Review: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

“You want a timeless song, I want to change the game / Like modern architecture, John Lautner coming your way”. With those opening lines, Dua Lipa sets the tone for her sophomore full length album, Future Nostalgia. If you’re like me, you had to Google John Lautner to get the reference, but only after like the fifth or sixth spin of the album, because pressing pause would kill the vibe.

You can buy or stream Future Nostalgia on Apple Music.

“I know you’re not used to a female alpha”, she sings over the song’s chorus – and that’s truly the album’s rallying cry. With Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa has clearly forged her own path to pop stardom, dropping dense architecture references right alongside bold, empowering one-liners that make clear that she’s doing things her way. And the vehicle for her message is so damn addictive that it’s impossible to turn away. This is the pop record we needed.

I’ve been an avid fan of Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut since its release in the summer of 2017. Female empowerment anthem “New Rules” helped put the British singer on the map, but the album has plenty of hidden gems amidst its 12 tracks. Nevertheless, the one thing that held back that debut was its pacing, weighed down by ballads that, although enjoyable in their own right, tended to reign in her more explosive songwriting tendencies.

There is no such filler to be found on Future Nostalgia. With the help of Jeff Bhasker and company, Dua Lipa appears to have leaned fully into the self-confidence that powered her early tracks like “Hotter Than Hell” and “Blow Your Mind”. But this is a far cry from an amped up version of her debut.

You’ve likely heard “Don’t Start Now” enough to know that it’s pure pop perfection and an obvious lead single, but it does little to capture Future Nostalgia as a whole. Across the albums 11 tracks, Dua Lipa makes good on her album title’s promise with splashes of 70’s disco elements, 80’s power pop, and tracks that resemble club bangers from the 90’s. What makes the album so amazing is that none of it feels tired or re-hashed. 

The synthesizers on “Cool” bounce with confidence and purpose as she effortlessly delivers a chorus for the ages, capitalized by the line, “You’ve got me losing all my cool / I guess we’re ready for the summer”. A few tracks later, “Levitating”, with its disco-inspired beat and pristine melody, sounds like what you’d expect if Kylie Minogue strutted her best stuff atop a Daft Punk track. “Pretty Please” and “Hallucinate” are custom built to be modern day dance floor jams with their pulsing bass lines, the latter of which should provide a great workout for anyone who has found themselves glued to the couch these past few weeks.

“Love Again” and “Break My Heart” may be the best back-to-back tracks on the album, wearing their influence on their sleeves while Dua Lipa makes each track her own (the former samples White Town’s “Your Woman” while the latter expertly pulls from INXS’ “Need You Tonight”). Each song finds her walking the line between her confidence and vulnerability without ever forfeiting her autonomy. The way she opens “Break My Heart” with the lines, “I’ve always been the one to say the first goodbye / Had to love and lose a hundred million times / Had to get it wrong to know just what I like”, is the kind of moment where you can feel the earth shift. Dua Lipa has become a bonafide star before our very eyes.

Anyone wanting to pick nits can point to “Good in Bed” and “Boys Will Be Boys” as stumbling the album across the finish line, but even that closing track feels purposeful and poignant with a line like, “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down / And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around”. Future Nostalgia finds plenty of opportunities for Dua Lipa to bring the hammer down, both sonically and thematically.

It’s safe to say that we have an early frontrunner for album of the year, and it’s hard to imagine another 2020 pop album entering its orbit. Dua Lipa has leveled up and delivered a classic.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Hellogoodbye – S’only Natural

Hellogoodbye has become an indie darling through a daring evolution of synth pop. Hellogoodbye mature each album cycle into something new. However, the risk is that sometimes these projects have mixed results. S’only Natural, the band’s newest album, is an infuriating record that I loved and hated in equal measure for the first two weeks after its release. However, after seeing Hellogoodbye live, I can finally appreciate the album in a way that otherwise may not have been possible.

