist in regards to their approach, even if familiar cues and themes are firmly in place.

On “get well soon” (featuring Liphemra), gnash’s cool approach continues to pack more of a punch than it should.  Nonchalantly gnash asks:

“Will you be my little quick fix? / Cause I just dealt with sick sh*t / my last thing ended quick, quick / So I’ve got no one to sit with.”

Even if there’s a stoicism about gnash, the listener gets where he’s going and what’s he’s going for.  “I’m assuming we’re wounded together forever / I want you to get better / I’ll be your band aid.”

Going back to the beginning, Us opens with a respectable Bright Eyes cover, “First Day of My Life,” which originally appeared on 2005 album I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. Goody Grace guests.  On “Fragile” gnash and WRENN showcase superb vocal chemistry and tenderness.  That tenderness comes from love’s ups and down, a prevalent theme throughout us.  On closer “You Just Can’t Be Replaced,” gnash admits he can’t get over her:

“I tried to fill the space… / I can’t forget your face / come home, don’t fade away / You just can’t be replaced.”

All in all, gnash showcases exceptional potential on us.  Artistically, gnash has a lot to offer.  One of his best attributes? He’s NOT like everybody else – he offers a different look.  Don’t sleep on gnash or us 

Favorites: “Rumours,” “RIP” and “I Hate U, I Love U”

★★★★

Charm Taylor, The Road Within EP

Review: Charm Taylor Takes Listeners On Quite A Trip On ‘The Road Within EP’ 


Charm Taylor, The Road Within EP

Charm Taylor • The Road Within (EP) • Release Date: May 5, 2015

First impressions are unalterable. Once the tone has been set, changing perceptions is a truly arduous task. When dropping an album, if the impression given off by the artist is iffy, it could determine the state of the said artist’s career. On her debut solo EP The Road Within, Charm Taylor ensures she’ll leave an impression that none can or will forget. The Honorable South front woman can be best described as eclectic – a genre-bender mixing a little bit of this and that. Arguably, The Road Within lies somewhere between stylistic labels alternative, hip-hop, and soul music, but ultimately, Taylor does her own thing with the help of colleague, friend, and producer Saint Rock.

“Mother Of Nine” is definitely the exemplification of future soul; it opens The Road Within with a bang. After an enigmatic instrumental intro, “Mother of Nine” gains some stability before confounding once more as Taylor ‘busts a rhyme’ aka rap. It’s odd characterized by a mystical sentiment, but it definitely makes the listener curious as what is to come. Tone setter? Definitely.

“Green Acres” possesses a luxurious, soulful sound that’s also influenced by old school hip-hop. This sound is a perfect backdrop for Taylor, who contrasts the luxuriousness with jagged, quasi-sung, quasi-rapped vocals. While the enigma hasn’t been erased from opener “Mother of Nine,” the listener has a better grasp of the script for “Green Acres.” An interlude, “Mosiah’s Mantra,” once more eliminates predictability in favor of extraterrestrial, innovative spirit. As Imagine Dragons put it, “welcome to the new age!”

“Moksha” follows, interestingly contrasting everything else preceding it. The production is animated, highlighted by the drums and a heightened electro-infused script. Similar to “Mother of Nine,” Taylor’s concept is otherworldly, which is both artistically impressive, yet confusing. Regardless, “Moksha” is one-of-a-kind. A lengthier interlude, “ODU” follows, as slick and unpredictable as everything else.

“Clothes” has a moody disposition in reference to its alt-soul backdrop, but is arguably the most sensual record from the EP. Brief at just over two minutes, “Clothes” packs quite a punch. The EP’s third and final interlude, “Mind As Water” precedes penultimate joint “Ascension,” which is captivating as its jubilant title suggests. Taylor spits with vigor over manic, energetic production continuing to eschew labels. Title tack “The Road Within” concludes the EP. Interestingly, the summative track is arguably one of it’s most accessible.

Ultimately, Charm Taylor has created something new and fresh on The Road Within. An interesting trip, those who love their music ‘next level’ will eat up the ambitiousness of this effort. Those who prefer their script to be more predictable likely will have difficulty digesting this. Regardless, Taylor’s debut solo EP is something to behold.

