February 28, 2021


By Kristi Kates | June 17, 2017

Pentatonix – Vol. IV Classics – RCA
Pentatonix can really do no wrong with its releases at this point, as its members have such a solid grip on their vocal chemistry and ability to transform most any tune into an a cappella standout. On this set, they tackle some true classics and do a bang-up job both putting a modern spin on the 1940s gem “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and adapting the complexities of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to their unaccompanied vocals. You’ll also get their Grammy Award-winning version of Dolly Parton’s iconic “Jolene,” and an energetic spin through A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” PTX takes just enough risks to keep these versions intriguing but respects the melodies along the way. ***

Harry Styles – Harry Styles – Columbia
He said farewell to One Direction and hello to a brand new solo career — a direction that’s long scuttled many a boy band-er headed out by himself after a successful career as part of a strongly identified group. But Styles has a sizable amount of talent on his own, and also a more vintage, solid reservoir of influences from which to draw. Away from his bandmates, he’s more inclined to rely on the sounds of Bowie, the Stones, and Lindsey Buckingham than ’NSync. The result: ’70s-dusted, low-toned, bluesy pop-rock, yards away from what 1D ever did. The standouts: The Paul Simon-ish “From the Dining Room”; Aussie-inspired rocker “Kiwi”; and showcase single “Sign of the Times.” *** ½ 

Take That – Wonderland – Polydor
Gary Barlowe, Mark Owen, and Howard Donald are what’s left of Take That (Jason Orange and solo success Robbie Williams are gone), but the takeaway from this change is that only the visuals are lacking with two fewer bandmates sharing the stage. The powerful pop sounds of the band — such as it is — are still intact. The lyrics … ? Well, not so much; they lean toward the banal far too often. That said, several of these tracks are still instant anthems for the pop fan, including the ’80s synths ’n’ beats of the title track; the brisk, compelling melodies of “Superstar”; and the hushed pause of “Hope,” one of the few slower songs on the set. ***

Julia Michaels - Issues - Republic
“Issues” is the first of Michaels’ songs that has snagged the songwriter some attention for herself, with its descending chorus melody, personally revealing lyrics, and harpsichord-esque backing riff on the keyboards. It’s a catchy track for sure, even if Michaels’ vocal tics — most notably, the yelp at the end of many of her notes — can be a little much at times, but her songwriting skills are most definitely present, especially considering that Michaels is best known to date as the co-writer of other songs for artists like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. As soon as she pushes through a few growing pains and reins in control of her own vocals a little better, it’s likely we’ll hear some interesting pop work from her. ** ½




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