TAYLOR SWIFT/ RED: Having started her musical career at the tender age of 14, the now 22-year-old songwriting prodigy has come a long way since her humble country origins in Nashville, Tennessee. Swift's 2008 second album, Fearless, became an overnight critical and commercial success while also managing to cross over to a pop audience - something nobody has pulled off since female country phenomena LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain. The album went on to snag four Grammy Awards, not to mention several others from the American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. To date, Fearless has received more awards than any other album in country music history, and further cements Swift's reputation as a well rounded artist and an exceptional songwriter.
Fuelled by the Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, her follow-up album, Speak Now, enjoyed similar success and saw the young songstress playing sold-out shows around the world. And, like her music, Swift's history of highly publicised romantic relationships reads like an open diary (it's easy to see why, considering the fact that her past suitors include people like the Jonas Brothers' Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner - from Twilight - John Mayer and Jake Gyllenhaal).
The opening number, State of Grace, is a pleasant surprise as it's by far the most rock-sounding tune Swift has attempted. Backed by huge drums, she sings: ''You come around and the armour falls/Pierce the room like a cannon ball/Now all we know is don't let go/We are in love just you and me.'' The title track, however, pulls us back into the break-up vortex as Swift cleverly indulges in colourful metaphors: ''Losing him was blue like I'd never known/Missing him was dark grey all alone/Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you've never met/But loving him was red.''
Harking back to her country roots, the first single, We are Never Ever Getting Back Together, excellently showcases the more sassy side to Swift that we don't often get to see. The equally edgy I Knew You Were Trouble could easily pass off as a track by Pink, with a few extra bass wobbles to boot. Yes, she's done the unimaginable by going dubstep. It's a great experiment, although one that's likely to be frowned upon by both her country fans and dubstep heads.
Before further damage is done, Swift promptly lassoos her fans back with a string of heartfelt ballads such as All Too Well, The Last Time (featuring Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody), Almost Do, Sad Beautiful Tragic and Begin Again. The latter, and Red's second single, fittingly concludes the album as she sings of the start of a new romance: ''I've been spending the last eight months/Thinking that all love ever does/Is break and burn and end/But on a Wednesday in a cafe/I watched it begin again.'' With the banjo and fiddle at play, this track is as country as this album gets.
At its core, Swift's simply titled Red, does a respectable job in narrating a muddled aftermath of failed relationships as well as celebrating the beginning of a new one. The moping here is kept to a minimum, thanks to the sass and optimism that Swift brings to the table. And while experimental in places, the album still very much contains Swift's distinct identity as one this generation's finest artists and songwriters.
Stoondio/ Untitled 001
Graphic designer-turned-solo artist Chotika ''Toon'' Kamwongpin delivers four minutes plus of serenity and subtlety under the guise of Untitled 001, the first single from her Stoondio project. Written, played and produced by Toon herself, the track starts off with the tender acoustic strumming custom-made for her hazy vocals before the beat takes over as she implores things to stay constant. The introspective songwriting acutely reminds us of Thailand's first female grunge artist Ornaree, which in this case is a very positive thing.
Haim/ Don't Save Me
Made up of Danielle, Alana and Este, California-based sister trio Haim make a top-notch, refreshing pop sound that doesn't require buzz or gimmicks to put them in the spotlight. Growing up in a musical household, the girls have been playing music with their parents (who are also musicians) since before they reached puberty. After releasing a three-song EP called Forever and extensive touring, the sisters put their signature three-part harmony to optimal use on the new single Don't Save Me. The track is a perfect marriage between '80s pop and new wave with enough hints of R&B to get you to groove along.
Brandy/ Wildest Dreams
American R&B diva Brandy finally returns to music after having her own reality show and appearing on a handful of TV series over the past couple of years. Her sixth studio album Two Eleven marks Brandy's near two decades in the business and is perhaps her attempt to make up for the flop that was her 2008 album, Human. ''Out of an unknown place/Kinda like left field/You came in my life and helped me heal,'' the track's opening line already sums up the message of Wildest Dreams. Musically, it's Brandy's typical brand of mid-tempo R&B, which, frankly, has stopped exciting us since her collaboration with Monica on 1998's duet The Boy is Mine.
Disclosure (featuring Sam Smith)/ Latch
Fresh from from supporting fellow British electronic acts SBTRKT and Hot Chip, the UK's up-and-coming duo of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, aka Disclosure, share with us a new gem - Latch. As the name suggests, the song talks about that universal yearning for both emotional and physical involvement with someone else. Big props to guest artist Sam Smith who brilliantly lends his earnest vocals to the subtle garage-house melody, singing ''I'm so encaptured, got wrapped up in your touch/Feel so enamoured, hold me tighter then your clutch.'' The track will definitely latch on to your ears.
In an unexpected move, Ciara announces the arrival of her fifth studio album One Woman Army with Sorry, a smooth ballad recounting a relationship gone wrong, instead of an edgy urban R&B jam like 1, 2 Step and Goodies. Over the slick bass-driven production, Ciara croons: ''Cause I tried and tried/And I cried and cried/Up late at night and I hurt.'' Unfortunately, she isn't able to pull it off, failing to reflect the passion due to her limited vocal range. The song's vibe is also treading in the too familiar waters of her previous ballad Promise, hence coming off sounding like a sloppy rehash.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai