Monday, October 30, 2017

video review: 'trial by fire' by yelawolf

So the most common comment I've been seeing is that people forgot this album was coming out... not a good sign for album promotion, and a damn shame too - the album is great, and with 'Sabrina' is at least worth the cost of admission.

Eh, whatever - next up is Weezer, but before then we've got Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'trial by fire' by yelawolf

I'm not sure how to talk about Yelawolf these days. I'd like to open up this review with a discussion how after the underwhelming Radioactive he pivoted into a country rap vein for his sophomore project Love Story in 2015, an album I still think is underrated to this day. Seriously, even though that record definitely has its flaws - Yelawolf was still ironing out kinks in the genre fusion and the record probably ran too long for its own good - two songs from that album made my year-end list that year, and while both a considerable percentage of country and hip-hop fans seems utterly allergic to the concept, speaking as somebody who knows both genres and who has heard entirely too many bro-country acts try hip-hop flows, Yelawolf was ahead of the curve. He was a good rapper - you don't get signed to Shady if you're not - he had good taste in country, and he was willing to write frankly about the common topics that only underground hip-hop and indie country would touch - poverty, depression, alcoholism, and a backwoods that felt far more textured and realistic than any bro-country pandering.

And if we could just proceed to the new album from there, I'd be thrilled... but let's be blunt, Yelawolf has had a bad couple of years since Love Story. He got considerable - and justified - backlash for his Confederate flag comments which led a lot of hip-hop to want nothing to do with him, his friend Shawty Fatt was killed in a car accident, and when you factor in the pressures to exceed Love Story's success, you can see why it led to a breakdown on tour last year, which led to dates being cancelled and caused Trial By Fire to be pushed back. And yet he pulled it together - a full-hour long release with guest appearances from both hip-hop and country that he produced entirely himself, and enough drama to surely inform the subject matter. So, what did I find in this Trial By Fire?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

video review: 'skin & earth' by lights

Yes, I know this is very much late, but honestly, I didn't have much to say on this... outside of 'Savage', kind of an underwhelming record.

But now onto something more recent... whoo boy, this'll be fun, stay tuned!

album review: 'skin & earth' by lights

So I'll be the first to admit I've been really hard on Lights in the past, the Canadian indie synthpop artist who has fluttered around the edges of the mainstream for the past few years now, especially in Canada. And for me it can feel awkward because I keep getting the feeling that I should like her work more than I do. The Listening was a slice of bubbly, exuberant electro-pop, Siberia was moody and experimental as it fused in dubstep, and Little Machines split the difference between the styles... and yet I'd struggle to say that outside of isolated moments that these records just never quite connected for me. The framing of the writing and Lights' delivery never quite meshed with the synth tones she chose, and in years where there was an abundance of artists pursuing similar sounds - particularly CHVRCHES - I never thought her material stood out.

But I've covered a lot less synthpop in the past year - hell, in 2017 I've barely covered the genre at all - and so maybe without my own personal saturation I'd find something distinct and special on this project, which Lights herself has described as her most carefree and fierce record to date. Okay, I'm in the mood for some pop like this in an increasingly dour year, what did we get?

Friday, October 27, 2017

video review: 'ken' by destroyer

I honestly think this might be one of my best reviews - what can I say, Destroyer brings out the poetic side of my writing in a really good way, I dug this.

Next up, some older business I should have covered a good month ago, so stay tuned!

album review: 'ken' by destroyer

It's hard to talk about Dan Bejar's work as Destroyer. Not just for its sheer diversity of tones and sounds that have flipped through a dozen different genres over the decades, but also because getting a grip on his writing... well, most people don't. Hell, even with every listen to his records I don't quite feel I always get his turns of phrase, and I've struggled to articulate why that is. Even on songs where he does get more direct - and there's been less and less of that with his work in the 2010s - the implications and subtext of his work often linger longer than the actual text, sometimes picking up enough of a foundation like in the cinematic swell and grounded themes of Poison Season, but other times... look, I like Kaputt, but that record can get lost in its own slick 80s-inspired sophisti-pop atmosphere, and I often find myself going back to the more grounded but still potent Thief, or Streethawk: A Seduction, or my personal favourite, the melodically stunning Your Blues.

