Friday, January 29, 2016

video review: 'anti' by rihanna

Well, this came out fast. Kind of out of nowhere record, and I'm honestly still kind of mixed on it, but I'm more intrigued how there doesn't seem to be the huge buzz and hype behind it I'd normally expect for an album like this. Ah well, that happens.

Next up, Bloc Party and Dream Theater, but I kind of want to get in some black metal along the way, so I might take a look at that Abbath record too - stay tuned!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

album review: 'anti' by rihanna

...and here I was thinking that I was going to have to wait a few weeks to talk about a pop record that wasn't coming from Sia. 

And it's funny, it's been a while since I've talked about Rihanna in detail outside of Billboard BREAKDOWN, to the point where you have to wonder how much cultural impact she's left over the course of her last seven albums. Initially she got her start making slick, high-energy dance-pop that was generally pretty damn solid... only for her artistic career to be derailed painfully by Chris Brown in 2009. She was already on a path to make darker music, but things got a lot more bleak and lacking in subtlety over the next few years, with her material becoming paradoxically more sexual and yet more tired and drained. I could write a thinkpiece about how she and her songwriters responded to that horrifying incident, but what would probably end up getting missed is that the music was getting even more hit-and-miss. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to find a single from Rated R onwards that I actually could say I liked all the way through. And if anything they've been getting worse - I could forgive some of her collaborations in 2010 like 'Love The Way You Lie' with Eminem and 'All Of The Lights' with Kanye, but by the time we got 'Birthday Cake' with Chris Brown, I was done... and that was an album before Unapologetic, which was just a turgid slog of a record that featured some of her worst ever songs. 

So I had no problem with Rihanna taking a few years off outside of a few isolated collaborations - she had definitely earned it - but the lead-off singles being released throughout 2015 raised some concerns. I didn't hate 'FourFiveSeconds' with Kanye, but 'Bitch Better Have My Money' was unconvincing dreck, and as I said when it landed on my year end list for the Worst Hit Songs of 2015, I hoped this was not a sign of things to come. Well, it turns out she dropped that song and 'FourFiveSeconds' entirely from ANTi - the long-hyped eighth album that was leaked off of TIDAL, which astounds me because I was under the impression TIDAL was forgotten by everyone a good year or so ago. So of course I was curious, if only to figure out where Rihanna fit in a very different pop landscape from the one she left behind, so what did we get?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

video review: 'dystopia' by megadeth

Oh, I can imagine this review will go over so well...

Eh, whatever. Either way, probably Bloc Party next, then Dream Theater (unless, for some reason, I can find a high quality version of that Rihanna leak). Stay tuned!

album review: 'dystopia' by megadeth

There's no easy way for me to handle this review. Mostly because, as I've said in the past, it's hard to talk about bands that have defined their genre and who have decades of material. And thus it should be without question when I say that I respect how Megadeth were influential in metal and instrumental to defining thrash.

All of that being said, now having revisited the entire Megadeth catalog... Well, it's mixed, to put it lightly. Yes, Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia are good, even great records, but they are not a group that I find all that interesting or consistent. Sure, the late 90s slump happened when they went towards alternative rock that honestly wasn't all that bad, but I'm not entirely wild about their early records either, which often felt the victim of some great musicians not exactly having strong consistent songs behind them. And frontman Dave Mustaine hasn't helped - he might have power and personality but inconsistent mixing early meant he was never sounding as good as he could... and yet when moved closer to the front, his more nasal howls have always kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and it's only gotten worse on recent records. And that's even before we get to the songwriting which was never particularly clever or nuanced, or the mid-2000s where the lineup started changing with every other album that would only begin to regain some form of form with Endgame in 2009... only for most of that form to be promptly pissed away on Super Collider in 2013, a stab at more commercial hard rock that just ended up feeling formless and pretty generic - I liked Risk more than this.

