Showing posts with label blues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blues. Show all posts

Thursday, October 25, 2018

video review: 'songs of the plains' by colter wall

Yeah, this review is up a bit earlier than usual - I've got a busy night ahead, figured I'd knock this out quickly.

Next up, How To Dress Well/Resonators, so stay tuned!

album review: 'songs of the plains' by colter wall

I have absolutely no excuse for why I didn't cover Colter Wall's album last year. 

Even given that my schedule has been driven more through Patreon requests than anything over the past two years - still working on refining the details on how to best optimize that, hang tight for 2019 folks - Colter Wall seems like the sort of project I should have been the first talking about! A voice splitting the difference between Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, the sort of brittle, stripped down, defiantly country instrumentation and production that has the confidence to rely on minimalism because the lyrical content would hold up, and to top it off, he's from the Canadian midwest and he's only in his early 20s! Hell, most of you probably don't know this, but I grew up on the prairies, only going east for university and work, so if there's an album that would capture some of that wild resonance for me, it'd be coming from this guy.

So yeah, I screwed up major not giving Colter Wall more of a platform earlier or reviewing his self-titled album, but I'm not going to mess around this time: he's got a new project that's accruing a lot of attention, produced by Dave Cobb because of course it is and given what he's done with Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell he can still find dynamics in that bare minimalism that Colter Wall has made his own. Or to put it another way, I had high expectations that this would kick ass - was I right?

Monday, June 11, 2018

video review: 'stranger fruit' by zeal & ardor

You know, I have absolutely no idea how controversial this review will wind up being... but if anything, I'm more disappointed that I didn't like it more.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then whatever my Patrons vote for - enjoy?

album review: 'stranger fruit' by zeal & ardor

So the honest truth about much of the criticism I create is that it's pretty agnostic when it comes to the intent of the authors... or at least I try to be. As much as I might take issues with the ideology at the core of some work, I try to give everything its fair shake in execution. And sure, while there is something to be said for liking art that affirms your worldview and disliking art that rejects it, that's more amplification rather than a deciding factor - after all, I've heard enough anarcho-punk that while I might like or admire the politics, presentation ultimately pushes me away. 

But all of this comes from the fundamental assumption that the intentions of the artist are sincere, and while you do get your fair share of satires and genre deconstructions, artists that are openly disingenuous in their artistic pursuits and don't really give a shit about the aesthetic or ideas they're promoting can exist as well in a weird space. Now there are not that many acts in this lane - authenticity is a prized commodity from country to metal to punk to hip-hop, and flaunting your disdain for that tends to get you shoved out of a lot of spaces - but when there's a lot of money to be found they tend to pop up. You could make the argument that Limp Bizkit or the very least Fred Durst fell in this space for a time in the late 90s, using nu-metal and rap rock as a openly nihilistic cash grab artistry be damned, but I put that more along the lines of studio creations and reality show artists, where the money is the primary motivation but art can happen along the way. Then you get acts like Lil Dicky, who entered hip-hop to get famous to go on and do other things and to make a point that he could, which is one reason why so much of his music is one-note, nakedly contemptuous of good taste and tends to suck.

And then there's Zeal & Ardor, an act that when I first heard about it I was genuinely excited - following the wake of Algiers to fuse traditionally black spirituals, soul, and blues with black metal, that sounded awesome and indeed my first few listens really sucked me in... until I started seeing interviews where the band's frontman Manuel Gagneux said the band primarily started as a joke and dare on 4chan. And that would be fine - execution can overrule original intent, and I've seen art made for worse reasons - but both black metal and spirituals are two genres and styles that prize authenticity, and co-opting the latter for a cheap Satanic inversion felt in poor taste, especially given the current state of affairs in the world. But then something strange happened: the first Zeal & Ardor record actually got critical traction, and suddenly Gagneux had to expand a concept that he had approached somewhat haphazardly on the debut for something with a little more meat, and I was curious how on earth he could follow it up, especially considering he named the record in a clear reference to the Billie Holiday song. Maybe he'd take on these topics with more gravity, so okay... what did we find on Stranger Fruit?

Friday, March 30, 2018

video review: 'may your kindness remain' by courtney marie andrews

Yeah, it took a little longer than I was expecting to put this together, but I really wanted to be sure... and now I am, easily one of the best of 2018, hands down.

