I Know Places’ recalls 2010’s ‘Ours’, with Swift reassuring a lover that they’ll survive being relentlessly hounded by hiding out in foxholes. “Loose lips sink ships all the damn time,” she sighs bitterly, and you know she means it.
—  1989 review (x)

Tiny Impressions: Fantasy Life is going to ruin my life ⊟

[Tiny Cartridge contributor Francesco Dagostino dipped into Level-5’s Fantasy Life before its release and found himself well and truly hooked. Here, he offers his impressions, explaining the ways Level-5 dropped him into a two-day Fantasy Life fugue state. Ahab screen via Pillolife.]

I’ve played Fantasy Life for 18 hours in less than two days. When something like this happens, 

my body sort of flexes and a strange force takes control of it and makes me write long articles, hoping people will read them and buy the game and experience the same level of amazement I am experiencing.

I like sharing good things.

So what is Fantasy Life?

Let’s start with a little bit of history.

Fantasy Life is a life simulation RPG for 3DS developed by Level-5. The game launched in Japan in 2012 and was very successful, to the point that it was followed by a meaty expansion called Fantasy Life Link!, available both as DLC and as a retail “version 1.5”.

Link! added new areas, quests, monsters, items and features, including a friendship system for recruitable party members, the option to play the game online with friends and a chat system similar to the one used in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Since it was developed by Level-5, yes, it has a circus and clowns in it.

Some might say Fantasy Life inherited the spirit and some ideas included in the first, unreleased action-y version of Dragon Quest IX, others think that its roots burrow deeper in the history of Level-5, going all the way back to the canceled Xbox MMO True Fantasy Live Online

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What we know is that Fantasy Life was initially conceived as a stunningly beautiful pixel-art DS RPG, co-developed with Brownie Brown. That prototype seems to have mutated into London Life, the extra mode included in Professor Layton and the Last Spectre, but was otherwise abandoned.

This is not to say that the “new” Fantasy Life doesn’t look good. Sure, the pixel art was dropped for 3D graphics, but if you’ve played any recent Layton games (or Inazuma Eleven GO!, if you live in Europe), you already know Level-5 is a little wizard when it comes to pushing and squeezing the 3DS’ potential. The game looks great, and the art direction is excellent.

Imagine a Dragon Quest world populated by those weird, quirky Layton characters. It’s quite the mix! 

Oh, and let me just drop a couple of names included in the development just to make things interesting: Nobuo Uematsu (the soundtrack is just wonderful) and Yoshitaka Amano.

So what’s in the western release?

The western release of Fantasy Life includes the communication mode added in Link, so you can chat and play online with friends! But not the additional areas, monsters, pets, etc. 

Those will need to be purchased separately via a DLC called “Origin Island”. 

A word of warning, though: apparently, after the DLC is purchased, you will only be able to play with friends who have purchased the DLC as well.

Enough dillydallying, tell us what the game is about!

Before playing, I imagined Fantasy Life as the spawn of Dragon Quest and Animal Crossing. This is actually not true: the game does share a lot with Dragon Quest IX, but not as much with Animal Crossing. Yes, you can create and customize your own character with a huge variety of clothes, and you can buy a house and fill it with a lot of furniture that you buy or craft, but that’s about it. This game focuses on a completely different kind of gameplay and interaction with other players and the game world in general. 

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In short, it’s not about managing a town and making friends with its denizens. Fantasy Life is more similar to Rune Factory, Radiata Stories and, to a degree, modern RPGs such as Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s about exploring a huge world, battling monsters, collecting items and mastering one or all of the 12 available Jobs, called “Lives” in this game.

The first town you get to explore, Castele, is huge and incredibly realistic: every store and building is in the right place and, thanks to the presence of 12 guilds, one for each Life, you can interact with different characters with believable professions and professional relationships. 

The inhabitants of the world are all well characterized, and by listening to their requests, solving quests and advancing ranks in your guild of choice, you’ll be able to get to know them better and sometimes even recruit them for your party. Castele is also surrounded by a variety of environments that range from forests to plains to lava caves to mountains and lakes.

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It will take you a loooong time to explore everything. Since the game’s focus is not just fighting, but also mining, crafting, cooking and so on, every location offers a lot of interaction and different things you can do. The richness in content is what brings the world of Fantasy Life to…life.It’s a vibrant, believable and fully functional world where characters are not just flat NPCs, and every interaction with the game is meaningful. It’s easy to lose yourself in a world like this!

