Saturday, December 12, 2020

Domerberry Album Review: Chromatica

Oh, I'm sorry — were you expecting something else here today? Did you come here looking for a review of another volume of sad songs by a soft girl in the woods from me, a notoriously woods-averse girl who is soft only in ways pertaining to body fat? 

Honey, no. The new Taylor album is one moderately inventive "Goodbye Earl" reboot, one decent bluegrass number plucked from a discarded Sweet Home Alabama: The Musical soundtrack, and 13 other songs that will make a fine replacement for Mumford & Sons someday when I'm looking for a rainy-mood album that, instead of reminding me of my carefree days as a college student abroad in Britain, calls to mind the worst year in modern human history. What a treat! 

What we will be discussing today, my friends, is not Evermore but another album. One that represents a return to form for a beloved pop artist instead of a turn away from it. One with the ability to lift you out of your quarantine depression instead of spiraling you so far into it that you become a sentient cross-stitch of a cursive swear word. 

We will be discussing Chromatica. 

For those who do not know, Chromatica is the sixth album of Academy Award-winning recording artist Lady Gagรก. Released in May after a seven-week delay brought on by the misguided belief that seven weeks would be enough time for the whole coronavirus distraction to blow over, it is a dance-pop album with three separate orchestral intro tracks and appearances by Elton John and the megastar girl group Blackpink. It is lightly alien-themed. What more could you want? 

I am the rare Gaga fan who generally enjoyed her countryish Joanne era, but Chromatica marked a triumphant reprisal of the weird, disco-centric Gaga we all know and love. To use a Swiftian metaphor, it was like the relief of hearing Lover after two years dealing with Reputation. "That was fine," we thought, "but thank God she's back." 

For me, the album also carried personal resonance. Thanks to the thin walls in my old apartment and the gays with interesting piercings who lived in the unit above me, Chromatica was my version of Italian people singing to each other from their balconies. I played this record constantly in the month of June, and so did they. As it slowly dawned on us all how long we might remain in lockdown, thumping Gaga beats provided an unspoken social connection, reminding me that, if I couldn't spend time with people, at least there was Stefani Germanotta to share. 

That same thing happened two months later with "WAP," but here on this God-fearing family blog we will pretend that it did not. 

So without further ado, let us travel to the planet Chromatica, one off-kilter club banger at a time. 

Stupid Love: Do you like to dance? Do you want to watch a music video where the premise is essentially Legends of the Hidden Temple in space? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then Chromatica's lead single is for you. This number took me straight back to the days when my dormmates and I would stay up late learning Born This Way choreography — and that, my friends, is a good place to be. 

Rain On Me (with Ariana Grande): We are immeasurably blessed to have gotten albums from both of these women in 2020, and unsurprisingly, this center of the Chromatica/Positions Venn diagram may be the best of the two-album bunch. The first shining, post-COVID day when I get to dance to this song in a club will be the happiest day of my life, and I will not apologize for nor recant that statement if/when I eventually get married. 

Free Woman: Much like Lady Gaga, I was not single when this came out and am not single now, but this song makes me feel like I am. It's a female empowerment anthem. It's fun to sing. It is the reason my top song in Spotify Wrapped this year was finally something cool instead of an obscure duet from a Pasek and Paul musical.

Fun Tonight: This is an upbeat dance song about how much fun the narrator is not having, featuring the lyric "this moment's hijacked my plans." Could there be a better theme song for this hell-year? Despite your best efforts, Taylor "Sad Girl" Swift, no there could not. 

[Side note: those four songs are tracks 3-6 on Chromatica, and had Gaga released nothing but those, she still would have had the best pop album of the year. I said what I said.]

Chromatica II: Twitter is full of jokes about how great this song is for leading into any number of other songs or activities, and that's fine. But I contend that you haven't truly appreciated "Chromatica II" until you've heard it on a Spotify Free account that transitions straight from those anticipatory final chords into an overly enthusiastic commercial for Chex Mix. Give it a try sometime.

