Album Review: Jolin Tsai’s “PLAY” is Easily 2014′s Best Album

The moment five simple words splattered themselves all over the internet I knew magic was about to be made. “Jolin Tsai featuring Namie Amuro” shook the web last week, just in time to create a hype firestorm for Jolin’s long awaited comeback effort “PLAY.” Jolin’s long list of fantastic albums go back over a decade and a half, but in recent years she has really been pushing herself artistically while still retaining a strong commercial appeal, a difficult balancing act in today’s all-or-nothing world. With the hype of Asia’s two biggest female music icons joining forces on one track and this being a follow up to her best album so far, the truly fantastic “MUSE,” I was honestly worried Jolin may have set the bar way too high for herself and this would end up being a “Lotus”/”Britney Jean” sized mess, but thankfully I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The albums opener, titled “Gentlewomen,” finds Jolin at her most indie. It’s a cross between Lana Del Rey and Lorde, but still really pop. Definitely a new sound she has never explored before. “Lip Language” on the other hand is a gorgeous ballad with classical influence and pounding percussion that adds to a sort of dramatic and sensual lounge-y atmosphere. Jolin has never really given us much to work when it comes to her ballads. They are always pretty safe and suitable for her core demographic, so I never ask much from her in that respect. Gay marriage anthem “Its Not The Same So What” and the very standard “Third Person & I” are both decent ballads, but nothing spectacular, but both are still totally suitable and do exactly what they are meant to do.

Title track “PLAY” is easily the edgiest and hardest song she has ever released with it’s trap beat, dub-step break down and fierce rapping about pop cultures influence on society. Many of the upbeat songs are harder versions of past styles Jolin has dabbled in. “Phony Queen” is like “Dr Jolin” except even more EDM, the truly phenomenal “Medusa” recalls Jolin’s “Agent J” days with a modern twist, and iconic Namie Amuro collab “I’m Not Yours” could have been a b-side to equally as iconic “Honey Trap.” “Miss Trouble” is a full on rap song with a trap beat that sounds like something Diplo might produce for Nicki Minaj.

More on that Namie collab: this is Jolin’s first ever self composed track, and she did a phenomenal job on the song. If you had told me a seasoned vet composed this track I would have believed it. It’s good enough to have been the title track honestly. Last year when Lady Gaga composed her first track by herself, the idiotic “Venus,” I was horrified to find that it was a hot mess. Any fears I had that Jolin would also produce a clusterfuck of a mess was quickly put to rest upon first listen. It’s impressive that Jolin is able to retain the sound that her fanbase wants while still pushing forward as an artist. It’s always a tricky slope, but Jolin seems to be tackling the challenge with ease.

Perfect pop records are practically impossible to make, but Jolin proved that she can come as close as possible to perfection with “PLAY.” This album is easily the best album released this year, but should we honestly be surprised at all? Now if you will excuse me, I have to wait patiently by the mailbox for my Medusa Edition of the album to arrive from Taiwan! Later bitches!

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Album Review: Cheryl Cole’s “Only Human” is a Disappointment

I have always been a fighter in the name of Cheryl Cole. She has an endless amount of haters who criticize her for her lack luster material and thin vocals. Her music has always been consistently good in my opinion, with classics like “Ghetto Baby” and “Call My Name” rounding out her successful and weighty solo discography. So obviously I was ready for her newest album to slay my soul. I have to say I have extremely disappointed with the album overall, though.

While the first two singles both went number 1 in the UK, both “Crazy Stupid Love” and “I Don’t Care” stink of second rate demo material. CSL is no Ariana’s “Problem,” and IDC sounds like something Katy Perry laughed at before passing on. Those two awful tracks really set the tone of the album, with a bulk of it sounding like rough unfinished demos that nobody could afford to master.

Aside from the underwhelming demos and the endless supply of boring ballads, there are a few decent tracks. “All In One Night” is mildly steamy and “Stars” is an okay attempt at a P!nk knock off. “Firecracker” is catchy and fun without ever actually sounding like single material and “Throwback” is lifelessly playful.

That seems to be where the biggest problems dwell with this album, there are no really big popstar moments to be found here. In an era of single artists, we are usually left with bipolar albums that feature a few really high points and some low points. “Only Human” ranges from low to medium, never really hitting a notable stride along the way. Cheryl obviously wanted to come across as more mature this time around, but it takes more than just banning all EDM tracks about the club to prove real artistic growth. There is nothing here for the club or for the gym, which is okay, but there is also nothing here to cry your eyes out to or empower you to brush off an ex. It’s those moments that really help an album make an impact with listeners, especially in the synthetic genre that is pop music.

At first I decided I didn’t want to write this review. Cheryl has so many haters out there that I didn’t want to add to the negativity. But I have spent a lot of money and time on this woman’s career, and still will, so I felt the need to be honest about my disappointment. This will not be the album that silences any of the haters, and with it’s poor sales performance on the UK charts hopefully Cheryl wakes up and realizes there need to be some serious changes made.

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Sweden’s Ace Wilder Releases “Riot”

Ace Wilder was the subject of a good amount of my posts this year. Her massive triple platinum smash “Busy Doin’ Nothing” was one of 2014′s most defining moments, and I’ve pretty much loved every song she has released prior to it. Over a half of a year since she last dropped a single, she is finally back with another smash.

“Riot” isn’t on the same level as “Busy Doin’ Nothing,” but it’s still pretty good. It’s more so on the level of her debut single “Do It” with it’s fun and rebellious tone. There are some fun horns and it’s pretty high energy. It’s also nice to see that Ace is one of the very few Swedish pop artists who releases music videos consistently. Sure, her videos are on the same level as K-pop videos, but the fact that she puts effort into making one for each single release is very impressive for a Swede. Hopefully she has an album coming out soon.

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AOA’s “Like A Cat” Changed My Life

As I said in my previous review for Hello Venus’ “Sticky Sticky”, I love Brave Brothers no matter how generic he gets. Even when he phones in a track it usually slays me. AOA have been sticking with him all year as he has basically taken them from z-level nobodies to the nations new girl band and even given them success in Japan. Ever since AOA have stopped being a talented group of girls who play their own instruments and started selling their bodies for hits, they have really taken off and become super successful. To be honest, the whole band thing wasn’t my thing and I am totally here for slutty sellout AOA. Plus, Brave Brothers have given them songs that are generically better than the music they released during their band era. The iconic “Miniskirt” and the decent “Short Hair” both were above average.

Newest comeback track “Like A Cat” is a pretty iconic slut anthem featuring some amazingly hot choreography and fierce costumes. The song is pretty standard BB stuff: mid-tempo and jazzy with a lot of moaning. The video for the song is truly iconic though. The girls dress up as sexy cat burglars who work together to steal a diamond from a bank vault. They spend the video knocking themselves out with sleeping gas, playing product placed phone games, whipping security guards, scaling buildings, sexily escaping laser beams, and making sure the coast is clear so that they can disrobe in slow motion. It’s the type of ludicrous plot line that can only happen in a pop video. When this exact plot was featured in Halle Berry’s Catwoman, the world wrote it off as trash. But cheesy nonsense can go down in a pop video because the world around them does not need to be as linear or grounded as movie or TV show would. With yet another smash in the bag and a video full of fabulousness, AOA may be one of my favorite groups this year.

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Hello Venus Finally Return With “Sticky Sticky”

As everyone who has ever met me knows, I love Brave Brothers generic productions. I loved his trashy euro-dance era, I loved his trashy disco-pop era, and I am loving his current trashy mid-tempo jazz inspired pop era. Pretty much no matter what he produces I enjoy it. Most producers range from a scale of bad to good, but BB’s scale ranges from AMAZING OMG to generic. Trash isn’t something he is capable of, so I am always excited when I see his name on a news article stating he’s giving some d-list girl band some left over demo off his shelf. Hello Venus is the latest nobody to get themselves a generic Brave Brothers track. “Sticky Sticky” is a departure for the once super cutesy group. It’s more mature and sexed up.

