"Made in the A.M.," One Direction #Review

One Direction Niall Horan Harry Styles Liam Payne Louis Tomlinson Made in the A.M. review Music Monday

I could start my review of One Direction's newest offering, "Made in the A.M.," with a slew of cliched maxims, and they would probably all be true: "What a difference a year makes." "... And then there were four." Yada, yada. Last year, I predicted that One Direction's career would eventually take the trajectory that the Backstreet Boys' career did and would go Adult Contemporary ... but not in the next three years -- not without breaking up first. Well, we lost one member, are in sight of a well-deserved hiatus that could very well lead to disbandment, and "Made in the A.M." is a HUGE step in the Adult Contemporary direction. "Made in the A.M." offers a little something for all ages and seems a little, well, directionless.

After original member Zayn Malik left the group in March, One Direction felt slightly lackluster without him to give it its R&B edge, vocally, and diversity, aesthetically. It felt like an end of an era, and One Direction felt suddenly and sadly bereft of whatever glory that had carried them through their glory days. But the four guys really stepped up their vocal game on "Made in the A.M." to fill the, indeed, vast void that Zayn left behind -- Harry Styles is pulling more high notes (though what's up with the lilting of his voice on the more folksy tracks?). Louis Tomlinson's getting meatier solos, though he was once thought of as 1D's weakest singer. Niall Horan's voice, however, is the most surprising on this album -- gentler, more tender rather than boyishly playful but with that same distinctive watery (yet airy?) quality it's always had.

"Made in the A.M." is the most British the British-Irish boy band has sounded since their debut Europop-ish album, "Up All Night," was released in 2010. But that's as much as the two albums have in common. "Made in the A.M." is eclectic at best, all over the place at worst. The group's third album, "Midnight Memories" was similarly eclectic, smoothly transitioning the boy band from shouty dance songs to rock and folk-driven pop, but "Made in the A.M." feels rushed in comparison and, frankly, a little derivative -- sometimes of even their own songs.

The album starts off with an unexpected sound -- "Hey Angel"'s mid-'90s-like Europop intro that could've been equal parts Kylie (yes, I know she's Australian) or Robbie, complete with a mid-tempo talk-rap. "Olivia" very obviously pays homage to "Pure Imagination" from the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," but it also sounds like The Beatles. "Walkin' in the Wind" is one of my favorites -- it's so unexpectedly folksy for a boy band, but again, is that a sped up version of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" in a higher key I hear?

"End of the Day" is an amalgamation of everything One Direction's ever been in one song, and is accordingly schizophrenic -- it starts out in one genre and launches into almost another at the chorus, without explanation (though, being pop music, it is still relentlessly catchy). "I Want To Write You A Song" is the only truly lukewarm song on the album, though "Perfect" and "Infinity" aren't much more than your run-of-the-mill pop songs.

"Love You Goodbye" has, by far, the tightest lyrics of the entire album, but this album shows off some of the best lyrics the guys have sung so far. That said, it has fewer songwriting credits from the guys than the previous two albums (9 of 13 of the regular album tracks -- "Four" had 10 of its 12 regular album tracks co-written by at least one member; 12 of 14 "Midnight Memories" regular album tracks were co-written by at least one member).

"Made in the A.M." is a weird note for the four-piece to leave on. It feels rushed and incomplete, like a small taste of the many directions they'd like to go in, but delivered without real conviction. I don't know what would've felt more comforting as a long-time listener. Maybe I wish they would've harmonized more over the past five years, but that's probably just the Backstreet Boys fan in me talking.

One Direction's fifth album "Made in the A.M." releases to stores tomorrow, November 13.

#DIY Natural, Homemade Yogurt Mask Recipes

homemade diy yogurt mask greek oily acne dry sensitive mature skin natural honey cucumber citrus oatmeal exfoliating pimples recipes

Over the past year, I've realized how great plain yogurt (I've been using unflavored Greek) has been at helping reducing pimples and redness in my skin, as well as hydrating my skin. As you probably know, yogurt contains lactic acid, which is a natural chemical exfoliant. This is a gentler, cheaper and edible alternative to many glycolic acid/alpha hydroxy acid treatments.

