Sam Smith finds liberation in convention

Love Goes, Capitol

“I wanna be wild and young, and not be afraid to lose,” Sam Smith coos in the opening line of their long reworked third studio album Love Goes. The dance pop record, originally titled To Die For, is essentially a breakup album explored through the theme of rebirth and re-acclamating with oneself.

Like Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Red before it, the album finds enlightenment in heartbreak. The biggest issue with the project isn’t that its themes are familiar, it’s that Smith’s self actualization comes in the form of their weakest artistry to date. The bulk of the record feels so commonplace it only beckons listeners to reassemble with Smith’s past work. With each wave, it’s pulled in a new sonic direction, none of which stick the landing enough to dazzle.

Opening with “Youth,” Love Goes has a clear narrative of love lost. Smith’s heartbreak is well worn in the intro as they yearn for the next phase of their life. Before they find it, they succumb to memories with bitter hindsight on standout “Diamonds” and “Another One.” Their partner, shallow and quick to move on, has done a number on the pop crooner.

The remaining story of the album is Smith’s crawl back to themself, gluing their soul back together to new sounds. Similar to Lorde’s “Green Light,” they find solace on the dance floor and in the forms of new bodies and friends. If only this profound realization was reflected in a stronger, more unified production.

The majority of the songs on Love Goes play it extremely safe. On “So Serious,” Smith reflects on their lack of freedom, taking things overly personal. It’s set to a backdrop of snaps and claps that, if played at a low volume, may lay listeners to sleep. Instantly forgettable, the track lacks substance. Similar is the often whispered vocal of “Breaking Hearts.” Another song of losing love and the one sided aftermath Smith experiences, it too lacks conviction and singularity.

Perhaps most disappointing is the Labrinth assisted title track. In a year when Labrinth simply never misses (listen to the award winning Euphoria score immediately), the single is exactly that. What is meant to be the cathartic climax of a once in a lifetime love, it leaves listeners with little more than a shrug.

There are moments of sparkle within the album. One of the strongest moments comes in “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else).” The track is one of the few actually convincing moments of Smiths newly established sound. Applying the popular UK sound found in house pop like Calvin Harris’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” the song effectively supports its confident lyricism.

Unsurprisingly, Smith shines brightest when they slow down the party with the ballad “For The Lover That I Lost.” It’s a rare glimpse of the artist fans have come to love over the years. Their voice is truly once in a generation, and it couldn’t be more apparent than on this gem of a deep cut.

At 11 tracks, the standard edition of the album closes with “Kids Again.” A Troye Sivan esque track reveals a still hurt, but more matured Smith. Its another glimpse of the sound they were going for in constructing the project.

The biggest flaw of the record is its directionless structure. Where Taylor Swift’s Red lightsped through genres through the lens of the emotional process, Love Goes fails to justify its sonic incoherence. Some of the strongest statements lay in the deluxe tracks released across the last year and a half, namely “Dancing With a Stranger” and “To Die For.”

If nothing more, Love Goes shows an artist willing and committed to evolving. Whatever’s next, Smith has the potential to grow into whatever they want to become next.


‘Positions’ doesn’t quite switch up enough

Positions, Republic

No one pumps out consistently strong new music as frequently as pop sensation Ariana Grande. In the past two years, the singer released a whopping six singles and two albums, both debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200 with Top 10 Hot 100 debuts for each track. Even for a pop star of her echelon, this feat is extremely impressive.

What’s more, Grande accomplished these rare milestones in the midst of some of the most painful, public tragedy imaginable. A tumultuous, grief stricken break-up went from tabloids to the studio, and thank u, next was born.

To that fans and music lovers alike said thank you, but what’s next?

Positions, the singer’s sixth studio album, attempts to answer that question. Helmed by her newest relationship, the album largely draws from the sound Grande mastered with thank u, next. Where the former had a jaded, morbid attitude, Positions reveals a more aloof, cautiously optimistic Grande. She’s more mature, more calm, and more self-aware when it comes to her approach to love.

Conceptually, Positions is one of the singer’s more interesting works. It amply tackles its titular theme in compellingly abstract ways. She looks at love and her life through the lens of various vantage points, interestingly relating her experiences and woes with her increasingly mass audience.

