Metal Release Day 6/14: Baroness vs. Hate!

Happy Friday, everyone! Welcome to our Metal Release Day Battle Royale!

In one corner: acclaimed Georgia metallers Baroness, coming through with Gold & Grey, the fifth and final installment of their wildly successful chromatic-themed releases, each one more lauded than the last (2015’s Purple even garnered high praise from Metallica frontman James Hetfield himself). Anticipation for Gold & Grey is through the roof – Stereogum even referred to it as a “masterpiece” before it even came out. Relax, guys. Still, Gold & Grey will likely be a contender for many year-end metal lists, and I haven’t even heard it yet!

In the other corner: Polish extreme Metal band Hate, whose Blackened Death ferocity is perhaps only matched by the almighty Behemoth. I reviewed 2017’s Tremendum quite positively, complimenting it specifically for embracing more of Hate’s Black Metal side, and am hoping that Auric Gates of Veles blows it out of the water.

Whoever emerges as today’s victor, just know that it’s a great day to be a Metal fan! As for who this blog will declare the winner….well, my forthcoming Mid-Year Metal list may or may not be a good indication….

Volbeat’s “Last Day Under the Sun” Single

After the one-two punch of 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, Danish Hard Rockers Volbeat certainly looked poised to fill the urgently vacant “Next Stadium Rock Act” slot. They toured the world with coveted opening slots for the likes of Metallica, Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, and others. They won over the hearts and minds of mainstream Metalheads with a King Diamond guest vocal and the ace shredding of former Anthrax axeman Rob Caggiano, and simultaneously grabbed serious market share in swaths of the “Active Rock radio” community.

Then 2016’s Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie was underwhelming and repetitive. No big deal, they’ll get ’em on the next round.

Well, the “next round” is here, in the form of the band’s clumsily titled seventh album Rewind, Replay, Rebound, out August 2nd. And things are not looking good.

Released today, “Last Day Under the Sun” is the second single from the LP and hints at an all-in, spit-shined radio Rock approach. And it’s shockingly bland. I find it amusing that the band thinks that extending the song structure and adding in a guitar solo somehow masks the dull chord progressions and sugary Pop melodies that fill in the bulk of the song. Don’t worry kids, there will surely be a “radio edit” soon.

I’m still holding out hope, though. Volbeat do have a penchant for diverse track lists that run the gamut from borderline Pop-Rock (like this track) to a vintage Heavy Metal assault. But I’m definitely worried that the band have been lured into the depths of Butt Rock by their radio paychecks. They (and many of their fans) wouldn’t be the first victims. We’ll have to wait a couple more months to find out.

 

 

 

Top 10 Underrated Slipknot Deep Cuts!

So a few months back, Metal Injection posted a video where they counted down the top 10 “underrated deep cuts” from modern Metal behemoths Slipknot.

Being the huge Slipknot fan that I am, Metal Injection’s list immediately aroused suspicion. For one, how the hell is the All Hope is Gone title track a “deep cut” when it was the FIRST PRE-RELEASE SINGLE FOR THAT RECORD??

I know. Well, I didn’t want Metal Injection’s video to be the ONLY available answer on YouTube to this (very interesting and fun) topic, so I decided to make my own! Just so another self-important douchebag blogger can tell ME why I’M wrong, and continue the cycle of Internet negativity.

You’ll find the full video below. And if you’re a big Slipknot fan, be sure to also check out my Slipknot Discography Ranking as well as my “NAME THAT SLIPKNOT SONG!” contest. Thanks for watching!

Every Metalhead Needs to Hear This Rap Song!

So I was having a moment yesterday. It had been a long time since I had heard Death Grips’ Bottomless Pit, and I forgot just how damn amazing it was. Now over three years after its release, I still can’t wrap my head around how such a cacophonous, overindulgent, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink musical approach can be so fucking CATCHY! It truly baffles me.

And for some reason I kept thinking about my metalhead friends. How they always ridicule me for my devout Hip-Hop fandom and fail to see the IMMENSE overlap between the two genres (something I’ve spoken about many times on my YouTube channel, and even made this Spotify playlist years ago to prove my point). And then it dawned on me: how have I never recommended Death Grips??

I’m sure Death Grips fanatics can point to any number of Metalhead-friendly cuts in the experimental Hip-Hop group’s catalogue, but there’s no better place to start than the ferocious Bottomless Pit opener “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”. For God’s sake, it kicks the album off with a fucking blast beat! Between the pulverizing industrial drums, MC Ride’s Chuck-D-on-steroids vocals, and the frantic guitar loops, there’s so much for a Metal fan to dig into here. Check it out below if you haven’t heard it!

August 2018 Album Round Up!

Hey guys! Psyched to make my return to Monthly Round Ups during an action-packed month! Apologies for my little hiatus – work these past several months has been an absolute bitch and it’s been straight up unrealistic to try and squeeze in several listens to 20-25 albums every four or five weeks. It just wasn’t gonna happen. But I’m proud to say that I’m back and here to stay! Kinda like when Jay-Z came out of retirement after not even a year and released a shitty ass record that no one liked but eventually went on to do things like marry Beyonce and make an album with Kanye and start his own streaming service so it was all good. Ok, maybe not quite like that. But still. God, there’s so much to break down from August 2018! I hope you’ve been keeping up via my email list and YouTube channel while I’ve been away!