Like most RPGs, Fantasy Life follows a fixed Story, divided in a number of chapters. There’s a twist, though: depending on what Life you choose, you also get to experience subchapters entirely dedicated to its guild. You can also switch Lives anytime in the game, which means that the amount of story (and gameplay) you want to subject yourself to is entirely customizable.

One reason I spent almost 20 hours playing the game and I’m not even done with chapter two is because I wanted to try as many Lives as possible.

The story itself is not particularly amazing, but Fantasy Life is not a game that takes itself too seriously, and its light-hearted tone contributes to a lovely atmosphere. Who needs a heavy fantasy story when you can just have unpretentious fun? 

A lot of RPGS have Jobs. Why is Fantasy Life special?

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Fantasy Life is not a very hard game, but it’s a very deep one. The 12 Lives are divided into three categories:

  • Fighters who specialize in combat and gain special moves and abilities to protect party members and, in general fend off monsters more effectively
  • Crafters who create a variety of items, from healing potions to stat boosting food to furniture, weapons and armor, and finally 
  • Looters, who gather and refine materials used by the Crafters.

Each Category depends on the other two, and all three are very different from each other. Each of the four Jobs included in each category shares a lot of basic mechanics, with different purposes: a Cook and a Carpenter, for instance, both craft items, but different ones. 

From combat to crafting, all the basic actions in the game are performed in simple ways. Imagine Zelda’s battles, add some simple crafting minigames similar to the ones seen in Weapon Shop de Omasse. At a superficial glance, the game might in fact seem too simplistic, but I think it’s actually very well thought-out. It’s accessible, immediate, and fun, and there’s an astounding variety possible with these simple actions.

It also encourages people to play with friends, though it’s also entirely possible to stick to one lonely Life and, say, adventure as a brave Cook, if you want. Or you can slowly master all the Jobs by yourself, which can be really fun, though a little repetitive — but I didn’t mind playing around with the 8 I tried at all, honestly. 

How did you end up playing this game for 18 hours straight?

I think what impressed me the most about Fantasy Life is its scope. I’ve never played something so fulfilling, especially not a portable system. You’re constantly achieving something, you’re constantly rewarded with significant results. 

And some of the 12 Lives, the way the work and the purposes they serve, are so different from your usual RPG classes that the game feels addictive, original and refreshing. I can’t wait to play it with my husband and friends!

I can see people treating this game as an Animal Crossing clone or as a regular RPG and sort of belittling how it deals with some specific aspects (building your house or combat), but I think that’s completely missing the point. I’m not even kidding when I say this is one of the best portable games I’ve ever played. So good that I spent 18 hours playing Fantasy Life with Smash out.

buy Fantasy Life, upcoming games
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Frozen (see what i did there ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°))
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Album Review: 1989 | Rolling Stone

When Taylor Swift decides to do something, the girl really knows how to overdo it. So on her fifth album, when she indulges her crush on Eighties synth-pop, she goes full blast, spending most of the album trying to turn herself into the Pet Shop Boys. 1989 is a drastic departure – only a couple of tracks feature her trademark tear-stained guitar. But she’s still Taylor Swift, which means she’s dreaming bigger and oversharing louder than anyone else in the game. And she still has way too many feelings for the kind of dudes who probably can’t even spell “feelings.”

Swift has already written enough great songs for two or three careers. Red, from 2012, was her Purple Rain, a sprawling I-am-the-cosmos epic with disco banjos and piano ballads and dubstep drops. But as every Eighties pop star knew, you don’t follow one epic with another – instead, you surprise everybody with a quick-change experiment. So rather than trying to duplicate the wide reach of Red, she focuses on one aspect of her sound for a whole album – a very Prince thing to do.

Max Martin produced seven of these 13 songs, and his beats provide the Saturday-night-whatever soundtrack as Swift sings about the single life in the big old city she always dreamed about. In “Welcome to New York,” she finds herself in a place where “you can want who you want/Boys and boys, and girls and girls.” She hits cruise mode on the floor in “Blank Space” (“I can make the bad guys good for the weekend”) and the hilariously titled “Style,” where she swoons, “You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye.”

The best moments come toward the end, when Swift shakes up the concept. “How You Get the Girl” mixes up the best of her old and new tricks, as she strums an acoustic guitar aggressively over Martin’s expert disco surge. “This Love” brings back her most simpatico producer, Nathan Chapman, for the kind of tune that they were just starting to call a “power ballad” in 1989. (The precise equivalent would be Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There for You.”) On the killer finale, “Clean,” English singer Imogen Heap adds ethereal backup sighs to Swift’s electro melancholy (“You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore”).

If there’s nothing as grandiose as “All Too Well” or “Dear John” or “Enchanted,” that’s because there wasn’t meant to be. 1989 sets the record for fewest adjectives (and lowest romantic body count) on a Swift album. Most of the songs hover above the three-minute mark, which is a challenge for Tay – she’s always been a songwriter who can spend five minutes singing about a freaking scarf and still make every line hit like a haymaker. But if you’re into math, note that the three best songs here – “How You Get the Girl,” “This Love,” “Clean” – are the three that crash past four minutes. This is still an artist who likes to let it rip. Deeply weird, feverishly emotional, wildly enthusiastic, 1989 sounds exactly like Taylor Swift, even when it sounds like nothing she’s ever tried before. And yes, she takes it to extremes. Are you surprised? This is Taylor Swift, remember? Extremes are where she starts out.

*4 stars out of 5

x

Album Review: Taylor Swift’s Pop Curveball Pays Off With ‘1989’

Any Nashville insider will tell you that Taylor Swift started breaking up with country music long before she first stepped out with hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback for three pop-leaning songs on 2012’s blockbuster Red. But if her new single, “Shake It Off,” was the official breakup letter, 1989 is the coming-out party, because it makes Red sound like Reba McEntire. Executive-produced by Swift and Martin, two of the all-time biggest hitmakers, the LP could have been an overstuffed Frankenstein of battling ideas. But instead it’s Swift’s best work — a sophisticated pop tour de force that deserves to be as popular commercially as with Robyn-worshipping blog—gers; an album that finds Swift meeting Katy and Miley and Pink on their home turf and staring them down.

What’s so different? Plenty. Sonically, 1989 is far more electronic than her previous work, driven by Martin’s trademark drum programming and synthesizers, pulsating bass and processed backing vocals. The guitars, when they’re there at all, deliver mostly texture; an acoustic is audible on just one song. The mandolins and violins were left back in Nashville, and there might not be a single live drum on the album. 

The songwriting is still unmistakably Swift, with her polysyllabic melodies and playful/-provocative lyrics. But Martin and other key collaborators (including Shellback, Ryan Tedder and fun.’s Jack Antonoff) have helped hone her songs, which are more seasoned and subtle, less bubbly and bratty, than in the past.

The self-referential change-of-scenery theme is set with the opening “Welcome to New York.” Its new-wave hook and innocent lyrics — “The lights are so bright, but they never blind me” — make it the ideal anthem for an Anne Hathaway film, or any 24-year-old moving to the big city, as Swift recently has (albeit into a $20 million Tribeca penthouse).

From there, in signature Swift style, it’s almost all love — or at least relationship-based — songs. Swift says she has hardly dated since splitting with One Direction’s Harry Styles early in 2013, and the songs’ musical styles follow the character types she plays on the album: train wreck waiting to happen (“Blank Space”), committed partner (“I Know Places,” “This Love”), penitent breaker-upper (“I Wish You Would”), spurned break-upee (“All You Had to Do Was Stay”). Lyrical references to him are all over the album: There are several vehicular-mishap analogies (the pair were in a snowmobile accident in 2013) and even a song called “Style.” But Swift has said the LP’s most bitter song, “Bad Blood,” a simplistic anthem of betrayal that sounds reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” is directed not at an ex-lover but a shade-throwing female peer (consensus points to Katy Perry).

Surprisingly, the famous figure who gets the most elaborate attention is Lana Del Rey: Swift flat-out mimics her on “Wildest Dreams,” flitting between a fluttery soprano and deadpan alto, flipping lyrics so Lana — “His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room” — that it’s hard to tell if the song is homage or parody.

