Showing posts with label acoustic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label acoustic. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

video review: 'the tree' by lori mckenna

Yep, already said plenty in the review: one of the best records of 2018, definitely make sure you hear it.

But on the flip-side of that... well, that's not fair, it's not quite bad, per se... just stay tuned!

Monday, July 23, 2018

album review: 'the tree' by lori mckenna

So here is how the average music fan discovers Lori McKenna. They may have noticed her name alongside mainstream acts like Tim McGraw and Little Big Town in the credits of Grammy wins, or her own justifiable set of nominations. More likely they've seen her name pop up among certain indie country critics in the know praising her record The Bird And The Rifle, maybe even ringing up praise as one of the best records of 2016. And then they check out that record to discover it's goddamn amazing from McKenna's songwriting to Dave Cobb's production and makes them all ask the question why the hell they hadn't heard of her before - and then they discover that McKenna has been putting out records since the early 2000s and was once signed to a major label for other releases like 2004's Bittertown and 2007's Unglamorous, so how in the Nine Hells did she fall off everyone's radar? It couldn't have been just going indie, because 2011's Lorraine was damn near a masterpiece...

And keep in mind it's not just me who has gone through this arc of discovery - hell, the self-professed 'dean' of music critics Robert Christgau freely admitted he lost track of Lori McKenna and then made up for it by covering the majority of her discography en masse and then writing a well-deserved profile piece! But it's sadly not uncommon for music critics and listeners even in the internet age to lose track of indie country acts, especially ones who are not flashy or actively seeking the spotlight - and in comparison with other genres, country is still years behind when it comes to web presence and the sort of audience that that would love McKenna's music if only they knew it existed. And that means I wanted to make it a serious priority to cover this album as soon as possible... so what did we get from The Tree?

Monday, May 28, 2018

video review: 'shawn mendes' by shawn mendes

So I sincerely doubt this video will be dislike-bombed in the same way the last Shawn Mendes review was... but hey, you never know?

Anyway, I've got Billboard BREAKDOWN and a lot of other reviews to get through this week - stay tuned!

album review: 'shawn mendes' by shawn mendes

Yep, let's do this again.

So if you all remember the last time I talked about Shawn Mendes in a full review, it didn't go well by any stretch of the imagination, mostly because he had taken the promising upbeat Ed Sheeran-knockoff tones into the most blandly-produced, insufferably written and performed acoustic pop I've heard this decade. Let me reiterate that for those in the back: Illuminate by Shawn Mendes is a bad record, and 'Treat You Better' is one of the worst hits of the 2010s, by far the worst hit song of 2016. And yes, I'll freely admit my disappointment bled into that review, because Shawn Mendes had potential coming out of Handwritten - hell, so long as he had consistent momentum on his songs he could deliver quality - but doubling down on the 'nice guy with acoustic guitar' template was about the worst potential direction he could take. And while a fair amount to blame lands on Teddy Geiger, ultimately it was Mendes who stuck with this direction.

And then something happened. Maybe it was the success of the tacked-on bonus track 'There's Nothing Holding Me Back' that actually restored a glimmer of hope Mendes could deliver again, maybe it was a renewed focus on expanding his sound instead of doubling down on the worst tropes of his genre, but Mendes' newest singles were heading in a slicker, more groove-centric direction and I couldn't complain. Yeah, I wasn't pleased to see a collaborating credit with Julia Michaels on this self-titled release, but if Mendes was going the way of Charlie Puth in tightening up his sound and writing, I was willing to give him another chance. So Shawn Mendes fans, I'm burying the hatchet and going in with some optimism - he's got nowhere to go but up with me, so what did we get from Shawn Mendes?

Monday, March 26, 2018

video review: 'staying at tamara's' by george ezra

Okay, this was pretty decent, but it's not the only thing we're getting tonight - stay tuned!

album review: 'staying at tamara's' by george ezra

And now we've arrived at the second primarily acoustic singer-songwriter who has somehow sold over a million copies around the world based off a single hit that seemed to peak a fair bit later than the actual album did... and yet the more I think about it, George Ezra is a very different sort of artist than Vance Joy, even despite playing with what might seem like a similar genre and sound. For one, George Ezra actually had some rich baritone in his vocal timbre and knew his way around lyrics that could back up their metaphors and loose sense of imagery, but that actually ties to something peculiar about Ezra's presentation: roughness. And I'm not talking about the sort of edge you typically got out of adult-alternative acts that trended in the 90s - with some of the touches of blues, firmer low-end grooves, and slightly more earthy, haggard feel overall, many pinpointed Ezra's influences as much older, calling back to the folk singer-songwriters of the 60s or early 70s that were just adjacent to the mainstream in production if not the songwriting. And yes, some of this affection is linked to how much 'Budapest' has become a karaoke staple for me, but even if the writing hadn't quite gotten there yet George Ezra was at least a more compelling presence behind the microphone...

