Showing posts with label electro-rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label electro-rock. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

video review: 'amo' by bring me the horizon

And there you have it... a bit surprised I haven't seen a hardline bit of backlash yet, but we'll see how this goes.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

Monday, January 28, 2019

album review: 'amo' by bring me the horizon

So this conversation is long-overdue.

And as such, it's difficult where to begin, especially as my lack of coverage of Bring Me The Horizon, especially in recent years, has felt conspicuous. Hell, I wound up seeing them live at a festival last year before I actually covered any of their albums, and while I've talked around them at very points, I've rarely addressed them directly. 

So let's piss off everyone all at once: Bring Me The Horizon is the classic example of an act that got a lot better by selling out, and selling out hard. They started off as a middling deathcore act that was about as intolerable as they came, but they quickly made a hard pivot towards regular metalcore and as early as 2013's Sempiternal began pulling from more accessible pop rock and electronic music. And while the content still wasn't all that gripping - lyrics have remained consistently underwhelming for this group, at least for me - it was the pivot that won the band a lot of traction, helped along by a major label contract with RCA and Sony. And from there, with every layer of electronics and softening of frontman Oliver Sykes' voice, the band saw more and more success, and by the time That's The Spirit dropped in 2015, they were getting critical acclaim to boot... and I just couldn't get into them. Yes, like everyone I can admit that 'Avalanche' is a fantastic song, but I've already mentioned my issues with the lyrics and I've never quite been grabbed by their hooks and I'd point to the larger issues being one of dynamics. For as anthemic and huge as Bring Me The Horizon try to be, the production rarely showcased the subtlety or colour to drive it home, and for all the symphonic bombast... look, I come from symphonic metal, I've seen it done right, and Bring Me The Horizon just never stuck the landing.

But hey, apparently with Amo they're going even more mainstream with even more synthetic layers, 'eaten by the Imagine Dragon' to quote my friend and fellow critic Crash Thompson aka The Rock Critic - go check his stuff out, it's excellent - and other critics have already started over-praising it, so what the hell: what did Bring Me The Horizon bring with amo?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

video review: 'here come the runts' by AWOLNATION

Okay, this... well, the t-shirt mostly fits. :)

Next up... I honestly have no idea, it'll depend what winds up on the schedule, so stay tuned!

album review: 'here come the runts' by AWOLNATION

You know, for as wild and messy as AWOLNATION's records have been, I'm a little surprised I don't think about them more often. Seriously, it's been about three years since I covered Run on this channel and I don't think I've revisited even a single song since - which is kind of strange, because I do mostly remember that record's problems in overly-broad songwriting and utterly slapdash production, and I remember the backlash I got pointing that out - hell, probably more than I remember any individual song.

But that's the funny thing about AWOLNATION: they always seemed like a weird, misshapen hybrid of an electronic rock group that somehow struck gold when 'Sail' almost by accident became a monster hit in 2013, a full two years after Megalithic Symphony came out. And yet that song made a certain amount of sense at the time: AWOLNATION could be a band that made hits if the disparate elements came together, but the cracks in their formula ran so deep - and were exacerbated by their 2015 follow-up Run - that it seemed incredibly unlikely the alchemy would come together again.

And yet for some reason their next album showed up on my schedule - and what was strange was the buzz around it, namely that everyone was admitting it was messy, but this time the whiplash transition had actually worked? Encouraging, sure, but I'd believe it when I heard it... but I'm also not going to say I wasn't morbidly curious. So okay, what did I get with Here Comes The Runts?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

video review: 'EVOLVE' by imagine dragons

And now I'm finally caught up on all of my promotion posts. WHEW, that took way too long.

Next up, something a bit more current, so stay tuned!

album review: 'evolve' by imagine dragons

Here's the question you never want to ask yourself after confronting a mediocre run for a band: were they ever that good to begin with? It's a terrible thing to ask, because you're now questioning old opinions and old reviews placed in hindsight where history can definitely color how you see them and the art now? Maybe not entirely - it's not like I can't revisit the first album by The Strokes knowing the downward slide they were going to face - but you get this faint pang of regret and a sense of that there could have been so much more...