Swift saves the most unexpected pairing for the last, show-stopping cut on the album’s standard edition (the Target version includes three bonus tracks, along with fascinating work-in-progress phone recordings of three songs). “Clean” is an aching, bittersweet team-up with esoteric British alt-popper Imogen Heap where Swift surrenders more to her collaborator than on any other song on the album. Its melody has more air and fewer syllables, and Heap’s influence is obvious in the warm electronic setting and the lyrics, heavy on metaphors of drowning and addiction, and lines like “You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore.” Swift’s growing up, alright.

A clean break with the core audience is a risky move for any artist: At worst, it’s like ill-advised plastic surgery, a blandifying of the distinctive qualities and quirks that made the person interesting in the first place. But Swift avoided that fate entirely with this album, making her rare ability to write for multiple audiences and ages even more universal. With 1989, she expertly sets up the next chapter of what is now even more likely to be a very long career.

(x)

Swift’s plainly been hardened by the media siege around her personal life, and in contrast to the heart-on-sleeve confessions of Red, it’s striking just how little of herself she reveals here. A representative early highlight is ‘Style’, a slick, knowingly shallow track about an unfaithful bad boy she just can’t stay away from because they fit so timelessly well together: “You got that James Dean daydream look in your eyes / I got that red-lipped classic thing you like”.
—  Style, 1989 review. (x)

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"It would have been nice if The Evil Within trusted that its always-dangerous undead enemies mixed with Seb’s intentionally awkward flailing were enough to instill a sense of dread. It does not. And so for most of the game there will be also be one sword or another hanging overhead, an element of demonic violence that will kill in an instant and force an excruciatingly long reload of the current area. Sometimes it will be Ruvik, the malevolent force at the heart of the story, appearing at random to demand that Seb run in circles to avoid him. Other times it will be a spider-lady that may or not may be killable, depending on when she’s met. And then there are the inexplicable apartment building acid traps. This is how The Evil Within turns ‘tense’ into ‘tiresome.’”

The Evil Within is torture porn, and the victim is the player

REVIEWS: I LISTENED TO THE NEW TAYLOR SWIFT ALBUM BEFORE YOU DID

A couple of weeks ago, I shuffled into a conference room with some other music journalists. For about 20 minutes we sat facing each other in total silence, staring each other out. Then, we each put on a pair of headphones, and they pressed play on Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989.

With each passing Taylor album she has drifted further away from twangy FM radio ballads and closer towards the top tier of global pop. This is mostly a good thing: her songs have become richer, her personality more defined, her production stadium-filling and world-class. Red, her last album, felt like the perfect balance of sheen and progression, while retaining an element of twang that defined her early career. Best of all, it shook off the innocense and naivaté of her early career and showed a fully-formed adult human. Part of that was freeing herself from the confines of mainstream country and embracing the notion that, yes, Swift was one of the biggest stars in pop, and should make a record that reflected that. It follows that this record, which has been pitched to Swift’s fans as her first “non-country” album, would allow her to sound bigger and better than ever.

But it’s also cause for concern. To me, the best moments on the last two Taylor albums haven’t been the big chart-topping pop slayers, but those slightly-corny country moments. It’s as though she was learning all these new skills to become a full-blown popstar, but it’s when she chucks out a quick country number on the fourth single to keep the red states happy, that her hard work and expertise really shined.

That’s why, as good as “Mine” is, it’s not as good as “Mean”: a song in which Taylor Swift plays a massive banjo and calls someone a prick. It’s also why “We Are Never Getting Back Together” doesn’t have a patch on “I Almost Do”: a super soppy ballad about wanting to call an ex after a break-up. Would 1989 prove that country was a necessary constraint to help guide Swift’s creativity? Or could jettisoning the banjos and fiddles allow her to truly spread her wings?

So anyway, we were only allowed to listen to the record once and had to make our notes there and then. I scrawled across two bits of paper manically. Those bits of paper are all I have to refer to now as I write this.

Here are some things I’ve learned. I can now say, objectively, that “Shake It Off” is the sixth best song on the Taylor Swift album.My note on “How You Get The Girl” simply says “DIDN’T WRITE MUCH ABOUT THIS ONE BECAUSE IT’S SO LEGIT. THE “BOUND” 2 OF THE TAYLOR ALBUM. 1 4 THE HEADS” so that’s good.There is, I think, a real life swear word on this record. It is fuck. Could this be the first Taylor album to be marked as Explicit on iTunes? Or am I just misreading my notes? I’m like 98% sure that “I Know Places” is written from the perspective of Carrie Mathison in the first two series of Homeland. Seriously the whole vibe is “I know places we can hide”, “loose lips sink ships” and “they’re trying to track us down.” I need to listen to it again but I’m pretty sure there’s stuff about fleeing the country while being chased too. 

