Coldplay - “Ghost Stories”
Ever since the rise of electronic music, through the likes of artists such as Skrillex and Deadmau5, many pop musicians have been incorporating electronic elements into their works. Coldplay is no exception, and have been known to use synths and other computerized elements in their music. However, Ghost Stories seems to take this concept a little too far. This album would have been better had it been released as a Chris Martin side project rather than a Coldplay album. It is almost as if the rest of the band doesn’t even exist. The drum beats are synthesized, the majority of the music is synth based, and everything just seems to be made to show off Chris Martin’s vocals. Although the singing is stellar, the album just drones on from one synth tune to the next with little variation. The lead single, “Magic,” was nice when it was released, but it does not stand out against the rest of the atmospheric trance of the album. One of the few saving graces is “A Sky Full of Stars.” While still heavily electronic based, it is at least up beat and a break from the rest of the album. There even is an actual acoustic guitar on this track! The other notable instrumentation is the piano on the bonus track “O.” This music still seems to be built to show off Martin, but there is an actual instrument in it. While electronic music can have its own beauty, there is no need to get rid of almost every real instrument, especially when releasing a work as a band. Had this been a solo venture, it may have been better, but is disappointing as a Coldplay production.
Key Tracks: “Magic” “A Sky Full of Stars” “O”
Jason Derulo - “Talk Dirty”
Jason’s 2013 release gained most of its success from the single “Talk Dirty.” Featuring an irresistible saxophone lick and a rap verse from 2 Chainz, the track became an instant club and dance hit. The Talk Dirty album also experienced longevity on the charts due to the singles “The Other Side” and “Wiggle.” However, the other tracks on the album don’t seem to gain much popularity, but they too have their own beauty. “Trumpets” is a sweet song that is reminiscent of Jason Derulo’s older works. “Bubblegum” is also insanely catchy and a possibility for another single. Derulo gets a little more sensitive in a acoustic duet with Jordin Sparks on “Vertigo.” The album contains many club hits such as its single, as well as intimate works that show off Derulo’s vocals and songwriting ability. The use of non-conventional pop instruments (saxophone, trumpet) is also a refreshing change to hear on the radio. Even though the lyrical theme is similar to many pop works released today, (sex, love, dance) Jason Derulo has managed to seem new and exciting to listen to. There is also no shortage of featured artists on this album, and they each add their own flavor to the songs they are featured on. Kid Ink’s appearance on “Kama Sutra” provide yet another club ready hit, while the aforementioned Jordin Sparks brings out the softer side of pop music. Snoop Dogg’s line on “Wiggle” gives the perfect tone to the song to make a great summer hit. This album covers a great range of pop music, and has something to satisfy any fan. Jason Derulo’s growth is apparent and it is very well crafted work.
Key Tracks: “Talk Dirty” “Trumpets” “Vertigo”
Panic! At The Disco - “Too Weird To Live, Too Rare to Die!”
From the beginning, Fall Out Boy’s influence on Panic! has been apparent. Possibly arising from their relationship with Pete Wentz and the Decaydance label, the pattern does not end on this new album. Released in the wake of Fall Out Boy’s “Save Rock and Roll”, this new work has many of the same influences seen on FOB’s comeback album. Leaning away from the typical raw guitar, bass, drum, sound of a pop punk band, Panic! brings in synths, synthetic percussion, and lots of computerized affects. However, there is no sacrifice of pop punk in this album. Any Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, or Panic! At The Disco fan will be happy with the bands work on this album. Amongst the electronic elements, crunchy guitars come through and Spencer Smith provides some seriously pounding beats. The album opens with two singles, “This is Gospel” and “Miss Jackson.” Sticking with the Fall Out Boy theme, “Miss Jackson” is reminiscent of Fall Out Boy’s first single, “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark,” with synthetic percussion, overlaid with a simple but hard-hitting drumbeat and a repetitive chorus. “This is Gospel” sounds more typically Panic!, aided by Brenden Urie’s vocals, which are stellar throughout TWTLTRTD. The band also gets a little more furious with the guitar driven “Nicotine.” And there’s no lack of heart wrenching lyrics that every pop punk album contains. Both “Casual Affair” and “Girl That You Love” show off Panic’s songwriting ability, with more intimate lyrics than provided on the first two tracks. Although the more popular songs are loaded up at the front of the album, the later tracks are rare gems that Panic! fans will surely enjoy. TWTLTRTD is overall a successful work by Panic! At The Disco, even though they tend to follow their predecessors in the genre.
Key Tracks: “This is Gospel” “Nicotine” “Casual Affair”
Sleeping With Sirens - “If you were a movie, this would be your soundtrack”
It’s pretty impossible to model an entire relationship with 5 songs, but Sleeping With Sirens did a damn good job. From initial meeting to breakup, this acoustic setlist is enough to tug at anyone’s heartstrings. Kellin Quinn sounds almost angelic over acoustic guitars and minimal percussion. One can also marvel at SWS’s song writing ability, since these tracks bring out every lyric that is screamed and blazed through on their other albums. The album brings forth images of a relationship, staying true to its name and conjuring a movie in the mind. “James Dean & Audrey Hepburn” shows the initial fascination and dedication in a relationship, before transitioning to “Stomach Tied In Knots” which depicts a relationship that is in progress. Finally, “With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear” shows how feelings change after things go sour. It was a cool concept that Sleeping with Sirens attempted, and it was very well executed.