But one tone I've always felt can be hit-and-miss for Dan Bejar was instability, mostly because I've always found him most compelling at his most refined and measured and emotionally expressive, where you can tell the structure reinforces and propels the emotional transcendence that his most poetic lines and delivery can hit. Without that structure, you get records like Trouble In Dreams and This Night, frequently compelling but messy in a way that gives you the suspicious feeling Bejar might be trolling his audience - and even if he swears he's not, it's not a feeling that goes away. Such was my concern with ken, which was reportedly scaling back from the grandiose power of Poison Season for something a little smaller and sleazier, with chill murky tones playing for noir but potentially tilting in over-stylized but conceptually underweight kitsch - in other words, the buzz was not exactly promising. But I wanted to dig into this for myself - Bejar is too good of a writer and too innovative a composer for me to not give this a chance, so what did I find in ken?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

video review: 'letters never read' by dori freeman

Man, not a huge amount to say on records like this, but when it's this straightforward and good, you don't need to say much. Definitely check this out.

But now for something that's probably equally as good and not straightforward... well, stay tuned!

album review: 'letters never read' by dori freeman

There's a part of me that's always a little surprised that Dori Freeman doesn't get more buzz - but then I go back to that self-titled record from last year and remember instantly.

And believe it or not that's not a diss or anything! Dori Freeman's debut was one of many fantastic records from women in indie country in 2016, anchored in terrific layered and textured production from Teddy Thompson - son of the legendary Richard Thompson - and bound together with Freeman's writing that was subtle enough to soothe but sharp enough to sting when you least expect it. But subtle, plain-spoken indie country records like this can be easy to overlook, especially given the understated presentation... at least until you go back and remind yourself exactly why it's so damn good, which you can bet I did before listening to Letters Never Read, her follow-up that was just released. Now I did have a few reservations about this - more than a few songs were covers this time around, and yet it was only a ten song release that somehow is even shorter than the last two ten song records I covered, clocking less than a half hour. But on the other hand, it wasn't like Dori Freeman didn't pack her last album with detail on its short length, so what did I find on Letters Never Read?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

video review: 'losing sleep' by chris young

And this was... I can't even say this was a disappointment, because it was pretty much exactly what I expected. Forgettable and boring, I won't give this a second thought in a day.

But next up, hopefully records that are much better, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 4, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this sucked. Amazingly Garth Brooks somehow has not flagged the video for copyright, but we'll see if that lasts...

video review: 'flicker' by niall horan

I honestly have no idea why so many people are surprised I find this so damn satisfying, but my god, it just works for me. I can see this growing on a lot of people, especially if he releases more of the Fleetwood-esque songs.

But now, for something far worse...

album review: 'losing sleep' by chris young

This is not the country record I want to be covering right now. If I had my way I'd be reviewing Turnpike Troubadours and Dori Freeman, two artists I'd argue are making far more interesting and compelling country music and I'm desperately hoping that my schedule will enable me to talk about them as soon as possible. 

But before then we have to get through a record from an artist that I used to like but now have no real expectations that he's going to make interesting or particularly good music. And yes, I know that's really harsh, but going into this, did I honestly have any evidence otherwise? Chris Young may have started in a very tasteful, adult-leaning neotraditional sound, and even his bro-country pivot did far better than it had any right to with A.M. in 2013, but his choice to work with Corey Crowder on production - whom in going through his credits doesn't appear to have worked on anything all that memorable - has resulted in a sound that goes back to that same 'mature' tone but with production and writing too flimsy to support him. So on top of feeling generally tepid, it's underserving an artist who frankly needs a richer instrumental palette to match his voice. It's one of the many reasons I'm Comin' Over was a disappointing and forgettable record for me, but hey, it notched just enough singles and sold enough copies to mean Chris Young had no reason to change or vary his formula - and the lead-off single and title track seemed to support that hypothesis. So, was I right about the rest of the album?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 4, 2017

So I'm not saying this week was crazy busy or anything - it really wasn't, and outside of some notable shifts, most of our new arrivals feel pretty minor. But for the first time in some time I have the feeling that the charts are actively starting to shift in response to major releases, and I expect with weeks to come we'll probably see even more of it...

Monday, October 23, 2017

album review: 'flicker' by niall horan

I think I've been looking forward to this record more than... well, pretty much everyone else. And that's not entirely surprising - if you've followed One Direction's career arc, Niall Horan didn't really seem to stand out. Liam and Louis had more writing credits, Zayn and Harry seemed to have more personality and wanted to make bigger statements, with admittedly mixed results. Hell, even when I covered his debut single 'This Town', I expressed some surprise that he was out of the gate ahead of Harry and Liam, who would both go on to having more success throughout this year.

