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Album Review: “10 Times out of 10”

By Tyler Dague, Point Park News Service:

Pop submerged in the sound of slick synth production has gone into overdrive with EDM this decade, turning a throwback ‘80s sound into mainstream flavor of the week. With pop princesses such as Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande dipping into past inspirations in efforts to achieve the next radio smash hit with varying degrees of effectiveness, the emerging female pop sensation would do well to subvert such tired expectations.

Into this oversaturated environment comes blue-haired electronic songstress Amy Guess. The Las Vegas native’s new EP “10 Times out of 10” explores the space between classic hits like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Katy Perry’s album “Prism.” After generic anthem “Moonlight” failed to catch fire as a single in 2015, Guess’s latest is a definite improvement. However, its sound seems to echo too many better records of the last five years.

“10 Times out of 10” album cover by Amy Guess. Photo credit: Google Play Music

The standout title track opens with synth vamps that recall the opening guitar notes of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” before following up with Guess’s breathy delivery. The solid chorus is surprisingly catchy for an intimate monologue to her significant other about their rocky but lasting romance. The hook says it all: “So we bruise, and we bleed/But I’ve never had another lover feel so good to me.”

The second track “Think of Me” sounds like a Katy Perry B-side as Guess lets loose a full-throated delivery. The song seems aimed at electronic dance fans who will probably be too distracted by the hypnotic chorus to realize she’s discussing lost love. Instead of imploring her ex to recall their better days, Guess is curious to know if she even crosses their mind. Perhaps this marks an improvement over pop lyrics with zero shades of meaning.

“Comatose,” repetitive and forgettable, does have a good heavy synth beat going for it. Rusty Varenkamp, the producer on “10 Times,” has actually created promo music for MTV, VH1, the CW and yes, ABC, so it’s not a stretch to say this is his wheelhouse, mostly for the worse.

Of all the songs on the EP, “Late Night” sounds the most lifted from a synthwave compilation. To its credit, moments of “Late Night” sound as if Blondie had access to a modern production studio in 1982. Yet, on “Leaving Without You,” Guess lays on the Katy delivery a little too thick. The phrasing of each verse and hook seems like a direct lift from Ms. Perry’s husky over-enunciation. “Leaving” also has the unfortunate chorus rhyme of “go” with “afterglow,” which seems like a hollow songwriting attempt at cleverness.

The tension builds to anger in final track “Like I Do You.” Unfortunately, the song marks the second time synthesized (Did I mention no real instruments?) finger snaps stand in as percussion. There are only so many times you can get away with finger snaps.

Success at live concerts will probably reveal whether Guess has a shot at approaching those artists her music so closely matches. “10 Times Out of 10” is broadly anthemic if not instantly recognizable, which could describe many albums seeking listeners in a Sia-dominated pop landscape. Guess’s best move would be to capitalize on any success her first EP generates and collaborate with a hit maker like Ryan Tedder or an act like Disclosure or Major Lazer who can break her radio-ready voice from the confines of copycat production.

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