Widgets Magazine

Album(s) of the Year, part 4: Introspective pop

Paramore performs at the Royal Albert Hall in London. (Ralph PH/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Music beat’s coverage of the best albums of 2017 continues. These three albums all cultivate introspection and lyrical depth over pop backings. Paramore’s “After Laughter” infuses disco and new wave with meditations on depression, Tyler, the Creator’s “Flower Boy” uses a diverse stylistic palette spanning rap and R&B to reflect on loneliness and Tove Lo’s “BLUE LIPS” uses dance pop to mix the erotic and the contemplative.



 

Paramore, “After Laughter” – Jourdann Fraser, staff writer

Paramore is known for getting teenagers through the most angsty periods of their lives. But as time moves on and people get older, that angsty feeling that every teen feels inevitably starts to fade. It’s a sign that you’re growing up and finding a better way to process your feelings. And through their fifth album, “After Laughter,” Paramore showcases that they too have grown up and found a better way to process unfriendly feelings.

Their fifth album, “After Laughter,” has a completely different sound than their previous albums. Under the facade of upbeat melodies and instrumentations are somber and reflective lyrics that talk about the frustrating times of life. Paramore has been on this path of changing their music to a more danceable pop sound since their self-titled album in 2014 with their big hits “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun.” The songs vary in style from very beachy songs, like “Grudges” and “Rose-Colored Boy,” to 1970s disco songs that could would be found in a nightclub in the 1970s, like “Hard Times” and “Told You So,” but all are a far cry from the pop punk of the band’s first few albums.

In an interview with The Fader, Hayley Williams discussed her turbulent childhood and her journey with Paramore, as well as her struggle with depression for the past couple of years. And her struggle rings through in “After Laughter,” an album that features lyrics like “I love making you believe/What you get is what you see/But I’m so fake happy” (“Fake Happy”) and “I can’t think of getting old/It only makes me want to die” (“Caught in the Middle”).

The vulnerability she shows in her lyrics on this album really pays off – it’s the most rewarding Paramore album in terms of its depth.
 The song “26” almost seems like a turning point in the album; it’s in the middle of the album and discusses the idea of being a dreamer, something that Hayley has sung about in prior Paramore songs. In “26” Hayley sings “After all wasn’t I the one who said/ To keep your feet on the ground,” a reference to their past single “Brick by Boring Brick.” The song is a response to her cynical younger self. It’s through this song, a standout on the album, you not only see how Hayley has grown but how the band has matured musically and continues to try and march on.

 

Tyler, the Creator, “Flower Boy” – Hamza Zahurullah, contributing writer

When it comes to Tyler, the Creator, the rapper, I was a complete neophyte prior to listening to “Flower Boy.” I was familiar with Tyler the Creator, the creative center of Odd Future; Tyler, the Creator, the fashion designer; Tyler, the Creator, the Adult Swim mainstay, but if we are talking about his music, I had only heard “Yonkers” a handful of times, and I had otherwise completely missed his last three albums. I was vaguely aware that past lyrics from the artist had been accused of being misogynistic and homophobic. Given this context, my expectations for the album were, at best, nonexistent. To my complete surprise, “Flower Boy” ended up being deep, intimate, supremely affecting and my favorite album of the year.

“Flower Boy” is ultimately Tyler, the Creator’s self portrait. He uses the album to reveal all of his insecurities and contradictions to whoever is willing to listen. “Foreword,” the album’s opener, starts with Tyler asking, “How many cars can I buy ’til I run out of drive? How much drive can I have ’til I run out of road?” Right off the bat, Tyler is grappling between his past work ethic and success in the rap game and his worries regarding irrelevancy in the music industry. The bridge, sung by Rex Orange County, builds on this theme by asking, “Please let me figure this out.” The production serves the imagery of cars and themes of insecurity of loneliness with a perfect synthesis of chilled out G-funk vibes and Frank Ocean’s brand of R&B. From there, the album just builds on this foundation, introducing more genres, production styles, and tones. “Where This Flower Blooms (feat. Frank Ocean) tells us about what Tyler loves in the world, while “See You Again (feat. Kali Uchis)” tells us who he loves in the world. “Who Dat Boy (feat. A$AP Rocky)” takes a hard right turn (both musically and lyrically) with the the use of a dark, crushing beat, and bar after bar of battle raps from the two artists. “911/Mr. Lonely (feat. Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy)” serves as a sort of model for the album as a whole – it sounds disjointed on first listen, but I now understand that the two parts of the song work as thematic and musical companion pieces. “911” is an offer of love and friendship, as communicated by the soothing voice of Frank Ocean. “Mr. Lonely” is Tyler’s confession that his own loneliness makes him the one that needs love and friendship.

Upon the album’s release, a lot of fan speculation was directed to whether or not Tyler, the Creator used “Flower Boy” to come out as bisexual. While this is the interpretation I had when listening to the album, it ultimately doesn’t matter. The album works because Tyler was able to paint such a complex and honest picture of himself. His own self-reflections serves as a mirror for our own selves, as it forces us as listeners to reflect on our own sources of pain, love and insecurity, even if we aren’t questioning our sexuality. In a year dominated with news stories outlining to us the consequences of toxic masculinity, “Flower Boy” is an honest celebration of vulnerability.

 

Tove Lo, “BLUE LIPS” – Ugur Dursun, staff writer


“I’m fully charged, nipples are hard, ready to go,” sings Tove Lo in the chorus of her first and only commercial single off of “BLUE LIPS.” Tove Lo has always had the themes of sexual liberation and candidness in her songs, however the straightforwardness of “disco tits” certainly did make a difference in the public reception of the single. And while it is not the standout track of the album, it is a carefully selected single that represents the transition between her last album “Lady Wood” and “BLUE LIPS,” a sort of sequel to that effort.

“BLUE LIPS” resembles “Lady Wood” in the way it is structured, as both of these albums consist of two chapters. While there was a slight shift between “Fairy Dust” and “Fire Fade” in “Lady Wood,” the conceptual switch between “LIGHT BEAMS” and “PITCH BLACK” chapters of “BLUE LIPS” is much more direct. “LIGHT BEAMS” starts off with “disco tits” and explores Tove Lo’s sexual desires and femininity. In “shedontknowbutsheknows,” she uses third-person narrative to look at her hookup experiences with skepticism, followed by “shivering gold” and “stranger,” two contenders to become future radio singles with their incredibly memorable hooks. “LIGHT BEAMS” closes off with the most personal track of the first half, “bitches,” where Tove Lo elaborates on her appreciation of the female body and lesbian one-night stands.
With “PITCH BLACK,” she plays with the questions on her mind and her search for the answers. In “cycles,” she challenges the monotonous nature of her relationships; in “struggle,” she is more vulnerable than ever, discussing her inability to get over her problems. The second half of the project is one to examine, as it hints at the Tove Lo behind her freaky stage persona.

“BLUE LIPS,” unlike its predecessor, manages to cover intimacy and Tove Lo’s personal experience with it at a level far deeper than the surface. It is raw, but never corny. If you enjoyed Tove Lo’s debut EP, “Truth Serum,” and her first LP, “Queen of the Clouds,” “BLUE LIPS” will not disappoint. While smash hits like “Habits” and “Talking Body” are simply absent from the record, Tove Lo excels at creating art that is coherent, personal and fresh with her third major-label studio album.

 

Contact Jourdann Fraser at jourdann ‘at’ stanford.edu., Hamza Zahurullah at hamzaz98 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Ugur Dursun at mudursun ‘at’ stanford.edu.