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Bark Beats: February and March by Lily Baldwin

Little Dark Age - MGMT

Courtesy of Columbia Records

The indie rock band MGMT has shifted its genre to focus towards synth-pop with its latest release of the album Little Dark Age. An underrated album that went fairly unnoticed, this setlist includes sounds reminiscent of the David Bowie era accompanied by brutally honest and mocking lyrics. The band has been known in the past for its famously outlandish use of electronic instruments, and the practice was clearly continued with this new release, which sounds like it could be the background music during a melancholy prom in the midwest circa 1985. The namesake track of the album, “Little Dark Age,” pays a subtle nod to the fact that the band is aware of its oddities in production through the lyrics, “I grieve in stereo/the stereo sounds strange.”

While occasionally funny and sometimes profane, such as the lyrics in “When You Die” (“Go f*** yourself/You heard me right/Don't call me nice again”), the set also contains whimsical songs that touch on friendship, fame and trials within oneself in such tracks as “James” and “When You’re Small.” These seem to somewhat balance out the outrageousness that plays a key role in the album through calming and whimsical themes such as friendship, fame and trials within oneself. Unlike the boisterous cacophonies MGMT has released in the past (like their overwhelmingly loud and complex album, Congratulations), Little Dark Age manages to keep a sense of stability and consistency in production and sound throughout its tracklist. It’s quite easy to put this album on, maybe for a drive into the city, and not worry about what’s up next in the queue. You know whatever track that follows will be something straight out of one of your mom’s mixtapes that her high school boyfriend made her, back in the days of synths and Walkmans, and you’re probably going to like it.

Recommended: “Hand It Over”

A Nation of Two - Vance Joy

Courtesy of Liberation Music

In Vance Joy’s newest indie folk album, “A Nation of Two,” the artist evokes feelings of nostalgia from listeners through airy tracks reminiscent of his 2014 hit “Riptide.” Joy’s sharp vocals contrast with the soft guitar featured throughout the album, an unmistakable trademark of his music. Romantic lyrics combined with the mellow, uplifting chords conjure up thoughts of the bright spring days ahead in songs like “Saturday Sun.” In the past, Joy has almost exclusively focused his sound on ukulele strums (which, of course, he includes in this new album as well), but in “A Nation of Two,” the singer-songwriter makes use of brass instruments as well as his tried-and-true layers of acoustic guitar.

Joy tends to wear his heart on his sleeve in his music, and it’s easy to tell throughout this new album that love continues to be an ongoing theme in his music. His romantic imagery depicts idealistic relationships as sweet as the sounds he sings. The track “Bonnie and Clyde” hits a local note with a mention of Monterey Bay, striking a familiar chord with Bay Area residents and making the song (which focuses on telling your loved ones how you feel before you die) just a little less depressing. As one who doesn’t consider themselves a fan of Vance Joy, I found this album a little cheesy in its lovey-dovey lyrics. However, I have to admit, even if you find Joy’s lyrics and ukulele chords a little too juvenile, there’s no doubt A Nation of Two will tug at your heart strings.

Recommended: “Saturday Sun”

Kyoto - Tyga

Courtesy of Last Kings Records

Rapper Tyga’s latest release, an album titled Kyoto, does little in terms of entertainment for anyone who considers themselves a fan of rap or hip-hop music. Throughout the album, beginning with the opening track “Temperature,” it’s difficult to find a tone in his voice that isn’t painfully autotuned. If it weren’t for the intense bass and occasional well-placed instrumentals to distract from Tyga’s shrill vocals, this album would be nearly impossible to listen to without having to give yourself a break. One impressive aspect was the feature vocal of Kyndall, a singer and actress whose serene voice held together the entirety of the track “Leather in the Rain.”

Throughout the album, each track lacks substance as well as talent. I consider myself somewhat of a fan of rap and R&B music, but in my opinion Tyga’s production resembles that of a 16-year-old Soundcloud “rapper” who offers links to all of their attempted projects in their Instagram bios. The track “Boss Up” grasps at catchy lyrics, saying more than a few times, “I pull up, hop out,” words once used by Kendrick Lamar in the song “ELEMENT.” In a pathetic attempt to bring the spotlight back to his career after Tyga’s notorious relationship with Kylie Jenner, the rapper completely misses the mark with his pseudo-confident, almost comically strained tracks. To be honest, listening to the track “U Cry,” I couldn’t help but picture Squidward Tentacles singing “4 Ply” by Boys Who Cry in that one episode of Spongebob; it’s that poorly written and ridiculously performed.

Recommended: “Ja Rule & Ashanti”

Man of the Woods - Justin Timberlake

Courtesy of RCA Records

JT’s latest release got a lot of hype, and as much as I loved the idea of an even better 20/20, my expectations were unfortunately unmet. While the production quality was impeccable, most likely due to Timberlake’s ability to record and produce with RCA Records as he continues to be an icon in the music world, the album’s content itself is disappointing. The first track, also the single performed to open the Superbowl Halftime Show, “Filthy,” is an uncomfortable mirror that reflects on how, as young as he looks, Timberlake is inevitably getting older. The artist makes use of thumping bass beats and waves of electronic chords in this track, which tells me he thinks he’s a little behind the times and looking to hop on the bandwagon of speaker-shaking bass and vocal backings a la Cardi B. The lyrics didn’t help, confidently stating, “Haters gonna say it’s fake” a countless amount of times, and sounding like Timberlake pulled the words straight out of a Twitter meme and decided to write a song about it.

You can’t blame the popstar; he’s been pumping out chart-topping hits since before most Redwood seniors were born. The odd combination of harmonica, bongos and deep bass percussion make for an interesting song in “Midnight Summer Jam,” but the repetitive lyrics, which state, “It starts at midnight, midnight, midnight” are forgettable and become irritating after a couple of minutes. The theme of this album is nearly impossible to pin down, apart from the usual topics of love and sex that Timberlake is famous for touching on (think “Sexyback”). While the tracks aren’t unpleasant for listeners, the production seems almost experimental, with the use of acoustic instruments, exclusively electronic drums and an occasional emphasis on how the artist is a Tennessee born “southern man.”

It feels as if Man of the Woods was made purely for the fun of producing an album outside of Timberlake’s usual creative boundaries. In a sense, I guess you could say this album was an attempt to bring the star back to his roots. A new father, it’s easy to see how JT may feel the need to symbolically take himself back to his beginnings with tributes to the south, his beloved wife and a surprising consistency in the style of singing he used back when he gained fame in the early 2000s. Man of the Woods, while not the best work of Justin Timberlake, is a respectable set of tracks that obviously hold some personal weight for the singer. He most likely hoped they would mean just as much to his fans, and apparently they did, as the album remained number two on the Billboard charts for days after Timberlake’s energetic debut of the album at the Superbowl Halftime Show on Feb. 3.

Recommended: “Say Something”

I - Felix jaehn

Courtesy of L'Agentur Media

The young German and Dutch tropical house DJ Felix Jaehn, known most for his creative tropical remixes of pop songs such as OMI’s “Cheerleader,” recently released a his first studio album, a two-part set of semi-original songs that rely mainly on a plethora of featured vocals to keep the vibrancy of the sound alive. This new album, titled I and released on Feb. 16, is by no means a step outside of Jaehn’s comfort zone (except for the inclusion of an all-German lyrical track). However, one can’t help but feel pretty optimistic while listening to any one of the 25 tracks. The release of this album, a continuation of The Endless Summer-esque style of Jaehn’s tropical house music, is perfectly timed, especially for students feeling that mid-school year crisis coming on.

Amidst the dreariness of March and the constant stressor of academia, a little sonic escape to a remote beach in the Maldives doesn’t sound too bad right now, and listening to the island marimba consistently present throughout I is one way of getting to that headspace. The fourth track in part one of the album is titled “Honolulu,” which features a heretofore undiscovered performer named Matluck. While this track, along with the rest of the album, are admittedly unoriginal and sound like they were made for a Tuesday night at a club in Miami, it’s hard to listen to I and not get excessively excited for summertime. If you’re looking for a backtrack for that GoPro video compilation you have from your trip to Hawaii over ski week, close your eyes and point to any track on this album, and there you have it. I is a catchy, upbeat, major toned album that lacks substance, but is a lighthearted listen for anyone who needs to escape to a little bit of summer, even if it’s just for an hour and 15 minutes.

Recommended: “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better) ft. Jasmine Thompson”

Created By
Lily Baldwin
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