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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Ariana Grande—”Eternal Sunshine”

A new era of blatant honesty has begun with Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine.

Friday, March 8 became a day of rejuvenation for Ariana Grande fans as the anticipated record Eternal Sunshine dropped at midnight. 

Grande, an A-list celebrity whose stardom bred from her youthful Broadway debut, has had no fairytale orbit in the music industry. Eternal Sunshine, a conceptual album intertwining Jim Carrey’s 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, articulates a brutally honest depiction of cyclical inner turmoil and creates roots in self-awareness.

Whilst her name is no hidden gem amongst the charts and media buzz, it has been nearly four years since she released a mid-pandemic album Positions. Given the back-to-back three-year release of Sweetener, Thank U, Next, and Positions, Grande’s unusually lengthy interlude until 2024 left listeners pining for the singers’ resurgence. 

Her breath of renewal has allowed Grande’s raw and hard-cutting lyrics to flourish in their honesty whilst leaving a newfound space for understanding and compassion. The album’s introductory track, “intro (end of the world),” immediately asks listeners: “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” Clearly, Grande no longer beats around the bush. 

Her self-confidence persists within Eternal Sunshine, spearheaded by “bye,” a nostalgic ‘80s disco anthem. Despite being played in nightclubs, the lyrics of “bye” juxtapose its upbeat bounce entirely and speaks to an unfilled craving for a “happily ever after.” Following suit, this desire for love carries out within “don’t wanna break up again” in a calmer illustration of dread. The theme of being a burden dates back to Sweetener’s “everytime” and serves as a reminder of Grande’s turbulent history with lost love, grief, and tragedy.  

The songwriter’s depth in lyricism lies true with the title of the album: while the expression “eternal sunshine” idealizes the desire to maintain a happy and positive stride, Grande’s record marks an end of optimism and instead introduces an acceptance of reality. 

The title track “eternal sunshine” deepens the album’s ties to its concept film. Erasing monumental memories follows the plotline of Carrey’s 2004 film and emphasizes the record’s underlying theme of blissful ignorance.

Playing on Grande’s sarcastic humor, the Destiny’s Child-inspired “the boy is mine” creates space for playful risk and femininity, seen similarly in the records’ chart-leading single “yes, and?” Contrastingly, “true story” divulges the media’s hostile narrative. 

In the recent post-pandemic years, what has become increasingly evident surrounding society’s dictation of artists in the limelight is the shift of where universal attention is focused. The engrossment in an individual’s art has been abolished by the sudden ever-strengthening interest in the lives of these creators. 

The character that has been birthed in association to the name “Ariana Grande” has become all encompassed to the singer’s fame: she is a pop-princess, a poised diva, the home-wrecker, the donut-licker, the controversy. Eternal Sunshine’s “true story” persists with no hesitation in blatantly illuminating the derogatory narrative society paints on Grande’s life outside of music. 

As the record dances around the singer’s recent divorce, a true relationship that radiated through its production is that between Grande and producer Max Martin. The protection to Martin’s foundational practices and fundamental trap beats brush against moments of pure catharsis, and experimentation with muted instruments and tones. 

Another track, “we can’t be friends (wait for your love),” leaves listeners on the outskirts of Grande’s painful breaths, muting external noise in a moment of pause. The final 30 seconds of orchestration driven by trumpets and cinematic strings mark the inauguration of a new beginning in strength for Grande. This is by far the most raw track of the record and showcases a vulnerability listeners have only been privy to with Thank U, Next’s “ghostin.”


Fueled by a new wave of ‘90s pop synths entangled in Grande’s darkened lyricism, Eternal Sunshine feels like a matured big sibling to Sweetener and Thank U, Next. Grande’s seventh studio album elegantly lets go of resentment and instead makes room for “loving and leaving.”

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Music Quickspins

Quickspins: Olivia Rodrigo — GUTS

On her sophomore album, the pop princess rocks out and reflects.

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR was accompanied by one of the speediest, meteoric rises to pop superstardom in recent memory. Her breakup ballad “drivers license” blew up on arrival, debuting and remaining at #1 on the Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks. She earned a second chart-topper with the pop-punk hit “good 4 u,” and would go on to win three Grammy awards for the album. 

Her sophomore record GUTS takes cues from the winning formula on SOUR, bringing its style and writing to new heights. With an increased rock flair and equally captivating songs, GUTS is poised for as much success as its predecessor, if not more. The writing on GUTS shines as it successfully explores its overarching theme of relationships and breakups from different avenues, while also differing in tone from one track to another. 

“bad idea right?” and “get him back!” are tongue-in-cheek tracks where the popstar contemplates getting back with her ex. On the latter, she playfully sings about wanting “to meet his mom, and tell her her son sucks,” playing off the song’s double meaning of revenge and reconciliation. “pretty isn’t pretty” is a standout that describes the incessant insecurity that results from chasing unrealistic beauty standards and the sinking feeling of realizing that they cannot be reached. “lacy” reads like a love-hate letter from the singer to a figurative woman where she blurs the line between complimenting and envying Lacy’s character. 