Favorites: “Mother of Nine,” “Green Acres” and “Clothes”

★★★½

Rorschack ft T.O.N.E.-z, Handcuffs © MalLabel

Review: Rorschack featuring T.O.N.E.-z, Handcuffs


Rorschack ft T.O.N.E.-z, Handcuffs © MalLabel Rorschack featuring T.O.N.E.-z • Handcuffs • MalLabel • Release Date: March 3, 2015

What happens when a Los Angeles producer (Rorschack) pairs with an Emmy-nominated rapper (T.O.N.E.-z)? The answer is sheer magic of course – what did you think, chaos?   Rarely it seems the worlds of hip-hop and EDM collide, at least stateside, but perhaps it should happen more often. The product of the collaboration of two brilliant minds is Handcuffs, a six-song EP that can certainly be classified as a genre of its own. In fact labeling Handcuffs might sell it short – it’s distinct and truly special as its own artistic entity.

“Bartab” opens Handcuffs compellingly, featuring Rorschack’s creative and exceptional production talents, as well as T.O.N.E.-z’s equally interesting rhymes. Among the most memorable rhymes appear early on: “I want a real girl, I don’t need no mannequins / I want a strong girl, I don’t need no mannequins / I want a good girl, I want a bad girl / Good, bad, mix it up!” The biting one-liners keep on coming, including “any woman who’s impressed with cash / might as well be selling her ass / yeah I said it!” Bold rhymes over chill, yet energetic production makes for a juggernaut opener.

On title track “Handcuffs,” featuring Jen Stills, T.O.N.E.-z goes in early on spitting, “I don’t wanna handcuff you / I ain’t even tryin’ to love you / it’s too soon to wanna f*ck you / I just wanna say baby, there’s nothing above you.” As for the production of “Handcuffs,” there’s plenty of ‘heavy breathing’ for effect. You could argue those orgasmic touches take some of the ‘subtlety’ out of things. Even so, much like “Bartab,” Rorschack’s production is cool yet slick, and provides the perfect backdrop for T.O.N.E.-z’s rhymes on “Handcuffs”.

“Computer Luv” keeps on bringing the heat. Although shorter than the opening duo, don’t let the brevity of “Computer Luv” dissuade – the quality remains on-point. The driving rhythms and high energy of “God MC” impact upon the first listen. Malicious and intense, yet retaining poise, like the rest of Handcuffs, the production exhibits remarkable balance – never overpowering nor losing control.

Penultimate cut “Hifi Hafla” is arguably the EP’s most ambitious number, keeping the rhythm a dominant feature, and incorporating some genius Middle Eastern sounds in the mix. This isn’t far-fetched as Rorschack was born in Israel, and also has an eclectic musical knowledge incorporating multiple cultures and styles. T.O.N.E.-z closes spitting the ether: “Everybody wanna see a n***a rap quick.” Like “Computer Luv” – and everything generally – Rorschack and T.O.N.E.-z keep things short and sweet. That includes closing number “Naked She Was,” the third number to clock under three minutes in duration. “Naked She Was” is purely instrumental.

All in all, Handcuffs is a special project unlike anything else issued in 2015. It shows the how far musical collaboration can stretch the musical possibilities. So often, we get comfortable with our bag of tricks and don’t embrace how much more we could ultimately paint on our canvas. Rorschack and T.O.N.E.-z show us there’s more to consider besides the ‘tried and true.’ As the old saying goes, “Go big or go home!” That’s exactly what these two exceptional musicians do.

Favorites: “Bartab,” “Handcuffs,” and “Hifi Hafla”

★★★★

Tyler Carter, Leave Your Love © Rise

Review: Tyler Carter, Leave Your Love EP


Tyler Carter, Leave Your Love © Rise

Tyler Carter captures issues of the heart (and pants) magnificently well on the captivating Leave Your Love EP. 
Tyler Carter • Leave Your Love EP • Rise • US Release Date: January 15, 2015

So, how exactly does one go from being a member of a metalcore band (Issues) and beginning a solo career as a contemporary R&B artist? Well it’s a rarity you might say, but Tyler Carter does it and does so incredibly well. Call him a beast if you wish because his EP Leave Your Love is solid from start to finish. Carter captures issues of the heart (and pants) magnificently well across six tracks.

On enthusiastic opener “Sophisticated,” Carter establishes himself from the onset. With an exceptional, synth-laden urban backdrop behind him, Carter clearly has the lingo and swag on autopilot, whether its characterizing “shawty” as being “badder than a motherf*cker” or knockout punch “She won’t be sophisticated when we get a little faded.” “Sophisticated” may be anything but given Carter’s burning lust, but it is an exceptional way to kick off Leave Your Love.