And yet there was an odd part of me that actually kind of liked this guy. I didn't think his writing was stellar but he seemed to have good instincts and a decent sense of maturity. And I liked many of his collaborators - I've always thought Tobias Jesso Jr. is better behind the scenes than on his own work, there's a credit from Dan Wilson formerly of Semisonic, somehow he managed to get a guest appearance from Maren Morris, and for as much as Greg Kurstin has frustrated me over 2017, for this sort of understated acoustic project I hoped he would be a good fit. On top of that, it was just over a half hour - it didn't seem to have the ambition to go huge that Harry and Zayn did, and if the writing was good, maybe smaller stakes could serve him well. So okay, did we get anything worthwhile out of Flicker?

video review: 'of erthe and axen: acts i & ii' by xanthochroid

Have to be honest, this one took a lot out of me, but a worthwhile listen all the same.

But now something light...

video review: 'lotta sea lice' by courtney barnett & kurt vile

So this was a pretty chill listen. Not much more than that, and the sloppiness did wear a little thin on me, but overall, not bad.

album review: 'of erthe and axen: acts i & ii' by xanthochroid

So here's one of the little benefits that comes with working in genres like black metal: given that you have no real obligation to fit to a radio sound or song structures or topics, you can pretty much write about whatever you want and audiences will typically be receptive of it. Granted, there are certain themes that have been present in black metal for some time and you typically want to work in similar territory to avoid being branded a gimmick, but you have more wiggle room than your average overmanaged pop or country or hip-hop act.

And into this scene comes the American progressive black metal band Xanthochroid, who broke out around the early 2010s with an EP and a debut record in 2012, but actually ended up gaining more traction and notoriety thanks to a couple of covers they put up on YouTube of acts like Wintersun and Opeth. But if you only know them through the covers you're missing a more ambitious band, one that in the grand tradition of metal groups has constructed an ongoing story arc behind their releases that seemed at least interesting. They also seemed to have a sense of humor and they made all of their lyrics readily available so I was definitely curious to check out that debut, and... well, it was certainly ambitious, that's for damn sure. It's also - like a lot of the black metal I've covered this year - pretty far away from the conventional sound, utilizing extensive clean vocals that for me can be hit-and-miss, overdubbed male choirs, acoustic sections, organ, and even flutes. And given the focus on building more of the grand narrative of their story, I was almost certain that they'd wind up in power metal eventually... but not just yet, because five years after that debut we have a double album followup, the first disc released in mid-August and the second just this week. And again, double albums can be tricky, and while I was convinced Xanthochroid could bring enough ideas to the table, it was still likely to be pushing it. So what did we find on Of Erthe & Axen: Acts I & II?

Friday, October 20, 2017

album review: 'lotta sea lice' by courtney barnett & kurt vile

So I think I've said this in the past, but sometimes there are collaborations that just make too much sense, almost to the point where when you hear about them you wonder how on earth you didn't think of it first. These are artists that might have a very similar style or attitude or type of production, it's just an artistic choice that fits. And right from the start, when a lot of critics heard that Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were teaming up, the collective response was, 'well, duh, of course they are'. 

But I was a little more reticent. I'll be the first to admit I haven't quite fallen head over heels for Kurt Vile the way a lot of critics have over the past few years, mostly due to a naturalistic style of songwriting and composition that was right on the borderline of sloppy. And if possible I was even harder on Courtney Barnett's debut in 2015, easily one of my most contentious reviews where I just was not able to buy into the self-contained millennial angst that seemed to add up to a fair bit less than the sum of its parts, all of Vile's detachment but none of the bemusement or wry humor that could temper an edge that was not matched in her production. But I understood how Barnett and Vile could compliment each other, with songwriting that would likely prove as tangled and meandering as ever - especially if they were looking to explore their own artistic process - but my curiosity was more on the sound of the album, because while Kurt Vile started off near lo-fi and garage rock, his material has gotten a fair bit more sedate over the past couple of years. So where were they going to take this sound?

video review: 'el dorado' by shakira

So considering the record dropped months ago, I'm a little astounded how well this video has done... heh, guess there really was some demand.

Anyway, next up is something new, stay tuned!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

album review: 'el dorado' by shakira

Well, this is awkward, and I think an explanation is owed why I'm covering this months after it was released, because given how many times I've said I'm a Shakira fan, you'd think I'd be on top of this...