Anyway, when I heard that Dystopia was reportedly going back for a rougher, more riff-intensive sound - plus another lineup change - I didn't know what to expect. Not really considering myself a hardcore Megadeth fan, I really wasn't invested enough to hope for quality, but I had also heard that the hard right political bent was creeping into his lyrics. And considering that Megadeth has never been a band defined by lyrical nuance - and having heard some of Mustaine's antics over the Obama administration - I hoped this would turn out better than I had reason to expect. Was I right?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 6, 2016 (VIDEO)

So, not quite as good as last week, but still not all that bad either. Let hope for better next week... because with this Megadeth album, we sure aren't getting better right now. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 6, 2016

Well, it finally looks like we're out of the January lull and into the weeks where the charts get a little busier - and sure, some of that was bound to happen thanks to the new Panic! At The Disco album doing a lot better than I'd argue anyone expected, but more of it is the feeling that things are starting to change up in force, with the chart instability of the past few weeks only further indicative of that.

Monday, January 25, 2016

video review: 'adore life' by savages

Well, not quite as great as I was hoping, but still a fair bit better than a lot of critics have given it credit. Highly expect this one will get a critical reappraisal.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, followed by Megadeth - stay tuned!

album review: 'adore life' by savages

This has been one of my most hotly anticipated albums of the year.

And really, if you go back to listen to Savages' incredible debut album, you'd see why. Silence Yourself may have been preceded by stark proclamations that many could read as reaching for impact, but the music could back it up, a haunted cacophony of noisy guitars, pummelling bass grooves and drums, and Jehnny Beth's harsh but starkly emotive delivery, walking the line between sultry and righteous rage. And that's before we get into the writing, blunt on the surface but nuanced in the framing that contorted relationships through a fiercely dominant but complex sexual picture. In other words, with every listen it only gets better and it was definitely one of my favourite albums of 2013.

And yet since then, Savages seem to have eschewed anything that would hem them in artistically or away from the more intense, difficult music they want to create. This first manifested in 2014 with the performance art piece Words To The Blind, an improvised collaboration with Japanese acid punk group Bo Ningen that delved into failures of communication across a divide that could only be spanned by regressing down to the simplest and most raw of moments - especially considering that failure of communication wasn't shy about implicating the audience in their own lack of understanding. And thus when I heard that their full-length sophomore release was partially inspired by Swans... well, I wasn't surprised, especially considering the themes and repetition that underscored To Be Kind. So I was prepared for a tough but inevitably rewarding listen with Adore Life - did I get it?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

video review: 'emotional mugger' by ty segall

Man, I was expecting more out of this. Still decent, but it should have been great.

Next up, Savages - and giving the mixed buzz, I'm praying that this'll be good, so stay tuned!

album review: 'emotional mugger' by ty segall

Ty Segall unsettles me.

And I say that as a fan of the guy, starting when I dug deeply into his discography to cover his 2014 record Manipulator. His material may be prolifically scattershot, sprawling over a half dozen albums and even more side projects, but dig into his records at length and you see a certain darkness that colours his writing, self-deprecating but a little craven and sinister, narrowing its focus on darker, venial human impulses that can feel a little disconcerting. This became most apparent with his cleanest and most cohesive record to date on Manipulator - which focused on a broad selection of manipulative situations that ultimately rung as more plainly nihilist - but I had a feeling in my gut that sound wouldn't last. On some level, Ty Segall's material has always been at its best when the rougher instrumentation matched the subject matter, like on the excellent Slaughterhouse from 2012, and when I heard that his release this year was going darker again, I was certainly intrigued.

But one thing that I also noticed was the build-up - a longer-than-expected distance between projects, the release announced through the mailing of VHS tapes, the creation of a website to announce and promote the album and the concept of 'emotional mugging', and the introduction of a new backing band, featuring long-time collaborator Mikal Cronin and a few new faces like the frontman of Wand Cory Hanson on guitar and keyboard. And when I say 'faces' I mean none at all, because the video released in that build-up features the band in baby masks, which Segall has continued to wear at live sets. So putting aside the obvious cue from modern horror games, it seemed right from the outset that Ty Segall was looking to be as unsettling as possible, strip away the prettier veneer on Manipulator for something ugly - and honestly, that made me even more excited, especially if we were descending back into the wildness of Slaughterhouse. So what did we get with Emotional Mugger?