Other tracks include select lyrics that perfectly capture their song’s essence. “It takes strength to forgive, but I don’t feel strong” is a poignant lyric on “the grudge” that perfectly embodies the exhaustion that results from manipulation in a relationship. 

GUTS leans into the pop-rock and pop-punk sound far more than SOUR, and its tracks are all filled with driving, groovy basslines, and roaring electric guitars. The pop-punk groove, drums, and guitar licks on “bad idea right?” are addictive, and “ballad of a homeschooled girl” and “get him back!” are high-energy pop-rock jams. 

On the other hand, less is more for some of the album’s ballads. Softer tracks like “lacy” and “logical” feature minimalist production consisting almost solely of soft guitars or somber pianos. The album also has great pacing, with songs like “all-american bitch” and “vampire” starting off slow and building towards explosive rock passages, including both styles within the same song—the latter even being a continuous crescendo across its nearly four-minute runtime.

Rodrigo’s vocal performances are commendable on the album. Her rock performances are shouted, energetic, and in-your-face, whereas her balladry is soft-spoken and passionate. “get him back!” features a standout, anthemic hook that is reminiscent of Joan Jett. The outro “teenage dream” also excels at both: Rodrigo’s falsetto repetitions of “it gets better” feel like a warm hug of reassurance, before the track collapses into a rock release as she cathartically ponders “what if it don’t?”  She also often layers soft, angel-like vocal lines and “ahhh’s” behind her lyrics, harmonies that add lots of colour to the verses they lie beneath (as best done on “bad idea right?” and “vampire”). 

This combination of varied writing, vocal performances and styles, and production is what makes GUTS such an enjoyable record. No matter how brazen or blissful the songs are, Rodrigo’s writing is raw and relatable, her performances are passionate, and the production is the perfect palette to soundtrack it all. GUTS is filled with energetic hits and captivating ballads, and many of its tracks showcase the potential to reach the same chart-topping heights that “vampire” already has.

Trial track: vampire 

Score: 8/10

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Endless Summer Vacation – Miley Cyrus

 Miley Cyrus has gifted her fans with a pop-themed album

Some artists are afraid to try something new, but that doesn’t seem to faze singer and performer Miley Cyrus. After her last album Plastic Hearts in 2020, which was a commercial success, Cyrus unveiled Endless Summer Vacation on March 10.

Her lead single, “Flowers, attracted old and new fans worldwide due to its catchiness and inescapable tunes. After its release, everyone anticipated her new album that was set to follow two months later. 

The third track, “Rose Colored Lenses, is full of fun lyrics with an easy-going instrumental in the background. With verses like “We can stay like this forever, lost in wonderland with our heads above the clouds, falling stupid like we’re kids,” it’s easy to drift to memories of being carefree. With this song, Miley alludes to enjoying the moment while ignoring any red flags, which anyone listening can relate to. 

According to Rolling Stone, Miley Cyrus has said that she organized the songs in an order with an AM and PM vibe, and you can’t help but embrace how different the songs are. The AM side represents the morning of a new day and the potential for any opportunities, like the second track on the album, “Jaded.” In this song, Cyrus reflects on a previous failed relationship and how it’s impacted both of them. The song is filled with harmonies and a quicker tempo that gives it a nostalgic feel for the listeners. 

The PM side is influenced by rest, recovery and partying, like the song “River,” which has a retro beat similar to pop icons Britany Spears or Whitney Houston. This song makes you want to dance all night long.  

The next song is a memorable pop track called “Violet Chemistry, and it sounds like it could’ve been a bonus track on her 2014 album Bangerz. With a beat change halfway through the song, it could be another party anthem like “We Can’t Stop.

The album fits well within the pop stratosphere, but there are a few slower songs that change the tempo and overall listening experience. The fourth and fifth tracks “Thousand Miles” and“You” both have mellow beats that make you relax and reminisce about friendships and relationships. 

Cyrus concludes the album with a ballad called “Wonder Woman,” where she sings over the piano about the resilience of the women in her family. Although memorable, it doesn’t fit with the PM party tracks on the album. I would’ve liked to see her end the album with the previous track called “Island, where she contemplates feeling stranded while also in paradise. It felt like the perfect send-off to her fans. 

This is a fun album for Miley with many enjoyable songs, and her ever-changing sound keeps her fans guessing what comes next. The most unique aspect of this album is that it feels like it’s narrating a collection of memories from the past few years. 

If you look back on Plastic Hearts, the music was rock-filled and edgy as opposed to Endless Summer Vacations, where it’s fun-filled and pop-themed. She’s a versatile artist who never likes to repeat the same thing, and everyone can agree that her range is unmatched. 

Trial Track: “Rose Colored Lenses’”

Score: 7/10

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Music

A healthy diet of pop and art music

Music is often criticized for being too mainstream, or straight-up weird, but an individual’s favourite music usually boils down to its uniqueness or simplicity

Today’s musicians juggle an oversaturated market, leading them to question how they can stand out among the herd. With Apple Music and Spotify playlists updated weekly, musicians clash as they struggle to reach for the top of the list.

