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Bryce Vine - Carnival Music Album Reviews

The debut full-length from the “Drew Barrymore” singer isn’t designed for conscious, focused listening. This is music for poolsides and basements.
Bryce Vine describes himself as “OutKast and Blink-182 got drunk with the Gorillaz.” Perhaps a more apt comparison is KYLE taking bong hits with Dave Matthews Band, or Jason Mraz sniffing poppers with Doja Cat. At 31, Vine is at an unconventional age for frat-rap prominence. He established a fanbase nearly a decade ago, as a contestant on “The Glee Project,” a reality television show based off the Ryan Murphy high school drama. His real rise came with 2017’s “Drew Barrymore,” a swirl of neon synths that went platinum, possibly by being added to every “Chill Vibes” playlist in existence.

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Mal Blum - Pity Boy Music Album Reviews

The New York singer-songwriter shifts from acoustic folk into potent pop-punk that recalls both Hop Along and Titus Andronicus.

Saying “no” isn’t particularly fun for anyone—especially for New York singer-songwriter Mal Blum. So, in order to practice, they turned it into a song. On the defiant power-pop single “I Don’t Want To,” they practice the art of brazen rejection with a smile: “I don’t want to/So I won’t...at least not now,” they put it plainly. Much of Pity Boy presents a similar tongue-in-cheek catharsis, as Blum laces endearing humor into sorrowful subjects, resulting in the most personal work of their career.


Blum’s early music, such as 2010’s self-released Every Time You Go Somewhere, was mostly acoustic folk, embellished with violin, harmonica, and even toy piano; they’ve now moved into potent pop-punk. If the electric guitar had evolved into a supporting actor by Blum’s last album, 2016’s You Look a Lot Like Me, then it’s the lead on Pity Boy—complete with mixing by Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart. The nimble, vigorous riffs here call to mind Titus Andronicus (who Blum will support on tour this fall), ricocheting like rubber balls around “I Don’t Want To” and “Not My Job” with Blum’s vocals surging in countermelody. Fierce solos slice through “Odds” and “Gotta Go,” offering stark contrast to the toned-down strums of slow burners like “Salt Flats” and “Black Coffee.”

If there are any weak points in Pity Boy, they come when Blum’s voice strains, but their lyrics—the album’s centerpiece—mitigate that weakness. Blum’s words often divulge unsettling self-deprecation: “All that I want is for someone to take advantage of me/Because I don’t know any other way,” “I even hate the way I breathe,” “27 is 11/Just on different meds.” “Not My Job” offers a brief moment of aplomb: “If I have to, I’ll kill off my better self/Because it’s not my job to make you well,” they sing, reiterating the final words as if to assure themself, too.

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Blum has been openly queer for as long as they’ve been putting out music, but Pity Boy is the most candid they’ve ever been about their sexuality and identity in their music. Here, they poignantly speak on their transgender experience, spelling it out on album opener “Things Still Left to Say”: “You don’t see me when I’m here/I’m like a ghost of myself already/If I could, I would disappear/But I’m still here,” they sing. “See Me” internalizes those sentiments, acting more as a soliloquy: “I don’t belong/Though it helps to play along/Why can’t they see me when I’m right here?” Both songs refer to Blum being non-binary, but the lyrics remain just equivocal enough to spark empathy in anyone who has felt alienated. While platitudes like “I don’t belong” can feel like “Creep” regurgitations, Blum envelops the phrase in a multi-dimensional earnestness, as the repeated use of “I’m here” delivers a steadfast assertion: despite Blum feeling they don’t quite fit in, they have every right to stick around. “You’re direct/One day, I hope that I can be like that,” goes a line in “I Don’t Want To.” That day is much closer than Blum realizes.


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