Honey is also a great antibacterial ingredient that also serves as a humectant, which helps your skin retain moisture, so if that's a concern of yours, feel free to add it to your yogurt mask. Here I share a basic recipe that was not mentioned in my video: the Honey and Yogurt Mask I've been using more regularly to combat acne and dryness in the wintertime.

For all of the recipes below, they create one-time use portions, but if you have any of the concoction left over, refrigerate and use within 3-4 days. Please do a patch test on a hidden spot of skin before applying all over your face, in case you are sensitive to lactic acid or any of the other ingredients listed below. The masks below are meant to be left on the face for approximately 15 minutes and rinsed off. Remember to apply sunscreen after using these masks.

Honey & Yogurt Mask

(Dry/Acne-Prone Skin)
1 tablespoon of Greek (or plain) yogurt
1 teaspoon of honey
Mix together and apply to face

Honey & Citrus Yogurt Mask

(Dry/Acne-Prone Skin)
tablespoon of Greek (or plain) yogurt
1 tablespoon of honey
1 teaspoon of lemon or lime juice

Calming Oatmeal & Yogurt Mask

(Sensitive/Dry Skin)
tablespoon of ground oatmeal (I used a coffee grinder)
tablespoon of Greek (or plain) yogurt
Optional: 1 teaspoon of honey for extra hydration
*Remove with a wet, warm washcloth for extra exfoliation

Soothing Cucumber & Yogurt Mask

(Sensitive Skin)
1/2 cucumber, blended
1 tablespoon of Greek (or plain) yogurt

I hope these work out for you -- let me know if you try 'em out! You can watch my step-by-step video of how to make three of these masks below.

6.75 months gone by!

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan Empire National Lakeshore 

When I started writing this entry, I titled it "3 months gone by." So you can guess how long it's actually taken me to write this entry. :)

I started this year off, as most people do, with the best of intentions for this blog. I was one of four semesters down in my graduate program, fairly well-rested after the winter holidays, and full of good cheer. And then life happened ... with no summer break to speak of, I've been trudging through this program and missing out on much-needed sun rays, and I have come out on the other side -- sort of. The last semester of this program started last week and I can already tell that it's going to be a rough one. Save the best for last, right? This last semester is met with bittersweet feelings -- ready to get the heck outta school, but not quite ready to face the "real world" again.

I guess the greatest obstacle I will have to surmount this semester is the decision of where I will be post-graduation. Unlike some professions, this one requires me to target one particular state so I can begin the licensing process without wasting any time. It's kind of time to settle down now. My heart is leaning towards California, as it has since I was 19 (over a decade ago!).

The reason I finally had the motivation to sit down and write this entry is because I realized how much I have been moving around since I started this blog, and how many states (and countries!) any regular readers of this blog have traversed with me. And then I realized how little I have shared about my time here in the Midwest, and how easily I could have glossed over my time here, only to show up in California (or wherever I may end up), as I did with my brief time in Florida's Suncoast last year.

To build some momentum, here are some photographs of a quick trip I took to Sleeping Bear Dunes (voted "The Most Beautiful Place in America" by Good Morning America viewers in 2011) in Empire, Michigan this summer. My photographs do not nearly capture the vastness of this space. I had seen photos prior to going and marveled at the idea that there could be a place that resembled a coastal beach in a basically landlocked Michigan. And then I found myself standing at the top of this sand dune, shielding my eyes and mouth from grains of sand and stunned by how enormous Lake Michigan is, and how small I am. It is a place that needs to be experienced in person, a place and an experience photographs truly cannot capture.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan Empire National Lakeshore
It was truly, truly, truly windy. I felt at risk of being blown straight down the dune into Lake Michigan, and that felt exhilarating, like I could easily tumble over the edge of a "precipice." Maybe you can see the "layer" of airborne sand above the actual sand dune. My hair was completely out-of-control and the tight lycra hip-length t-shirt I was wearing was lifted on more than one occasion to ... immodest areas.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan Empire National Lakeshore
A dip in the sand dune.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan Empire National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan Empire National Lakeshore
Those little upright black things are people climbing down (or up) the sand dune.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan Empire National Lakeshore

I hope to check in at least once a month between now and the time I finish my program at the end of the year, and after that ... who knows! But I'll be sure to keep some record of my little discoveries.

+ I am a little better at updating my Instagram, so if you're interested, you can follow along there!
+ The one entry I've been diligently updating is my Spotify Playlist Challenge