Welcome back to the eighth installment of Spire’s Bops and Flops, the series where yours truly reviews the best and worst music of the month. I feel like I always open with this, but I am truly baffled that it’s already November. And with the transition from Spooky Season to Christmastime comes lots of new music. October’s bops include pop, pop-punk, indie and country music, so as usual, there’s something for everyone this month. Happy listening!
Don’t be fooled by the album cover and tracks titles like cowboy in LA, mama’s boy (stylized in all lowercase) does not sound like a country album. Listening to LANY’s third studio album feels like reading a diary. Emotional lyrics paired with the band’s signature dream pop sound whisk you away from your own life and into the singer’s. It is truly an empathetic listening experience.
While I did say that mama’s boy doesn’t sound like a country album, it does have lyrical and titular references to country music and southern culture. This makes sense considering two of LANY’s three members have roots in Oklahoma and Tennessee. Combined with the band’s indie-pop aesthetic, this makes mama’s boy rather unique. I’ve found that some of the most interesting and boundary pushing music comes from artists combining elements from existing genres and creating something that transcends categorization.
The two oddballs on mama’s boy are if this is the last time and i still talk to jesus. These are the outliers of the album because they’re the only two songs that don’t implicitly reference a romantic relationship. The lyrics of if this is the last time come across as a love letter to family. The song reminisces on past memories with family and expresses how quickly time seems to pass. However, i still talk to jesus is written to express the curious position of being a Christian while participating in what the church would consider to be immorality.
But if you’re a slightly over dramatic hopeless romantic like me, don’t worry, the other 12 songs on the album are for you. With lyrics like “you’re the sun to the moon, you’re my ocean painted blue, I’m nothing without you” from you and “I’ll catch a flight, go to the moon, lay on the floor of your living room, and talk about the things that make you cry, I’ll never walk into another bar, I’ll burn these tattoos off my arms, I’ll go to hell and back if I have to, I’ll do anything for you” from anything 4 you, it’s hard to not get swept up in the romance of it all.
Mama’s boy has an intrinsically human quality to it that many albums do not possess. LANY did a fantastic job of creating an almost ethereal sounding album that somehow maintains a sense of groundedness by incorporating lyrics that pack an emotional punch.
By now, it is no secret that K-Pop has taken the U.S. by storm. BLACKPINK (stylized in all caps) is smashing records as an all female K-Pop group, but they’re also breaking records worldwide for the K-Pop genre in general. If that’s not enough to convince you that they’re kind of a big deal, BLACKPINK recently scored their own documentary on Netflix.
Since their debut in 2016, BLACKPINK has been releasing a relatively small discography consisting of singles and a small EPs. This obviously left fans across the globe wanting more. BLACKPINK definitely adheres to the idea of quality over quantity, so it makes sense that THE ALBUM only consists of eight songs. But those eight songs, which include features from Selena Gomez and Cardi B, are absolute bangers.
The exception to the banger rule is You Never Know, which gives the listener a glimpse into what life at the top is like. Reflective and emotional BLACKPINK songs are a rarity, and including You Never Know as a ballad on the group’s first full blown album enhanced its overall quality.
A criticism of BLACKPINK’s music in general could be that it generally seems not very personal to both the listener and BLACKPINK themselves. It’s difficult for the listener to discern anything about BLACKPINK through their music other than their projected confidence. But there’s a time and a place for wallow-y and diary-like music just like there’s a time and a place for BLACKPINK’s music. The group is setting the curve for new, boundary-pushing music that has the power to captivate the entire world. Whether they’re singing in Korean, Japanese or English, BLACKPINK has proved themselves to be the empowering girl group that the world didn’t know they needed.
Ah yes, the reigning queen of pop has blessed us mere mortals with her whistle notes once again. Ariana Grande surprised fans this month when she dropped her single positions (stylized in lowercase) with very little warning and announced that her new album of the same title would be released exactly a week later.
Positions is a feel-good, whimsical and sex positive album, which is a refreshing change in direction from her previous album thank u, next (stylized in all lowercase). While thank u, next was also sex positive, it was definietly a breakup album. Positions is much more centered around a healthy relationship with both a romantic partner and herself. Grande has seemed to find a sense of freedom in both her album’s subject matter and vocal styling.
The star of Positions is the final track, pov. This is by far the most conceptually original and well written song on the album. The ballad is about someone in a relationship who wishes they could see and be with themselves from their partner’s point of view. Lyrics like “I want to love me the way that you love me, for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too, I’d love to see me from your point of view” are belted over a combination of string instruments and dreamy sonic elements to create an incredibly beautiful song.
To talk about this album is to talk about the second track 34+35 (do the math). For the name alone, I grant it bop status. This is a song that knows it’s funny and runs with it. And while 34+35 definitely isn’t bad by any means, it’s just missing something, which is a running theme for Positions as a whole.
Maybe it’s that Sweetener and thank u, next were so successful that they just set fans’ expectations too high. I’ve critiqued Grande in previous editions of Bops And Flops for taking on too many projects at once and not fully developing any of them, so that could’ve also lead to the problem at hand.
After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that the reason for this missing “something” is that Positions is a much more effortless listening experience than her previous albums. Grande is known for tracks like thank u, next, breakup with your girlfriend, i’m bored, and God is a woman that grab your attention whether you want them to or not. Positions has a softer tone that’s similar to traditional R&B. The reason Positions sounds a little off is because this album marks Grande’s rejection of having to prove herself and just letting the music speak for itself.
I know that country music can be a bit of a tough sell to college kids, but hear me out. Arkansas is a high energy song with a strong classic rock n roll sound. This song caught me off guard considering that Chris Stapleton makes what I like to call “music that grown redneck men consider it acceptable to cry to”. Arkansas, and Stapleton music in general, is definitely not an example of “new country”. Instead, Stapleton’s music simultaneously preserves the classic country sound and pushes the genre’s boundaries.
Arkansas is the second of three singles released so far from his upcoming album Starting Over. Starting Over will be Stapleton’s fourth studio album, and it’s release date is set for Nov. 13, 2020.
This is the pop-punk song I needed. While the single is about being wronged and hating your ex, it still maintains an optimistic tone, which I find to be fantastic. Sometimes pop-punk can be a bit too abrasive for my personal taste, but Karma does a great job of being palatable without sacrificing intensity. MOD SUN, which stands for modern sunshine, seems to have plans of releasing an album within the not too distant future, but details on the subject are scarce.
Listen, I like the sentiment. I love Christmas, and I also love Christmas music. But there was absolutely no reason for this album. I couldn’t find one song that I wanted to listen to a second time, and frankly, I think that JoJo’s voice and vocal stylings are outdated.
For those who may not know, JoJo played Hailey Rogers in the 2006 movie Aquamarine. While she dabbled in acting, her main goal was music. Her first of five studio albums was released in 2004. JoJo’s music in general seems extremely manufactured. There’s a serious lack of originality, and that is quite evident in December Baby.
On the bright side, I’m excited that it’s finally that time of the year where it’s socially acceptable to start blasting Christmas music.
Fun fact, I usually don’t look at any other album reviews until after I’ve written my own to preserve my own voice on the matter. But I made an exception for this album because it’s just that weird. Much to my surprise, many critics loved it, and I could not disagree more. I don’t care if Elvis Costello is a legend, Hey Clockface is awful.
The best word I can come up with for a holistic description is “dissonant”. Everything on this album from Costello’s voice to sonic choices just sounds wrong somehow, and it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to. Maybe that’s the point, but it definitely doesn’t evoke the emotions I think it was intended to.
It saddens me that someone who’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and who was ranked number 80 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time made an album so horrible.