Colors of Noise: Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”

“I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” A statement made by Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie White at the end of “Freedom,” the 10th track off Beyoncé’s sixth album, Lemonade, proves to be a poignant theme for the superstar’s latest effort. After the astronomical success of her previous self-titled visual album, Beyoncé has followed up with an album that is far more cohesive and immersive than any of her previous efforts.

Lemonade is as somber as it is aggressive. The album tackles personal matters in a way never before seen on a Beyoncé record, dealing with themes such as heartbreak, infidelity, and empowerment. The opening track, “Pray You Catch Me,” sets the tone for the album. The song broods with heartache as Beyoncé copes with questions about her husband’s faithfulness. This begs the question — what exactly is Jay Z doing?

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Basement Dwelling: “Human Performance” by Parquet Courts

Welcome to Basement Dwelling, where I review new records that should be on your musical radar. What sets Basement Dwelling apart from other music review columns is that these are all albums that are currently residing in my record collection. No promo copy was given, no stream was listened to. Instead, a physical copy of an album was purchased before I listened to it. Don’t think of me as a critic, but as a music obsessive looking to open a dialogue about some of the best tunes that are currently being released.

Let’s head down to the basement and listen to Human Performance by Parquet Courts…

It’s the summer of 2013, and I decide to order a copy of an album I have heard a lot of buzz about, Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold.

Completely excited by the singles that I had listened to prior to buying the album — “Borrowed Time” and “Stoned and Starving” — I was pretty certain I’d love what I heard once I got to listen to the final product.

Not only did I love it, but it became what I could easily deem one of my favorite albums of all time. Light Up Gold is a half-hour long adrenaline rush of a record that marries all the best elements of what has come before in the last 20+ years of indie rock and garage punk and firmly places its own stamp on the styles.

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Basement Dwelling: “Everything You’ve Come To Expect” by The Last Shadow Puppets

Welcome to Basement Dwelling, where I review new records that should be on your musical radar. What sets Basement Dwelling apart from other music review columns is that these are all albums that are currently residing in my record collection. No promo copy was given, no stream was listened to. Instead, a physical copy of an album was purchased before I listened to it. Don’t think of me as a critic, but as a music obsessive looking to open a dialogue about some of the best tunes that are currently being released.

Let’s head down to the basement and listen to Everything You’ve Come To Expect by The Last Shadow Puppets…

Back in 2008, a charming record was released: The Age of The Understatement, by the duo of Alex Turner and Miles Kane, under the name The Last Shadow Puppets. Turner and Kane were in their early twenties when they released Understatement, and were already critical darlings and, frankly, big stars in the British press.

Miles Kane was a much buzzed about singer-songwriter, and Turner proved that the hype should be believed, with his mega popular band Arctic Monkeys releasing two great records — 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. Both were blistering, hungry, indie rock records that capped off the “Garage Rock Revival” sound of the early ’00s. These albums brought AM a lot of attention, not only in their native England where What Ever People Say… broke records for being one of the fastest selling début records by a British band, but also stateside, where the band garnered much attention and popularity, especially within the last couple of years.

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Colors of Noise: Gwen Stefani’s “This Is What the Truth Feels Like”

As a child, I loved many things — Gwen Stefani included. Gwen hasn’t released a solo album since my childhood, her last one being 2006’s hip-hop-infused The Sweet Escape.

Since then, Stefani has gone on to release multiple fragrances, a clothing line, and even a record with her band No Doubt. But there’s been no mention of a solo album. It wasn’t until nearly a decade after The Sweet Escape that Gwen dove back into the solo realm, releasing a string of singles that ultimately led to this year’s LP This Is What the Truth Feels Like, a surprisingly fresh and nostalgic take from one of pop’s most eclectic singers.

In 2014, rumblings of a comeback for the singer were prominent. After giving birth to her third son, Apollo, Stefani landed a coaching gig on NBC’s singing competition reality show The Voice.

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Colors of Noise: The 1975’s “I Like It When You Sleep…”

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. The poignant, yet slightly pretentious title of The 1975’s sophomore album describes a love for something that can be seen as so ordinary, which may be the theme of the record. After releasing their eponymous début record in 2013, the band has returned bolder than ever, this time with a strong influence from 80s rock bands. While the album has dazzling moments, it also comes with some that don’t have as much glitz.

The album kicks off with a self-titled track, “The 1975,” an album intro that is almost identical to the opening track of the same name on their previous effort. The track allows for a continuation of sorts for the band, showing that they’re still going to flirt with their previous sound.

“Love Me,” the album’s first single, is next. The song is brash and funky, driven by a somewhat irritating guitar riff. It’s a great way to discuss the band’s rise to fame, as the song basically turns the idea of a celebrity on its head. The album progresses into a more updated take on nostalgic rock, with tracks “She’s American” and the grooving “This Must Be My Dream” showing that the band is able to infuse the alternative sensibilities of their previous record into the pop dwellings of I Like It When You Sleep.

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Colors of Noise: Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo”

It’s been a very long road getting here, but the destination has finally been reached — sort of. After years of teasing, Kanye West’s seventh album, The Life of Pablo, has finally been released for streaming only on Tidal (I know what you’re thinking, “who?”). After the release of singles “Only One” and “All Day” in 2015, West went silent about the status of the album. It wasn’t until January of 2016 that West remembered he had an album to make, and announced the album was coming soon.

