Nothing to Lose

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Washington state-bred hip-hop/blue-eyed reggae/pop hybrid Emblem3 rose out of a series of performances on the 2012 season of musical competition show The X Factor. Though the band didn't win first place on the show, the exposure got them signed to a major-label deal, and the sound of their debut, Nothing to Lose, is that of pure hyper-produced Top 40 pop, with booming beats, anthemic choruses, and walls of compressed sound supporting harmonies, hooks, and sometimes even slightly dancehall-informed scatting from brothers Wesley and Keaton Stromberg and their counterpart Drew Chadwick. Emblem3 update the boy band template for the early 2010s, meshing the laid-back acoustic influence of Jack Johnson with their enormous teen pop production and formulaic melodies on standout tracks like "Chloe (You're the One I Want)," the breezy watered-down reggae tinge of "Just for One Day," and the saxophone-aided "Sunset Blvd." Though enjoyable in small doses, Emblem3's entirely manufactured sound, production, and approach begin to grate quickly, especially on cloyingly plastic tunes like "Spaghetti" and the interminable suburban rap-pop of "Teenage Kings." Even the would-be hooks run out of steam quickly, stuffed into songs so generic they're mostly interchangeable with each other and the entire pantheon of constructed major-label pop. The sense that Emblem3 were put together specifically as a disposable commodity is enforced by repeated lyrical references to key figures of a very small window of pop culture, including Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," and other quickly dated hashtag topics. Though most of the group members were still in their teens at the time of Nothing to Lose and clearly not in complete creative control, the full album will prove a hollow listening experience for all except the fanatics, and even the singles don't have enough personality or staying power to push Emblem3 into the superstar status they're aiming for.

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