Hellogoodbye played the Subterranean in Chicago two weeks after the release of S’only Natural. I have seen the group live twice before, and am familiar with the energy of their performances. However, this show lacked the stacked keyboards and intimacy of a ukulele. Instead, a glitzy golden sheet flowed across the stage with the words “Club Forrest” emblazoned on in in bright neon. Singer Forrest Kline strode across the stage in a lounge suit, dancing with a relaxed swagger. That’s the moment that S’only Natural finally clicked.

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Hellogoodbye

S’only Natural is a disco record. It is arguably the best instrumentation of Hellogoodbye’s career. The bass lines are extraordinarily melodic (“S’only Natural”). The guitars are restrained, but flesh out a full-bodied sound encouraging the listener to dance. The keyboards take their time and play a more integral, natural element to the music (“Let It Burn”). Additionally, the percussion is relaxed, but rich. While no song finds the frenetic pace of past records, the beats find a healthy balance between dance numbers and somber tones that perfectly match the bass (“Hang Loose”).

Trumpets, violin, and piano also take center stage at key points. Both “Overture” songs, which start and end the album, are primarily gorgeous violin ballads that sound straight out of the 1950’s.

One of the key things about S’only Natural is that it is a full, single piece. Many songs seem to bleed into the next, or end in such a way that it sets up the next perfectly. It keeps the album moving, but also can cause many songs to sound remarkably similar if you’re not paying attention. The music is amazing, but it lacks the variety of past records. It’s not until after the album is already done that you really see the crescendo of the first half and the soft ballads that swell to end the record (“Mysterious You”).

The most off-putting part of the album is singer Forrest Kline. For a singer who is so full of creativity, he takes zero chances with S’only Natural. Every song is sung in the same quiet pitch, with a backing track of himself almost whispering. Each song, I expected him to finally put a bit of effort into his voice, but instead maintains the same tone and quiet drawl. It’s maddening and beautiful at the same time. At times, it almost renders the lyrics useless.

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Hellogoodbye

After multiple listens over several weeks, I still had no opinion of this album. It was fun and boring, vibrant and bland at the same time. Which is why it seemed so odd to watch Forrest confidently strut in front of the mic stand. There was far more energy here than anything on the album. Opening the set with album closer “Honeymoon (Forever)”, Kline crooned over the soft taps of the snare and a keyboard, “I will come away with you / You look like you know what to do / Missing both your shoes, disheveled and amused / I’m in love with you”. Gliding over the gold blanket, the lounge jacket buttoned tight, the soft nature of his voice made absolute sense. Even during faster, poppier songs when the percussion and keyboards picked up volume to a staggering pitch, such as “Put It Out”, Kline simply crooned. “You were the autumn that bathed me in gold / And I’m a fool that thinks you were a flame I could hold”.

Almost the entire setlist of the live show was from S’only Natural, with only a few select favorites and fan requests from other albums peppered throughout. By night’s end, S’only Natural finally made sense to me. The instrumentation was the true star of this record. While the band’s music evolved over past records, Kline’s voice and lyrics always seemed to take center stage. This album is a jam. It wants you to dance. It wants anyone listening to be able to sing along with minimal effort. The confidence to play mostly new songs live plays straight into the album’s strength. And while past albums became poppier, S’only Natural looks back at the classic sounds and styles that influenced today’s music. The result is a romantic blend of current dance beats and crooner swing.

S’only Natural is an anomaly of an album. It’s soft, restrained and bursting with energy all at once. Though the lyrics are catchy, they’re a device to bring more attention to the music itself. This era of the band is just as progressive as it is classical. The mountainous bass lines eventually give way to gentle ballads that culminate in a rich album that forces listeners to discover the band’s music in a completely new way. S’only Natural isn’t an album for everyone, but it rewards anyone willing to put in the effort.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and realized Forrest Kline was standing behind him watching the opening band. When Kyle introduced himself to Forrest, he said, “We’ve actually met before in Columbus. You grabbed my nipples [because I complimented Joseph Morro instead of you].” Forrest looked shocked, took a drink and then danced away into the crowd. He is literally the best people.