Review: Ariana Grande's debut 1 of the year's best
Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music Writer
Ariana Grande, "Yours Truly" (Republic Records)
While Miley Cyrus is being a wild child to demonstrate she is growing up, Ariana Grande is letting her music do all the talking.
The 20-year-old singer-actress, one of the stars of Nickelodeon's "Victorious" and the network's spinoff "Sam and Cat," is in near-perfect form on her debut, mainly thanks to her Mariah Carey-esque vocals and songs written by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.
"Yours Truly" kicks off with the R&B-flavored, near-6 minute "Honeymoon Avenue." It's dreamy, velvety and warm, and backed with shoo-be-doos and violins. It sounds as good as a Justin Timberlake intro.
Grande uses her voice as an instrument throughout the 12-track set: "Baby I," with its finger snaps, features her screaming high notes; "Tattooed Heart" and "Daydreamin'" are A-List ballads; and on "The Way," her lead single and Top 10 hit, Grande's voice sounds like a Carey-Toni Braxton mash- up.
Her breakthrough comes at a time when other former Disney-Nickelodeon stars have pop hits - Cyrus and Selena Gomez are following the Rihanna track with "We Can't Stop" and "Come & Get It," while Demi Lovato's latest sound mirrors Kelly Clarkson. But Grande is looking back to a '90s R&B-pop feel on her debut - and her formula works better than the others. "Almost Is Never Enough," a duet with The Wanted's best vocalist, Nathan Sykes, sounds classic and the Big Sean-assisted "Right There," which samples Jeff Lorber's "Rain Dance" - also sampled for Lil Kim's "Crush on You" - could easily be a No. 1 hit.
Carey should be proud.
Review: Nine Inch Nails emerges from darkness
Matthew Kemp, Associated Press
Nine Inch Nails, "Hesitation Marks" (Columbia)
Sun-kissed harmonies, funk-flecked guitar lines and - whisper it - a saxophone workout all make an appearance on "Hesitation Marks," a surprising new offering from Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails after a lengthy, self-imposed hiatus.
In the five years since the industrial rockers' last album, the 48-year old Reznor has won an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on "The Social Network," married musician Mariqueen Maandig and become a father to two young boys. These developments are apparent in the makeup of "Hesitation Marks," where chinks of light occasionally penetrate the darkness so prevalent on the band's previous releases.
"Wish me well - I've become something else (just as well, really)" sings the front man on the surprisingly poppy track "Everything," which has spawned a fan-made video of Reznor riding a white unicorn in front of a rainbow. Elsewhere, the falsetto-vocals and staccato guitar line of "All Time Low," and the brass stabs that punctuate the shuffling rhythm of "While I'm Still Here" suggest Reznor is leading his troops to markedly new terrain.
The band's trademark brand of decaying electronica and discordant noise has not been ditched altogether, though. The opening four tracks play like a "best of" Nine Inch Nails. Lead-off single "Came Back Haunted" couples existential lyrics with aggressive synths and a searing guitar line. And spiritual ballad "Find My Way" echoes the group's 1995 single "Hurt."
The intriguing "Hesitation Marks" often resembles a ship trying to break free from its moorings. Once the final rope snaps, Reznor promises to deliver one hell of a trip - but, until then, longtime fans of Nine Inch Nails will be relieved to find that underneath the album's occasionally bright, brash surface there's still a heart of darkness beating strong and steady.
Review: Slight songs mar Neko Case's latest
Steven Wine, Associated Press
Neko Case, "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You" (Anti-)
Neko Case has a neat name, a terrific Twitter account and a brazen, brassy alto. She could sing about kale and make it sound good.
But when it comes to songwriting, Case's ambition exceeds her reach, and her magnificent voice can't save the forgettable batch of tunes on "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You." Slight melodies, clunky chord changes and imponderable lyrics leave a listener with little to latch onto. It's as if the composer is chasing so many ideas she can't separate the good ones from the rest.
Case's voice deserves better, but it occasionally rises above the muddle. A sassy delivery enlivens the feminist anthem "Man" and the sax-propelled "Bracing for Sunday" benefits from a hooky chorus. The final tune, "Ragtime," is built on a simple rhythmic riff that provides a welcome jolt because of what's come before.
The clearest message is delivered on Nico's "Afraid." When Neko covers Nico, Case shows how she can shine singing a delicate ballad - and material written by others.
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