Sour Candy (with Blackpink): If I ever decide to become a K-pop stan, blame this.

Babylon: When I say Weird Gaga is back, y'all, I mean back. This finale song is a voguing number about a gossip battle, featuring a gospel choir, set in ancient Mesopotamia, and it is still a bop. I would say that your faves could never, but genuinely, I would like to see them try.

To be clear, Evermore is a fine album, just like Folklore was. It certainly proves that Taylor Swift can do Bon Iver even though Justin Vernon could not do Lover. Taylor deserves credit for that, and she is getting it, all over God's green internet. 

But when I listened to music this year, it was because I wanted to sing loud and dance at my desk like I'm at one of those (what's that word again?) parties. Lots of pop girls helped in that effort, but in my opinion, none did it better than my one true queen: Mother Monster.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Domerberry Album Review: Folklore

Well, friends, you asked for it — seriously, people really do ask — and now the time has come. Taylor Swift has an eighth album, and I, her indentured fangirl with a blog that gets dusted off for use once a year, have a new product to review. 

I'll start with this: Folklore is great! It's definitely my new favorite Sufjan Stevens album! 

As a Taylor Swift album, though, my feelings on it are mixed. Don't get me wrong — it is undoubtedly one of her best creative works so far. The lyrics are back to absolute peak Taylor, the songwriting is superb, and the whole thing is an astonishingly good first foray into a genre that she's never touched before. The fact that she whipped the album up during a pandemic and the global shutdown of nearly all industries makes it even more impressive. But it isn't quite to my taste. I prefer the happier, poppier Taylor that Lover epitomized so well last summer — so, while Folklore is great, it's unlikely to unseat her prior albums on my list of personal favorites. 

Oh, and she's doing the lowercase-only thing again. Whatever. We'll be ignoring that here, to no one's surprise, and looking forward to the day when both Taylor and Ariana Grande realize that capital letters are not the enemy.

For now, though, let's get to reviewing some songs in album order so we can all the more quickly make our way to "Betty." 

The 1. Ahhh. I already told one person this, but truly, when I hit play on this song on Thursday night, it took me exactly eight seconds to have my eyes closed, my chin on my hands, and a closed-lip grin on my face like a smiley baby at a photoshoot. This is a charming little number, and one of the few on the album that doesn't sink me into a dark depression. Cool! 

The Last Great American Dynasty. On my first couple listens to this song, I was unimpressed. I didn't like the "Taylor Sings About Rich Old Ladies" genre when she tried it out with that Kennedy song eight years ago, and I didn't figure I'd like it now. But this one is a bop! And it's about one rebellious, socially-shunned woman giving way to another! I can get behind this. Please inquire if, inspired by this song, you would like to join me in dyeing someone's dog green as a prank.

Exile (feat. Bon Iver). Listen. Did I nearly throw my computer across the room when this song started and the voice issuing forth was some ~dude~ instead of Taylor? Yes. But have I turned out to actually enjoy it? Also yes. "You're not my homeland anymore / So what am I defending now?" is a real gut-punch of a lyric and, coincidentally, also what I plan to adopt as my life's mantra when I someday manage to move from the United States to a country that believes in science. 

Mirrorball. You know that TikTok where the girl is wholesale sobbing but still busting out a choreographed dance? That's me listening to this song, which is technically about a disco, but in a sad way. 

August. This album should have come out exactly one week later, and this song is why. You give us one song with Instagram caption potential, and it's about a month that hasn't started yet? Taylor. Come on.

Illicit Affairs. Zero Taylor Swift fans in history have been involved in illicit affairs. Taylor Swift has not been involved in an illicit affair. But this song has made chain-smoking, jilted mistresses of us all. I do want to scream, "Don't call me kid, don't call me baby!" I've totally done drugs that only worked the first few hundred times! (Disclaimer for my mother and the FBI agent inevitably monitoring my activity online: given that I can't even handle beer, that is very clearly false.) This number has some of the best storytelling on the album in my opinion, and that bridge is Taylor's Golden Gate. Mainline this song. 

