Carly Rae Jepsen
The Loneliest Time
The title of Carly Rae Jepsen‘s sixth studio album The Loneliest Time is remarkably apt for a record recorded during the pandemic lockdown. For many, that period of our recent history would be the loneliest time, when self-isolation left people alone. Predictably, a project that comes out of such a difficult time means melancholy, even if most songs are up-tempo pop tunes. Jepsen taps into the inherent melancholy in 1980s-inspired synthpop, and as a result, The Loneliest Time is a somewhat somber affair.
For an artist who epitomizes bubbly pop – after all, her breakout was the shiny, almost maniacally exuberant “Call Me Maybe” back in 2012 – Jepsen is willing to sound anxious, sad, and wary. As proven by her excellent third album, Emotion (2015), Jepsen can create some blissfully brilliant pop music with the right collaborators. For The Loneliest Time, she teams up with various talented musicians who continue to build on Jepsen’s affection for the shiny, glossy synth-heavy dance pop. — Peter Piatkowski
(Empire / Atlantic)
While in her previous work Hayley Kiyoko portrayed self-actualization by breaking away from a man, on Panorama, men are barely present at all, showing that Kiyoko no longer needs to make her queerness a central part of her song’s narratives. She simply tells her own story. In “Sugar at the Bottom”, Kiyoko warns a man to stay away from her ex-girlfriend. Here, the man in the love triangle is portrayed as the outsider, with the same-sex relationship taking center stage from the beginning of the narrative, instead of being something that the narrative prepares a listener to experience.
Panorama‘s “Chance” reminds listeners that reaching the summit doesn’t mean hardship will go away forever. Sung with strong accentuation on certain melodic phrases to highlight the catchiness of the chorus, this song reassures listeners that in spite of the headstrong attitude that comes with breaking boundaries, self-doubt and inhibitions can linger. Life isn’t about making them go away; it’s about dealing with them. Kiyoko used the space she cleared for queer love songs in pop culture as a vessel to express her own humanity, reminding listeners that the most important part of a panoramic view is looking inward. — Matthew Dwyer
Years & Years
The context in which Years & Years’ Night Call is released has some similarities to the pulsing, synth-scored 1980s, which is a huge influence on the album’s music. The year 2022 doesn’t seem to be much of a relief after the difficult slog of 2020 and 2021, which saw the world gripped by a global pandemic. But we also witnessed reactionary, knee-jerk responses to world governments’ responses in ameliorating the diseases’ effects. We also see continued unrest throughout the United States with videos of police officers killing unarmed Black men. An angry and embittered outgoing president couldn’t accept his loss and incited his followers to storm the Capitol. Trans rights, abortion rights, and voting rights are in danger.
In this heady and dizzying mess, music like Night Call feels like necessary succor, a vital salve (which is what the best dance music does – it helps us forget our troubles). It’s a lot to ask of pop music, but Years & Years is more than up to the task. Night Call is a sexy, fun, at-times exhilarating album that looks with affection at the music of the 1980s but adds a smart, fresh update. Alexander has a hand in writing all of the tracks and works with some hot dance producers to create a fabulous record that feels like a natural evolution from the electronic-pop past of Years & Years’ previous efforts. — Peter Piatkowski
If My Wife New I’d Be Dead
If you were to type the letters CMAT into a search engine just two short years ago, you would find information about the Common Management Admission Test, an online computer-based test conducted by the National Testing Agency, India. These days, results are dedicated to Dublin’s self-professed “Global Pop Star” Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, the catchier acronym CMAT being her stage name. Her music has taken Ireland by storm, with her debut album, If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, entering the Irish album charts at number one. Her live shows sell out to fans who sing along to her comically inappropriate lyrics. With such hype surrounding, what appears to be, the human equivalent to clickbait, one may ask if her success owes more to her intentionally garish promotional content, or are the tunes really that good?
Not even the most ardent music snob, who CMAT’s tongue-in-cheek pageantry may well put off, can deny that this artist has a natural musicality and honesty, the two qualities needed to write great tunes. If My Wife New I’d Be Dead is a fully formed debut, replete with big choruses, imaginative song ideas, and enough charm to carry the album’s almost one-hour running time. — Jay Honeycomb
Regardless of which stage of sobriety Demi Lovato was in during which recording process, it’s more than clear that Holy Fvck was the album they needed to make, part of a process of grief, mourning, and healing. Billed as a highly anticipated return to their pop-rock roots, the record is, in fact, an edgy and emotive hard rock album that is a refined and sophisticated collection of songs. Although Lovato’s fanbase has long yearned for a return to “Rockvato”, their affectionate nickname for their Disney pop-rock days, Holy Fvck is far from that.
Instead, it’s the emo-punk persona that the singer has spent most of their life building, and the one they needed to release in order to heal from trauma and anger. These emotions culminate most on tracks like “Eat Me” and “29″, the latter of which deals with the inappropriate circumstances surrounding one of their long-term public relationships. If anything, Holy Fvck proves that maybe it was Lovato’s pop albums that were the fluff, and this is the substance—pun very much intended—that they’ve been looking for. – Jeffrey Davies
Michael Hadreas of Perfume Genius leans into his own definition of ugly—one that takes the binary, twists it, and leaves its corpse bleeding on the side of the road—with Ugly Season, delivering his most experimental, wandering, and gorgeously unkempt album to date. Spanning over 52 minutes with just ten tracks, it’s his longest record and his most sprawling in its soundscape. We’ve never heard a range of instrumentation on a Perfume Genius record quite like this before.
Hadreas has always proven to be a gifted lyricist and composer, at once headstrong and impossibly fragile, who knows how to tell stories filled with tragedy, theatrics, and even a dash of humor. On Ugly Season though, gone are his self-immolating cries of loneliness and clever takedowns of heterosexual establishmentarianism that embellished the genesis of his career. What takes their place are enigmatic musings on grief, tracks that swell beyond the eight-minute mark, and uncanny arrangements stitched together in a Frankensteinian patchwork of phantasmagorical harmonies. — Michael Savio