She stews in self-doubt and uncertainty on “off the table (feat. The Weeknd)” and “motive (feat. Doja Cat),” reflects on her life, past and present, with confidence on “just like magic” and opener “shut up,” and imagines herself in her partner’s shoes on closer “pov.”

Regardless of perspective, gone are bonafide hits like “7 rings” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” and replacing them are softer, more laid back Kehlani influenced novellas.

One of the most prominent examples of this deeper R&B tinged aesthetic is brought forth in the long teased cut “nasty.” With a lethargic trap drum, ambient atmosphere and relaxed vocal performance from Grande, the single shows the singer in deeper, more sexual territory. Drawing influence from early 2000s R&B and current artists like SZA, this continues on the effortlessly sultry “west side.”

Grande even dips her toes into disco on “love language.” One of the more experimental tracks on the record, it’s the perfect kind of disco for the bedroom. Grande has never sounded cooler or confident, especially on the commanding outro.

The former tracks considered, each song on Positions has a flighty sense of weightlessness. Credited to the joy Grande’s found in her newest love perhaps, this aspect is as much a strength as it is a fault. Upon the first few listens, listeners will fail to latch on to a song or songs that bolster the album. The 14 track record is decidedly slight at 42 minutes.

This dearth of longer or more fully produced tracks may leave many listeners wanting more to the point of dissatisfaction. Positions often plays like the thank u, next b-sides. There are many songs strong enough to warrant a spot on a studio album, namely standouts “just like magic” and “obvious.”

Others like “my hair,” however, lack the conviction and individuality that made thank u, next such a smash. Whether Positions was meant to make waves and redefine Grande or not, fans will find gems on the tracklist to carry them through the indefinite remainder of quarantine.

Grande likely would have benefited from a longer wait before releasing a thank u, next follow-up. With Positions, though, she evidently does as she pleases. At the end of the day, 7 years into her career, she gets everything she wants ‘cus she attracts it.


Catalogue Check: Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has grown through popstar evolution and personal tragedy. With perhaps the strongest vocals out of any singer in pop today, the songstress has withstood countless heartbreaks, romantically and publicly, and dealt with far more than most people can say. The one constant, though, has been music. Through it all, the superstar has bared her soul to the world and picked herself to travel to new heights. As we await the arrival of positions later this evening, let’s look back at each of Grande’s studio albums, ranked.


A Definitive Ranking of Every Ariana Grande Album:

5. Yours Truly (2013)

From its inception, Yours Truly was meant as an experiment. Opener “Honeymoon Avenue” went through several reworks, and after the success of one of the strongest singles of Grande’s career in “The Way (feat. Mac Miller),” the remainder of the record opted for a contemporary doo-wop R&B sound. It has a lot of highlights, namely the aforementioned intro, as well as “The Way” doppelgänger “Right There (feat. Big Sean)” and deep cut “You’ll Never Know,” but it pales in comparison to the more fully realized artistry of her follow-ups.


My Everything, Republic

4. My Everything (2014)

Grande’s sophomore effort was less of an album and more of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” project. Her most, industry speaking, political record, it offers the glossy EDM of its time in “Break Free (feat. Zedd)” and an impressive array of collaborations from the biggest names in R&B and Hip-Hop. In addition, who can forget that sax on “Problem” and the guest spot from now irrelevant Iggy Azalea. The album could not be more from its time. That said, it doesn’t have much of a voice or any real insight into who Grande is as an artist. Bangers? Quite definitely, but like from Yours Truly, compelling artistry is the missing piece in this bloated pop confection.


Sweetener, Republic

3. Sweetener (2018)

Sweetener is an incredibly complex project. Coming after the Manchester attacks in a time when Grande found joy in a new love, it’s a glimmer of hope in what continues to be a violent and uncertain cultural moment in history. Grande enlisted the help of the ever-present Pharell Williams and longtime collaborator Max Martin for the bulk of the album, which is as much an asset as it is a burden. The different styles of the aforementioned producers make much of the album a jarring, disjointed listen. It lends itself to trap pop in “God is a woman” and “everytime,” but also showcases Grande’s best N.E.R.D. impressions in “the light is coming” and title track “sweetener.” Some tracks are complete throwaways, while others remain some of Grande’s strongest work. As an entire project it’s messy and uneven, but its ambition alone elevates it from much of the singer’s past work.


thank u, next, Republic

2. thank u, next (2019)

The fact that this album, in all of its cultural ubiquity, did not win Album of the Year in 2020 was a huge shock to most. Led by dual smash hit singles “thank u, next,” the biggest and baddest ex kiss-off of the 21st century, and “7 rings,” a revamped Sound of Music banger, the album was undoubtedly the most talked about of the year. While the lyricism could have been stronger, the empowering narrative and personal growth Grande poured into the record remains an astonishing feat, only months after the Sweetener release and death of dear friend and partner Mac Miller.


