Lorde basks in minimalism on ‘Solar Power’

Solar Power, Universal Music NZ

So it looks like Lorde discovered psychedelics and watched Midsommar during quarantine – like a lot. 

After another now expected lengthy hiatus, Lorde returns to the pop field with her third studio album, Solar Power. An encore of Melodrama, the record is again co-produced with pop music mainstay Jack Antonoff. Sunny, ruminative, and decidedly more reserved than her previous projects, the album will quickly become the artist’s most divisive collection to date.

The ruminative project showcases a grown Lorde reflecting on what matters most to her. Its a deconstruction of the celebrity from the perspective of one of the most singular artists of this generation.

The first inklings of these themes are introduced quickly on opener “The Path.”

“Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash. Now I’m alone on a windswept island,” she recaps. The narrative immediately takes shape, with a less linear, more sporadically introspective tracklist revealing to fans where Lorde has been and what she’s been up to.

Throughout the LP, Lorde finds peace in reducing her life to the details, experiences, and values that matter most to her. What’s started on “The Path” continues in the form of rejecting excess on “California.” On “Big Star,” she laments the loss of her beloved dog Pearl on “Big Star.” With “Man with the Axe,” Lorde celebrates a beautifully complicated love.

The songwriter spends a large portion of the record denying the glitz that was the excess that has surrounded much of her tumultuous young adult life. Funnily enough, the project can easily be seen as a matured expansion of the perspective Lorde teased on her breakthrough hit “Royals” back in 2013. Having ironically achieved the materialistic draws of A-list fame she poked at on the single, Lorde reverts to the grounded world she once knew – inherently maintaining the perspectives she presented on “Royals.”

Where themes and ideas continue on from her first two albums, Lorde adopts a separate style of songwriting for Solar Power. The satire is thinly veiled, the metaphors and intentions more obvious. It sonically mimics the epiphanies and discoveries she’s made over the four years since Melodrama crowded the dance floors and festival lawns for the better part of 2017.

Does it make for the best music of her career? Maybe not; but, is it any less of an artistic statement than Melodrama or Pure Heroine? Not at all.

Solar Power, while less inventive in the sense that Lorde draws more heavily from previously curated songs, remains a compelling listen. It showcases a heavy roster of heroes that come from the psychedelic soaked sounds of the late 60s and early 70s. She engages in Rolling Stone drag on “Oceanic Feeling,” peaks at remnants of Pink Floyd on “The Path” and “Fallen Fruit,” and even takes inspiration from The Beatles on “California.”

Where there are many nods to the artists of the era Lorde draws the album’s aesthetics from, Solar Power is an album the artist made for herself and herself only. In doing so, does she alienate a chunk of her massive audience? Maybe, but that’s not something as valuable as that which she cherishes most.

Solar Power, if nothing else, is a celebration of life’s simplicities and a reminder to take a step back to enjoy the riches of those blessed enough to live healthy lives. To stop resetting the clock and adopting routines for the sake of cultural pressures, and instead to strip the excess and find what matters most.

These ideas may come across to some as overprivileged, and deservedly so, but in criticism of this album lives Lorde’s mass intention with the project. She shouldn’t be looked at like the pop goddess and unattainable hero she’s been made out to be. Instead, Lorde, or Ella Yelich-O’Connor, is human after all – a creative leaning poet with a flair for theatrics.

So while Solar Power may be Lorde’s least imaginative and industry rattling project, its perhaps her most confidently self assured statement yet.


Swift’s ‘evermore’ amplifies the best of ‘folklore’

evermore, Taylor Swift

They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice. They also said that Taylor Swift’s career had likely met its peak during the 2017 release of reputation. Unsurprisingly, the singer-songwriter continues to prove skeptics wrong in disrupting the conversation surrounding her music and personal life. This deep into her career, Taylor Swift still subverts expectation.

Merely 5 months after her career capping masterpiece folklore immersed listeners in a world independent of the bleak reality that is 2020, the singer announced yet another surprise full length LP. The record, evermore, is a direct continuation of folklore. The first of Swift’s albums to be serialized, the release is the singer’s closest attempt to The Beatles’ White Album. Does it succeed? Astonishingly. evermore doubles down on the strengths of folklore, decidedly adding a contemporary edge not necessarily as overtly present on the preceding instant classic.

The storytelling that sewed together the tapestry of folklore continues on evermore. There are tales of Hollywood’s Dorothea (“’tis the damn season,” “dorothea”), aching glimpses into heartbreak at all stages of life (“happiness,” “tolerate it”) and joyous expressions of love (“willow,” “cowboy like me”). Ever-present on evermore is Swift’s now expected ability to instantly compel listeners. Each subsequent track feels novel and lived in simultaneously. What’s so impressive about the more uptempo folklore sibling is this immediately timeless sound.

Excluding perhaps on its predecessor, Swift has never sounded this authentically self assured. There’s a reason evermore is displayed in color. It’s brighter, more animated than the pensive, delicately delivered folklore. The autumnal album sees Swift lean more heavily into her past pop-rock influences.