And yet I've been pretty reticent about reviewing this record and here's why: I don't speak Spanish. I know maybe a few words, I can maybe follow the general gist of it if I try, but I have a hard enough understanding French, and I'm Canadian! And thus when I discovered that Shakira's newest record has only a few English songs on it, I didn't have the same interest, because one of the reasons I like Shakira's songwriting is that her phrasing of English feels distinct and a little offkilter in a cool way. If I wasn't going to get that - and given that I was generally underwhelmed by the lead-off singles - I didn't have the same interest. And it's not even that I'm averse to covering music in a different language - I've covered black metal that's not in English, although you could definitely make the argument that lyrics are generally peripheral when it comes to that genre in comparison with pop. But as I've said in the past, I connect best to music when I can follow or understand the arc of the songs, and I was concerned about that with El Dorado, especially considering Shakira herself admitted uncertainty and writer's block going into it. So yeah, this might be a fairly short review, but my Patrons did laboriously vote to get it to the top of my schedule, so okay, how did it go?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

video review: 'beautiful trauma' by p!nk

So I guess this blog has a longer history with me and P!nk than pretty much anywhere else... man, I wish this was a full return to form, but it's passable, I guess I'll take what I can get...

But next up, some new and old business on the horizon, so stay tuned!

album review: 'beautiful trauma' by p!nk

I remember the era when I used to be excited for a P!nk record.

And to explain why that is, some context is essential, because P!nk tends to get elbowed out of the pop conversation a lot more than she should, despite accruing the sort of hits and critical acclaim that have eluded so many of her contemporaries. She might have started in the prefabricated pop starlet scene on her first record, but by the time she dropped Misundaztood in 2001, that image had gone up in flames, mostly through an embrace of much rougher tones that fit her voice and cowriting credits from Linda Perry. And from there we can see the frustrated back-and-forth of P!nk's pop career - an industry desperate to capitalize on her charisma and firepower even as P!nk wanted to write songs that got more thoughtful or personal or raw, from the messy recording of Try This that still led to the titanic deep cut earworm 'Humble Neighborhoods' to the incredible chart run with I'm Not Dead and Funhouse that saw her rack up hit after hit along with smuggling songs like 'Dear Mr. President' into the pop conversation. No, it wasn't really punk, but P!nk seemed at least willing to run that gauntlet.

And then something happened. There seemed to be signs as early as 2010, but in 2012 we got The Truth About Love that seemed more sanitized and pop than ever - and yeah, it fit the overmixed sound of the time, pop rock had died a slow death by then, but it didn't fit her straining vocals and even if I don't dislike the album as much as I did five years ago, it was a painful low point for her, with Greg Kurstin and Jeff Bhasker trying to engineer a tone that used to come naturally and lyrics that could feel borderline self-parody in their party girl veneer that Kesha at least embraced with self-awareness - not even the Max Martin contributions were salvageable. And then P!nk left the mainstream entirely to work with City In Color on you + me and at that point I had just assumed she had left pop behind. But then came 'Just Like Fire', which felt like a pale shadow of everything P!nk had done before and wound up on my list of the Worst Hit Songs of 2016, and while 'What About Us' did seem like an improvement, I had no idea if Beautiful Trauma would bring any of the spark that I loved about P!nk back. The producers and collaborating list did seem a bit more promising - although like last time I was a little nervous about that Eminem collaboration - but hey, P!nk's still a phenomenal singer, so what did we get?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 28, 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, this week was... weird. Lot of charity stuff, lot of prayer, and overall it's tough to see if there was a lot of quality. Eh, we'll see.

Next up, P!nk, stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 28, 2017

I don't often use the phrase 'be careful what you wish more' on this show - mostly because if a song I like gets big there's very rarely a huge negative consequence, but also because I've generally been pretty lousy at predicting the Hot 100 anyway. But if there's a week where that might apply on a generally scattershot week overall, it might be here, because if we take a look at yet another new #1...

video review: 'MASSEDUCTION' by st. vincent

And then there is this. You know, I thought this might be a little more contentious than I expected, until Fantano put out his review and honestly echoed many of my criticisms. Huh.

In any case, Billboard BREAKDOWN is coming up next!

movie review: 'blade runner 2049' (VIDEO)

So I don't think this is among my best videos, but this is still a pretty damn great film. If you get a chance, see it - it rules. :)

the top ten best hit songs of 2010 (VIDEO)

I'm so damn glad this turned out as well as it did, especially as I had to re-edit to avoid the damn copyright bot. In any case, thank you all for watching and subscribing, I dearly appreciate it!

video review: 'heaven upside down' by marilyn manson

I really need to get better at posting these updates when the video actually drops... so on that note...

