We continue our countdown from part 1, starting with:
10. Marianas Trench – Ever After
Marianas Trench make their first and not final appearance on this list with what is, in my view, their second weakest record. However, it still has a fair bit going for it in terms of quality.
To begin with, let’s get everything I didn’t really care for on this album out of the way:
To start with, there’s the stuttering gimmick on Stutter – while I do think it’s a good song, I don’t think it’s a great one, because the stuttering gimmick on the post-chorus and bridge is kind of irritating. I get the idea behind the song and why they did it, but I don’t think that decision paid dividends. The chorus has a great vocal melody, so it redeems the song considerably, but I really could’ve done without the stuttering. Moving on from there; on By Now and Fallout, Josh Ramsay doesn’t actually complete his thoughts. She should know you better than… what? “I know you’re fine but what If I”… what? Come on, don’t leave me hanging like this!
Then there is the bizzare accent that Ramsay employs on the first verse of Truth Or Dare… and that’s not to mention the bizzare electronic vocals on the post-chorus. The bridge on B Team, too, is a moment of contention for me – I just… don’t really like the way it sounds. And finally – and this is the big one – So Soon.
Look, this sounds fine – even good – but what is the deal with these fucking lyrics? Really? I get not being over your ex, but you can’t just fucking tell her that you don’t want to see her happier with someone else, and ask her to be lonely so that you can feel like her moving on was too soon. Come the fuck on! You’re better than this! I know you are!
Now, I know what you’re thinking – what the fuck? How can I possibly defend this album, never mind put it this high on the list, when I’ve levelled some rather harsh criticism against it? Well, this may be a revolutionary concept to some, but I don’t think a bad song has to make the whole album it’s attached to bad, nor do I think that a… shall we say, questionable at best sentiment has to necessarily tar the rest of the body of work. Has this album got problems? Yeah, glaring problems. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the things that it got right, which I will list off now:
First of all, there is the way that all of the songs on the album flow into each other. It adds a feeling of cohesion to the project that I think is pretty underrated. It’s definitely something you don’t run into in modern albums very often, which is a shame.
The title and opening track, Ever After, is probably the best album opener of all time. The instrumentation is varied and colourful, the melodies, especially on the verses, are phenomenal, the choir vocals that open the track establish a neat little leitmotif that carries throughout the project, and I really love the lyrics as well. The track is immediately followed up with Haven’t Had Enough and By Now, both of which are pop rock perfection. I’m more partial to By Now, with its string arrangement, the textured acoustic guitar and the strong, melodic chorus, but Haven’t Had Enough is also a really solid tune. On paper, nothing about this should work: if you start to actually pay attention to the melody, it doesn’t appear to be nearly as catchy as it actually is, Ramsay oversings on a considerable portion of the song, and the lyrics are… confusing to say the least, but Ramsay really manages to make it all work, it’s a really solid, enjoyable track. Ditto for Desperate Measures and Fallout.
Porcelain, one of the slower tracks on the album, is a really nice letter to a friend or loved going through depression. The composition is simple but effective, and the lyrics really are top notch. And Toy Soldiers, while appearing creepy and stalkerish on first glance, is an effective cautionary tale about what happens when you can’t control yourself. The song was written from the perspective of a fan who sent the band a really aggressive, creepy letter, and it will hopefully cause people who hear the song to reflect on their behaviour.
Don’t be creepy, guys.
Is this project perfect? No, absolutely not. But it does have enough positive elements going for it that I feel justified in looking the other way when it comes to some of the less great parts of this album. For that, it gets a decent 8/10 score from me.
9. Michael Giacchino, Camille – Ratatouille
Ratatouille has been my favourite movie of all time for a considerable time, and I really enjoyed its score, so it only made sense that I listened to the full soundtrack. And, yeah, to the surprise of no one, it’s fantastic.
The actual movie crafts a FANTASTIC visual atmosphere of Paris, and the music complements it exceedingly well, thanks to the musicianship of Michael Giacchino. The main theme is established early on, with Le Festin, featuring guest vocals from French singer Camille, and the melody line from that song pops up consistently throughout the rest of the score as a recurring motif. It sounds fantastic, especially on the track Wall Rat, which plays as Remy is climbing over buildings in Paris, only to reveal the evening skyline of Paris as the first reprise occurs. There’s other great moments on here, too, such as Anyone Can Cook, the backdrop to Anton Ego’s monologue about critics, which is probably one of the best moments in film history, or “Special Order”, a track which is equal parts chaotic and relaxing.
