Honor Roll: New music from Carly Rae Jepsen, Tyler, the Creator, and The National

“Dedicated”
Carly Rae Jepsen

Appreciating Carly’s discography entails taking each release of hers as a chapter in her growth. Call Me Maybe and This Kiss from her “Kiss” album are undeniably youthful gestures of infatuation and first times, while Your Type and the eponymous track from “EMOTION” are deep bouts of longing and escape. Four years past her last pop masterpiece, we’re treated to a celebration of epiphanies about love, life, and self.

The thesis of “Dedicated” is spoken in the opening lines of lead single Party For One, where she proudly declares that “If you didn’t know that you are right for me then there’s nothing I can say.” We’re serenaded by a Carly who still loves and wants, but with her chin all the way up and more swagger in her step. “Dedicated” delivers in its thematic coherence, which is simple: Carly went through a lot of discovery and maturing, came out much more self-reliable, and is undeniably sexy in her own skin.

First track Julien opens with Disclosure-esque synth wobbles, and runs a very funky two-step vibe, which you can also find in Everything He Needs, and Happy Not Knowing, while the album doubles down on the sway-inducing groove with No Drug Like Me and Automatically In Love, which both hark back to her throwback synth-pop “EMOTION” sound.

Admittedly, this isn’t her strongest record in terms of pure bops. Throughout the 48-minute listen, the other tracks are more skippable than in her previous drops. I’d chalk this up to her attempts at less familiar pop sounds like For Sure and I’ll Be Your Girl’s tropical beats, or Want You In My Room’s ‘80s impression of the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Evelyn “Champagne” King. The forays into other sounds are still catchy nonetheless, but the melodies and leads aren’t as emphasized and layered as in her other releases.

This lack of sonic cohesiveness also means she serves up her most diverse soundscape yet. Our favorite saxophone lead is loud and clear in backing the highlight of the album, and Electric Guest featured Feels Right, which feels a bit like an RAC-meets-Lemaitre track as well. Where Carly fell short in purist pop, she more than makes up for with daring instrumentation, playful percussion, and live guitars and piano.

“Dedicated” is a walk-in-the-park tempo, funky pop record oozing with confidence and self-love. It’s not the rave party that “Kiss” is, or the underground neon club “EMOTION” can be, but it’s a treat-yourself afternoon, in your underwear, face mask on with your favorite show streaming. —  Lorenzo Tan

“IGOR”
Tyler, the Creator

We’ve only heard from Tyler since he scored the lonely Grinch sitting at the top of the hill, isolated and full of anger but also full of love. Tyler, the Creator has always had such telling characters and themes in his body of work. “Goblin,” “Wolf,” up till “Cherry Bomb were all portraits of this angry, raunchy, misanthropic boy screaming into the void. It was only in “Flower Boy” where we started to hear some sensitivity and confessions, revealing what a softie Tyler might actually be or suddenly realized he could be. “Flower Boy” left us in a nostalgic, sweet, candy colored haze with traces of glitter and faint confessions of this new Tyler.

With “IGOR,” Tyler gives us an album that takes us through an emotional journey of growth. It’s the most cohesive album Tyler has made. Being the producer and arranger, it’s the most Tyler the Creator™ we’ve ever experienced. It’s a mix of the same madness from his past works but still containing the same soft energy from “Flower Boy,” but so much more realized.

Bombs, guns, choirs, and distorted vocals ring throughout “IGOR,” which means “warrior of peace” in Russian). It creates this feeling that an apocalyptic catastrophe is ready to hit us any day now. It feels dangerous and is a nightmarish daydream fantasy powered by crescendos of synthesizers, running up and down scales making us reach all the emotional peaks and lows. The album opens with Igor’s Theme, an explosion; a feeling of suspense characterizes that long sustained synthesizer noise keeping us in our seats until it hits us with an explosion. “They gon’ feel this one” a multitude of voices chant on and on again in this beginning track, setting us up for this emotional war “IGOR” is about to take on. The lyrics, samples, and beats of each song on this album are repetitive but it allows us to feel exactly what each song tries to hint at.

There’s a chronological order to this album, listening to “IGOR” has a similar experience of watching a film unfold. Listeners experience this whole journey of a relationship after being infatuated in Earfquake, in love in I Think, falling out of love in A Boy is A Gun, then getting over it in Gone, Gone/Thank You to accepting things as they are with the hope that maybe things could still be better with Are We Still Friends? It’s a battle cry for peace regardless of the danger that this character “IGORis surrounded by.

This is by far Tyler, The Creator’s most emotional and revealing album. It strikes a balance between softness, madness, and danger and showcases the growth of Tyler’s abilities as a composer and producer. It’s as though the Scum Fuck Flower Boy is in full bloom and has become “IGOR,” the warrior of peace, unafraid to reveal all his heavy truths and realizations. —Patricia Laudencia

“I Am Easy to Find”
The National

There’s a hint of irony in the title of The National’s latest project. “I Am Easy To Find” promises much for the avid listener seeking immediate moments of inner clarity and solace. However, as the tracks wear on, it’s apparent how misleading the title actually is. “I Am Easy To Find” is sonically gargantuan in scope, feeling much longer than the actual 64-minute runtime. Unpacking all the album’s merits is an act reserved for the devoted fan. Yet, even after multiple listens, it’s hard to grasp the project in its entirety, leaving the listener with more questions than answers.

This isn’t necessarily a knock against the album. Depending on the person, one can view the album’s impenetrability with excitement. Each listen reveals new sounds and harmonic nuances which, on occasion, overwhelm with good effect. This is mostly apparent in So Far So Fast, whose swirling synth arpeggios, irregular drum beat, fluttering guitar licks, and droning string section coalesce into a jam that’s as zany as it is captivating. These elements can be found throughout the tracks in the record, but The National have found a way to structure the songs to subvert even the slightest of expectations. Opening track You Had Your Soul With You is as averse to regularity as the band get’s, juxtaposing jagged lead guitar play with lush violins, backed by Bryan Devendorf’s erratic performance on the drums.

Perhaps it’s only in theme where the album shows any semblance of uniformity. Unlike in past records, Matt Berninger’s lyrics are stripped bare, doing away with the ambiguity. In Quiet Light, Berninger is utterly helpless: “Learning how not to die inside a little every time / I think about you and wonder if you are awake.” Throughout I Am Easy To Find, the lyrics painstakingly sift through the clutter of our repressed emotions — the ones that we fail to admit to ourselves even on our best days. Maybe it’s amidst all this confusion and pain where we can truly find ourselves, as Berninger and Kate Stables sing in the title track: “Who do I think I’m kidding?/

I’m still standing in the same place where you left me standing / I am easy to find.” In the end, the band can only pose queries on the subject of love and loss, with any clear-cut answers bound to reside in the unknown.

Where the album triumphs in ambition, it lacks in cohesion. Put simply, there’s just too much going on, to the point where the core of the tracks lose themselves in all the embellishments. “I Am Easy To Find” often feels cerebral, with not enough melodic moments to tie a personal connection to, losing the emotional impact The National is known for. As impressive as the band’s ideas are, the record becomes just that: a collection of ideas with no real end in sight. Like in the tracks Hairpin Turns and Not In Kansas, the band reaches for new heights sonically but structurally fails to stick a proper landing. In the end, this is a record to marvel at in all its grandeur, but ultimately feels incomplete. —Arnald Paguio

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