Monday, October 16, 2017

album review: 'MASSEDUCTION' by st. vincent

I often feel like using the word 'evolution' to describe Annie Clark's ongoing career under the name St. Vincent isn't quite accurate. I think 'mutation' is the better word - and believe it or not, that's a compliment! She may have started in the more poised and polished realm of baroque pop with tasteful strings accenting her admittedly unorthodox style of guitar work, but as early as Actor things started to shift. The guitars got more processed and blocky that somehow still managed to support potent melodic grooves, the strings began giving way for synthesizers and tones that felt all the more alien, and while her voice kept its same ethereal quality - for the most part - the content and its connection to the human experience was contorting into something more primal, for lack of a better word. Oh, the empathy, complex framing, and willingness to bend taboos was always there, but its mode of expression was warping into something less and less recognizable, with the compositions and framing maybe losing a bit of their populism but opening up new depths of sound for her to explore.

And I'm a fan of it - a pretty big fan, actually. I'd still slot Strange Mercy as a shade stronger than the self-titled release just in terms of overall consistency, but with songs like 'Psychopath', 'Severed Crossed Fingers', 'Digital Witness' and the absolutely mind-blowing 'Bring Me Your Loves' St. Vincent was making a case for the more twisted sonic adventures having potential that was just as rich and promising. And considering that her newest record MASSEDUCTION was looking to be going even deeper in a thematically dense direction, I was most certainly curious where the hell she'd take this. So what did I find on MASSEDUCTION?

Friday, October 13, 2017

the top ten best hit songs of 2010

I have to admit, when I first added the highest tier option to include requests for a top ten list, I had no idea what was going to be requested. Opening up the vast decades of Billboard history meant this could go in any direction, and that could mean a wealth of new discoveries. And thus our first Patreon request is for the best hit songs of... 2010.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

album review: 'heaven upside down' by marilyn manson

So here's one of the byproducts of the weird way I got into metal and industrial music: almost by accident I completely missed Marilyn Manson. Seriously, it's actually a little bizarre how until very recently I had just completely missed covering the industrial iconoclast or even hearing much of his music beyond the covers that managed to cross over - as I've said in the past, I never had an angry white boy phase, and I found goth music and culture more through symphonic metal, black metal, and early post-punk and industrial music more than the mutated hybrids that came out in the 90s and 2000s that spawned acts like Marilyn Manson. 

Now that's not saying that Manson doesn't have a place in pop culture - he most certainly does, from his 90s breakout records produced by Trent Reznor to his numerous artistic pivots throughout the early 2000s - but in retrospect you often get the impression that his image has persisted a lot longer than his music has. It's one of the reasons I actually respect his pop sensibility - if you're aware your currency is in shock value, you might as well pair it with tunes that can be pretty damn catchy that'll at least stick when all but the professionally outraged set grows up. But that's the thing: folks who grew up with Marilyn Manson did grow up, and he was still making music, and after severing ties with Interscope you could tell he was probing different territory, going for metal with Born Villain and even pivoting towards blues with The Pale Emperor, with the backing of producer and composer Tyler Bates. But I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before he pivoted back towards what made his career, and given that buzz was suggesting the political undercurrent was going to be flowing again, I figured Manson's natural gift for provocation could actually pay off here. And even if, again, I'm no big fan of the guy's music - I could easily rattle off a slew of other gothic acts that I find more potent than Marilyn Manson - I figure I might as well take a look. So, what did we unearth here?

video review: '' by poppy

So this was cute. Fun record too, really happy I covered this.

And now onto something just as cute in its own way... ;)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

album review: '' by poppy

You know, it's very tempting for me as a YouTuber to start this entire review with a Poppy spoof. The washed out aesthetic and slightly offkilter delivery, full of fragmented non sequiteurs, internet soundbites and memes, the sort of layered satire of pop stars in the age of internet culture directed by Titanic Sinclair which has blown up into something I'd need the next hour to fully deconstruct and explain. To reveal more would be to strip away some of the charm of the original videos which you should all watch, but suffice to say, for the most part, I'm a fan of Poppy as an internet personality.

But I'm not reviewing an internet personality or a meme - I have enough trouble keeping reviews monetized as it is - I'm talking about the music, of which Poppy has touched since the very beginning with covers and eventually original songs that would leverage some of the satire against a technocolor backdrop. And while I've liked her pop music, I've always had my concern that her online persona would overshadow her records, that she wouldn't quite be able to capture the subtle twists and potency of her videos. Now you have to wonder if she'd even bother to try in some cases - around this time last year she released the ambient project 3:36 (Music To Sleep To), and despite certain eerier textures it was far more abstract than her usual content - but it also felt more like a digression, not the blur of k-pop, dance punk, and electronic synthpop I expected we would get on her debut. So okay, what did I find with Poppy.Computer?

video review: 'all i ever see in you is me' by jillette johnson

You know, this is one of the vids where the prospects were never good - even if I wasn't months late it'd still be a tough sell to get to a mass audience, she's pretty underground...

