|Step||Modern Vampires of the City|| |
|I Can't Help It||Radio Music Society|| |
|Turn On The Lights||Pluto 3D|| |
|The Only Place||The Only Place|| |
|The House That Built Me||Revolution|| |
|Ride||Basic Instinct|| |
|Ciara feat. Ludacris|
|I Love It (feat. Charli XCX)||Iconic EP|| |
|Refill||Perfectly Imperfect|| |
|Own Side||Own Side Now|| |
50 Under 30
Google Play is proud to present 50 Under 30, a month-long feature highlighting 50 artists under the age of 30 who are changing the face of music today, and hopefully for years to come. We’ll be celebrating these acts with free tracks and album discounts, artist-curated subscription playlists, exclusive video and more. This week, we take a look at Tomorrow’s Pop–from Ciara’s high-gloss R&B and Icona Pop’s brash electro to the indie rock ruminations of Vampire Weekend or the upstart country stylings of Miranda Lambert and Caitlin Rose. – Eric Grandy, Google Play
by Eric Grandy
Following the success of their sophomore album, Contra, Vampire Weekend released their highly anticipated third full-length, entitled Modern Vampires of the City. The record had been kept tightly under wraps since writing began in late 2011, and the four-piece discreetly hit the studio with producer Ariel Rechtshaid (We Are Scientists, Plain White T's, Usher) in their native New York. Lead single "Diane Young" illustrates the group in full flow, interjecting a rasping bassline and trashy drums to their crisp indie rock sound.
On her fourth album, Ciara works extensively with Terius “The-Dream” Nash and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, the duo who collaborated on four of Fantasy Ride's best tracks. Unsurprisingly, the move fosters the singer’s most consistent and unified release. For the most part, Nash and Stewart alter their ever-present sound just enough to avoid repeating themselves, albeit while incorporating some of their telltale sonic imprints -- the dive-bombing synths, the subtle background-vocal chirps, the unrivaled sonic opulence. They cover each base with great accuracy; there’s a bombastic intro, a sleazy club track, some playful pop, and a ballad with a feather-light touch among them. The euphoric “Speechless” is the best of the seven Nash/Stewart productions, working a kind of regal slow-motion glide with synthetic horns and trunk-shaking bottom as Ciara’s voice hovers in a love-struck daze. A few songs touch upon characteristics from Ciara’s first two albums without being complete retreads; the Infinity-produced “Yeah I Know,” for instance, enters like a low-profile update of “Goodies” -- Ciara is half confrontational, half flirtatious -- but incorporates a twisting, glitzed-out chorus. “Turn It Up,” featuring Usher, improves upon Ciara’s other attempts at aggressive dance-pop. It’s one of the few effective Euro-flavored club numbers to be fronted by an R&B artist. Altogether, this is one of 2010’s finest pop-R&B albums -- Ciara's best yet.
An Atlanta rapper with ties to OutKast, Future is a true ATLien, mumbling his way through infectious hooks and frequently drenching his vocals in Auto-Tune, not to correct the pitch but to further muddle and murk his delivery. It was the perfect complement for YC's snarky vocals on his hit "Racks," and it made for an excellent centerpiece for "Tony Montana," Future's own mixtape hit that, landing on his official debut here, still sounds like a draggy and dark David Banner cut made with both the syrup sippers and the goth kids in mind. In other words, the man is either "niche" or "limited" depending on your viewpoint, but this scattershot yet uniquely attractive debut does an excellent job of swaying listeners toward "niche" by keeping the guest list purposeful and the production varied. Good luck defining yourself on any track R. Kelly is going to declare his comeback, and yet Future's grand rollout goes from an everyday intro into Kellsville within two tracks, although "Parachute" ("because I am going down on ya") is a true highlight and there's little reason to ease fans into an album that's like a T-Pain-ish circus at half tempo. T.I. and Juicy J offer worthy catch phrases and better choruses on their cuts before the chilled and biographical "Truth Gonna Hurt You" appears like halftime, conveniently splitting the album as the pattern begins again. Breaking up the hooky solo numbers on part two are great Drake, Trae tha Truth, and Snoop Dogg features, and by the end of it all, Future comes off as a memorable name in spite of his narrow style. Pluto is fat and redundant, but it delivers whenever you desire that purple and woozy, Cudi-meets-Khalifa flavor. [In late 2012, Sony BMG reissued the rapper's debut album as Pluto 3D with three new tracks and two remixes.]
While Miranda Lambert’s first two albums spun tales of kerosene fires, bar fights, and firearmed vengeance, Revolution finds the Texan taking some degree of comfort in her relationship with Blake Shelton, whose influence helps govern the album’s mellow moments. Lambert has never played by anyone’s rules, but she has carved out her own set of principles over the course of a four-year career. Accordingly, Revolution offers a strong, cohesive take on what has quickly become the “Lambert sound”: a blend of lilting ballads and loud, fire-breathing anthems (many of which owe as much to rock as country). She’s also more comfortable with the slower songs this time around, and “Dead Flowers” is perhaps her strongest vocal performance to date.
Breakout jazz star Esperanza Spalding has crafted a mainstream neo-soul record that retains both her uncontainable positive energy and her complex bop harmonies. The bassist/vocalist/songwriter uses Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder as artistic touchstones and there's a groovy '70s vibe to the set, as if Anita Baker let her freak flag fly at Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic." The pop guests include Q-Tip, Lalah Hathaway and Algebra (lead vocals on the pride anthem "Black Gold"), while the jazz genius of Joe Lovano, Jack DeJohnette, African guitar sensation Lionel Loueke and others further uplift the set. Spalding tackles tough social issues on "Land of the Free" and "Vague Suspicions," and yet the entire album feels like a summer day (American Music Program, the seriously tight group Spalding played with as a kid, even appears on a few tracks).
For their second album, The Only Place, California duo Best Coast hired Jon Brion as producer. Right away it's clear that the fuzzily lo-fi noise pop sound of their debut, Crazy for You, was a thing of the past, and the band was looking to smooth things out quite noticeably. Hiring Brion to produce a noise pop record is like asking Rothko to paint your mailbox. What he and the band have done is replace the simplistic drone of the distorted guitars with a more layered, much janglier sound, added tons of space to the arrangements, and made sure each song gets the sonic approach it needs instead of the set-it-up-and-record-it style of Crazy. The result is an album that has a classic pop/rock sound that anyone who's heard an R.E.M. or Beach Boys or Springsteen record will instantly identify with and understand. It may disappoint anyone who wanted Crazy for You, Pt. 2, but the band didn't make this record for those people. On a sonic level alone, the record works very well. Bethany Cosentino reliably writes super-catchy melodies and sings them winningly, Bobb Bruno does a fine job filling in the songs with hooky guitar lines, and Brion adds the little touches that have made his name as a producer. The uptempo songs have a light bounce that will have people bopping along, the ballads have fully realized arrangements that sound dreamy as can be, and the whole record has a warmth that was missing from anything the band did before. The problem lies with Cosentino's awful lyrics. What seemed cute and only a little awkward in the past is now extremely clunky and slightly ridiculous. That her lyrics are shallow isn't such a big deal -- it didn't ruin Crazy -- but the real problem is that this time they are gratingly personal to the point of being like diary entries (as on "My Life" with the lines "My mom was right/I don't wanna die/I wanna live my life") or smug (on her title-track ode to California that includes the deathless rhyme "We've got the ocean, we've got the babes/We've got the sun, we've got the waves") or just plain boring and/or embarrassing (most everywhere else). Instead of making Crazy for You, Pt. 2, she's made Crazy for Me, Me, Me. When lyrics are so endlessly, inwardly directed as they are on The Only Place, there needs to be some spark of something interesting cooking in there, or the result will be an album that looks like a delicious cake but tastes like sawdust and chalk when you bite into it. Give the group credit for taking a step forward from Crazy for You: the album sounds great, full of catchy and well-crafted songs. Too bad it all falls apart so drastically when you factor in Cosentino's disastrous lyrics.
Collecting six of Icona Pop's early tracks into a six-song EP, Iconic leads off with the duo's most winning song to date, the hit single "I Love It." Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt's half-sung, half-shouted vocals and revved-up synths make the song inescapably catchy, and this devil-may-care feel informs "Ready for the Weekend" and "Top Rated," both of which combine the transcendent highs of EDM with the pleasures of a three-minute pop song. The duo's quieter side isn't quite as compelling as their hedonism, although "Manners" -- which was sampled and sped up by Chiddy Bang on his track "Mind Your Manners" -- boasts a hook that's nearly as memorable as Icona Pop's more uptempo work. "Sun Goes Down" may be the weakest track here, but its mix of chopped and screwed rap and melodramatic Europop (courtesy of collaborators St. Lucia and the Knocks) is still pretty interesting. Released in anticipation of the duo's full-length debut, Iconic gives a good idea of where Icona Pop have been and where they're headed.
As an NYU graduate and the daughter of music veterans, Elle Varner and her Perfectly Imperfect debut often outpaces her producers, Pop & Oak (known for Big Sean's "Marvin & Chardonnay" and Nicki Minaj's "Right by My Side"). The beats are slick enough—"Refill" opens with a fiddle, while "Only Want to Give It to You" lifts the drum beat from Biz Markie's "Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz." But Varner's lyrics are unusually vivid, and her voice is memorably rough and grainy, yet expressive. "You're intoxicating my mind/ Feel like a conversational lush," she sings on "Refill," while on "So Fly" she talks about feeling inadequate about her body, singing, "I can't help being depressed when I look down at my chest." Varner's a promising songwriter, and with luck, Perfectly Imperfect is the first building block for a career worthy of her talent.
As is so often the case with American artists whose appeal isn't exactly straight down the middle, Caitlin Rose was initially more successful overseas than in her homeland. But it's not as tragic a tale as it might sound, since "initially" refers only to the period of time during which her entire output consisted of her debut EP, Dead Flowers. The arrival of the young singer/songwriter's first full-length release, Own Side Now, represents a chance for Rose's sound to find wider acceptance stateside. Don't be misled by the stylish image on the front cover, which might lead you to conclude that Rose is some sort of Zooey Deschanel-esque ingénue peddling overly precious goods; the Nashville native needs no M. Ward to fill in the artistic gaps for her. Rose's own songwriting gifts are on ample display throughout Own Side Now, with lyrics that show a knack for poetic turns and artful understatement in equal measure -- a combination too seldom found in young songwriters' work -- and humble but hummable melodies that make the most of her grounding in both alt-country and pop. Interestingly, while most of the album mines a gently twangy Americana feel, one of the most overtly country-ish moments comes with a cover of the Stevie Nicks-penned Fleetwood Mac track "That's Alright." As it turns out, Rose's lissome croon carries the tune with more élan than the original version, so maybe she's got something to say to the classic-rock crowd too.