Album Review: Kesha – Rainbow

By Anna Cowan (@L0VESICK)

Sometimes, the smallest changes to a person are the most significant – it could mark a turning point in one’s life, or a symbol for a newly found freedom. For Kesha, it was a name change – the removal of a dollar sign from her stage name. Without context, this could appear minor, but it is everything for her.

If you see the name ‘Ke$ha’, your mind may be cast back to the iconic year of 2009, where this where this pop queen’s glitter-trash anthems such as ‘Tik Tok’ topped the charts, and audiences globally were charmed by her wild blonde mane and ripped denim shorts with lots and lots and lots of glitter. Flash forward a few years and the dark truth hidden behind her image was brought to light – and with that, the once iconic dollar sign was gone. In 2014, Kesha accused her label’s founder and producer Dr Luke of sexual abuse and misconduct, following her stay in rehab due to eating disorders, with doctors claiming his abuse had caused ‘severe depression, stress and panic attacks’. However, she was unable to be granted release from her contract with Sony Music, meaning Dr Luke remains in charge of her music and career, leaving her face to face with her tormentor. This sparked fury online, creating the #FreeKesha hashtag to grant Kesha not only creative, but personal freedom. The trial itself has not begun, but Kesha remains in an unfortunate and degrading situation.

This context is hugely important when listening to her new album, Rainbow, her first album in five years since 2012’s Warrior. One thing must remain key in the listener’s mind – this context is not what this album is about. Indeed, it acts as influence and inspiration for many tracks, such as the album’s opener Bastards, kicking off the album with a smooth and rousing ballad, with lyrics such as But they won’t break my spirit / I won’t let ’em win / I’ll just keep on living, keep on living, oh / The way I wanna live clearly directly linking to her lawsuit with Dr Luke. However, it is obvious that Kesha is self-aware of how consuming this issue is, and thus in Rainbow she ensures that she shows the world that she is not just a victim.

Many tracks on Rainbow act as an ode to her former image, and show that she is in fact still that girl. Songs such as Boogie Feet incorporate a heavier, guitar infused hook courtesy of Eagles of Death Metal, and her cheerleader-like chanting sounds like a somehow effective mix of her previous discography with Kathleen Hanna inspired vocals. As well as this, Learn to Let Go uses an anthemic beat alongside powerful lyricism to create a superb and catchy pop song, which is easily a highlight on the album.

Rainbow is also effective in showcasing how pop can, in fact, be diversified and genre-breaking – and what better way to do that than with a Dolly Parton feature? On Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You), Kesha sounds particularly in her element with this country-inspired, bluesy track, with Parton’s instantly recognisable voice weaving gorgeously with Kesha’s. What’s more, Let ‘Em Talk once more features Eagles of Death Metal, with a fast-paced electric guitar fuelling an angsty, middle-fingers-up side to Kesha we’ve seen many times before, but this time her middle fingers are directed at those who doubted her.

Of course, however, the album features many moments of vulnerability in amongst such high-energy songs. These are undoubtedly the most gorgeous parts to Rainbow, in which Kesha truly shines. Title track Rainbow was written whilst Kesha was in rehab, where she sings of self-recovery and building herself back up again. Single Praying is a glorious highlight; as though it were penned as a letter, Kesha directly addresses her enemy with vivacity despite her pain. But, this ballad is no wallow in self-pity – Kesha proves how far she has come despite her experiences, singing: And I don’t need you / I found a strength I’ve never known. It may sound clichéd, but Praying genuinely is inspirational for anyone going through what may seem like the most difficult time of their life.

Whether you notice the removal of the dollar sign or not, it is clear that Kesha has found herself at a momentous time in her life, where she is faced with a difficult and trying future, but yet it is clear that she is determined to remain strong and fierce. Rainbow is an empowering, fun and at times highly moving album; it is not perfect – the silly, cringy parts of Kesha’s previous discography are still prevalent in tracks such as Boots – but overall it is a triumph, especially when considering what she has been through. The listener is left with one, powerful to take this message from the record: your experiences do not determine who you are – you do.