The EP continues to percolate with its equally slick title track “Leave Your Love.” Filled with quick paced, rhythmic lyrics and more horniness from Carter. “Leave Your Love” is ultimately shallow, but appealingly so as Carter isn’t concerned with promises, secrets, or anything ‘deep.’ He merely wants to “put it down ‘til the sun comes up,” as “The way that you feel won’t keep you warm.”

On “Georgia” Carter takes things from a more serious perspective. This is apparent from the beginning iterations of “Baby love, don’t leave” not to mention his characterizations of himself as a loser (“Walked in the door, but he’s all coked out…he doubled the dose two moths ago / but she just found out”). So what does that have to do with the title, “Georgia?” Well, “Baby love” is on her “way to Georgia” – she’s out! Carter’s faded pain is the listener’s triumphant gain.

“So Slow” is not really about slow dancing. Yeah, Carter sings “When we dance so slow / by the way we dance, you’ll know” and references prom in the second verse, but it’s obvious he wants to get ‘down and dirty’. He can’t hold back from lines about being real, ultimately admitting “I’m losing my mind when I’m kissing down your spine.” Those definitely are the “Kisses Down Low” that Kelly Rowland is referencing, or from a male perspective, Miguel’s sensual “Arch N Point.” Carter continues to show his investment and infatuation, particularly when that falsetto kicks in, much like the peak of… you get the idea.

“Tears On the Runway, Pt. 1” is the only collaborative track of Leave Your Love, featuring Nylo. In dedicatory fashion, Carter promises, “I won’t let you down,” going so far to “apologize for every man” who’s done her wrong. Nylo, who serves as the girl that’s got Carter going crazy, admits her reservations, but can see how badly the dude is digging on her. Carter caps of his fine, love-centric EP with “Find Me,” where he’d “go to the ends of the f*cking earth.” He even has an R. Kelly-style run in there – think “I Believe I Can Fly” for reference!

Ultimately, did the dude do his thing or what? Yes, Tyler Carter did his thing on Leave Your Love EP. He has definitely set the tone for what should be an exceptional full-length urban album. He has love, sex, and swag down pat – no questions asked. Some f-bombs too – it goes with the territory.

Favorites: “Leave Your Love,” “Georgia,” and “Tears On the Runway”

★★★★

Pentatonix, PTX, Vol. III © RCA

Review: Pentatonix Delivers More Riveting a cappella Magic on ‘PTX, Vol. III’


We LOVE our new pair of @keepcompany shoes! They have little cats on them! 🐱 thanks so much, Keep ❤️

A photo posted by Pentatonix (@ptxofficial) on

Pentatonix • PTX, Vol. III • RCA • US Release Date: September 23, 2014

Sometimes, the unlikeliest artist or musicians gain some serious traction – or should I say, attraction from the people? A cappella outfit Pentatonix seemed to come out of nowhere. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true as the group did appear on NBC’s Sing Off, but as everyone knows, only one show has delivered superstars – American Idol. Nonetheless, slowly but surely, Pentatonix have found themselves among the chart elite – the Billboard 200 Chart’s top ten. Go figure!

After releasing three previous EPs, Pentatonix releases a fourth, PTX, Vol. III. Could this be the big one? Quite possibly, given the singles for the effort. If nothing else, covering Ariana Grande and Sam Smith has to count for something.

“Problem” opens PTX, Vol. III alluringly, captivating the listener’s attention with a big-time hit interpreted sensationally in the a cappella style. The vocal harmonies pop, and add an additional layer of depth to this contemporary jam. Sure, it would take a force of nature to eclipse Ariana Grande’s original, but Pentatonix do a fine job by all accounts.

“La La Latch” fuses two tracks, both of which that originally featured Sam Smith – “Latch” (Disclosure) and “La La La” (Naughty Boy). A captivating mash up, “La La Latch” matches the excellence of “Problem.” After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy Sam Smith all in one?

Besides the main attractions “Problem” and “La La Latch,” PTX, Vol. III has some other stellar moments. These include “Rather Be,” which soars highest on the irresistibly, vocally harmonized chorus: “No-no-no-no-no, no place I’d rather be.” Latin record “Papaoutai” (Stromae) which features standout violinist Lindsey Stirling, showcases incredible musicianship, not to mention an ambitious and energetic performance.

Ultimately, Pentatonix represents itself well on this fourth showing. Sure, they don’t reinvent the wheel, but a cappella groups with commercial potential are few and far between these days. PTX, Vol. III is definitely worth the listen.

