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Trupa Trupa - Of the Sun Music Album Reviews

Channeling a wary mixture of dread and hope, the Polish indie rockers tighten the slackness of previous records into a potent fusion of post-hardcore and shoegaze.
Like any politically aware artist making music today, Polish indie rockers Trupa Trupa are particularly attuned to the tenor of our times. They understand that to be alive in 2019 is to perpetually grapple with two strongly oppositional states of being: paralyzing misery over looming ecological and social collapse, and whatever emotion it is—some might call it hope—that motivates us to get out of bed every morning, text birthday greetings to friends, sort our recyclables from our compostibles, and publicly shame fascists on the internet. The band’s fourth album, Of the Sun, doesn’t so much directly address the state of the world as vividly conjure the day-to-day sensation of existing within it, forever teetering on the tightrope walk between luminous ugliness and awful bliss.

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Jonas Brothers - Happiness Begins Music Album Reviews

The former teen heartthrobs’ first album in almost 10 years is by no means extraordinary, but it’s a respectable showing from a group that has long deserved more respect than they got.

Before they could all legally drive, the Jonas Brothers could stop traffic. In Chasing Happiness—the documentary that, in a bit of spectacularly on-the-nose cross-promotion, accompanies the release of their first album in nearly a decade, Happiness Begins—the brothers recount a time in 2007 when they had to be air-lifted to a performance at the Texas State Fair because their fans had caused a traffic jam stretching all the way to Oklahoma. At the time, Kevin, Joe, and Nick were 19, 18, and 15, respectively; they had just finished filming Camp Rock, the Disney Channel movie in which Joe starred opposite a then-unknown Demi Lovato, and, unbeknownst to them, would spend the next several years selling out arenas across the country.

In their earliest iteration, the Jonas Brothers were a bunch of preacher’s kids from New Jersey, signed to Columbia and touring the East Coast mall circuit billed as a punk rock group. Later, after they were picked up by Disney subsidiary Hollywood Records, a necessary branding refresh placed them squarely in the realm of pop-rock. They swapped their Ed Hardy t-shirts for blazers and scarves, and got to work pumping out stadium-sized guitar riffs (“That’s Just the Way We Roll,” “S.O.S.”) and anthemic choruses destined to be screamed by thousands of pre-adolescent lungs (“When You Look Me in the Eyes,” “Lovebug”).

Though those songs will surely have their moment when the trio heads back out on tour, with Happiness Begins, they (wisely) don’t shoot for pure nostalgia. If Jonas Brothers 1.0 was punk rock, and Jonas Brothers 2.0 was pop-rock, Jonas Brothers 3.0 is true pop—which is to say, a little bit of most things you could hear in today’s Top 40. They haven’t made music together since breaking up in 2013, but the brothers weren’t inactive in the interim: Nick released two albums, including a Top 10 single, on his own; Joe found success as the frontman of the electro-pop group DNCE. Reunited, the group have adjusted their sound to incorporate elements from both projects—Nick’s soulful, sexy R&B and DNCE’s light-hearted funk. In 2019, the Jonas Brothers rely on spacious synths and programmed drums; on several songs, guitars aren’t even a notable part of the mix. Nick and Kevin’s Gibsons have never been so underworked.

Often enough, the smorgasbord approach yields solid results. “Only Human” rides a reggae beat that works surprisingly well; it’s a Shellback-produced show of brass (instrumental and otherwise), on which the boys try out new percussive cadences and punctuate their phrases with in-vogue, monosyllabic ad libs. “Don’t Throw It Away” is a feat of falsetto, with enough West Coast breeziness, synthetic shimmer, and rich harmony to recall another dominant sibling trio, Haim. The fizzy, supremely self-assured single “Cool” packages up some of the brothers’ best tricks, old and new: acoustic strums meet vocal processors and a thundering stomp-clap beat.

“Cool” also benefits from a hearty dose of good humor. Laced with celebrity name-drops, it harkens back to “Year 3000”—the group’s first big hit, which gave voice to their dreams of outselling Kelly Clarkson. On “Cool,” Joe reports feeling “like Post Malone” and audibly grins into the mic when he references his thoroughly cool new bride, “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner. Though it borders on silly, the song packs oomph that some of the others lack. Notoriously guarded while on Disney’s payroll, the new iteration of the band has inhabited the public eye more fully than ever before—weddings, babies, and family therapy included. One might hope their newfound transparency would translate into a bit more personality and specificity on tracks like “Love Her” and “Hesitate”—two tender, but very generic, love songs that appear on the back half of the album. “I will take your pain/And put it on my heart,” Joe croons on the latter, sounding like someone not entirely familiar with the concept, before the song turns into overproduced soup.

In the late aughts, at the height of JoBros fever, the group’s commercial success was tempered by ridicule in popular culture at large, stemming from some combination of their Disney affiliation, their purity rings, and the demographic of their fan base. There was a South Park parody; Russell Brand mocked them from the 2008 VMAs stage while the boys sat in the audience, stony-faced; Jay-Z rapped, “No I’m not a Jonas Brother, I’m a grown-up/No I’m not a virgin, I use my cojones.” Youth has always been currency in pop music, both as it applies to performers—especially women—and consumers, who, in their teenage years, often have time and cash to expend on artists they care about. But the biggest paydays usually go to label execs; Disney, in particular, has faced criticism for micro-managing young stars and commodifying family values to reap profit from children. It wasn’t hard to imagine the entire Jonas Brothers franchise as a cash grab predicated on marketability rather than genuine talent and hard work. With the added baggage of their openly acknowledged Christian upbringing and the physical markers of their abstinence—a practice deeply at odds with the lifestyle expected of “real” rockers—the brothers had a hard time getting people to take them seriously.

In the intervening years, quite a lot has changed. Social media and readily available production technology have given young artists unprecedented power to create and disseminate their own music without prerequisite label backing. Stars like Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X—17 and 20, respectively—amassed fame through a combination of talent and internet smarts, undermining skepticism about the artistic agency of the very young. The sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll ethos the Jonas Brothers famously eschewed continues to reveal its dark underbelly, casting new doubt as to whether that lifestyle was ever really something to aspire to. And as feminism gains cultural ground, it’s more obvious than ever that discounting the interests of girls and young women says more about societal misogyny than the validity of their opinions.

Happiness Begins is by no means an extraordinary album, but it’s a respectable showing from a group that has long deserved more respect than they’ve received. Though they’ve brought their sound up to date with current pop trends, aesthetically, not all that much about the Jonas Brothers has changed in the past decade: They’re still earnest, charismatic, media-savvy family men. When Nick sings, “When I grow up, I want to be just like me,” on “Cool,” you can kind of see what he means. The Jonas Brothers didn’t need a total reinvention to come back—they just needed a clean slate.

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