Khalid’s ‘American Teen’: A Track by Track Album Review

1. “American Teen” – The song kicks off with arpeggiated piano chords and synth, New Wave beats that accompany Khalid’s rich, soulful voice. He sings about the opportunistic and sometimes careless life of a teenager, and his desire “to get the hell out of” his now former high school. “American Teen” is a generational anthem about happiness, finding oneself and youth’s simplicity. However, it is not until the very end (when Khalid and his friends have a campfire jam session) that listeners get a feel for being a true American teen.
2. “Young Dumb & Broke” – “Young Dumb & Broke” gives off a “Young, Wild & Free,” by Wiz Khalifa, type of vibe. This song cherishes the recklessness of the teenage lifestyle and even pokes fun at the “teenagers never listen” stereotype (“Yadadadadadadada”). In the end, however, the theme is mediocre and overplayed with a rather simple beat. Overall, the song is good, but one of my least favorite tracks on the album.
3. “Location” – This song brought Khalid into the limelight with its simplistic, but beat driven, production. The staccato piano riffs along with the smooth-like-butter vocals give this song a laid back, atmospheric vibe. Unlike other R&B artists, who got their start from hype tracks, Khalid’s first hit is a slow jam with clean vocals and sharp production. Usually, people over hype the most popular track on the album, making me dislike it. However, this song proved me wrong and has established Khalid as a powerhouse performer and songwriter.
4. “Another Sad Love Song” – Despite its title, “Another Sad Love Song” is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and is also one of my personal favorites. The chorus is electrifying and catchy, while Khalid continues to incorporate a New Wave production style. It’s simple, but allows his soulful voice to carry the entire song. Catch me jamming out to this in the car.
5. “Saved” – Another favorite and one of his earliest works on SoundCloud, “Saved” is a song with smooth guitar picking and a bass line that rings throughout. This chill, vibe-out tune is the type of song you listen to in the car during a night drive. The jazz influences compliment Khalid’s deep, sultry voice while keeping up with the modern, beat driven production. Not until the very end does the song climax with a persistent beat and a harmony sung three and four octaves higher. Listen to this song – you won’t regret it.
6. “Coaster” – On the slower side of the album, this song starts with echoing “oohs,” simple piano tri-chords and Khalid’s smooth voice. His voice is the star of “Coaster” and a true talent (especially during the layered chorus). This ballad talks about previous lovers who lost the spark they once shared and now must find a way to move on. A somber song with emotions felt by any listener, this track shows Khalid’s ability to compose and deliver a different style of song.
7. “8TEEN” – The refrain, “So let’s do all the stupid sh*t that young kids do,” completely exemplifies Khalid’s running theme of being a teenager. Although this track shares the same message as “Young Dumb & Broke,” the lyricism and composition is more smoothly executed. The catchy piano chords echoing in the background, the synth sounding bass and the lyrics without the overdone “wild and free” message are refreshing. I definitely prefer this over track two on the album.
8. “Let’s Go” – Another song that emphasizes Khalid’s love for being a reckless teen, “Let’s Go” is a complete bop about just not giving a care. I can definitely see this song being sampled and remixed at a rave or house party. Anthem like, but composed well, I dig this track and you will too.
9. “Hopeless” – I love the addition of New Wave elements such as the experimental drum samples and vibe-y piano chords in this album. Khalid is definitely influenced by many ’70s and ’80s rock artists, as well as soulful R&B. “Hopeless,” however, doesn’t do it for me. This is a forgettable track that gets lost in the other standouts.

10. “Coldblooded” –  Who hurt you, Khalid? “Coldblooded” is about the heartbreak that left him sad and longing for love. This slow jam also isn’t a standout for me. It lacks the beat driven production and doesn’t flaunt Khalid’s true vocal talent. The only part of this song I could get into was the very end, and that feeling was fleeting.

