Neon Hitch – Happy Neon (2013, USA) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Midnight Sun, Jailhouse, The Wizard Believes, Born To Be Remembered
I’ve been waiting for a full length something from this underrated artist and I’m going to take whatever I can get. Skipping the first track, “The Bus”, since there’s really nothing to comment about, I’ll start with the first real track, “Pink Fields”. I believe this was the promotional track for this mini-album. It’s a soft piece that highlights Neon Hitch’s unique vocal talents and airy lyrics that resonates in listeners’ ears. The music is quite minimal and purely focuses on the vocal aspect. “Midnight Sun” took a couple listens for me to fully appreciate its beauty. There’s some talking at the beginning, then it quiets down for the music to seep into your ears. Similar to “Pink Fields”, this track really focuses on vocals and has a simple melody that somehow haunts the back of your mind with the poetic lyrics. “The Wizard Believes” takes an audio snippet from, I’m guessing, a movie with some soft guitar, then Neon Hitch’s voice kicks in with the first verse. It has a pleading tone to it and something about it immediately hooked me into loving this song. “Jailhouse” is an unusual track. It has a somewhat serious tone musically and Neon Hitch’s voice echoes at the beginning with a definite pleading tone. The vocal delivery is more forceful and the music has more punch than the previous tracks. Something about this track’s attitude just easily pulled me in. “Born To Be Remembered” also took me some time to get into. It retreats back to the softer sound of vocal echoes and acoustic guitar. It’s a simple track that just sticks effortlessly. I think this whole mini-album displays Neon Hitch’s talents a lot more than her previous efforts of in your face sexuality and sweet pop melodies. I urge you to give this lovely lady a chance.
The Birthday Massacre – Hide and Seek (2012, USA) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Leaving Tonight, Down, Play With Fire, The Long Way Home
After seeing them live and hearing previews of their new material last year, I was looking forward to another amazing album from this band. “Leaving Tonight” has an upbeat, somber tone to it. An interesting start for an album, but it works to some extent. I suppose it eases into the band’s style without smacking you in the face with the band’s full force. Highlight of the song is the guitar and keyboard break down, but Chibi’s soft vocals are also a nice touch to bringing the lyrics to life as well. “Down” is probably my favorite track off the whole album and, no, this doesn’t mean you can skip the rest of the review either. I love this band’s hard hitting side. It’s different than most bands I listen to. It has a fun edge to it and balances softness and aggression in both the vocals and the music. Chibi threateningly growls the lyrics effortlessly after singing with such an angelic voice. Lastly, the chorus is simply addicting for those familiar with the band or the genre. “Play With Fire” brings the tempo down, but still holds the fuel from the previous song. It sounds like the music is ticking by with the time as Chibi’s voice haunts you quietly. It’s quite chilling and strangely beautiful. “Need” lifts the tempo back up a little and has a somewhat retro electronic feel. Chibi brings more attitude into her delivery and the chorus just flows out naturally after she attacks her victim, then the music follows with no lyrics is just brilliant. “Calling” is full of fun and charm that the band is known for, especially in person, and ties in the old with the new elements. “Alibis” steps back to a more haunting feel, but also mixes old and new elements from the band. It focuses more on Chibi than the music majority of the time, but they do highlight it when it’s appropriate. “One Promise” is another upbeat tune that took me some time to warm up to. Chibi’s vocals are more chipper, which counters the content of the lyrics which is always amusing. This is a good dance tune…an unconventional one, but if you’re familiar with this band’s material, you know what I mean. “In This Moment” has a bit of an ambient synth sound to it. The music seems like the main focus of the track this time. At times it seems like it overpowers the vocals that it could be distracting, but you can still understand everything. “Cover My Eyes” returns the softness from the first track, maybe even softer. It’s a really beautiful song and the lyrics are a bit haunting, especially with Chibi’s whispering delivery and keyboard in the background. I like that they highlighted the keyboard so much in this track too. “The Long Way Home” keeps the pace the same and may sound a little like the previous track, but it adds a little more flair in the chorus. It has an odd structure to it, but somehow it works. Nonetheless, this album does not disappoint and I’ve probably abused the repeat button with this album when it was first released.
