This Week At The Record Store: Victoria Monet’s “Act II” EP, Hilary Duff’s “Breathe In. Breathe Out.” and “Bitch, I’m Madonna”

Victoria Monet

I’m still not quire sure how I missed Victoria Monet‘s Nightmares & Lullabies Act 1, but I’m here for Act II, which is a strong indication that the Sacramento born’s talent has flourished (even more) since her first outing.

Act II starts off with a such a melodic bang, Monet’s R&B creme intonation and forthright lyrics translate emphatically. The musicality of it is also high on the wistful, but this feature doesn’t water down or transform her “metaphor for the juxtapositions one’s life can display — bad days vs the best ones and how they can play off of each other” as childlike. The rain drop-py R&B and pop mixture adds to the EP’s umbrella sense of hope that will be more days like “More of You” where she willingly sings in a longing way to a crush “I need more of you.”

Sex is hinted at on the ballads, but it’s definitely more romantic than purely carnal. Sex itself is actually an afterthought. Monet is a young woman who already gets that. She wants sexual healing that comes with the not-so surprising (for a change) addition of commitment and a true bond.

“90s Babies” is an unsuspecting take on behalf of 90s children and the myriad of influences one liked encountered in the decade where dance, pop, rap, R&B, and alternative were kings and queens of the Billboard 100 at the same time (nevermind that your favorites movies of the time were likely as disparate as Clueless and Juice). In the chorus, Monet sings “We are born to go against the grain, stay true to love for everything. We’re bound through whatever we like.” Some media outlets have been referring to the 1990s as the last decade of the real.

Act II ends with “See the Light”, a standard good but the weakest track of the EP. It was possibly released as a buzz single for it sounds like a song Tinashe could’ve sang on her Aquarius.

Monet is an unassuming true talent, that’s already written for artists like Ariana Grande and Chris Brown. Nightmares & Lullabies Act II is solid proof that she’s also capable of commanding the ears of listeners not just lyrically but vocally too. She’s also featured on Machine Gun Kelly‘s current battle cry “A Little More.” Act II will feel like a pleasant jolt of crafted real-good, feel-good R&B.

Oh, and Act I was a top-notch promise. Listen to it here.

Hilary Duff:

TIME labeled Hilary Duff‘s new album Breathe In. Breathe Out. as “mindless pop fun”, but that’s a bit unfair. Duff, who hasn’t released an album since 2008’s great Dignity, definitely has her fun musically. Certain tunes will almost burst out of your speakers and headphones as she sings like she herself is a tidal wave. But BIBO comes at an intriguing point in her career and life as she is separated from her husband (retired NHL player) Mike Comrie, is a mom to her son Luca, and has returned to acting through the witty and enjoyable TV Land series Younger.

You can promise castle, treasures, babies
I don’t care
‘Cause right now you’re just enough for me
I want you near

Breathe In. Breathe Out. starts off with the flirtatious “Sparks” that shows off Duff’s sassy sexuality and ability to make you want to dramatically sing and dance to the chorus in public. It’s Swedish pop for America and deserves more public and industry recognition. After the shimmer lessens from the audiowaves of “Sparks”, the album goes back and forth between love troubled, ultimately lost or infatuation found. “Confetti” exemplifies the latter’s excitement and “Stay In Love” is a saddened, determined ballad on not dimming the light on all the times you were selfless for someone you cared about. Love “lost” is best expressed through the clearly autobiographical title track where Duff recalls the moment she and Comrie had to part ways as a coupleas well as “Brave Heart.” For “Breathe In, Breathe Out” (that sounds like a matured sequel to Dignity‘s “Happy”) the resolute outlook goes:

“X marks the spot where we left our hearts and
X marks the spot where we fell part
And x marks the spot where we felt the most.”

It’s very relatable and commendable that Duff sings of her separation not as a end-all-be-all but a realization that just because nothing last forever maybe doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. From a 20-something POV, this stance is a true sign of adulthood on the horizon but Duff is actually an under-appreciated representation of older millennials like her. Critics may find her music “oh that’s cute. Heartbreak”, but her fan base, since the days of Lizzie McGuire, will cling to her lyrics in feeling less alone about those dismal days and meteoric shots of lust and genuine like.

When BIBO feels dud-dy, it’ s not because the music is bad, but the occasional arena power pop overpowers Duff (e.g. “Arms Around A Memory”). Major winners include “My Kind” and “Lies.” And she got to collaborate one-on-one with the Grammy-nominated Ed Sheeran for the sweet “Tattoo.”

You will definitely have your favorites and non-favorites from Breathe In. Breathe Out. It’s similar to Dignity in that Duff is impressively candid and continues to experiment with Middle Eastern instrumentality, chill-out pop, Miami club beats and this time pop folklore (I’m serious: “Belong.”) Her latest is her fully grown-up next chapter and fans are ready for the comeback.

Madonna:

Don’t get mad if you catch yourself saying “Bitch, I’m Madonna” when you’re feeling brand new or particularly bold. This is Madonna‘s third, and off the rocks, single off her 13th album Rebel Heart. It was shot on location at New York City’s The Standard Hotel, that houses the clubs the Boom Boom Room and Le Bain. Her son David also break dances in clip! “Bitch, I’m Madonna!”

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