Miley Cyrus, "Endless Summer Vacation"
A decade and a half after she started making records — first as her Disney Channel alter ego, Hannah Montana, then as herself — Cyrus on her eighth studio album sounds like a woman looking back at everywhere she's been, both musically and emotionally, and assessing where all her travels have put her now, newly divorced and having just entered her 30s.
"Endless Summer Vacation" gets at the coolly euphoric country-disco vibe of a song like "Flowers," the smash lead single that spent six weeks atop Billboard's Hot 100. But the true subject of these dozen tunes is the hard work of introspection and the even harder work of self-reliance.
Thematically, the album revolves around Cyrus' split from ex-husband Liam Hemsworth; she fondly recalls some of their good times, identifies red flags that arose eventually, ponders the pleasures and the complications of singledom and finally rediscovers a longing for romance.
Stylistically, the songs pull from all over the place. Like the actor she is, Cyrus in the past used each of her albums to explore a single genre: hip-hop on "Bangerz," psychedelia on "Her Dead Petz," country music on "Younger Now" and hard rock on "Plastic Hearts." Yet "Endless Summer Vacation" jams together bits of all that stuff as she moves through heartbreak to savor the clarity that follows.
What holds the music together is Cyrus' singing, which stood out easily from the likes of Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers in the mid-2000s and which still feels distinct now that she's competing with SZA and Taylor Swift. In "Jaded" and "Muddy Feet," she emphasizes the grainy texture in her voice over stomping rock grooves; "Rose Colored Lenses" has her rounding the edges of each phrase with a woozy sensuality. Brandi Carlile shows up to belt alongside Cyrus in the blippy-folky "Thousand Miles."
"River" and "Violet Chemistry" are the album's most rhythmic cuts, with Cyrus doling out quick staccato lines amid ravey synths played in part in the latter by James Blake. And "You" is the album's vocal centerpiece: a saloon-ready retro-soul ballad. Her singing is vivid enough on "Endless Summer Vacation" to make up for some mushy songwriting here and there.
- U2, "Songs of Surrender"
- 100 Gecs, "10,000 Gecs"
- T-Pain, "On Top of the Covers"