Category Archives: Chris Ho

Timberlake entices with glamour

 Justin Timberlake
The 20/20 Experience (RCA Records, 2013)
Produced by Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Lights up on stage right. Trails of cigarette smoke. Stage curtains drawn, revealing the dapper string section of the orchestra. May I present to you: The 20/20 Experience.

The first track instantly introduces the glamorous 1950s New York throwback, which is then infused with the familiar R&B pop sound that is unmistakably Justin Timberlake. And with some exceptions, the mixture of these elements essentially encapsulates Timberlake’s latest album, The 20/20 Experience.

Having been on a musical hiatus for six years, his highly anticipated comeback couldn’t have been classier. If painting the town with your friends in a stylish suit and tie getup wasn’t already on your list of priorities, it soon will be. Timberlake brought sexy back with the previous record FutureSex/LoveSounds, and now, he’s bringing classy back with The 20/20 Experience. In particular, “Suit & Tie” grooves in a way that could only be suitable in a select number of clubs. The clean and soulful sounding vocal melodies are paired with relaxed, finger-snapping beats, and topped off with a classic interjecting trumpet line. It seems as though Justin Timberlake disappeared from the music scene, only to reappear with a newfound Sinatra-esque edge, and an old big band to back him up. And yet, somehow, his music seems even more original (and perhaps experimental) than ever.

Timberlake has always tended to instill his work with a generous amount of vocal layering and pleasing harmonies, but never before like this. Between the strategically placed string parts, interesting electronic sounds, and soft backup vocal lines, the production of the album puts the listener in a head-bobbing trance. The brilliance of this comes in the fact that it’s difficult to pick out the specific musical elements that create this effect, because it’s ultimately the overall exceptional production as a whole that does it. Although, at the same time, the interesting electronic sounds found in tracks like “Blue Ocean Floor” and “Dress On,” certainly seem to stand out in a very tangible way.

An album that incorporates very classic musical elements while staying true to the artist’s creative integrity and trademark style generally tends to be audibly enticing. Such is the case for Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, which gives us the familiar, the old, the new, and then some. The particularly striking tracks include “Suit & Tie,” “That Girl,” “Pusher Love Girl,” and “Blue Ocean Floor.”

Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.

Twilight Horizon sparkles with artistic vision

Twilight Horizon (2012)
Written, recorded, and produced by Eric Hogg at Soma Sound.

Reviewed by Chris Ho

After releasing his debut full-length album, ‘Twilight Horizon,’ this January, Solipsis, a.k.a. Eric Hogg, is now up for two well deserved Vancouver Island Music Award nominations: one for Island Producer of The Year, and one for Island Pop/Rock Album of the Year.

Given the tightly knit instrumental layering and overall cohesiveness of the album, it’s clear that Twilight Horizon is the culmination of a remarkably pointed artistic vision. Everything from the reversed guitar riffs to the sweeping vocal harmonies and impeccable guitar tones are carefully crafted and consistently balanced throughout the entire record. Nearly every track has just the right amount of twists and turns in between the inventive, yet accessible, vocal melodies. Even after a casual first listen, I was immediately drawn into the album’s soundscape, which seemed to be its own entity, separate from everything around me.

Twilight Horizon begins with a choir of voices, combined with ambience, bells, clean guitar and bass, which serves as an intro that smoothly transitions into the next brilliantly produced track, “Along the Way.” Among the ambient noise, an acoustic guitar gradually emerges and is joined by a distant voice, easing the listener into the journey they are about to take: the buildup is gradual, but the payoff is loud and glorious as the electric guitar and cymbals come crashing in for the finale. Normally I wouldn’t be this corny and refer to an album as a “journey,” but this seems appropriate here. In the same way that a story challenges you to look at the world differently and indulge in the archetypal journey of the protagonist, this record invites you to open up your mind, engage with the full spectrum of sound and indulge in its meaning.

Yet again, the ambient trail off of the second song takes us right into the next track, further establishing that sense of cohesiveness. The vocal melodies are inventive and yet accessible, but not in the way of modern pop, per se. Alternatively, they resemble the melodic charm of The Beatles, Radiohead, and especially Elliot Smith. This is particularly apparent in songs like “Over the Falls,” “End of the Rainbow,” and “Falling.” I won’t be at all surprised if Eric Hogg’s masterpiece wins him an award for both Island Producer of The Year and Island Pop/Rock Album of The Year.

Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.

Retro pop inspires nostalgia . . . or confusion

Tegan and Sara (2012)
Produced by Greg Kurstin, Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Rob Cavallo

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Reaching for new heights, the Canadian indie duo Tegan and Sara released their seventh studio album at the end of January and recently announced their 2013 Summer Tour with the indie-pop sensation, Fun.

It’s tempting to consider Heartthrob as a huge departure from the sisters’ signature guitar-driven indie rock that earned them their fame, although it’s been a somewhat natural progression. With the success and attention they received from their collaboration with dance-pop icons Tiesto and David Guetta, it’s no surprise that Heartthrob expresses the poppy, synth-driven side of Tegan and Sara.

However, if you were expecting the same sort of fresh and innovative pop sensibility found in previous tracks like “Feel It In My Bones,” or ‘”Alligator,” you may be slightly disappointed. With a few exceptions, nearly all of the songs from the new album are produced and written in a style that is extremely reminiscent of 80’s and 90’s pop, (which could very well brainwash the listener into either working out to “Body Break” Youtube videos or feeling a sudden urge to attend an 80’s-themed party). Or if you’re me, you put on Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical,” after hearing the first song and hit single, “Closer.”  Be warned.

Nonetheless, with over-exaggerations aside, Heartthrob is a very honest album underneath all of the candy-coated dance beats and synth-bass lines. While the lyrics are simpler than what a Tegan and Sara fan would have come to expect, they are still ones we can relate to and are sung with a sense of conviction and honesty. Needless to say, the confessional style of Tegan and Sara’s songwriting remains throughout, even as it becomes saturated with a somewhat overwhelming amount of 80’s and 90’s pop influences. This is apparent in songs such as, “I Was A Fool and “Goodbye, Goodbye,” where everything from the vocal melodies to the synth lines and ambient elements seem to transport to listener into an episode of Dawson’s Creek or Saved By The Bell.

So as the album winds down and almost ends on a note that reminds you of a more serious side of  The Spice Girls, (as might be argued for the chorus of  “Now I’m All Messed Up”), one will either be overjoyed with nostalgia, or confused as to where this creation might fit in with modern-day pop.


Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.