Mac Miller – Swimming

Five albums and at least twenty (!) projects into his career, one fact remains: Mac Miller is a hell of a beat picker. On Swimming, he lines up an endlessly listenable and surprisingly unique platter of instrumentals, from the funky “What’s the Use?” to the jazz-tinged “Jet Fuel” to one of the sexiest beat switches I’ve ever heard in the trap-laced “Self Care”. Everybody from J. Cole to Flying Lotus to Kanye collaborator Jon Brion to fellow Pittsburgh natives ID Labs to “God’s Plan” producer Cardo contribute to this album’s impressive sound. However, another fact remains: Mac Miller doesn’t really have a whole lot to say. Even after a public split with Ariana Grande earlier this year, Miller’s lyrics on Swimming – rather than directly addressing his feelings – often find him simply crawling between various esoteric trains of thought that leave the production to carry him. I find myself wincing in the first verse of “Wings” when he clumsily points out “that’s a motif!”, and I really struggle through the bleary-eyed pseudo-raps of “Dunno”, the meandering mopefest of “Small Worlds”, and several other underwhelming lyrical moments. So while I dig this album sonically, I don’t find myself connecting with Mac’s words like I did on the lovey dovey Divine Feminine or the triumphant “I’m off drugs!” comeback that was GO:OD AM. I salute Mac for continuing to be carve out his own sound within hip-hop, but I probably won’t be returning to this all that much. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sinsaenum – Repulsion for Humanity

Back in 2016, when ex-Slipknot skinsman Joey Jordison and Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq teased their new supergroup Sinsaenum as an epic collision between Black Metal and Death Metal, I was ecstatic at the thought. At the time, Behemoth’s The Satanist was the last truly great Blackened Death Metal LP I had heard, and I was aching for something new. Well, you can imagine my disappointment when Sinsaenum’s debut Echoes of the Tortured was pretty much just Morbid Angel worship with creepy keyboard interludes. But then, last year’s Ashes EP renewed my hope with a short set of killer tracks that gave me exactly what I wanted – some eerie-yet-brutal, Black Metal-infused Death Metal! So, anticipation was high for Repulsion for Humanity, the band’s sophomore outing and follow-up to Ashes.

Well, they kinda let me down again. Don’t get me wrong, Repulsion for Humanity is very well-executed, but on this record Sinsaenum spend far too much time on compositional Death Metal clichés, aimless guitar solos, and tired lyrical subject matter, rather than turning their attention towards atmosphere and genre-fusing like they did on Ashes. At the end of the day, I found more positives than negatives, but given the raw talent that this band posses, I still wish Sinsaenum would have given us more than a slightly-above-average, dime-a-dozen Death Metal record. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Travis Scott – Astroworld

Trap powerhouse Travis Scott came in hot with album number three, armed with quite possibly the craziest guest list of any Hip-Hop release this year (Drake, Frank Ocean, James Blake, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Swae Lee, 21 Savage, Quavo, Juice Wrld, and Nav all appear). Not to mention, it’s a who’s who of Hip-Hop production as well, with people like Mike Dean, Hit-Boy, Cardo, Murda Beatz, Boi-1da, Thundercat, and even Tame Impala involved. If anybody has done a better job setting themselves up for an “instant classic”, I’d like to hear you argue against Travis Scott. And of course, many critics quickly obliged and gave it that label.

However, I find it surprising that any album containing a Drake verse about taking prescription drugs to fall asleep on a plane can be considered an “instant classic”. Not only do I find Drizzy’s aforementioned “Sicko Mode” verse boring, but a significant chunk of the LP as a whole, with mid-album cuts like “5% Tint”, “Astrothunder”, and “Can’t Say” lulling me to sleep. Surrounded by so many industry heavy-hitters, it’s strange but unsurprising that Scott and his familiar auto-tuned brags are the most non-essential part of this album. The beats are off the chain (see the tuneful Tame Impala and Weeknd collaboration “Skeletons” or the sensory overload of “Carousel”), and more than enough to keep me around most of the time, but Scott himself is just not that interesting to me. So, “instant classic”? Eh, don’t believe the hype. NOT RECOMMENDED

Snak the Ripper – Off the Rails

I got turned on to this amazing record by an Instagram post from Rittz (one of my favorite rappers for several years now), from whom Snak the Ripper had snagged a guest verse for the single “All Out”.

And yet again, Rittz has done great things for my life. I can’t believe how good this record is! Skill-wise, Snak is your archetypal rappity-rapper, packing dense rhyme patterns into complex, high-velocity flows, but his abundance of thoughtful content and his selection of low key, contemplative beats (see “I Ain’t Dead”, “I’m Good, or “Hourglass”) that give him room to let loose lyrically are what ultimately make him stand out. There’s not a single track I don’t like on here, but I’d especially recommend “Baby Boy”, where Snak has some touching words for his newborn son, “Driftin”, which has a super dope video with some tour footage mixed in, and “Knuckle Sandwich”, which brings on R.A. The Rugged Man for a murderous guest appearance.

Seriously, I can’t say ENOUGH good things about this LP! Should definitely end up in the year-end Hip-Hop conversation in a few months! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jason Mraz – Know

Back in college, if you saw a corny dude wearing a fedora and strumming his Ukulele in the middle of campus, you’d make fun of him. The kid’s clearly just trying to get laid in the saddest, most transparent way possible.

Well, Jason Mraz’s albums are the sonic equivalent of that. I don’t know the guy personally, so if he really is this sunny and optimistic all the time, God bless him. Lord knows we have enough cynicism in the world at the moment. But this cutesy RomCom music is tough for me stomach. When I hear lines like “we could be bigger than cheese and macaroni” (on a song that is titled “UNLONELY”, mind you) I feel like punching him. A decade after Mraz’s most ubiquitous hits – “Lucky” and “I’m Yours” – he’s still using the same old chord progressions, the same child-like turns of phrases, and making the same manufactured Summer picnic music. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

I had no idea how much I missed Death Cab’s warm, comforting sound until I heard this LP. Regrettably, I skipped over 2015’s Kintsugi, so it had been around seven years. But I quickly got reacquainted thanks to misty-eyed highlights like “Autumn Love” and “Summer Years”, as well as the hooky “Northern Lights” and the contemplative intro track “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, which almost felt Kid A-esque to me. While it fizzles out a tad with the last few tracks (I’m not crazy about the somber “You Moved Away” or the generic “Near/Far”), Thank You For Today is a wonderful way to send Summmer 2018 off, and it’s inspiring to dig back into the Death Cab catalogue a bit! RECOMMENDED