Artists who can incorporate popular and inventive elements in their music offer new, palatable experiences to the average listener. When a new track sparks discussion, whether it is outlandish or watered-down, it often still plays a pivotal role in the progression of music culture.

Here are some ways artists can navigate the vast landscape of the pop industry.

 

The popular and the experimental

Experimental music is a genre in itself, but if we look at Fiona Apple, for example, we find an artist who is innovative within the popular scene. Fringe music, another label for this category, may be too inaccessible and isn’t a realistic approach for budding musicians hoping to make a living off of their music.

 

We can take a look at Hallin’s spheres to better understand the spectrum of modern music. Named after Daniel C. Hallin, this communications theory is defined by Oxford Reference as a negotiation between three concepts of journalistic objectivity. In this diagram, the centre circle refers to the consensus of public opinion, the middle circle follows ideas of legitimate controversy, and the outermost circle describes fringe society.

If we repurpose this diagram, we can look at how music can be received by an audience. That is: music in the mainstream, music that tests what a listener can enjoy, and music that is disliked or misunderstood by a large audience.

When music is labelled as artistic, it is usually because it strives to add something that has not existed before, or improving on something performed in the past. In contrast, the popular artist is hoping to gain recognition for a widely accepted sound.

Art music may be an appropriate way to label it, then. 

Lady Gaga, for example, who has ruled over the popular scene for the last decade, recently dropped a reimagined look at her 2020 album Chromatica. One year later, Dawn of Chromatica takes the core structure of her popular dance hits, and reinvents it with help from extraordinary talents like Dorian Electra, Mura Masa, Rina Sawayama and many other experimental artists.

This eclectic album redux broadens Gaga’s audience and takes a real turn towards the eccentric. For Lady Gaga, her embrace of the weird isn’t abnormal, but it gives us the chance to explore Chromatica’s “what if” moments.

So, in my definition, art music represents a form that leads away from wide recognition in the hopes of finding new and refreshing avenues for a song, style, and genre.

Music stuck somewhere in the middle

Between charting music and music far outside the mainstream exists the middle, where we find music that aims to entertain the listener and also test their limits.

Within the genre of pop, we find new approaches from artists like Billie Eilish, who makes pop music stylized by her dark, carefree personality, and Hubert Lenoir, who brings a free-spirited, offbeat energy to his pop music.

The rise of music curation in streaming services has also created new opportunities for musicians to stand out, even in an oversaturated market. 

Due to numerous specialized playlists and radio stations, listeners can find more and more unique music experiences. This wide-ranging curation tends to favour popularity but highlights emerging artists or bands as well. Under streaming services, there is a renewed desire to find obscure music that does something novel.

It’s worth noting that music evolves, and so does its audience. What may be received at first as fringe music can become accepted over time. Playboi Carti’s discography, strangely enough, shows this within a short timeframe. His singles and albums have often been received as underwhelming at first listen, but increase in popularity over the following weeks.

Virality plays a role in music progression too, as one single can establish a new music style and become a highly sought-after product. One example is Justin Bieber’s remix of “Despacito,” which brought forth a wave of reggaeton music to North America. Recently it has become equally important for record labels and streaming services to care about both experimental and popular music.

 

The scope of music

Upon observation, art and pop music function as a dichotomy. Together, they add balance to music culture with a centralized approach that places the audience first. You couldn’t have smash hits from Doja Cat without Nicki Minaj paving the way, and there also wouldn’t be an Anderson .Paak without pretty much any R&B or funk artist ever.

Releases that are too accessible can quickly start to feel commercial, as if it were a product. Oftentimes, artists are hired to make promotional music for a movie, which usually leads to safer music that panders to an audience. One example is the soundtrack for Suicide Squad, which featured a diverse range of artists but led to music with small thrills and inconsequential impact.

Music that is too experimental is susceptible to gatekeeping and can distance and confuse a fanbase. The reason why a fanbase becomes confused arises when an artist chooses to reinvent itself to the point of a loss of identity. For example, after nearly 15 years of transformations, Ye’s last three albums have left many longtime fans feeling left behind.

More generally, pop cannot continue existing without innovation, however minimal, and too much attention to experimentation can unravel a demographic. Therefore, both streams of thought cannot live without the other.

In the end, consider what you would like from your own music favourites. Do you want your music to be at the cutting edge of the industry? Would you like it to continue perfecting sounds you have grown to love?

Regardless, music pushes forward and it’s interesting to remember what your favourite artists contributed to the ongoing evolution of music.

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Music

Taylor Swift reclaims her past with Fearless (Taylor’s Version)

The re-recording and release of Swift’s sophomore album is more than just a makeover.

On Taylor Swift’s sophomore album Fearless, the then-18-year-old singer begged to be saved, but no one was coming to the rescue. Thirteen years later, Swift holds back from altering that innocence with wisdom while re-recording, and captures the same confusion and passion of youth on Fearless (Taylor’s Version).