And no band has ever epitomized that for me in the mainstream more than Imagine Dragons. Let me make this clear, while their debut Night Visions had issues, the great songs on that album were amazingly good, and it reflected a sound and direction for a modern rock band that had potential, blending in elements of folk with some indie rock smolder and electronic rock punch, it was enough for me to bypass how the production could feel a little monochromatic and the lyrics could feel a tad flimsy or overwrought - but hey, it fit, right, given Dan Reynolds as a frontman? Well, fast forward to 2015 and Smoke + Mirrors, a record that reflected nothing more than a band cycling through ideas and trying to ram them through their established framework. Many people - including myself - called it a sophomore slump, and considering how badly it did on the charts, with no real sustainable crossover single, I thought Imagine Dragons may have been out for the count.

And yet going into Evolve it seems like Imagine Dragons has actually regained some momentum, pushing their frustrating producer Alex da Kid to the sidelines for the majority of the project and instead churning out a tight set of eleven tracks. And while I had no real expectations that this would be great - critics if anything have been even harder on this project than Smoke + Mirrors - you all still wanted me to cover it, so what came from Evolve?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

video review: 'planetarium' by sufjan stevens, nico muhly, bryce dessner & james mcalister

My lord, this was a weird listen, but eh, it happens.

Next up, hoping to knock out two reviews tomorrow, so stay tuned!

album review: 'planetarium' by sufjan stevens, james mcalister, bryce dessner & nico muhly

I don't even know where to start with this one. When I saw that this album had not only been requested early, but had received by far the most votes on my schedule thanks to Patreon, I was blown away. Not for Katy Perry, not for Rise Against, this - but hey, I was curious too, these sorts of supergroup collaborations don't come around every day.

So background here: apparently this started as a commissioned orchestra piece that was performed live back in 2012, but never properly recorded, so Sufjan Stevens rounded up a murder's row of talent to take this score into fresh territory. And we've got heavyweights here: Sufjan is a powerhouse in his own right, but when you add in the guitarist of The National Bryce Dessner, classical composer Nico Muhly, and drummer James McAllister, you've got a stacked lineup of talent. And considering these are all songs written about space and our solar system... look, we don't get enough good music celebrating space, I'll just say that right now. Now on the one hand I was really excited to dig into this, but I also know that this could very well play like that Lights & Motion record I covered months ago, a potent piece of music that can feel a little unengaging or abstract to the point of frustration. But still, I was fascinated by what this quartet could do with this material - it's too odd and distinct of a concept to ignore, so what did we find in Planetarium?

Friday, February 3, 2017

video review: 'vessels' by starset

You know, I wish I could say this was disappointing... but the truth is that I didn't really have many expectations to begin with on this one. Just kind of a slog all around.

But next up, this Julie Byrne project looks interesting, so stay tuned!

album review: 'vessels' by starset

Space rock. Perhaps one of the oddest subgenres of rock I've ever covered, it's never amassed huge popularity or become widely recognized... mostly because unlike the majority of musical subgenres, the term is based on subject matter rather than sound. Well, okay, that's not quite entirely true - musical tropes like huge waves of synth, muted electronic touches to distort human presence, and a commitment to gigantic expansive mixes do tend to crop up, but it's generally used as a catch-all term for music that focuses on science fiction and space. And it's included a surprising breadth of artists, from 70s acts from David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Hawkwind to the 90s resurgence among acts like Failure, Flying Saucer Attack, and some records from The Flaming Lips, to the growth and success of acts like Star One, Angels & Airwaves, and Muse at one end of quality and Thirty Seconds to Mars at the far other end - and that's before you factor in the huge number of progressive acts who have helped develop and expand the sound into a recognizable aesthetic.

In other words, it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of this genre - not just because I'm a sci-fi nerd, but also because the commitment to bombast and big ideas can be pretty compelling if well-executed. So enter into that scene Starset, an Ohio rock band that wanted to tell those big sci-fi stories with the sort of midi-touched cinematic swell that could make for potent space rock - hell, the frontman had a PhD in engineering, this should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the more listens I gave to their debut album Transmissions the less I liked it, mostly because the band was a lot less Ayreon and a lot closer to Thirty Seconds To Mars and Breaking Benjamin of all people, who they described as their primary influences. And that definitely shows through in underwritten songs, underwhelming lyrics, and a lot of space rock touches and textures that didn't really have the compositional strength in the melodies and performances to be more memorable - I appreciate spacey bombast, but there needed to be more heft in the writing and storytelling for it to really stick with me or rise to the best of the genre. And when Starset announced that their sophomore album Vessels was going towards pop instead of heavier metal... well, okay, that wasn't precisely bad, it'd certainly be defining its own unique lane. Hell, it could even work with their more basic lyrical construction and delivery, so how does Vessels turn out?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

video review: 'paradise' by pop. 1280

Again, this review took way too long to get out, but it's finally here. Next up is Santigold and Dori Freeman, so stay tuned!

album review: 'paradise' by pop. 1280

I guarantee the majority of you did not see the review when I covered this band the first time.