But with YouTube dicking over the sub boxes for this as well, I'd still like to see it get some traction, so I'd urge you all to check it out.

Thankfully, I've got some content coming that should boost my fortunes, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 21, 2017 (VIDEO)

Okay, so this was... actually a pretty lousy week, not helped by YouTube dicking over my sub box (which apparently happened for multiple users, but still wasn't all that fun). At least this'll have some longevity...

album review: 'all i ever see in you is me' by jillette johnson

So after the last album review I feel something needs to be clarified, namely with respect to the folks supporting me and voting on my schedule on Patreon - and a lot of it is gratitude. Seriously, with YouTube demonetizing the majority of my videos the second they go up, you guys have been a life saver, and you've introduced me to music that I would never have covered otherwise. Some bad - I'm not sure I'll ever forgive you guys for AJR - but a ton of it good.

And as such, given the rather peculiar state my schedule is in right now, I think it's time we handle some old business and review a record that took a long time to get to the top - and yet if I had done my homework I would have been pushing this months ago. For the majority of you who do not know, Jillette Johnson is a New York singer-songwriter who has been attracting comparisons to Fiona Apple, but really her style and instrumentation reminds me more of a split between Feist's personality, Regina Spektor's hyper-detailed writing, Florence Welch's power, and Vienna Teng's knack for slightly off-kilter indie pop production that could lead to phenomenal hooks all the same. Her debut album Water In A Whale came out in 2013 and my god, it is something special, full of the sort of indie pop that throws in enough left turns to keep you intrigued and enough bombast and creativity to suck you in. It's a terrific debut and it makes all the more sense why she actually turned down an offer to go on The Voice so she could focus on her career - she's a far more intriguing artist than what that show would have her do. In any case, she dropped a sophomore album in mid-July, and if it's anything like her debut I was definitely excited to see where this would fit. So, what did we get?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 21, 2017

So I've been predicting for the past few weeks that the charts are on the verge of something breaking - and thus far, the Hot 100 has been doing a fine job of making me look like a fool by not really doing much of anything. Worse yet, the predictions I did make about pop divas making a splash blew up in the face and, as so many of you predicted, the biggest splash we got this week was from the debut album from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. I have to be honest, this wasn't even on my radar or schedule, so might as well take a dive into that, especially considering our other new arrivals this week!

Monday, October 9, 2017

movie review: 'mother!' (VIDEO)

Whoo boy, really wish I liked this a lot more... eh, it happens, I just hope I managed to clarify my point effectively, this was a pretty scattered vlog all things considered.

But next up, I've got a bit of old business before the 30k video, and of course Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

video review: 'life changes' by thomas rhett

Hey, if it was truly awful believe me I would have said so. As it is... well, made for a good bait-and-switch with the thumbnail. :)

And next up... hmm, interesting, we'll see what we get here. Stay tuned!

album review: 'life changes' by thomas rhett

There's a part of me that doesn't even want to pretend I care about this record, to basically pull a bait-and-switch and talk about something that actually dropped this week and that got forced back on my schedule because according to my Patrons I should just 'get this over with'. Because that's the optimum attitude going into an album review, right?

In all due seriousness, I should have vetoed this from my schedule. I didn't because I've got a morbid sense of curiosity surrounding this guy's inexplicable popularity... you know, I can't even say that! I know what Thomas Rhett is popular, he makes doofy pop music for people terrified of the raw sexuality of Bruno Mars. I've always found it contemptible that he's still advertised on country radio, because let's be honest, he belongs on the pop stations - but he'd also be consigned to the same territory as the b- and c-list like Andy Grammer or just get stuck playing catch-up to Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran if he's not going to rip them off entirely. 

My larger point was that going into Life Changes I didn't expect the genre-defying abomination that was Tangled Up, I expected something more 'normal' and sedate after the success of 'Die A Happy Man', a set of pleasant, underwhelming milquetoast pop that'll be forgettable to listen through and absolute torture to review. But, at the same time it's not like 'Craving You' or 'Unforgettable' were bad songs - they weren't country but they were at least passable, and you really have nowhere to go but up after Tangled Up, so maybe this would be at least inoffensive?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

video review: 'the hype' by hoodie allen

Well, despite YouTube dicking me over again with monetization, here we go. Can't say I loved this, but it was passable enough I guess.

