Album Reviews: Lady Gaga, Nicole Atkins, Andreya Casablanca

Lady Gaga — Chromatica (New York City)

Though it's been really powerful to hear Lady Gaga explore the various ends of her music, especially her jazz outings, a return to dance pop feels utterly satisfying. Whether it's symphonic sweeps, experimental effects or just high-octane synth energy, this record is Gaga in her most refined form. Following the mind-bending openers on this album, "Stupid Love" blasts you into a triumphant and ecstatic celebration of love in all of its weirdness and electricity. And the myriad tiny details and fills on this record really inject a life into the music. With Ariana Grande offering a second side to the narrative, "Rain On Me" is a fun EDM-fusion track that is begging for remixes and to be blasted in a field when we can see a festival again. "Fun Tonight" uses Gaga's phenomenal piano playing to inform the chords and voicing of  the song in wonderfully colourful ways, in a song that fills her grooves with a sense of sadness, all while she establishes a narrative across her past personas. All her vintage vocal styles play on a weird lounge-pop feel for "Babylon" to make all of its choruses call to a bit of "Alejandro."

The Perms — Give Me A Call (Winnipeg)

With a blaring bass and modern pop reinvention The Perms really bring a fun and catchy feeling to modern alt-rock. Amy Lewis adds the larger-than-life energy of every chorus as the band pushes their frustration into a palpable feeling. Lewis also gives them a kind of back-and-forth in the story, even as her vocals are psun around the mix. "Give Me a Call" roars with a kind of global mix of riffs and a funky rhythm section, creating a track that feels relatable no matter where you are.

Nicole Atkins — Italian Ice (Nashville, TN)

The evolution of Nicole Atkins' music has been a slow-burn of stadium-sized pop into a deeper and soulful mosaic of sounds across time. Blending her powerhouse voice, fuzz, an orchestra and fierce energy, this is a personal record that feels like the voices of thousands. "Am Gold" speaks to this same feeling, as its smoky waves of instrumentation seek to unify listeners while hitting all their different tastes in some way. Hearing the grooves ooze out of "Domino" is an infectious feeling, as Atkins tries to lure you in and dazzle you away from the darkness that she alludes to in the background. Even in the simple twangs of "Never Going Home Again" there's a charm to harmonies on display between everyone involved to talk about moving on. And amongst the more rollicking rhythms of "These Old Roses" it's hard not to be caught up in the romanticism and pain that Atkins calls back to.

Alex Cuba — Just the Two of Us (Artemisa, Cuba/Canada)

With the recent passing of Bill Withers, it's been comforting to see artists like Alex Cuba sharing their love of his work with their own music. Not only does Cuba's version have a unique shuffle and swing in its bones, but it has a bouncy soul all his own. Where it skips a full band for more expansive choruses, it brings out a more impactful sense of intimacy. Cuba's own little translated section is a wonderfully personal touch that really amplifies his attachment to the song as well. Plus the soaring wave of vocals he piles on just to close things out really stands out to make it feel like a wholly unique approach to the song.

Andreya Casablanca — Talk About It (Berlin, Germany)

Gurr has been one of the bands whose layered and fun pop has helped quarantine feel a little less hopeless, so getting a single from singer Andreya Casablanca was a welcome surprise. Rather than a rock-pop injection to match her band however, this wild experimental trip through genres was a really fun break away, and one that showed how truly out there Casablanca's sensibilities can go. Even just the beat of this track roars with a modern hip hop and pop blend, while the waves of fuzz and tremolo speak to a 90s rock energy. Whether it's the layering or a clever mashing of various keyboards, it forces you to think about the sum of its parts more than the pieces, much like its existential lyrics. These same words are accented by Casablanca's fiery vocals, which can push the pop to a shrieking height right as it seems to just be wrapping up.