King Princess is a unique blend of the record industry of old and the genre-bending, self-produced music of the 2000s. Her hit single “1950” excited strict alternative listeners while simultaneously getting her noticed and signed by famous pop producer Mark Ronson. Under his label, she released her long-awaited debut album, Cheap Queen, in 2019. This year, she released Cheap Queen (Deluxe), which features five bonus tracks. What makes Cheap Queen (Deluxe) so fascinating is that it has all the ingredients to guarantee success in the music industry- catchy pop riffs and broken hearts- and yet it breaks the mold. So what is it about King Princess that has made her universally listenable without making easy-listening music? The type of success Cheap Queen (Deluxe) has enjoyed is impossible to explain without discussing the artist herself. The artist’s outspoken candor and devil-may-care attitude have made her a role model to young people who struggle to find their own confidence, particularly young queer women. She is as outspoken about her queer identity in her social media as she is in her music, choosing to remain candid in a world that is relentlessly superficial. It’s this honesty in character and in art that makes Cheap Queen (Deluxe) such a special album. The skeleton of Cheap Queen (Deluxe) takes its cue from old school pop music, but its subject matter and musicianship make it much more raw and musically progressive. Her songs about heartbreak make room for honesty about her own faults, as well as her tendency to ignore those faults for the sake of love. In “Back of the Cab”, she sings, “I’m still missing, dancing in the back of a cab with you, convinced we never had issues,” The last thing King Princess wants to do is perpetuate bullshit. She knows that she lies to herself and doesn’t hide it. King Princess is an artist that distinguished herself by making statements, but Cheap Queen (Deluxe) is evidence more than anything of her dexterity as a musician. Every listen reveals more and more intimate musical details; a little twist on the guitar, a subtle synth, even small lyrical allusions to other songs on the album. Soulful vocals, rhythm guitar, and dreamy vibraphones combine to create songs that feel classic and grandiose while remaining deeply personal. My favorite tracks on the album were “Ain’t Together”, “Isabel’s Moment”, and “Ohio”. “Ain’t Together” is a catchy pop love song about the anxiety of new love and the gaslighting that goes on when you’re crushing on a friend. “Isabel’s Moment”, which features Tobias Jesso Jr., is a slow, haunting piano ballad about the hole in your heart when the most important person in your life leaves you. My favorite track on the album is “Ohio”, a rock and roll ballad that echoes the rock gods of days gone by without being kitschy, and while maintaining a true King Princess sensibility. It’s the rare ability of an artist to write about unrequited love without sounding phony. In her next album, I hope that King Princess is able to take more risks. Though I loved the dreamy, synthy sound of Cheap Queen (Deluxe), there were times when the album felt a bit monotonous. The tracks where she took the most risks were the gems. Take the final track of the album, “Ohio”. It was exciting to hear an artist put so much pure anarchistic energy into a track, but it made the rest of the album seem tame in comparison. If she is able to harness this energy for future albums, there is no limit to where she can go as a musician. Rating: 6/7
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2020 marked a year of special celebration for Tennis. This year welcomed the release of the band’s fifth studio album, Swimmer, as well as the ten year wedding anniversary of its founding members, Alaina Moore-Ripley and Patrick Ripley. This sense of accomplishment in both music and life is met with mixed emotions: love, pride, and a note of melancholy. Swimmer takes time to explore all of the feelings that come with growing up, aging together, and leaving youth behind to discover the next phase in life. Like the title, the songs of Swimmer are gentle like motion in water. The songs are all mainly composed of piano, synths, and soft vocals. The opening lines of the album go, “As the sun slips over my shoulder, I can tell I’ve been getting older.” It’s this sensation of overwhelming love mixed with a curiosity about one’s own aging process that flows through the entire album. Tennis seems to have lost the reckless energy of youth; every song feels like a watercolor painting. Even the songs that kick it up a notch are remarkably mellow. The demanding “Need Your Love” starts strong but quickly trails off into a delicate, piano-driven ballad, much like every other song on the album. Musically, this is not the kind of album that demands its listeners’ attention. The most impressive part of this album was the lyricism. Love is a subject well covered by the band; in this album, it takes time to reflect on the process of aging and the end of youth. In the song “Echoes”, Alaina Moore-Ripley sings, “Once I was young, those days are gone, suddenly I’m thirty-three, and on a gurney.” Even the love notes that are dispersed intermittently throughout the album are notes about aging together. In “Matrimony II”, a sequel to the previously released song “Matrimony”, the band writes about their love in a way that is profound without making hyperbolic comparisons. In listening to Tennis’s previous albums, I unfortunately realized that Swimmer doesn’t really take any musical risks or do anything that would push the band further. I love the contemplative, eerie pop of Tennis, but after a few listens, the album became a bit monotonous. I would love to hear the band experiment with different sounds; it felt like every song on Swimmer had the same skeleton. This is not necessarily negative, but it does make me wonder what the band could create if it dared to be a bit more adventurous. Rating: 4.5/7
Angel Olsen is nothing if not a woman with a vision. Confident, modern, and authentic, she stands out in an ever-growing crowd of aspiring musicians. But to call Angel Olsen an “aspiring musician” would do her a great disservice. All Mirrors is a masterpiece all on its own, but it's the culmination of Olsen's lifetime commitment to music and songwriting. Anyone who has followed Angel Olsen’s career over the past decade knows that she is not an artist that is easy to define. In 2016, she released what some called her breakthrough album, MY WOMAN, which consisted of straight-to-tape singer/songwriter rock and roll, save for the opening track, “Intern”. “Intern” was completely mesmerizing, full of synthesizers punctured by Angel’s skinny, high vibrato. It was so starkly different from the songs that followed; despite having genial feelings about the album as a whole, I remember wishing that more of it had been made in the style of “Intern”. In All Mirrors, Angel Olsen answered my prayers! In this album, she builds upon the ideas she began in “Intern” and uses them to create what I think is her best work yet. All Mirrors is a magnetic, almost cinematic masterpiece, and is able to both start and finish strong. On the opening track, “Lark”, she starts soft, almost careful, singing tentatively against gentle chords. Suddenly the orchestra joins and Angel’s voice soars. Her signature vibrato sounds lovely and surprisingly powerful on this album, her first to make use of a full orchestra. “Lark” flows naturally into “All Mirrors”, the title track and my personal favorite on the album. True to its name, “All Mirrors” is reflective of the path of Angel Olsen’s life and where she is headed. The lyrics are few but profound, and the musicianship on the track speaks volumes. The rest of the album is a slow burn, from the pulse of “New Love Cassette” to the pop-tinged sorrow of “Spring”. The most striking thing about this album is the use it makes of the orchestra on every track, along with her newfound love of electronic music. I absolutely love how Angel has incorporated synthesizers and computerized sound into her work; it feels fresh without trying too hard. She really finds the soul in the machine. The craftsmanship on this album cannot be understated. The combination of haunting, futuristic arrangements and wicked pop songwriting is just absolutely brutal, forcing the listener to credit Angel Olsen not only as a singer and songwriter but as a profound musician and producer. She has created something that could possibly be labeled as experimental rock, but it would not be wise to classify her so easily. She has already transformed her sound radically in just two years; who knows where she will go next? I, for one, cannot wait to find out.