Friday, April 28, 2017

video review: 'the ride' by nelly furtado

There's a part of me that feels I put a bit too much effort into this review... but there's also a part of me that thinks it's one of my better ones because I encapsulated so much history and context that turned out quite well. Huh.

Well, next up is Gorillaz, and I'm sure that will be a fun ride, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the ride' by nelly furtado

I'm a little amazed that there were requests to cover this on Patreon - but in a bizarre way, I'm kind of glad I am. And to explain why, I need to explain my complicated relationship with this Canadian pop singer-songwriter, so storytime!

See, back in the early 2000s, the whole prefabricated and super-polished female pop star image was fading out of fashion, but it's not like this style of pop artist was going away, simply just synthesized into a new format. Thus, partially driven by the still-vibrant adult-alternative scene in the 90s, our crop of female pop stars began picking up a little more organic texture and unique personality and detail. It's how Pink became a firebrand, it's how Avril Lavigne broke out of pop punk, it's how Kelly Clarkson earned critical acclaim by going harder, and into all this, barely into her twenties with two fellow Canadian producers, came Nelly Furtado with her debut Whoa, Nelly.

And I hated it. Part of it was overexposure, I'll admit that, given how much Canadian radio will overplay Canadian talent, but for Nelly Furtado it was even worse. I didn't like her voice, her production grated on my nerves, and I despised her artistic persona. See, despite the slightly more earthy style of writing and presentation, it wasn't like the pop polish wasn't there, and Nelly Furtado's quasi-bohemian debut didn't overshadow some really annoying lyrical shortcomings, it felt so phony to me! Now I imagine this makes me sound like Steve Albini talking about Alanis Morrissette or Liz Phair - look it up - but in retrospect it was a more complicated issue: it was a debut that had a distinctive tone and style but Nelly Furtado wasn't refined enough as a performer to fully deliver. That changed on her second album Folklore was a fair bit better... and did precisely nothing in the U.S.. And so, along with so many of her contemporaries in the mid-to-late 2000s, Nelly Furtado decided to 'sell out' - which isn't accurate because she was always part of that system but it's not like the mainstream public understood that - and she hooked up with Timbaland for her third album Loose - and it was the best possible move. Sure, she wasn't convincing in 2000, but six years later with some real stage presence and charisma she released killer singles like 'Maneater', 'Promiscuous', 'Say It Right', and especially the teamup with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake that stands as one of the most defiantly arrogant and kickass mainstream songs of the decade. For two years, it looked like Nelly Furtado had it all figured out...

And then it all fell apart - and believe it or not, I don't really blame Nelly Furtado for this. Sure, probably not the best choice to release an entirely Spanish language album in 2009 rather than perpetuate her momentum, but mainstream pop was shifting to the much more synthetic club boom, and adult alternative was dying a slow death on the charts. Sure, she tried for a comeback in 2012 but by then pop had passed her by, and bad promotion from her label didn't help matters. And so Nelly Furtado did something that took me by surprise but also seemed natural: she went independent, took some time off, and met up with acclaimed indie producer John Congleton through a connection to St. Vincent. And yeah, that gave me a lot of hope going into this project: free of label constraints and old enough to refine her songwriting where she doesn't have to please the mainstream, this could be a new chapter for Nelly Furtado, especially if she remembers the grooves that made her mid-period work so potent. So, where does The Ride take us?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

video review: 'jason eady' by jason eady

Yeah, it should be of absolutely no surprise to anyone that I adore this record. Killer writing, great production, so subtle and understated in the best ways possible, and impossibly tight. GET THIS ALBUM.

And after this... huh, this'll be interesting indeed. Stay tuned!

album review: 'jason eady' by jason eady

It's a bit of a trend for indie country critics - and I include myself in this category - to assert that when it comes to Jason Eady, some people should just leave the room. If you're coming in looking for pop country or style or anything to detract from many have deemed some of the purest forms of the entire genre, especially out of Texas, this is not for you. If you're looking for something that might cross over into the mainstream... well, maybe in Texas, but I'm only qualified to say that because the mainstream country scene has no idea what it's doing and throwing everything at the wall to see what'll stick, from Chris Stapleton to Thomas Rhett. And it's not like Jason Eady didn't dabble with softer tones on AM Country Heaven in 2012 that could have possibly crossed over.

Suffice to say, he didn't stick with it, and in early 2014 he delivered Daylight & Dark, a stunning pure shot of fantastic country music that if not for Run The Jewels would have topped my best albums list that year. And while so many lined up to praise Sturgill Simpson and the other indie darlings as the scene inflated over the past few years, Jason Eady seems to slip out of the picture - and yeah, I partially blame myself for that, because when he dropped an acoustic duets album with his wife Something Together in December of 2016, I missed it too. Part of it is country's lousy web presence, but Eady also seems to run just below the radar for too many folks, and some for whom I've played his material can get a little intimidated by his soft, plainspoken, yet cutting delivery - for a lot of people, it's a purer form of country than they can handle.