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

I realize that 2016’s Dangerous Woman might’ve been the most overplayed Pop album of that God forsaken year, but I still thought it was excellent. Even the deep cuts. I still jam it all the time. And it makes me sad that I couldn’t feel the same way about its follow-up, Sweetener. I’m very lukewarm on this one, mostly because of the beat selection. Personally, I would much rather hear Ariana’s gorgeous voice over stuff like the bluesy “Dangerous Woman” or the boy band nostalgia-invoking “Sometimes” from her last record than, say, the obnoxious Pharrell-ism “The Light is Coming” or the generic trap of “God is a Woman”. It just doesn’t excite me. Sweetener already feels a bit tired by the time the stand out single “No Tears Left to Cry” arrives ten tracks in. But I remain a fan and look forward to Ariana’s next project. NOT RECOMMENDED

Alice in Chains – Rainer Fog

Rainer Fog is now Alice in Chains’ third album during the William Duvall era of the band. It’s crazy to think about how a decade ago, replacing AIC’s late great frontman Layne Staley seemed preposterous, but this current incarnation really grew into it quickly. With Rainer Fog, the sixth LP overall from the Grunge legends, Alice continue to do justice to their legacy by making lively Hard Rock songs that feel modern and exciting – see the driving title cut or the dissonant stomp of opener “The One You Know” for further proof. It might not be a perfect record – I have trouble vibing with the bloated Sabbathian cut “Drone”, for instance – but neither was Facelift if we’re keeping it all the way real. Seriously, it wasn’t! So I don’t care how much you love their early ‘90s material – the point is, for Alice in Chains to continue to make quality music like this over thirty years into their career, it makes them….one of VERY few grunge bands to do so. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?

Blue October – I Hope You’re Happy

Bun B – Return of the Trill

Eminem – Kamikaze

Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop

Trippie Redd – Life’s a Trip

DON’T LIKE:

The Amity Affliction – Misery

Black Tusk – T.C.B.T.

Excision – Apex

Matoma – One in a Million

Plain White T’s – Parallel Universe

YG – Stay Dangerous

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Mid-Year Hip-Hop Albums of 2018

Whether you’re white, black, brown, yellow, orange (we’ve gotta include that now in the Trump era), gay, straight, bisexual, male, female, shemale, pre-op, post-op, mid-op, or any of the other 70 genders, there’s one certainty of life that none of us will escape:

Disappointment.

And like anyone else with hopes and dreams, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life disappointed. I’ve been disappointed by myself, disappointed by my friends, disappointed by my family, disappointed by my co-workers, and, of course, disappointed by musicians.

And that “musicians” part? Well, rappers have taken care of most of that so far this year.

There was Migos’ underwhelming Culture II, J. Cole’s lifeless and excessively insular KOD, there was a double Drake LP that tortured listeners by offering a promise of “Drake when he raps good” in the first 15 percent of its 90-minute runtime but quickly settled back into mediocrity, and then, perhaps most heartbreaking, there was the directionless Nas album, in which one of the greatest MCs in the history of the genre got outshined by a few Kanye beats.

But by NO MEANS is that to say I’m feeling uninspired by the genre. 2018 has also given us tons of exciting Hip-Hop to feast our ears on. Much of it made this list, while some of it– A$AP Rocky, Smoke DZA, Kids See Ghost, etc. – barely missed a spot but certainly made its presence felt.

And while this year’s XXL freshman cover made me feel incredibly old and out of touch, I’m psyched to see Hip-Hop continue to inject fresh blood and build on itself stylistically. Only a true cynic would disagree with me when I say that some of the best Rap music of all time has yet to be made.

In that same spirit, here are 10 of my favorite Hip-Hop releases of 2018 thus far! All of these artists made substantial contributions to this evolving art form that we love so much, and I want to thank them for bringing so much happiness to me and other Hip-Hop heads alike in the past few months. Keep in mind, the release date cut-off for this list is the end of June, so anything that dropped in July is not eligible. And without further ado:

10. Dave East – P2

 One of several potential heirs to the NY Hip-Hop throne, Dave East makes a strong case for himself with P2, his most satisfying project yet. It only takes one listen to tracks like “Talk to Big”, “Corey”, and “I Found Keisha” to see that he’s elevated his storytelling game, and his beat selection – in particular, jazz-tinged cuts like “What Made Me” and “Powder” – continues to paint a picture of an MC obsessed with the genre’s Golden Age, and intent on reviving it in his own distinct way

9. Flatbush Zombies – Vacation in Hell

 Let’s face it, a sophomore slump was never really in the cards for one of the East Coast’s most exciting Hip-Hop groups.

On album number two, Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliot continue to make hard-hitting, colorful, old-school inflected Hip-Hop that provides the kind of listening experience that can only come from a rap GROUP. There’s a reason that listening to N.W.A. and Wu Tang is such a radically different experience from, say, Nas or Biggie.

Of particular note is the clever “Headstone”, in which the three MCs weave together the titles of numerous Hip-Hop classics into their bars. And features from the likes of Denzel Curry, Joey Bada$$, Bun B, and yes, Portugal. The Man (on the surprisingly melodic “Crown”) aren’t wasted either.

Oh, and I didn’t even notice the titties on the album cover until, like, WEEKS after I heard it. So I can’t like it just ‘cause of that.

 8. Phryme – Phryme 2

 On “Made Man”, Royce da 5’9 spits, “I show up, kill it, then disappear like Andre Benjamin”. But the guy has done anything but disappear. In fact, he’s already pumped out out multiple projects before the halfway point of 2018 (SPOILER ALERT: that other one may or may not get discussed in a bit).

On Pryhme 2, there won’t be much for listeners looking to get to know Royce the PERSON, but they sure as hell get to know Royce the MC, as he churns out by the hundreds the type of bars that would make 90 percent of rappers give up the moment they heard them.

And DJ Premier (with sampling help from AntMan Wonder) is the perfect backbone, and the loops on cuts like “Respect My Gun” and “Flirt” add a slight dose of musicality to Mr. 5’9’s unshakeable confidence on the mic.

7. Post Malone – Beerbongs & Bentleys

 Six months ago, if I had to name the artists least likely to appear on this list, Post Malone’s name would’ve been brought up in the first five seconds.

