Four New Albums for Quality Pop/Pop Rock Fans

collection

This reviewing business is a side thing for me, so I don’t have time to review tons and tons of releases, but one of my goals for music and movie reviews this year is to review at least every album and film that I am interested in. However, sometimes there are releases that I want to tell you guys about, but I feel like I don’t necessarily have a lot to say about them. With that in mind, here is the inception of a new review format for ED: the collection review.

Collection reviews will consist of super short reviews of a certain number of somehow related releases. Each individual review will be about 300 words, and within those words I’ll give you all my quick thoughts and opinions.

So here’s the first. Enjoy!

☆☆☆☆

wr_twbab

Artist: White Reaper

Title: The World’s Best American Band

Genre: Garage Rock/Pop Punk

Release Date: April 7, 2017

Length: 31 min.

Label: Polyvinyl

Producers: Kevin Ratterman

Personnel: Tony Esposito (lead vocals, guitar), Nick Wilkerson (drums), Sam Wilkerson (bass), Ryan Hater (guitar)

White Reaper is an up-and-coming band from Louisville, Kentucky that embodies the aggressive, fun, and grimy nature of blue-collar rock. If you haven’t heard them yet, go check them out now, especially this, their newest and third release.

Led by Kevin Ratterman (who produced other fantastic records like Punch Brothers’ The Phosphorescent Blues and My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall), the band does a fine job capturing their sound and energy. So far, they’ve really been one of those bands where people say, “They’re better live.” They have an ecstatic energy and drive that is difficult to capture on an album. But Ratterman and the boys in the band do a good job here. The album opens with a faux live performance of the title track, and it feels like the guys are having the time of their lives. For half an hour, they pour out their heart and souls for rock ‘n’ roll, and that feeling comes through the speakers. When it’s over, you will want to start it over again.

White Reaper’s sound is kind of a mix between blues-influenced garage rock and the kind of pop punk that leans more heavily into traditional punk, with Clash style vocals, fuzzy guitars, solid bass backbone, and straightforward but skilled drums, with occasional piano and synths. A fantastic, if not necessarily super memorable, ride from beginning to end, and if pop punk had a consistently good sound, it might be this.

Grade: 78%

Favorite Songs: “Judy French,” “Eagle Beach,” “Little Silver Cross,” “The Stack,” “Crystal Pistol”

☆☆☆☆

liberation

Artist: Art Nation

Title: Liberation

Genre: Power Pop/Rock

Release Date: April 28, 2017

Length: 43 min.

Label: Gain

Producers: Jacob Herrmann, Theodor Heström, and Christoffer Borg

Personnel: Alexander Strandell (lead vocals), Christoffer Borg (guitar, backing vocals), Johan Gustavsson (guitar, backing vocals), Simon Gudmundsson (bass guitar), Carl Tudén (drums, backing vocals)

When America is not producing enough quality rock or metal, especially power rock or metal, we have Europe to pick up the slack. An act I can only think to describe as Power Pop Rock, Art Nation, from Sweden, just want to rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day. Now here they are with their sophomore and improved release.

Their secret weapons hereare their lead guitarist and bassist, and they know it. Borg’s pacing fretwork and Gudmundsson’s often funky and sometimes progressive bass work just sound excellent, and they are definitely the best things about the sound of Art Nation, but the rhythm guitarist and drummer are truly solid as well, and Strandell has a strong voice, even if it is not that unique.

The group themselves are like an interesting pop rock mix of The Struts (glam rock/pop), Battle Beast (power metal), and Rascal Flatts (contemporary country). Maybe that’s a weird comparison, but it’s the best way I can think to describe Art Nation. They have a lot of rock swagger, but also some glam style, ’80s cheese, and Strandell’s vocals, which sound similar to Rascal Flatt’s Gary LeVox, and even some of their compositions have that modern country thing going on, though they certainly aren’t performed country style by any means. I have to say, I really enjoyed giving Liberation a few spins.

Grade: 70%

Favorite Songs: “Ghost Town,” “Maniac,” “The Real Me,” “Kiss Up & Kick Down,” “A Thousand Charades”

☆☆☆☆

hs

Artist: Harry Styles

Title: Harry Styles

Genre: Pop Rock

Release Date: May 12, 2017

Length: 40 min.

Label: Erskine/Columbia

Producers: Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson, Kid Harpoon, Alex Salibian

Personnel: Harry Styles (lead vocals, backing vocals, guitar, omnichord), Jeff Bhasker (keyboards, steel guitar, moog synthesizer, piano, backing vocals), Tyler Johnson (keyboards, piano, backing vocals), Kid Harpoon (bass, guitar, backing vocals), Ryan Nasci (bass, steel guitar), Mitch Rowland (drums, percussion, guitar, backing vocals), Alex Salibian (guitar, keyboards, piano, backing vocals), Jeffrey Azoff (backing vocals)

It’s time for me to eat some crow. Harry Styles’s self-titled debut is actually a good album, containing the broad command of various genres that a decent pop record should.

Sometimes soft, sometimes glamorous, well-balanced, and pleasing to the ear. It contains worthwhile instrumentation, especially some nice bass work, good vocals, solid (if silly) lyricism, and pop compositions more mature then I expected.

I think it helped that Styles attempted to remove himself from current outside influences. Is it as deep and personal as Styles wants? Probably not.But it does show a bit of musical individuality while paying tribute to Styles’s musical heroes (I hear traces of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, Sheryl Crow, and the Arctic Monkeys), while also serving as a terrific debut for a post-boy-band solo artist surely destined for good things if he continues down his current path. It’s very much, also, a tribute to ’60s and ’70s pop and rock ‘n’ roll, and while it embraces the cliches that come with that, it does them justice too, unafraid to go all in and implement both bombastic and quite instrumentation, lyrics that match the tones, Gospel style choirs, and harmonies.

Grade: 72%

Favorite Songs: “Sign of the Times,” “Carolina,” “Sweet Creature,” “Only Angel”

☆☆☆☆

after_laughter

Artist: Paramore

Title: After Laughter

Genre: Pop Rock/New Wave

Release Date: May 12, 2017

Length: 43 min.

Label: Fueled by Ramen

Producers: Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Taylor York

Personnel: Hayley Williams (lead vocals, background vocals, keyboards, percussion), Taylor York (guitar, keyboards, percussion, background vocals), Zac Farro (drums, keyboards, percussion, bells), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (bass guitar, keyboards)

I’ve always avoided Paramore, as I don’t care for their usual brand of super diluted pop punk and alt with saccharine lyrics and little substance. Not that they’ve never been good. Their self-titled album was certainly above average. Just not a huge fan overall. Well, it looks like time for more crow.

Here, Paramore has moved their sound toward a ’70s and ’80s synth-pop vibe, managing to hearken back to Blondie-era new wave without coming across as fetishist or too sugary. It even has elements that tie into the ’70s new wave acts associated with CBGB’s early days and disco. I also hear moments that remind me of HAIM’s unique blend of indie pop, soft rock, and R&B, plus a breeze of Twenty-One Pilots.

After Laughter‘s best songs are insanely infectious, but the lyrics also contain some interesting observations that venture beyond the usual pop relationship drama fare and into decently mature thoughts on life, our generation, and culture. The instrumentation and the vocals are good, especially the bass and drums, and the songs in their choices, compositions, and placements are done well, though a couple sound out of place.

The things I usually dislike about Paramore, in addition to a few moments slightly too close to emo stuff, are still here a bit, but mostly just the best parts, and everything is wrapped in such fun and quality music that I forgive it.

Grade: 74%

Favorite Songs: “Hard Times,” “Rose-Colored Boy,” “Forgiveness,” “Grudges,” “Idle Worship”

☆☆☆☆

What a year this is turning out to be where I give positive reviews to Paramore and the solo venture of a previous OneDirection member!

I was going to throw the new Blondie album, Pollinator, in this review collection article, but I decided Blondie deserves their own regular length review. So I’ll get to that as soon as I can. In the meanwhile, if you’re wondering what my thoughts are on Pollinator, I’ll give you this: go check it out! It has some great stuff, and whether you’re a long time Blondie fan or new to the band, I think you’ll enjoy at least something on the album.

5 thoughts on “Four New Albums for Quality Pop/Pop Rock Fans

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