Next up... well, I have Resonators, the Trailing Edge and this A.A.L. record, plus whatever's coming up on the schedule plus this Patreon update - lots going on, so stay tuned!

album review: 'may your kindness remain' by courtney marie andrews

I got to reviewing Courtney Marie Andrews way too late in 2016 - and honestly, for as critical as I was of it, I may have been a little too hard on it as a whole. Part of this is that she was facing some really stiff competition in 2016 that made for apt comparisons - the list of women in country who dropped literate, intensely emotive records that year is considerable and she had an uphill battle. But the truth was that some of my criticisms of her last record Honest Life did feel a tad forced, as it was certainly a record intended to grow through the understated details and subtext, rely more on gorgeous vocal delivery and production to carry the deeper message - and I'll admit that in my headlong rush towards the end of the year, I probably didn't take it in as deeply as I'd prefer - and yet even with that her absolutely stunning track 'Only In My Mind' notched a well-deserved spot among my best songs of 2016, a late entry that was very well-deserved.

Well, there are no such excuses for me this time around, and given how much critical acclaim this follow-up is receiving for fleshing out more of the lyrical details against arrangements I know are bound to sound terrific, I was really looking forward to giving this my full attention before both Linda Ortega and Kacey Musgraves sweep in to grab the spotlight in a few days. So what did I find on May Your Kindness Remain?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

video review: 'encore' by anderson east

And here's the first video of the night... man, I wish I liked this a bit more. It happens, and it's still a damn good project too.

Next up, a movie review - stay tuned!

album review: 'encore' by anderson east

There's a part of me that thinks it's a little ironic that only days after releasing my top ten best hit songs of 1967 I'm now talking about Anderson East in 2018, and if you saw that list and my lengthy discussion surrounding white people cribbing from black music, you might see why.

Granted, the conversation about this brand of R&B and blue-eyed soul is complicated and has been for decades, with some highlighting it as conducive to cooperation while others consider it cultural appropriation, that dread phrase that's bound to make my comment section just a joy to behold. Of course, with blue-eyed soul you could make the argument it's more about cultural exchange and there's a certain code that should be understood by the artist: if you're going to use that sound, understand the history, bring respect, help to elevate those who pioneered the sound as much as you can, and you better not suck. And thankfully Anderson East seems to get this: his breakthrough came in 2015 with the album Delilah, produced by Dave Cobb and even partially recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which made sense for the hardscrabble blend of Americana and southern soul he was making. Of course, you all might know him better for two things: one, he's currently dating Miranda Lambert and showed up on her 2016 project The Weight Of These Wings, and two, he was also on one of the most fiery tracks on Southern Family, the Dave Cobb-produced compilation that was one of two records I've ever given a perfect 10 on my channel. Suffice to say with his release this year the expectations were high, and considering how good the critical buzz was, they had every reason to be. So, with the hope that we can redeem this album title from Eminem's critically reviled 2004 record, what did we get with Encore?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

video review: 'the underside of power' by algiers

Well, this was awesome... but let's be honest, we all kind of expected that going in, right? Beyond that... yeah, I think maybe one more review before the midyear roundup, and whoo boy, it's a fun one!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

album review: 'the underside of power' by algiers

I remember covering Algiers' self-titled debut two years ago, and I remember the most prominent thought running through my head: since the dawn of post-punk and noise rock in the late 70s, it should not have taken this long to get a record like this. I think part of this was inevitable thanks to the internet and the rampant cross-pollination of genres, but still, it's not like there weren't common throughlines that could have enabled more of this fusion of the noisy grind of post-punk with a raw blend of gospel, soul and blues. Sure, there had been those who brought in more of a gothic or symphonic sound to the scene, but this was different, black Southern gothic in a much different but no less potent tradition, backed by the utterly fearsome vocals and writing of Franklin James Fisher. And it was the sort of fully formed debut that of course landed a spot on multiple of my year lists for songs and albums, but really the potential represented by this band was far more thrilling, and not just because when hip-hop looking to sample gospel finds out this exists, it's going to cause a sea change.

No, what drew more of my attention was knowing that their sophomore project The Underside Of Power was going to necessarily get political, and this should not surprise anybody. Much of their debut painted them as harbingers of doom and a brand of violence that only even perceived between the lines of those not willing to look - and that's before we even get the exceedingly well-framed and frighteningly relevant racial commentary - but given what happened last year... yeah, I had the feeling gloves were coming off. And considering the mountains of critical acclaim this record has received already, I was really excited for this. So what did we find in The Underside of Power?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

video review: 'human' by rag'n'bone man

It's not good, let's just say that. Okay, Ed Sheeran and Sun Kil Moon are next, stay tuned!

album review: 'human' by rag'n'bone man

Of all of the acts that I've covered on this show, especially in recent months courtesy of Patreon, this is arguably one that I have been looking forward to the least.

