Well what do you know? A pop princess once again steals my heart. Honestly, I don’t know why any of you are surprised by me at this point. The only real question is whether the pop princess I love is going to have fun enough vibes to overpower the album I listened to by a female indie artist that absolutely ripped my heart in two. This year, love wins!
Every single time Carly Rae Jepsen comes up, I feel like I have to do a little defence of her as an artist. She is forever the artist who brought us “Call Me Maybe” and yes, she certainly is. Even her fans will not dispute that legacy. That was a song that was much maligned in its time and I think actually, the past decade has been very kind to it. The past decade however has been even kinder to Jepsen’s career. After her albums Emotion and Dedicated, she set herself out as the most reliable pop princess in town. I love Dua Lipa, I love Taylor Swift, but Carly is the one who I know can always knock it out of the park. So with another album on the way, my hopes were, naturally, high. I had some doubts, but those were of course completely foolish doubts.
Once again, this is another change in vibe for Carly. She’s still in pop, naturally, but this is now a dreamy 70s, Fleetwood Mac-ish vibe. “Western Wind”, the lead single, exemplifies that best. Many of my favourite songs from CRJ are ones that pack a huge punch with big sound, but “Western Wind” is immediately quieter. Even the chorus, Carly plays it low key on. It’s an almost casual introduction to the record, one that speaks to an immense confidence on the part of the artist. And of course, once you get into the album itself, the big sound pops out for you.
That first track “Surrender My Heart”, is such a sucker punch. It first highlights the top tier vocals that we’ve always known Carly can do, but also highlights that we’re still going on emotional journeys on this album. She starts by singing “I’ve been trying hard to open up” and that offers a chance for the audience to take these songs as a sort of confessional for Jepsen. She’s been trying hard, she wants to be open, this is her trying. Even with old school instruments backing her though, she keeps a modern beat and bass, which I love her sound for. It is this pure energy that flows through the music and from this first song into the last, it carries you.
I’ll be honest, I think the next handful of songs aren’t amazing. They’re by no mean bad, because even the worst Carly Rae Jepsen song is a breezy and delightful pop song, but I think they’re below her usual bar. We return to that bar pretty quickly though with “Beach House”, the funniest song on the album. It’s about all the terrible men that Carly has dated across the years, but done with the kind of wry smile that this genre needs now. Think of it as her take on “Blank Space”, a smart takedown of the criticisms female pop stars are labelled with. The ways these men are pathetic is hilarious too, whether it’s that they cry during sex, have their mother cook the food for their date or say “I love you” on the first date. On top of that, it’s an absolute bop.
The next song is “Bends.” I’m going to really struggle to talk about this song because it is one I associate very deeply with Annie, my girlfriend. It’s a slower song but still fully in the genre of pop, about having a bad day and it all being healed by the embrace of the one that you love. There’s this refrain of “I can feel the darkness sometimes too” that I think is gently sensational. I hear it and I take it as being about being someone who is incredibly emotional and finding solace in someone of the same ilk. You both have your moments of vulnerability but in each other you find peace. For me, “Bends” is about the healing power of someone who loves you and how that can heal you with the strength to be there for them when they need you. For me, this song is forever Annie, so it owns my heart for that reason.
That’s what I love about this album, it covers such a brilliant emotional spectrum, just as Jepsen’s previous two albums did. You might be jumping off the walls with glee or holding your head in your hands as you cry in the shower at any given point, but the transition between the two is never abrupt. Let’s take two songs on the album as examples. “Shooting Star” is an absolute, blast off to the moon banger. The tempo is immediately quicker than most and that gets the fun across, before we even get to the cheeky opener “I might sleep with you tonight, if you wanna know why, just because.” This isn’t a song about relationships with other people or even with yourself, it’s about a fun and quick hook-up that you have just because the moon is right and the feeling is nice. Of all the songs on the album, it’s the one I dance to the most. The flipside of it and the song that immediately follows it is “Go Find Yourself or Whatever”, a song that immediately slows things down. Just from the title, you know this is a song about the end of a relationship, maybe a relationship that spun off from that one night the last song depicted. I love that it depicts the attempt at indifference Jepsen feels at the breakup, using “or whatever” to mask the fact that “I wake up hollow”. By most metrics it’s not a stripped back song, but compared to this album it is and that makes the lyrics pack a punch, as Jepsen attempts (and fails) not to care about her ex. It feels almost casual, but is totally devastating.
That takes us to the final track, the titular one. We’ve made it through the good and the bad, so now it’s time to say goodbye. That’s exactly the vibe we get from the start. It’s a goodbye tinged with sorrow, but a farewell that we’ll still try and celebrate regardless. I don’t know enough about music history to say where or what it pulls from, but this sudden strain of disco emerges onto the album for the first time, signalling a definitive moving on. Maybe the most shocking facet of this song though is that it’s a duet with Rufus Wainwright, perhaps most famed for his cover of “Hallelujah”. Here, he fits in with ease. I have no idea how that works, but he and Jepsen perfectly compliment each other and I commend them trying something that could have so easily backfired. Plus, that middle eight! So much fun! It is a perfectly judged conclusion to an album that, while not itself perfect, is another sterling example of the perfect pop that Jepsen is beloved for.