In other words, this was among my most anticipated projects of 2017, and I had the highest of expectations going in, especially considering his songwriting only seems to be getting more refined with each passing album. So what does he deliver on a self-titled record?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 6, 2017 (VIDEO)

Man, I'm really proud of this episode. Long one, but a damn great one.

Next up, though... finally getting to Jason Eady, and I'm psyched - stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 6, 2017

There will be people who won't appreciate what this week means. Hell, I'd put money on the fact that there are plenty of people who have no idea who Kendrick Lamar even is - which yeah, if you've been listening to hip-hop at all in the past decade that'll blow your mind, but a mainstream crossover at this level does mean a lot more. Yeah, there have been plenty of acts who have scored a fluke #1 hit, even within hip-hop - but when was the last time an MC with actual bars snagged the top spot? Here's a little perspective: Biggie got there, but Tupac didn't. Neither did Nas. Jay-Z needed Alicia Keys to get to #1 in 2009. Eminem and Kanye both got there a few times, but they are both pop culture phenomenons in their own right. Lil Wayne never got there on his own - nor has Nicki Minaj or Drake. With Kendrick getting the solo #1... that sort of hit can create a sea change in pop culture, especially if it has any longevity.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

video review: 'arca' by arca

Well, this was... not as thrilling as I'd expect. Eh, it happens, I guess, but still, peculiar all the same.

Next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN - and it's going to be long - and then FINALLY Jason Eady, so stay tuned!

Monday, April 24, 2017

video review: 'silver eye' by goldfrapp

I get that there are people who like this... but I just don't see the appeal. It's a wonky release that never seems to come together, feels way too long and underwritten, and overall just kind of boring. Eh, happens, I guess?

But that's still not the last video for tonight... stay tuned!

video review: 'the seven' by talib kweli & styles p (ft. luke james)

Should have posted this a few days ago, but man, I'm so thrilled that I finally worked with Luke, it was a ton of fun.

But it's not the only video up tonight... stay tuned!

album review: 'arca' by arca

As an artist, I find Arca profoundly frustrating.

I mean, when it comes to experimentation in modern electronic music, you can make a real argument that this Venezuelan producer is pushing into some intense, experimental territory, full of melodic dissonance, off-kilter tunings, atmosphere that is warped and contorted into potent sonic experiences. He's a defiantly unique producer with a distinct sound and style - and yet he's also the sort that frustrates me to no end. See, going back over Xen and Mutant, I keep circling back that despite all of the wild twists and turns, Arca is often at his best when he grounds his experimentation in progressions that add some real foundation. And sure, that might potentially deflect from the raw outpouring of organic feeling and emotion as he describes his music, but you eventually you hearing the patterns, and that sort of semi-improvised style doesn't wow you in the same way.

And thus I had a lot of mixed feelings going into his third album, which is self-titled primarily because, like his early demos, he's choosing to sing on it, reportedly inspired by his friend and collaborator Bjork and her encouragement. Now I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bjork, and her unearthly ability to pull out stunning music, and she clearly sees a ton of potential in Arca. But here's the catch: Arca reportedly chose with only one exception to improvise all of the lyrics on the album... which would probably make sense given his style of melodic composition, but also could reflect a lack of greater refinement - and that concerned me, because thus far Arca had not shown enough to convince me he could carry an album like this on pure, organic, spontaneous talent. That said, he's way too unique to disregard, so how did this self-titled project turn out?

album review: 'silver eye' by goldfrapp

I have a weird relationship with electronic-leaning dance pop. I don't dislike it by any stretch, but I'll be the first to admit that unless the hooks are top of the line, I don't really gravitate to it in the same way as I might country or folk or hip-hop or indie rock that aim for tighter lyricism, or subgenres within metal or electronic music where lyrics are perfunctory in comparison with musical experimentation or raw power.