There are a few big “statement” tracks on the record that really seek to undermine the public perception which she may have played up to in the past. “Blank Space” is a swinging response to the idea that she falls in and out of love all the time. In it, she is basically saying, “Don’t put your shit on me.” It’s about boys who only want love if it’s torture, who long for the pain of pining. There’s a great campy line in it, when she’s talking about how she lures them in: “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a dream”—which is her basically saying, “You want the drama and I sure know how to give it to you, but it’s only you who can’t handle the heartbreak.” In essence, she’s hinting that she actually quite likes a good break-up.

“Style” swings in the opposite direction from “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” It’s a song about how you can’t fucking escape this relationship, even if you wanted to. “We never go out of style, we’ll come back every time,” she says to an unnamed boy who seems to be under the misapprehension that it’s over. As on the previous track, it seems like she isn’t so involved in the heat of the emotional moment, but focusing more on the long game. On “Out Of The Woods” she’s basically doing the same thing in a slightly more panicked manner, rather than trying to judge someone by each little thing they do, she just wants answers: WHERE IS THIS GOING? ARE WE A THING OR NOT?

I know some people were a bit concerned after hearing “Welcome to New York,” because it sounds like the song a Time Square hostel might use on their poorly edited YouTube ad. The good news is it’s probably the weakest track on the record. There are few other bum notes dotted around though, particularly how much she talks about being a “good girl” (including moderately risqué line that she’s a “got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt.”).

This isn’t quite a party record, and it’s not really a falling in love record either. Even the boys mentioned on the album feel like bit players. This is much more of a one-woman show. For example, on “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” she tells a story we’ve all seen happen: boy gets too big for his boots, thinks he can do better than his girlfriend. Dumps girlfriend. Then comes back a shrivelling, weeping mess two weeks later, begging for her back. This track is Taylor saying you had your chance and you fucked it up, buddy.

It is, undoubtedly, a glistening pop album with superproducer Max Martin’s kitchen-sink production on most of the tracks and nothing you could really call country, except for the final ballad “Clean.” But my fears about it becoming too polished were entirely allayed by the two best tracks: “I Wish You Would” and “Wildest Dreams.” Both of these songs demonstrate that however big Taylor gets, she’s still going to do her. In the former, she’s full of regret and loneliness, tied up in knots about something that happened weeks ago. It’s pretty perfect and the only song I can still sing three weeks later having only heard it once. The latter almost sounds quite Kate Bush and has Taylor singing: “Say you’ll remember me, standing there in a nice dress.” Only Taylor Swift could pull off such a brilliant non-description and have it make perfect sense.

For all the bombast of its release, 1989 is a straightforward pop record. There are no big collaborations or wild shifts in genre. I guess you could say it’s her most pop album ever, but I would say that in this day and age writing big adventurous pop music is almost riskier than scribing ten country ballads. What I love most is how ridiculous it would sound if anyone else had recorded it. Yes, it’s a record about growing up and being less under the spell of boys. But it’s also cements a very clear idea of who Taylor Swift is. She’s made the hardest maneuver of all, from the travelator of child stardom, to grown up pop star, and into that separate plane of knowable human being. When Beyonce songs about the power of women or Kanye says something obscene about oral sex and an ancient civilizations, it’s almost unsurprising, because those things are part of our public perception of them. I think you could now say the same of Taylor, standing there, in her nice dress, being Taylor.