In fact, in Carly Rae Jepsen tradition, even the bonus tracks are amazing! “Anxious” is one that’s been on repeat for me recently, for reasons that are obvious for anyone who has spoken to me in the past few weeks. If you haven’t properly dived into Jepsen’s wider work yet, this album is a great start, because it introduces you to the talent and variety she offers, while still saving her very finest work for exploration later. It is the burst of energy at the end of the year that got me back into music and it gives me energy every time I even see the cover. I adore it, because I am obvious like that.
Laurel Hell by Mitski – Had I not had such a happy end to 2022, maybe Mitski would have had my favourite album of the year. As it was, she was my most played artist of 2022 and the performer at one of my favourite concerts of the year and Laurel Hell is a worthy addition to her stellar discography
Dawn FM by The Weeknd – After Hours came out just as the pandemic took us all into lockdown and therefore feels like this last signifier of a time gone by. And suddenly, after what feels like both two decades and five minutes, The Weeknd has released a follow up. It’s weirdly conceptual, it has bops, what more can a boy ask for?
CAPRISONGS by FKA twigs – I spent much of the various lockdowns listening to FKA twigs and so news of a new album from her delighted me. The album blew past my expectations though and is one that has failed to fade in my memory or in my heart since the start of 2022.
Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road – It’s worth saying that I went to sixth form with some of the band members of BCNR and many of those band members are friends of close friends of mine. That shouldn’t be taken as a sign that this album is here because it’s from people I know, rather that I am in awe that people whose lives are so close to mine can create something as swaggeringly confident as this while I sit behind a keyboard and write four line reviews of albums.
Crash by Charli XCX – Charli is the pop princess for the alternative crowd, but she still knows how to craft an absolute banger. She has some of the cheekiest samples of the year on her album, but they’re all delivered with a knowing wink that sells them 100%.
WE by Arcade Fire – My relationship with Arcade Fire has soured recently for obvious reasons, but I can’t deny how much I loved WE on release. It is bold and ambitious and a little bit cringe worthy. It is Arcade Fire to a tee and I wish it was the impression of them that I ended the year with.
Big Time by Angel Olsen – There is still so much about Angel Olsen’s discography that I’m unfamiliar with, but even with the little I know, Big Time feels like a very refreshing change in tone for her. It wasn’t a necessary change of pace, but it’s a welcome one regardless.
Rising by mxmtoon – Singers who start because of online followings can go one of two ways for me, as I can often find them slightly grating, However, mxmtoon charms me. She has genuine talent as a singer and a songwriter and I’m excited for her future.
Everything Was Forever by Sea Power – After they provided the music for Disco Elysium, I fell in love with Sea Power and their soundscapes. Though it sounds like faint praise, they make music I can put on in the background and fade away into, and that’s one of the things I treasure most about music as a medium.
Muna by Muna – I have been rooting for Muna since “Number One Fan” in 2019 and now they’ve finally broken through into the mainstream, without losing a shred of their personality. I feel very proud of this band that I have very little to do with.
Wet Leg by Wet Leg – Rumblings were coming out of festivals in 2021 about this strange band from the Isle of Man, making pop music that was brazenly full of innuendos and strange turns of phrase. When that band, Wet Leg, finally released their debut album, I understood all the fuss and became part of the fuss myself.
Midnights by Taylor Swift – Released the same day as The Loneliest Time, I know that for many Midnights is the superior album. I however, found it as full of lows as I did highs. Those highs, however, were quite special indeed, and as a Swiftie I am dutybound to defend the stuff I don’t like with the vigour I praise the stuff I do love.
And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow by Weyes Blood – Weyes Blood is one of those recent discoveries for me, where people cooler than I told me who she was. Now that I’ve discovered her though, I love the way her operatic vocals play into and against her music, to create complex soundscapes I keep returning to.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You by Big Thief – If you were to define the sound of indie music with an album, it could well be this one. Its length is sometimes a weakness, but I adored the spikes of brilliance. “No Reason”, in particular, is one of my favourite songs of the whole year.
NO THANK YOU by Little Simz – Once again, I am won over by Little Simz. I don’t listen to a lot of rap music but when I do, it’s usally Little Simz and I always enjoy her flow and lyricism working in perfect harmony.
RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé – For years, I have resisted the pull of Beyonce. I thought I was better than everyone else for that. I was wrong, of course, which I can say now that I’ve succumbed. If I need an hour of solid vibes, I put on RENAISSANCE and jam hard to it. In particular, “Virgo’s Groove” is irresistible.