It’s not that I don’t like Post – I definitely heard potential on several mopey yet tuneful moments on 2016’s Stoney – it’s just that I never expected him to be able to manifest his Sad White Boy-isms into an album full of earworms like Beerbongs & Bentleys. Yet, I found the choruses to songs like “Rich and Sad”, “Better Now”, “Spoil My Night”, “Same Bitches” and “Candy Paint” to be among the catchiest of the year. The guy really has learned to construct a hook.

He still needs to stay far away from the acoustic guitar though. Please see this LP’s lone lowlight, “Stay”, for evidence.

 6. Cupcakke – Ephorize

A tour de force of witty sex-positive feminism, Cupcakke spends Ephorize comparing her genitals to the following: a Dorito, the statue of liberty, a goose, a garage, and… well, the penises in her life don’t fair much better.

While it’s mostly the lewd, graphic, in-your-face sex anthems like “Duck Duck Goose” and “Post Pic” that initially grabbed me and cracked me the fuck up, Cupcakke also shows that there’s much more depth to her on introspective moments like “Self Interview”. Ephorize proves that this foul-mouthed fem-C is here to stay, and given enough time, might even surpass her more traditional, by-the-book contemporaries.

5. Jay Rock – Redemption

 After three years and a near-fatal motorcycle accident, Top Dawg Entertainment O.G. Jay Rock came back with the simple but satisfying Redemption – an album that makes no attempt at being anything other than a collection of great songs.

You see, people have come to expect such artistic depth from the TDE camp that they’ve forgotten the value of a concise batch of unrelated thoughts. Many of the reasons people are hating on Redemption are the same reasons I love it – it’s refreshingly straightforward. I can just soak in highlights like the title cut, with its reflections on mortality, “Wow Freestyle”, with its Eastern-tinged production and Kendrick Lamar assist, “The Bloodiest” with its Fuck You energy, and “OSOM” with a J. Cole feature that’s better than anything Cole did on KOD. And you don’t always need some interwoven narrative or concept to make it all worthwhile.

To be fair, Redemption is a project that feels so current and so “of its time” sonically, that it remains to be seen how it’s going to age. But right now, it’s been a soundtrack to my life this summer. Jay Rock’s brand of Gangsta Rap is one that’ll never truly go out of style.

4. Kanye West – Ye

 As I explained in this video, I resisted and resisted and resisted including this album on my mid-year lists. It’s basically 20 minutes of emotional chaos, and depending on what you’ve read about Yeezus, it’s the worst critical reception a Kanye album has ever gotten. The Guardian called it “the worst record in Kanye’s previously unimpeachable catalogue.”

But then I quickly realized that this was ALL I listened to for the month of June. And for good reason. Ye is the most vulnerable Kanye has been since the landmark auto-tuned crooning of 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak. He bares his soul on this LP, and since he’s such an unstable, restless personality, that means that he gives the listener more emotionally-charged content in 20 minutes than most artists can provide in an hour. There’s the dark and twisted opener “I Thought About Killing You”, we get a more hype/agro Kanye on “Yikes”, we get tear-inducing paternal sentiments on the closer “Violent Crimes”…this album gives you so much in such a short time span.

Not to mention the more practical appeal of a short project like Ye in a world of increasingly short attention spans – I’ve ended up returning to it more often because I know it’s only 20 minutes and I’m gonna walk away full satiated.

3. The Carters (Jay-Z & Beyonce) – Everything Is Love

 When music’s biggest power couple dropped this record out of nowhere a day after my birthday, I was expecting to hate it. What are the hell are these two gonna rap about, how successful they are and how much they wanna fuck each other?

Well, not entirely. I’ve talked about the whole “Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop” trend – how older MCs like Jay, Nas, and Eminem are beginning to rap about more mature, adult-like topics like family, fatherhood, and a need to distance themselves from their younger selves. Well, Everything is Love takes that concept a step further. By rapping as husband and wife about their marriage, their children, their business dealings, their elder statesmanship of the music industry and more, Jay and B have opened up a whole new world of content.

It’s real inspiring to hear such a unique album come from two industry vets like The Carters. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Hip-Hop song like “LoveHappy”, where the two discuss their relationship and Beyonce concludes that “we’re flawed but still perfect for each other”. And to hear them flexing side-by-side on bangers like “Apeshit” and “713” (the latter of which interlopes Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E., which Jay ghostwrote) is something to behold.

In a way, this is one of the realest Hip-Hop album’s ever written. It’s not about two stars making a collaborative album for the sake of exponential hype – i.e. Drake and Future, – it’s about a husband and wife using music as an outlet to work through their marriage.

2. Pusha T – Daytona

 C’mon, this is the easiest pick to explain. If you don’t understand why Daytona made it here, you’re probably not a Hip-Hop fan, in which case I apologize for wasting your time with the previous hundreds and hundreds of words.

The first release of Kanye’s “Wyoming Sessions” was also quite possibly the best received – I mean, after all, who could argue with a short and sweet seven tracks that found Pusha and Kanye in top form as a rapper/producer combo?

Daytona reminded me of the way Hip-Hop records USED to be made. Seriously, think about Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full – excluding instrumentals, it’s effectively seven songs, one producer, and one rapper. And it’s one of greatest rap albums ever. Daytona brings that same sort of energy. Plus, Pusha’s ensuing beef with Drake only poured fuel on an already scorching fire.

1. Royce da 5’9 – Book of Ryan

 Two years ago, I praised Royce da 5’9’s Layers for its intimate storytelling and how much it revealed about Ryan Daniel Montgomery the person.

If only I knew that Layers was just the tip of the fucking iceberg. Holy shit.

While it manages to dish out obligatory bar fests like the Eminem collaboration “Caterpillar”, and the fiery posse cut “Summer On Lock”, Book of Ryan at times feels like a full-blown concept album about Royce’s life, with a particular focus on his childhood. On the stunning “Power”, for instance, Royce paints a picture of the broken home he grew up in with a novelist’s eye for detail. And tracks like “Cocaine” and “Boblo Boat” give further insight into the experiences that shaped him, good and bad.