Most notably applying this style is “long story short,” a quietly revelatory account of the last few years of the singer’s personal life. Fans of this poppy style seen many times over throughout Swift’s past work can also find pleasure in this and many of the tracks on evermore. “long story short” will likely become the latest TikTok trend seeing content creators throwing it back and twerking their way through the woodlands. Swift’s uninhibited vocals reflect back on her spirit that encompassed her seventh record, Lover. Sharper and more focused, the singer has mastered what she set out to in folklore, wiping off the tattooed media press informing her image and owning her narrative with a well veiled allegory.

Swift also takes the fictional storytelling of folklore to exciting new places with collaborators old and new. On “no body, no crime,” she uses her real life friendship with Este and the rest of the Haim sisters as an entry point for a crime thriller reminiscent of The Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.” The country-folk banger showcases a playful Swift. Listeners will practically hear her smirks throughout the song’s vocal.

Other collaborations are just as fresh, with Swift uniting with the remainder of The National members on the quietly devastating “coney island.” A relative to folklore‘s “exile,” it successfully incorporates the band’s signature style to bring together a rich group dynamic. One of the album’s most pleasant surprises is the mystery collaborator on “cowboy like me,” a chess match turned authentic love affair. Now confirmed by Swift as the one and only Marcus Mumford, the two act as con artists fooling themselves into a relationship.

Individually, Swift continues to manifest what has given her the boundless platform she has today in “marjorie.” There’s perhaps no better track to encapsulate Swift’s mastery of songwriting. It’s here where Swift ruminates on her relationship with her grandmother and her later learnings of Marjorie’s life through familial inquiries. It’s a one-of-a-kind, universal observation of loss. The song details what it means to realize one’s naivety in approaching their relatives early in life. That epiphany cuts short what could’ve been a powerful relationship that informs that person’s life. At the song’s center is Swift’s staggering delivery of every last shred of her emotion.

Mirroring the more alt/indie sensibilities is deep cut “closure.” The song will almost definitely be overlooked by the majority of listeners, but it’s an endlessly interesting blend of the album’s overall sound and jarring electronica.

The album closes with the flawless “evermore.” Surpassing “exile” as the superior Swift/Vernon collaboration, the climactic finale once again pits two artists vocals against one another. Bon Iver swoops in to bring the tempo up before slowing it back down for Swift to deliver the final blows. It encapsulates the melancholic atmosphere Swift, Dessner & Antonoff have orchestrated in her music this year.

evermore is nothing short of epic. It elongates a magnum opus to provide the world with what many would consider a double album. It adds enough singularity, individual depth, and fresh sound to enrich the already scrupulous development of the world of folklore.

“The road not taken looks real good now,” Swift croons with a tongue in cheek grin on “’tis the damn season.” This knowing nod to her releasing evermore when not even her most devoted fans had anticipated it, Swift proves this.

Taylor Swift outdoes herself on ‘folklore’

folklore, Republic Records

Taylor Swift wasn’t kidding when she exclaimed, “I promise that you’ll never find another like me!” The hook to her 2019 album Lover‘s laughably bad lead single, the statement has never reigned more true than it does today.

Gone is any trace of that pop star. In her place is a daring songwriter unafraid to explore the depths of her emotion and mastery of narrative.

On the eve of its release, Swift announced folklore, a 16 song collection of indie folk songs birthed from the imagination of an indefinitely quarantined Taylor Swift. In describing the album, Swift states, “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t.”

This diversity of perspective and point of view enriches Swift in a way listeners have yet to hear. In reflecting on her own life, Swift thinks of a childhood friend with a difficult home life (“seven”), cloaks herself in a fable of a woman seeking vengeance on a town that has wronged her (“mad woman”), and celebrates unconditional love (“invisible string”).

Swift extends her talents beyond herself, applying her imagination to the folklore that aptly titles the record. Blurring the lines of history and fiction, Swift creates a trilogy of nostalgic tracks. These songs (“cardigan,” “august,” and “betty”) play with time and perspective, depicting a high school love triangle and its permanence in the memories of each party.

Further expanding the already quietly epic saga are songs alluding to history. On “the last great american dynasty,” Swift tells the story of Rebekah Harkness and her Holiday House, the Rhode Island mansion Swift would come to own. Like “mad woman,” Swift delicately sprinkles herself in the story, weaving her own mistakes into the fabric of Harkness’s life and story. Similarly, one of the most poignant moments on the record comes in “epiphany,” during which Swift pays homage to her grandfather while empathetically thinking of health workers working on a new kind of front line.

Much of the strength of folklore lays in the proof that overexposure and fame taint even the strongest of creative minds. In fact, the singer’s strongest musical statements were created from the privacy of her several homes across the globe. From reputation‘s “Delicate” to Lover‘s “Cornelia Street,” Swift has come into her own as a private person.

This newfound seclusion has really given Swift the necessary space to thrive in her exploration of the craft that brought her so much obsessive scrutiny and attention.