Friday, January 22, 2016

video review: 'pawn shop' by brothers osborne

And that'll take care of country releases for the next week or so. Expect a lot of rock and metal coming, people, because between Savages, Ty Segall, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Avantasia, The Mute Gods... suffice to say, I'll be busy.

Until then, stay tuned!

album review: 'pawn shop' by brothers osborne

So I talked before about how when mainstream country hits upon a formula, they try everything in their power to replicate it to usually poor results. And when Florida Georgia Line struck it big in late 2012, label executives began looking for duos that they could slide in to replicate the success of that act, preferably under the bro country template. 

The problem was that bro-country crested and crashed relatively quickly, with 2013 being the peak before the crash and replacement with the metropolitan/R&B-leaning trend, so acts that might have been primed to be pushed in that direction had to be retooled or refocused. This seemed to be the case for Brothers Osborne, a country duo whose band name could literally be shortened and amalgamated to spell 'bros', but after single 'Let's Go There' only caught minor traction on the airplay charts, they got a welcome boost from being a favourite opening act of Eric Church. This led to a team-up with his main producer Jay Joyce for retooling of their track 'Stay a Little Longer' for release almost a year ago. And as luck would have it, it's made significantly more of an impact in recent weeks, breaking the top five on country airplay and charting real impact on the Hot 100 as we speak.

As such, given that I didn't mind 'Stay A Little Longer', I decided to check out their debut record Pawn Shop. After all, they were the primary songwriters on all of their tracks, and while Jay Joyce's presence did concern me, I'm not going to deny his work with Eric Church on Mr. Misunderstood showed measurable improvements as one of my favourite albums of 2015. So did Pawn Shop deliver?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

video review: 'nothing shines like neon' by randy rogers band

Told you it was coming soon. :)

Okay, Brothers Osborne next, then Savages and Ty Segall - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 30, 2016 (VIDEO)

Well, this was a fun week. Always nice to find a world hit I like, too, I've been struggling for that the past while. In any case, hope to have that Randy Rogers Band video up some time later today, and then Brothers Osborne, Savages, and Ty Segall - stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 30, 2016

So yeah, Billboard BREAKDOWN is late again, and while it might have been late regardless thanks to a blown lightbulb that I couldn't replace last night at the right wattage and luminescence, in this case the charts were delayed because of Martin Luther King Day, which is a holiday in the United States. And that's fine, the holiday is very relevant, but the fact that this happened and will continue to happen throughout the upcoming months - the delays of charts because Billboard shifted their timelines last year - is just another example of how Billboard doesn't think before they make changes. Remember when they added YouTube streams in the middle of the Harlem Shake, or the absolute disaster that were the charts in the late 90s? In comparison with that this is a minor inconvenience, mostly for folks like myself, but it's still exasperating.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

album review: 'nothing shines like neon by randy rogers band

So as many of you probably know, last year I picked up the collaboration album between two red dirt country acts, both seasoned veterans in the industry who decided to team up and make a record about being seasoned veterans in the industry and not having quite struck it gold in the mainstream. That record was called Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 by Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen, and it was without a doubt one of my favourite country records of 2015, but what about the men outside of the team-up?

Well, Wade Bowen has always done things in his own way, but Randy Rogers has seen a bit more success under his titular band - and note when I say success I mean barely cracking the top 40 with singles but steadily building a cult following with their album sales around the late 2000s. And for the life of me I'm surprised that they weren't more successful - sure, they had more fiddle and steel guitar and texture than your average mainstream country act, but they were signed to a major label and were willing to cross into more rock and pop textures for their successes, to the point where there were a few songs from their 2013 record Trouble that wouldn't sound that out of place on mainstream country radio... except, of course, that Jay Joyce produced it and has all the hallmarks of his clumsy work that he'd later ruin Eric Church's The Outsiders with a few months later. But the Randy Rogers Band didn't really see radio airplay, and after playing the major label game for several years, they decided to make their return to the indie scene with their album this year, promising a more neotraditional country sound with Nothing Shines Like Neon. Now, I had every reason to expect that this album would be at the worst pretty damn good, and at best something great - was I right?

video review: 'death of a bachelor' by panic! at the disco

Wow, five hundred video reviews... and still, got a whole slew left on the horizon. Ty Segall, Savages, Randy Rogers Band, Brothers Osborne, and plenty more, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 18, 2016

album review: 'death of a bachelor' by panic! at the disco

I'm going to admit right out of the gate I was worried about this album.