11. “Winter” – Best song on the album. I’m not even going to explain. Please, listen to it.
12.Therapy” –  “Therapy” tells the story of a girl who’s his “addiction.” The feelings he has for her give him a high that he can’t escape. In so many tracks, Khalid doesn’t give us excessive sounding runs and bellowing falsettos. Instead, he has a soft, yet powerful and warm, voice that puts listeners in a relaxed trance. His unique vocal prowess is what stands out in this song. This talent is evident throughout the album, making Khalid a rare rising star.
13. “Keep Me” – The upbeat tempo track, “Keep Me,” opens with a more pop approach, compared to the majority of the other songs. The soft, finger style guitar is accompanied by a heavy but complimentary beat as Khalid sings about the imperfections of the girl he loves. There are more electronic influences (the crashing “cymbals,” voice remixes and sampled loops) incorporated to achieve the reoccurring New Wave sound.
14. “Shot Down” – With this song, Khalid changes it up. Instead of synthesized New Wave drum elements, he takes a more natural production approach. The harmonious intro, the repetitive piano chords and the steady snapping and percussion elements define raw talent. Even the lyricism that tells the tale of an overpowering love is ever so simplistic. “Shot Down” and “Coaster” are the tracks that prove Khalid is a versatile artist. With him, less is more.
15. “Angels” – At 19-years-old, Khalid is a poet. “Angels” is a fitting song to conclude “American Teen,” with piano keys that mimic those heard in church choirs. There is no overproduction or autotune – just keys and a heavenly voice draping me in warmth. Besides the musicality, the lyricism is genuine and vibrant, making listeners feel like they’re actually surrounded by angels. This final track leaves listeners speechless, and Khalid has really outdone himself by creating art so perfect. “Angels” is a bittersweet track that merely signals the beginning of this young teen’s stardom.
There isn’t much left to say about this album. This is an amazing debut for the El Paso singer, Khalid, and it has set the bar high for himself, as well as other R&B singers in 2017. “American Teen” is one of the best albums of the year and I give it a 4.5/5.

Back from the Dead: Dance Gavin Dance

After listening to Mothership, I am now a converted DGD fan with a new found appreciation for Tillian Pearson.

Tillian’s vocals were great in Acceptance Speech. They were even better in Instant Gratification, but Mothership displays his true talent as a clean vocalist. He belts out killer vocal runs on tracks such as “Deception” and “Inspire the Liars”. His smooth transitions from quiet falsettos to intense, high strung yelling makes him a dynamic vocalist to listen to and an exciting one to watch live. Even his connection with Jon Mess is electric. Their vocals blend well together with Will Swan’s catchy riffs which make each song even more enjoyable. This formula of excellent clean and unclean vocals, experimental guitar riffs, hard hitting drums by Matt Mingus, and funky bass work by Tim Feerick is the perfect storm.

“Chocolate Jackalope” is an example of this perfect formula. In my opinion, the intro has the best riff on the album, showing off Will Swan’s instrumental chops. This track even gives listeners a little autotune, drake referenced rap portion by him. It sounds a little cringey, a little obnoxious, but when is a DGD album not cringey. Jon Mess’s lyrics are the epitome of this with lines like “he’s my widdle baby meow meow boo” (Chocolate Jackalope). “Petting Zoo Justice” features another golden line – “clip clop, clip clip clop Horse comes out and beats your parents up.” The lyricism is pure poetry.

Mothership definitely hits hard on tracks like “Philosopher King” and “Petting Zoo Justice.” Swan delivers magical guitar riffs from start to finish; no breaks, no chill. Matt Mingus’s double pedal accompaniment is a nice touch as well. The power metal elements contrast Tillian’s crooning vocals. This refreshing element exemplifies the experimental styling of DGD.

Unfortunately, “Exposed” and “Flossie Dickey Bounce” fell short for me. They seemed incomplete, something was missing. “Exposed” demonstrates Tillian’s vocal range but it would’ve been even better with Jon screaming along. On the other hand, “Flossie Dickey Bounce” lacked patience. It felt rushed, put together at the last minute, but not going to lie, the intro makes me laugh.

Overall, I give this album a 8.5 out of 10. I believe Dance Gavin Dance has found their perfect formula and I hope it will stay like that.