Invisible String. The ultra-rare happy Folklore song emerges once more! This too is a charming little number, and I became a human :') emoji when I noticed that someone doing a Twitter thread of "Folklore songs as Mamma Mia" described this one with a picture of Donna and the Dynamos. I don't know about a golden thread connecting romantic partners, but I sure felt my invisible strings being pulled on Thursday night when texts from friends about this album started pouring in. I'm interpreting this number as a friend love song, and I want more of those. 

Mad Woman. Guys, did you know that Taylor says the F-word on this album? A lot?! This angry piece has the best F-bomb of T. Swift's career, and my jaw truly fell on the floor when I heard it. I will not rest until there is merch based on that line. 

Peace (presented out of order for what will soon be obvious reasons). Setting aside the fact that this song references Taylor one day having children — an inevitability that extremely-childless me is NOT ready for — I found this song to be one of Tay Tay's best ruminations yet on her current relationship. You have mentioned, Taylor, that dating you is sewww hard, given that you're a paparazzi-ridden hot person. You mentioned it on "Ready For It." You mentioned it on "The Archer." But, in this instance, the straightforward question format drove it home in a really genuine, simple way.

A bonus advantage to this song is its rich array of potential rhyming parodies. Stay tuned for the Weird Al spin-off for lactose intolerant people, "Would it be enough if I could never give you cheese?" 

Betty. TOP FIVE TAYLOR SONG OF ALL TIME. Maybe top three. I love that this can at least be interpreted as queer, I love that it throws a bone to Kaylor truthers, I love that it's old-school Taylor with a guitar — I just love it. Whatever they paid that harmonica player, it wasn't enough. The American national anthem will probably be cancelled sooner or later, and when it is, I propose "Betty" as a replacement. 

On a serious note, I want to make clear that this album ("Betty" excluded) makes me sad. The sound of it is bleak and moody, the lyrics even more so, and frankly, extra sadness is not what I need in this no-good, very bad year. I'm going to continue listening to Folklore, but I'll probably take breaks from the darker corners of the record — and, if you're feeling at-capacity for bummerdom, I'd suggest you do so, too. The album will still be there next year when we can leave our houses and see our friends again. And in the meantime, you can always go back to laughing at Reputation. 

Overall, though, I'm thrilled that our benevolent queen gifted us with new music. What a piece of news to wake up to in the middle of this summer from hell! The last time I was surprised with Taylor news this good was 2015, when I won tickets to a concert of hers via Tinder (yes, really). I was job-hunting then just as I am now, and the surprise joy of that 2015 ticket win was followed a few days later by the extra joy of a job offer. Let us hope history repeats itself this year, and that when it does, the new job is signficantly less depressing than this new album. Fingers crossed!

Adios 'til the next album, readers. Don't forget your masks.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Let's Talk

Like so many others, I am heartbroken by the slaughter of George Floyd and the mistreatment that black people face every day in this country, particularly when it is meted out by those who claim to "protect and serve." 

Moreover, I am disgusted that these inequities remain with us after decades of protests and countless calls for change. In the midst of our current unrest, I stand in unwavering support of those who feel that, to make their voices heard, they have to scream. 

However, I have struggled with what to say with my own voice in these historic times. As much as I may try to educate myself, I am not an expert on racial justice, nor will I ever know firsthand the trials of living in a black body in these United States. Though we should all speak up, it is crucial that we listen most to those who are experts and who have experienced those trials. Moreover, simply posting on social media doesn't feel right for this moment either — it's a start, but it cannot be all we do.

So, with that in mind, I want to share three things. 

First, the words of our 44th President, Barack Obama. Read them. Internalize them. Act on them. 

Second, this guide to how we can take our activism off of the internet and into real life, where hopefully, one day, we can effect real change. 

And third, an invitation. We can't change anything if we refuse to talk about it. So if you want to talk, I'm here to listen — whether we agree or not. 

Stay safe. Take care of each other. Let's get through this social studies textbook of a year together.