Royce even uses the skits to his advantage – a rare feat for a Hip-Hop album – with “Who Are You” and “Protecting Ryan” providing further windows into the stories being told across the album.

It’s amazing that over 20 years into his career, Royce is still scaling towards his artistic peak, making noticeable strides with every release. And judging by the music on Book of Ryan, it doesn’t seem like he’s got much longer to climb.

Breaking Benjamin’s “Ember”: Five Singles Deep

What’s up everyone!

As we approach our first Friday The 13th of 2018 (the other one’s coming in July), we’re also gearing up for one of this year’s biggest Blockbuster Butt Rock releases, Breaking Benjamin’s sixth studio album Ember. Don’t worry Shinedown, I’ll get to you too. Well, maybe.

The band’s first release in nearly three years will feature 12 songs, 38 minutes of material, and as we stand today, FIVE pre-album singles. FIVE. So, in other words, if we exclude the 30-second intro track “Lyra” and the 90-second closer “ Vega”, we’ve already heard half the album. Seriously, what happened to MYSTERY in album releases? As a fan, getting flooded with pre-album singles like this is sorta like when you’re on a first date with a girl and she starts talking about her ideal wedding and what she wants to name her kids.

Either way, since I’m planning on giving Ember the full “review” treatment on my YouTube channel, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the five singles we’ve already heard. Seems like there’s a ton of anticipation for this record amongst the HARD RAWWK crowd, so “Butt Rock” jokes aside, I’m gonna give it a legitimate chance.

“Feed the Wolf”

Way back in early January, “Feed the Wolf” was the first taste of Ember that really whipped Breaking Benjamin fans into a frenzy. And for good reason, I may add. The opening riff to this track circles around for a few measures before landing on a searing dissonant note that gives it a certain ugly aggression that’s not often found in this style of music. There’s also this song’s dynamic chorus, where frontman Benjamin Burnley (who is newly 40, by the way), showcases his impressive range by effortlessly stretching his voice from a pseudo-falsetto to an edgy roar in the blink of an eye.

My only complaint is that as I listen to this, I get the sense that if the tempo was like 30 BPM faster, it would be way sicker. But maybe that’s me not being able to get out of my Metalhead mindset. Which, by the way, is why so many Metal fans struggle to enjoy this style of music. But all in all, this is an excellent straightforward Hard Rock song and a prime choice for a first teaser.

“Red Cold River”

While second single “Red Cold River” has plenty of good things going for it – a main groove with a noted metallic edge and a legitimately good music video, for starters – given that it comes RIGHT after “Feed the Wolf” in the tracklist, I can’t help but worry that this album is gonna suffocate me with angst. This song in particularly is just overflowing with emotional distress and you can’t really tell why. It’s being oversold, if you will. To be fair, part of it might be due to the fact that Burnley’s repeated screams of “Run!” kind of sound like “Roar!”, which always makes me chuckle and takes me out of the game a bit. But it’s over-the-top songs like “Red Cold River” that make me struggle to take this genre seriously. It’s too much.

“Psycho”

You know what, I’ll forgive this song’s super boring opening riff and its equally awkward transition into the main groove. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks. But with “Psycho” we get an ultra-melodic chorus that makes up for everything. It’s got a nice subtle use of lead guitars, an appropriately dramatic vocal line, a little shout out to the album title…what more could you want, right? I also love how much love the bass guitar gets on this track – it helps offset the processed guitar tones and generally over-produced feel that this band can’t seem to shake.

Also, going back to my point on “Feed the Wolf”, I’m once again getting the itch to speed this motherfucker up during the verses. That bottom-heavy main riff would sound so killer at more of a breakneck Thrash tempo, wouldn’t it? And how about that double bass in the final chorus?? Why can’t we see more of that in this song?? But I realize I’m a broken record at this point. I’m like if that SNL “More Cowbell” skit were a Metalhead in a Carcass t-shirt.

“Blood”

“Blood” may boast one of the better Breaking Benjamin grooves of this decade – tailor-made for the live environment or maybe one of those tackling montages on the NFL Network – but the rest of it is fairly forgettable. Typical verses that are basically a “subdued” version of the main groove, typical chord progression in the chorus, typical barely-noticeable bridge transition….the band’s kinda on autopilot with this one.

This is where I start to worry about my enjoyment of Ember as a whole. Because within those five unreleased tracks, all the band would need to derail the whole album would be 3 or 4 pieces of filler that knock off the “Blood” formula. That’s how you bore your audience. So while “Blood” isn’t a bad song but any means, I truly hope that there is some slightly more adventurous music in this LP’s other half.

“Save Yourself”

I really wish Breaking Benjamin and bands of their ilk would get together and a have little pow wow where they collectively BAN certain words and phrases from being used in this genre of music. Seriously. This chorus uses “save yourself” and “nothing left” within five seconds of each other. Can you get more cliché than that? Needless to say, I echo the sentiments I had regarding “Blood”. This album’s gonna have to be rounded out by unreleased songs like “The Dark of You” or “Tourniquet” or “Torn In Two”, otherwise we’re just looking at your standard Hard Rock release. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Ember is available everywhere this Friday, April 13th.

February 2018 Album Round Up!

Wow, this month marks two years straight of Album Round Ups on this blog! Twenty four consecutive months of verbal diarrhea for the WordPress Porta Potty. What a milestone. Here is the very first one I ever did. It was totally on a whim at the time.

These Round Ups, as tedious as they can be to put together (hence my predictable procrastination every month), do help discipline me to keep up with the never-ending onslaught of new music that must intimidate even the most prolific blogger. This little ritual guarantees that I listen to about twenty albums a month, which affords me a wonderful array of choices come List Time and also plenty to write about on the RYANPANNYMUSIC EMAIL LIST (Sign up for that shit here! Do it!!)

February may have been a slightly quieter month on the music front, but your favorite narcissist still found plenty to rave/complain about. Below you’ll find all kinds of shit to either dive into or stay away from. Please don’t conflate the two.

Oh, and good luck with your March Madness brackets!