With folklore, Swift takes this isolation a step further, veiling once on the nose songwriting in freshly tinged metaphor. With the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, and indie king Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Swift begins again.

For the first time, Swift desolves beneath the surface of these stories. The music is no longer the diary of a naive suburban girl. This is a fully matured woman collecting scattered memories and stories, weaving them together in an intricate tapestry broadcasting the emotional spectrum. At its center, as it always is with Swift, is love.

This is an album Taylor herself needed to write, but the constraints of superstardom, pressures of pleasing the masses and those who dare lock her in a box prevented that, until now. Drawing inspiration from artists like Lana Del Rey (“cardigan,” “seven”) The Cranberrys (“august,” “mirrorball”), and sprinkles of her own past work (“Safe & Sound,” “Holy Ground”) Swift amplifies her songwriting. She shatters the magnifying glass that is the modern media’s exploitative infatuation with women in power.

In this deconstruction, Swift finally sheds the image she’s been running from since 2017’s reputation. With Lover acting as a necessary palette cleanser and closure to the pop chapter of the singer’s career, folklore is a new beginning in so many ways.

Many albums of this length, including some from Swift’s discography, unavoidably include a few duds. With this album, though, not a single song is worth skipping. While the final third of the album is noticeably slower, it only brightens the spotlight on Swift’s astonishing, unparalleled lyricism. Closing the album with “peace” and “hoax,” Swift challenges listeners to think of a better songwriter in the industry today, and they’ll likely struggle to muster one.

For anyone to doubt the limitless talents and constantly impressive metamorphosis of Taylor Swift at this point is as fleeting as the romance the singer relates on “august.” Unlike that subject matter, it will take more than a bottle of wine to sip away folklore.

‘Dedicated Side B’ arrives just in time for summer

Sitting on a pile of songs and not sure which to release? Drop two albums!

Thinking about which hook works better with a certain song? Record both!

Carly Rae Jepsen has had an interesting career in pop music over the last decade. She burst onto the scene with the enduring earworm “Call Me Maybe,” a single that shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2012 and became an even bigger cultural moment for that entire summer season.

With the accompanying album’s release, Kiss, it became apparent that the singer would simply be a one hit wonder.

While that remains incredibly untrue, Jepsen has never really reached the commercial heights she did with “Call Me Maybe” nearly a decade ago. Instead, and for the better, she’s found her niche audience, producing volumes of expertly crafted pop music for true fans of the genre.

In 2015, Jepsen released one of the best albums of the decade with Emotion. Track after track, the 80s inspired dance record is incredibly fun and even more interesting. Jepsen’s unique vocal and doe-eyed perspective is escapist heaven for the listener. That isn’t to say the album didn’t have thought provoking or cheeky tunes (see “Boy Problems” and “LA Hallucinations”). The album undeperformed commercially, but remains discussed in the pop music conversation.

Doubling down in that sweet spot was Dedicated in 2019. More of the same A-list pop, Dedicated took a more indie approach, with key highlights in opener “Julien” and Jack Antonoff soaked “Want You in My Room.”

As if the album didn’t have enough bangers, Jepsen unveils Dedicated Side B. The 12-song collection is a homerun lap celebrating the sound of Dedicated with a tinge of spice. From tropical soundscapes to 80s synths, the expansive confection is delightfully breezy.

The album is a clear celebration of love. It bleeds passion and positivity, painting a portrait of unconditional love Jepsen feels for the source subject. Side A, ironically, is the better half. The front 5 songs are each incredible in their own right.

The electropop opener “This Love Isn’t Crazy” sets the tone before stripping things down for the funky groove of album standout “Window.” Both songs adopt a narrative of Jepsen encouraging her partner their love is worth fighting for.

Following these are “Felt This Way” and “Stay Away,” two sides of the same coin. Using a very similar interpolation and identical lyrics, both tracks shine and work well in the context of the tracklist. Finally, “This Is What They Say” is the cherry on top the first lap of songs, acting as the most danceable tune thus far on Side B.

The album begins to lose steam as it intentionally slows down with “Heartbeat.” It becomes clear why the next few tracks were left of the original Dedicated, but things comeback with “Comeback.” Joined by Bleachers, Jepsen turns inward for a song about herself. It’s a beautiful moment in the album even further enriched by Antonoff’s assist. It could just as easily been featured on Bleachers’ 2017 album Gone Now.

Continuing to rejuvenate the record is the high energy “Solo,” a song about a night of independent fun sitting a top a waterbed of synth. Its the perfect embodiment of dancing away the pain of heartache.

The album closes with “Now I Don’t Hate California After All,” a slightly jarring, but extremely cute closer. Its beachy production rounds out the lyrics about the golden state. Not too deep or thoughtful, the surface level mid tempo jam is nothing but fun.

That seems to be the intent of the record. Arriving in time for the beginning of the summer, Dedicated Side B is a slight, fun pop album and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Would it have been stronger abridged to an EP? Maybe, but volume and feeding her fans consistent tunes has always been Jepsen’s game – and it still pays off.