December’s music in review: Ryan Adams, ZAYN and The xx

by Long Do | 1/5/17 12:00am

“To Be Without You,” Ryan Adams, “Prisoners”

Adams’ new album’s lead single “Do You Still Love Me?” features riff after riff of heavy guitar, but this new song offers a much calmer, acoustic vibe. “To Be Without You” is downright simple. Adams kept all the aspects of the song straightforward and unpretentious. The tempo is moderate, the percussions distinct and the vocals clear. It is an honest post-breakup narration.

The song hardly exceeds three and a half minutes. Its lyrics are divided into four stanzas, each ending with “Nothing really matters anymore.” Adams combines imagery with real details to convey his hopelessness. “Thunders in my bones out in the streets where I first saw you / And everything was new and colorful, it’s gotten darker,” he ponders. It is easy to sound devastated when discussing heartbreak, but it’s more difficult to sound as genuine as Adams does on “To Be Without You.”

Rating: 4/5

“Say Something Loving,” The xx, “I See You”

“Say Something Loving” by The xx is the latest promotional single for its album release later this month. The song features the band’s trademark ostinato riffs of electronic instruments and soft vocals by Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. The xx recently shared that its upcoming LP will be “more open and expansive” in sound. This new track is, in fact, brighter compared to the tightly boxed “Crystalised” or “Chained.”

“Say Something Loving” describes a yearning for attachment, with lyrics such as “Say something loving / I need a reminder, the feeling’s escaped me.” Although the verses succeed in creating anticipation, the song’s chorus is melodically insufficient. It is only during its bridge that the song picks up energy again. At its best, the song still convinces listeners what “the thrill of affection” means. Its unrewarding chorus is forgivable.

Rating: 3.5/5

“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” ZAYN & Taylor Swift, “Fifty Shades Darker: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” ­— the pairing of Swift and “Fifty Shades” — feels like a surprise, but in hindsight, we could have seen it coming. Swift is perfectly capable of writing for the newest installment in the dark franchise. Remember “Boys only want love if it’s torture” and “If the high was worth the pain” from “Blank Space?”

Both ZAYN and Swift showcase their vocals in this track. Swift has rarely been this confident singing in fifth octave, and ZAYN’s falsetto is impressive (even though the song is more pleasant when he uses chest voice). Since Swift’s talent for lyrics is absent here, the hero of “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” is producer Jack Antonoff. He subtly sharpened a note in the chord progression, adding a 80s-classic feeling to the track. With great sense of modicum, he incorporated those thick bass synths first thing into the chorus to enhance the already marketable melody. ZAYN and Swift try to sound erotic, but it is Antonoff who makes the song fifty shades darker.

Rating: 4/5

“Versace on the Floor,” Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”

“Versace on the Floor” is one of the highlights from Mars’ new LP “24K Magic.” A 90s-throwback R&B-pop ballad, the song conveys Mars’ intimate desire for his partner: “Above us all the stars are watchin’ / There’s no place I’d rather be in this world.” These lyrics walk the thin line separating expressive from cheesy, but they are acceptable given the song’s affectionate context.

“Versace on the Floor” remains one of Mars’ best thanks to its arrangement. It is sweet, desirous and wistful, like a timeless track to be played during the slow dance at prom. On top of that, Mars gave a convincing performance on the recording. He fills the song with sheer passion, limiting the sugar that he often overuses when talking about love.

Rating: 4.5/5

“Unicron Loev,” Raleigh Ritchie, “Mind the Gap”

In summary, “Unicron Loev” focuses on Ritchie’s exhilaration with his new love. “You keep my head busy / And I’m in deep, I’m dizzy,” Ritchie sang in the song’s second verse. The title, which seems more interesting than the lyrics, may have been intentionally mispelt to reflect this profound impact of being love-struck.

The strength of “Unicron Loev” lies in its consistent warmth and zeal. The song is built upon smooth electronic beats, fused with R&B elements. As it flows into the chorus, elements from the mysterious intro reappear to add more layers. “Unicron Loev” closes with chimes and racing horses, invoking a sense of magic. The track never needs to be loud to be triumphant.

Rating: 4/5