7.5/10

Album Review: Dan Croll – Emerging Adulthood

By Anna Cowan (@‪L0VESlCK)

Very rarely do musicians successfully combine a range of sounds, beats and melodies to create a truly diverse pop album, but yet somehow multi-instrumentalist Dan Croll manages to just pull this off in Emerging Adulthood, his sophomore album. His debut Sweet Disarray, which featured extremely successful singles such as From Nowhere, packed a punch with its booming electronica beats, but it is with Emerging Adulthood where Croll truly defines himself as a proud pop artist – and a talented one at that.

The album’s opener One Of Us is one of the it’s busiest, with its fiery combination of jingle-jangle beats and electric guitar somehow all fitting well together, despite something about the track seeming slightly off and not entirely together. In comparison, Bad Boy seems oddly stripped down but yet it is still filled to the brim. Its lyrics seem somewhat immature and almost pre-pubescent, such as “He watches James Dean on movie screens”, but it should be said that the album wasn’t created for the purpose of being profound, but to create a fun and light-hearted listening experience, which it certainly does.

Other album highlights include January, which has obvious Glass Animals vibes with its smooth, oozing vocals and jumpy melody. In addition, Swim uses the vocals of Rebecca Hawley of Stealing Sheep, which gorgeously compliment those of Croll. Some tracks such as Do You Have To? seem slightly filler, but this does not distract from the fullness of the earlier songs on the ten track album.

Overall, Dan Croll has sculpted a summery, eclectic record which, despite being infectiously poppy, is not boring or unimaginative. The colour and texture of the album is obvious which makes it a hugely enjoyable album to listen to if you’re looking for something for the poolside. I warn you now – you’ll be left wanting more.

7.5/10

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ALBUM REVIEW: CIGARETTES AFTER SEX – S/T

By Anna Cowan (@‪L0VESlCK)

Even by judging the band’s frank name “Cigarettes After Sex”, it’s clear to the listener that frontman Greg Gonzalez is a bit of an open book – and the intimacy and delicacy of their self-titled debut album confirms this. As though it were his diary, Gonzalez takes the listener through ebbing and flowing waves of melancholia and lust – themes which are recurrent throughout the band’s discography. 

Forming in 2012, the band rose to fame through online streaming services, as many do these days; but yet, their sound does not necessarily reflect this medium. Rather, it is soaked in nostalgia and is coloured black and white, creating an atmospheric listening experience as opposed to one of texture and diversity. Previous tracks from the band such as the notable “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” feature simple yet deeply emotive lyrics, thus setting a tone for Gonzalez’s writing: pure, uncomplicated romance. This style remains in their debut, and is what defines it as an album of hazy passion.

The album’s opening track ‘K’ is particularly notable for using this stunning simplicity. The echoing intro and Gonzalez’s whispering vocals illustrate a simplistic love story, straight out of a Hollywood film. The direct address to the woman in the chorus could, in theory, be anyone to the listener, making this a gorgeously overly-romantic ballad.  Much of the album follows this idea similarly; “Each Time You Fall In Love” features the same light drum beat and hazy melody, but with much lonelier lyrics, clearly depicting a more sombre theme, but yet one with an underlying romantic undertone.

Sweet” stands out as a track rich with emotion, perfectly fitting the album’s theme. Gonzalez finds the perfect medium between sexy and dreamy, with lyrics such as “You know that I’m obsessed with your body / But it’s the way you smile that does it for me” depicting a passionate affair. Similarly, “Opera House” paints the picture of a love-at-first-sight romance, another beautifully crafted track with a much more hushed tone.

However, despite these moments of gorgeous intimacy, some moments on the album are almost cringe-worthy and uncomfortable. On “Young & Dumb”, the final track of the album, Gonzalez sings “Well I know full well that you are / The patron saint of sucking cock”. Indeed, Gonzalez may think this is just a bit of tongue-n-cheek humour, but it sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to the previously stunning lyricism featured on the album.

It would seem easy to some to compare Cigarettes After Sex to other ambient-indie acts such as Beach House and Mazzy Star, but this album nor do the band themselves entirely fit this comparison. Rather, it follows a very consistent structure whilst creating a different story for each track. Repetition is a slight issue for the band, however, but upon listening to the album as a whole the listener is caught in a trance of hazy dream-pop. Thus, as a whole this self-debut is a step into a lust-driven, incredibly romantic and poetic mind, and through showing the listener an almost anecdotal approach to this, a gorgeously rich and intense album is created.

7/10

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