What this means is that outside of what I cover on the pop charts, I don't tend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the type of pop that's more likely to chart on the dance charts first, especially if they originate in the UK and aren't strictly in the synth or indie-pop spheres. In other words, it was a real learning experience digging into Goldfrapp, an English electronic duo with whom I had only ever heard in passing - it's not like they ever had a significant impact on the Hot 100. Beginning around the turn of the millennium, they may have drawn on trip-hop, but they took their electronic style across a good half dozen genres over the course of the next decade, from synthpop and glam rock to ambient tones and even noir cabaret, blending retro glam with new, sleek electronic touches. And yet while I found a fair number of their singles enjoyable with Allison Goldfrapp's sensuous cooing set against sharper electronic grooves, I'd also say they're the definition of a singles act for me, as the albums could definitely drag, never quite being sharp enough in the writing or experimentation to stay ahead of the curve. And sure, that wasn't an issue when the most they were compared against was Portishead in the early 2000s, but by the time this brand of electronic dance pop dominated around the turn of the decade, it felt like Goldfrapp was playing catchup again. So after making somewhat of a return to basics with Tales Of Us that got the lukewarm reception it deserved, they did the next best thing: took four years off, and came back with a record that promised to synthesize all of their influences into a new electro-pop record. And hell, given the dreary mess that currently comprises modern pop on the Hot 100, I could use a spark of life: so does Goldfrapp pull it off on Silver Eye?

Friday, April 21, 2017

video review: 'you're not as _____ as you think' by sorority noise

I can't be the only one who is a little surprised that of the emo revival records I've covered (and that's precious few indeed), the first out of the gate is deconstructionist. Huh, looks like my audience knows me.

Anyway, before I get back to the schedule we're going to be taking a little detour on a special collab I've got coming up, so stay tuned!

album review: 'you're not as _____ as you think' by sorority noise

So I probably should have covered this band earlier. Indeed, if you were to look at my past few years of music reviews, an in-the-know follower would spot there's a considerable hole in my reviews, a subgenre that has experienced quite the critical revival that I haven't covered. 

And that subgenre is emo - and yes, I'm referring to the musical subgenre that broke off from hardcore punk and post-hardcore in the early 90s, not the overwrought aesthetic that was beaten into the ground in the mid-to-late 2000s. Now as I mentioned in my Falling In Reverse review, my knowledge of post-hardcore is a little more lacking than I'd prefer to admit, and as such I was exposed to emo music like the majority of people were: through the mainstream crossovers. Oh, I know there were some people who were on the ground floor for Rites Of Spring or Jawbreaker, but I got exposed to it most when I started hearing Jimmy Eat World and then the more theatrical bent that came a few years later - which, if I'm being brutally honest, I tended to like more. From there I took in a lot of the mid-2000s scene with my general liking for Say Anything and I've made some inroads into back catalogs whenever pop punk adjacent to the subgenre gets covered, but when I heard about the emo revival from acts like Touche Amore or The Hotelier or The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die... well, I just wasn't interested. And that's not a judgement on quality, believe it or not - there was just other stuff I'd prefer to talk about and explore, trying to plug as many of my other knowledge gaps like electronic music and black metal.

That said, when I have found the time to listen to more of the emo revival, I've found acts I like, which takes us to Sorority Noise. Thanks to Patreon they wound up on my schedule and going through their first two albums, I found a lot to like - they had a good knack for hooks, some modestly clever and honest writing, and there was real progression from their debut Forgettable to their more melancholic but more tuneful and refined Joy, Departed in 2015. As such, I had every reason to think I'd probably like their newest album You're Not As _____ As you Think, especially if the confessional honesty hit some interesting new places and the tunes were as strong. So, what did we get?

video review: 'inFinite' by deep purple

Yeah, I know, I should have posted this two days ago, but given that I was hitting burnout and I needed a day or two to recuperate (plus, my birthday and such), I wanted to get this out.

And on the note of getting things out, time for some long-overdue catchup - stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 29, 2017 (VIDEO)

So this week... as I said on Patreon, I'm not precisely pleased with the thumbnail, but I think the episode turned out okay, which is fine.

Next up, Deep Purple and then something I should have tackled a month ago - stay tuned!

album review: 'inFinite' by deep purple

Look, even despite being a longtime Deep Purple fan, I don't think anyone expected their 2013 record Now What?! to be as great as it was. 

Their first record in eight years and their first after the death of long-time keyboardist Jon Lord - it showed a band reinvigorated yet again, surging forward with the sort of progressive experimentation and flair that didn't reflect a band that had been around for over forty five years! And sure, you might be able to pass along some credit to legendary producer Bob Ezrin, but it's also hard to ignore that Deep Purple are one of the most resilient hard rock bands still working. Let's get brutally honest, you can probably count the number of rock bands who tour as extensively as Deep Purple does for as long as they have on one hand, and to see a resurgence of quality in the compositions and songwriting - long one of the areas the band has struggled on weaker albums, of which there are a fair few - was a true marvel. 