And frankly, I'm amazed that in the summer of 2013 and after a random browse through Pitchfork that I decided to cover them, more out of bored curiosity than anything else. And while I haven't really revisited much of that record, I do distinctly remember Pop. 1280 as a weird, twisted, dark little band, driving some surprisingly solid melodies through the noise to create a hollow, rattling somewhat industrial flavour, with lyrics that seemed to alternate between punk railing against the machine and the craven horrors that humanity engaged in to survive. And while I wasn't always wild about frontman Chris Bug's delivery or the haphazard mixing, I did think their sophomore release Imps Of Perversion was a step in the right direction to emphasize the band's strengths that got overshadowed in the rough noisy murk of their debut.

And thus when I heard that their third album had opted for an even bigger, even more electronic-enhanced sound, further polishing and building off of the foundation of their last release, I was definitely interested. So, better late than never, I dug into their third album Paradise - what did I get?

Monday, March 23, 2015

video review: 'run' by awolnation

Well, this was a total dud. Hoping for better, but given Megalithic Symphony and the mess that it was, it was probably hoping for too much for the lightning to strike twice.

Anyway, Earl Sweatshirt next. Stay tuned!

album review: 'run' by awolnation

There are bands that you can put on any album in their discography and immediately know the group. You can put on an AC/DC album or a Foo Fighters record and there's a sort of comfort in knowing nearly exactly what you're getting - there'll be slight differentiating factors, but you'll know what's coming. Then there are the groups that'll switch things up with every record - sometimes they'll make it subtle, sometimes they'll work in broad strokes, sometimes they'll throw curveballs into the mix that only hardcore fans will see coming.

And then there's AWOLNATION, a band that no matter how many times I've listened to their debut record, I still have a hard time pinning down what the hell they're doing. After a well-received EP in 2010, they burst onto the scene with the messy, cacophonous electronic rock Megalithic Symphony in 2011, that pulled from a half-dozen styles, bands, and added plenty of their own fuzz-saturated and semi-demented flavour. Part punk, part U2-inspired rock, part genre-breaking digression, the album showed a wealth of ideas and most of them were pretty compelling. But it's definitely a record that works better in pieces than as a whole, especially in the case of its haphazard production, and it's hard to ignore that the lyrics often feel thinly sketched and underweight for the big ideas they're trying to tackle. And while 'Sail' landed on my Honourable Mentions list of my favourite hits of 2013 - because that's how long the mainstream took to catch up with the style that AWOLNATION was pushing, for better or worse - I was curious how long the band could push their ideas and whether they could develop some cohesion on the way.

In other words, I was looking forward to reviewing this album - not because I expected it to be a great or classic album, but because it would be interesting. Was I rewarded here?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

album review: 'hand. cannot. erase.' by steven wilson

So by now the majority of you know that I'm a fan of progressive rock and metal, and as such it shouldn't really be a surprise that one of my favourite acts in that vein coming out of its brief revival in the 90s was Porcupine Tree. While I wouldn't say every album they dropped was stellar - there definitely were moments that were indulgent, overwrought, or experiments that just didn't quite come together - they had a unique sound that distinguished them from their roots while still calling back to their past, and they wrote some truly gorgeous material.

So when their frontman and mastermind Steven Wilson split off to go solo, I was optimistic. The man was a gifted songwriter and he had a solid voice, I had reason to expect good results. But my reception to the three albums Wilson has released since Porcupine Tree has been... complicated. A comparison that I've made in the past between Steven Wilson and Kanye West - stay with me on this one - in that they're both musical geniuses with a unique sound, they both use plenty of vocal effects to accent their personalities, often more than they should, they both can be introspective in releasing vulnerable and evocative records, and they both are kind of insufferable. I might have liked Insurgentes and I respect his commitment to audio fidelity and dynamics, but only releasing a digital copy as FLACs which can't be played on most players and making a short film where he smashed iPods reeked of pretentiousness in the worst possible way. And this would have been fine if the music was good - and for the most part, it definitely was, but then he followed it with the more jazzy experiment Grace For Drowning. Which wasn't a bad album, let me stress this, but it pushed Wilson's more indulgent side and my patience to the limit and lacked a lot of cohesion.