Favorites: “Problem,” “La La Latch,” “Papaoutai”

★★★½

Photo Credits: © RCA, instagram / ptxofficial
Troye Sivan, TRXYE © EMI

Review: Troye Sivan, ‘TRXYE’


Troye Sivan, TRXYE © EMI

Troye Sivan • TRXYE – EP • EMI • Release Date: August 15, 2014

There are few 19-year old artists that can blow listeners away. That said, the multi-talented Troye Sivan just might be the one. Sivan’s off-cycle EP release, TRXYE was released Friday, August 15, throughout the world. With EPs ‘testing the waters’ for the full-length, lately, extended plays have shown the potential as well as the flaws of its respective artists. Sivan’s TRXYE easily sets him apart from other ‘pop’ artists, as there is more of an alternative tilt about this up-and-coming sensation. In other words, TRXYE is a homerun – a three-point jumper – a touch down!

Opener “Happy Little Pill” finds Sivan’s vocals clear, never fighting the production work. The overall sound begins quite mysteriously, with a enigmatic darkness about it. The lyrics reveal that the ‘happiness’ isn’t genuine, but the result of substance abuse to discover some semblance of happiness. Numerous lyrics reference drugs, whether it’s “glazed eyes,” “sipping life from bottles,” or “Cocaine, dollar bills…” “My happy little pill / take me a way,” sings Sivan on the chorus, “Dry my eyes / bring color to my skies / my sweet little pill / take my hunger / lie within / numb my skin.”

“Touch,” like “Happy Little Pill,” draws the listener in with it’s nonconventional sound. Sivan has artistic similarities to Lorde, showing that distinctive sound and similarity throughout this track. “Touch” requires a second listen to capture everything Sivan has to offer, which is a mark of a thoughtful, more progressive artist. The lyrics are certainly poetic: “Standing in the eye of the storm / my eyes start to roll to the curl of your lips / and the center of eclipse / in total darkness I reach out and touch.” The electronic cues following the chorus are an excellent touch.

Photo shootin all dayyyyy!

A photo posted by troye sivan (@troyesivan) on

“Fun” continues in enigmatically, never becoming a casualty to trendy pop. The “fun” itself is a large, more meaningful statement than the title would suggest, evidenced from the first verse: “You just gotta take their lives, boy.” He confirms the meaning on the eerily catchy chorus: “Let’s go have fun / you and me in the old jeep / ridin’ ‘round town with our rifles on the front seat / fun, you and me in the middle east…” 

#TRXYE – 15/08/14 – who's excitedddddd?🙂 😊

A photo posted by troye sivan (@troyesivan) on

“Gasoline” tackles the never tiresome broken relationship and takes responsibility (“I’ve done you wrong, I regret it”). “Please bathe me now, wash me clean / just set my heart on fire / like gasoline,” Sivan sings on the chorus. Sivan remains sort of ‘cool’ in his vocal delivery, but his restraint almost makes the performance that much more chilling. There is definitely a chilling nature that dominates the entirety of the EP. Four tracks in, Sivan’s creativity is superb.

The EP closes sensationally with “The Fault In Our Stars (MMXIV),” where Sivan’s vocal tenderness and cool approach almost surprisingly pulls in the listener. Sivan proves that you don’t have to be a maximal-minded vocalist (i.e. runs and a variety of nuances) to deliver a complete, emotionally connective performance. The lyrics are simply beautiful and touching: “And I don’t want to let this go / I don’t want to lose control / I just want to see the stars with you / and I don’t want to say goodbye / someone tell me why / I just want to see the stars with you.” 

🌅✈️✈️✈️🌅

A photo posted by troye sivan (@troyesivan) on

Honestly, there is little to nitpick about on TRXYE; the teen artist has delivered an EP that truly separates his artistic lane from others. Being an alt-pop artist definitely takes focus, which Sivan seems to have plenty of. Vocally he’s not one blow you away with overtness, but his subtlety and poise are killer.   As for favorites – well, all five tracks impress.

