Camila Cabello, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and BØRN album reviews

PHOTO: Camila Cabello performs on stage at the IHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2017 at BB&T Center on Dec. 17, 2017 in Sunrise, Fla.PlayJason Koerner/Getty Images
WATCH Camila Cabello performs 'Never Be the Same' live on 'GMA'

Here we have reviews of the solo debut from former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello, the latest from rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the sophomore effort from alternative electro-pop singer BØRNS.

PHOTO: Camila, by Camila Cabello.Amazon
Camila, by Camila Cabello.

Camila Cabello’s “Camila”
***1/2

Away from Fifth Harmony, Camila Cabello is allowed to really shine on her debut solo album, “Camila,” an album that gloriously mixes glowing electro-pop, winning ballads and some Latin elements. Even with two versions of single “Never Be the Same,” the 11-track set only clocks in at 37 minutes but it is a warm and winning exercise. That second version lessens the number of drug-references in the song. The ballad equates love and substance-addiction. At the same time it shows Cabello’s ability to go from a somewhat low rasp to an extremely high register in seconds flat.

The reductionist production approach of “All these Years” puts Cabello’s voice and the somewhat muted guitar-line front and center while on “She Loves Control,” some vaguely soca-influenced aspects to its beat. The Young Thug-assisted hit, “Havana” finds the Cuban-born singer paying loving tribute to her homeland with a slow-burning intensity.

Separated from Fifth Harmony, Cabello can only blossom. One listen to standouts like “Consequences” and “In the Dark” it is immediately apparent that Cabello can easily carry her own spotlight. It helps that she has some really powerful songs here.

“Camila” isn’t quite the first show-stopper of 2018 but it does show an immense amount of promise for Cabello’s future. She is a budding force.

Focus Tracks:

“In the Dark” This is a glorious plea for authenticity and intimacy as Cabello asks “Who are you in the dark?” More than anything, this feels like a fame-weary exercise, looking for something real when “all the strangers are gone.” This is a thread she also explores on the track “Real Friends.” Sometimes you just want a real, honest conversation.

“Inside Out” This has the potential to be a huge Latin-crossover hit as Cabello goes from English to Spanish and pays tribute to her youth in South Miami. This is a catchy, truly appealing slice of pop.

“Never Be the Same” Sure the love-vs.-drugs lyrics are perhaps a bit clichéd. At the same time, the production and Cabello’s vocal command put this over the top. It’s a key high point.

PHOTO: Wrong Creatures, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.Amazon
'Wrong Creatures', Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Wrong Creatures”
***1/2

The eighth album by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has the San Francisco band continuing to show their strong psychedelic influences and blending them with the some very strong nods to the Jesus and Mary Chain. This album has some powerfully memorable moments but it doesn’t quite match the high-points found on 2005’s “Howl” or 2010’s stunning “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo.” Still, multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been, along with drummer Leah Shapiro make a formidable trio, with Shapiro’s backbeat in particular serving as a very strong back-bone on moodier tracks like the ethereal “Haunt.”

There’s a pop-like appeal hidden in the bass and melody of “Echo” while “Spook” is full of a brand of menace that almost verges on campiness.

The majority of the tracks here hover around or above the five-minute mark. The band knows how to fully explore a groove as heard on “Ninth Configuration,” which goes from an almost serene, relaxed place to a churning rocker pretty suddenly.

This album shows if anything that this band is reliable. When they really hit their mark, they nail it with astounding force. “Question of Faith,” for instance, effectively blends blues and the noise-rock side of shoegaze.

“Wrong Creatures” blends straight-forward moments with more abstract ones, thus providing an ultimately satisfying record that unquestionably leaves the listener wanting more.

Focus Tracks:

“Echo” The immediacy of this track shows that if they want to, this band could record an accessible “sell-out” record without doing any damage to their legacy. This song is among their very best work to date and should be immediately be picked up by rock radio. It’s a little oasis on an otherwise very mood-driven and dense set.

“All Rise” This climbing, slowly blooming piano-ballad brings back the secular gospel-tone on “Howl” and at the same time it grows into something quite astonishing. This is the right way to end the record.

“Little Thing Gone Wild” This is one of the only moments where the tempo gets lifted to a quicker pace, bringing a supremely dance-able bit of rock.

PHOTO: Blue Madonna, by Borns.Amazon
'Blue Madonna', by Borns.

BØRNS’ “Blue Madonna
****

Michigan-born alternative-pop-singer Garrett Borns who records under the name BØRNS stands out from the pack. His second album, “Blue Madonna” showcases the same pop chops and androgynous delivery that made his 2015 album “Dopamine” an under-the-radar winner. Like the Weeknd and Troye Sivan, he’s one of only a small handful of men working within the modern electro-pop realm. That being said, the pop of Borns is informed by a slightly alt-rock core. The sitar-infused groove of “We Don’t Care” fuses a Motown backbeat and some guitar-fuzz into the mix.

At the same time, a song like “Man” wouldn’t sound out of place played next to the upbeat tracks on Lorde’s “Melodrama.” Borns’ high, smooth delivery remains a key selling-point. Little touches like the distorted, echo-drenched guitar accents heard on “Iceberg” make this an entrancing listen.

When Borns appears to play with some slight vocoder effects on “I Don’t Want U Back,” it somehow doesn’t hurt the song’s drive.

Borns is also closely tied to Lana Del Rey who lends background vocals to opener “God Save our Young Blood."

The year is still early, but here is the first supremely ear-catching, perhaps game-changing pop record of 2018. Even though singles from this record have been dropping for roughly the last six months, this set on the whole shows a concise, attention-grabbing piece of work.

Focus Tracks:

“Iceberg” A commanding but subtle song, this song is sleek and sultry, full of forward-thinking sonic touches. When the beat comes in, it plays an almost call-and-response game with the bass line.

“We Don’t Care” Taking the modern blueprint for pop and fusing with some vintage influences, this sounds like the last 60 years of pop fused into a three-and-a-half minute nugget.

“Man” This song belongs in both the clubs and on pop radio.

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