The album was released to high anticipation, but it was also really messy.  Pablo went through many changes, including former album titles So Help Me God, SWISH, and Waves — all eventually left behind due to a shift of mind by Kanye. After those 2015 singles failed to garner the success of previous releases, he went on a hiatus — similar to that of Rihanna with her newly released (and equally as messy) album ANTI — only to return with what is easily his most mixed and experimental album yet.

The Life of Pablo opens with the inspirational “Ultralight Beam,” an uplifting, choir-driven song that almost plays out as a gospel track, discussing West’s faith in God. The track even goes as far as featuring vocals by pastor Kirk Franklin, clearly setting the stage for the most interesting work of West’s career. The album progresses strongly, with highlight “Famous” featuring Rihanna and a questionable lyric about the status of Taylor Swift’s fame, which I will appropriately neglect.

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Basement Dwelling: “Is The Is Are” by DIIV

Heroin. For such a horrible substance, a lot of great art has been influenced by it. The Velvet Underground wrote a song about it (“Heroin”). The Flaming Lips made their best record under the influence of it (The Soft Bulletin). Acclaimed books have been translated into acclaimed movies about it (Trainspotting). DIIV’s (pronounced “dive”) new record Is The Is Are is a record about, well, you guessed it…heroin addiction.

Created in light of the arrest of DIIV songwriter Zachary Cole Smith and his girlfriend Sky Ferriera for drug possession, Is The Is Are is a 17-track concept album that documents addiction in DIIV’s hazy, white-washed indie rock sound, which in this context, creates a literal soundscape akin to being strung out on smack. It’s a grim listen, but a highly rewarding one from an indie act that had a lot to prove, and had a lot riding on this album.

Although I am a fan of DIIV (I love their first record, 2012’s Oshin), I can be the first to admit that I understand why a lot of people don’t enjoy them. Zachary Cole Smith is not the greatest songwriter in the world, and DIIV has pretty much used an admittedly repetitious sound for their entire career. A lot of people see this as boring, and I totally understand.

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Colors of Noise: Rihanna’s “ANTI”

“I got to do things my own way darling,” Rihanna sings on “Consideration,” the opening track to her highly anticipated eighth studio album, ANTI. Actually, to say the album was anticipated is understating just how exhausting the wait for the record really was. Plagued by constant setbacks and multiple shifts in sound, fans were left wondering if this album even existed, and if it would be worth the almost four-year wait.

Well, rejoice! The album does, in fact, exist, and has finally been released. ANTI is meant to be a turning point for Rihanna, pushing the star in a new artistic direction. Though whether said direction is the right one for her is what I’ll be talking about here.

Rihanna first began the album campaign over a year ago by releasing the Kanye West and Paul McCartney assisted track “FourFiveSeconds,” a folk number which proved to be a complete 180-degree career shift in terms of image and sound. After the single performed worse than expected, she followed-up with the controversially good “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a triumphant and aggressive statement that reminded the listener it was she who “called the shots.” She then released “American Oxygen,” a song that was practically dead on arrival. After the song’s release in March, Rihanna took a break. A long, nine month break.

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Basement Dwelling: “Emotional Mugger” by Ty Segall

On the cover of Ty Segall’s 11th record, underneath the image of a grainy black-and-white photo of a disturbing looking doll, is a caption that says, “No man is good three times.” Maybe this is true, but in the case of Mr. Segall, with his new record Emotional Mugger, he proves that you can be great three times. As a matter of fact, he’s been amazing all eleven times that he’s put out a record.

Segall has been making waves in the garage rock/psychedelic scene for about eight years now. It all started with Lemons (2008) and the fantastic lo-fi 2009 masterpiece that put him on many musical maps, Melted. Through the course of these eight years and eleven LPs, Segall has managed to change up his style and yet consistently remain himself with each new addition to his catalog. From the fuzzy, acoustic-led ballads on the album Goodbye Bread, to the pure garage rock freak-out that is Slaughterhouse, no two records of his sound the same and that is certainly still the case for Emotional Mugger.

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Basement Dwelling: “Moth” by Chairlift

Viewing the career trajectory of Chairlift through a public lens can be quite confounding. How can a band who started off as a project formed with the intent to provide background music for haunted houses, then go on to be a feared possible one-hit wonder of music’s digital age with their track “Bruises”  being featured in an Apple iPod commercial? It’s a career path that can definitely cause eyebrows to raise. Not to mention how they recently went on to help pop mega-star Beyoncé co-write a track off her last album. Through all of this, Chairlift has been one of synth-pop and indie electronica’s most exciting voices.

All of these are factors that could harm a band’s career in a myriad of ways, but that’s not the case with Chairlift. Through all of these publicly imposed identity crises, musically they’ve always been themselves and Moth is a definite example of Chairlift’s true guise.

What is Chairlift’s true form? It’s a songwriting duo that is making some of the freshest sounding and most impressively produced songs in pop music today. This was already proven on the band’s stellar album Something, but it is made even clearer here. Akin to Grimes’ recent record Art AngelsMoth is a record full of catchy-as-hell hooks, and memorable songs that prove to be another advancement in just how intelligent pop music can be.

All the while, this album feels very of its time without running the risk of sounding dated. This is what pop music’s present sounds like, and most likely will continue to sound like in the future. It’s a concept that is most prevalent on the album’s first four tracks. From the get go, Moth is an ear worm-heavy monster, especially on tracks “Romeo” and “Ch-Ching.” I know we’re only one month into the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of December, I still consider these two of my favorite tracks of 2016.