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Review:Ms.Stefani Is (Finally) Back in Our Good Music Graces with ‘This Is What the Truth Feels Like’

Long before she took over a judges chair on The Voice and became Blake Shelton’s headline snatching main squeeze, there’s really no need to argue that Ms. Gwen Stefani owned the mainstream music world. First in the mid ’90s with her merry No Doubt band mates (how many times have you butchered “Don’t Speak” at karaoke nights?), then eventually going on to slay a solo music career with two successful albums–2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and 2006’s The Sweet Escape.

But after the final thumps of her so-so sophomore set faded away, Stefani strayed away from the music spotlight to spend time focusing on her family (she’s a working and recently divorced Mom of three) and fashion empire, While she did link up with her No Doubt besties again in 2012 for their sixth studio album, Push & Shove, the record was more or less (okay, less) a “buzzworthy” album rather than playing a part in helping put her back on the mainstream music map where she rightfully deserves to be. And now it seems as with her hot-to-headphones new set, This is What the Truth Feels Like, she’s finally going to have the chance to reclaim her music throne once again. 

After a scrapped album with two failed single attempts in late 2014– “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire”–Stefani has (finally) come back with a shot to own it all again with her revamped and ravishing third solo studio set, which was certainly worth the long wait. A fun, fiery romp, Gavin Rossdale’s ex boo thang strikes back with a swinging record that’s not just loaded with radio ready grooves and slick productions, but a new-found confidence that feels honest, light, more relaxed and certainly miles away from anything she “teased” us with almost two years ago now. 

Kicking things off is the No Doubt singed opener, “Misery,” and while it deals with brutally honest lyrics (as most of the lyrics on the album do, but that’s actually what makes this record worth your headphones time)about that new love angst, the whirling number plays out as a breezy ride that sets up the cheeky, yet serious tone for the entire set. We can’t escape the fact that “Truth” is the operative word on Ms. Gwen’s sassy new collection, and that’s exactly what we get from an album that is derived directly from her recent, much-documented romantic upheavals, including her much, much publicized spilt from Gavin Rossdale. 

Those that have followed the diva early own know that she’s always had a keen sense in being a guileless kind of pop star, one whose best tracks are also her most personal: “Don’t Speak” certainly proves that theory, as does 2001’s tender, vulnerable “Underneath It All”—and more recently Truth’s heart wrenching lead single, “Used to Love You.” Part burn and part fuck off, it’s musically laced with small, yet harrowing details (“Suitcase, Band-Aids/Pulling back out the driveway/You go, I’ll stay”) that help ground the record when it wanders into more generic dear-diary reflections on love lost and found. Case in point, the vast difference in tone of perky Truth second single, “Let Me Like You.” 

However, we can’t forget that this is also the diva who crushed the charts with the bubble gum cracking sass of “Hollaback Girl” over a decade ago, and a select number of tracks, like the reggae tinged “Where Would I Be” and even the roller-­disco ready bounce of “Make Me Like You,” are so mindlessly fun that they easily take us back to the Harajuku Girls days. (sigh) Even on grittier Gwen grooves like the rattling “Naughty” and the trunk ready flair of  “Asking 4 It” (complete with a guest spit from Fetty Wap) and “Red Flag,” the songstress still manages to serve up glossy hooks with a side of verbal nunchucks. Hey, that’s her shit, right? And this album proves that it still most certainly is. 

But what makes this album really pop is that a majority of the cuts were produced by the Swedish duo Mattman & Robin as well as Greg Kurstin, who’ve recently helmed hits for Selena Gomez (“Me and the Rhythm”) and Taylor Swift. The producers easily slide their savvy production swagger underneath Gwen’s polished vocals, which have never sounded more sexy, more cool and most of all–more relaxed, which is evidently true in slinky standout “Send Me a Picture.” A deep ditty in which the diva’s wondering what her lover is doing (Mr. Shelton, we presume?) while they’re apart. “Are you looking online? / Are you looking at me?” she sings over a scandalous synth drop, and what a relevantly seasoned question that is.

Now that Ms. Stefani’s well received new set is finally upon us, the real question arises–is it solid enough to put her back on top of the mainstream music world? Because let’s face it, at 46 years old, she is right in that dreaded “middle-aged diva” territory,  and we all know that the struggle can get real pretty quick for those who’ve crossed the over forty border. Case in point, the upcoming E! docuseries, Mariah’s World. Enough said. 

However, those now grown up kids who’ve gotten down with Gwen since those beloved No Doubt and “Hollaback” days, give this album a chance. Besides the fact that it’s actually quite good, it’s also a strong, solid reminder that Gwen Stefani is much more than a judge on The Voice and a recurring tabloid fixture–she’s a true music icon, and This is What The Truth Feels Like credibly proves that theory and then some.

“I am broken / I am insecure, complicated,” Gwen sings on tender album closer, “Rare,” but her voice isn’t sounding a note of caution as it’s vivaciously filled with a newfound sense full of pride, which is all we ever wanted from her in the first place. 

 

 

 

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Track-by-Track Truth/New Music Friday Grooves

As much fun as it is picking apart new records on a weekly basis (check out reviews of the latest sets from The Knocks, LION BABE and Mýa… yes, that Mýa), it’s more fun to dissect the tracks that become the foundations for those anticipated sets. This week, there was a whole buffet of new grooves released with one purpose in mind–to take over our #NewMusicFriday worlds. 