The now-31-year-old has explored indie-pop on her last two albums; the first of which, Folklore, won her a Grammy for Album Of The Year. In her latest release, Swift sheds the maturity that she has gained over the years and goes back to her country roots, singing about being caught in the rain, 2:00 a.m., or passionate screaming matches (“Fearless,” “Hey Stephen,” “Breathe,” “The Way I loved You,” “Come In With The Rain,” and “The Other Side Of The Door”).

The production is cleaner, and her voice has improved, but at the end of the day, Swift stayed incredibly loyal to the original tracks. The point of the re-recordings is not to perfect these songs; Swift decided to re-record Fearless in order to regain ownership of them.

When her contract with Big Machine Records ended in 2018, she left and signed with Universal’s Republic Records. In her new deal, Swift made sure she has ownership of all her future masters. Regardless, Big Machine still owned the masters of her first six albums. They sold them to private-equity group Ithaca Holdings, which is owned by music manager Scooter Braun.

Swift has spoken publicly about Braun bullying her about the masters, proceeding to sell them for a reported $300 million to Shamrock Holdings. Even after the sale, Braun still profits off streams of Swift’s first six albums. In retaliation, she decided to re-record the tracks, so her fans can play her versions instead of ones that benefit Braun. In an Instagram post, Swift writes that she believes that all artists should own their own songs, captioning the picture with “The artist is the only one who really knows that body of work.”

On Fearless (Taylor’s Version), she embraces her past, instead of shying away from it. Sung years later, and with the added context of time, the lyrics take on new meanings. On “Fifteen” she sings, “Count to ten / Take it in / This is life before you know who you’re gonna be.” She expresses that there was no need for her to be in a rush to grow up and figure everything out. There is peace within the chaotic process of being lost in dreams of alternate futures.

The original “Forever and Always” is filled with Swift’s signature revenge-filled lyrics, sung in a bitter and sarcastic tone, but fans have noticed that the newest version has a completely different feeling. When she sings, “Baby what happened? Please tell me,” the lyric is filled with insecurity, confusion as to where everything went wrong, and most of all, a deep sense of sadness. While years later, Swift forgets about the anger she felt, she remembers the pain her younger self was in, and expresses compassion and understanding towards it. Somehow, in the re-release, Swift has managed to become even more vulnerable with her fans.

Alternatively, ”White Horse” comes off as much lighter in the newest version. Previously, it was sung from a girl in the process of moving on, while now it is sung by a woman who has completely moved on. Fans hear the lyrics, “I’m gonna find someone someday / Who might actually treat me well” as more affirmative than just merely hopeful, knowing that she is currently in a long-term relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn who has been the subject of love songs in her last three albums.

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is filled with anger towards boys that broke her heart, herself, and the world. At 18-years-old, Swift writes about fairytale love stories in some songs, while in others she is perplexed as to why there does not seem to be any happy endings. The album shows an inner battle between fantasy and reality.

“Change” takes on a completely new meaning in the face of the conflict that ignited these re-recordings. She sings, “It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair.” After being in the music industry for over a decade, Swift is very aware that the way it works is far from just. Confidently, Swift sings, “These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down.” In revisiting her work, not only does she get to explore the anger that comes with youth, but also the unquenchable hope.

While the six previously unreleased songs have the same lyrical tropes that we see throughout Fearless, they sound much more similar to her later work. Swift had no obligation to copy the country style of earlier versions, so she took advantage of this freedom to play around with them. This resulted in these added tracks having more breathing room and a melodic sound. In “You All Over Me (feat. Maren Morris),” Swift explores how she cannot shed her past. “But like the dollar in your pocket, it’s been spent and traded in,” she sings. “You can’t change where it’s been.”

With Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift rescues and reclaims what is rightfully hers: her past. 

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Justin Bieber – Justice

The Canadian pop icon’s latest is a solid outing held back by questionable decisions.

An album is only as good as the sum of its parts, and sometimes all it takes is one bad decision to derail an otherwise good project. Unfortunately, this is the case with Justin Bieber’s latest outing, Justice.

Justice is the Canadian artist’s sixth album and his second in a little over a year. While it is musically quite good, the album’s thematic framing is a massive misstep. The record presents itself to fit the theme of justice, yet Bieber never even mentions or sings about the concept.

This is a jarring decision that sours the listening experience from the very beginning. When you press play on this LP, the first voice you hear is not Justin Bieber’s, but a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s an attempt to set the tone for this album, enforcing its supposed “theme,” yet it goes absolutely nowhere with it.

It’s hard to understand the reason why Bieber or anyone else who heard this album in advance thought it was acceptable for the 27-year-old pop star to use the speeches of an important historical figure to introduce love songs about his wife. It’s a bizarre and confounding choice that comes off very disingenuous.

In such a tumultuous time, one when many social justice movements are fighting against inequality, Bieber tacking Dr. King’s words onto a collection of love songs just comes off as lazy and borderline insensitive. With so much happening, if he really wanted to say something of substance, he could’ve done it for himself instead of relying on these quotes.