Favorites: “Happy Little Pill,” “Fun,” “Gasoline”

★★★★

Austin Mahone, The Secret © Chase / Republic

Review: Austin Mahone, ‘The Secret (EP)’


Austin Mahone, The Secret © Chase / Republic

The Secret proves to be an enjoyable and sound introduction to Austin Mahone
Austin Mahone • The Secret (EP) • Chase/Cash Money • US Release Date: May 27, 2014

Austin Mahone 2014 Billboard Music Awards - Arrivals MGM Grand Garden Arena, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino Las Vegas, NV, USA 05/18/2014 © PRN / PRPhotos.comMaturity seems to be a portion of formula that burgeoning pop singer Austin Mahone is opting for in both his career and on his debut EP, The Secret. Just examine the cover of the EP; the once diamond-studded Mahone is earring-less and seems focused on his presentation to the audience. After viewing some of Mahone’s YouTube videos throughout the years, the kid always seemed to have maturity, a hunger, and passion about him. In other words, he seems to eschew recklessness in favor of stability and maintaining a wholesomeness – at least at the initial stages of a career. That’s not a bad plan considering Mahone is still elevating his profile and succeeding in the cutthroat business of music is very tricky. If you’re too conservative you’re a bore while if you’re too controversial, you offend the audience. On The Secret, Mahone is conservative enough – not dare even touching anything profane – but also has swag.   

“Till I Find You” opens The Secret energetically, embracing modern pop cues, with touches of urban sensibilities as well. Overall, the cut is irresistibly catchy – expectedly so. The core audience is teens (particularly teen girls), but even with clean-cut innocence, it might/should also appeal to mature pop audiences. Mahone’s vocals have certainly developed and deepened since he first bowed a couple of years back, a pro of waiting to release his first EP. It’s not the second coming in pop music, but it’s a solid way for Mahone to kick off his career. “Next To You” maintains a ‘mean’ sound, embracing elements of EDM. Filled with swagger, “Next To You” feels like the perfect match for youthful pop artist a la 2014. With some gimmicks here and there (“But we know that tears never lie-ie-ie”), irresistible melodic hook, and characterized as hyper-rhythmic, “Next To You” has some nice pieces working in its favor.

Austin Mahone 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards - Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles 05/01/2014 © WENN
Austin Mahone 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards – Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles 05/01/2014 © WENN

“Mmm Yeah” is arguably the main attraction from The Secret. Pairing the teen-pop star with Pitbull, “Mmm Yeah” exemplifies current trends in pop music, sporting a commercial sound that’s danceable, catchy, and appealing. Slickly produced, the drums are heavy,
th the overall sound describable as driving. At the end of his vocal phrases, gimmicky effects confirm the contemporary vibe of the cut. Is it ‘schmaltz central’? Perhaps (“When I saw her / walking down the street / she looked so fine / I just had to speak / I asked her name / but she turned away / as she walked / all that I could say was / Mmm Mmm, yeah yeah…), but it’s also incredibly fun.
The title track “Secret” opens with rhythmically with effects-laden vocals. The drums pound while the synths are sleek. Mahone doesn’t fight the production work, with his voice coming off clearly, particularly in his upper register. Mahone’s vocals are on the thin side, but pleasantly so; his vocal development of the past few years truly has elevated his appeal and level of musicianship in the game. “Secret” continues to argue the case for Mahone as pop’s next big thing, even if it isn’t the best or most distinct track on the EP. “Can’t Fight This Love” keeps the tempo quick, eschewing balladry five tracks in. Keeping things quicker paced isn’t a bad thing in the least, as the thinking seems to be about portraying the youthful artists as one packed with energy who is cool and hip. Arguably Mahone’s biggest risk comes here as he finally unveils some falsetto. Mahone’s falsetto is still developing – as are his pipes – but even being smaller in quality, it is nice to hear him extending his range vocally.

Speaking of balladry, the fine “All I Ever Need” delivers The Secret a contemporary R&B-styled ballad. The tempo smartly isn’t too slow, still maintaining that ‘energy’ Team Mahone seems to be going for. And that falsetto alluded to on “Can’t Fight This Love”, well it truly shines here, floating atop generally restrained, tasteful production. How much swag does this young man have? Well he includes a breakdown section that would surely make Usher proud, singing with drums towards the end of the song. “All I Ever Need”, hence, ends up being a personal favorite that fully shows Mahone’s artistic potential.