Favorite tracks: Young Robot, Frozen One, Deception, Inspire the Liars, Chocolate Jackalope, Philosopher King

Least favorite tracks: Exposed, Flossie Dickey Bounce

Album Review: The Struts – Everybody Wants

Hey everybody! It’s been a few weeks, but I’m back in action and ready to rant about some  new music. This week it’s all about The Struts and their fantastic new album.

The Struts debut studio album, Everybody Wants, came out last month.  Although I could do with a different album cover than the one up on Spotify (I feel like the half naked girl thing’s been done enough), there’s nothing I’d change about the music. It’s a fantastic debut for a fantastic band.

The English rock band has a Queen-esque vibe thanks to lead singer Luke Speller’s glam rock flair. His powerful vocals ring through the album.

The front-man has been compared to the likes of Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Mick Jagger. His black eyeliner, shaggy hair, and extreme showmanship feels both refreshing and reminiscent.

Chocked full of big rock ballads, there really are no slow songs on the album. It’s 13 tracks of high energy rock and roll.

Some of the highlights include Roll Up, Put Your Money on Me and Young Stars. The album also features Could Have Been Me, the single that originally rocketed the band to fame.

The album feels like the grungy side of Hollywood. The songs reflect the album title. They are full of passion, longing and triumph. Speller seems to bare his soul.

The Struts stopped by San Diego last week if you were lucky enough to catch them. They’re now making their way through the Midwest promoting their album. Here’s to hoping they make their way back to San Diego soon and bring more great music with them.

I give Everybody Wants 4.5/5. I can’t wait to hear what the Struts come up with next.

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Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Release New Album

After three long years, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis finally released a new album together on February 26.  Entitled This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, the album features Macklemore’s signature blend of raw honesty, self-reflection, and goofy humor.

The 13-track album is chocked full of guest artists singing and rapping alongside Macklemore and Lewis. 12 of the 13 songs feature guests such as Chance the Rapper, Ed Sheeran and even actor Idris Elba.

The song Dance Off sees Idris Elba challenging Macklemore to a dance off. The song, reminiscent of And We Danced, is not quite as catchy, but pretty entertaining. Another of the ‘less deep’ songs on the album, Brad Pitt’s Cousin, is sure to bring a smile to listeners’ faces with its lyrics about his famous cat and penchant for herbal tea.

Kevin, a darker one on the track list, is an album highlight. It laments a friend lost to drug addiction and criticizes our society of prescription drugs and pill popping. St. Ides, the only solo track of the album, is another highlight. It is a reflection back on Macklemore’s early years struggling with alcoholism.

These dark songs are contrasted by the more hopeful tone of songs like Growing Up.  Written for his yet unborn child, Macklemore raps out his fears and dreams about fatherhood. He gives his baby his own version of fatherly advice.  His advice includes words of wisdom such as fall in love, cheat in calculus, wear a helmet, look before jaywalking and be selfless. Featuring Ed Sheeran for the chorus, the song is a soft and sweet love song dedicated to his baby.

One of the most notable and most sobering tracks on the album is White Privilege. The song follows up where the original left off. It reveals Macklemore’s inner conflict about where he belongs in the hip hop world and how to show his support for a cause that is not technically his. He recognizes his appropriation of another culture’s music and struggles with the fact that his race has contributed to his success.

In verse one of the song he raps,

“I want to take a stance cause we are not free.
And then I thought about it, we are not ‘we.’
Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?
Is it my place to give my two cents?
Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth?”

The nearly nine minute song is a battle of conscious about who and what he and his music are and what his part in the Black Lives Matter movement should be.  He raps about how he wants his music to be authentic and to support the culture that gave him “a voice to begin with.”

After more than three years of waiting, the new music does not disappoint. It serves as  a worthy follow-up to the duo’s Grammy-winning first album.

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is a reflection of the ups and downs, the struggles and the successes, that Macklemore has experienced since his rise to fame. It may be a bit chaotic, but the “unruly mess” is what makes Macklemore, Lewis and their music feel sincere and authentic.

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