 Effected – Cozz

While the sophomore effort from this J. Cole protégé might have all the fundamentals in place – understated but effective beat selection, carefully crafted rhymes, and standout features from the likes of Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, and Cole himself – Cozz has a certain dime-a-dozen genericism that I can’t shake. There have to be THOUSANDS of up-and-coming MCs that could make this exact record. Cozz is clearly a well-read student of the Hip-Hop game, but he’s yet to find that X factor that separates him. To be fair, the guy is only 24 years old, so he’s got plenty of time to develop his own identity. ‘Til then, I’ll bump this LP’s highlights (the money-over-bitches anthem “My Love”, the bitter ballad “Bout It”, and the grimy title cut) and wait and see if he delivers next time. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Man Of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

Much like Timberlake’s Halftime performance at the Super Bowl, his fourth solo album isn’t nearly as bad as everyone is saying – it’s just MEH. The LP is not without its moments – the Chris Stapleton collaboration “Say Something” is proving itself as a crossover success, and a great deep cut like “Higher Higher” serves as a reminder of how talented Timberlake is as a vocalist. Unfortunately, these high points are simply too far and in between. Listen to how a bland track like “Flannel” drags on. Or the campy lead single “Filthy”, which is Justin’s cheap attempt at a sex anthem with FutureSex/LoveSounds collaborators Timbaland and Danja. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Little Dark Age – MGMT

 Let’s get this out of the way: this album’s title track is one of the best songs of 2018. Those irresistible synths have kept me coming back on a near daily basis since its relesae. And I’m pleased to say that the band’s fourth record offers more than just a great title track. I thoroughly enjoy the morbidity of “When You Die”, as well as the dreamy “Tslamp”, the unapologetic synth-pop of “One Thing Left to Try”, and “Days That Got Away”, the LP’s lone instrumental. While I find myself cherry picking favorite tracks rather than enjoying it in fluid listens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Little Dark Age pops up on some mid-year album lists. RECOMMENDED

 How To Solve Our Human Problems, pt 3 EP – Belle & Sebastian

I am thoroughly embarrassed to admit that How To Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 3 is my first experience with Indie-Poppers Belle and Sebastian (over 20 years into their career, may I add). I am astonished at what I’ve been missing. This five-track affair offers healthy doses of sugar-sweet melodies, from the folky “There Is an Everlasting Song” to the estrangement anthem “Too Many Tears”. And to top it all off, the band weave together male and female vocals like Fleetwood Mac in their prime. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Black Panther: The Album – Various Artists

This fucking movie did $786.3 million in its first week. And I’m one of the five people who refused to see it. Superhero movies just aren’t my thing, and I wasn’t gonna force it. But I AM glad I gave this soundtrack a listen. This diverse tracklist brings together bangers like the Mike Will Made-It-produced “King’s Dead” with more daring musical adventures like the weird Techno-Rap of “Opps” and the African-themed “Seasons”. Far from a cohesive listen, fans are likely to cherry pick their favorite moments, but Kendrick Lamar clearly got the right people involved for this high-profile affair. RECOMMENDED

Victory Lap – Nipsey Hussle

 Can you believe that Nipsey Hussle has been in the rap game for over THIRTEEN YEARS and is just finally putting out his debut album? I respect this dude’s work ethic– he’s built quite the buzz over the last decade with a remarkably consistent mixtape run, and if anyone deserves the big commercial full-length treatment, it’s Nipsey. Unfortunately, this LA spitter’s mixtape grind doesn’t completely translate in an album context While the G-Funk-flavored banger “Rap N****s” is one of my favorite Hip-Hop tracks of the year so far, and production-wise the chipmunk soul and juicy basslines behind “Blue Laces 2” are exemplary, there are also several lackluster lyrical moments, like the YG collab “Last Time that I Checc’d” (which was especially heartbreaking given my anticipation of it), as well as “Status Symbol” and “Succa Proof”, both of which are straight filler. But this record’s pure West Coast heart and Nipsey’s endless self-assurance make Victory Lap worth your while overall. RECOMMENDED.

Here Come the Runts – AWOLNATION

Thank you AWOLNATION for keeping Rock music interesting. It’s not gonna progress forward with corny, dreary-eyed “Radio Rock” acts like Three Days Grace continuing to sell out concerts, so it looks like the world of Alternative has to shoulder some of the burden. And Here Come the Runts does its part, albeit with mixed results (see the cringeworthy lyrical tirades of “Cannonball”). But I have to single out “Jealous Buffoon” as the single catchiest song of 2018 so far. Holy shit. Give it a listen! And the sweet Folk-Rock ditty “Handyman” is well worth your time too! RECOMMENDED

Future – Don Diablo

While I’ve enjoyed some of Diablo’s music in the past, this new record is absolute garbage. This thing is chalk full of super lightweight, cookie cutter Pop EDM. The “drops” in songs like “Put It On For Me” sound like this guy is shooting to be Justin Bieber’s backing track on the next endlessly irritating Top 40 hit. I wish he would at least roll back the vocal features a bit, ‘cause there are a bunch of instrumental sections on tracks like “Satellites” and “Reflections” that catch my attention, but sadly, they’re short lived and far and few in between. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thunderbolt – Saxon

Cura – Keys N Krates

Crooked Shadows – Dashboard Confessional

The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It EP – 2 Chainz

Ultraviolet – 3LAU

Mark of the Necrogram – Necrophobic

 

DON’T LIKE:

Fake Friends – LAXX

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life – The Wombats

Pop Evil – Pop Evil

Kyoto – Tyga

If There Is Light, It Will Find You – Senses Fail

March 2018: Most Anticipated Albums

I’m gonna be a busy motherfucker next month.

I’ll admit it, 2018 has been a little slow so far. Heavy hitters like Migos and Justin Timberlake have disappointed us, the Metal genre has been an absolute wasteland, and the Spring release rush is still weeks and weeks away. But looking at March’s stacked calendar, all that is about to change. As a matter of fact, I have no fucking idea how I’m gonna pick my reviews in March.