Usher – Looking 4 Myself (2012, USA) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Scream, Climax, Lemme See, Euphoria
After hearing a certain track, it seemed like the real Usher had returned. So, I blindly bought his CD and I haven’t done that in quite a long time. Anyway, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” is a bit of a misstep in some ways. It’s very generic and falls into that “OMG” trap of weird dance elements, stop and start melody, and will.i.am sub-par lyrics. It’s really bad and obnoxious. “Scream” was one of the promotional tracks for this album and it was a good choice. Sure, I was annoyed that Usher sold out for the dance music trend, but something about this track seemed okay. Maybe it’s the beat or the catchy chorus. The lyrics are a little better, but not by much. It’s still a somewhat improvement from the last album and I’ll accept it for this club banger of lame sexual innuendos and pick up lines. The shining star track that made me believe that Usher was back, “Climax”. My mom loves this track and that’s saying something, especially since she stopped at 8701. This track features everything I love about Usher from back in the 90s. His vocal range is back, the lyrics have meaning to it, and the music mixes both the new and the old together effortlessly. This track is flawless and I kinda hate using that word with music, but it’s just a breath of fresh of air for both Usher and R&B…or just music in general. “I Care For U” kinda takes a step back from the previous track, but it isn’t the worse of the worse from Usher. It combines R&B vocal melody and minimal dubstep musical elements. “Show Me” keeps the same pace and includes a slightly upbeat drum in the background. Pretty standard, nothing too exciting. “Lemme See” is another promotional track and I highly suggests avoiding watching the music video, if you haven’t already seen it. I’ve only seen part of it and I’m still scarred. Anyway, this picks up all the good from “Climax” and mixes the tiny bit annoyances I had with Versus. It’s a good song, but I really wish Rick Ross wasn’t on this track. “Twisted” is a throwback track that fits the latest Justin Timberlake song. This is definitely a Pharrell track sound wise. The lyrics are terrible though. “Dive” is a slower song with that supposed “epic” R&B sound around the chorus. I will admit it does show off Usher’s vocals though. “What Happened To U” goes back on the right path musically and Usher’s voice flows pretty well, even with the silly lyrics sprinkled throughout the song. “Looking 4 Myself” kinda sounds like another throwback tune with drum beats and a little guitar, but it’s more enjoyable to me for some reason. I blame the catchy chorus. “Numb” brings nothing new to the table. I think we’ve heard this sound way too much from his collaboration with David Guetta and even a little bit of Rihanna or Katy Perry on the pop charts. “Lessons For The Lover” is a minimalistic R&B track that relies why too much on sound echoes and tries too hard to be sensual. “Sins Of My Father” mixes dark musical elements and deep bass from the 80s. It’s an interesting mix, but nothing extremely dynamic. It has potential though lyrically. “Euphoria” sounds like an Usher track remix than the sellout dance Usher, so I can appreciate this track a lot more than his dancy stuff in the previous album. “I.F.U” has a hip-hop beat from the 90s with a few upgrades. It works somehow. Maybe it’s the pacing of Usher’s delivery or the simple beat. “Say The Words” is a slower track and Usher sounds a bit winded or something. It’s a boring track both musically and vocally. “2nd Round” tries to mix dance Usher and this new/old Usher in a mesh mash. It sounds really awkward and all the sound effects in the background are obnoxious, which is a shame because deep below the melody isn’t that bad. “Hot Thing” is a pseudo-Usher throwaway track. It’s a try too hard track that tries to mix Usher’s R&B vocals in a sub-par way to a worn out hip-hop beat. It’s not good. Overall, I do not regret my blind purchase at all. It isn’t the best of Usher’s work, but it is a step up from Versus/Raymond v Raymond.
Sirah - C.U.L.T Too Young To Die (2012, USA) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Up & Down, Motel Bible, Blew Your Mind
I love good YouTube discoveries and this artist is one of those good examples. “Up & Down” is the track that introduced me to this artist and directed me to the official free download. This song combines dubstep warping noises, but contains them in the confines of a hip-hop melody. It also mixes rap and softened, gently distorted vocals that could be found in Indian music. Very unique, refreshing, and worth repeated listening, especially lyrically. “My City” abandons the major components of dubstep and goes into a more electro-hop sound. I also have to mention that this whole mixtape has some smooth transitions from track to track which albums hardly do anymore. “Motel Bible” has a slightly awkward beginning with the hint of autotune or some sort of vocal distortion, but it all evens out when Sirah starts rapping over this aggressive beat. “Blew Your Mind” is my favorite track on this mixtape. It balances soft vocals and an in your face rap delivery. It packs a punch of attitude and confidence from the music, delivery, and lyrical content. By the time it ends, you’re craving for more. “Like Me Now” comes in abruptly and has this weird warped sound. This wouldn’t work for a full track, but for a quick minute with such attacking lyrics, it works out well. “Made It” goes in a different musical direction by leaving behind the electronics and using pianos, drums, and clapping sounds as Sirah effortlessly raps over this soft melody. Take notes, Drake. “When I’m Gone” closes the mixtape by bringing back the mix of electro-hop and an aggressive lyrical delivery that leaves a definite impression in your ears. This is a very strong mixtape and leaves listeners begging for more.
Linkin Park – Living Things (2012, USA) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: Lost in the Echo, Burn It Down, Powerless
Say what you will about Linkin Park, but I still blindly buy their albums expecting something good from them. “Lost in the Echo” in stills my confidence and opens the album with a confident sound. Sure, it doesn’t have that aggression I love from their older material, but it shows that the band has perfected the balance of soft electronica and rock from their previous two albums. “In My Remains” brings in more rock to the band’s sound and some good atmosphere that flows naturally from the previous track. It really eases you in and lets you settle into the album, especially with Chester’s controlled, passionate vocals. “Burn It Down” was used to promote the album and it was a good choice. It pretty much highlights majority of the album with a little bit of hardness, a little bit of softness, electronic elements, and a steady rock beat. “Lies Greed Misery” relies more on a harder electronic beat and focuses on Mike’s rapping in a new way, while letting Chester scream sings the chorus in between. “I’ll Be Gone” softens things a little by intertwining electronica and rock again and highlighting the good points to Chester’s voice. It has a gradual pace of soft and hard that feels natural for the band and the ears. “Castle of Glass” is another track that proves that they’ve worked out the kinks from their previous albums and gives Mike another chance to sing his heart out. “Victimized” is quick track of aggressive rock and chaos. I’m happy it’s not a full length song as it would’ve come off as annoying around the chorus, but it gives you enough to be satisfied and rock out as Chester screams. “Roads Untraveled” tones down the anger from the previous track and brings us something softer with piano, chimes, and beautiful vocals from both Chester and Mike. “Skin To Bone” is probably an underrated track for me. There’s a lot of good points to this from the cleverly composed gradually ascension of the music and Mike’s imperfect vocals. “Until It Breaks” goes in a more experimental hip-hop sound that could almost be found on a Gorillaz album. “Tinfoil” brings back that element that their first two albums had that highlighted Mr. Hahn’s skills for beats and minimalism. Like “Lost in the Echo”, “Powerless” is the perfect send off for this album and what made me proud to be a fan of this band for so long. It’s beautifully composed, Chester’s voice is so emotional, and it leaves a deep impression to the heart and ears.
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