Ariana Grande’s ‘eternal sunshine’ in a not-so-spotless time

For fans of: Mariah Carey, Beyonce

It’s no secret that Ariana Grande has lost much of the public’s favor recently. After becoming embroiled in a cheating scandal that positioned her as the “homewrecker,” fans and haters alike were disgusted by her behavior. There’s certainly a conversation to be had about how many male artists do this type of thing (or worse) all the time and receive minimal criticism, but either way, it is undeniably not a good look for Grande. 

Grande’s seventh studio album “eternal sunshine” didn’t help alleviate these criticisms with the album’s lead single, “yes, and?,” a groovy piece of dance-pop that calls out people who are overly critical of her without knowing her. While this is a valid statement for a celebrity to make in general, especially given the internet’s discussion of Grande’s body and weight in recent years, she specifically references the cheating controversy in a rather snide way (“Why do you care so much whose **** I ride”- the word “dick” is censored in the song), which makes a pretty fun dance song feel a bit sour if you’re paying attention to the lyrics.

I wouldn’t normally mention this much of an artist’s personal life when giving them a brief review, but in the case of Ariana Grande, this controversy has painted a backdrop for the album’s rollout and seemingly influenced the album’s content as well. This is a bit of a shame, as the album itself is, for the most part, a very solid album from Grande.

The lyrics are undeniably the worst part of the album. If you tune out on certain songs, there is plenty of enjoyment to be gleaned, but whenever Grande references the cheating controversy — or her current love for her new partner from the affair — it makes the fun pop music she’s known for feel toxic and unrelatable. Not every track discusses these elements, but the ones that do, namely “true story” and “the boy is mine”, are generally less enjoyable.

The album does suffer from a fair handful of forgettable songs — although given Grande’s vocal talents, they’re still quite easy on the ears. But it also has a nice crop of great songs; the aforementioned “yes, and?” has an infectious vocal sample and intoxicating beat. Retro-influenced cuts like “bye” and “supernatural” boast classy instrumentals and memorable hooks. Standing out as the best ballad on the record is “imperfect for you.”.

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this record. I honestly struggle with what to say about the rest of the music — it’s just a good pop album. It is well-produced, well-performed, and generally enjoyable. Just keep the lyrics on the back burner.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER” kicks up plenty of dust and bangers

For Fans Of: (early) Taylor Swift, (early) Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves

The anticipated follow-up to “RENAISSANCE” has arrived in the massive form of “Cowboy Carter” — a long and cinematic album that sees Beyonce wholeheartedly embracing country for an almost movie-length experience, assisted by numerous features from country legends such as Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson as well as more pop-centered voices like Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. 

Unsurprisingly, Beyonce’s vocals are fantastic. She knows when to hold back and when to let loose with a flawless vocal run or high note. This is perhaps best exemplified on the track “YA YA” (my personal favorite), where her vocal acrobatics pair well with some sizzling guitar leads and a hoedown-inducing beat. The instrumental choices are very tasteful, with more traditionally rootsy blends of strings and guitar as well as more modern flavorings such as 808 drums and trap percussion. Admittedly, it was pretty amusing to hear the “D.A. Got That Dope” tag shouted at the beginning of the beat drop on “TYRANT,” but it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the song.

Honestly, the only thing that drags the album down for me is the length. It’s a bit of a patience-tester for a full listen. I think big Beyonce fans will enjoy the whole thing, and I urge skeptical country fans to give it a chance as well. While it wasn’t a personal favorite of mine, it is some damn fine country,  but it could have been trimmed down or split into two releases.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Alpha Wolf’s “Half Living Things” bashed my skull in

For fans of: Slipknot, Tallah, Graphic Nature

Australian metalcore bruisers Alpha Wolf return after a long wait since their 2020 effort “A Quiet Place to Die.” While a step down from that album — one of the best released in the modern metalcore scene — “Half Living Things” is still a great addition to the genre.

I’ll get the negatives out of the way first. The clean vocals on the album, as rare as they are, are rough. The singing is very nasal and raspy and just doesn’t pair well with Alpha Wolf’s hyper-aggressive sound. When they try to slow it down for a more reminiscent song, the results are pretty middling. Additionally, there are some pretty cringy lyrics across the album as well. Alpha Wolf has always leaned into the “tough guy” type of lyrics, and while they are generally pretty tongue-in-cheek, there are a few eye rolls to be had with some of the lines here.

That said, everything else about this album is throttling. Some songs have a bit of a nu-metal influence, with “Sucks 2 Suck” sounding like a nod to Limp Bizkit but with 10 times more aggression than any of their songs. Lead single “Bring Back The Noise” incorporates looping riffs with furious turntable scratching, adding to this sound as well. Aside from these tracks, everything else on the album is straightforwardly brutal and groovy metalcore. Some highlights include “Haunter” with its bone-rattling surprise breakdown and “Garden of Eyes” with its deadly main harmonic riff.

This is a fun and energetic metalcore album that is an enjoyable and aggressive ride across its short 39-minute runtime.

Overall Rating: 8/10

The War On Drugs’ “Lost in the Dream: A 10-year retrospective

For fans of: MGMT, Deerhunter, Tame Impala

Believe it or not, 2014 was 10 years ago. However, the sound of The War On Drugs’ classic indie rock album “Lost In The Dream” would have you believe it came out decades earlier. I was struck by how much the vocals and feel of this album sound like the 1980s. It only adds to the blurry, beautiful nostalgia this album generates.

“Lost In the Dream” combines psychedelic elements, heartland rock, and more traditional indie songs to create sprawling tracks that feel like long drives through the country. Lying down with this album playing feels like a relaxing montage of the past flitting before your eyes. The guitars add a dream-like quality to the more straightforward songwriting, and the song lengths allow for a nice atmosphere. It’s a very relaxing album that doesn’t ask much of the listener, just creating a wonderful vibe that you can swim around in.

Needless to say, “Lost In the Dream” has aged very well. It sounds both of the past and yet not dated, and it has only proved its mettle by holding up 10 years since its release.

Did It Hold Up?: YES

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