And now onto something far less interesting... well, stay tuned.

album review: 'the hype' by hoodie allen

So let's get into territory that can be a touchy subject for hip-hop heads: pop rap. And i can already see some of you scoffing, but let's be real: there have been artists who have played for lighter and sillier material since hip-hop's inception, some who are even now held up among the greats or at the very least respected. But don't get me wrong, I get the stigma, because when people think of pop rap in the modern day, they tend to treat the music as utterly disposable songs by utterly disposable artists, and while they aren't often wrong, you could make the argument that some of these acts can actually flow better than the endless stream of utterly forgettable mumble rappers, or who might actually have a turn of phrase that's interesting or funny - something that an increasingly humorless mainstream hip-hop scene tends to ignore. But when you also factor in the subset of white pop rap artists who tend to be using hip-hop just as a vehicle to make bad comedy - Lil Dicky - it doesn't help a stereotype of sanitized, corny, and ultimately forgettable acts that you listen to briefly in college and ever again.

So where does Hoodie Allen fall in? Well, it's tough to say - you could definitely make the argument that his debut had its fair number of pop rap singles, blending in Drake and Ed Sheeran-esque vocals with loose bragging and plenty of stealing your girlfriend - a cliche I don't like regardless of genre - but unlike so many of his peers he had remained entirely independent, and his followup Happy Camper early last year grounded itself with a little more self-awareness and maturity, slightly groovier production, and a style that pulled more from Chance The Rapper than anything like Ed Sheeran. Now he could still slip towards corniness at spots and some of his production choices and collaborators are certainly dubious in my books, but he was on the right path, and considering he reached out himself for me to cover The Hype, I figured I might as well give it a chance - what did I find?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 14, 2017 (VIDEO)

And that's all the posting for tonight... man alive, this takes a while to get through everything, but here we are. Okay, next up... well, it'll depend on what Patreon gives me, so stay tuned!

video review: 'tell me you love me' by demi lovato

Always forget to post these... shame the record wasn't better, though.

And now onto tonight's event...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 14, 2017

So okay, maybe I'm just bad at predicting when things are going to shift. I've been saying for a few weeks now that the Hot 100 feels precarious, on the cusp of something really shaking up the established order... and yet it didn't happen here, because outside of country rolling some new songs out, very little actually happened in any significant way. Not like I'm complaining - I like a shorter episode every once and a while - but there is a part of me that feels like the Hot 100 needs a good shakeup, and I'd prefer that happens before Taylor Swift drops reputation and blows everything wide open.

Monday, October 2, 2017

album review: 'tell me you love me' by demi lovato

Not gonna lie, I had a bad feeling going into this record. And given how much I've been rooting for Demi Lovato over the past few years, this was not a feeling I wanted to have - there had been promise on both DEMI and Confident, and as you all probably know 'Cool For The Summer' was my favourite hit song of 2015! I had every hope that Demi Lovato could rise and take on the female pop rock mantle in the mainstream that had been left vacant for so long - she had the pipes, she had the attitude, she was taking more of an active cowriting role...

But the more I started hearing tracks in the build-up to Tell Me You Love Me - a bad album title and about the last thing I would want or expect to hear from Demi Lovato - the more I was worried. As much as you might not like Max Martin, he did do a significant amount behind the scenes on her better singles and likely contributed to the rock elements, and the problem I had with Confident is that instead of tilting towards that in production and delivery, she relied on flimsy, desaturated modern pop tropes that didn't flatter her, often tilting towards R&B or soul in a way that didn't fit with her voice and delivery all that well. And with the lead-off singles for Tell Me You Love Me it looked like more steps in that direction, which didn't bode well for this record, especially when you notice her token rap collaboration is with Lil Wayne on a DJ Mustard beat. But the other reviews were suggesting this is the point where Demi Lovato hit her stride, so despite all the evidence to the contrary in the lead-off singles, I checked this out - what did I find?

video review: 'a fever dream' by everything everything

Again, I know, it's late, but it was an interesting conversation regardless.

But we're not done yet... stay tuned!

album review: 'a fever dream' by everything everything

So here's one of the more exasperating things I've had to experience as a music critic: hearing a lot of music that is certainly good and passable and agreeable but it just a shade away from true greatness, and at least to your ears you could hear the exact change they could make to get there and it's just not materializing, no matter how much you want it. You might like the band, you might like the ideas they're trying to explore, you might like their experimental progression... but it's just not assembling in a way that connects for you.