But like it or not, you can't do it forever, and there's a part of me that knew it would only be a matter of time before Deep Purple set their instruments aside, perhaps to go off on one glorious high note as hard rock legends. They had finally been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, an honor many had said they had deserved for decades, they were coming off the most critical acclaim and popular attention they had received in years if not decades, and unfortunately drummer Ian Paice had suffered a minor stroke in June of last year, which affected his right hand and fingers. And to end things off with one last ride called The Long Goodbye Tour and a record called inFinite, I had the feeling that this might just be the last record we get from Deep Purple. So enough reminiscing and nostalgia, what do we get on inFinite?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 29, 2017

If this was any normal week, I'd be inclined to say it was transitional, an otherwise regular week as older tracks rotate out in preparation for spring. Maybe even a little unexceptional, given that The Chainsmokers seem to have finally hit their fifteenth minute with no new songs from their debut album making a significant impact. But this is not an ordinary week, because with the monstrous streaming numbers that Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. is currently racking up, it's a more a question of which tracks will survive what's coming.

Monday, April 17, 2017

video review: 'coming home' by falling in reverse

So yeah, this... actually not quite as painful as I was expecting, but it's pretty bad all the same. Eh, whatever.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and a record I've been eagerly anticipating all year, so stay tuned!

album review: 'coming home' by falling in reverse

Well folks, we finally got there. We've finally landed in the territory that I was dreading but knew with Patreon knew it was only a matter of time before I hit - the sort of Warp Tour band dregs that came in the aftermath of the pop rock boom of the mid-2000s and hasn't gone away. You know the place: where post-hardcore blurred with all the trends of modern pop and rock that nobody wants to hear to mutate into genres like crabcore, electronicore, deathcore, and a brand of pop punk blurred with screamo that traded insight or heartfelt power or even raw cleverness for pure obnoxiousness.

Hey, can you tell I'm talking about Falling In Reverse yet? Yeah, just because I've avoided them like the plague before this review doesn't mean I didn't know about Ronnie Radke's project after Escape The Fate fell apart. I actually had my first exposure to the group from seeing them - along with a lot of other horrible bands I hope to never cover on this show - on Mues' show First Impressions, and characteristically my first impression was a significant amount of revulsion. Yeah, their lead guitarist could pick up a tune on the solo and they could build to a decent if utterly derivative groove, but Radke's mugging delivery and the sense he bought into all of the lyrics he brayed made him utterly impossible to like. At least when Fall Out Boy gave the middle finger to their audience on Save Rock And Roll you can tell there was craftsmanship in the writing or experimentation - whereas that same year, Falling In Reverse released Fashionably Late which tried to pile in the synth against painfully gated drums, a ridiculous mishmash of genres, and utterly insufferable writing. And while there was a part of me that thought they might have been doing this ironically, sort of like the alternative metal genre blend Icon For Hire did, revisiting the record for this review convinced me otherwise - painfully. Thankfully, the band pivoted back to their blend of post-hardcore and pop punk with their 2015 record Just Like You - granted, that presumes you like a lot of post-hardcore, which for the most part I just don't. It at least felt like a ballpark where their sound and writing fit better... which they looked to be abandoning on their very next project which was going straight into pop punk space rock. I'm assuming that's the only reason why someone requested this - maybe as revenge for being ambivalent on that Starset record I've already forgotten - but whatever, there was a certain morbid curiosity in seeing how Ronnie Radke's brand of mugging would translate to the stars, so what did we get with Coming Home?

video review: 'DAMN.' by kendrick lamar

Well, this turned out pretty damn awesome, have to say. Not quite at the level of his greats, but eh, that happens, to follow To Pimp A Butterfly would have been crazy...

Anyway, next up... oh god, stay tuned for this one...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

video review: 'ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$' by joey bada$$

So yeah, have to admit, this turned out amazingly well, really happy how all of this came together in both an album and a review (especially given how quickly I slammed all of it together).

Beyond that, next up is Kendrick and then something truly horrific, so stay tuned!

video review: 'memories... do not open' by the chainsmokers

So apparently I forgot to post my video review of this here. Maybe because it's forgettable and terrible... yeah, I'll go with that.

And speaking of things I forgot...

album review: 'DAMN.' by kendrick lamar

I've talked a little before about a 'review-proof' album. The record that you know that everyone is going to buy and talk about and thus have a firmly established opinion on well-before you have time to really state yours. I think it's even more a truism today, in the age of reaction videos where more than a dozen people will have uploaded something before I even get that chance to hear it. And that's not counting the critics who will rush to have something up to get the page views of being the first one out and not take the necessary time to digest the record. And sure, I myself can be guilty of that last one, but if there's one thing I've felt increasingly sure about with Patreon, it's that my audience will generally be remarkably accommodating to me taking my time to talk about it when it's done.