Below are nine records dropping next month that I’ll be pouncing on the day they release. Unfortunately, I won’t have the time to do in-depth reviews for every single one, but you can definitely expect SOME form of thoughts from me about each of them as long as my March Madness bracket doesn’t give me a heart attack first.

Apathy – The Widow’s Son

 This will be the veteran Connecticut MC’s first full-length since 2016’s excellent Handshakes with Snakes, which earned a spot on my year-end Hip-Hop list that year. Not shockingly, what I want from Widow’s Son is more of the fucking same. I want raw, lyrically devastating rhymes. I want air tight ‘90s flows. I want that bitter “old head” ethos.

And let me tell ya, if Ap’s beat selection is as on point as it was on Handshakes (that Charlie Brown sample in particular still drives me crazy), who knows? We might be discussing this album again in December.

Black Tiger Sex Machine – New Worlds

As many of my readers know, I’m constantly trying to get into more Electronic artists. It’s the genre I’m most egregiously lacking in as far as the whole “knowledgeable enough to review shit” thing goes. Well, I’ve decided it’s time to add Black Tiger Sex Machine to that list. And no, I haven’t heard a note of their music.

All I know about Black Tiger Sex Machine is that they sometimes wear Tiger hats, they make relatively aggressive dance music, and of course, they have one of the greatest names in all of music. So why not give them a shot?

 Myles Kennedy – Year of the Tiger

 Speaking of tigers, this Myles Kennedy solo record is one of my most anticipated records of the whole year. This inhumanly talented vocalist has been pretty busy the last few years fronting Alter Bridge AND Slash’s solo band at the same time – how he has balanced that so well, I have no idea.

But this whole time I’ve had a suspicion that the best Myles Kennedy-related music is still yet to come. And my money is on Year of the Tiger – which finds Kennedy finally unencumbered as a full-blown solo act – to prove me right. Based on a single like this one, I’m liking my odds.

Between the Buried and Me – Automata I

 After 2015’s conceptually dense, ultra-melodic Coma Ecliptic split their fanbase in half, Between the Buried and Me have made it abundantly clear that they will be making a welcome return to CRUSHING HEAVINESS with Automata I, their first release for Sumerian Records and part one of a two-part album. Opening cut “Condemned to the Gallows” has already whipped the Metal community into a frenzy with its combination of chunky riffing, flashy musicianship, and drastic but tasteful mood swings – in essence, vintage Between the Buried and Me. And that was just one track. I can’t imagine the damage that this double album is about to do!

Judas Priest – Firepower

 As one of Metal’s pioneering forces in the mid-to-late 70s, Judas Priest are old as fuck. But so is Ozzy, so are Iron Maiden, so are Saxon, and they all still bring it. With the Andy Sneap-produced Firepower, I’d love to see the legendary Priest remain in the “they’re old but they’ve still got it” category. 2014’s Redeemer of Souls pulled that off, but it could’ve been better. I’d love to see them kick it up a notch this time around.

 Matoma – One in a Million

 Looking forward to giving Matoma – one of Tropical House’s most prominent figures – a whirl with One in a Million, the 26-year-old producer’s sophomore LP. My only prior experience with his music is the smash remix of Biggie’s “Old Thing Back”, which soundtracked a million day drinks in 2015. As far as a full project of his, I’m hoping for a little less of what happened to Kygo and a little more of what this genre delivered in its brilliant early years.

A Strange Journey Into the Unimaginable – Murs

 As my 2017 year-end Hip-Hop list highlighted, this Strange Music MC is criminally underrated – he’s witty, he’s charming, he’s got excellent lyrical fundamentals, he’s got an airtight grasp on conceptual songs, he’s a hell of a storyteller…he’s a guy I wish I’d been following for ten years already. But better late than never right? And even though the short gap between this LP and his last one makes me a little nervous, I’m confident Murs will deliver once again.

Prhyme 2 – Prhyme

 Oh man. The deadly combination of Royce da 5’9 and DJ Premier. Back in 2014 their first record was MY SHIT. And yet somehow Royce’s rapping gets better and better every year. So when it comes to sequels, I’m expecting this LP to be like the Godfather Part 2.

 A Gift For the Obsessed – The Absence

Despite being a huge fan of these Melodic Death Metallers’ first couple records, I never realized there had been such a big gap between 2010’s The Enemy Unbound and this new one. I guess I lost track there for a few years. But I prefer to view long album gaps as a positive, ‘cause it means these guys have had PLENTY of time to cook up some grade-A Extreme Metal. Can’t wait to check this out.

January 2018 Album Round Up!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! One of my favorite days of the entire year…

Not because of the game itself, mind you – but because Football finally fucking ends.

I didn’t like the sport when I was eight years old and refusing to drink the peewee football Kool-Aid, and I like it even less now as a grown man who has literally lost touch with friends because I won’t play fantasy football. So once this game comes and goes, it’ll be nice to not have to hear about Tom Brady for the next six months. That being said, I AM looking forward to JT’s halftime performance!

In other news, I just hit 500 subscribers on my YouTube channel which I’m incredibly psyched about! If you’re one of those 500 people, thank you so much! It means the world to me to have your support. And wait ‘til you see what I have in store for the channel this year! I have never been more inspired or motivated.

Music-wise, I’d say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. Hip-Hop seems to be lagging behind a bit (I’m looking at YOU, Migos), but we’ve still got 11 months for it to catch up. And I’m sure it will. Looking at my ever-expanding “2018 Album Releases” spreadsheet on my desktop, I see zero reason why this year can’t be something special.

