By Nikole Tower, September 2018 Issue.
Artist: Ariana Grande
Label: Republic Records
Opening with a 37-second cover of Bob Gaudio’s “An Angel Cried,” Ariana Grande showcases her wide-ranging vocals, a not-so-subtle reminder that she is much more than just a pop sensation.
Sweetener, Grande’s fourth studio album, is still packed with all the bops fans would expect including guest appearances by Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott and Pharrell Williams, who also helped produce the album.
Still, it takes a few steps away from her previous work, which tended to be about getting radio attention rather than presenting herself creatively and vulnerably. This album is more honest and serves to teach listeners more about Grande than any of her other works – from the powerful, sex-positive “God is a woman” to the love song “pete davidson,” which is dedicated to her fiancé.
A stand out track has to be “get well soon.” Her voice captures the flow of soul music and the rhythm of a ballad. Inspired by the devastating attack that took place outside her concert at the U.K.’s Manchester Arena last year, she encourages fans to take care of each other while addressing her own emotions following the event.
Pharrell serves as a songwriter and producer of half the album, while Grande contributes to two-thirds of the album’s songwriting, which is more than usual. The two play around with layering vocals and different sounds as Grande shows her versatility by embracing gospel, rap, R&B and pop sounds. Regardless of whether you’re an “Arianator” or not, this 15-track project is her most impressive collection of songs to date.
Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
Album: Thank You for Today
Label: Atlantic Records
The rebirth of Death Cab for Cutie begins with the release of Thank You for Today. The band fell a little short with their 2015’s Kintsugi, which was surrounded by frontman Ben Gibbard’s divorce and the coming departure of founding member Chris Walla. The band’s ninth LP leaves all of that in the past, using this new opportunity to create something that will get people to hit the replay button.
The album opens with “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” a personal favorite. Gibbard sings about an imagined encounter with someone backed by dreamy and spacey sounds. It blends smoothly into the rest of the album. The simple and soft moody tracks, including “When We Drive” and “You Moved Away” are broken up by more textured and lively songs, such as “Gold Rush” and “Northern Lights.”
There are moments throughout the album where the sounds don’t necessarily mesh with Gibbard’s voice and songwriting, but the band uses that to its advantage. And, at times, the upbeat melodies are a welcomed foil to the melancholy lyrics. They tinker with synths and sounds from ’80s pop to create a sonic experience that’s new for them – and it comes across polished. It’ll be interesting, however, to see how the album translates on stage.
The band’s fall tour to share the album live in small, intimate venues comes to The Van Buren Sept. 29.
Artist: Jason Mraz
Label: Atlantic Records
Jason Mraz kicks off his new 10-track album with his smooth vocals and his guitar in “Let’s See What the Night Can Do,” singing about getting lost in the night with a special someone.
Know., Mraz’s sixth studio album, is a continued collaboration between the singer/songwriter and indie-rock band Raining Jane.
Love is what makes the world go ‘round, at least to Mraz, and it is the prominent theme in his work once again. He’s described this project as a series of love letters. In interviews since the album’s Aug. 10 release, he’s said that the songs are for his wife, Christina Carano, whom he married in 2015. Rather than singing about how he hopes to someday meet the girl of his dreams, he’s celebrating the feeling of finally being with “the one.”
Meghan Trainor joins Mraz in “More Than Friends,” a relatable and catchy feel-good track. “Unlonely” showcases Mraz’s lyrical ability. Then he goes to how he’s “Better With You” and “Sleeping To Dream” about the person he’s with. Mraz finishes with a slow ballad, “Love Is Still The Answer.” It’s the kind of song that makes you want to pull your SO closer and take in the moment.
This project effectively captures the essence of those early relationship feels and we’re thankful for it, because when was the last time you received a love letter after all? While the order makes sense, the songs glide along so smoothly that there’s little distinction from one to the next.
Mraz brings his current tour to Mesa’s Ikeda Theater Dec. 21, where he’ll be performing an acoustic set with Toca Rivera and special guest Gregory Page.