Whether the score is trying to paint a romantic picture of Paris, build suspense, or just complement a humorous scene, it is flawlessly executed; the finest soundtrack album I’ve ever listened to. 9/10.
8. Foxes – All I Need
This album seemed like an obvious choice to listen to. For the two of you who remember the T2P Films Song Ranking, one of my earliest videos, I ranked the song she did with Zedd, Clarity at the top of the list. I stand by that opinion – I don’t like Zedd very much, and he did his damndest to ruin the song, but Foxes’ natural charisma, and the lyrics she was presented with, elevated the song into the great tier. So, on my quest to expand my music tastes, I listened to both of her studio albums this year, and, having left time for it to sit with me, I definitely think that this is the stronger of the two.
This project was a grower. I first heard it back in April and while I did like it, for the longest time I didn’t really feel any reason to revisit it. I only started to come around on it mid-August, and within a matter of days I not only really began to enjoy the songs that I thought were good the first time around, but I also began to warm up to songs that I didn’t much care for on initial listen.
In his review of the album, Mark of Spectrum Pulse compared her music to that of Carly Rae Jepsen’s, but with more modern stylings, and I’d say that that comparison is fairly accurate for the most part. Both have an ear for vibrant and melodic pop songs, and are also very good at crafting ballads. I would say, however, that Carly Rae is the stronger technical songwriter of the two – the most consistent problem this album faces is that, in places, the technical lyricism just doesn’t click as strongly as it could, and in places feels rather pedestrian. The flaws here aren’t even that in-your-face, really, but you have moments like the pre-chorus on Amazing or the second verse on Devil Side, where I come away thinking “there has to have been a better way to phrase this”.
Am I being a meticulous prick? Yeah, probably.
And true, this isn’t a problem that is present on the majority of the record – the rest of Devil Side, for example, is really well written, as are breakup tracks like If You Leave Me Now, Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, On My Way and Scar.
There are some fantastic musical moments on this project as well – on Wicked Love you have the pre-chorus, and the compressed synth intro which returns as a guitar solo on the tail end of the track; there’s the string arrangements on If You Leave Me Now, and subtly peppered in throughout the rest of the project, and Amazing, with the combination of vocal melodies and synths on the post choruses, particularly the last one with the extra backing vocals. Off the deluxe edition there’s also the pre-choruses of Lose My Cool and All I Need, and really all of the reprise of Rise Up. I enjoy these tracks, instrumentally speaking, quite a bit, particularly as they provide some much needed relief from some of the more mechanical sounding beats on the album, such as on Body Talk, an otherwise solid offering, or the disturbingly out of place hi-hat progression on Cruel.
With that being said, I’m feeling a 9/10 on this project. It has a few problems, but nothing all that significant. It’s a pretty great album, check it out.
7. Alvvays – Antisocialites
One underrated gem of 2017 is the sophomore album from Toronto-based indie pop band Alvvays. With Antisocialites, they held onto the sound that they were channeling on their self-titled debut, but expanded on it, with better production to boot, producing what was, in my opinion, a more streamlined and cohesive project.
I was immediately taken with this project and it only got better the more I listened to it. Instrumentally, it’s a fairly laid back album, but things are kept interesting throughout. The songs have a solid melodic foundation, Molly Rankin as a frontwoman is a perfect fit for the atmosphere of the album, and there’s some interesting lyrical ideas at play here, such as the gently-tinged sadness lamenting the doomed relationship on Dreams Tonite, the general existential despair on Forget About Life, or the insane, drug-fuelled relationship on Lollipop (Ode To Jim). The production is subdued but atmospheric, especially on Not My Baby. It’s a little difficult for me to describe, but it justs set such a great tone.
The former three tracks that I mentioned, as well as In Undertow, are the songs that I would consider my favorites off the project. Already Gone is my least favourite song by default, mostly because it’s a bit too subdued compared to the rest of the album, although that’s not to say it’s a bad song by any stretch. All in all, I really liked this project – I can’t promise you’ll love it, but it’s worth a listen nevertheless. 9/10.