Austin Mahone 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards - Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles 05/01/2014 © WENN
Austin Mahone 2014 iHeartRadio Music Awards – Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles 05/01/2014 © WENN

Two bonus tracks grace The Secret: “The One I’ve Waited For” and “Shadow (Acoustic)”. On “The One I’ve Waited For”, it’s great to hear some acoustic instrumentation: acoustic guitar and acoustic piano. This particular song has more of a mature, adult-oriented pop sound. It doesn’t end up sounding older than Mahone, thanks to mixing old- and new- school once the pop groove enters in. Melodically, there are some excellent choices in regards to ad-libbing. That said, as Mahone continues to burgeon, he can break away from the melody even more. Closing joint “Shadow (Acoustic)” is another mature pop record from Mahone, contrasting the synth-based productions characterizing the majority of this EP. Mahone achieves some vocal grit, showing his most assertive vocals of the effort.

Austin Mahone and Becky G in Concert at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City - March 5, 2014 Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan Center Studios, 311 West 34th Street New York City, NY, USA 03/05/2014 © Janet Mayer / PRPhotos.com
Austin Mahone and Becky G in Concert at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City – March 5, 2014 Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan Center Studios, 311 West 34th Street New York City, NY, USA 03/05/2014 © Janet Mayer / PRPhotos.com

All in all, The Secret accomplishes its purpose; it successfully introduces Austin Mahone as the pop-star/heartthrob ‘who’s got next’. The Secret shouldn’t be considered the year’s ‘best album’ or anything like that (I’m sure the Mahomies might have something to say about that), but it is a good, solid start for the upstart. If nothing else, The Secret makes the listener anticipate what a full-length Austin Mahone album will sound like. Mahone has certainly come a long way since his “Say Somethin’” days.

Favorites“Till I Find You”; “Mmm Yeah” ft. Pitbull; “All I Ever Need” 

★★★½

Review: M&O, ‘Almost Us’


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M&O isn’t a household name, but perhaps the duo should be

M&O • Almost Us US Release Date: April 3, 2014

In an age where many of us music listeners are searching for the next ‘big-thing’ – aka the next breakout artist/band – too often WE think ‘too big’ and end up missing out on a treat that wasn’t so far-fetched to discover. There are a number of independent artists who offers just as much, if not more than our ‘idea’ of what and who the next big-time major label artist should be. Among those artists – the “lesser-known” artists as they could be categorized – is a duo that shouldn’t be slept on by the name of M&O. Formerly known as Milo & Otis, Jamila “Milo” Woods handles vocals/vocal arrangements while Owen “Otis” Hill handles instrumental/production duties. After releasing an EP in 2013 entitled The Joy (it’s available digitally), the Chicago duo return (new name intact) with a second EP entitled Almost Us. Generally credited as an R&B offering, Almost Us is eclectic and definitely transcends R&B and labels in general. Available digitally and physically via music bandcamp as of April 3, 2014, Almost Us won’t leave the listener disappointed.

House” opens Almost Us, exemplifying the popular, newfound alt-R&B sound that is breathing new life into the R&B genre. Like major-label contemporaries including Jhene Aiko or Miguel, the alt-soul cues are definitely in play from both Milo (vocals) and Otis (production). “House” has a chill vibe, alluringly lazy vocals, and exceptional production. Referencing those ‘lazy’ vocals, M&O’s sound reminisces back to Erykah Badu in her prime (Baduizm). On “Run”, Milo definitely has strong opinions lyrically: “I would rather run, far away from you / I would rather run.” Besides another well-penned song and hypnotizing vocals, “Run” features a hard anchoring beat that propels the track forward. The overall production thrives from its creativity and minimalism. A variety of tasteful synths and sound effects once more provide a compelling backdrop for Milo to paint with her voice. The use of cool, soulful background vocals doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Jimi Savannah” has more of a pop/rock-oriented sound about it, definitely contrasting “House” and “Run”. Milo’s voice is incredibly versatile, so the shift from more overt R&B to pop/rock is by no means drastic. As always, Otis is there to lockdown the production exceptionally. Perhaps even more than “House” or “Run”, minimalism plays a driving force, specifically courtesy of guitar and bass lines. “It Was The Song”, featuring Donnie Trumpet, gives Almost Us some tempo to work with aka it’s quicker than “Jimi Savannah”. Additionally, after a brief stint with pop/rock, “It Was The Song” returns M&O to R&B/soul fare. “Hollow” features some of Otis’ most adventurous production as of yet, completely abandoning a specific style or niche. Because of the initial unpredictability, “Hollow” has the listener sitting at the edge of their seat just to see what’s going to happen next. The vocal production on “Hollow” definitely shines, playing into the minimalist sense of the overall production. A slow, grinding cut, “Hollow” ends up being one of the most alluring.