Now for Everything Everything they definitely didn't start there - they may have had a knack for catchy melodies and willfully oblique writing that walked the line of insufferable, but between some truly awful synth choices and the caterwauling of their frontman Jonathan Higgs, their debut Man Alive just did not connect for me whatsoever. And then something weird happened: the band got better, streamlining their sound, punching up their groove, and taking their lyrics into territory that was still odd but a shade more accessible all the same. Arc was a good first step, Get To Heaven was even better, damn near on the cusp of greatness... and yet every time I'd go back to it I'd feel oddly distant from it. The hooks were better than ever, Higgs' voice had grown on me a bit, and the greater focus on rhythm was potent... but I always got the feeling the band didn't always have a firm grasp of their strengths, which led to distracting non sequiteur moments or mix choices that never flattered the group as much as they should.

So while there was a part of me that was a bit concerned when I heard Everything Everything was heading towards a more 'conventional' sound on their newest record, I had at least the hope it'd come with sharper production choices and a little more focus overall rather than blunting their experimentation entirely. They had changed up producers again, bringing in James Ford who is most well known for working with Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine... but on the flip side he had also worked on the last Depeche Mode and Mumford & Sons record, and how much he'd guide the sound was anyone's guess. So what did Everything Everything deliver on A Fever Dream?

video review: 'futility report' by white ward

Yes, I know I'm late to this, but it was still pretty fascinating to dig into.

And speaking of lateness...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

album review: 'futility report' by white ward

So I've said before that I'm never quite certain of the best place to look when it comes to new black metal, and thus when I heard the new Wolves In The Throne Room was dropping, I was excited to cover it... only to discover that it never made my schedule on Patreon. Now at first I was a little annoyed about this - I do like older Wolves In The Throne Room records, they're one of the groups that got me into the more atmospheric side of the genre - but considering the general critical response to the record has been mixed to say the least, I figured I might want to back off - it's not like I'm not busy enough already.

But still, I had an itch for some black metal, so what about this debut record from White Ward? They're a Ukrainian group known for blending in elementIgos of extreme metal and progressive metal into their atmospheric sound and the buzz had been really promising. On top of that they also posted all of their lyrics in English to Bandcamp, so a big step in the right direction for me. So yeah, late to the punch again with this, but it's not like anyone else on YouTube has reviewed this record in depth, so what the hell: how is Futility Report?

album review: 'wonderful wonderful' by the killers (ft. anthony fantano)

And finally we have a review that I shot earlier this week and I'm really happy that it's doing well over on Anthony's channel. Props to him for bringing me on board here, this was a lot of fun!

special comment: midland & authenticity in country music (VIDEO)

So this was something I basically did to avoid talking about the review I'm putting up tonight, but it was a pretty fascinating piece to dissect, especially given the current discussion around Midland. Glad to see it was received as well as it was!

special comment: midland & authenticity in country music

So in 1994, music journalist Bill Wyman made a statement praising three artists in the Chicago underground who were getting critical and popular acclaim by nudging their sound and marketing towards a mass audience - in other words, going pop but holding up enough trappings of alternative music to maintain their cred and avoiding the insularity of the 'strictly underground' crowd. These three acts - Bikini Overkill, Liz Phair, and a little group called the Smashing Pumpkins - were just breaking out with records that were starting to get real groundswell, even if with the benefit of historical context it'll tell you that would fade in the years to come. But to certain underground figures, in an era where the lines of alternative and mainstream music were blurring even further as popular culture tried to co-opt an organic revolution, this was damn close to heresy.

And leading the charge against these acts was acclaimed indie rock artist, producer and music writer Steve Albini, who fired back against Wyman in a blisteringly profane statement that these acts were never truly alternative but just co-opting a sound and trend without the actual depth to back it up, pop artists in the guise of something they never were. Now on some level the venom did feel a bit misplaced - Wyman wasn't claiming these acts were alternative but that it didn't really matter as long as the music was good, but Albini's larger point resonated, that through a disingenuous appropriation of the sound they were doing damage to both their own long-term careers and artistic ambitions, and the alternative scene as a whole, threatening labels of authenticity and years of hard work by underground acts that did pay their dues and would kill to have some of that same success without being pushed through the meat grinder of the music industry. And if you were to follow what happened to alternative rock and grunge and punk in the next decade or so, you'd see that Albini was mostly right on the money here.

With all of that established, let's talk about history repeating itself, and a little band called Midland.

video review: 'trip' by jhene aiko

And while I might be the only one who thinks so, this is a pretty great record all the same. Enjoy!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 7, 2017 (VIDEO)

So I've been off my game updating this here... okay, so here's the last episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN...