Paramore – After Laughter (Album Review)

Basic Background

After an over four year wait between studio albums, the Alternative/Pop Rock/Pop Punk goliath Paramore, consisting now of singer/keyboardist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and returning drummer Zac Farro, return with their fifth studio album entitled ‘After Laughter.’ The sound on this album strays even further from the band’s original punk sound with the inclusion of synths, spacey, almost electronic, drumming, and a complete lack of anything punk; made abundantly clear by the ten -give or take- synth-driven songs where a guitar plays only a supporting role on this otherwise electropop album. The lyrics, on the other hand, are pretty typical for Paramore, but there are slight differences which can be described as: “Hold the angst, and double the melodrama.”

Though most of these songs are rather upbeat and happy sounding, the lyrical themes are ones of sadness as Hayley writes about the band’s hard times (pun intended) since the release of their 2013 self-titled album. Such include the departure of longtime bassist Jeremy Davis and the numerous talks between York and Williams on potentially ending the band. Hayley spoke to iHeartRadio about the title of the new album, “After Laughter is about the look on people’s faces when they’re done laughing. If you watch somebody long enough, there’s always this look that comes across their face when they’re done smiling, and I always find it really fascinating to wonder what it is that brought them back to reality.” The first single entitled “Hard Times” was released on April 19th, while the second, “Told You So,” was released two weeks later on May 3rd.

Opinions

The lead single “Hard Times” rekindled an interest I had in the band after just listening to their breakout hit, you know the one, over 2016’s summer; while Told You So completely set the fire ablaze. Just like that I turned into one of those die hard -I’m gonna say it- Parawhores waiting for the new album. So here we are with ‘After Laughter,’ a collection of synth pop songs that stick out like a sore thumb in the band’s catalog. A thumb that is both refreshing and stale as the sound of this album can wear on a person after repeated listens. Though give it up to Paramore for actually trying to add more diversity to this album as heard in the intro of “Fake Happy,” “26,” and “Tell Me How;” there is just too much of the glossy production, spacey, upstroked guitars and glitzy electronics that makes this album best suited when you don’t try to experience it all in one sitting. I mean, I loved That Poppy’s debut EP. I didn’t want a whole album worth of it. ‘After Laughter’ is at least less trying than their debut ‘All We Know is Falling,’ so that’s something.

But as far the individual songs go, this album ranks with the best the band has to offer. In typical Paramore fashion, the singles for this album are two of the best tracks on it. Both songs feature Taylor York playing a supportive role as he goes up and down scales, all while being mixed slightly above Hayley’s signature voice as she powers through a catchy feel-good melody singing about how hard she’s been having it as of late. Once you’ve heard the singles, you’ve basically heard the majority of the album. But I implore you to stick around to hear what my favorite section of the album is. That section is tracks 7-10 where it starts off with my personal favorite ‘Pool.’ This track features what sounds like wind chimes, a steady and both powerful and submissive guitar and bass groove, topped off by vocals that can appear to sound like a run of the mill pop singer but still come of as Hayley Williams. It’s quite charming. The next two tracks, “Grudges” (A song Hayley stated is about Zac Farro) and “Caught in the Middle” follow this melodic pop formula with the first starting off with a glitzy electronic intro that’s then played throughout the song and the latter being built off a more rock style with a thudding bassline and ska-like guitar strumming pattern. Finally “Idle Worship,” a track that has been continuously growing on me with each listen, features great social critiquing lyrics, a raw vocal and sweeping keyboard performance from Miss Williams and a thundering drum beat from the man himself: Mr. Zac Farro. All of these songs are ultimately catchy in the same Paramore way they’re known for.

Thankfully, before that section comes a change of pace for the album. The song “Fake Happy” has that acoustic intro I mentioned earlier, before it dives into this new wave drenched sound this album stays in, one-dimensionally, for almost the entire album. The only song that completely strays away from this format is “26.” Now, I’m not one for a slow Paramore song. I generally don’t think a slowed down style fits Hayley’s voice, however I do think “26” is one of the exceptions. On this track Hayley sings: “Reality will break your heart, survival will not be the hardest part. It’s keeping all your hopes alive, all the rest of you has died. So let it break your heart and hold onto hope if you got it. Don’t let it go for nobody.” This song alone contains more emotion than the other too low-tempo songs “Forgiveness” and “Tell Me How,”  without the shitty backing instrumental that sounds like a Cyndi Lauper ballad to accompany it. It intrigues the listener by offering a pleasant break away from the album’s default sound, and keeps you interested with good hook and lyrics which really capture what Paramore was trying to say with this album. The eleventh track “No Friend” is the oddball of this album and of Paramore’s discography as a whole. It features Aaron Weiss from the band MewithoutYou, where he speaks what he’s written with help from Paramore lyrics. According to Hayley, Weiss “made it about our story.” The music portion is rather constant and bland compared to the rest of the album but the track itself is still interesting to say the least. Definitely a must-listen but it’s not a something I find myself coming back to.

The Verdict

It was clear that this was not going to be a pop punk album. The constant in-your-face 80s vibe can get tiresome fast, and by fast I mean by the beginning of the second track. But if you don’t try to digest this album in one sitting, then it’s actually pretty enjoyable. The two singles are still as well received as they were when they first were released and tracks 7-10 keep me coming back to the album and have found their way onto my ever growing Paramore playlist. And while I did complain about the overall sound of this album, it’s something refreshing that fans should be excited about instead of whining over the lack of pop punk that the band seems to have entirely ditched in a sign of maturity. From here I would love to see Hayley and the gang mix it up a little bit. Maybe just stick your toe into the 80’s instead of drowning in it. Maybe incorporate some of the past back into your music like the mature pop punk of ‘Brand New Eyes’ and the pop excellence of ‘Paramore’ into your future recordings. There’s nowhere to go but up and if it wasn’t already, it’s about to get interesting.

8/10

Hard Times: 10/10
Rose-Colored Boy: 8/10
Told You So: 10/10
Forgiveness: 7/10
Fake Happy: 8.5/10
26: 8.5/10
Pool: 10/10
Grudges: 9.5/10
Caught in the Middle: 8.5/10
Idle Worship: 10/10
No Friend: 7/10
Tell Me How: 6/10

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Melanie Martinez – Cry Baby (Album Review)

Basic Background

Fresh off of “The Voice,” where she made it to week five, Melanie Martinez was ready to release an ambitious concept album. The result was 2015’s Cry Baby, a debut album that was over two years in the making. The album follows the story of what Martinez described as a “fairytale version of me,” Cry Baby, in her life events where she deals with problems that come with family, love, and accepting yourself. All tracks and the problems within them are directly related to childhood to, what I feel, develop social commentary and a very creepy-innocent atmosphere to the surround the lyrics. This is supported by the music, consisting of the carnival music heard in “Carousel,” the nursery rhyme-inspired opening line of “Milk and Cookies,” xylophones, and sounds of toys and dripping water.


Three singles were released for this album, “Pity Party,” “Soap,” and “Sippy Cup.” All three singles have music videos, and Martinez has said that she hopes to make a music video for every song on the album. Non-singles “Cry Baby,” “Dollhouse,” “Carousel,” “Alphabet Boy,” and “Training Wheels” also have music videos.

Opinions

I have a love/hate relationship with Martinez’s creepy image and music. Sometimes, she hits the creepiness out of the park in the videos and songs of “Dollhouse” and “Carousel” (Carousel was played in a trailer for “American Horror Story,” that’s amazing). But in the videos of “Cry Baby” and “Pity Party” this image is so forced, especially when the songs themselves don’t carry this image. Martinez acts crazy in “Pity Party,” when it’s totally unnecessary and doesn’t fit the song or video. “Cry Baby” is just too much. Too much forced creepiness. Too much “look how bad Cry Baby’s mother is.” TOO MUCH. The production on this album sets a perfect atmosphere and is the backbone of the album.


The best example of this is “Carousel,” one of my favorite songs from the album. “Carousel” combines carnival music with erie production and vocal delivery, to make the gold standard of what this album is and wants to be. The music video for “Carousel” translates this perfectly. It looks effortless. The atmosphere really shines on the album’s lead single “Pity Party,” where producers Christopher Baran and Kara DioGuardi take the poppiest song on the album and manage to have the theme and sound of the album surround it so the song doesn’t feel out of place on the album. Besides “Soap” and “Pacify Her” don’t expect to hear a particularly strong vocal performance on this album. This isn’t “The Voice.” The great thing is, Martinez doesn’t need to give one. She has a naturally beautiful singing voice that compliments the outstanding music surrounding her.


The production and the editing of Martinez’s voice during the chorus makes “Mad Hatter” sound absolutely insane, just like the lyrics portray Cry Baby to be. To further highlight Martinez’s voice, the sound of her singing in terror on “Tag, You’re It” puts the listener in the scary situation of kidnap. The lyrics on this album were, for the most part, well written and got their meaning across. The best example is “Mrs. Potato Head” which has Martinez delivering excellent social commentary in a well-written way. The song talks about how terrible it is that young girls are getting plastic surgery because they think “no one will love you if you’re unattractive.” Not all the lyrics on Cry Baby are this good. I found the swearing in the choruses of “Cry Baby,” “Alphabet Boy,” and “Training Wheels” unnecessary and childish, and with “Alphabet Boy,” the lyrics seem to single-handedly lower the quality of the song. Martinez sings “I’m not a little kid now” in “Alphabet Boy” while the rest of the lyrics ironically depict her acting like a child.

The Verdict

I love this album’s production, atmosphere, sound, and how Melanie Martinez conveys her lyrics, good or bad, in a way that compliments the instrumentation around her. The only problems I found on this album were lacking and/or childish lyrics and some songs having a rather bland melody (“Sippy Cup”). The childhood concept running through the album could get tiring as well. I recommend this album to anyone looking for a greatly executed concept album and some creepy, atmospheric dark electropop. My favorite lyric from a song loaded with highlights is: “It’s such a waste, when little girls grow into their mother’s face; but little girls are learning how to cut and paste, and pucker up their lips until they suffocate.” from “Mrs. Potato Head.”