It’s a shame because this album had a lot of potential. While some of the songs miss the mark, the production is solid throughout and Bieber is at his most mature, both personally and vocally, singing of marital love and spirituality. While he isn’t some out-of-this-world vocalist, he knows what he can do within his range and it makes for quite a few captivating moments.

One of the bigger standouts is “Lonely,” which sees Bieber reflecting on his life growing up in the spotlight and all of the repercussions and downsides that came with it. It’s an incredibly human moment, and one that, despite his unique situation, is actually very relatable.

It’s moments like this, “Deserve You” or the excellent summer jam “Peaches” that make Justice’s missteps so frustrating. This isn’t a bad album, but it is bogged down by some outright terrible decisions.

Instead of framing this record as being something it’s not, Bieber should’ve embraced what it’s actually about. He’s so impassioned when singing about his faith or his wife, shifting the focus to a theme that isn’t present is an injustice to the great moments Bieber produced here.

 

6/10

Trial Track: “Peaches”

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Zara Larsson – Poster Girl

 Zara Larsson’s third studio album is a fun, breezy listen that will surely put you in a good mood

Upon listening to the first few tracks on Poster Girl, you can tell that Zara Larsson has departed from her ballad-style songs. With this being her third studio album, she went for a fully upbeat and lighthearted tone. Some of her most popular songs have been slower ones, and Poster Girl is anything but. Zara Larsson has provided her listeners with an album that is full of tracks that can get anyone up and dancing around their rooms.

Thematically, the album is sound; each song has its rightful place in the tracklist. Most of the songs are based on love, relationships and feelings overall. The titles of each song, for the most part, give a clear indication of what a listener can expect.

The three singles, “Love Me Land,” “WOW,” and “Talk About Love,” are by far the catchiest songs on the tracklist.

“Love Me Land” has an opening siren that sounds like it’s from a Purge movie, which, compared to the lightheartedness of the rest of the album, seems quite dark. However, once the song’s main melody begins, it fits in with the rest of the album.

“WOW” is a bit of a tongue twister to sing along to because of the constant repetition of words with the overall pacing of the song — although it does make the song quite catchy to listen to. It’s one of those songs that you put on repeat, and before you know it, you’ve listened to it about ten times.

“Talk About Love” is the only song that has a featured artist. Young Thug’s appearance creates a different dynamic to the tone of the song, compared to the rest of the tracks. Larsson proves how sticky her lyrics can be on this track (“I don’t wanna talk about love / I don’t got time to be lying like a rug / Hot as Taki, Kawasaki, I ride it, ride it”).  The line always offers a laugh, comparing a popular snack to how hot Larsson is, and uses a seemingly popular snack to emulate how hot the speaker is.

Larsson’s songs are constant hits. They’re not overly complex to understand, and they’re relatable. She is able to convey strong messages about female empowerment across the 12 tracks. Even a song like “Ruin My Life” focuses on the woman’s role within the song and what she wants. Perhaps the song’s lyrics aren’t positive, as she says “I want you to ruin my life / I want you to fuck up my nights,” however, the woman herself is seemingly in control here. The idea is that what an empowered woman looks like can take on many forms.

While Zara Larsson’s songs do discuss some deeper subject matter, some of that gets lost behind the overproduced and upbeat nature of the songs. There are songs that discuss relationships and have poignant messages, but the focus tends to be on the beat, rather than the lyrics.

That being said, Poster Girl is a great album to put you in a better mood. It’s unfortunate that the album doesn’t have much variety in terms of beat and style, which creates a lack of balance for the listener. However, if someone wants a dance-based, upbeat album, then Poster Girl will satisfy them.

Rating: 7/10

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Music

The hidden track: a lost art gone too soon

Now that we know everything about an album before it drops, hidden tracks are a thing of the past

It’s time to pour one out for one of the streaming era’s most cataclysmic casualties: the hidden track. This sneaky little song would usually appear off the coattails of an album’s “final” cut, usually letting it finish out and breathe for a few seconds in complete silence before a bonus track would start playing.

Most of the time, these tracks would start unbeknownst to the listener, who would just assume the album had ended and would either eject the CD or remove the vinyl record from the player. But if they’d kept listening, they might hear a bonus cut that didn’t make the official tracklist. Major artists like The Beatles, Aerosmith and even Frank Ocean opted to use a hidden track in at least one project.

On the streaming version of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, the album ends with the aptly titled “End” which serves as a lo-fi closer to an otherwise pretty straightforward album. On the CD version (an archaic device), the track sits in a couple minutes of silence. Then a beat started playing which turned into a full song, “Golden Girl.”

The song has since not appeared on major streaming platforms and exists as a loosie track on YouTube where a casual listener might not know it existed as a bonus on the album. “Golden Girl” may have been the last time we saw a hidden track too.