(x)

This is a tale of star-crossed celebrity lovers: America’s country sweetheart and British pop’s bad-boy Romeo. Taylor Swift has something of a reputation for writing pithy songs about her love life and this time her subject matter is One Direction ladies man Harry Styles. In case listeners are in any doubt about the identity of the heartbreaker with the “James Dean daydream look” in his eye, she spells it out in a song cheekily titled Style, complete with an upbeat dance groove, a sound more associated with her ex’s manufactured boy band than her usual country power-pop.
—  Style, 1989 review. (x)
PAIGE'S FASHION FINDS: BEAUTIFUL HALO (SPONSORED)

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hey everyone! i recently was lucky enough to be sponsored by beautiful halo so i could try out a few of their products—i made two different orders, and this will be my review on the first one, with the second one coming shortly as soon as it arrives in the mail! 

beautiful halo is a chinese-based online fashion store specializing in street fashion trends from around the world. they offer free shipping for orders over $25 on all of their casual clothing lines, which is great, and their prices are pretty fantastic. 

for my first review, i chose two items, the boyfriend dress in white and the lonely crop top in pink. the lonely crop top is unfortunately sold out, but there are a bunch of other cute crop tops that you can see at their website here! i chose these items because they were very cute and graphic which fits my style, and could be worked both into cute or punky coordinates. the images above are how the items appeared on the site, check below the cut for my experience and review!

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"You can almost hear ‘The Blue Danube’ playing as you set forth from your escape pod for the first time, the clear night sky betraying the marvel that awaits when you leap for the stars, free from Pandora’s oppressive gravitational pull. Then you realize you aren’t wearing a spacesuit and have to sprint to a nearby pressurized station. So you run reeeeeaaaaalllly sloooooowwwwwlllyyyy. A fitting soundtrack might be the Benny Hill theme song, played at half speed, underwater. Space can be a joyous dance, but in The Pre-Sequel! it’s cumbersome and rote. The Macarena.”

The Pre-Sequel! puts Borderlands in space, but it should have stayed grounded

Taylor Swift: 1989 review – leagues ahead of the teen-pop competition

At 24 years old, Taylor Swift inhabits something of a unique position within the teen pop firmament. It’s not merely the fact of her immense popularity, although the sheer devotion of her fans can sometimes knock you back a bit: earlier this week, when Swift released a track consisting of eight seconds of static to iTunes – alas, the result of a technical malfunction, rather than a radical new power-electronics direction influenced by Right to Kill-era Whitehouse and Genocide Organ – her fans in Canada bought it in such quantities that it went to No 1. It’s more that Swift’s music attracts the kind of serious critical attention afforded almost none of her peers. You don’t get many learned articles in the New Yorker about the songcraft of Swift’s mortal enemy Katy Perry. No acclaimed noveliest has felt impelled to take to the pages of Salon to defend the fact that he doesn’t like Jessie J, which Rick Moody did after expressing a dislike of Swift.

On one level, that is irrelevant. What do the vast majority of Taylor Swift fans – the tweenage Instagrammers to whom Swift, according to her ghastly record company biography, represents a “loyal friend, fierce protector of hearts and one of the world’s greatest ambassadors for the power of just being yourself” – care whether their tastes have been anointed by the New Yorker? But on another, it’s intriguing: what is it about Swift’s music that causes it to be singled out in this way?

At first glance, her fifth album doesn’t offer any obvious answers. 1989 has been widely boosted as being Swift’s first pure pop album, the record on which she finally divests herself of the last remaining musical vestiges of her roots as a teenage Nashville star. But that isn’t saying much, given that you’d have needed an electron microscope to detect any last remaining vestiges of those roots in its predecessor, Red. Much has been made of Swift as a self-contained singer-songwriter, but this time around the credits look pretty much the same as the credits for every big pop album: representatives from Scandanavian hit factories (Max Martin, Shellback); a moonlighting member of a mainstream indie-rock band (Fun’s Jack Antonoff); an EDM producer chancing their arm in the world of pop (Ali Payami); the omnipresent Greg Kurstin, of Lily Allen, Lana del Rey, Ellie Goulding and Kylie Minogue fame.


Given the cast list, you would expect 1989 to be an extremely polished product, which it undoubtedly is. Even its least interesting tracks sound like hits, which is what one pays Max Martin for: at its best, 1989 deals in undeniable melodies and huge, perfectly turned choruses and nagging hooks. Its sound is a lovingly done reboot of the kind of late 80s MTV pop-rock exemplified by Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour. It’s bold enough in its homage to take on one vintage sound thus far avoided by 80s revivalists – the booming, stadium-filling snare sound that all artists were legally obliged to use for the latter half of the decade makes a reappearance on I Wish You Would – but not so slavish as to preclude everything else: I Know Places is powered by drum’n’bass-influenced breakbeats; single Shake It Off pitches a My Sharona-ish beat against blaring hip-hop synths; the alternately pulsing and drifting electronics of Style and Clean mark 1989 out as an album made in the wake of Random Access Memories and Cliff Martinez’s 2011 soundtrack to Drive.