That isn’t to say the song is a total iconic classic. It definitely stinks of BB’s typical cookie cutter format. It’s catchy though, and the constant moaning in the track is the biggest draw for me. The girls basically sound like they are having an orgasm the entire track. The accompanying video is some sort of kinky POV sexual harassment piece, with some guy touching the girls to the point that they all gang up on the guy. It doesn’t help that the choreography is as recycled as the song itself.

Even though this entire comeback stinks of cheap and generic, I am still into this like you wouldn’t believe. I have had it on repeat since it came out along with b-side “Whiskey.” Hopefully they stick with this sexier sound.

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Jolin Tsai’s “Play” Video is One of 2014′s Best

Taiwanese mega star Jolin Tsai is a genuine pop legend. After millions of albums sold over a 15+ year long career, Jolin is still the biggest pop star in Taiwan and one of Asia’s biggest pop stars, both commercially and artistically. While most long reigning pop stars eventually settle into safety nets to stabilize their career after they peak, Jolin keeps growing; each comeback being stronger than the last. A long time fan of legend J, I can say she has never been better than she has in recent years. Her last album “Muse” was a pop masterpiece and her video for “The Great Artist” is still one of the best music videos I have ever seen in my entire life.

New comeback single “Play” had a lot of live up to considering her pedigree, but it really lives up to her standard. It’s a massive thumper in scope, with multiple breakdowns that are all unique (no repetitive beats here!), and fierce rap/singing lyrics that would leave any listener bald after I spin of the song.

The pricey music video accompanying the song is also a step above the rest. Fantastic CGI and an extremely fun concept make this easily one of the years best music videos visually. The concept behind the video is built around playing a SIMS like game where a play tries to complete gratuitous tasks based on the personality of the Jolin they have chosen to play as. One is obessed with luxurity and money, another is a hipster obsessed with out-cooling the competiton, and another is an attention seeking celebrity who will do anything to steal the media spotlight. Like so many Jolin videos within the time she has been with Warner Music Taiwan, this video sets itself apart from the pack with it’s attention to small details, such as the presence of the game’s leveling up function as she preforms her over the top tasks and her many characters overall development. While this video may not out do “The Great Artist” video artistically, it’s league above most pop videos released in 2014. “Play” will be album of the year!

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French Duo Cassandre Are The Best Discovery I’ve Made All Year

I realize this blog is pretty much dedicated to bringing you the most low brow pop music from around the world, but once in a while I can enjoy something high brow. Okay, so this was a tough one to find information on, especially since this French duo doesn’t even really have their own website. Well, they kind of do, but it’s not very detailed. Anyhow, what I do know for sure is that these boys are called Cassandre, they are from France and their debut album is self-titled. Oh, and I also know that their album is seriously fantastic. If you don’t believe me just take a listen to lead single from the album “Ma révolution.”

Like a majority of the album, “Ma révolution” has a really rich production, mixing electro-pop and light new wave influence with classical pieces, hypnotic drum beats, choirs, ghostly synths and stunning visuals such as the amazing music video accompanying the single. With each passing track the album gets even better, as their brand of dramatic orchestral Euro-pop is both fresh and absolutely gorgeous. The vocal layering adds a lot richness and dimension to many of the tracks. I seriously cannot rave enough about this album, and wish I could have the entire up for stream so you can sample the entire thing.

Usually when I stumble across something online that I like, I just enjoy the music and never expect to hear from the artist again. It’s hard keeping up with the thousands of niche foreign singers I’ve added to my collection over the years. But once in a while an artist comes along that I instantly really love. Cassandre happens to be one of those rare artists. I hope for great things from these two going forward.

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