So, are the latest tracks from Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, Zayn (sigh) and Bag Raiders all headphones worthy for your weekend? Find out below and then dive right into Philly’s Mixtape‘s March playlist, which is locked and loaded for your #TGIF pleasure. 

Zayn/”Like I Would” Out of the trio of tunes Zayn has put forth off of his eagerly anticipated solo debut, Mind of Mine, this fun banger is by the very best one. Take a listen below and hear why March 25th can’t get here fast enough. 

Ariana Grande/”Dangerous Woman” It seems as if the next music era of Ariana Grande is (finally) upon us, and its shaping up to be….something. Besides the cover of the album’s title track being blessed with that cover, this time the young diva is serving us with a mid tempo jam, much different from her more peppier grooves like “Problem,” “Break Free” and even, “Focus.” It will be oh, so interesting to see if radio truly picks up on it like it does with any other one of her chart bulldozing singles, but either way, you can bet that Ari’s new set and single will get a nice push when the she plays host and musical guest on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live…and we’ll certainly be watching. 

Gwen Stefani/”Misery” The hype train for Gwen’s much anticipated third solo set, This Is What the Truth Feels Like is in full steam, and it looks like the heat will keep rising when it comes to her latest hot-to-headphones romp. In the music spirit of her current hit single, “Make Me Like You,” “Misery” is another cheeky tune complete with Ms. Gwen’s perky vocal wails, swinging backbeat with just a touch of No Doubt flair. Just listen. 

Seeb/Neev/”Breathe” Bliss. 

Tinie Tempah/Zara Larsson/”Girls Like” The first official jam of the warm weathered season has arrived. Enough said. 

Beyonce/”Formation”/Barry Harris Remix The best remix of Bey’s smash hit that you will ever get down to on the floor. Headphones down. 

Mike Posner/”I Took a Pill in Ibiza”/Seeb Rewerk Have you heard this year’s “Leon On” yet?

Autograf/”Heartbeat” Pure delicious deep house heaven. 

Joywave/”Life in a Bubble” With the windows down…just cruisin’….

Bag Raiders/”Friend Inside” With seasonal temps in full swing now, there’s no better time to get lost in everything that dazzling Australian electronic duo Bag Raiders have to offer. 

For much more track-by-track weekend truth, point those headphones towards Philly Mixtape‘s fully locked and loaded March Weekend Mixtape…right now. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Track-by-Track Truth/The Knocks/’55’

With Spring finally around the corner (17 more days, but who’s counting? #everyone), there’s no better time to start pollinating your sun-kissed playlists, and luckily for all of us, dazzling NYC based duo The Knocks have just released their shimmering new set, 55, which is nothing short of beats and brilliance.

The music brainchild of James “JPatt” Patterson and Ben “DJ B-Roc” Ruttner, The Knocks were created at NYC‘s New School while the two shared an apartment, and they would soon derive their music artist’s name after the neighbors used to knock on the walls and bang the ceiling because the gentlemen were playing their music just a little too loud…and we’re so glad they did. 

Arriving fresh on these scene in the late ’00s with a knack for combining a mixture of genres ranging from pop to dance to nu-disco, The Knocks quickly became go-to remixers, as well as becoming highly regarded for crafting up their own original tracks. These accomplishments have given the duo plenty of well deserved buzz over the past few years as they’ve going on to lend their remix prowess to tracks from Katy Perry (“I Kissed A Girl”), Britney Spears (“3”) Chris Brown (“Beautiful People”), among many, many others.

But now, the tantalizing twosome are getting their moment to shine in the music spotlight with their stunning new set, which is all wrapped up in deep ditties that will just want to make you get up and….live. In fact, every track is covered is Philly Mixtape‘s Track-by-Track Truth of 55, so go ahead and groove on to The Knocks hot new record, because as you’ll hear after you dive in, it was certainly worth the wait. 

Enjoy! 

“New York City” (ft. Cameron) The perfect groove for everyone‘s Big Apple state of mind. 

“Time” We’ve got all the time in the world for this funky gospel tinged number. 

“Classic:”(ft. Powers) Chances are, you already know and love this uptempo jam as we see you dancing around to it in your bedroom as we musically speak. 

“Kiss the Sky” (ft. Wyclef Jean) The craziest of all the 55 tracks, mostly because Mr. Jean absolutely steals this music show. 

“Dancing With Myself” Turn this blaring groove up not just tonight, but the rest of your music life. It’s pure clap happy bliss. 

“Comfortable” (ft. X Ambassadors) The best sex groove you’ll got down to not just this year, but overtime you’re breaking music headboards. 

“I Wish” (My Taylor Swift) (ft. Matthew Koma) One listen and you’ll be asking yourself…”Why hasn’t radio f#$king picked up on this sun scorched groove yet??” 

“Collect My Love: (ft. Alex Newell) An album standout….headphones down. 

“The Key” Simply all wrapped up in that NYC music style…just listen. 

“Tied to You” (ft. Justin Tranter) Just when you think this album couldn’t get any better…it does. 

“Love Me Like That” (ft. Carly Rae Jepsen) Sigh…go on with this light, breathy banger, Ms. Jepsen. 

“Cinderella” (ft. Magic Man) When the music clock strikes midnight, play this track again, please. 

“Purple Eyes” (ft. Phoebe Ryan) Synth-fully delicious. 

“Best for Last” (ft. Walk the Moon) Now that the album has finished, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Yas.