But like the singer-songwriters of the day, the music media would aim to frame the conversation as competitive, and I've seen a lot of comparisons to Ed Sheeran in the buzz leading up to this release, a sophomore record four years later... and not one that I found had much merit, at least coming off of Ezra's debut. As much as I might hope for otherwise, Ed Sheeran trends more towards pop and R&B than blues or soul or rock, which looked like a more natural landing point for George Ezra - although I did have the twinge of worry that given how well Ed Sheeran and those seeking to rip him off have done, it wouldn't be a far stretch to nudge George Ezra in that direction, regardless of whether that'd fit his style or presentation. So okay, what did we get on Staying At Tamara's?

Monday, March 5, 2018

video review: 'nation of two' by vance joy

And this sucked. Look, it was a low-key kind of suck, the sort you have to think about a bit, but yeah, I'm not excusing this.

But next up... well, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then either Phonte or Oceans Of Slumber, so stay tuned!

album review: 'nation of two' by vance joy

Okay, so if you've been following my schedule, you'd realize that this isn't quite what I was looking to cover today. I was looking to give Oceans Of Slumber this slot, but a few listens in made it clear it was either going to wind up on the Trailing Edge or that I was going to need at a few more listens to really process its weight - and when it's over an hour and embraces a lot of doom tones and textures to compliment its progressive and melodic death metal side, that's not something I approach lightly. And given that Phonte was going to demand some serious, lengthy consideration too for his long-awaited sophomore project, I looked to the elevated tiers, and once I moved past the sort of absolutely weird, quasi-insane bandcamp project that I'm not sure my mind is fully fit to process, and a top ten list that's going to take some time to rework, I wound up with this - and I had the sinking feeling that all of that deliberating would wind up more interesting or listenable than Vance Joy.

But that's the thing with silent majority acts like this Australian singer-songwriter - critics are often left bewildered or shrugging with albums like his 2014 debut, maybe able to highlight one song that stands out - usually the big single - while the others are left high and dry. And with Vance Joy, while he released seven singles from Dream Your Life Away, the one that caught everyone's attention was 'Riptide', which peaked at #30 and somehow got enough points to wind up on the year-end list in 2015. And while the strength of that song got Vance Joy to move two million copies of his debut record... I couldn't stand it. Seriously, it was the last song to get cut from my worst hit songs of 2015, the sloppy brittleness, weak vocals, utterly wimpy or misconstrued lyrics, gutless skitters backing up a tempo shift that never paid off, the pop culture references that made less and less sense with every listen, the only thing I could respect about it was how it laid the foundation for Ed Sheeran to take a similar cadence and sound to success with 'Shape Of You'. And if that was considered the strong point of his debut, and even sympathetic critics weren't finding that same magic on the follow-up, we could have something pretty bad on our plate here. But again, there's more people listening to this than every record I would have otherwise covered in its stead, and I've been surprised in this lane before - hell, Niall Horan came out of nowhere last year with Flicker and there's at least similar creative DNA with Vance Joy, so what did I find on Nation Of Two?

Monday, February 5, 2018

video review: 'man of the woods' by justin timberlake

And that's the second review of the evening. Have to say I'm pretty pleased with this one too, especially considering I'm now (mostly) back on schedule!

So next up, I've got a local project to cover, but of course we've got Billboard BREAKDOWN too, so stay tuned...

album review: 'man of the woods' by justin timberlake

It's been a while since I've seen such a backlash against a pop artist, this sudden, this intense, as if folks have been waiting for just the right target for their knives. With Taylor Swift and reputation there was some of it, but the 'snake' heel turn first exploded in 2016, and the meltdown took over a year and a half to truly coalesce. With Justin Timberlake, with the combined double whammy of his album release and second Super Bowl performance, it seemed like all the cultural backlash was finally coming to a head...

And I'm already sick of it, partially because it feels like I'm one of the few who are taking notes surrounding the relative complexity of Timberlake's issues, and the level of historical revisionism going on really does not sit well, especially among some critics. What, you're only now taking issue with the fact the production on Justified was originally intended for Michael Jackson, and how Timberlake has been relatively remorseless in building his stage persona wholesale from Michael and Prince and other, better artists, even having the nerve to diss them? What, you're only now angry about how Timberlake seemingly got away scot-free with that stunt at the 2004 Super Bowl where Janet Jackson's career was shattered? What, you're only now realizing that so much of Timberlake's professional career has been the sort of audacious, ego-driven, style-over-substance, I-can't-believe-how-much-I'm-getting-away-with-this act that translates to his records being overblown, self-aggrandizing, and more sloppily written than anyone dared say? What, did you all forget he wrote 'Carry Out'?