I know, harsh allegations, especially for an act who is currently racking up hits in the UK, but indeed, that's part of the issue. Unlike most people, I knew about Rag'N'Bone Man, real name Rory Graham, back a few years ago, and I was not surprised to see a significant push behind him, especially in the wake of rougher artists like Hozier blazing the trail for bluesier acts having success. Hell, in an episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN I used every possible excuse to avoid talking about Rag'N'Bone Man, even calling him a Hozier rip-off... which got me a fair amount of flak from people who told me that he actually predates Hozier and he had been pushing out EPs since the early 2010s. Believe it or not, I actually did know this, mostly through his affiliation with a few smaller British hip-hop acts. But that indeed might have been part of the problem for me - Hozier trended towards blues rock and gospel, rougher genres that demanded grit and a darker brand of howling soul that I really came to love. And while Rag'N'Bone Man was capable of that sort of sound, most of his early EPs played closer to neo-soul and pushed him into his smoother upper register and featured hip-hop guest verses, he was going in a different direction.

And then Hozier's self-titled debut sold over a million copies worldwide for Island and you can tell that the major labels wanted to have at least somebody who could compete in the same territory. Atlantic had Ed Sheeran who was even bigger, Interscope had Imagine Dragons - although  Smoke + Mirrors wouldn't help  - Republic snatched up James Bay who would go on to make 'Let It Go' an adult alternative hit, and Columbia... see, that's the thing, they were distributors for Hozier, they didn't need another act to play in this lane while Hozier worked on his sophomore project unless they were looking for R&B/neo-soul crossover... which I doubted. And yet here we are with Rag'n'Bone Man, for whose breakout single 'Human' you can largely thank Hozier for popularizing that style, especially in the UK. But I do like Hozier, and even though I didn't really care for 'Human', maybe Rag'n'Bone Man might be able to recapture some of that magic on his full-length debut?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

video review: '25' by adele

Well, it's good, but I see this review being controversial still. Gah, whatever.

Next up... oh god, Billboard BREAKDOWN and all of the Justin Bieber... hold on, folks, this is going to be a rough start to a new year...

Monday, November 23, 2015

album review: '25' by adele

The year was 2011. The club boom was nearing overexposure in the mainstream, and flashy electro-pop artists were ruling the airwaves. Country was awash in lightweight southern pandering that would degenerate into bro-country, the Young Money crew were ruling mainstream hip-hop, and the indie rock scene was on the precipice of exploding. It was a year in flux, with nobody quite certain what would come next...

In other words, the timing was damn near perfect. People had known about Adele before - a soul singer beloved by the Grammys, known for a remarkably poised if a little tepid debut album that had given us 'Chasing Pavements' - but in 2011 she blew the pop paradigm apart. And while some would inevitably accuse her of middle-brow pandering and that her music was ultimately not as experimental or ground-breaking as many made it out to be - which in retrospect is kind of true - it's also hard to deny that 21 resonated on a deeper level with an enormous audience. And it wasn't just listeners - who made the record the best selling album of the year two years running, bringing impossible profits to Adele's indie label XL - or the Grammy wins and critical acclaim - the success of 21 marked a major shift in pop music. The club boom collapsed, old-school R&B and neo-soul surged back into the mainstream, and pop stars tried to work heavy percussion and reverb to follow the sound even if they couldn't match the emotion.

And here's what I find perplexing: as much as I can see why Adele's 21 resonated with audiences - it's accessible, different without being too weird, powerfully emotive yet with enough class and restraint to get uncomfortable - the album as a whole is a harrowing listen. It's dark and heavy, furiously bitter and heartbroken, and the more you dive into Adele's subject matter the more the complicated swirl of loneliness, rage, regret, and grief becomes hard to bear. And yet even with that it's one of those albums that might work better in pieces than as a whole - there are some wild tonal shifts, a few deep cuts can't quite match the power of the singles, and there are instrumental choices that don't quite fit with the overall atmosphere. In other words, a damn good album, maybe even a great one, but I'm not sure I'd say that it would make one of my year-end lists.