But the really striking thing about 1989 is how completely Taylor Swift dominates the album: Martin, Kurstin et al make umpteen highly polished pop records every year, but they’re seldom as clever or as sharp or as perfectly attuned as this, which suggests those qualities were brought to the project by the woman whose name is on the cover. As a songwriter, Swift has a keen grasp both of her audience and of pop history. She avoids the usual hollow platitudes about self-empowerment and meaningless aspirational guff about the VIP area in the club in favour of Springsteenesque narratives of escape and the kind of doomed romantic fatalism in which 60s girl groups dealt: the protagonists of I Know Places don’t end the song being pulled lifeless from a mangled car wreck, as they would have done had the Shangri-Las been in charge of proceedings, but they sound like they might, quite soon.

She also has a neat line in twisting cliches until they sound original. Shake It Off takes as its subject that great latterday pop bugbear, the haters, but avoids the usual line – the rather brittle insistence that their presence has somehow contributed to the artist’s inner strength – in favour of suggesting you just ignore them. If you were the kind of person wont to describe pop songs as “meta”, you could apply the term to How You Get the Girl, a knowing checklist of the kind of love-song platitudes that Swift’s peers might easily punt out with a straight face. If Wildest Dreams bears a hint of Lana del Ray, there’s something hugely cheering about the way Swift turns the persona of the pathetic female appendage snivelling over her bad-boy boyfriend on its head. Ramping up the melodrama by way of Be My Babyish drums, Wildest Dreams paints the man as the victim, doomed to spend the rest of his life haunted by what he’s carelessly lost.

“The drought was the very worst,” she sings at the outset of Clean. It’s not just that this is a pretty striking line with which to open a pop song, it’s that you can’t imagine any of Taylor Swift’s competitors coming up with anything remotely like it. Whether that’s because they couldn’t be bothered – you’d have to be hard of hearing to miss the distinct, depressing air of will-this-do? that currently runs through pop music – or because they just couldn’t is debatable. Either way, on 1989 the reasons she’s afforded the kind of respect denied to her peers are abundantly obvious. 

(x)

Taylor Swift, 1989, album review: Pop star shows promising signs of maturity

But whether it’s adolescent exaggeration or an attempt to bring more intriguing strategies into pop lyricism is debatable

On 1989, Taylor Swift’s world is a place of stark contrasts, sudden alterations and jarring images, its songs full of attempts to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines.

It’s an all-or-nothing, do-or-die place that perhaps seeks to buy into the Hunger Games worldview: “They are the hunters, we are the foxes,” she claims in “I Know Places”, while in “Out of the Woods”, she offers the evocative comparison of lovers’ colourful Polaroid lives with a world otherwise mired in monochrome.

For Swift, love is thrown into stark relief and shuts out the rest of the world, which lends a certain piquancy to the desperately inclusive electropop grooves and corporate rebel clichés of songs such as “Style” and “Blank Space”.

The best of these is “Shake It Off”, a sing-song chant about players, haters and fakers – coming to a playground near you.

Produced mostly by Max Martin and Shellback, the settings blend twitchy electro riffs with skeletal, scudding beats and understated guitar parts, with occasional details hinting at 1980s influences: the “O Superman”-style vocal pulse that introduces “How You Get the Girl”, or the “Vienna”-esque synth portents of “Out of the Woods”.

The latter is perhaps the most dramatically jarring song here, with its reference to a car accident requiring “20 stitches in a hospital room”, a theme taken up with her claim in the next track that “you drove us off the road”. It’s a weird, disjunctive clash of imagery, shocking naturalism followed by overstated metaphor.

Whether it’s adolescent exaggeration or an attempt to bring more intriguing strategies into pop lyricism is debatable.

But there’s certainly a new maturity evident in the closing track “Clean”, which finds Swift washing that man right out of her hair in wracked images of torment and turmoil, drought and drowning, and something more besides: “When the butterflies turned to dust, they covered my entire room” is surely the oddest line you’ll hear in pop for a long time. (x)

frankelstein said:

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