8.4/10

Cry Baby: 7.5/10
Dollhouse: 10/10
Sippy Cup: 5.5/10
Carousel: 10/10
Alphabet Boy: 6.5/10
Soap: 9.5/10
Training Wheels: 8.5/10
Pity Party: 8/10
Tag, You’re It: 10/10
Milk and Cookies: 7.5/10
Pacify Her: 8/10
Mrs. Potato Head: 9/10
Mad Hatter: 9.5/10
(Deluxe)
Play Date: 8/10
Teddy Bear: 7.5/10
Cake: 9.5/10
Dressing up like a pastel goth: 10/10

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Janelle Monáe – Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase) (EP Review)

Basic Background

Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase) is Monáe’s first EP and first installment in her musical embodiment of a story inspired by the 1927 German Sci-fi film “Metropolis.” In this first installment, we learn about protagonist Cindi Mayweather, an android, who has illegally fallen in love with human Anthony Greendown. And here’s my fatal attempt at interpreting these lyrics; I’m definitely not the best at this:
In “Violet Stars Happy Hunting,” Mayweather, in a panicked stupor, has to run from the cops. This song also gives information about Mayweather’s and an android’s role in society. They are meant to be servants to humans, and unsurprisingly, can be seen as whores, used for the pleasure of humans. With the song “Many Moons,” Cindi tells about her life before her love was revealed. (Thanks genius.com).

The line “Tell me, are you bold enough to reach for love?” reveals to the listener that Cindi confessed her love to Greendown. I’m guessing he didn’t feel the same, or didn’t want to be caught in love, and reported it. My interpretation of “Cybertronic Purgatory” and the lullaby heard at the end of “Many Moons” is that they show off Mayweather’s inner thoughts. She may have heard the lullaby while she was a servant and sings it to herself to calm down; while “Cybertronic Purgatory” is her message to Anthony, whether he can hear it or not. “Sincerely, Jane” talks about how Cindi Mayweather feels about her ended romance and the world she lives in. The EP was later re-released as a special edition with two extra tracks. Judging that the latter of the two tracks, “Smile,” is a cover and the former, “Mr. President,” could apply to our world, I think the two extra tracks are not apart of the story.

Opinions

Janelle Monáe is putting the soul back into 2719 tragic android love stories. The best thing about this EP are the vocals. Monáe’s performance fits well with every song. Throughout the seven tracks Janelle’s vocals are, when appropriate, energetic (see “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!” and “Many Moons”), soulful (see “Sincerely, Jane”), calm and soothing (see the lullaby in “Many Moons” and “Cybertronic Purgatory”), and mellow (see “Mr. President” and “Smile”). If there was one reason to listen to Monáe’s music, it would be to hear how talented she is. The songwriting on this album is both lyrically and musically wonderful. Monáe, Charles Joseph II, and Nathaniel Irvin III’s lyrics depict a unique story presented in a way that makes the listener pity and root for our protagonist, Cindi Mayweather (at least I did), as well as let the listener interpret the story’s plot and what the lyrics are trying to convey about the world Mayweather lives in. The EP can be split into two parts because of how they sound musically: the “Violet Stars Happy Hunting/Many Moons” melody, and the rest.

The music on the melody features a heavy use of background vocals, in-your-face pounding drums, and on “Violet Stars,” a crisp, punchy guitar sound that is, sadly, only found on this song. “Cybertonic Purgatory” continues the lullaby from “Many Moons.” I almost always skip this song. As a slow, quiet song, I have to be in that kind of mood to enjoy it; and after the melody, I’m not. “Sincerely, Jane” has an orchestral sound to back up Monáe’s voice. That and a turntable (it’s actually not bad) at various points in the song. Monáe’s vocal performance is stellar as usual and the orchestral sound adds another dynamic element to the album. “Mr. President” and “Smile” are more stripped down and relaxed compared to the rest of the EP. The two bonus tracks don’t fit well on the EP musically, and are the two worst songs on the album.

The Verdict

The “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!/Many Moons” melody itself is an A+ or 10/10, but with the inclusion of the other five tracks, the EP grade drops to an A- or a 9.0/10. If I reviewed the original EP, the grade would be an A or a 9.5/10. “Mr. President” and “Smile” are, on their own, good songs, but are out of place on the EP. I recommend this album to who ever decided to read this review. But really, if you like brilliantly executed pop with an R&B/funk flavor, and an artist that puts so much heart, soul, and energy into her music (you can see this in her live performances), then check out Janelle Monáe’s music.

9.5/10

The March of the Wolfmasters: it’s spoken word, so, uh… 9/10
Violet Stars Happy Hunting!: 10/10
Many Moons: 10/10
Cybertronic Purgatory: 6.5/10
Sincerely, Jane: 8.5/10
Mrs. President: 8/10
Smile: 6.5/10

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