6. Paramore – After Laughter
This is probably Paramore’s second weakest album. This, of course, is a meaningless quantifier – when you’re a band as consistent and talented as Paramore, your very weakest project will show up the vast majority of artists at their peak.
It doesn’t have as strong a storytelling arch as their self-titled record does, nor do I think that, for the most part, it reaches the soaring highs their previous albums do with songs like Last Hope, Anklebiters, Hate To See Your Heartbreak, For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic, When It Rains, The Only Exception, Misguided Ghosts or All I Wanted, to name but a few, but my intention with this entry isn’t to bring the project down, because it is still very well done. Paramore have abandoned their pop punk roots and embraced a new-wave sound with dignity and precision (Fall Out Boy, take notes) and their songwriting hasn’t suffered at all, even if I do think the word choices on a couple of tracks here feel a bit more pedestrian than on their previous projects. The band still sounds like a real band and not a Hayley Williams vanity projects, the instrumentals are lively, and the brutally honest songwriting that made me love the band in the first place is still there.
My favourite songs from this project are Pool, which is the most reminiscent of a recent era Carly Rae Jepsen song, Fake Happy, for most closely achieving the band’s intentions of emotional catharsis in a very upbeat, joyful sounding song, 26 and Tell Me How for their more stripped back but no less emotionally potent compositions, and Rose-Colored Boy, for having an instrumental and storyline that are equally engaging and interesting.
My least favourite songs on this album are No Friend – again, kudos to the band for trying something new, but I don’t think it really paid dividends, Grudges, for just being less catchy than a lot of the other songs on this album, and, surprisingly enough, Hard Times. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great song, but I feel like it disguised its dour lyrical sentiment a little too well as compared to songs like Fake Happy or Told You So or even Idle Worship, which strike a finer balance that work better for what the band is trying to do. There are elements at play in the aforementioned songs where you know that they’re not supposed to be happy, even if they sound it – such as the screaming chorus on Fake Happy – but the cues on Hard Times just aren’t there, so it blends in a bit too much as a dance or party song.
Despite these criticisms, though, it’s an all around solid album. Definitely a highlight of the year, and if Paramore keep moving in this sonic direction, I’m all for it. I’m feeling a decent 9/10 on this project; check it out.
5. Marianas Trench – Masterpiece Theatre
Marianas Trench make a second appearance on this list, this time with their excellent album from 2009.
The band had a bit of a rough start with their debut album, Fix Me. I thought the lyricism was okay for the most part, but the rough, unpolished musical stylings of the album really did it no favours. Well, in the years between Fix Me and Masterpiece Theatre, Josh Ramsay refined his songwriting skills and his vocals, and brought forward one of the best pop rock albums of the 2000s.
There’s a lot going for this project, so we can start by talking about the loose conceptual framework this album established that has sort of acted as a blueprint for Marianas Trench going forward. The title track, or in this case the first of three, establishes a concept for the album, whether it be it’s story or a recurring musical motif, and the closing track sort of ties together everything that happened on the album, including reprising some of the project’s most noteworthy songs. On Masterpiece Theatre III, you get a reprise of every single song on the album, which I thought was pretty cool.
There’s a lot of really good songs on this album. Acadia is probably my favourite, as it’s a song about nostalgia, and you’d have to fuck up pretty badly for me not to like it. The song is powerfully written, with equally compelling melodies and instrumentals. Cross My Heart was the one Marianas Trench song I’ve known about since my childhood, so it’s deserving of a mention here as well, even though I think it’s only a mid-tier song on the album (still a 10/10). Sing Sing and Perfect, two jabs at the music industry, are both very upbeat and tons of fun, and Lover Dearest is a flawlessly composed lament of one’s drug problems. Finally, I really enjoy all three of the title tracks, with Masterpiece Theatre II probably being my favourite of the three, especially the second chorus with the string arrangement in the background, and the bridge, with the backing vocals repeating “I’ll wreck this if I have to / Tell me what good would that do?”
My least favourite song on this project, Celebrity Status, is one I would consider merely decent, in a sea of otherwise great songs. I find the song to be a bit too similar to Cross My Heart, the lyrics not as interesting as the other two songs they’ve got on this record calling out the music industry, and the aggressive delivery of the final line of the chorus to be a bit… off. It’s not a bad song by any means, mind you, it’s just not one I tend to come back to frequently.
This is a very, very good album. It is much better, for the most part, than Ever After, even if that album’s title tracks remains my personal favourite Marianas Trench song. Marianas Trench win the most improved artist of 2009 award. This is also one of my 10/10 albums of the year.
In the summer of 2014, I heard I Wanna Get Better, the debut single from the previously-mentioned Bleachers for the first time. Although I didn’t think much of it at the time, the track did stick with me over the years so it was only logical that I ended up finally listening to the album it came from. I’m glad I did.
4. Bleachers – Strange Desire
Going into this album, I had no idea that I would end up liking it as much as I did. I mean, I’d been familiar with I Wanna Get Better for several years by this point, and even before listening to the album, I’d decided it was one of my favourite songs of the decade, but I had no idea just how much I would end up enjoying the rest of the album it was attached to.
So how did this miniscule, unassuming indie pop project manage to scrape it onto my top 10 list this year? Well, as I mentioned in my review of Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do earlier this year, Jack Antonoff has a number of strengths, none of which he played to on that song. It seriously made me reconsider my perception of pop songwriting, and how much the lead writer influences the overall sound of the track. But I digress.
This project has quite a bit going for it: Jack Antonoff is a likeable and charismatic frontman, he has a noteworthy ability to craft a compelling, emotionally charged narrative, and he has a gift for writing equally compelling melodies and instrumentals. Let’s start by talking about the music; because the amount of fantastic moments on this album beggars belief: the choruses on Like A River Runs and Reckless Love, the bridges on Shadow and Wake Me, the verses on I Wanna Get Better, Rollercoaster, You’re Still A Mystery, Who I Want You To Love – is it any wonder that Antonoff is in such high demand as a pop producer when he has essentially mastered the art of pop songwriting in a way few individuals ever have?
Instrumentally, too, this album is terrific; a breath of fresh air in this year’s pop landscape, which seems to be moving towards far moodier, less colourful and interesting instrumentals. Strange Desire is an unabashed 80s pastiche, and although some have called the instrumental choices on this album “cheesy” (a proposition I don’t agree with), it is nevertheless a very colourful sounding album. Wake Me has my favourite instrumental on the album; the gorgeous guitar line that opens the song, and the flute flourish on the second verse, really add a kind of old timey simplicity to the song, which works well with its simple but charming declaration of love. The synths that open Wild Heart and Rollercoaster, and especially the solo on Reckless Love, too, are as delightful as they are atmospheric. Then you have great guitar lines, such as the breakdown on I Wanna Get Better, the intro to Shadow or especially on the latter half of the verses to Like A River Runs which add their own distinct personality and flavour to the songs as well.
Lyrically this album is just as captivating as it is musically. There’s a loose conceptual framework in the tracklisting about an old love returning into your life, and all of the emotions that arise from such a thing happening. My personal interpretation of the events is that Wild Heart takes place in the present day, and then the tracklisting takes us back to that relationship all those years ago, ending with the breakup on I’m Ready To Move On / Wild Heart Reprise. Who I Want You To Love then brings us back into the present day, in which Antonoff once again promises his devotion to his lover, but with some reservations, almost like he knows the relationship is doomed to go up in flames once again. Peppered in throughout the track listing are three songs which are not obvious pieces to the puzzle, but nevertheless provide a look at three other emotions: Like A River Runs, a cry of lament for his deceased sister; I Wanna Get Better, a primal scream of agony and a wish to move on from his depression and sadness, and Reckless Love, a song which Antonoff has said is about his own relationship with himself. In an interview he said that the way you talk to yourself, your internal monologue, you would never talk to another human being that way. All of this is as potent as it is engaging, wrapped up in a melodic and wonderful pop package. I can’t ask for more than this, I really can’t.
The album has a very strong tracklisting; almost all of the songs on here are songs I want to revisit on a regular basis. The album hits a bit of a speed bump at Take Me Away featuring Grimes, which is not nearly as strong as all the tracks that precede it, but I do enjoy the sort of creepy, otherworldly vibe the song puts forward, enhanced by Grimes’ ethereal sounding vocals, so it’s not too bad. The next track later (Like A River Runs) the album regains its momentum, which it carries until I’m Ready To Move On / Wild Heart Reprise featuring Yoko Ono. Among the albums that I listened to this year was Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2, which is a covers album of this project which features each song reinvented by a different female vocalist. I would say that the cover of this song on that album, as well as MØ’s cover of You’re Still A Mystery are the only covers which outshine the original; and keeping in mind I do like the original You’re Still A Mystery.