But hell, I wanted to hear this: it's Kendrick. The Compton rapper who despite a string of radio guest verses I found utterly forgettable was known for insanely strong albums. I don't think it's hyperbole when I say that good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly are some of the best records of the decade - hell, even a collection of b-sides on untitled, unmastered. were better than the majority of projects people dropped last year. Did I have concerns going into this record? Well, sure, but that was more because he's the sort of rapper where it's not a question of when he'd slip, but if - and that's not something you'd say about a lot of people.

That said, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. 'HUMBLE.' was good, sure, but I didn't love it as much as some hardcore fans did, and it seemed to reflect a simplification of flow and style that Kendrick didn't need. I had hoped it might just be a momentary thing - it's not like 'i' was reflective of To Pimp A Butterfly - but there was also the timing to consider. I get striking while the iron is hot with buzz in the mainstream, but I'm not going to deny I was concerned that the time hadn't been taken to refine a sharper project. But again, that wasn't going to stop me from listening to DAMN., and I think I've wasted just about enough of your time, so how did it go?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

album review: 'all-amerikkkan bada$$' by joey bada$$

I have to be honest: I wasn't really sure where Joey Bada$$ was going to be taking this new sophomore project.

I mean, I wasn't surprised he was pivoting towards more of a political, socially aware sound as buzz was suggesting - it seemed a natural stepping point, especially given that his mixtapes and full-length debut in 2015 made that progression seem inevitable. After all, many of those older MCs he idolized in his production and flows and style did pivot to making more conscious music, it's a sensible step.

But here's the other truth: I haven't exactly listened to a lot of Joey Bada$$ since he dropped his full-length debut in very early 2015. Part of this might have been bad timing: I covered his record in between hip-hop albums from Lupe Fiasco and Doomtree, and I have to admit he may have gotten overshadowed in my mind and on my playlists because of it... which isn't really fair, because he's a great rapper with a knack for textured, old-school East-Coast production and some insightful, layered bars. And for a lot of people it's probably going to happen again, this time with Kendrick dropping his newest album off the back of a huge single. In short, Joey Bada$$ has had some rotten luck in terms of timing, and thus I wanted to ensure I gave this record its due before everyone forgets about it like what happened with Drake a few weeks ago. And while I bet for a bunch of you that was the first time you thought about More Life in a minute, let's stick to the subject at hand: how is All-Amerikkkan Bada$$?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

album review: 'memories... do not open' by the chainsmokers

There's a part of me that thinks this is my fault.

See, I reviewed The Chainsmokers' second EP last year and I made the statement that the EDM duo would never release a full-length record, mostly because there was no need for it. After all, this was a duo of frat guys who treated music more like a marketing gimmick to get laid - freely admitting to being inspired by Jeremy Piven's character from Entourage - and project noxious ideas about women and relationships against their increasingly anonymous brand of EDM. Less artistic endeavor than calculation, it was the sort of utterly cynical and worthless music that would be gross and offensive to any sensibility if it bothered to have any distinct personality at all.

And yet it seems like in the build-up to this debut album, down to the subject matter of the singles, that The Chainsmokers were trying to blunt that reputation, or at least extend the long con they've run on the audience a little bit longer as their fifteen minutes tick down. They seemed to be trying to cultivate a more earnest and sincere image and shove their brand of ironic obnoxiousness down the memory hole - hell, look at the title of this album! And the depressing fact is that for most of the mainstream public it seems to be working - despite atrocious live performances and increasingly stale EDM drops, they're still selling records, and I'd put money on this project breaking a song or four onto the Hot 100 in a week or so, which is just peachy. Thankfully, I have a much longer memory, and yet while I don't think earnestness is the best fit for the band, their newest single with Coldplay isn't bad at all, so maybe something would be salvageable from Memories... Do Not Open?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 22, 2017 (VIDEO)

Oh wow, this week took a lot out of me... lot to say, and a fair bit of controversy too (because of course there was).

Beyond that... fuck, you know what's coming. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 22, 2017

I'm honestly not sure where to even start with this week - mostly because it seems overshadowed by the biggest story here, being the huge top ten debut that seems like the first serious threat that our top spot has faced in some time. But there's other stories about this week that deserve some consideration, including major shakeups in country and other disruptive singles. Also, Kodak Black happened for some ungodly reason, but we'll get to that.

video review: 'pure comedy' by father john misty

So I was up and down on this record a lot through many a listen... and you know, overall I'm landing on great. Pretty sweet record, definitely glad to cover it.

Anyway, the next record will be FAR less good, so after Billboard BREAKDOWN... well, stay tuned!

Monday, April 10, 2017

album review: 'pure comedy' by father john misty

I think there were a lot of people surprised by I Love You, Honeybear.

Hell, I was surprised. I had liked Josh Tillman's debut Fear Fun under the Father John Misty moniker, but his 2015 followup was in a different ballpark of quality. Huge, lush production, a knack for incredibly sticky melodies, and a narrative throughline that was as witty and twisted as it was genuine and heartfelt. I'll wholeheartedly admit the record's warped yet self-aware framing did require a certain headspace to appreciate - especially considering the romantic relationship that was being explored in plenty of lurid detail - but it connected for me, and it was very nearly my favourite record of that year.

But then comes the bigger question: how the hell do you follow that? The grand romance of I Love You, Honeybear was so well-structured, a self-contained masterpiece... and while Father John Misty had flirted with social commentary on the record I was a little unsure how well it could connect on a whole album, which was what Pure Comedy reportedly had. Let's get real: even if Father John Misty's insight proved valid, I could see a lot of people dismissing it because of both the delivery and the messenger himself, especially if it threw in elements of self-aware satire. It's a fine line to trace, and while I was reasonably confident he could pull it off, I was tempering my expectations going into Pure Comedy - so did Josh Tillman pull it off?

video review: 'winter' by fen

So I'm actually stunned this went over as well as it did - and not just the review, I'm actually pretty damn proud of how the thumbnail turned out for my first real try at photoshop. 

But it won't be my last tonight, so stay tuned!

album review: 'winter' by fen

You know, at some point I'm going to just admit I'm not sure where to look when it comes to finding consistent black metal recommendations. I mean, I try to keep my ear to the ground, but for multiple years in a row now I feel like whenever I find a record that's more on the atmospheric side of the genre it's damn near a miracle, and thus wind up covering a lot less than I'd otherwise like. 

But in this case it looks like I'm not quite as behind as expected - and I was a little stunned how many Patreon votes this got once I added it - so let's talk about Fen. They're an English black metal act that started in the mid-2000s, straddling the line with progressive metal and post-rock and drawing more than a few comparisons to Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch. They play on the more nakedly melancholic side of the spectrum in comparison with the soaring power of acts like Saor or Panopticon, more moody and bleak, but there's different shades of that, some that get into thicker, muddier textures that seethe off of subtle rumblings of bass, while later cuts on records like Carrion Skies get a little more ethereal and spacious, looking to pull the listener deeper into the seething darkness. That's not saying they're all atmospherics - Fen is certainly capable of ramping up the riffs - but in revisiting their back catalog I did find myself wishing a little that they would crank up the texture or intensity a bit to match their frontman's distinctive howl, maybe push the dynamics a little harder. Still, that's nitpicking across four pretty distinct records, taking an established compositional structure and refining and expanding it with each release. And considering their production has only gotten sharper and I was in the mood for some black metal comfortable pushing into new territory, I decided to check out their newest record Winter - how is it?

Friday, April 7, 2017

video review: 'emperor of sand' by mastodon

So I have no idea how this is going to be received. Thus far, things seem to be good, but certain audiences can be fickle...

Anyway, I'm not done with metal, as we're finally heading back into black metal territory... stay tuned!

album review: 'emperor of sand' by mastodon

I wish I liked Mastodon a lot more than I do.

Now that's a loaded statement to open up a review of a record that's already sparked some controversy among critics, but it's necessary to provide some context here. Suffice to say I came to listen to a lot of Mastodon's material late, and furthermore I came from the more meticulous, prog side of metal, not as much sludge or the hard rock the band has increasingly embraced in order to pull in mainstream appeal. As such, when I revisited their discography again before this review, I came away convinced that I still do like and appreciate this band for their relentless shredding and oblique songwriting and knack for melodic song structures in the face of increasingly complex ideas, but I never found them as captivating as I wanted - a group I respect a lot more than I outright love.

And more than that, the complex, relentlessly visceral and bestial albums I did really like - Leviathan, Blood Mountain, especially Crack The Skye - seemed to be in the opposite direction of Mastodon's current progression. As such, while I was more forgiving of Once More 'Round The Sun than some critics for some stronger hooks and cohesive melodic experimentation, I was concerned that the group would eventually start to hit diminishing returns in simplifying their sound and approach for a mainstream rock audience, especially if the hooks didn't come together as strongly. But hey, it's still Mastodon, and they've won enough goodwill with me to dig in deep, especially if the writing and melodies cam through - did Emperor Of Sand pay off?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

video review: 'zombies on broadway' by andrew mcmahon in the wilderness

Well, better late than never, I guess. Probably won't remember a damn thing from it either, but I guess that happens...