As the state of music continues to move away from physical media and to digital streaming platforms, having a hidden track is, well, sort of impossible. We can see every track and its respective length, so if a concluding track runs over seven minutes and the song stops three minutes in, it’s a safe bet to assume there’s more coming.

That element of surprise from the CD and vinyl era is gone. The art of listening to an album has become the same across the board. We know exactly what we’re getting, how much we’re getting, and if there is some sort of bombshell revelation about a new album, you can bet it’ll be spoiled within an hour of the album dropping. Thanks, Twitter.

Even old albums that had a hidden track can’t contain that secret. Ginuwine’s classic album Ginuwine… The Bachelor technically ended with “G Thang,” but on streaming services there is not one, not two, not even three, but five (!!) different “Silent Interlude” tracks that lead into the (not-so-well) hidden track, “550 What?”

Though it’s probably for the best that these tracks have come to the surface and become widely accessible, the loss of hidden tracks in the streaming service hurts. We know everything about an album when it drops. Track lengths? We know them all. Features? Unless you’re Travis Scott releasing Astroworld, we know those too. Production credits? Maybe a bit harder to come by, but they’re there in the credits (which reminds me, pour out another one for the booklets inside CDs).

The streaming era killed the brilliant physical media marketing and tricks an artist could pull to entice the listeners into wanting more. Sure, this probably seems like an “old man yells at cloud” take, but one can only hope that artists find new ways to surprise us when we already know way too much.

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Music

Revisiting The 1975’s sophomore record

Now’s a better time than ever to listen to I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.

What now feels like eons ago has only been about five years. The 1975’s 2016 album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, came three years after their self-titled debut, The 1975. The 17-track sophomore release has come to be a springboard for the music that the band would produce in the years following.

The interim period between their debut and their catapult to fame was defined by a social media blackout that fueled rumors of a potential split of the band. Following this, neon signs began appearing in a variety of different locations, each one displaying a song title from the album. Their placement was meant to reflect the meaning of the songs. Signs popped up in a variety of places such as New York, London and Los Angeles. Whether it was outside a grocery store, an emergency room or even in a church, all of the places were reflected and referenced within the respective tracks. With the help of photographer David Drake, photos of these signs came to be promotional icons for the aesthetic of the album.

It has now become tradition for The 1975 to open all of their albums with a version of the eponymous track, “The 1975.” With the second installment of this now-tradition for the band’s albums, I like it when you sleep’s version is more dependent on choir vocals and heavy synth. Nonetheless, its meaning as a track still remained a masqueraded tale of oral sex, “Go down / Soft sound / Step into your skin? / I’d rather jump in your bones / Taking up your mouth, so you breathe through your nose.”

It is just like any band to question the direction that they hope to take musically and lyrically as their careers are being forged. From their first LP to this one, there is a remarkable change in the sound of their music. At first, The 1975 was mostly a guitar-heavy, Brit-pop, emo band. This esoteric style of music is still appreciated by avid fans, but casual listeners only began to flock once their sound did a 180 and morphed into the synth-pop, production-heavy, I like it when you sleep. Even with a great change in style, band members and friends George Daniel, Ross MacDonald, Adam Hann and Matty Healy have stayed the course.

The first half of the tracklist opens with staples, “Love Me,” “A Change Of Heart” and “She’s American.” In an interview with Pitchfork, band frontman Matty Healy summarizes I like it when you sleep as “ego, fear and light.” These three tracks are exemplary for this description by Healy. “Love Me” comes off as a very musically striking track with heady guitar riffs and solos, when lyrically it is a tirade about the way fame has brought temptations into his life and fluffed up his ego following the band’s successes. In its own right, the song is self-referential, with its lyrics about fans loving the band and him trying to “Be the man that gets them up on their feet.”

“A Change Of Heart” follows the story of a falling out between two lovers. While this kind of song is cheap in music, Healy used this particular track to criticize people on the internet with, “And then you took a picture of your salad / And put it on the Internet.” The project’s fifth track, “She’s American” sees a musical output almost reminiscent of ‘80s pop songs with its prominent drumming pattern in the mix and upbeat production effects.

Lyrically, Healy is digressing on his status as a British man living in the United States, as the band lived in California when recording the album. His juxtaposition with the cultural differences between American and British women sees a variety of lyrics highlighting these differences such as “If she says I’ve got to fix my teeth / Then she’s so American.”

I like it when you sleeps shining moment comes in the form of the project’s 10th track, “Somebody Else.” Like every other band, there needs to be a song that catches you and reels you in to check out their other songs, and “Somebody Else” is exactly that. “Somebody Else” is not just a bedroom pop jam for heartbroken teenage girls, it is a staple for the music that The 1975 makes.

Throughout the middle ground of the album, there are a handful of tracks that attempt to engage listeners that are frankly a bit long and experimental in contrast to the album’s more popular songs. While tracks like “Please Be Naked,” “Lostmyhead,” and the title track can appeal to devoted fans, a casual listener may find little to enjoy with minimal or no audible words across these tracks.