But here's the thing: I get it. The 2000s were a weird, twisted decade that allowed Timberlake's embrace of futuristic artificiality to flourish, and it certainly helped he was backed up by some of the best producers of that time with The Neptunes and Timbaland. It was so easy to throw Janet and Michael and Prince under the bus - all of whom were straining under the weight of their own legacies with music that increasingly didn't measure up - all in the face of that veneer, which to his credit Timberlake could carry almost on ego and raw talent alone. And even into 2013 with his two 20/20 Experience records, he still got critical acclaim by many of the folks now lining up to crucify him - and if you go back to both of my reviews, I didn't share that acclaim, because I've never really been a Justin Timberlake fan at any point. Sure, he was a decent enough pop star, I don't think all of his success is unwarranted, but it's why so much of the historical revisionism here bothers the hell out of me - don't act like you guys weren't propping up the institutions that allowed Timberlake to get away with as much as he did, especially in 2013 where you let a Justin TImberlake ripoff named Robin Thicke dominate the charts with 'Blurred Lines', or last year, when it seemed like the quickest way to blow up as a trap rapper is to have sexual assault cases! And just like with Robin Thicke and Paula, when it looked like Timberlake was going to be exposing a more personal side of himself on Man Of The Woods, everyone saw this as the moment of vulnerability to pounce, especially if there was any sign the music might have slipped in quality. Now Timberlake has not helped himself here - the fact that he was tone-deaf enough to think he could get away with a Prince projection along side him at the half-time show was gross on a number of levels - but currently Man Of The Woods has a lower Metacritic score than Maroon 5's Red Pill Blues, and if that's not a sign the backlash has flown off the rails, I don't know what is, especially as I didn't think 'Filthy' or 'Supplies' were that bad! But okay, maybe like Paula it was that bad and Timberlake deserved it all... so what did we get on Man Of The Woods?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

video review: 'younger now' by miley cyrus

So this happened... joy, I guess? Ugh, let's move on to something much more compelling...

album review: 'younger now' by miley cyrus

You know, on some level... didn't we all see this coming?

Okay, maybe not everybody, but when I saw people genuinely surprised that Miley Cyrus was returning to country music - note the word 'return', that's going to be important here - I just had to sigh and shake my head. Right from the very beginning Miley has always played as the L.A. outsider from Nashville - hell, it's the entire premise behind 'Party In The USA' - and with her thicker accent and twang inherited from her country singer father Billy Ray Cyrus, there was a part of me that deep down knew a country pivot was coming.

Granted, if you consider her career over the past decade I can see why some might not have expected it, from electro-pop at the beginning of the club boom to the awkward trap sounds of 2013, a year where her fame was at its unsteady peak, all the way to the nightmarish mess of psychedelia that plagued her disaster of a 2015 record Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. Because there were some consistent throughlines - reckless provocation without much weighty content to back it up, production that tried and mostly failed to support her, and in her trap-leaning years an approach to hip-hop that all kinds of tasteless and raised some ugly questions about white pop stars pilfering black culture. And now that she got all the partying out of her system, she can leave that job for Post Malone and go back home to a nice, safe, whitebread sound. And as such, I had very little interest in this: if I wanted a pop star dabbling in country I'd stick with Kesha, who at least seemed to care about her art and who I could easily see fitting with those experimenting in the genre, whereas a disheartened Miley after the election last year was claiming she could reach out to a conservative demographic with this new image and genre shift. Now there are all sorts of problems with the assertion without even getting into the optics, but all of it would be irrelevant if we didn't talk about the music, so what did I find on Younger Now?

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: '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...

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: '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.

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?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

video review: 'a crow looked at me' by mount eerie

This got a way better response than I was expecting... hell, truth be told, I have no idea what I was expecting with this one, but I do think I stuck the landing with the analysis, even if I have no idea if I'll regret the scoring. Eh, fascinating all the same.

Next up, something a LOT more conventional, so stay tuned!

album review: 'a crow looked at me' by mount eerie

There's been a part of me that's been putting off this review. It's been on my schedule for a while, but there was a part of me deep down that was dreading this - and at first glimpse, that shouldn't make sense. This is one of the most critically acclaimed records of 2017 thus far, it's racked up comparisons to Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell and David Bowie's Blackstar and Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree, all records that I love and actually own on vinyl to this day.

But if you watched my reviews of those albums, you'll know that they are records about processing and dealing with death in a way that was uncomfortable intimate, which was only further intensified for me because I've been a fan of Nick Cave and Sufjan Stevens and Bowie and have had the experience even further enriched by my history with the artist. So with Mount Eerie, the project of Phil Elverum, I was gearing up for the same sort of emotion and feeling by steadily working my way through his back catalog to process and understand him...

And I just don't have the same connection that I do with those artists. I tried, folks, believe me, that's another reason this review took so long to come out, I listened through his discography over and over and I'm not sure what to tell you, except that Mount Eerie might not just be my thing. I can recognize the quality in the writing which is clever and understated, even if I do find his black metal experiments a little odd because the production never quite clicked for me, especially against his vocals... but it never got deeper than appreciation, I probably wouldn't call myself a fan. As such, when you hear his newest album is a very raw record about dealing with the loss of his wife Genevieve to cancer, I had a feeling like I was walking into a funeral for someone I only vaguely know, and I was genuinely worried I wouldn't feel the impact - all the more disconcerting when again, it's one of the most critically acclaimed records of 2017. But I've stalled long enough - how did A Crow Looked At Me turn out?