And really, that's something you could have said about every Panic! At The Disco album from their sophomore album onwards, especially as a fan. Their first record may have fit reasonably easy within the overwritten theatrical framework of emo-tinged pop rock, but just like their closest parallel in Marianas Trench, Panic! At The Disco had bigger ambitions, with their second album being an attempt to fuse in 60s-inspired psychedelic pop that won them a lot of well-deserved critical acclaim but also alienated a significant tract of their fanbase, especially when pop music was going in a very different direction at the time. So when they tried to pivot back with the underrated Vices & Virtues towards a simpler, more accessible template, they might have won back some of that crowd but at the cost of their primary songwriter and guitarist Ryan Ross, who left along with the bassist. Now to frontman Brendon Urie's credit, he did manage to work with drummer Spencer Smith for that album and their 2013 album Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! - which again was another hard genre shift, this time towards much more electronic synthpop, which I'd argue they pulled off pretty damn well - but when I heard that he had left as well, I had the sinking feeling that Brendon Urie's attempt to carry the name forward with session players and minus producer Butch Walker smacked of desperation.

And thus can anyone blame me for being cautious when I started hearing mixed buzz about Death Of A Bachelor, primarily written, composed, performed, and produced by Brendon Urie himself? While there have been critics - including myself - who have made the Brian Wilson comparison to Urie for his genre-bending brand of pop and knack for heartfelt hooks, this was starting to look a lot more like a frontman who had alienated his entire band away and was trying to push his unique solo vision - which in this case was described as 'Queen meets Sinatra'. And look, I like bombast, I love pop music with ambition to go for pompous pretentiousness and the heart to make it rise above it - there's a reason Marianas Trench's Astoria was my favourite record of 2015, also the brainchild of a genius pop frontman, songwriter, and producer in Josh Ramsay - but at the end of the day Marianas Trench was still a band that always had a strong foundational sound, whereas Panic! At The Disco is a glorified solo project that even at their best was rarely consistent. But hey, I'll give him credit for somehow pushing this past the label to market - clearly somebody had enough faith to put money behind it, even if it is being dropped in mid-January, so how did Death Of A Bachelor turn out?

Friday, January 15, 2016

video review: 'malibu' by anderson .paak

Man, I was expecting to like this, but this is such a ridiculously fun and catchy release. Can't recommend this enough, so much fun.

Next up... okay, Panic! At The Disco, don't screw this up. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

album review: 'malibu' by anderson .paak

The place where everyone starts talking about Anderson .Paak - and where many consider his stories begins - is with Compton.

And that's mostly because that was the first place where people actually heard him. He'd been flitting around the indie scene in California for some time under the name Breezy Lovejoy and had some traction with his 2014 album Venice, but it wasn't until Dr. Dre pulled him aboard Compton that he began getting serious exposure. And let's make this abundantly clear: Anderson .Paak is the biggest reason why that album works, operating as the over-eager observer caught up in Dre's hyper-stylized Compton, nearly drowning in it before becoming the spirit of Dre's oft-ignored social conscience. All of that, combined with his presence on The Game's Documentary 2.5 gave me the impression there might be a fair bit more to the guy beyond the distinctive nasal voice, a bit reminiscent of Kendrick but higher pitched and a shade more melodic and elastic.