Blue” builds off of the tremendous vocal arrangement of “Hollow”, opening stunningly with layered vocals.   The best way to describe the opening is lush and fluffy – think of a baby kitten (Aw!). After making an opening statement with its vocal salvo, “Blue” develops into yet another compelling, alt-R&B number. “Blue”, like the majority of Almost Us, lacks in vocal histrionics that much of R&B possesses, which reduces some of its heart-wrenching, spirit-filled edginess. That said the vibe and the intensity built from the production sort of makes up for the gospel-tinged runs.

Penultimate track “Neighbor” opens mysteriously as anything else, perhaps even a bit off-putting (if you have preconceived expectations). Vocals once more serve as a gargantuan, unavoidable piece within the production. The difference here is that initially, the vocals aren’t layered like “Blue”. With pacing once more serving as a pivotal characteristic, “Neighbor” eventually rounds out into form as the pieces meld together. If the duo of “Blue” and “Neighbor” seemed bit ‘too far out’, “When Pigs Fly” is more accessible. Even so, “When Pigs Fly” definitely doesn’t supersede the album’s two best cuts, “Home” or “Run!”

Ultimately, Almost Us offers the listener a wonderful exemplification of the new school of R&B, with all its ambitious eclecticism. All eight songs have redeeming value, which is a testament to the musicianship of the duo. That said, sometimes it could be argued that M&O play it the slightest bit too ‘cool’ throughout the effort – sometimes it is a bit too ‘chill’. It is nitpicking – nitpicking that could be easily fixed if there were bit of a ‘push’ or extra bite. Still, if you enjoy your music with some unpredictability and incorporating a couple of styles, Almost Us is certainly the right listening opportunity. Hey, it definitely receives my praise and blessings.

Favorites:

“House”; “Run!”; “Hollow”

Verdict: ★★★★

Luke Bryan, Spring Break 6

Review: Luke Bryan, ‘Spring Break 6…Like We Ain’t Ever’


Luke Bryan’s Spring Break series rolls right along…for a sixth time

Luke Bryan • Spring Break 6…Like We Ain’t Ever • Capitol Nashville • US Release Date: March 11, 2014

Spring break is a rite of passage of sorts for many college-aged kids.  The ever youthful Luke Bryan, however, continues to place himself back in his early twenties with his never ending Spring Break series, now on Spring Break 6…Like We Ain’t Ever.  There’s nothing wrong with using the crazy antics of spring break as fuel for fire, but approaching 38 years of age, is Bryan stretching it a bit?  Regardless, not only is another spring season here, but also so is another EP.  Spring Break 6 is good enough to incite enjoyment, but never expands to being ‘great’.

She Gets Me High” uses some modern production cues that transcend country itself, which certainly catches the ear.  The premise of the track is that this girl has got Bryan ‘hot and bothered’: “She get me high / she get me low…No matter how she moving / it’s all the same thrill…watch me fly, she get me high…” Ultimately, “She Gets Me High” is nothing new from Bryan, but does play as a pleasant opener.

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Similarly, “Like We Ain’t Ever” works soundly as the titular track, but definitely doesn’t break new ground.  “Like we ain’t ever / all been together”, Bryan sings on the chorus, “and try to make one night last forever / once it’s gone, you can’t get it back / so lift ‘em up, y’all, where you at.”  If it weren’t for the superb rhythmic ‘machine’ created by banjo within the production, the overall allure might be even less notable as “Like We Ain’t Ever” trends, well, generic-sounding.

On “Night One”, Bryan wishes he’d hooked up with his girl the first night of spring break.  Please! “Wish I had met you on night one / before the week, we’d had you and me,” he sings on the chorus, “Being drunk, tangled up, waking up…every night, another party / making out in a crowd…” Like everything else, “Night One” is simple-minded, perhaps even more pronouncedly.

Are You Leaving With Him” is comparable to the opener “She Gets Me High”, given its more pop-oriented nature.  That said, “Are You Leaving With Him” is the least country-centric track of the EP, which personally isn’t necessarily advantageous.  Additionally, the tempo is slower, but the track isn’t a ballad.  From an analytical aspect, “Are You Leaving With Him” provides little to analyze – just saying!

On “Good Lookin’ Girl”, I give Luke Bryan a ‘pass’ – you’re never too old to sing about a ‘good looking’ girl! The antithesis of “Are You Leaving With Him”, “Good Lookin’ Girl” embraces a truly countrified sound, which bodes better for Bryan.   The song is corny, but given Bryan’s sappy charm, it stands out.  Lines like “That little dimple when you smile might as well be ahook in my heart” (verse one) are ultimately irresistible.