Dangerous Woman, Republic

1. Dangerous Woman (2016)

From the moment “Dangerous Woman” was released into the world, pop Stans and music listeners everywhere did a double take. Here she was, a near fully realized superstar finally seizing the power of her own vocals. What followed was a decidedly “good girl gone bad” evolution for Ariana Grande. Does it cater to the cliches of pop albums that have come before it? Sure, but it does it ever so stylishly. Coming before a wave of grief completely and unfairly removed an innocent young woman from a joyous time in her life, the album showcased Grande at her most powerful and least problematic. There was no brown facing, instead a collection of timeless bangers cohesively stitched together in her strongest project to date. Dangerous Woman is peak pop.

Fall Favorites: Best New Music

If music is in the age of the independent artist, then 2020 is the renaissance of innovation. Forced isolation and physical entrapment has led to an escapism in creativity from a never before seen scope. This forced reality alteration has proven its profound impact on musicians. With more music coming out and new ways of releasing and promoting it, this is one of the few industries to find enrichment throughout this time (though we of course all miss our live shows).

This season, check out the below EPs from new and up-and-coming artists injecting their own DNA into the veins of the global music ecosystem.


I’m Allergic to Dogs! Remi Wolf

I’m Allergic to Dogs! – Remi Wolf

Remi Wolf is one of the most creative songwriters to breakout this year. “He likes his cherries when they’re Maraschino, he likes his movies when they’re Tarantino,” she asserts on standout track “Disco Man.” The set is incredibly fun and demands a few repeats with every listen. Funk, pop, and indie electronica provide a compelling backdrop from a lyricist unafraid to explore the facets of herself and share them with the world.

For fans of: Cautious Clay, Ryan Beatty, BROCKHAMPTON


Skofee, Signs From The Universe Entertainment

Polished – Skofee

The self-proclaimed “Beverly Hillbilly,” singer-songwriter Skofee impresses with a debut EP well beyond its years in maturity and artistic integrity. The 5-song set, released earlier this month, largely tells tales of loss, heartache, and self doubt. Amply titled, its juxtaposes the artist’s internal strife with a vocal performance so self-assured it beckons skepticism of how novel this artist really is. Indie pop has never been so emotionally affecting. Prepare to cry in the club (looking at you, “Bleach”).

For fans of: Tove Lo, Charli XCX, BANKS


Good Things, Atlantic

Good Things – Wafia

Wafia has been around for quite a while now. Her biggest hit remaining the Louis The Child collaboration “Better Not,” the multicultural alt-pop craftsman has yet to make her own mark on the pop sphere. That’s not to say the artist isn’t locked and loaded with some of the most powerful and introspective bangers. From “I’m Good” to this project’s “Flowers & Superpowers” and “Good Things,” Wafia balances vulnerability and confidence in a relatable way. This project has both, stitched together by a strong woman finding her way in life and love.

For fans of: Empress Of, King Princess, Lennon Stella


On Self Loathing, McCall

On Self Loathing – McCall

It’s endlessly impressive for any artist to be able to encapsulate internal anxiety and stress. A hidden battle, it often goes unnoticed by others. With her latest project, On Self Loathing, McCall powerfully achieves this. Both in sonics and lyricism, the artist is able to pinpoint the thought pathways that carry people through waves of depression. Beginning with “Nothing Even Wrong,” a dreamy, Bon Iver inspired opener, the artist volunteers her struggle to find the source problem for the feeling of hollow sadness. “I’m sorry I can’t come out, I really hate myself right now,” she secedes on the bouncy “Without Even Trying.” Endlessly honest, On Self Loathing forces listeners to think of the parts of themselves they shy away from, painting a relatable portrait for everyone.

For fans of: Bon Iver, The 1975, The Japanese House