Helios by The Fray:
After their last effort in 2012 received mixed reviews, The Fray returns with an album that rocks a bit louder than their typical soft rock or pop genre. This makes for some compelling songs, like “Hurricane,” an extended metaphor about how the woman he loves is dangerous for him to approach, and “Hold My Hand,” the leading track that utilizes gritty vocals and a strong chorus to create a catchy and memorable hit.
Sadly, such a strong approach makes the album tiring and overwhelming, especially when many of the songs begin to sound far too similar to each other. Some of the choruses do not feel quite right because they are drawn out and the harsh singing tends to grind the eardrums.
When production does choose to stray from the typical formula that most of the record follows, the impact is quite successful. Slight variations in instrument use and beat make a few of the tracks more enjoyable. “Same As You,” the final track on the album, implements some of these peculiar choices that make it more interesting than the more generic songs. It also continues the theme of potentially the best song on the album, “Shadow and a Dancer.” The skillful use of imagery, emotion and production creates a wonderful atmosphere. It is beautifully fashioned and practically begs for its own music video, as the listener can’t help but imagine a ballet dancer practicing in her personal studio, completely alone apart from the weaving shadow that accompanies her.
The Fray haven’t lost their talent to create good music, but that doesn’t mean that they implemented that creativity throughout all of Helios. Lack of diversity, ineffective choruses and minimal experimentation bogs down various tracks from an album that otherwise had potential for greatness.
Suggested songs: “Shadow and a Dancer,” “Same as You,” “Hold My Hand,” “Hurricane” and “Wherever This Goes”
Oxymoron by ScHoolboy Q:
Top Dawg Entertainment has a full year of music ahead of them, promising six albums in total during 2014. The first, Cilvia Demo, displayed the talents of upcoming rapper Isaiah Rashad. Now, ScHoolboy Q releases his first major record label rap album, which turns out to be great in its own style.
Q focuses mostly on where he is from and how it has brought him to this point in his career. With wonderful production and catchy hooks, I found myself singing the well-crafted choruses on the way to class purely from memory. While being catchy doesn’t necessarily equate to a good song, these choruses are built upon further by stylish verses that flow in a unique manner; ScHoolboy alters his voice inflections and pronunciations almost magically to create lines that are difficult, but extremely fun, to mimic and replicate.
When Q creates songs that stray away from memorable choruses, he often utilizes imagery and storytelling to bring listeners into his past. On “Hoover Street,” ScHoolboy talks about his uncle asking him to “piss in cups” for him, but not understanding at the time that this was an effort to pass a drug test. The title track of the album, “Prescription/Oxymoron,” vividly explores his past (and potentially current) addiction to prescription drugs, as well as his need to sell drugs in order to make money for his daughter. The cleverness of the album title becomes apparent, as it is an oxymoron that he has to sell horrible drugs in order to make life better for his family. Furthermore, as one of the drugs people buy is shortened to oxy, he is a moron selling oxy – an oxymoron.
The only downsides of the album are “The Purge,” an arguably weak track, and the fact that some listeners will wish that the unsubstantial songs could be replaced by more introspective stories like “Prescription/Oxymoron.” Still, the rather lengthy Oxymoron deserves to be heard all the way through. There are too many good moments to write them all down, and ScHoolboy Q definitely proves he isn’t a moron when it comes to making music.
Suggested songs: “Gangsta,” “Los Awesome,” “What They Want,” “Prescription/ Oxymoron,” “Blind Threats” and “Collard Greens”
Morning Cycle by Beck:
Beck’s newest offering, Morning Cycle, is a gorgeously atmospheric album that draws the listener into a unique environment that is lit with the morning sun and calls for relaxation and deep thought.
The instrumentation and production captures the feeling of waking up to the sunrise and watching as it illuminates the world before you. “Morning” conveys this emotion professionally, as the listener experiences the harmony that is built through essential teamwork between the vocals and instruments.
While apparent diversity is often respected, the consistent feel of his album works wonders for Beck. Each song is different enough in content and production that it doesn’t sound like the same song over and over, but the tracks are similar in a way that maintains a persistent and effective emotion. The calmness of the record also gives it a heightened replay value that will not easily overwhelm the audience.
Morning Cycle is difficult to describe, as certain sensations are only fathomable through first-person experience. The album has little to no flaws and deserves a full listen, especially on personal headphones. Even after years in the business, Beck’s mature ability to construct music is as reliable as the formation of dew on the morning grass.
Suggested songs: “Blue Moon,” “Morning,” “Say Goodbye” and “Country Down”