Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz

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Ever since her Hannah Montana days, when she balanced Disney pop with rootsier songs, Miley Cyrus has proven that she's versatile. Though she spent years distancing herself from those beginnings, her eclectic approach continued as she flirted with more mature versions of pop, dance, and hip-hop. While her previous transitions were seamless, she revels in warts-and-all indulgence on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. A whopping 92 minutes long, Cyrus' fifth full-length is a space pop album, a dance album, and a tripped-out singer/songwriter album -- and its best moments are among the most genuine music she's made. She sounds as brash and earnest as the people her age who, because they're not world-famous pop stars, head off to college and expand their horizons, musical and otherwise. Since Cyrus is a world-famous pop star, her horizon-expanding includes collaborations with the Flaming Lips, Ariel Pink, and Phantogram's Sarah Barthel. Lips fans know that the band will collaborate with just about anyone, but their involvement in Dead Petz doesn't feel like a stunt. Hearing their lush oddities combined with her vocal chops makes for some of the brightest highlights: "The Floyd Song (Sunrise)" boasts more of the band's signature euphoria than much of their 2010s output, while "Evil Is But a Shadow"'s gloomy introspection sounds even eerier with Cyrus singing it. Here and throughout Dead Petz, it's all about the contrasts. Cyrus opens the album with "Dooo It!," one of the most aggressive tracks here, and follows it with one of the sweetest, "Karen Don't Be Sad." Later, she spans the frank sexuality of "Bang Me Box" and the jokey sentimentality of "Pablow the Blowfish," a tale of love and sushi gone wrong. Later on, Cyrus revisits some of Bangerz's sounds and collaborators: with a few tweaks, "Lighter" and "Fweaky" (both produced by Mike WiLL Made It) could get airplay on Top 40 radio; meanwhile, the hazy Big Sean reunion "Tangerine" and bittersweet Oren Yoel production "Space Boots" have a very different kind of party vibe than Cyrus' previous album. Dead Petz's sprawl also finds her moving into synth pop territory more convincingly than might be expected, whether she's duetting with Barthel on the standout "Slab of Butter (Scorpion)" or emphasizing her raspy, Stevie Nicks-like drawl on the driving "1 Sun." At times, the album is as annoying as feared, peppered with ramblings that must have been a blast to make but aren't necessarily as much fun for the audience, such as the self-explanatory "I'm So Drunk." Songs like this reflect how the album wears its faults on its sleeve: it's too long and Cyrus sometimes tries too hard, but she uses the freedom this kind of guerrilla release affords to the hilt: freedom to be vulnerable, freedom to be sexual, freedom to make mistakes. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz needs an editor, but there's more than enough worthwhile music here to transcend shock value.

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