So I dug into Venice, and wow, talk about an overlooked gem. Taking a west coast flavour with gentle soul, funk and R&B flourishes and sparse oscillating grooves, it's a remarkably chill and quiet listen that managed to be surprisingly sticky thanks to some great melodies, some unpolished but fascinating writing, and Anderson .Paak's earnest and yet surprisingly chill performance. Yeah, it does drag at spots, especially on the back half, but songs like 'Milk & Honey', 'Already', 'Get 'Em Up', 'Off The Ground', and the excellent 'Miss Right' are explanation enough for what Dre saw in this guy. And thus, with an bigger budget, a greatly expanded arsenal of producers and guest stars and riding some pretty impressive momentum, Anderson .Paak seemed set to deliver an even stronger sophomore release. So you can bet I was psyched for this - how did it turn out?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

video review: 'not to disappear' by daughter

So, this was an album that happened. Not really a huge amount to say about it, it's just decent. Probably will have more to say about Panic! At The Disco and Anderson .Paak, so stay tuned!

album review: 'not to disappear' by daughter

So let's talk a bit about expectations. 

Now as a critic, it's ideal not to have any at all when you go into a fresh release, especially out of the indie scene, because what might have been positioned as the single might not be representative of the group as a whole - the label wants something to sell, after all. And my opening expectations of the English indie folk trio Daughter were built around the expectations that they had soundtracked a bunch of TV and were known to run closer to the darker, more atmospheric brand of folk music. In other words, I thought I knew what I was getting checking out their 2013 debut album.

That wasn't exactly what I got, as their atmospheric side was less ambient and more smoky noise and post-rock, guitars that smouldered in feedback and seemed to be precisely on edge to explode against the booming percussion and Elena Tonra's haunted vocals. It was an instrumental shift that gave the group some unique personality - perhaps closer to a more accessible Chelsea Wolfe - until I started digging into the lyrics. Suffice to say the writing didn't really impress me, more suited for the emo side of shoegaze than for the darker atmospherics that Daughter was targeting, and the fact that the album never really exploded gave the sound a certain calculated petulance that I felt I should like more than I do. 

They did have a unique enough sound, though, and I was inclined to check out the follow-up this year, that was reportedly heading a more rock-inspired direction. So what did we get from the sophomore release from Daughter called Not To Disappear?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 23, 2016 (VIDEO)

And there goes another pretty decent week. As for what's next... you know, this Daughter album is intriguing me, plus Anderson .Paak and Panic! At The Disco. So it looks like we're getting back into the swing of things, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 23, 2016

So let me divulge to you a little secret: for the most part, I'm completely fine with how the charts are proceeding right now. And that's unnerving for a few reasons: first of all, is this possibly an indication that the mainstream public is actually taking steps in a promising direction? Not complaining, but it is surprising. More worrisome is the question without all of the latent insanity I usually cover that a chart slowdown for positive reasons means you'll stop paying attention, but hey, it's not like the drama is the only thing keeping you all watching, right?

Monday, January 11, 2016

video review: 'blackstar' by david bowie

And there goes one of the hardest reviews I ever had to film. Had to cut the very ending because it got a tad too emotional, but I think it turned out okay.

Next up, let's talk Anderson .Paak and Savages, so stay tuned!

album review: 'blackstar' by david bowie

David Bowie.

That should be all I need to say for this introduction, but the reality is that Bowie has... was always been more complicated than the legendary image and stunning run of classic albums have indicated. One of the most fascinating creative geniuses to have ever worked in music - especially during his run in the 70s - when you have an artist that influential, that powerful, that genre-defying, it's hard to say any more beyond 'the music speaks for itself'... especially now.

But to be completely honest with you all, putting aside my knowledge of some of his best songs, I had never gone through Bowie's discography front to back before doing this review - certain albums, sure, but never from beginning to end. So before I sat down to listen to Blackstar, I went through every single David Bowie album, from the uneven self-titled curiosity in 1967 to his classic albums in the early 70s to the mid-to-late 70s stream of genre bending to his stabs in the mainstream throughout the 80s to mixed results... and it would only get worse from there. Yeah, the 90s and his brief period of activity in the beginning of the 2000s was not kind of Bowie - mostly good, but far from the heights he achieved with Station to Station, the Berlin Trilogy, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and my personal favourite Bowie record The Man Who Sold The World. Most of that is because I tend to prefer Bowie when he gets rougher and darker, and while I can definitely appreciate more pop-flavoured records like Let's Dance, I prefer the heavier stuff - one of the reasons I have more time for his hard rock side project Tin Machine than most do. As for his 90s work... look, where in the past he was the one who charted a unique path, his work in this decade almost seemed to cannibalize the electronic and industrial music of the time in order to wring out fresh inspiration, with hit-and-miss results. And while albums like Heathen and Reality showed him regain some creative form, I was satisfied with David Bowie gracefully stepping out of the spotlight, a varied career but with heights that by far overshadowed the lows...