Next up, though, we're going metal with Mastodon - stay tuned!

album review: 'zombies on broadway' by andrew mcmahon in the wilderness

I'm wasn't the music critic who coined the term 'silent majority' acts, but I'm not sure I could think of a more subtle and yet cutting descriptor for certain bands. You know the type - the groups that are just trendy enough to snag commercials and TV montage music, but never artistically challenging enough to actually be interesting or compelling for critics. And thus it should be absolutely no surprise that I find these groups painfully frustrating to review. It's not even that they make bad music so much as it's just bland as all hell to me, especially when they put on airs they don't deserve - something that the average music consumer doesn't understand and thus gets annoyed when I call it out.

And I don't think there was an act that jumped to the top of the silent majority act pantheon faster than Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness. The titular guy hasn't always been in the wilderness, and has been around longer than many people know - he was part of the emo group Something Corporate around the turn of the millennium, later went solo with a bunch of session players under the moniker Jack's Mannequin - both acts which are apparently remembered fondly by people who heard them at the time - and then went towards a piano-driven indie pop direction under the new name Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness. And look, I heard a little from him when 'Cecilia And The Satellite' crossed landed on the Hot 100, and for research I checked out his debut album... and that was enough to tell me I had no need to hear anything more from him; it's generally tepid piano-driven adult alternative that I already got plenty of growing up in the mid-2000s, and he's not doing anything that Daniel Powter, James Blunt, or Five For Fighting didn't do, just with a little more blocky percussion. But, thanks to folks on Patreon there was enough interest in me covering his sophomore album that it wound up at the top of my schedule nearly two months late. So, might as well get through this quick, what did I find in Zombies On Broadway?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

video review: 'you only live 2wice' by freddie gibbs

So apparently people are pretty peeved I only found this decent instead of great. Eh, it happens - I know he's capable of far better, so we'll see what happens when that Madlib collab drops.

Anyway, next up is a review that probably should have dropped two months ago... but I have been dreading for some time. Stay tuned?

video review: 'spirit' by depeche mode

So apparently I forgot to post this a week or so back. Oops - here now, though, so enjoy!

album review: 'you only live 2wice' by freddie gibbs

If you think you had a bad year in 2016, I think Freddie Gibbs might have you beat. While on tour in France in early summer, he was arrested and later extradited to face sexual assault charges in Austria. And while I immediately got the sinking feeling I get whenever an artist I otherwise like is accused in cases like this, the more I dug into it the more pieces did not seem to come together. This was not a R.Kelly-esque case where evidence and testimony was willfully ignored, and the reason charges were thrown out in the end were because of a lack of evidence - charges, I should add, that were only pursued when the girl came forward eight months after the alleged crime and with no extradition sought from the United States. And considering Austria has an extradition treaty with the United States, it looked sketchy as hell that they had to nab him in France first.

But more than that, even though I don't claim to know Gibbs the allegations didn't make a lot of sense, even from the persona he put forward in his music. Yeah, he's a gangsta rapper, I don't doubt that drugs have been sold and guns have been fired, but especially if you go off of his last two records - and the fact that he was planning to settle down with his long-time girlfriend and infant son - Gibbs always seemed like he played by more of a hard code of honor and seemed to give women a fair amount of respect. Again, you really can't make judgments from music alone - it's not like anyone thought Chris Brown would hit Rihanna before 2009 - but the rapper who made songs like 'Deeper', 'Shame', and 'Insecurities' would engage in that sort of behavior.

So why even bring it up? Well, Gibbs was planning on making a point of addressing it directly on his newest project - which reminded me a lot of what Michael Gira did on that most recent Swans project when allegations were thrown at him - and from the sounds of it, he wasn't about to hold back on getting a second chance at freedom. Gibbs is the sort of guy who would fight tooth and nail to clear his name and set the record straight, and considering we're dealing with one of the most ruthlessly effective gangsta rappers in the industry, I was expecting this newest project - kept trim and focused at eight songs - to hit hard. So does Freddie Gibbs manage to clear his name with You Only Live 2wice?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 15, 2017 (VIDEO)

Yes, I know this is up early. That's because it's a short week and I wanted to get this done and crash early, I need my sleep.

Anyway, Freddie Gibbs and maybe (just maybe) someone else tomorrow too, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 15, 2017

So this is the sort of week on the charts that I like. Not just that it's a cooldown week and we got a pretty small list of new arrivals, but also because it's the sort of delayed reaction to a big smash that will often tell you a lot more about what songs actually have momentum. Plus, the majority of this week was watching Drake songs lose, and I can't say that's entirely a bad thing either!

Monday, April 3, 2017

video review: 'golden eagle' by holly macve

Man, I wish I liked this more. I mean, it's not bad and I think if I had a little more distance from some personal issues right now it might resonate more... shame that it doesn't. Eh, oh well.

Next up, a moving-on record: Freddie Gibbs! Stay tuned!

album review: 'golden eagle' by holly macve

So I've been told by a lot of my international audience that they tend to be a little perplexed at the larger amount of country I cover in comparison with other critics. And that is worth calling out, because almost by design country is a highly regional genre, born out of American traditions and archetypes that haven't really crossed over around the world in the same way. Sure, Canada has a country scene - and to some extent so does Australia, driven out of the rougher, wilder frontiers - but go to Europe? 

Well, country music does exist in pockets across the Atlantic, but remember what I said about how country music to this day has a terrible web presence problem? Unfortunately, this is still very true internationally as well, and thus without good grassroots promoting, it's hard to hear about acts coming up in the UK or the rest of Europe. And thus I'm pretty happy that my audience decided to recommend the debut album of Holly Macve. Born in Ireland and growing up in the UK, she came up in a musical family and seems to have gravitated towards the vintage-leaning, smoky flavors of country that's popular in the indie scene right now. Now I've covered a lot of variations of this style, from Angel Olsen to Lindi Ortega, from Cheryl Desere'e to Whitney Rose, and I was curious where Holly Macve's English influence would shift the music, perhaps inject a heavier folk touch or a slightly different instrumental palette. Either way, I was in uncharted territory when I picked up her debut album Golden Eagle - what did I find?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

video review: 'HEAVY META' by ron gallo

This is an easy record to love. Smart, biting, ridiculously catchy... FUCK, had so much fun with it, really great album!

Anyway, next up... hmm, Holly Macve, this'll be interesting, to say the least. Stay tuned!

album review: 'HEAVY META' by ron gallo

I'm not sure where to start with this guy. Odds are unless you have dug very deep into Bandcamp you probably haven't heard of him - and yes, this is another act who wound up here thanks to Patreon. 

And yet I'm really happy I found Ron Gallo, because he represents a weird sort of intersection point in music that really is right up my alley. There's definitely an element of the 70s singer-songwriter style that I like, but thanks to recording his debut album RONNY in Nashville he also stepped towards country tones with pedal steel and more liquid guitar tones. And that's before you factor in Gallo as a singer: basically, imagine a cross between Josh Tillman and some of Ty Segall's more restrained cuts, with the same over-educated theatrical swagger balanced with an slightly offkilter air of sleazy weirdness that's almost more unspoken that it comes through the subtle but often really clever writing. And let's not mince words, RONNY is a great record in 2014, especially for a debut, and I see why the guy who recommended it also cited Kyle Craft... and while I can see the similarities, Craft was pulling from a much more ragged, outcast wheelhouse, whereas with the late 60s-early 70s country callbacks and obvious affection for Harry Nilsson, Gallo is balanced a little closer.

So yeah, I was excited to hear what his followup this year would lead to - he's a good songwriter, I like his voice, and his command of well-established melodic structures is solid, so how does HEAVY META turn out?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

video review: 'eternity, in your arms' by creeper

So this was a fun review to put together. My voice is still a little fried from being sick, but overall, pretty pleased with how this turned out, great record.

Next up, another cut from deep within Bandcamp, so stay tuned!

album review: 'eternity, in your arms' by creeper

Before we begin, let's go back about a decade to the pop rock scene in 2006-07. These were the years of My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, and the peak of the mainstream emo boom that would turn about a third of teenagers scene that year. Now as I've said in the past, I wasn't really one of them - I was knee-deep in symphonic and power metal at the time, clearly I was embracing darker, heavier material - but that didn't mean I wasn't aware of or appreciate the music that was getting airplay. But it became a little hard that beyond the catchy, radio-friendly melodies, mainstream pop rock was embracing a certain image that was a little more baroque, for lack of better words, drawing on horror kitsch to craft a plainly theatrical image. 

And of course this was not new - the mainstream music scene has a habit of pulling on horror trends to construct weird or creepy instrumentals, often using the theatricality to blunt things from getting too weird - with the exception of the 90s alternative scene, of course, which frankly got away with a bewildering amount. But it tends to come in waves of popularity, often crashing hard at the point of overexposure, which last time in mainstream emo and pop rock around 2009. 

Fast-forward to now and the debut of an English horror punk band called Creeper, who had been building some buzz in their native country with a few EPs since their formation in 2014. Now I had heard good things going in - not just inspired by My Chemical Romance, but also calling back to glam rock, the Misfits and even Meat Loaf in their embrace of theatrical bombast. Now the last time I had heard someone adjacent to this vein cite some similar inspirations was Kyle Craft, and his debut album last year Dolls of Highland was a criminally underappreciated masterpiece, and thus I had a lot of curiosity going into this, especially as it's been getting frankly astounding amounts of critical acclaim. So with Eternity, In Your Arms, are we on the cusp of something big here?