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Closer “The Sand I Brought to the Beach”, co-written with Cole Swindell (and also Michael Carter), isn’t too shabby.  One must admit, the chorus is kind of funny: “I think I just lost the sand that I brought to the beach / I guess she didn’t like the Spring Break side of me…” I’d say she didn’t Luke; I’d say she didn’t.

When it’s all said and done, Luke Bryan does Luke Bryan on Spring Break 6. It should be enough to please fans as well as draw criticism from others – critics included.  As an artistic statement, Spring Break 6 does little if anything to expand Bryan’s craft.  This is an “it is what it is” affair, and perhaps that’s the best perspective of which to examine it.

Favorites“She Get Me High”; “Good Lookin’ Girl”

★★★

Review: Mary Lambert, ‘Welcome To The Age of My Body’ (EP)


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Empowerment Is On Mary Lambert’s Mind on Debut EP 

Mary Lambert • Welcome To The Age Of My Body • Capitol • US Release Date: December 17, 2013 / February 4, 2014 (physical)

Mary Lambert-20140110-233Singer/Songwriter Mary Lambert is best associated at this point in her career with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for her work on Grammy-nominated song, “Same Love”, which is all about tolerance, marriage equality – prevalent social issues in 2013 and beyond.  On her EP Welcome To The Age of My Body, Mary Lambert showcases the beginnings of herself as a solo artist; a singer/songwriter.  12 minutes is a short amount of time to make an evaluative decision about a burgeoning artist, but even Welcome To The Age of My Body gives the listener an idea.  Originally released December 17, 2013, a physical version of the EP arrived February 4, 2014.

Body Love Part 1” initiates the EP quite mysteriously; it bucks the expected. The gist of the opener is about women accepting their bodies for what they are, no matter how they look, how they are built, or how it makes them feel.  In other words, Lambert is going for empowerment. Lambert delivers a spoken word performance for the majority of the track; She provides an impassioned and poetic take on these body self-esteem issues and how damaging they can be.  She sings the last 30 seconds or so: “I know I am because I say I am… my body is home.”  The concluding “Body Love Part 2” is very similar, serving an extension of the opener with more production.  Both have great intentions, if both are a bit, um, odd.  Point is well taken though and Lambert’s words are wise.

She Keeps Me Warm” is the main attraction to Welcome To The Age of My Body.  The chorus specifically comes from the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hit “Same Love”. “And I can’t change, even if I tried / even if I wanted to…my love, my love, my love, my love / she keeps me warm, she keeps me warm”, rings the powerful refrain.  Here, Lambert truly puts her stamp on “Same Love”, extending the narrative tailor made to her as a singer/songwriter.  “She says I smell like safety and home,” Lambert sings on the first verse.  “I named both of her eyes ‘Forever’ and ‘Please Don’t Mary Lambert-AES-124451Go’…” Lyrically, “She Keeps Me Warm” is very thoughtful and warm.  Matching the lyrical sentiment, Mary Lewis delivers hauntingly, beautiful vocals.  By the end, Lambert truly cuts loose, flexing her instrument capably.

Sarasvati” proceeds slowly and extremely expressively.  Lambert places emphasis and weight on every note and lyric, drawing the listener into her performance. “Pull the bones from their sockets / Please be soft while you do it for I am fragile and fading / Sarasvaties sew me to sleep”. Sure, “Sarasvati” is indulgent, but isn’t that an attribute from a singer/songwriter perspective? The accompaniment by piano solely is a sound decision, keeping things nice and intimate.  By the way, Sarasvati refers to the Hindu goddess of knowledge and music.  “Body Love Part 2” concludes.

Ultimately, Welcome To The Age of My Body shows the possibilities for Mary Lambert as a singer/songwriter.  Even so, the EP also leaves the impression that one needs to hear more from Lambert before embracing her as a viable artist.  “She Keeps Me Warm” certainly gives Lambert an identity and sets up her career, but perhaps more moments like “Sarasvati” give an even better indication of what a Mary Lambert album might sound like.  As for the “Body Love” series, it is certainly unique, but also clunky in the same regard.  As far as this snapshot into Lambert, the potential is definitely there.

Best Song:

“She Keeps Me Warm”

Verdict: ★★★