So fast forward to 2013, and out of nowhere David Bowie released The Next Day, his first album of material in a decade - and not only did it feel creatively revitalized, it was Bowie taking his textbook self-awareness and focusing on his legacy, half out of the sheer provocation of rebirth and half to break free of the ossifying weight of his classics. Never had the spectre of death and endings hung quite so heavily over The Thin White Duke - not without reason, as we'd come to know - and yet he was going to go out swinging. It's not hyperbole to say that The Next Day was the best record he had made since the 80s, a shot of buzzing, excellently written momentum that managed to recapture the best of the ragged danger that had ran through his best work. And thus when I heard he was going to be following it with an album this year, this time tapping into more experimental jazz on what was heralded as one of his most experimental records to date... well, look, it's not like jazz is entirely unfamiliar territory, look at the title track from Aladdin Sane. In other words, you can bet I was going to review this - so what did Blackstar deliver?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

video review: 'leave me alone' by hinds

Hmm, still can't nail down whether it's my internet or my computer that this managed to succeed where others failed... more testing is needed here.

Okay, next up will probably be Bowie, if only because nothing is out right now that I'd otherwise care about beyond it, so I'd expect something this weekend unless something new strikes my fancy - stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

album review: 'leave me alone' by hinds

Okay, so Rachel Platten's major label debut was boring mediocrity... and we're still in early January and I need something to talk about. Maybe the indie scene will have something interesting, something with a little fire...

Well, in this case I went straight to Pitchfork and to my surprise found a group that I did recognize from a few years back when I was randomly browsing YouTube. They were a Spanish indie rock quartet called Hinds, and I do remember hearing some of their early singles back when they were still called Deer. And I remember mostly liking a lot of what I heard - basically I'd describe them as a poppier Ex Hex by way of The Black Lips, but younger, lighter, more exuberant and more scattershot as a result. It was rough around the edges and kind of disjointed, but at least it was interesting, and I figured that digging into a debut - that dropped a lot later than I would have expected, given that the recording was reportedly finished back in spring - could be pretty fun. So I checked out Leave Me Alone - peculiar title for what I thought was a pretty loose and upbeat band, so what did we get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 16, 2016

Well, this was pretty light. I think I managed to figure out where my uploads are breaking, though - further testing might have to check at the house, see if it's my internet or my computer...

In any case... hmm, this Hinds album looks interesting, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 16, 2016

You know, after how rough last week was, it's nice to see things pivot back to something pretty damn agreeable. Part of this was the exodus of Christmas music, which triggered a lot of re-entries and boosts, and sure, there are definitely questionable songs and trends there, but I'm not quite as angry about it as I expected, mostly thanks to our new arrivals and one specific entry into the Top 10 that I would never have expected.

video review: 'wildfire' by rachel platten

I don't think anyone cares this was released, and I've already forgotten a fair chunk of it since yesterday. Eh, it happens.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, then I have no idea what'll come next. Stay tuned!

the top 25 best albums of 2015 (VIDEO)

And now we've got the last of the lists - damn, this video took WAY too much work to get online...

Okay, next up... well, it's Rachel Platten, so nobody cares, but after that is Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 4, 2016

album review: 'wildfire' by rachel platten

There are very few times worse to be an album critic than right at the beginning of the year, and the sad fact is that there's a lot of reasonably good reasons for it. It's right after Christmas and heading into the doldrums of the winter months, nobody's buying music right now, and thus if labels are releasing material, it's the stuff that was considered not strong enough to be rushed towards a holiday release. In other words, I can only imagine that's why Sremmlife was dropped at the beginning of January last year - it was clearly never designed to be a hit.