Fortunately, he pulled things tighter with the significantly stronger The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), and with this record Wilson was stating he was moving more towards electronic or even pop music structures, I was definitely intrigued, especially when he described the themes, inspirations and story he was trying to tell. And hell, even though his solo work hadn't always gripped me, I'm still a fan, so I checked out Hand. Cannot. Erase. - what did we get?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

video review: 'smoke + mirrors' by imagine dragons

Man, I wanted this to be a lot better. Really disappointed it's not. Eh, it happens.

Okay, next up is Father John Misty, and oh, I'm looking forward to this one - stay tuned!

album review: 'smoke + mirrors' by imagine dragons

So as many of you probably know, I listen to a fair bit of rock music - and since plenty of you probably follow Billboard BREAKDOWN, you're all probably aware that we don't get a lot of rock music on the charts anymore. It's been declining for years, really since the 90s, but ever since post-grunge had its last gasps, most of the rock that lands on the radio is indie-flavoured or is so gutless it'd have been laughed off the radio in the late-80s, when hair metal was at its most poppy. As of now, if I'm being charitable we might have eight rock songs out of a 100 on the charts right now, and some level, that makes me a little sad, especially considering it has been like this for a while.

So going back to 2012, when I heard 'It's Time' by relative unknown Imagine Dragons, I didn't care it was only on the charts thanks to Glee and that the production was a little colourless, it was an indie rock song that landed on the Hot 100, I took what I could get. 'It's Time' landed on my 2012 best list, and the massive follow-up 'Radioactive' landed on my list in 2013. I'm not going to say that either song is fantastic, and I would have preferred to hear Queens Of The Stone Age on the radio than them, but again, there weren't many other options. But I was more curious about the band so I did pick up their debut album Night Visions, and for the most part I liked it. Lead singer Dan Reynolds had presence and power that reminded me a lot of Bono in a good way, the lyrics were reasonably solid albeit a little basic and overly broad, and the anthemic quality of many of their tracks did stick with me.

But let's be honest, that album has not aged well, mostly thanks to the monochromatic production courtesy of hip-hop producer Alex da Kid - many of the guitars were crushingly dreary, the percussion was over-emphasized, and the fact that the album was a composite of three different EPs and a few scattered songs really works against it. In other words, I was definitely curious where the band was going with their sophomore record Smoke & Mirrors, half because the band said they were going in more of a rock direction and the singles seem to be reflecting that. But then again, it's also getting produced by Alex da Kid, who I've never really been impressed with as a whole. So what did Imagine Dragons deliver?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

video review: 'the hunting party' by linkin park

Well, this turned out surprisingly decent. Turns out going back to hard rock was a good fit for Linkin Park - who knew?

Okay, that should take care of the major releases for the week - next up... hmm, either Sage Francis or First Aid Kit, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'the hunting party' by linkin park

Do I honestly have anything more to say about Linkin Park?

This is a band of whom I've covered twice before, first with Living Things in written form and then my video review of the remix album Recharged - and honestly, I wasn't a fan of either album, as they felt like regressions into stale subject matter they'd already covered more effectively elsewhere and a musical sound that alternated between being dreary and boring and atonal and insufferable. And this is coming from a critic who can admit that Linkin Park has never really been a terrible band, even in their earlier days with Hybrid Theory. Yes, it's material that hasn't exactly aged well in comparison with their mid-period work, but it does have a certain visceral pathos that can work if you're in the right demographic for it. And I will give Linkin Park for two points that aren't often noted: a knack for incredibly solid hooks and an ability to evolve with the times, culminating with the excellent, more conceptual album A Thousand Suns in 2010, which I'll place myself in the minority by saying is probably my 'favourite' Linkin Park record. And yeah, there are better records exploring nuclear holocaust, even in the electronic rock and metal veins, but I'll give Linkin Park credit for experimentation and mostly sticking the landing.

And honestly, that was one of the reasons Living Things was such a disappointment for me, in that it simply took much of the same electronic rock sound and fused it with lyrics that couldn't support it, and it felt like a regression. And when I heard about The Hunting Party this year... well, I had no idea what to expect. Not only did the band say they were putting aside electronic rock and going back to a harder edge, they were planning to show more maturity in their subject matter as well. That, if anything, got my curiosity raised enough to pick up the album - how did it turn out?