Key Tracks: “James Dean & Audrey Hepburn” “Stomach Tied in Knots” “With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear”
Pierce The Veil - “Collide With The Sky”
Pierce The Veil released this dynamic album while touring the USA on Warped Tour. “Collide With The Sky” was a great summertime release, packed full of power-punch anthems, starting with the opening track “Hell Above”. Vic Fuentes starts off with soaring vocals and screams under the signature furious sound of PTV guitars and drums. The opener, along with the lead single, “King for a Day,” prepare the listener for what lays ahead. The album pounds, drives, and screams all the way through, enough to satisfy any hardcore fan. Another feature of this album is the “Mexicore” sound sprinkled into each song, which really comes out in the solo of “Bulls in the Bronx.” Tony Perry really shows his skills on this album both in Spanish guitar solos and overall lead guitar parts on every track. One song that came as a surprise was “One Hundred Sleepless Nights.” Poppier than the other cuts on the album, it seems to have a bit of a Fall Out Boy influence, but has enough of a typical PTV sound to satisfy most fans. ”Collide With The Sky” could have been improved with the addition of a softer song to provide a retreat from the pounding fury on the rest of the work. Although the album has no lack of emotion, something with acoustic instrumentation and an absence of screams, where the listener could intimately connect to the band, would have been preferred. Otherwise, “Collide With The Sky” is a successful work done by Pierce The Veil and will support them well as they finish out their summer tour dates.
Key Tracks: “Hell Above” “King For A Day” “Bulls In The Bronx”
The Maine - “Pioneer”
The Maine seem to change their sound with every album. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop featured clean guitars and spunky pop while Black and White was much more acoustically oriented. Pioneer brings in a classic pop punk sound with crunchy guitars, heavy bass lines, and pounding drum beats. The album brings in the punk right away with its opening track “Identify”. The song features a calm arpeggiated verse with a loud and pounding chorus. The next song, “My Heroine,” is an addicting tune featuring a catchy opening guitar riff and rowdy vocals. The album is defined by these two openers as a spunky pop rock work with lyrical themes tailored to a young boy. It flows on nicely up to “Don’t Give Up On Us,” which brings back a little bit of the CSWS sound, especially in the guitar work. A little more depth from The Maine is shown in the slower tune called “Misery.” It seems that they touch on all aspects of punk pop throughout this album, including it’s sensitive side: along with “Misery,” “Jenny” is another notable ballad that features John O’Callaghan’s vocal abilities over semi-acoustic instrumentation. The final notable track on “Pioneer” is “While Listening to Rock & Roll…” This song contains influences from a more classic rock sound and strays away from the rest of the pop punk on the album, providing for a refreshing ending. Lyrically, “Pioneer” is similar to the rest of The Maine’s albums: songs about a forlorn boy looking for love who can be a little eccentric at times. Although the instrumentation and music style differs from previous works, “Pioneer” still contains the raw energy and fun that makes The Maine, The Maine.
Key Tracks: “My Heroine” “Jenny” “While Listening to Rock & Roll…”
Linkin Park-“A Thousand Suns”
Many people were surprised by this 2010 release from Linkin Park. Fans used to screaming vocals and distorted guitars were greeted by synth chords and smooth vocal leads. Many were disappointed and dismissed the album. However, upon a second listen, one realizes that the album still contains the energy of the old Linkin Park, just expressed in a new way. The album opens with the ethereal “The Requiem.” This opening track is simply a remix of the lead single “The Catalyst.” The album then moves into “Burning in the Skies.” One instantly notices the difference in subject matter of Linkin Park’s lyrics. Rather than expressing the angst-ridden feelings of a trapped teenager/young adult, the song discusses nuclear fallout. Listening on further, “A Thousand Suns” takes on an apocalyptic tone, discussing the world’s end through nuclear war. The “new” Linkin Park does still feature elements of the “old” sound. For example, “When They Come For Me” is majorly comprised of Shinoda vocals. The rapper is at his best providing a furious-sounding, rebellious track. Moving forward from this song, the album slows down for the piano based “Robot Boy,” featuring a choral vocal part and motivational lyrics. The latter half of the album brings back the Chester screams that fans have loved, starting with “Blackout” where Chester Bennington lets it all loose under a driving electronic beat. The next track “Wretches and Kings” continues the fury, featuring a heavily distorted musical score. The final noteworthy track on this album is the single “Iridescent.” This smooth ballad features a soaring performance from Bennington containing the signature connect-to-the-lonely lyrics one expects from Linkin Park. Overall, “A Thousand Suns” takes Linkin Park in a new direction, seemingly influenced by Shinoda’s Fort Minor, but still contains glimpses of the old, raw sound. Although it’s not “Meteora,” this album still contains some promising tracks and effectively displays Linkin Park’s spunk and energy.
Key Tracks: “When They Come For Me” “Blackout” “Iridescent”
Owl City-“All Things Bright And Beautiful”
Most rockers usually balk at the sound of a synth chord but for me, Owl City has been a kind of a guilty pleasure. “All Things Bright And Beautiful” is a great follow up to the dynamic major label debut “Ocean Eyes.” The album opens up with “Real World,” a medium-tempo track expressing escapist feelings (“Reality is a lovely place but i wouldn’t want to live there”) with soaring synth leads. ATBAB picks up with the second song, “Deer in the Headlights.” This track adds the upbeat spunk to the album, with a driving beat a synth part simulating a chugging punk-guitar riff. This album definitely shows growth with Adam Young pushing his vocals to new highs. The hopeful and searching “Angels” and “Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust” feature new vocal phrasing as well as difficult back up parts (“Wake me if your out there!”). The depth on this album comes through in the acoustic track “Honey and The Bee.” Although there are similarities to Ocean Eyes’ “Bird and The Worm,” “Honey and The Bee” provides for a refreshing listen with minimal electronic parts and happy, love-centered lyrics. Owl City brings out some serious dance pop with the catchy “Kamikaze.” This track will have anyone off their feet and dancing by the first chorus. The party continues with “Galaxies,” featuring a string section and the Owl City-signature “da-da-da” vocals. The latter half of the album is more typical of Owl City and does not provide much innovation. These tracks could have served as a B-sides to “Ocean Eyes.” This goes with the exception of the funky “Alligator Sky.” Both the pure Owl City version and the rap-feature are great head-nodding listens. Overall, ATBAB features a more funk and rock influence than the pure electronic pop of OE, while still keeping the signature synth parts and smooth vocals. It gives Owl City a new direction without alienating his fans.
Key Tracks: “Honey and The Bee” “Kamikaze” “Alligator Sky”
While on an 8 year hiatus, the members of Blink-182 experimented with different groups. Vocalist/guitarist Tom DeLounge formed the quartet Angles and Airwaves while vocalist/bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker formed +44. The trio announced that they would be delivering a record again as Blink-182 in 2011. Their release, “Neighborhoods” was long awaited by the punk rock community. From the opening track, “Ghost on the Dance Floor,” it is apparent that this is not the same band from 8 years ago. Featuring synth backgrounds and a much airier sound, the hard-core Blink fan may be surprised by the new direction. The album contains tracks similar to its opener featuring synth and piano parts and a reverb inflected guitar sound. However, “Neighborhoods” does not fail to show the talent of its creators. “Natives” opens with a blazing guitar riff while “Fighting the Gravity” shows the vocal ability of Hoppus. Barker’s skills are shown throughout the album with multi-part drum beats although the fills do get a bit repetitive. The lead single “Up All Night” did not really demonstrate the full capacity of this album. “Up All Night” sounds like a mixture of different ideas that couldn’t quite gel together. The main riff and verses sound like a Hoppus-Barker mix while the chorus is reminiscent of Angels and Airwaves. The rest of the album demonstrates much more cohesiveness, especially the radio-herald “After Midnight.” The one track which features the old Blink sound is “Heart’s All Gone.” Barker drives this sound with a continuously pumping beat while Hoppus laments about a missing love. The guitar on this track is heavier than the other songs and it brings back the “First Date” feel. The lyrical themes presented are what we expect of Blink-182: a teenager lost in a world of relationships trying to find him/her self. While the new sound may disappoint long time fans, people who listen to “Neighborhoods” with a fresh mind will find it a pleasing listen.
Key Tracks: “After Midnight” “Heart’s All Gone” “Natives”
Yellowcard-“When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes”
While on hiatus, Yellowcard went through a series of changes, most notably new members guitarist Ryan Mendez and bassist Sean O’Donnell. However, the core musicians of Yellowcard’s sound, vocalist/guitarist Ryan Key, drummer Longineu Parsons III, and violinist Sean Mackin, persisted through and YC’s comeback effort does not disappoint. WYTTSY opens up with the pounding “Sound of You and Me,” showcasing Parson’s drumming capability. The song speeds on through until the bridge where the band transitions into a breakdown reminiscent of their “Paper Walls” release. Nevertheless, the song is a great opener and nice transition into the album’s lead single “For You, And Your Denial.” This song opens up with Mackin blazing through a riff that resurfaces throughout the song. It establishes the iconic violin rock sound that YC is famous for. The album seamlessly flows on through, with lyrics tailored to the emerging young adult, as he/she battles with relationships gone sour (“Hang You Up”; “See Me Smiling”) as well as the initial refusal to grow up (“Life of Leaving Home”). A gem on the album is the ballad “Sing For Me.” This song combines a piano-based verse alternating with a guitar-based chorus, all underneath a stellar vocal performance from Key. WYTTSY ends with “Be The Young” which proclaims the mantra of “forever young.” While the themes presented in this album are similar to ones in previous YC releases, the band has shown musical maturation: a combination that satisfies old and new fans.
Key Tracks: “For You, And Your Denial” ”Sing For Me” ”Be The Young”