Now thankfully we've got a new album from David Bowie dropping in a few days - mostly because it's Bowie and he'll drop music when he damn well pleases - so this drought won't last for long, but until then, the most interesting thing I could dig up was Rachel Platten's major label debut Wildfire. Now already I had a lot of bad feelings about this, because not only was 'Fight Song' one of the most limp and forgettable hits of 2015, it was also a very poor man's Kelly Clarkson and not a good sign for what was to come. Sure, 'Stand By You' was better, but it's very telling that it's taken this long for Rachel Platten to gain any traction in the music industry, mostly because her music doesn't reflect personality. What you probably don't know is that Rachel Platten has been making music since 2003, with her last album Be Here dropping in 2011 basically providing a lot of TV soundtrack fodder and operating as a poorly produced cross between Sara Bareilles and Hilary Duff. Maybe she could have had more luck if she had dropped it in the mid-2000s, but 2011 was the middle of the club boom, and she definitely was never weird or mature enough to get either the adult contemporary or indie crossover.

And yet in 2015 she got her big break... but did she really? As I said, it's not a good sign when labels drop albums in early January, and the buzz I had caught was mixed at best. I did not remotely expect this to be good, but there was an Andy Grammer feature, so I might as well get the whitest pop album until Charlie Puth's debut later this year out of the way, so how is Wildfire?

the top 50 best songs of 2015 (VIDEO)

Well, this was fun. Now, let's see if the albums list will actually get online and not glitch out badly again - wish me luck!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

the top 25 best albums of 2015

We're now onto my final list, the one that always produces a certain amount of frustration as I struggle to recognize the best of the best. And as I said in my last list, it's always difficult to narrow it down to the best of the best. And this year was probably the hardest yet, mostly because it started so damn strong and was able to sustain that momentum into late this year. And while I was able to trim this list down to 25. And thus for the sake of my own conscience, I need to mention a few Honourable Mentions in no particular order that just missed this list. 

Because believe me, when you have comeback records like No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney and Tetsuo & Youth by Lupe Fiasco that show huge returns to form, they deserve at least a shoutout. Hell, an album that features a creative rebirth like Baroness' Purple which dropped very late in the year deserves it too. And then you have underappreciated gems like Escape From Evil by Lower Dens, one of the great unsung synthpop records of this year. And on that note, as much it might be a bit of a contentious statement to say that hip-hop had a great year, I stand by it - when you have Earl Sweatshirt, Jay Rock, The Underachievers, Yelawolf, Pusha T and Czarface dropping stellar sophomore records, coupled with comebacks of unexpected quality from Ludacris and killer debuts from Joey Bada$$, all of which might have had a shot for this list in a weaker year, that's saying something. And that's not counting the list itself that's at least twenty percent hip-hop, but we'll get to that - hell, might as well start with...

Friday, January 1, 2016

the top 50 best songs of 2015

And now we're onto the list that's always the hardest for me to make, mostly because it requires by far the most work: the best songs of the year, overall. Not just hits, but singles and deep cuts from album ranging from widely successful to barely out of the underground.

And this year was harder than most, mostly because it was a damn great year for music. The charts may have been strong, but that was nothing compared to the cavalcade of great music we got, which meant that cutting this list down from thousands to around 630 to 165 to the fifty we have meant that there were a lot of painful cuts, so much so that I seriously considered instituting a one-song-per-album rule. In the end... I couldn't do it, because there were some records that were so unbelievably good that I had to include multiple entries. Now we'll be covering those albums in greater detail a bit later this week, but in the end I held to the rule that at most I could put three songs from any one album on this list - and that we easily had more of those makes my argument that was a damn solid year of music, probably better than last year's, all the more powerful. 

One more thing before we start: while I can describe music well and why it works for me on a technical level, most of the songs on this list cut a fair bit deeper than that, and thus I'll endeavor to provide some emotional context as to why they worked so well beyond a purely intellectual exercise. And of course it's my picks - there might some common overlap between my choices and other critics, but it would be disingenuous to choose tracks for 'cultural importance' rather than what really got to me more deeply.

So let's start with a track that completely threw me off-guard.