While not for everyone, fans of production and mixing could certainly appreciate the mastery possessed by band drummer and often producer, George Daniel. Nonetheless, as Healy mentioned in Spotify’s storyline feature, ambient music is his favourite art form and he likes to “think of ambient music as the engine of The 1975.”

As the album draws to its end the tracklist ends on the melancholic trio of “Paris,” “Nana” and “She Lays Down.” The first of the trio is one of the album’s more critical songs, where Healy describes a foul girl whom he meets who is coked up to the nines (“She’s a pain in the nose”). While the lyrics are a bit sporadic in this song, Healy is again able to point the finger back at himself as opposed to solely criticising someone else. Healy, who once was addicted to heroin and other opiates, does a variety of self reference in this song with lyrics like “As the crowd cheered for an overdose,” and “She said I’ve been romanticizing heroin.”

The penultimate track, “Nana,” is a wearily somber acoustic track that sees Healy retelling the tale of his grandmother’s death and how he is reeling from it. His poignant lyricism builds on earlier themes of religion, while diving headfirst into mourning. “And I know that God doesn’t exist / And all the palaver surrounding it / But I like to think you hear me sometimes.”

As the lengthy I like it when you sleep draws to a close, Healy caps off the album with a fingerpicking acoustic guitar track, “She Lays Down.” While this track is bereft of any heavy production or woozy synth notes, the lyrics make up for the song’s overall simplicity by being a very personal memo referencing Healy’s relationship to his mother and her postnatal depression “—And in the end, she chose cocaine / But it couldn’t fix her brain.”

In hindsight, everything always looks clear. I like it when you sleep was a standalone masterpiece at the time, but looking back on it to this day, there is a linear progression throughout The 1975’s albums. As Healy mentioned on Spotify’s album storyline feature, this album was the springboard upon which he dove into the band’s next two albums, saying, “I often see ILIWYS as the creche for the ideas that came next.”

All of this to say, I like it when you sleep will likely be to The 1975 what The Dark Side of the Moon is to Pink Floyd, an album that will be remembered for decades down the road. Though vastly different, both of these albums possess similar qualities that see them lyrically covering a variety of topics, backed by memorable musical displays. With this album being their breakout, the band later ensued with what is arguably their opus, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. With the sound having gone through an evolution, there is a traceable pattern of growth in sound, lyricism and delivery with the progression of music from The 1975.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Shawn Mendes – Wonder

Shawn Mendes reveals his delicate and true self in his recent album.

On his fourth studio album, Wonder, Shawn Mendes reveals a more delicate side of his life and music, while focusing on his emotions, life experiences, and girlfriend, Camila Cabello.

Mendes starts the album with a slow “Intro,” in which piano dominates, just like deep cuts such as “24 Hours” and “Look Up At The Stars.” This gives a nice break from louder instruments like drums and bass, which can often overpower in more upbeat songs. Overall, this album consists of a perfect balance between slow and fast-paced songs.

Wonder is different from Mendes’ three previous albums, perhaps, because the 22-year-old wanted to be more truthful, which led to him also being delicate. This was not only done by writing and singing about personal topics but also by making gentle beats.

Even the more uptempo songs, like “305” and “Piece Of You,” are delicate because of the lyrics, and some slower parts, like guitar solos. Also, on “Piece Of You,” Mendes sings “I get reckless, I’m obsessive / I’m pathetic and possessive / You’re so sure it makes me insecure,” sharing this darker side of him with the world, and showing that just like everyone, he has flaws and insecurities.

On “Song For No One,” Mendes sings with vulnerability, as only guitar accompanies his vocals. This adds a lot of sensitivity to the album. However, it seems like the song is, indeed, for someone in particular, as he sings “Told you that I really love you / You did not reciprocate those feelings.”

Mendes’ only collaboration was with Justin Bieber, in “Monster.” The two artists have a similar career story, both having started in their teens. They share their similar experiences in “Monster,” such as the downside of becoming famous at a young age. For example, how they weren’t allowed to make mistakes, or how they would feel guilty if they did (“But what if I, what if I trip? / What if I, what if I fall? / Then am I the monster?”).

On “Wonder,” Mendes not only questions if he is being honest with himself (“I wonder if I’m being real / Do I speak my truth or do I filter how I feel?”), but also ingeniously mentions the stereotype that men shouldn’t cry, bringing up the double standard about men crying (“I wonder, when I cry into my hands / I’m conditioned to feel like it makes me less of a man”).

Overall, Wonder feels so delicate and personal, that it’s almost as if Mendes just wrote his thoughts in a journal and made them into songs as he tried to bring down this barrier between his famous-self and his true-self.

 

Rating: 8/10

Trial Track: “Look Up At The Stars”

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Ariana Grande – Positions

With her third album in a little over two years, Grande brings forth a collection of sultry R&B jams that explore the complexities of romance and the power of healing.

Ariana Grande has been on an unprecedented run for the last few years. With the back-to-back releases of the excellent Sweetener and her magnum opus, thank u, next, the pop powerhouse has established herself as one of the biggest artists of her generation. With Grande’s latest project, her most mature and explicit yet, she takes her now-signature sound in a more sultry and sensual, R&B-influenced direction.