Ok, rant over. Here’s everything I’ve been listening to since my New Year’s hangover finally subsided:

Camila – Camila Cabello

 Since she turned Fifth Harmony into Fourth Harmony in 2016 by exiting the group to pursue her solo career, Camila Cabello has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. And her chart-topping debut not only confirms her commercial might, but also hints at some genuine artistic potential. The acoustic-driven “Real Friends” is a thoughtful meditation on fame and the superficial relationships that spring from it. By contrast, “In the Dark” explores the dynamics of celebrity romance, and how public figures often struggle to open up in their private lives. Then there’s the rousing dancehall number “She Loves Control”, which brings with it a production assist from Skrillex. And of course, singles “Havana” and “Never Be the Same” are already bonafide hits, and my prediction is that at least two more smashes from this track list will followI was pleasantly surprised by this LP and was really glad I gave it a chance. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Catharsis – Machine Head

 Likely to be one of the most heavily debated Metal records of the entire year, Machine Head’s divisive ninth record is definitely messy. Listening to Catharsis, you’ll get a barrage of questionable lyrics, more than your fair share of guitar riffs that fall flat, and you’ll endure some head-scratching stylistic “adventures”. But Catharsis also reminded me of one of the most important principles I live by as a music fan: NEVER make a snap judgment on anything. ‘Cause once I lived with this album for a few days, I came to find that there was a lot to enjoy on it too, from the anthemic title track to the menacing “Heavy Lies the Crown” to the succinct but powerful “Kaleidoscope”. And I decided that – by a thin margin, mind you – the positives outweigh the negatives with this one. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

If I had to pick an album of the month, here it is. Country artist Devin Dawson’s debut release immediately impresses with in its delicate balance of Country and Pop on songs like “I Can’t Trust Myself” and the Hot 100 hit “All On Me”. But Dawson also works in rock music (“Prison”), heartland sounds (“Placebo”), and Alternative singer-songwriter-isms (“Symptoms”) into these twang-y arrangements. My favorite thing about the LP, however, is Dawson’s ability to put together super relatable concept-driven lyrics: see his unique break-up song angle on “Secondhand Hurt”, his colorful depiction of a bitter ex on “War Paint”, or the passionate– if socially apathetic – lover who narrates “I Don’t Care Who Sees”. Definitely an artist to watch! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mania – Fall Out Boy

 Despite the rest of the world leading me to believe this would be the worst thing I would ever hear, Fall Out Boy’s polarizing seventh LP really isn’t that bad. Sure, the opening track and lead single “Young and Menace” is a dud – a clunky, ill-advised EDM attempt. And yes, “Sunshine Riptide” could’ve done without that forced collaboration with Nigerian Reggae artist Burna Boy. But amongst these underwhelming ditties are standouts like “Bishops Knife Trick”, the stadium-ready ballad that closes the album out, as well as the high-energy, ultra-quotable “Last of the Real Ones”, and even the Tropical House experiment that is “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”. So while I wouldn’t necessarily hold this album in high esteem, it’s not an absolute TRAGEDY either – it’s more or less just somewhere in the middle. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Vale – Black Veil Brides

Almost eight years ago now, I checked out Black Veil Brides’ super-hyped debut album We Stitch These Wounds and quickly wrote it off as – at best – Bullet For My Valentine-lite. Then, the band got bigger and bigger and bigger. They notched three straight top ten albums, they were getting booked on major tours supporting the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Motley Crue, and Slash, and they had apparently changed their sound into something a bit more “Rock-oriented”. So, with album number five here, I decided to give them a chance. And, I regret it. The lyrics – consisting of lines like “shout it from the tallest building”, the usage of the dreaded “fade away” cliche in a handful of songs, and worst of all, a steady stream of filler “woah oh’s” the other 20 percent of the time – are horribly corny. And the music? It’s nothing to write home about. The band oversaturate every song with Avenged Sevenfold-lite guitar harmonies, make every chorus excessively dramatic, and bring only one genuinely heavy riff on the whole LP (“My Vow”). Glad I satisfied my curiosity I suppose, but I’ll pass. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Grimmest Hits – Black Label Society

Yikes. Maybe it’s me….it could very well be me. After all, a lot about my tastes has changed since the last record I dove into from the Zakk Wylde-fronted hard rockers (2010’s Order of the Black). But, man. I found Grimmest Hits to be excruciatingly boring. And ironically, doesn’t BLS have a song called “Bored to Tears” in their back catalogue? Well, they understand how I feel then. The recycled riffs don’t excite me, the vocals often sound uninspired (see verse one of “The Betrayal”), and the muddy mix doesn’t help matters either. Sounds like Zakk and the boys need to tweak their formula the next time around. Or maybe Zakk should just make Book of Shadows III instead. NOT RECOMMENDED

P2 – Dave East

With his acute sense of Golden Age lyricism, strong emphasis on narrative-focused rhymes, and gritty authenticity, Harlem MC Dave East has been one of the up-and-comers in Hip-Hop that I’ve most been rooting for these past couple years. Unfortunately, last year’s PARANOIA: A TRUE STORY project left me slightly disappointed with its lack of focus and a bit of filler. But the good news? P2 is East in tip-top form. Whether he’s paying homage to his inspirations on “What Made Me”, or holding his own in a toe-to-toe bar fest with Lloyd Banks on “Violent”, or telling blood-soaked hood tales in late-90s Nas fashion on “I Found Keisha”, the dude impresses me every step of the way. This is the first great Hip-Hop release I’ve heard in 2018 thus far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No Cross No Crown – Corrosion of Conformity

 Take notes, Black Label Society. This is some sludgy, southern-tinged Hard Rock that manages to be dirty, mean, and melodic all at the same time. Reunited with classic-era frontman Pepper Keenan, the band rip through groovy Sabbath-isms like “Luddite” and stomping rockers like “Forgive Me” with remarkable ease. And the moody title cut was also a highlight for me – it added a different flavor to this track list. While it may run a shade too long and not quite match up with early C.o.C. gems like 1994’s Deliverance, No Cross No Crown definitely does the trick. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Avatar Country – Avatar

Infernal Overdrive – White Wizzard

Ephorize – CupcakKe

Collateral – Phillip Phillips

King Chop 2 – Young Chop

Life of a Dark Rose – Lil’ Skies

Common Ground – Above and Beyond

DON’T LIKE:

Wrong Creatures – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sign of the Dragonhead – Leaves Eyes

Underworld – Tonight Alive

For My Fans – Fetty Wap

Defy – Of Mice & Men

Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals

Culture II – Migos