There are a number of problems with the original Wild Heart Reprise; not only is Yoko Ono not nearly as good a vocalist as Susanna Hoffs, who performs the cover, but the production is a lot messier, to the track’s detriment. The vocal filter applied over Antonoff’s voice really did the song no favours, and while I understand that it could be justified as a way of distinguishing from the original Wild Heart in some kind of prominent way, I’m really not a fan of its usage. I will say, though, that the echoed, compressed sounding reprise of Reckless Love towards the end of the track sounds pretty nice, so it’s not all bad.
To sum up, Strange Desire is a phenonemal record that marries engaging storytelling and stellar pop songwriting to create one of the most unique and noteworthy projects I’ve listened to all year. I like Gone Now a lot more than most people do, but Strange Desire is definitely the tighter, more cohesive record. I don’t dislike a single song on the project. Overall, I’m feeling a 10/10 on this album. Jack Antonoff gets two thumbs up.
Please never sample any more strange novelty pop songs, though.
3. Marianas Trench – Astoria
Marianas Trench make their final appearance on this list, with their most recent offering – Astoria from 2015. I’ve liked a lot of their previous stuff but Astoria, to me, is by far the strongest project in their catalog. It is my favourite album of theirs musically, and especially on a lyrical level, where I feel it really shines. The project was conceived when Josh Ramsay’s life fell apart – his mother was diagnosed with dementia, his engagement fell apart and he landed in the hospital for a spell himself. The end result is a suitably epic concept album about moving on from this dark place in his life, with an important reminder about how important is it to take your life into your own hands and do whatever is within your power to reclaim your life. The sequencing on the album is probably one of the best examples of any project I’ve listened to, and really manages to convey the message in a very effective way. The sequencing, too, helps this album feel like a cinematic experience: each track adds an important piece to the story, and they flow together really well. The instrumentation is varied and colourful, and the inclusion of orchestral arrangements on the majority of the songs – not to mention the interludes – further adds to the movie-like feel.
There are many strong tracks on this album. My favourite song on the project is End Of An Era; a free-flowing mashup of about four or five individual song concepts that sums up the overall arch of the album: Ramsay has outlined the journey that brought him to this point, but now he’s got to move on, and urgently. The album has a lot of highlights, however, including One Love and Wildfire, both of which could qualify for having the best instrumentals on the album; Who Do You Love, which is one of the quintessential songs on the project that really hammer home the point about how you have to try and reclaim your life; and Forget Me Not: a song that Ramsay wrote to his mother, and probably one of the most gut-wrenching songs I’ve ever listened to in general. Take note especially of that voice crack on the tail end of the first chorus; it’s one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever listened to. Those are my personal picks for favourites, but I like every song on this album to some extent. If I did have to offer a criticism, it’d be about the central section of the title track – the one that details the drunk hook ups. I don’t think it’s as strong, melodically speaking, as the rest of the song, so I consider it to be inferior to End Of An Era. Similarly, While We’re Young has a fantastic everything, except for the chorus, which is fairly underwhelming. But that’s just me nitpicking.
Astoria sees the band moving closer to a pop sound than ever before, but at no point does it feel forced or disingenuous. The melodies are strong and memorable, but these don’t come at the expense of any other elements. The writing is more heartfelt and emotional than on any of their other albums to date, and the sequencing and extensive use of the orchestra adds this theatrical feel to the whole experience, which means it’s that much more hard hitting than if they’d just used their standard pop rock instrumentation. As a result, the album gets a 10/10 and an absolute recommendation from me.
You could easily make the argument that this is the most intricate and well crafted album discussed at any point in this countdown, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. But despite all of that, there was one collection of songs that managed to hit me even harder than Astoria did, and, in keeping with the themes of this list, it has to be said, too, that it came from a singularly unexpected source. But before we get to my top pick for the year, the time has come to discuss a few albums which didn’t quite stick the landing, but managed to produce a couple of notable cuts any way:
The Naked And Famous – Punching In A Dream (Passive Me, Aggressive You)
Passive Me, Aggressive You was one of the most oddly disappointing albums I’ve ever listened to. The track that made me want to listen to it – Punching In A Dream, is still electro-rock perfection, though.
Adele – Million Years Ago (25)
I already liked the three singles, Hello, When We Were Young and Water Under The Bridge a lot, but Million Years Ago is a standout deep cut from 25. It’s a lament of the past, like When We Were Young, but far sadder. Good song.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Your Heart Is A Muscle (Kiss)
Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2nd album, Kiss, cobbled together just months after the unlikely smash success of Call Me Maybe, did not, in my view, play to her strengths, and as a result a portion of the songs left me feeling unsatisfied. While she brought a fairly good set of lyrics and vocals to the table, the album was largely let down by her producers, who thought it would be a better idea to pander to all the trends of 2012’s pop music rather than try to rise above them. The end result is that we get songs like Tonight I’m Getting Over You, which has a solid melodic foundation, but utilizes a dubstep flavoured drop for the chorus and leaves somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth. Or Beautiful, which rather shamelessly “borrows” from the lyrical sentiment of What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction, and brings along 2012 Justin Bieber for the ride – to say that the most charismatic person to ever stop foot behind a microphone didn’t gel well which Bieber’s brand of stale, try-hard attempts at emoting is an understatement, and the fact that Carly Rae had no hand in writing it herself really did it no favours either.
However, that’s not to say that the album didn’t have its highlights, because there were a few, with the closing track from the standard edition, Your Heart Is A Muscle, being probably the best one. Pure and unassuming in the typical Carly Rae Jepsen style, this was the song that struck me on first listen that it was hinting at better things to come.
Taylor Swift – Getaway Car (reputation)
I have big problems with reputation, but this is pretty great. And I mean; I should hope so, considering it’s essentially Rollercoaster from Strange Desire again.
Kanye West – Miscellaneous (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
I like this album, it’s probably my 2nd favourite in Kanye’s discography. I do think that there was a fair bit of fat that could have been trimmed without losing sight of the big picture, but all things considered, it wasn’t a bad listen. Some highlight tracks include Gorgeous, All Of The Lights and Dark Fantasy.
Calvin Harris – Slide (Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1)
Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 was a haphazardly constructed album, putting together performers that don’t fit at all on a song to mixed results. Slide is about the only song from this project I can fully endorse.
Lady Gaga – Million Reasons/Perfect Illusion (Joanne)
Joanne was not a good album, but the singles Perfect Illusion and Million Reasons most definitely were. Probably Gaga’s best singles since Just Dance, to be completely honest.
Back in the spring of 2016, I was fresh to the music reviewing scene, and I made an… interesting statement, to say the least. In discussing the sonically unsatisfying vocal melody of Zedd’s song Find You, I said this:
“See also: Run Away With Me by Carly Rae Jepsen, but more on that later. Actually, probably not…”
Huh! Who’d have thought.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION Side B
1. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION
Well, actually, if you really wanted to get technical, the list should look like this:
3. E•MO•TION Side B
But that would mean I’d have to have two separate segments where I sing the praises of what is essentially one body of work, so I hope you’ll forgive this license I’m taking in favour of having a smoother flowing post.
Carly Rae Jepsen is an endlessly fascinating character in the pop universe, to be certain. I didn’t hate Call Me Maybe, I thought it was catchy enough, but that song came out during the peak of my pop hating teenager phase, so it didn’t really have a place in my heart at the time.
I was similarly underwhelmed in 2015, when I Really Like You and Run Away With Me came out. The latter especially felt like the melody on the chorus was building up to something bombastic and over the top that it never managed to pay off; each time I listened to the song I came away feeling unsatisfied. And by the time Supernatural with Danny L Harle came out, I was ready to consign Carly Rae to the same pile of artists as Ariana Grande – I understood why someone would like them, but they weren’t really my cup of tea.
So what prompted me to listen to this album in the end? Well, a few people on the Twittersphere pointed me to Boy Problems in October 2016, which I actually enjoyed a fair bit, so I figured I’d give the source record a chance. I unfortunately spent a lot of time listening to records that I didn’t care for, such as Beyonce’s Lemonade or The Beatles’ Abbey Road, so by the time I FINALLY got around to listening this past April it was long overdue. It was worth the wait, though: despite my skepticism going in, listening to E•MO•TION, and Side B, turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in 2017. Every single positive thing ever said about these two releases ended up being completely true.
I’m kind of amazed at how much I took to this collection almost immediately, considering how ambivalent I was to almost everything I had heard from Carly Rae before that time. When I posted a review of Chvrches’ 2015 album Every Open Eye on Twitter in September 2016, I actually prefaced it with the statement “Stop listening to Carly Rae Jepsen and listen to this instead”, which is probably in the top 10 dumbest things I have ever put into writing. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Chvrches a lot (expect to read more about them on this blog in the near future), but in terms of ear-wormy retro pop, Carly Rae is very much an equal. Actually, I might be inclined to give her the edge. Don’t get me wrong, I think Chvrches are great, but I’ve always felt a little distant to their confusing, metaphor-laden songwriting. This is not an issue on E•MO•TION, and it makes for a stronger album overall.
One of my biggest gripes with charting music since 2016 is that a lot of it has felt very anonymous, impersonal and was all around a complete drag to listen to – when it comes to the vast majority of pop hits from the last couple of years, I didn’t much get the feeling that anyone involved in the creation process actually cared. Carly Rae Jepsen’s music does not have that problem in any way. She’s talented and likeable, and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her songs are just as emotionally potent as those of any other genre I’ve listened to. Instrumentally her music is also very colourful and lively, which again is something I don’t feel can apply to a lot of hits from the last couple of years. More of this; less moody, downbeat trap instrumentals.
Let’s get the least favourite songs out of the way first, since those are few. Now, I will say that there is nothing on either of these releases that is really egregious or offensive – in fact, every song on here is at least decent tier, and quite frankly far more enjoyable to listen to than so much of the shit that’s been clogging up the charts the last two years. But I’ve got my problems.
My least favourite track, not only from these two releases but probably from the entire E•MO•TION era, is The One. It’s not a bad song, mind you; it could certainly wipe the floor with 95% of the charting hits of the last couple of years, but I would say it’s not Carly’s best work. I don’t think the chorus is that catchy, I think the production sounds kind of on the cheap side as compared to a lot of her other songs, and then there’s the bridge. Considering what Carly usually writes about, her warnings of “don’t fall in love” are unintentionally hilarious… but you can’t hear them properly! Until I read the lyrics on Genius I had no idea she was saying actual words at all.
I find LA Hallucinations and Making The Most Of The Night to be on the weaker side of tracks as well. I don’t have any cohesive nitpicks on the tracks, I just never found my way to them in the same way I did a lot of the songs on this record; though they’re not without their highlights, such as the pre-chorus and bridge on the latter. I Really Like You is a song that grew on me quite a bit as well, although I do think it’s got the weakest technical songwriting of any track on this record – seriously, “sipping on your lips”? “Who gave you eyes like that, said you could keep them?” Beyond that, and the rather repetitive chorus, no complaints from me.
In terms of highlight songs, there’s a lot here.
One standout track from E•MO•TION is Run Away With Me, which did end up clicking with me… finally. It’s this ode to youthfulness and adventure that works far better than a load of songs I’ve heard in the mainstream recently. Take The Chainsmokers for example, who try to capture the same euphoria and exuberance of youth, but ultimately their music feels far too cynical and calculated to leave any kind of impact on me. On the other hand, Runaway With Me captures that feeling effortlessly. It’s just so happy and endearing. Gimmie Love is another highlight: despite the admittedly simplistic chorus, I find this to be a pretty charming little song. This is one of those songs, a la Paramore’s The Only Exception, that works in no small part because of the personality of the performer – had this come from anyone else, I probably wouldn’t like it very much, though there are elements at play here that are strong nonetheless; such as the gorgeous vocal melody on the verses, or the extra backing vocals on the final choruses. It definitely needs that Carly Rae Jepsen touch, however, to solidify it as being one of my favourite songs from the record.
There are a lot of fantastic instrumental moments on this album as well: the sparkly synths and the subtle, atmospheric guitar licks on All That; the incredible-post chorus synths on E•MO•TION and Your Type, and, really, all of Let’s Get Lost, which is a delight from start to finish, especially the backing vocals and saxophone on the tail end of the chorus. In fact; let’s talk about Let’s Get Lost, because this song really is something special.
I think that there is a beauty in simplicity and innocence, and this song delivers on that in spades. The overwhelming majority of music that is out there is either a reflection of the evils of the world, or a direct response to them. Let’s Get Lost seems… rather disconnected from that, if that makes any sense. It’s a really innocent song, but not in a way that makes it seem sanitized or sterile. That’s something that’s virtually impossible to pull off, but she did it.
On the other hand, Warm Blood was a song that I found rather unsettling at first, but over time it became another one of my favourites from the album. Apparently, if your song has a strong melody line I’m basically guaranteed to like it. It is a slightly bizarre song – the pitch-shifting on the tail end of the first chorus is really out of place on the project, the multiple layers of vocals on the second verse were a similarly unusual aesthetic decision – not to mention the organ-like synth that comes in on the second verse gives it a bit of an unsettling, otherworldly atmosphere – but for some reason, it works.
Off of E•MO•TION Side B, my favourites would have to be Fever, Roses, Cry and Higher. All of these songs are great for the exact same reasons that made the original E•MO•TION great – fantastic melodies and production, and stellar songwriting.
I could go on and on, because the E•MO•TION era is packed to the brim with incredible song after incredible song, but this could take all day and I’m sure you’re getting tired of me raving about “vibrant and colourful production”, so I’ll wrap it up.
I’ve been harsh to a lot of pop music this year. In particular, my worst of 2017 list is probably the most cynical and bitter I’ve ever been about it. That’s because I love pop music and I want to like so much more of it than I actually do – but I don’t feel that the charts are at all representative of the highs that the genre can reach in the care of someone who doesn’t view the genre as something to be exploited. I think that the future of great pop music lies in acts like Carly Rae Jepsen, CHVRCHES, and Bleachers, who show unmatched passion and dedication to the music creation process. E•MO•TION is the album that I credit with helping me to realize this and opening a whole realm of new music that I wouldn’t be interested in listening to otherwise, and it is the one that struck me the hardest and stuck with me the longest, so I feel it more than deserves the number 1 spot. Is it perfect? No, of course not, there’s no such thing. But the weaker elements are so few, and the strong elements are so plentiful that they don’t really matter. Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION is a 10/10, and the highest of recommendations.
Also, the demo version of Making The Most Of The Night with Sia on vocals is the single worst piece of audio ever recorded, and I will hear nothing to the contrary.
And before the end of this post, here are a bunch of honourable mentions, in no order:
Bleachers – MTV Unplugged
It’s a live album. You get what’s on the box.
Lorde – Pure Heroine
A.K.A. the superior Lorde album. Notable tracks include Ribs and A World Alone.
Ella Henderson – Chapter One
Debut albums don’t tend to be very good, but this one shows a lot of promise.
A pity we’re not likely to see a follow up.
Tor Miller – American English
An engaging, atmospheric ode to the seedier side of New York City life.
Taylor Swift – 1989
This is SO not better than E•MO•TION. In literally any way. It’s not even close to being Taylor Swift’s best album!
It’s still a fairly decent project, though.
Alvvays – Alvvays
Yeah this isn’t as good as Antisocialites, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good cuts here. Shoutouts go to Party Police and the very 80s sounding The Agency Group.
Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
In part 1, when I wrote “in part 2 I will be discussing and praising a fairly great album namely for its political themes”, this is the album I was referencing. I don’t think I like it, musically, quite as much as American Idiot, but this is very well done nonetheless; politically, this is everything American Idiot should’ve been.
Jeff Rosenstock’s a very good lyricist and his social commentary is on point, the songs remain melodic and catchy despite their very raw and unpolished stylings, and his screaming is cathartic.
Charli XCX – Sucker
This only ended up clicking with me fairly recently.
‘S good, though.
Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal
This is a pretty nice folksy sounding album, and Little Talks is one of the most underrated hits of 2013.
And on that note, that concludes the list. Thank you so much for reading, and hopefully something I said sparked your interest and inspired you to listen to one of these albums. As always, if you have any input on how I can improve my content, I’m open to hearing your thoughts. And if you’re interested in a full ranking of all the projects I’ve listened to, check out my list on RateYourMusic:
Next time, we will be reviewing something more current. Until then!