ALBUM REVIEW: Troye Sivan – ‘Blue Neighbourhood’

Troye Sivan
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Troye Sivan
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In a year when most titans wouldn’t release a full length album seeing that Adele’s 25 is poised to rake in the sales and awards, only a newbie like Troye Sivan would dare to tread where angels fear. As news of Adele’s roaring success with 25 makes headlines, somewhere in the land Down Under, a 20-something Sivan who also lists acting and songwriting as his skills just released his debut full length album, Blue Neighbourhood. Just the first listen alone reminds you that this kid has definitely been around the block and knows what he is doing.

Something about the electro pop sound Sivan embraces is magnetic. His music, like Lana Del Rey, is cinematic, his lyrics, wiser than his years like Lorde, and his vocals effortless like say Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars. Blue Neighbourhood is not just a compilation of his earlier extended plays but an ode to the quiet, underwhelming suburban life in Perth and the pangs of love as a gay youth in his teens.

Right from the opener WILD to DKLA, Sivan’s EP WILD, makes up the first half of the album. To anyone who’s aware of the teen sensation’s soaring vocals that drip with emotion, the songs serve their purpose, reigniting that torrid love affair you’ve had with his voice all through his acclaimed EPs. Songs on WILD centred around his identity as a gay youth from suburban Australia and hence forms the backdrop for Blue Neighbourhood. WILD is all about ‘forbidden love’, while BITE is about a gay man’s first tryst with a gay bar. FOOLS talks of his love for something he can’t live without, while his collaboration with NZ’s other musical prodigies, brother and sister duo instrumentalist Caleb Nott and vocalist Georgia Nott aka Broods, resulted in EASE. The songs do continue with the same theme, although Georgia plays fiddle to Sivan’s rather dominant vocals on EASE, only letting her breathy vocals soar in the chorus while brother Caleb is at his best with the production relying on huge electro-pop sounds and strings to bring the song to life.

Just like Ed Sheeran’s rappy vocals on Don’t from X, Sivan’s take on the vocal style is subdued and dark on THE QUIET. Ominous electropop sounds don a veil that mask the sadness that drives the song, but that can be said of most of Sivan’s music. Australian-Zimbabwean rapper Tkay Maidza features on DKLA aka Don’t Keep Love Around, rapping her bars with a speed that matches the slowed rhythms Sivan’s music takes on.

To call Troye Sivan the male Lana Del Rey is not wrong. Take his approach to music and compare it to hers. Both love cinematic productions, simple yet profound lyrics, her love for the one that got away and Americana, his love for the ex-boyfriend and Australian suburbia and their mutual influence – Emile Haynie. Known to be a producer whose work ranges from hip-hop to indie, Haynie worked with everyone from Kid Cudi to Sia and Bruno Mars, although his work on Lana’s cinematically fantastic debut Born To Die and follow-up Paradise is what he is known most for. You can hear Born To Die on Talk Me Down. A love song along the lines of Haynie’s previous sleeper hit Dark Paradise, Sivan sings about long lost love with darker undertones and balances the act with his next single COOL.

HEAVEN ft Betty Who is Sivan’s reflection on being gay and how it affects his afterlife, specifically his chances of getting into heaven, The third collaboration on Blue Neighbourhood is a contemplative track, but with not much from Betty Who to go on by, feels a little forgettable. On YOUTH, hip-hop beats and electro pop sounds form the skeleton to a playful song on the joys of youth. There’s auto-tune, choral sections and vocal layering that show a deft pair of hands handling the production for the teenager’s debut.

Just when you think that Troye’s debut is getting long and too familiar to a regular listener, LOST BOY magically appears on the tracklisting. The pop-esque sound breathes life into yet another languorous Sivan song, making it a cut off a Coldplay album or a .fun album, not a bad one at that.

Bubblegum pop, formulaic and perfect for the openly gay teen heartthrob makes its debut on for him. ft. Allday. The Taylor Swift styled standard bubble gum pop love ballad, is sticky sweet and personal, and smartly employs genderless nouns and even smarter descriptions of sex, making it a slick pop-rap track that’s far better than Bad Blood. SUBURBIA comes towards the end of the album and much like New Zealand and its understated suburbia on Lorde’s Grammy-winning Royals, Sivan sings about Perth’s slow paced suburban life. The orchestral arrangements are too good for the track and to my memory stand out as one of the best on the album.

Languorous and controlled piano arrangements run all through TOO GOOD and make for another excellent addition to the album. Soulful tunes from the boy’s angelic pipes are all you need to reaffirm your faith in the fact that Sivan is as careful with hitting the notes as he is with the production of the tracks. Take his last collaboration BLUE with lyricist and singer Alex Hope. The same controlled vocals from both Hope and Sivan dramatically make up the best duet from Down Under in a long time. The two possess a magical energy and balance akin to Bennett and GaGa, and I fully expect a full-length collaborative album between the two. Hope’s voice is perfection with Sivan playing up to his strengths whenever needed and making the song more about her than it is about him. There’s a remix to WILD, nothing out of the ordinary, but something I’d skip to listen to BLUE or YOUTH on repeat. Formulaic pop makes a comeback on SWIMMING POOLS, what with its auto-tuned intros and a rather Adele or Lana Del Rey styled pop ballad that talks about arduous love and its aches. Sivan’s popular hit, Happy Little Pill receives the live/acoustic version treatment and I’m happy it did, because at times the album seems too perfect and with Sivan singing live you know you’re picking up the real deal when you’re shopping for Troye at the record store.

The album is long at 18 tracks for a deluxe version and the stylized titles and addition of tracks from the WILD EP seems pompous and unnecessary, but make up for the excess with some rather outstanding originals. Pick up the Aussie teen’s debut if you still believe that talent like his comes once in awhile.

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