 With Positions, Grande explores the intricacies of navigating romance and intimacy, while searching for healing within herself. It’s a perspective of love that isn’t frequently heard in pop music, as it substitutes the genre’s standard, idealized notion of romance for a more flawed and human approach. It’s as if her past traumas are in a direct conflict with her desire to move on for the better and be happy.

Throughout the album, Grande ranges from guarded and indecisive to lustful or longing for a lost love. On the The Weeknd-assisted “off the table,” Grande reflects on a past relationship, questioning if she’ll ever be able to find a love like that which she once had. The Weeknd’s contribution sees him playing her potential partner, reassuring her that he’s grown and in a better place, and can cater to her needs better than before. It’s a fantastically written track and the pair’s vocals complement each other beautifully, especially in the mesmerizing moments in which they harmonize together.

One of the album’s biggest standouts is the 90s neo-soul/R&B-tinged “my hair.” Grande’s hair has been a massive part of her image throughout her career, and she sings about it as an extension of herself, not just physically, but emotionally as well. As she opens up to her partner, she welcomes them to run their fingers through it, noting that she never lets people touch it. It’s an alluring, conversational track with a silky-smooth instrumental that warms the soul, and as it reaches its climax, Grande’s whistling vocals close the track in glorious fashion.

The album’s closer, “pov,” is another fantastic moment on this album. The song plays like a love letter to her significant other, who loves Grande for exactly who she is, which is a love that she can only aspire to have for herself. It’s a song that serves to both acknowledge her love for this person, as well as desire to truly love herself, as she delivers about wanting to see and trust herself the way that they do. She delivers an extremely impassioned vocal performance over an instrumental that starts off subdued but continues to build with rattling hi-hats and swells of orchestral strings.

Though moments like this make Positions another fantastic addition to Grande’s discography, some moments keep it from reaching the bar set by her previous two releases. Songs like “nasty” and “just like magic” feel half-baked and extremely underwritten, with some of the lyrics being unfathomably bad (“wake up in my bed, I just wanna have a good day / think it in my head, then it happens how it should, ayy”). Moments like this are hard to believe considering the quality of the writing on Sweetener and thank u, next, as well as the rest of this album.

Another thing Grande’s fans might be surprised by is the lack of radio-ready singles on this album. Without a doubt, her popularity will push songs to the top of the charts, but the lack of a “thank u, next” or “God is a woman” is noticeable here. Though it doesn’t take away from how enjoyable a majority of the songs are, it’s still a notable absence.

While those aspects of the album are underwhelming, they’re easy to look past when surrounded by the truly fantastic moments that exist within the tracklist. Even with the inconsistencies that are present, this is a very good album and houses a couple of Grande’s best songs to date. Positions may not do much to expand on the sound and aesthetic that Grande established for herself on her last two releases, but it comfortably excels in the space that they created.

Rating: 7.8/10

Trial Track: my hair

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Omar Apollo – Apolonio

Apolonio brings us one step closer to figuring out what kind of artist Omar Apollo wants to be.

Omar Apollo’s identity as an indie-pop artist seemed muddled over the last few years. While he has an enchanting voice, his style didn’t seem like it was going to be anything groundbreaking. He could sing, he could write, but it was unclear as to what kind of music he truly wanted to make. Apolonio, Apollo’s first record on a major label, looks to be the crooner’s clearest indication of what he wants to be.

The first track, “I’m Amazing,” has a cocky title but the lyrics on the track tell a different story. Despite hearing his fans tell him he’s amazing, he can’t help but feel it’s a stretch and that he hasn’t got anything more figured out than the rest of us. It’s the first of many laid-back funk-filled tracks across the project’s very brief 26 minutes.

“Want U Around” and “Hey Boy” offer sultry vocals from their respective guests, Ruel and Kali Uchis, the latter of whom is a shining light on an already breezy track. The chemistry Apollo shows with both of them demonstrates his willingness to explore the back seat, something he had little of before Apolonio.

Despite these already high points on the album, Apollo doesn’t shy away from making a song that takes a few more sonic risks. “Dos Uno Nueve (219)” is an acoustic guitar-led song performed entirely in Spanish. Though it wouldn’t do well in the club or at a party, it would certainly make for good horse-riding music in Red Dead Redemption.

The final three tracks are a bit rudimentary and somewhat derivative of other indie-pop songs out there, but aren’t bad by any stretch. “Useless” sometimes feels like Apollo is putting on his best Julian Casablancas impersonation, while “Bi Fren” just sounds like a Khalid leftover.

Apolonio moves us closer to piecing Omar Apollo’s music together. He clearly wears his inspirations on his sleeves, but also tries to combine them so much that they won’t matter. While borrowing the best elements from artists like contemporary indie-pop and R&B artists, it won’t be long before the sound he works with becomes definitively his.

 

Rating: 7.5

Trial Track: Hey Boy (feat. Kali Uchis)

 

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