And now four years later, Adele is finally back with 25 - and while I was definitely excited, I had some reservations here. For one, I saw the list of producers: Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder and Paul Epworth made sense, they've been working with this brand of reverb-touched pop music for years now, and I could maybe even understand Danger Mouse and The Smeezingtons, given Adele's influences, but Max Martin and Shellback? They only show up on one song, but it was enough to suggest that Adele might be going in a very different direction... and in a sense that's probably the right choice than trying to directly imitate what she did on 21. But the larger point is that Adele is returning to a pop world that she helped shift, and while opening tracks like 'Hello' had a ton of promise, it's hard to follow-up a record that shattered the paradigm like 21 did. There was a lot riding on 25 - did Adele pull it off?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

video review: 'casualties of cool' by casualties of cool (RETRO REVIEW)

Holy shit, this album was fantastic. Seriously, I wish I could have gotten to this a few months ago, this is amazing.

Next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN, hopefully dropping tomorrow, so stay tuned!

album review: 'casualties of cool' by casualties of cool (RETRO REVIEW)

There are some records that the second you hear about them you just know on some level they're going to work - or at least they should. Maybe it's the people behind it, the concept, the genre fusion, you just have the feeling in your gut that this is going to kick all amounts of ass.

And really, the fact that I'm only getting to this now is more than a little embarrassing. A side project that Canadian extreme metal artist Devin Townsend had long dreamed about, the beginnings of Casualties of Cool started in 2010 as a pairing between himself and Che Aimee Dorval, a spacey country/blues/ambient blend that promised one of Townsend's most ambitious stories yet. And keep in mind this is the guy who wrote Ziltoid The Omniscient, a space opera that featured a dimension bending alien searching for the meaning of existence and the perfect cup of coffee. In other words, I had to make time to hear this album, half because it's Devin Townsend and half because I'm still one of the few critics on YouTube who really talks about country music in any capacity, and this looked to be right up my alley. 

So why did it take me so long to get here? Honestly, this is a case of me completely forgetting about this album when it dropped and struggling to find time to cover it. And part of it was beyond some scattered albums, I still hadn't taken the time to delve deeper into Devin Townsend's entire discography. But now that I've had the pleasure of doing that and since I've already covered Devin Townsend projects twice this year, why not make it three with Casualties of Cool? So I finally took the time to dive into this self-titled album - what did we get here?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

video review: 'hozier' by hozier

Wow, I did not expect this album to be this good. Seriously, get it, it's fucking amazing.

Okay, Tinashe is probably next, but I've got Iceage and Aphex Twin (finally) to cover too, so stay tuned!

Friday, October 10, 2014

album review: 'hozier' by hozier

Let's talk about religion. As I've mentioned in the past, I'm Catholic, mostly practicing but to say my faith gets complicated from there is understating it. One thing I'm quite certain of is that my faith is my business, and nobody else's, and if religion operated on that level on a broader scale, we as a society would be much better off. 

And yet unsurprisingly, there's a whole subsection of the music industry devoted to music with strong Christian themes, a subsection of the industry that tends to get relentlessly snubbed, panned, or outright ignored by critics. And to some extent that's not a good thing - when you shut down the critical discourse and artistic conversation, art developed in that environment tends to develop insular tendencies without the slightest element of quality control. But to be fair to myself and other critics, it's not like we don't have good reasons for ignoring that particular subsection of music - putting aside the issue that elements of the fandom immediately perceive criticism of the music as criticism of not just the artist, but the religion as well, the production and instrumentation is often substandard, or in some cases outright derivative of other non-religious acts. And lyrically... look, religion has inspired some fantastic artists to write classic songs - Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, the list could go on - but in that particular subgenre can fall into two distinctive traps. The first is that much of the material is not willing to directly comment or criticize the faith that underlies it, which can lead to a serious lack of drama - after all, if the answer always can be provided by deus ex machina, you really undercut the tension, which tends to lead to the music coming across at best placid and at worst self-satisfied. And the second problem is evangelicalism - for a critic, it can get exasperating when the music's sole purpose is to preach or go political in a way that lacks nuance, especially when their answers loop back to a holy book that should be read allegorically and metaphorically rather than literally.

What this also means is that, with rare exception, most Christian music never gets play on mainstream radio or the charts, and everyone tends to be okay with that. But at the same time, it's been a generally accepted rule that songs that are outright anti-religion don't tend to get a lot of airplay either - because let's face it, spitting in the face of people's faith without a certain degree of nuance is just as exasperating. So you can believe that I was surprised to see a song titled 'Take Me To Church' creeping up the lower half of the charts, a song fairly blunt in its 'losing my religion' metaphors when linking back to his complicated relationship. Now let me stress that this is a strong way to immediately grab my attention - strong single, intriguing content, doing something new - so I decided to check out his self-titled album. What did I find?