Music Mondays (6-19-17): AJR and Phoenix

This is Music Mondays, a weekly music column. This week, it’s two new album reviews!

AJR, “The Click”

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Source: Genius

My favorite albums from last summer were Weezer’s “The White Album” and Jon Bellion’s “The Human Condition”. On my quest for this year’s “album of the summer”, I came across AJR’s “The Click” on the list of new music releases. Its album artwork heavily resembles Jon Bellion’s style, and the song “Sober Up” features Rivers Cuomo (from Weezer), so I decided to give “The Click” a chance.

While I don’t think it will be my “album of the summer”, “The Click” is a surprisingly good pop record, which bares an extremely similar musical resemblance to Jon Bellion. (The Weezer connections stop with Rivers Cuomo’s feature.)

For those unfamiliar with Jon Bellion, I classify him as a hip-hop inspired pop artist. His beats and instrumentation resemble many popular musical styles in mainstream hip-hop, and much of this can be said for AJR. Beyond this (and the similar artwork), Jon Bellion’s “The Human Condition” ended with a medley of many of its songs, and AJR’s “The Click” begins with a similar “Overture” containing many of the songs to come.

Taking all of these similarities into account, AJR does not come across as a cheap copy of Jon Bellion. “The Click” is a very good pop record, which shines especially in its first third. The band, made up of three brothers from New York City, needs to work on their songwriting and use of electronic music, but “The Click” exemplifies a smart grasp on sincere indie pop.

The first five tracks of “The Click” are its best songs. “Overture” has some genius production. “The Good Part” exhibits Bellion-esque songwriting, with lyrics like “If you put this scene on a movie screen, is it called the happy end?” being the prime example.

Weak” is an EDM banger about succumbing to vices, and while it demonstrates the band’s overzealous use of electronic effects, it deserves its current playtime on the radio.

Sober Up” is my favorite song on the album, and that’s beyond just my Weezer bias. Its orchestral flourishes and nostalgic lyrics caught my attention, but its powerful bridge and finale represent a high point on “The Click”.

Drama” is another fun EDM banger. It represents the album’s bigger message about growing up, with this song tackling how friends grow apart due to love, rumors, and intimate relationships.

These five songs represent the best of what “The Click” has to offer. Other songs have much weaker songwriting, like the cringe-worthy “I didn’t smoke weed today” anthem, “No Grass Today”. At times, with lines like “Am I ready for love… Do you have instructions… I grew up on Disney, but this don’t feel like Disney”, the band sounds like if Kidz Bop wrote original music. The album’s lyrical centerpiece “Turning Out”, which hits on not being ready to grow up, is difficult to get through with the big ballad line being “I’m a little kid”.

After the weaker middle portion, the album regains its footing with fun tracks like “I’m Not Famous”, the Office tribute “Netflix Trip”, and “Come Hang Out”.

While the band certainly needs to work on its songwriting, I commend them on their sincerity. No matter how silly the line is, the band sells it. I truly believe their good-hearted nature that is presented on “The Click”. While it uses too much Kanye-level voice augmentation, it’s hard not to appreciate the emotional “Call My Dad”. Songs like “Three-Thirty” and the title “The Click” reference battling mass-market pop music.

With fun beats, constant personality, and ever-shifting ideas (both in lyrics and music), “The Click” is an impressive effort from AJR. Regardless of their similarities to Jon Bellion, the band shows remarkable potential. If they can improve their songwriting and fine tune their use of electro-pop, AJR’s next album will be an amazing release. But for now, I’ll settle for the good and often great moments from “The Click”, of which there are many.

Phoenix, “Ti Amo”

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Phoenix’s new album is pleasant at best. It certainly isn’t bad, but it fails to build any momentum in its music or songwriting. It merely dwells at the same quality of fluffy indie pop music that is established on track two of “Ti Amo”. It isn’t quite upbeat enough for dancing, or thoughtful enough for closely listening.

The clear highlight from “Ti Amo” is its lead single and first track, “J-Boy”. I raved about this track at the beginning of May, and the praise still stands. Its delightful synths, playful guitar picks, and yearning lyrics represent the best of what “Ti Amo” has to offer. Its powerful leading synths represent the kind of energy that is lacking throughout the album.

Before listening to the album, I was excited to listen to the title track, which follows “J-Boy”. The official album description likens the two tracks to “Lisztomania” and “1901”, the first two tracks of Phoenix’s album “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart”. These two tracks are considered two of Phoenix’s best singles, so I was naturally excited to hear “Ti Amo” after “J-Boy”.

After listening, I was very disappointed by its rather dark sound and its drab repeating chorus of “Don’t tell me” over and over again.

Not all songs lack dance-worthy beats or inspired sound. “Fior di Latte” and “Lovelife” have a very romantic sound, especially due to colorful synths, acoustic guitars, and singer Thomas Mars’ emotional delivery. The song “Role Model” shares a lot of similarities with tracks from Tame Impala’s “Currents”.

Despite these tracks and the fantastic “J-Boy”, much of “Ti Amo” falls flat. It lacks the in-your-face personality and vocals found on “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” and “Bankrupt!”, and it never maintains enough energy to go beyond sounding like nice background music.

At least I got “J-Boy” out of it.

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